30-34 St Andrew Square

Aug2017

A shop window. A male mannequin lies back in a sun lounger, a pair of sunglasses obscuring its no doubt glossy dead-eyed stare. Its chest is bare but for a vibrant colourful tie looped around its neck. A pair of beach shorts and sandals complete the sparse ensemble. Colours, bright and summery, permeate the display. The brightest blues, yellows, reds, orange. Objects, some thematic and others downright bizarre, are scattered around the mannequin. Deflated beachballs, buckets and spades, hula hoops, inflatable dolphins and so on. The mannequin slinks back in the chair. A content, factory-manufactured look on its face. Its job was done. Its message clear. Summer.

Across from the shop window sits a tram stop. Bustling, busy, and above all, laced with boredom. Men and women crowd around the shelter, many spilling over onto the platform area surrounding the shelter. Condemned souls. Sentenced. Their expressions tell us this. Some struggle to keep their eyes open, the morning hour pushing down on their eyelids. Others are animated, speaking incessantly into hands-free kits, chanting out jargon-heavy diatribes. Most stare down at their feet, or their iPods, their phones, the occasional book, their faces laced with boredom, awash with an ‘I wish I was anywhere but here’ look. Not even a smattering of glorious sunshine, skipping across Edinburgh’s skyline and trickling into the square, can lift their spirits. Yes, condemned. Sentenced. The morning commute.

A man, mid-to-late twenties, stands to the left of the tram stop shelter, a book in his hand. His fingers resting in the same page it has been for a good ten minutes or so. His hair slightly tousled, his shirt and suit trousers combination – the staple of the male administrative Edinburgh financier class – slightly creased. Both the product of an ignored alarm clock and a desperate rush to adhere to the Monday morning demands. Beside him stands a woman, again roughly mid-to-late-twenties, flicking through her phone, earphones spilling down from beneath her perfectly straight dyed red hair. Appropriately for the weather, she wears a dress, a black and white polka dot dress, her arms and legs effortlessly free to bask in the rays of the morning sun. Bright red lipstick, immaculately applied, calls like a siren beneath her alert, phone-scanning eyes. The lanyard draped around her neck is the only hint that work, likely in the financial sector, awaits her at the end of her tram stop. So the man next to her has decided to himself, at least. And he should know. Given that his gaze has been flicking discreetly between the woman next to him and the shop window across the tram lines from him for the best part of ten minutes. His hands twitching. Eyes flickering. Feet treading back and forward on the same spot, wearing the platform thin. Slowly working up courage it seems.

Eventually the man turns and says something, nodding towards the shop window at the same time. And receives no response. The earphones standing between him and his intended destiny. He tries again, this time louder. The woman turns and looks at him. Unsure. Wondering. She plucks an earphone from beneath her hair.
‘Sorry?’ she murmurs.
‘I was just saying…’ stammers the man slightly, ‘I was just saying that guy there looks like he’s enjoying the sun at least…’ again he nods towards the shop window across from them. His soul simultaneously sighing in response to his terrible conversation starter. His face dropping in disgust with himself as he turns away slightly.
The woman stares at him for a brief moment, apparently contemplating the moment, the line, the man. And then she smiles. Surprising the man. Surprising herself.

The familiar sound of a bell peels as a tram edges onto the platform in front of them.

***

A shop window. Two mannequins, a male and a female, stand next to each in awkward poses. The female mannequin is dressed in long leather boots, thermal leggings and a stylish woolly jumper. And a large black witch’s hat protruding from her head. The male mannequin is dressed in a pair of jeans, a t-shirt-beneath-a-shirt combination and a thin woolly fleece. And a pair of devil horns astride his scalp. Both have slim scarves wrapped around their neck before descending down their chests. The window display awash in pale greens, browns, reds, oranges. Crisp, dying leaves are scattered beneath the mannequins’ feet, pumpkins of all shapes and state of health surround them. Both mannequins stare out of the window confidently. With focus. Their message clear. Crisp. Autumn.

Across from the shop window sits a tram stop. Deserted mainly. The darkness, the pelting rain and the late hour seeing off any potential revellers or crowds, sending them racing to taxis or nearby bars instead. Deserted but for a couple. A man and a woman. Both in fancy dress. The man is dressed as a Ghostbuster, a head of fairly lengthy tousled hair – a product of an after-work nap which left him very little time to prepare for the night in question – the only sign of his standard appearance amidst the bought-at-the-last-minute ghost busting costume. The woman is dressed, in keeping with a good majority of the population of female revellers in the city centre that night, as Harley Quinn. Her perfectly straight dyed red hair the only customisation amidst the cleavagey and short-skirty dimensions of her bought-at-the-very-last-minute costume.

The couple are draped around each other. Kissing furiously, passionately, lovingly. The product of a blossoming relationship and a night of copious alcohol consumption. They break briefly, the woman looking into the man’s eyes with a drunken, sultry look. The man stares up at the electronic display board, trying to will the next tram arrival time down to 0 minutes. Straining with every bit of drunken nonsensical longing in his mind. Well, it was Halloween, he thought. If ever there was a time for some supernatural mind-control nonsense to work then this was it. Unsurprisingly he gives up. Defeated by the obvious lack of any chance of success and by the need to grab the woman once again to resume their kissing. The two entwine once again; kissing, fondling.

The kissing dissolves into an embrace. The woman burying her head into the man’s chest. He kisses her head, pulling her tight to him. As tight as he can. Awash with the feeling that no matter how tight he holds her it can never be tight enough. The woman mumbles something into his chest. She turns her head and smiles up at him.
‘What was that?’ he asks.
‘I said…’ she whispers, ‘I love you.’
The man looks down at her. Struck, despite his alcohol-infused state, by the enormity of the moment. In her eyes he see’s his future, his passion, his love.
‘I love you too…’ he croaks.
The two kiss passionately once again. More passionately than they ever have.

The familiar sound of a bell peels as a tram edges through a collection of sodden leaves and onto the platform in front of them.

***

A shop window. Three mannequins pose together in a ‘family scene’. A female mannequin, a male mannequin and a child mannequin. All three are dressed in several layers of warm woolly clothing. Hats, scarves, jumpers, jackets. Reds, blues, greens. All the colours of winter festivities. The window display is littered with layers of artificial snow. The child mannequin is flailing exuberantly on an old-fashioned wooden sledge. Its ‘mother’ and ‘father’ mannequins stand either side of the sledge. In the corner of the window a bare, sparse, glittery tree lurks. Delicate, barely-noticeable fairy lights loop around its branches. A snowman sits beneath it wearing a fashionable tie and bowler hat combination. The mannequin family are content. Their message clear. Fun. Warmth. Winter.

Across from the window sits a tram stop. Busy. Very busy. The tram stop shelter almost bursting at the seams, struggling to contain the vast quantity of commuters awaiting the next tram. All are draped in winter jackets, winter coats. Hats, scarves, gloves of all colours dot the tram stop, fighting weakly against the biting cold. Icy, spiteful shards of sleet slap against the roof of the shelter. Some finds its way into the shelter itself, chilling those it comes into contact with. The light is starting to fail as the day approaches the latter part of the afternoon.

Huddled into the corner of he shelter is a man and woman. The man’s long hair is slightly tousled, unkempt – due in large part to the weather of the day. His face a beaming beacon of red, his skin freezing beneath the weight of the chill. He holds a woman close to him, an array of shopping bags clutched in his hand as he does so. The woman, with perfectly straight red hair peeking out beneath a woolly pigtail hat, clings tightly to him. An attempt to generate any kind of warmth. She rubs the small pregnancy bump that is her stomach. Instinctively, paternally. Protecting the growing life inside of her from the cold. She pulls her wet gloves off and gives her hands a futile shake. The engagement ring on her left hand clings cold to the skin, gnawing into her bone. The man stares at the shop window across from the tram stop. Paying no mind to his partner as she wrestles with the cold. Communication channels appear broken between the pair.

‘Where’s this fucking tram!?’ snarls the man. ‘It’s freezing!’
‘Well if I do anything to help you in this tough time then just feel free to let me know. M’kay?’ the woman quips back almost instantly, sarcasm forcefully shoving any semblance of jest out of the tone of her voice.
The man looks down at her with a hint of disdain. ‘Piss off’ he thinks to himself.
‘If you’d learn to bloody drive like you said you were going to then it wouldn’t be an issue would it!’
‘Drop it!’ the man snaps back. The two bodies break from one another.
‘I mean I’m only bloody well carrying your child. But no, that’d take some effort, some commitment from you wouldn’t it!’ the woman looks up at him, disgust in her gaze.
Next to them, fellow commuters shuffle uncomfortably, attempting to exude an impression of ignorance and short-term deafness. Sleet continues to slap against the roof of the shelter.
‘Fucking THIS again…’ growls the man.

The familiar sound of a bell peels as a tram edges through layers of slush onto the platform in front of them.

***

A shop window. A female mannequin sits atop a bicycle. An empty bottle of lemonade sticks out of the wicker basket attached to the front of the bike. The female mannequin is alone. She wears a straw hat, a long flowing blonde wig cascading out from under it. Her yellow dress is long, flowery. The whole window, in fact, is awash with lemon yellow. The colour of an emergence from winter, a stepping out of the dark months, of stepping into the light. Loose flowers are scattered along the floor along with discarded winter garments (scarves,hats, gloves etc). The mannequin stares out of the window into the distance. Free. Content. Its message clear. Renewal. Light. Spring.

Across from the window sits a tram stop. Bustling and busy as it is every morning in the pre-work rush hour. The daily parade of sleep-deprived, anxiety-laden and boredom-filled commuters make up the population of the platform. Headphones cling to ears like valiant bodyguards, protecting their individual listeners from the need to converse with or acknowledge their fellow human beings huddled around them. A woman yawns as she looks at her phone. Headphones trailing from her phone, disappearing beneath her perfectly straightened black, with hints of a former red dye, hair. She wears a dress. Yellow with white polka dots. In defiance of the slight cold still hanging about the city centre, in solidarity with the changing of the seasons. It compliments her slim, toned figure perfectly. Compliments the sunny, in spite of the temperature, morning. A company lanyard hangs around her neck. She raises her left hand to face, wiping the sleep from eyes with her bare ringless fingers.

A bus rolls past the tram stop on the adjacent road. A man sits on the bus, his head down reading a book. The man has a shaved head. Recently shaved it would appear. The hairstyle of a man sick to the back teeth of dealing with a full flowing unkempt mane of hair. He doesn’t look up at the tram stop. The tram stop is now a no-go for him. Forbidden land almost. Hence the bus travel. Hence the Lothian Bus pass nestling in his work trousers pocket. He casts a fleeting glance towards the shop window opposite the tram stop. He smiles sadly as the bus speeds past, turning his gaze back down towards his book.

The woman looks up as the bus flies past, her gaze caught by the shop window display opposite her. She sees the yellow dress worn by the mannequin and glances down at her own, smiling slightly.
‘At least she’s enjoying herself anyway…’ she hears a man’s voice next to her.
She looks up, pulling an earphone out from beneath her hair, and see’s a man with glasses, roughly her age, smiling back at her nervously. A perfectly gelled hairstyle and a well-tended array of stubble suggests a lengthy morning ritual. She smiles wearily back at him.
‘Yeah…’ she replies, ‘she seems to be.’
The woman slips the earphone back beneath her hair and turns back down towards her phone. The man, disappointed, receives the message and turns away.

The familiar sound of a bell peels as a tram edges onto the platform in front of them.

Unlikely Killers

 

Serial killers. What image springs to mind when you hear those words? Crazy, wide eyed freaks? Mad, unkempt hair maybe? A top hat and black cloak if you’re in to that era? Or what about a limp and a glass eye, with a blood stained handkerchief hanging from a pair of shabby trousers?

No? Ok, of course not, because as we all know, looks can be deceiving and if we’re going for cliches why not throw in the old favourite about never judging a book by it’s cover. However you say it, we all know that spotting a serial killer is not that easy.

That’s how Janice and Doug have gotten away with it for so long. Janice and Doug. Such nice, ordinary names don’t you think? They look the part too. Both in their fifties, both relatively fit and healthy. Doug still runs every week, and fits in the odd game of five aside football with his old uni buddies when he can. Janice enjoys pottering in her garden and swims three times a week. Just your average, run of the mill couple really…well, apart from the odd spot of murder.

It started innocently enough, as these things do I believe. I don’t think murder was on either of their minds that humid summers evening. Doug had been out for a run, leaving it until after sunset to try and avoid the heat of the day. It wasn’t ideal, but with a 10k to run the month after he needed to keep his training up or his legs just wouldn’t have the miles in them come race day. Janice had been in the garden, watering the plants once the sun had disappeared, it having been a particularly hot day.

Doug was under a stream of cooling, soothing water when he felt the draught of the bathroom door being flung open. He squinted with one eye and saw Janice coming towards him, a look of sheer panic on her face. He could see that she was terrified, on the verge of passing out. He opened the shower doors and reached for his towel, then grabbed his wife just as she fell. He placed her on the toilet seat and, steadying her gently, wrapped the towel around his dripping body. She looked up at him and managed only three words…’dangerous, kitchen, help’.

He can’t say why he grabbed for his football boot as he raced from their en suite shower room that evening, but with metal studs adorned to the sole they were a formidable weapon.

He made his way downstairs and crept silently through the spacious house towards the kitchen. The only sound to be heard was his own heart. He reached the kitchen door which was ajar and peering furtively through the crack he saw him. An intruder. A dirty, filthy, useless object. Defiling their home, no respecter of privacy or decency. Doug felt a burning rising in his head and a rage like never before. It was coursing through his veins and before he had time to think he charged into the kitchen screaming, brandishing the lethal boot.

Upstairs, Janice, having gotten herself to the sink and splashed cold water on her face, was feeling more like her old self. That is until she heard the screaming. The colour, just starting to return to her face, swiftly disappeared again but she knew this time there was no Doug to catch her so, steading herself against the sink she wobbled out of the shower room and made her way down stairs.

Doug was coming slowly out of the kitchen, football boot still in hand. He was wet still from his shower, or maybe it was sweat from whatever had just taken place in the kitchen. He was certainly breathing in a very heavy manner. He looked at Janice and said, in a quiet, calm voice ‘he’s dead, i killed him’.

No one really knows what took place between husband and wife that first night. What recriminations were flung about we will never know. How the body was disposed of is known, to this day, only to them. The one thing that we know for sure is that Janice must have reconciled herself to the fact that her husband was a killer. How else can you explain the fact that for years to come they embarked on a joint killing spree?

There is a part of me, on retelling this story, that feels an empathy with Doug and Janice.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not right, to take a life, I agree, but honestly…….

How many of us have killed those bloody wasps in the summer???

A Ghost Story For Christmas

July2017

The following is a complete transcript of the interview held with the late horror film Director and Writer Martin Close back in July of this year. Conducted during a short break in filming, the interview relates to the now-shelved and infamous production and remake of MR James’ ‘Lost Hearts’ for the then-intended revamp of the BBC’s ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series.

We, at the Telly Times, have deliberated long and hard about whether to print this particular interview or not, fully appreciating the depth of feeling surrounding the affair. We are absolutely aware that, as was demonstrated throughout months of subsequent media coverage, this story did, and continues to, horrify and baffle people in equal measure. There are also those who vehemently decry the affair as a hoax or, worse, a publicity stunt intended to lend the production a mythical quality, or aura, thus enhancing its reputation. On this we take no position. All we can do is simply reproduce the interview transcript in its entirety.

And after receiving permission from Mr Close’s family this is exactly what we have done…

***

Telly Times: So, Martin, snow in July? Explain what this is all about, won’t you?

Martin Close: Yes. In short we’re creating a film for the BBCs ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series. A remake of Lost Hearts – a story originally shown back in 1973. It’s an adaptation of an MR James short story. I believe they’re looking to show it on Christmas Eve this year. If not on the day itself. Which gives us, what, five months to get this thing in the can. Hence, snow in July.

TT: Many of our younger readers likely won’t remember, or know about, the ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series. Can you explain what that was?

MC: The clue is in the title, really. For a spell in the 70‘s the BBC had a tradition of showing an adaptation of a ghost story, usually an MR James story, they once had Dickens’ The Signalman, late at night on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I assume it was done in homage of the age-old tradition in this country, certainly in Victorian times anyway, to tell ghost stories at Christmas – A Christmas Carol being a prime and obvious example. It was a hugely popular series back in the 70s. The BBC tried a similar one-off production a few years back at Christmas which, once again, was very well received. And so here we are, looking to get the ball rolling again.

TT: Did the BBC approach you regarding this? Or was this an idea you had yourself?

MC: I instigated it certainly. But the BBC were very receptive. I used to love watching the series back when I was a child in the 70s. So much so that I associated the whole idea of Christmas with horror, with ghost stories or tales.

TT: Were the BBC were receptive immediately? Even after the controversy attached to your previous production? (Martin Close attracted significant criticism for events surrounding his most recent horror film, ‘The Hounds of Hove’, in which the marketing campaign involved a mass appearance of dog corpses suddenly scattered around the town of Hove leading authorities to believe a deranged dog-killer had terrorised the town – prosthetics, of course. This of course mirrored the plot of Close’s controversial movie. The production was fined and Close cautioned by the authorities. The marketing campaign for his previous horror production, The Sullied Waves, in which him and his production team discoloured several rivers around a small town in Yorkshire red – reflecting the ‘bloodied’ rivers in the film – attracted just as much controversy).

MC: They were, yes.

TT: No reservations?

MC: Some, likely. I can’t speak for them. You’d have to ask them. But no, I think they realised the quality I would bring to the production. Also, this is a passion project. A genuine passion project of mine. No gimmicks, no quirks. Straight up horror. This production merits complete focus. And marketing campaigns, and opinions on that aside, everyone knows the quality I bring to the actual horror elements of film.

TT: That leads us nicely onto the story, of course. A passion project you say? MR James. The master of the ghost story. He was a big influence on you when growing up, yes?

MC: Absolutely. Huge. Not just through the BBC adaptations. I think I’d read his Complete Ghost Stories a good hundred times or so by the time I’d left school. Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker etc; they all influenced and intrigued me but none held a candle to MR James. There was an eeriness throughout each of his tales; a creeping, sinister, psychological eeriness that stays with you, you know.

TT: And so you went with Lost Hearts. Why a remake? Why not mine his canon for a completely different tale? One that audiences have never seen adapted.

MC: Well, for a start Lost Hearts was last shown on the BBC in 1973. That’s approaching half a century ago so I doubt it’s fresh in many people’s minds. But I take your point. The reason I went with this was simply the impact the story had on me as a youngster. Particularly as an orphan myself. It terrified me. Excited me. Stuck with me long after I’d seen it. The twin girls in Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining are always name-checked as almost being the epitome of creepy ghost children but, by god, the first time I saw the two orphans in the ‘73 version of Lost Hearts, it damn well chilled me to the bone. Horrifying. I loved it. And so I’ve been desperate for a chance to create my own take on it ever since.

TT: Which leads into this location. Unsurprisingly, again, this has attracted a level of controversy.

MC: (Sigh)Yes.

TT: An abandoned orphanage. One that has reported several ‘supernatural’ occurrences over the years. And not to forget a gruesome reported history – torture, murder, abuse – stretching back to when the orphanage was fully operational. Why film here? Many have claimed it shows a lack of respect. Also, there was no orphanage referred to in the original story as far as we’re aware.

MC: You’ve basically answered your own question. This place has a history, a terror attached to it. An…aura. What better place to ensure the actors are in the right mindset? Plus it doubles up well as a stately home, and that’s what we were after for the film of course. Two birds, one stone.

TT: I see. And in terms of the child….

MC: What the f**k are they doing down there!? Hey!! You two! Back up here! We’re not filming yet! Christ sake!

Martin Close at this point stood up to admonish what he took to be the two child actors, hired to play the orphans in the production, claiming he could see them standing silently in the distance, staring back at him. Myself and the photographer turned to look yet could see nothing, only the ornate gates in the distance amid the deluge of artificial snow through a dense mist (created by the special fx crew).

TT: I can’t see anything?

MC: They were just…ah, they must have ran off. Anyway, you were saying…

TT: Erm…yes. Was it…

MC: Bloody child actors! Never work with kids. Animals? Fine. Kids? No.

TT: Ok. I was actually going to ask was it hard to find the right child actors for the roles? The two orphans that is?

MC: Well, not really. There’s no dialogue for them. All they do is stand. Silently. Walk slowly now and again. Scratch a bit. And sit for several hours worth of makeup application. It’s not exactly the most taxing of…bloody hell, they’re there again!? Closer this time! HEY! Get your backsides up here! I’ve bloody well told you!

Again myself and the photographer turned, seeing nothing except the gate in the foggy, snowy distance.

TT: I really can’t see anyone Martin, where…

MC: Look! (He gestured towards the gate) The bloody two of them, slowly approaching! Creeping!! The child actors! All done up in make up! Even though its hours until their scene for god’s sake! Hey!!

TT: You mean those two…? (I gestured behind him where the two child actors, a boy and a girl, as described, were standing nearby. Close turned.)

MC: What….yes…those…how did…(he turned back, looking past me)…they must have…you two, just bloody well quit it! Ok! Whatever you’re up to! Child actors are ten-a-penny in this bloody business so cut it out! A bit of respect eh! (A mixture of fear and confusion crept across the chid actors’ faces at this point. Close turned back.) Yes. Anyway…go on…

TT: Erm…ok.

MC: Come on now, time is precious here. Especially with these little buggers acting up on set!

TT: Yes, sorry. The erm…the makeup. Yes, the makeup. For the child actors. Was that hard to judge what was right? I mean, we’re talking literal holes where their hearts should be, as per James’ original story. Was it hard to tread the line between something that had just the right amount of horror but something that would pass the BBC broadcast guidelines?

MC: Not really…it’s all about conviction….not willing to compromise your…GET OFF THE BLOODY SET!!! You two! That’s right, the two of you…this is a CLOSED SET! Bugger off before I get someone to kick your a***s! You pair of little…surely someone can see them now!? (he looked at us with incredulity, wheeling around to plead to his crew, being met at all junctures with blank looks)

TT: No…I just don’t…

MC: HOW IS NO-ONE SEEING THIS!? Look…they’ve even…LOOK!…some sinister b*****d has even done them up in makeup to look like….oh god!…they’re coming towards…oh god!…walking…slowly…their…get away…their chests…oh christ!…away…GET AWAY!!…anyone!…help me…their chests…their…someone GET THEM AWAY…

At this point the Director scrambled from his chair, a look of horror etched upon a face rapidly draining of colour. He stumbled before fleeing from the set, heading towards the aforementioned abandoned orphanage.

 

***

As is known by all who have followed the story in the months since these events, a later search for Martin Close in the grounds of the orphanage proved fruitless before the authorities were called in. The search dragged on into the early hours of the next morning. Close was eventually found in a secluded, and locked, room near the rear of the building. His body was slumped over a table, a hideous hole gored in his chest. His heart had been removed and has yet to be found. Authorities concluded that he had been dead for several hours. Filming of the production was immediately and henceforth abandoned.

Many rumours, theories and myths have since emerged regarding the story. A fact hardly surprising when you consider the infamous Director’s penchant for extravagant publicity stunts. One popular theory insists that Close faked the entire incident, using either a significantly lifelike prosthetic for the body or, as others claim, a fresh corpse with relevant plastic surgery performed on the facial features (not all of the theories carry a hint of reality about them as you can no doubt tell…). They believe he will reappear at some point in the future producing horror films under a pseudonym.

Others simply claim that Close committed the ultimate sacrifice for his art, going that one step further for his production, the pinnacle of the publicity stunt so to speak. A move which would enshrine the production in a macabre, mythical aura. Building in status, in infamy as the years go by. A pure horror tale. This theory loses merit however when you consider that the filming schedule was nowhere near complete at the time of the occurrence.

Amid all the theories and the hearsay it must be pointed out that both Martin Close’s family and the relevant authorities (police, coroners, funeral directors etc) strenuously insist that the body was that of the film maker. Of that neither of the parties have any doubt. So much so that a private funeral was held for Close. And given that no suicide note, plans or otherwise, were found they also strongly deny the suicide/sacrifice theory. The family have repeatedly asked that their privacy and their grief be respected.

We at the Telly Times, as stated, take no position on the events that we have described to you. We have simply reproduced the interview transcript in an attempt to clarify our involvement in the episode and to hopefully bring a modicum of closure to it.

A Ghost Story For Christmas: The Troubled Production of Lost Hearts airs on BBC One at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

Bridge Number Nine

Pont Nuef

In the middle of the bridge, in the middle of the night, no sun shone on his despair. The Seine flowed steadily underneath as soldiers emerged from the Pont Neuf boat terminal. Leo waited and waited, but no one approached. He deliberated; an illegitimate son of two English actors had many regrets and a distance to jump. The enemy had cornered him.

In the distance, cars raced down each side of the river and turned onto the bridge. Simultaneously, they braked in front of him and the drivers jumped out.

“You have a choice,” both said in unison.

“What is the offer?” said Leo.

“In the north we will restrict your future. Your past and present will be removed,” said Driver One.

“In the south we will renew your past, change your present and begin your realignment with the world,” said Driver Two.

“Difficult, but I will go south,” said Leo.

Driver One laughed loudly, bowed, entered his car and drove up the northern side of the Seine.

Driver Two smiled and led Leo to his car. They sped off at 100 Km/hr and soon entered Boulongne-Billancourt. Le Parc des Princes appeared off the Boulevard Peripherique and they entered Avenue Foch. They stopped at 84 as a surrounding flash of lightening lit the area.

“We are here,” said Driver Two.

Two Gestapo men drew Leo from the car and dragged him into the building and took him to the fourth floor. They stopped outside the office of SS Sturmbannfuhrer Josef Kieffer.

“What’s all…,” said Leo.

“Do not ask, we do the asking,” said the guards. “Come in here and you will see.”

The door opened and Kieffer stood looking at Leo.

“You might be ok. We will have to see. Take him to the rooms.”

The guards moved Leo quickly along the corridor to where an officer sat at a desk beside three rooms; Red, Green, Blue.

“Red,” said the officer.

The guards opened the Red door, took Leo in and sat him down on the only chair. They departed. Gradually, the room filled with red visuals and sound pounded in his ears. The sound went on and on.

“You have no past worth knowing, not for telling, not in mind, just for you a past behind…” repeated the rising sound.

Suddenly, the sound stopped, the guards entered and dragged Leo to the Green room and sat him in the chair. The room was full of green and popping sounds rose and dropped. Voices came in a slow muttering.

“Building up in times of new, there is life to bend on you. On the top we bend and add almost to your nearly mad. We will change you to the new. Future person comes to you…..” repeated the sound rising and falling. Suddenly, a bell sounded round the room. Leo felt nauseous.

The guards entered and took Leo’s hands and led him to the Blue room. He sat down and faced Kieffer.

“You chose well, I think,” said Keiffer. “Difficult when the only other chance was death.”

“What have I chosen?” said Leo.

“You are to transform the future. You’ll be the death knell of Britain.”

“What do you mean?” said Leo.

“You,” said Keiffer. “Will be our legacy, our piece that will destroy a British presence abroad and within its country. It will buckle and crumble just because of you and the power we give.”

“Why do I want to do this?” said Leo.

“Because then you can then be in the history of time. Your kind will prevail. Nothing else will last.”

“I’ll have money,” said Leo.

“Yes, lots of it,” said Kieffer. “Odessa will keep you supplied.”

“Ok, let’s go for it. A new beginning, a future for me and for my family,” said Leo.

“In 1952 you will meet Hazel in Edinburgh. She is from our Irish friends and is suitable. You will have a son who you will call Anthony. He you will educate and put to Oxford, where he will infiltrate with similar others, which will pollute the political parties and make all at Westminster look much the same throughout. Wars with our American people will rage and he will set the peoples to rebel and demand yet unsought freedom. He will be downed by his political partners but not until too late, when the one-eye will complete the action and a new order will reign for us.” said Kieffer.

“You see far ahead,” said Leo.

“Yes but sometimes we screw it up,” said Kieffer. “See that Mussolini! What faith we had in Paton. All wasted. You can now return with the guards. Go and complete the task.”

Leo departed 84 Avenue Foch and climbed into the car.

Driver Two headed back on the Peripherique, past Saint Cloud and along the Seine. It was again midnight has they stopped on the middle of the Pont Neuf. Leo got out of the car as the other car again arrived.

“I’ll now take you north” said Driver One.

“Why not,” said Leo.

Driver One took both of them along the river and north through Arras. They passed through lines of soldiers marching through them as they wound their way to the coast. Along the route many men lay dead; they had no future now. Their present had been given to the future they wanted for others. Poppies filled the adjacent fields around them.

At the harbour, a boat was waiting to take Leo back to Britain. Leo felt uneasy and spent his journey at the deck rail. He was unsure of his arrangement, but pleased to have the money inside his haversack.

“You ok?” said the purser. “Get home and calm down for a bit. Find a girl, relax and the world will be your oyster.”

 

 

The Man with the Handbag

Kurt first saw Rodriguez in the semi-shade of the lobby. He was standing, next to a high table decked out with a vase of orchids, resplendent in his loosely fitting dark suit. Beneath the suit he wore a plain open necked shirt that set off his Mediterranean tan. His distant air occasionally broke as he looked expectantly at another arrival, coming through the glass revolving doors, only to resume his muse.

Eventually, he straightened when, from the dazzling sunshine, a large shabbily dressed man arrived, carrying a large handbag. The fat man brushed past him as though he wasn’t there and made his way to the cool of the electrically fanned bar, where he ordered a beer. The dark suit followed him and sat two stools away, showing no sign of recognition.

“What you want?” said the barman.

“Whisky, rocks.”

Kurt watched as the Rodriguez laid a newspaper flat on the stool between himself and the handbag while looking at the mirror, behind the bar. He continued to observe from the wicker chair behind the aspidistra and saw the fat man slide a package from inside his bag to underneath the paper.

Rodriguez finished his drink, left five dollars on the bar and carefully picked up the newspaper, concealing the merchandise. Kurt nodded to Juan, who was carefully concealed by the door. Juan quickly walked out of the bar ahead of Rodriguez.

Kurt approached the bar and sat next to the still sweating fat man. He looked at him in the mirror. He then turned and spoke.

“Not so bad was it?” said Kurt.

The fat man started to shake. Kurt took the handbag.

“Come with us now. Your part is done.”

 

A car was waiting outside. Kurt helped the fat man in and thrust the handbag at his chest. He looked up at Kurt in a combination of apology and self pity.

“I’ll be straight with you,” Kurt said. “Drug dealing is not a healthy pursuit, especially round here. You’re lucky that I’m more interested in your Spanish friend. When you get to the airport, make sure you get on the plane. If we see you back here you’ll not live long and I promise you that those last moments will be very painful.”

The fat man winced as Kurt stubbed his cigarette on his chubby hand. Kurt slammed the door on him as Juan drove off. Kurt stood and warmed in the sun, until he saw the car take the right fork to the airport, then went back inside.

Back at his table the waiter brought another large beer as Kurt dialed the mobile number.

“Digame,” came the answer.

“Oiga, se tiene?”

“Si pero hablo ingles.”

“Okay, you know what to do next?”

“Déjà vu?”

“Yes, but let’s stick to English, your French is as bad as my Spanish.”

 

Kurt saw Rodriguez for the second time that day, as he stumbled into the hallway from the glass revolving door. He was sweating profusely and dressed in grubby whites. He brushed past the cool well dressed man standing in the shade of the orchids. He went straight to the bar and ordered a beer.

The man followed him and sat on the barstool two away from him. Kurt’s aspidistra was still playing its part and Juan was back in position by the door.

The stranger looked at Rodriguez then back at the barman.

“What you want?” said the barman.

“Vodka, Absolut.”

“Absolutely,” said the barman smiling.

He took his vodka in a single shot and laid his newspaper on the seat between them. Rodriguez responded by placing a package under it.

The stranger rose, gathered the newspaper with the package, paid his bill and made for the door. Juan followed him and once he saw him enter his car, he ran back towards Kurt nodding. As Rodriguez joined him, Kurt pressed the button on the transmitter in his briefcase. The explosion from the street momentarily rocked the building.

 

The inter-island flight departed with three passengers but arrived with two. The fat man had been helped from the plane in mid flight.  His last minutes were not painful, but they were petrifying as he flew freefall into the blue water below.

 

As Juan, with Rodriguez beside him, negotiated the back street away from the hotel, the sound of police cars cut through the heavy night air.

“Okay?” said Juan.

“Okay, but probably a bit too strong. You’ve to learn though my friend. Vamanos.”

Kurt, in the back of the open topped car, lit his first cigar of the day.

Juan accelerated the car up a hillside road.

 

Guards waived them through large gates to a white mansion dominating the ridge above. Juan pulled the car to a stop in front of stairs and Kurt got out.

“That was a good start for you. Prepare our equipment for tomorrow,” said Kurt as he closed the door.

“Si senor,” said Juan smiling. He and Rodriguez drove off towards the adjacent outbuildings.

Kurt ascended the steep stairs and entered the door at the top, which took him into a large lounge with an impressive view of the island coastline. There taking in the panorama was a lone white suited figure sat in a luxurious brown leather recliner. Kurt went right up to him. The figure hardly moved as he studied the shoreline with binoculars.

“I heard an explosion,” said the figure lowering the glasses.

“Yes sir. All is done,” said Kurt stiffly.

“Then that was the Russian. You need to be less dramatic in your disposal. We don’t really need the attention.”

“It’s not often and I wanted to teach Juan how.” Kurt winced.

“Yes, a good beginning. And the man with the handbag?”

“Sleeping with the fishes.”

“Good, good.” The figure nodded.

 

Kurt retired from the lounge, descended the stairs and walked to the outbuildings.

The lone figure resumed his observations and watched as a pelican swooped from the rocks into the sea below. He lifted his head to the horizon.

“Number One,” he said to the sinking moon.

The Day in a Life

“…four thousand holes … And though the holes were rather small,” the radio alarm starts in a whisper and increases in volume until Joey stirs. He reaches over and stops it before the crescendo exponentially ascends and disturbs his beautiful, booze soaked, Brenda, who is sleeping off Thursday’s hen night.

He gets out of bed and drags a comb across his head.  He finds his way upstairs and has a smoke. But his dream is disturbed as he switches on the TV on to hear, “Cumbernauld has just been named the most dismal town in Scotland.”

The TV reporter continues, “This is an embarrassing double for the town after winning the unwanted Plook on the Plinth award five years ago.”  Then Joey’s own ghostly face stares back at him from the screen and he remembers that it wasn’t a dream.  The bingo hall under-manager watches himself being presented with the award. He wishes that he’d straightened his tie.

He turns away, spies the trophy on the mantelpiece and frowns.

He goes through to the kitchen, scratches his head, loads the toaster and boils the kettle. The paper comes through the letter box and Joey picks it up to read with his breakfast. He goes from front page to the feature.

‘God! They have my photo too,’ he thinks.

A local is also quoted saying, “Cumbernauld is an overly brutal concrete jungle, with no sense of human scale or creation of a place that humans can inhabit. Access is abysmal unless by car and not integrated with the surrounding residential areas at all.  Come on people we can do better than this.”

Relief slowly comes to Joey. ‘He could still walk down the street. Maybe?’ he thinks.

He goes to the back of the paper and starts to rummage through the sports pages, as Brenda rushes in.

“Oh boy, have you read the news today,” she says, as she grasps the paper from Joey’s hands and continues. “What tube accepted that?”

Joey says nothing.  After all there is not much to say.

He remembers, ‘All that has happened is that I chased out the last punter and shut up shop, and as is usual for a Thursday, I had a few glasses in the Black Bull. I followed that by a few more at Jumping Jax. And then all at once this female, jumps out and thrusts the award into my hands. Nothing more than that!’

In her towelling housecoat and puppy dog slippers, Buxom Brenda turns from the front page to the feature.

She jumps back exclaiming, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”  She is stamping the floor and staring at the paper. But not for long as she wheels round, eyeballs Joey and continues, “What have you done? You daft bastard! What have you done?”

“I can’t go out! What will my friends say? I can’t go out! You daft bastard! What have you done?“ says the distraught, makeup-less Brenda and under her fortnightly tan she turns red.

“Nothing, I just, ahem, came out of the Bingo and she, ahem, handed it to me, then took my picture.” Joey says sheepishly.

“Well you better just get down the road right now and give them it back or you’ll answer to me big time.”

“I’m just going.”

Joey grabs the plaque from the fireplace, slides quickly down the stairs into the bedroom and changes.  He is out the front door before his Brenda is again on his case.

‘She’s not so beautiful this morning,’ he realises.

In the town where fame was Gregory’s Girl, our local hero rushes down the street where no pavements are.  He dives across the junction but he doesn’t notice that the lights have changed.  In seconds flat, a car hits him.  A crowd of people turn away. They’d seen his face before but no one is really sure if he is from the bingo hall.  They’d seen the photograph.

Joey was not a lucky man.  Like Cumbernauld, he didn’t make the grade.

 

Red Sky At Night

Written today (June 21st) as part of National Writing Day

 

The sky is aflame.

Ablaze. A fiery hue decorates the night sky above Fife. Red, yellow, orange. Fire. Flame. A furnace at the foot of the heavens. Incinerating the clouds. It awakens me. Stirs me from my half-hearted slumber. As it has done every night this week so far. Five nights now. Mossmorran. The Exxon ethylene plant. Skulking on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath. It’s warning flame burning into the darkness. A beacon calling out across the countryside. The towns. The coast. Engulfing, smothering, suffocating all. The eye of Sauron. Curtains wither, unable to resist the light. It invades the privacy, the seclusion of the bedroom. And yet it inspires. Infuses me with an energy. A vibrancy. Alights the embers of my being. My inspiration. It draws me in, welcomes me, lures me. Like a moth to a…well, you know. It burns through my writer’s block and screams, yells, demands in my ear ‘WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!’

I open the curtains wide, tempted even to tear them from the rail, desperate as I am to submit to the light, to the flame. Invade, bathe, swarm. The room fills with light. I turn and look at my wife asleep on the bed. She barely stirs. Oblivious to the ferocity, the majesty of the flame. Oblivious to the inspiration. I sit down at my writing desk placed directly in front of the window. I gaze at the flame. Its power relentless, its energy undying. Staring. Staring. Worshipping. My mind sparks, burns, replaying a relentless reel time and again. A movie clip. Black and white. Colin Clive, in that famous scene from Frankenstein. He bellows, screeches. It’s ALIVE. IT’S ALIVE!!! My skull pulsing with the words, the images, the demands. The message. Clear. Sent from the flame. It IS alive. I AM alive. I grab a pen and splay out a raft of blank paper before me. And I scrawl. Word after word. Letter upon letter. A continual flood streaming from my fingertips, dripping from my mind. Page upon page, claimed and vanquished. The prey to my predatory inspirations.

Ablaze. My mind, the flame. The fire, my words. My bones shimmering in a frenzy, my blood scything through my flesh with purpose. Frenetic. And I scrawl, write, scrawl. Again and again. Barely moving the pen, allowing the flame to spew through me onto the page. Spilling forth directions, incantations, ingenuity. My limbs, the page, the flame becoming one. One through inspiration, one through the fire. A single entity, a single expression. A single desire. I write. Write. Write. And let the flame, the night, take me.

I awaken.

The morning light streams in through the window, the curtains cast wide. A pool of sweat darkens the pillow. My forehead clammy, evidence of the latter. I scramble up to a sitting position, staring out the adjacent window towards Mossmorran. The flame gone. Absent. Slight tufts of smoke now emanate lazily from the chimney, the tower. I glance down. Fully clothed. Jacket, shoes and all. Bedraggled. Creased. Soaked. In sweat. In grime. In blood. Blood? My knuckles pulse, etched in dried blood. I turn my hands. My palms, red. Awash. I lift up the duvet. Islands of blood dot the bedsheet. I scramble for explanation, for logic. My wife stirs beside me. I quickly pull myself under the covers, concealing myself, the sheet, the mystery. She yawns.

‘Morning’ she croaks, caressing my face. I smile weakly. ‘You look awful, you look like you’ve hardly slept again!? Are you feeling ok?’

‘Thanks. It’s that bloody light at Mossmorran. Keeping me up. I can barely sleep.’

‘Mossmorran?!’

‘The flame at Mossmorran, yes. Every night this week.’

‘Every night this week!? What are you talking about? There’s been no flame? I’d know about it if there was because it usually bloody well keeps me up! You know that. Plus there’d be comments on the local twitter group about it. Folk are always complaining about it. Here, let me have a quick look…’ she swivels and pulls the charger cable out of her phone and draws the latter to her chest.

My wife flicks and scrolls through her Twitter feed as I warily look on. A realisation creeping into my mind from somewhere. What the realisation is I don’t know. And yet something prods at me. Simmers. My body trembles.

‘No’ she says, ‘nothing about it. See? You must have dreamt it. There’s always comments about it if that flame is burning. And the whole bloody sky lights up so I doubt anyone would miss it.’

‘I’m telling you, the flame was burning last night! It’s been burning now for the last five…’

‘Aw jesus…’ she interrupts, ‘that’s another one.’

‘Another what?’

‘Another person reported as missing. An old man. Last seen leaving the pub last night. His wife has just posted on the police page. Always comes home. She’s adamant something must have happened. Bloody hell. That’s the fifth this week! It’s every night! All local. If that’s not scary I don’t know what is!? Horrible. Just horrible’ she says as she steps out of bed.

My mind drifts from my wife’s words, her fears. Under the covers I reach out a hand, feeling a damp patch of blood lingering between my knees. Memories attempt to form in my mind, speeding by, begging to be snared. Colin Clive’s maniacal exhilaration flits in and out. Fragments. Scenes. Shards.

‘Have you been writing again?’ I hear my wife mumble distantly as she approaches the writing desk, stepping in front of the image of the ethylene plant stretching across the window.

I turn, intending to discreetly pull myself out of bed, and feel an object jag into my side. My pocket. My jacket pocket. I creep my hand nervously to my pocket and jerk as it connects with a blade. Pain shoots up my finger. Stabbing. A warmth floods from my hand, still concealed beneath the covers. Blood. Panic, pain, fear explodes within me, dragging me from the bed. I stop. Muddy footprints adorn the bedroom carpet. Leading to the bed. To a conclusion. To me. A shudder echoes through my frame as I look up. My wife stares at me. A clutch of paper thrust from her hand.

‘What…is…this?’ she whispers, fear coursing through her voice.

The paper stares back at me. Pages upon pages. Letters, words, repetition screaming back at me. FIRE FLAME FIRE. FIRE FLAME FIRE. Again and again. Front and back. Decorating every inch of the paper. FIRE FLAME FIRE. FIRE FLAME FIRE.

I pull myself from the bed to a standing position. My wife recoils, her eyes widen, horror clasping hold of her as she looks at me. The paper drops from her hands as she sees the blood drenched across my hands, my clothes. Words catch in her throat. Fear, definitive and absolute, exudes from every pore of her flesh. Her eyes on me. Judging, questioning, cowering.

‘The…the flame…’ I mutter. ‘It’s the flame…’