‘…flight to Las Vegas is now boarding. Please have your boarding passes and passports ready.’ Announced the tannoy. I put down my copy of “Dante’s Inferno” and grabbed my bag. ‘Mr Underhill?’ Called out a tall, burly airport security officer with piercing grey eyes. ‘Yes?’ ‘You need to come with us.’ Another airport security officer walked up beside him, similar in size. ‘My flight’s about to leave. I can’t, I gotta go.’ ‘This won’t take a moment.’ ‘But my luggage. My girlfriend’s luggage.’ ‘Where’s your girlfriend?’ ‘She went to buy cannabis face wash.’ The guy looked at me, then his colleague, then back at me. ‘You can bring your luggage but not hers.’ ‘But I can’t leave it.’ ‘It’s none of your concern anymore. Now please, let’s go.’ He grabbed me by the elbow, not hard exactly but not gently either, leading me away. The three of us walked through the terminal, past shops and nosey travellers concocting theories of why I was being led away. ‘He doesn’t look Muslim.’ Whispered an elderly man to his wife. At gate 66b I saw Faye stood in line ready to board a flight to Costa Mesa. ‘Faye! Faye!’ I shouted out. She couldn’t hear. The sounds of airplanes flying overhead drowned out my cries every time I called out.
and forced into the back of an immaculately clean black Mercedes. ‘Where we going? Who the fuck are you?’ I asked impatiently to a man already sat in the back. ‘My name’s John.’ Replied the stranger reaching out to shake my hand. John must have been in his mid-sixties, was slim with thinning hair, wearing an expensive tailor fit black Armani suit fixed with a crisp white shirt and skinny black tie. Around his neck hung a 1960’s 35mm Leica camera. ‘Where we going? I’ve got a flight to catch.’ I snapped. ‘Your flight’s gone without you Jack. Time to let that one go.’ ‘Fuck sake.’ I vented, banging the window with the side of my fist.’ I began feeling travel sick as soon we set off. All that could be heard was the sound of John winding on the film in his camera without taking a shot. A cuckoo sprung out of the clock on the wall as it chimed three o’clock. The car slowed as we approached a border control, gradually stopping. My passenger window was wound down by the driver as a border control officer stuck his head through. ‘Documentation please gentlemen.’ He had an accent that I couldn’t place. I checked my pockets; empty. ‘Don’t worry.’ Said John calmly, I have everything you need.’ The officer, a stern looking man with hard chiselled features, studied our documentation with intent. He looked at me, then John, then back at the documents, ‘These all seem in order. Now I just need your meat. No foreign meats past this point.’ He announced, smirking. ‘I’m not carrying any meat.’ I said, patting myself down and emptying my pockets as proof. ‘Please sir, don’t turn this into an issue.’ ‘What issue? I’m not. Frisk me if you don’t believe me.’ I pleaded. John turned to me, his hands down his pants and said, ‘I’d like to get on with my day if it’s all the same with you.’ I looked closer at John’s crotch, noticing him unscrewing his cock. Once unscrewed he handed it to the border control officer, who placed it into a clear Ziploc bag. ‘Now yours.’ He demanded. I put my hands down my pants and attempted to unscrew. ‘It won’t come off.’ I said panicking. ‘Lefty loosey, righty tighty.’ Mocked John. ‘These generations coming through – not a clue about how the real-world works.’ The two of them laughed as I twisted the other way finally unscrewing my cock. I handed it to the officer, burning in the face from humiliation. ‘You can have them back when you return.’ Smiled the border control officer, ‘Good day to you.’ ‘And you.’ Replied John. The car started up and we continued on our way. ‘He’s got some fucking nerve that guy.’ Grumbled John, ‘How quickly people forget. My father, your grandfathers, on the front line with little rations because our government helped other countries, countries like HIS because they had nothing. Now they smirk. Scoff. Short memories, the lot of them.’ I looked at John, his body bent over with bitterness. He looked at me, I turned away uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. Unsure if he was right or wrong; making me feel ignorant which in turn annoyed me. I stared out the window. It had begun to snow. I looked down at my summer attire; a yellow vest with a palm tree printed in white on the front, bright blue chino shorts and a pair of brown leather deck shoes. ‘I’m not equipped for this.’ I exclaimed. John stared ahead, a wry smile across his face humming “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
was small and dark. What little light there was didn’t spread across the rest of the bar. The tables were filled with silent, empty faces. In the corner a jukebox crackled playing “The Rose” sung by Conway Twitty. John and I sat up at the bar. ‘Two g&t’s when you’ve got a minute please.’ Called out John to the barmaid. ‘Coming up.’ She replied in an Australian accent. ‘Best thing about having to hand your cock in at customs; you don’t have to piss.’ Smiled John. ‘Really?’ ‘Yep. Pretty good huh?’ ‘Yeah. That’s fucking great!’ I replied overly excitable. ‘Here’s your drinks boys.’ Called out the barmaid, who had squeezed herself into a tight, black leather miniskirt causing her love handles to overflow, that looked kind of sexy. Her grey staff t-shirt had condiment stains down the front. On top of her spiralling blonde hair she wore a pair of light-up traffic lights that only seemed to flick between red and amber. ‘I think your head wear is on the brink.’ I called out. She turned, her face expressionless and answered monotonically, ‘Brink? You’ve got some nerve walking in here talking like that.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘Place like this? You’re passed the brink.’ She then pointed to a flickering red neon sign above the bar that read “Leave all hope at door.” ‘Oh, sorry.’ I replied softly. John stood up, ‘I’m going to the jukebox, any bequests?’ ‘Don’t you mean requests?’ ‘Nope.’ He slapped me on the back as he walked behind me. I shouted over at the barmaid, ‘Can I get a turkey butty or something?’ ‘We don’t do food hun. We haven’t got a kitchen.’ ‘Why you covered in sauce then?’ ‘What this?’ She said looking down the front of her top, ‘This is just disjunctive cognition.’ Frowning, I looked up at the tiny tv screen located above the bar to the right. The news was on with a headline that read “Lebanon in pandemic crisis.” John came back over. ‘Fancy a round of shots?’ ‘Fuck it, why not.’ I replied. ‘Round of vaccines for the entire establishment when you’re ready please my love.’ The room cheered and applauded momentarily before falling silent just as quickly. Our shots of vaccines were delivered with a line of salt and a lemon wedge each. ‘Do you ever feel bad that we’re all set with vaccinations and other countries haven’t received them yet?’ I asked staring up at the tv screen. ‘Do I fuck.’ Shouted John, slamming his shot glass down on the bar pulling a face, ‘That’s just the way the world works. You either get dealt a good hand or a shitty hand. There’s nothing that can be done about it. The universe is a game of chance. No good, no bad, just chance. Now drink up.’ I took my shot, it burnt. I held the bottom of my jaw with my fist until the feeling eased. ‘Another round.’ Shouted John. The room rose to its feet in rapturous applause. I joined in, grinning from ear to ear.
air raid siren blasted across the land. The sun burnt down on us like a harsh spotlight. I took cover in a shaded area offered from a sloping thatched roof of a country cottage. People charged toward the siren on horses dressed in traditional fox hunting attire, bow and arrows slung over their shoulders. A man came floating over on a cloud wearing a blue velvet suit accompanied with a white poet’s shirt; daffodil petals falling gently behind in his wake. ‘Mind if I take cover with you kind sir?’ He asked in a warm, well-spoken voice. ‘Not at all.’ ‘Nasty business all this.’ ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘The big hunt.’ ‘For what?’ ‘Well migrants of course.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Where on earth have you been old sport? Living under a rock? If a number of migrants cross the channel, this ghastly siren erupts signalling to anyone who wants that they can capture, kill and eat whoever they strike down.’ ‘Why the bows and arrows?’ I asked. ‘Guns are prohibited. Bows and arrows only. Oh, and knives. Levels the playing field you see.’ I took off my navy Crew jumper, throwing it down beside me and straightening my hair. ‘I can’t believe this heat. It’s only mid-January.’ ‘Global warming. Even the snowdrops are melting.’ The man pointed to a cluster of snowdrops to the side of us on a perfectly cut emerald lawn filled with islands of multi-coloured flowers in full bloom. I bent down, gently touching the tips of the three outer perianth segments of a flower, only for them to turn into a drop of water and run down my finger. A bumblebee hovered over. I flicked it away. It pinged as if I’d flicked the edge of a cymbal. It flew back over immediately, hovering a few inches away from my face. Green lasers shot out of its five eyes, scanning both of mine. The laser retracted. The bee hovered for a few more seconds before a flashing red light rose out of its back. Other bees busy pollinating in the garden suddenly discontinued their work and charged toward me. ‘It’s seen something in you that it doesn’t like.’ Cried out the man in terror, ‘You better run.’ ‘What?’ Where?’ ‘Just run! As far away from them as possible. NOW!’ I began sprinting through the single-track roads of this tiny quaint country village, attempting to open the small wooden doors of the cottages but with no luck. The harder I tried to run, the slower I became. The buzzing of the chasing bees grew louder as they gained on me. One flew next to my ear. In the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a fine needle immerge from its side and swatted the electronic insect away; it hit the side of a house, exploding into a tiny flame. Up ahead the street split into a T-junction. The black Mercedes screeched to a halt across my path. The door flung open, I jumped in, slamming the door behind me. The bees pinged and ricocheted into the side of the car like a flurry of bb pellets. The car sped off. I spun round staring out the back window. The bees had given up. I caught my breath, sinking into the fine leather seats. I looked over at John, covered in blood, eating an arm with a Casio watch still strapped to the wrist. I screamed out, backing into door. ‘Hungry?’ Grinned John, offering me a bite with bits of flesh and hair stuck in his teeth. I frantically reached for the door handle behind me. I pulled but the door wouldn’t open. I yanked harder and harder, sweat cascading down my face. Finally, I heard the sound of the central locking clunk. I pulled the handle once more. The door opened. I fell out backwards, I wanted to cry out, but the shock robbed me of my breath.
with the chanting crowd marching to the shores of the lake. ‘Hurry, we’re nearly there called out the girl, ‘We don’t want to miss it.’ There must have been a hundred strong making up the crowd. The girl, pale skinned covered in freckles was dressed in stonewash dungarees over a yellow t-shirt with a Woodstock badge pinned to it and pink pumps that matched her pink ponytails, was restless. Her eyes were alive, filled with drive. She skipped as she ran, like a kid entering a theme park for the first time. ‘Katy, wait up.’ Called out a man from behind. ‘Brian, hurry!’ Brian caught us up. ‘Hi, I’m Brian, nice to meet you.’ ‘I’m Jack.’ ‘You’re doing a great thing here Jack.’ Brian was tall, gangly with resolute eyes. He too was pale, but not freckly. He wore blue corduroy pants, with a white t-shirt and a beige blazer that was ripped on the left shoulder pad. We arrived by the side of the lake; gothic boathouses made of limestone coated the shoreline. Behind, trees stood motionless despite developing gusts. The statue had already come loose from its footings and was beginning to wobble from the heaving of the crowd below. ONE (push), TWO (push), THREE (push). The statue fell, plunging into the water causing a huge wave to throw itself up over the translucent Perspex wall soaking everyone. The crowd cheered. ‘Who was he?’ I asked looking down at the statue that had risen briefly from the black water before slowly submerging for good with a gurgle. ‘He was slave trader in the 1800’s. He’ll no longer be celebrated. Now let’s go buy a printed t-shirt from the giftshop to mark the event. I watched the remainder of the statue sink as the crowd dispersed. The day was rapidly turning into night. The light became an electric blue, hazed from the descending fog. From across the water I heard a woman’s voice call out ‘Jack.’ All I could see was the illumination from a lighthouse. Every time it shone across the lake I heard my name called out as if it were being carried by the light. ‘Jack, are you coming?’ Called out Brian from behind. ‘Can you hear that?’ I shouted back. ‘Hear what?’ I looked back across the lake. The light was gone; the voice with it. ‘Nothing.’ I murmured, ‘Must be the wind’. As I hurried to catch up with Katy and Brian a black couple in their early thirties walking with their daughter of around ten headed towards me. The daughter was in the middle, holding her parents’ hands, being lifted into the air every few steps. All three were wearing matching hiking gear; zipped up luminous green waterproof jackets, navy blue waterproof pants and brown leather walking boots with bright red laces. The little girl stopped me as they approached and asked, ‘Do you know what type of clouds they are?’ She let go of her father’s hand and pointed to the sky. I looked up and back at the girl, ‘I have no idea.’ She smiled at me, proudly announcing, ‘They’re Nimbostratus. It means it’s going to rain.’ ‘Have you ever seen the rain?’ Asked the father intently, his grave voice could make bones rattle on an x-ray. The words hit me with a feeling of déjà vu. I studied his penetrable eyes searching for an answer written in them, but they remained crypted. I turned to his partner, who with a magnified tear slaloming its way down her cheek whispered, ‘All she asked from you was not to hurt her.’ The man put his arm around her, took his daughter by the hand and said, ‘Come on, before our ticket runs out.’ I caught up with the waiting couple as a torn, flustered Brian pacing in small circles asked Katy if she’d locked the car as he’d left his wallet on the dashboard. We walked behind a house with a small crooked gate at the end of the garden. The lights were on downstairs. I opened the gate and walked toward the house hypnotised by the comforting allure. The back door was ajar. I crept in, walking through a utility and opened a strong oak door that led into a living room lit with extravagant silver lamps and a roaring fire. The television was on. Sat on the settee were my parents. My father turned to me, ‘Thought you’d have your bags with you.’ ‘I don’t need them.’ I replied assuredly, ‘I’ve turned my life around. I’m now making something of myself.’ ‘You sure about that?’ He turned back to the tv. There was an advert promoting a new drama series. It showed a scene of a couple having sex in a kitchen in front of a huge exposed window. I looked closer. It was me and the woman from the house, Sarah. ‘What the fuck?’ What is this?’ I shouted out stunned and deeply embarrassed. ‘Everyone’s talking about it. It’s getting five-star reviews.’ I grabbed the remote and began flicking channels. ‘Oh leave this on.’ Called out my mother, ‘It’s the new series of “Dinnerladies.” They’ve got Marcus Rashford playing Victoria Wood’s character. Shame about his footballing career mind.’ ‘He became surplus to requirements.’ Piped up my father, ‘He was more concerned about feeding starving children. Sponsors aren’t interested in any of that. In the end people would rather see goals than full children.’ The doorbell rang. I walked to the front door. The lift opened. Stood in a buttoned up long black overcoat was Sarah. ‘Hello handsome, gonna let me in?’ She ripped open the coat revealing her hot toned body barely covered in red lingerie. I heard the sound of Faye walking down the stairs. ‘Who’s at the door babe?’
woke up gasping for air. I coughed and heaved trying to swallow but my mouth was too dry. I reached for a glass next to me, taking huge gulps. I spat the gin out all over the sheets. ‘Isn’t there any water?’ I asked, agitated. ‘What’s the matter baby? Can’t sleep?’ Came the soothing voice of a woman lying next to me. I instantly felt calmer. ‘No. I had the worst dream. Nightmare. Whatever it was.’ ‘Let me make things right for you baby.’ The woman rolled over. It was dark. I couldn’t see her face. I reached for the bedside light, flicking it on. After a few seconds of my eyes adjusting I saw Sarah, smiling, trying to kiss me. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I cried. ‘I thought I’d tuck you in.’ She laughed. I heard Faye out on the landing. ‘Jack? Jack are you in there?’ She tried opening the door, but it was locked. ‘Be right out.’ I shouted, trying to sound as composed as possible, ‘Don’t come in.’ ‘Why don’t you just tell her about us Jack.’ Whispered Sarah, ‘She’s going to have to find out soon enough if we’re going to be together.’ I pushed her away attempting to get off the bed only for her to come after me, grabbing me with a surprising amount of strength. I pushed her away toward the window. She staggered but composed her herself and came at me once more. I pushed her again harder. Then harder again. She stumbled back hitting the window, smashing it and falling through. Her scream revealed the height of the fall. I stopped, aghast. I couldn’t speak. Silence. I slinked to the window, dreading peering down, but without choice. Smashed glass lay in jagged pieces on the ground below, but no body. Not even a drop of blood. I leant out further, searching for any sign but there was none. Panic and relief curdled inside of me. I walked to the door, opened it. Faye stood in the light. Melancholia dripping off her. She spoke. Her lips remained sealed, ‘“It’s like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.”’ ‘What’s that from?’ I asked.
My eyes opened slowly; arms folded across my chest. I looked to my left. Empty. I flicked on the bedside lamp, grabbed my glass of water and sipped slowly. I lay back down, staring at the patterns on the ceiling created by the light and the shade. It was morning.