30 September 2015

check your cheeks

I pride myself on presenting the best of me. That's not to say I spend hours in front of a mirror primping and plucking; I don't. But I take care over my appearance. However, someone might point to a time when I once let my standards slip.

Picture the scene; Susan and I are sitting at my table, replete after dining on a gorgeous curry, a dish we had prepared and cooked ourselves. We are relaxing, chatting about the ingredients, the hot spices, the wonderful colours, looking forward to a cosy evening on the sofa with a good movie. Our eyes meet and we exchange happy smiles of contentment.

But something's wrong. Susan is frowning. In an effort to recapture the mood I widen my smile, why I'm practically beaming. But this doesn't have the desired effect. Susan rocks back in her chair, laughing in little hitching gasps. "What's up," I query, a degree of confusion creeping over me, and indeed a little disappointment.

"Look in the mirror," cries Suzie. "Look in the darn mirror, Paul!"

Uncertainly I rise from the table and move to the bathroom. The mirror returns my look of bewilderment, but wait, there's something more. My mouth is surrounded by the sumptuous red juices of our wonderful curry! Indian spices are strong in colour, in flavour and it seems impervious to the discreet dabbings of a napkin. In horror, I run the hot tap and soak a facecloth. I lather a bar of soap and scrub and scour with gusto. At last the curry stains transfer from my face to the cloth.

I creep back to the dining table and crack a sheepish grin. "Is that better?" I enquire.

"Oh honey, the look on your face...   and the curry!" And once more Suzie dissolves in fits of hysterics.


Footnote: If you see us exchange a beaming smile, I mean a big, fat, clownish smile, you might guess we are secretly reliving that moment.

24 September 2015

fire in the sky 2



"… a narrow beam of light which retracted suddenly into the craft. Air Traffic Controllers and Military declined to comment, however local law enforcement say they are keeping an open mind. Now, in other news…"
Alan propped himself on one elbow and reached out to silence the radio. He fell back and stared at the ceiling. Waves of nausea pulsed in him and he groaned. Damned flu, he thought, that’s all I need. He nudged his sweat-soaked pillow onto the floor and remembered it was a weekday. I’m getting up to phone in sick soon, he decided.
Mid-morning street sounds came as if squeezed through a tube. Distant traffic and far off shouts lowered to a whisper. Sunlight filtered through the blinds. Fragments of a dream floated in his mind. Cold hands pressing him flat on a steel table… shrill voices screeching in his head… a ring of grey faces watching him… eyes, black and lifeless... the persistent whine of drilling… an explosion in the nape of his neck.
Hours later the sun had advanced and a chill breeze stirred the air. "Alan, pick up if you’re there… Alan…?" The answer-phone bleeped and fell silent. Sheba appeared at the door, tail aloft. She sprang onto the bed and crept slowly over the crumpled sheets. After sniffing a small bloodstain she turned two circles and settled down to wait.
"I need to explain. You-have-to-lis-ten," he was thumping the desk with his fist to emphasise each syllable. The headache had grown worse after dark and the lump in his neck burned like fire. The police officer didn’t answer but turned and called a colleague, “Jim, here a minute will you?”
Alan fingered his neck and a new image crashed into his head. The greys stretched a thin latex sheet over him and attached the corners beneath the table. A soft vibration and hum began as a suffocating vacuum was introduced. His screams were stifled under hot shrink-wrap.
Jim appeared at the desk and eyed him slowly from head to toe. "First things first sir, where are your clothes?"
Two hundred and fifty miles above in the upper atmosphere hung a vast flying V. Inside six grey beings were seated in a circle studying a 3D holographic presentation which hovered at their centre. DNA analysis, brainwaves and chemical structure were laid out with mathematical clarity for inspection. Each chart and report bore the name "Alan Henderson."

20 September 2015

the last gas station on earth

The Pontiac lurched over a pothole and Frank watched the fuel gauge lift then settle back on 'Empty'. "Fuck it," he breathed and thumped the steering wheel hard. They had passed a Texaco ten miles back and were now running on vapour.

"Look," cried Paula, "Gas ahead!" She launched her finger toward a run-down gas station and general store in the distance. Frank pulled onto the cracked cement beside an ancient rusty pump. Is this gas or paraffin, he wondered. His gaze took in the peeling paint, the ice machine and an ages-old Coca Cola sign hanging by one screw. "Stay here Paula." He shut the car door slowly and stepped past a deck chair, faded and stained with age. Through the window past the hand-written 'Open' sign he could make out an old timer, a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek.

A bell clanged dolefully as he pushed the door and somewhere out back a dog began barking, gruffly and ominously. The skeletal figure waved a thin hand and in a barely intelligible voice rattled, "If it's gas you want, go through and talk to Billy." A fly buzzed in Frank's ear and he slapped it away as he nodded, "Thanks."

Billy and three friends were sitting around a card table, grinning with menace. Behind them through a grime baked window, a rotting Plymouth Fury was visible in the back yard, sitting up on bricks. A huge German Shepherd sat in its shade, tongue out, panting. Frank thought of Paula sitting in the Pontiac holding the battery powered fan to her pretty face.

Suddenly Billy shrieked, "It's party time!" His pals stood up, chair legs scraping on the bare wood floor. Frank turned and saw his way blocked by the muzzle of a 12-bore shot gun in the hands of the old timer. As his eyes darted frantically for another exit he heard Paula shouting. The shout became a siren winding up to full scream. Then silence.

"You fucking bastards! What have you done?" The old-timer pushed the gun barrel closer and touched his temple. Frank screwed his eyes shut and a sharp metallic click rang out. He opened his eyes to see Paula sitting beside him in the passenger seat of the Pontiac, flicking her cigarette lighter and smiling. "Wake up hon', rest over. We need to drive on and get that gas now or we ain't never gonna make it to Huntsville!"

(Inspired by a 2005 stop at a remote gas station in Alabama)