A foetus torn asunder
and a screaming single mother with the bloodied thing in the pram and the mother is carrying
a bottle of Tsingtao. It looks like Karen, Steve's newly-dead wife. There's no moonlight
coming through the skylight to light up this image. This half-formed idea, it seems, is
stuck in my head. These things, they need to come alive. To be pushed out like
newborns. And it just isn't happening tonight. It's 5:18. Gotta be awake in a few short
hours. I look up at the skylight holding the paintbrush with a thickening shield of numbness
surrounding me. Oh, Karen. You had such sparkless eyes even as you died. And I needed to
see something in you. Because I watched as you slowly destroyed yourself and all the while
you had nothing to say about it. You were empty on the surface and I needed to dig to your
core. To drain your blood and look into your dying eyes and discover what I already knew.
You were drinking yourself to death day in day out without a cause.
black haze starts to cloud my brain and I put the brush down and take three tablets and
wash them down with gin. My eyes are frantic and desperate as I wish for anything to happen.
Maggots. It's crawling with them.
Hooting and howling. Disrespectful football fanatics, most of them. I stop at the door
wondering again how it came to be this way. It was meant to be a quiet place full of
tasteful connoisseurs of beer and other things just like in The Riddled Fox but that's
the battle I fought for and unaccountably lost over the years. It fills me with a murderous
feeling, seeing my dream in its current state. Sometimes it's not so bad but today it seems
to be overpowering me.
I fight my way through the scumbags and go into the back. Open the office.
Is this the right key? Never completely sure. There are so many keys. In I go and
I sit alone feeling defeated. That'll be the rage. Turns inwards if it's not used. What
Dr Atkinson tells me and Jordan Bell my writer buddy before him. I don't talk to Jordan
anymore. He's gone. And in lieu of him I talk to Dr Atkinson. But how am I to use my emotions
well when I'm stuck in this hole all day? Sit forwards. Peer into the desk-mirror. Fat
defeated face. Stupid ginger moustache getting out of kilter again and no will to shave.
Circles around my eyes. Because I knew it was gonna be a bad day the second I woke up.
The shiftlessness was back as if a light was flipped during my sleep. And the tick,
tick, tick of the clock was grating at me. I was up all night with that blank canvas but
that's bound to change with a day such as this.
Knock knock. I sit for a while and then it knocks
again. I turn and open up the door.
Lucas Craig smiles and his braces glint at me.
Understand me here, Lucas is not a young lad with braces.
He's thirty-three and he's in here everyday complaining about nonsense.
Lucas,¨ I say patiently.
¨Jus' thought I'd tell ya,¨ he says, ¨Justin left the cardboard
in a right state last night. Clocked out before I could ask him to sort it. But I sorted
I've been here ten seconds. At least let me settle in, please. ¨
¨Yeah, I know. But I had to say. Seems the conditions are bad. Cos Justin's meant
to be a team leader, and I don't get why he's making mistakes like that.¨
¨Yes. Justin becoming a team leader, terrifying though it is, is something we have
to live with. Comprende?¨
Something catches my eye. A card on my table. I pick it up and see the good wishes
of its nature. My name's scrawled inside there along with Justin's, Lucas', Katya's, and
a few others. All the best for the coming year,
it says in shaky biro. I pick it up and say, ¨Who's this from then?¨
the desk mirror I see Lucas scratch his nose and shake his head in that irritating way
that he does when you ask him simple questions. ¨None other than Cunty Karen, of course.¨
I muse. ¨The one with the red coat and the, err...¨
¨Cunty attitude. Yep.¨
so that's why the Pinot is collecting dust.¨
Lucas says, ¨Said she was gonna be here with Steve for all the matches, but Steve's not
seen 'er. Barely even mentioned 'er. Weird.¨
¨Stupid man,¨ I spit.
gets louder as time ticks on. No go for me. I stay in the office and do the admin. Or at
least, let the scum believe that while they're pouring the pints. The picture on my desk
is turned down so it can't hurt me. My mother, she got sick years back when I was building
this place and she ate up a lot of my time. Time I could have spent building this place
into something. Time I could have spent with artists like myself. Back then it was just
what I had to do but reflecting casts a dark shadow on the perception of my former self.
cloudy feeling again. Frantically I turn over a printout - some kind of breakdown to do
with my revenue—and start scribbling on the back of this printout. Nothing. All that
creative juice is still locked away. Sometimes it pours from me like draft ales but now
I'm stagnant and when I'm stagnant I self-destruct. Jordan used to advise me on that. He
used to say that painting was an important part of me and to not indulge in it would cause
internal chaos. He was right. Two years have passed since the last proper splurge. Two
years is too long to keep insanity at bay. Dr Atkinson too advised me not to let it fester. Must do something.
¨Marv, mert. Steve's at the bar. Wants to see you.¨
for fuck's sake,¨ I throw the pencil down. ¨What is it?¨
him I'll be out in a second.¨
away and I close the door.
They say that the name breeds the person and that is definitely
the case with Steve. Old simple bastard. What the kids call a chav but he's grown up. Well,
gotten older, let's leave it at that. He's a shady degenerate and wears a hat to hide
his greying head and usually comes to the bar not one second later than our license allows
us to sell alcohol. He rants about the same shit every day. Scrambled eggs not yellow enough.
It's the third time this week now.
I come out and he's there, leaning half on the bar
half on the walking stick he apparently made himself. I'll bet you he just bought the thing
and lies about it. There's no spark in his eye. No thought or interesting insight. There's
no way he could create something like that, even if it is just a stick.
looks to one side and then to the other in that shady way he does, as if we're about to
do a drug deal and says, ¨Dis'pointing, Gelman.¨
My blood boils when he uses my surname. Like
he knows me so well. The scumbag hasn't earned the right. He should be calling me sir.
All these invertebrates should.
¨My apologies,¨ I say
like the nodding yessiring sack of filth I've become.
¨Erry day a come ere n aye av the same prollems.
Yad think yad fix em, wouldn ya?¨
He's got an
unintelligible voice. His tongue like a slug fighting its way out of a vagina it fell into.
I shape my face into a picture of concern and poke it at him and nodding in agreement.
bin to a lotta restraunts in ma day n never once ave ay ad the same prollems erry day.¨
you tasteless scoundrel, it's a pub. Secondly, may I suggest that you go back to one of
them? ¨Completely understand. Many apologies. Can we replace the meal for you?¨
beyond that now. A know ow these places are run, an a know ow cat'rin works. An it aint
like this. Ya dont treat ya regs like this.¨
¨No, of course. May I apologise? We'll replace the
¨It aint good enough, Gelman. Last week the lass with the black hair said the same
thing. Ya sound like a buncha robots ya do. If I ever....¨
And on he goes. I look left and right. Nobody's
paying any attention. I cut him off. ¨Steve, as an extended apology...May I offer you drinks
on the house for the day?¨
Steve stops, looks at me,¨The day?¨
I'm smiling but I don't let it surface. I can't ever let it surface. I feel my confidence
returning. It builds to the point where it almost spills over.
¨For the day, my friend. On the down low, you
understand? Of course, I'll inform the staff of the situation.¨
looks at me suspiciously. But there's a glint in his eye. I've got him.
¨Hard to say no,¨ he
¨So shall it be done.¨
Steve orders a Carling. When I built this place,
we were meant to serve the finest things. No middle of the road, vanilla commodities. Good
ales. For real connoisseurs of things like myself. How I allowed myself to let this happen
is something I don't understand anymore. I fetch Steve's drink and as I do so
Lucas asks me what occurred and I say, ¨It's all sorted. Steve's put a bunch of drinks
behind the bar. When he comes for them, give them to him, please. Tell the others,¨ and
Lucas is so stupid he believes me.
I've been meaning for some time to paint a picture of this place in all
its normality like how many artists throughout history have portrayed commonplace things
and in such beauty and elegance. Years ago, when I first started building this place, I
thought that such a painting would be one of many great creations and colours. But everything
is beige here. Even at this very moment I see nothing but sparkless biological cul de sacs
littering my home. And I weep for this race I am trapped in. This beige Hell.
too much. Emptiness is a lot. I turn and race back to the office slamming the door shut
behind me. Look at the paper here and still there is nothing. I put my arms on the desk
and my head on my arms and stay that way for a long while. After a time, two hours, two
minutes, who knows, I take three of my tablets and wash them down with my secret bottle
of whiskey and look at the CCTV.
Match is over. Most of the scum have cleared out. Katya, my proverbial lieutenant, comes
into the office and notices me.
¨Marvin, you don't
¨Katya. I'm not.¨
She has a
face full of concern. I like Katya. She's a few years
junior to me but knows her stuff. Like myself, distances herself from the hoi polloi, but
somehow manages to maintain better than I do. Probably because she has no dreams.
¨Why don't you go home, Marvin? I'll take care
of the admin. Place is a bloody mess too, but the team are on it.¨
That sounds agreeable.¨
Katya looks on. ¨Get
yourself off. Take care.¨
I get my stuff and
walk outta there. Through the pub and over to Steve's table. The sack of shit is still
here, as I knew he would be. Though his mates have dispersed. Is it your dead wife that's
keeping you here, sir? Or do you not have the capacity for grief?
tempted to branch out?¨ I say, sitting next to him.
¨Ya what, lad?¨ Steve says, staring at me with
a look I've seen a million times from the Hoi polloi. Used to think it was contempt but
as I've grown older I've come to realise you gotta be smart for contempt. It's just an
empty stare. No calculation behind that at all. His drunk glaze.
feel like branchin' out?¨ I repeat. ¨Same old lager, different day? Never wanna branch
¨Well, if it ain't broke
don't fix it.¨
has the same effect, eh?¨
long as we make it to be pissed, who gives a shit. That's the common view, isn't it?¨
¨It's the quantities that counts, like,¨ he looks at the table.
¨The quantities. You'd certainly notice though, no? If your favourite drink was
suddenly not available, right? I mean, one minute it's there the next it's gone? I'm not
saying it's the same, but if say, I had a friend, then I didn't, I'd notice, at least for
He just looks at me confused. I'm unsurprised because I'm talking garbage. But it
doesn't matter what I say or what he says.
¨So, I've not seen Karen around lately.¨
He turns on me, ¨That's nowt to do wi you or anyone.¨
¨Absolutely. But, where's she got to?¨
¨The fuck should I know? Copped off with some loser, I'll bet. Fucking cunt.¨
¨I'll be going now. You stay safe.¨
Off I go. Out the door. Another shift another quid and a half. And across the road
to the Riddled Fox where I can see the window of my own pub from my usual seat. Nice in
here. Humble. Fewer people to deal with. Lovely and quiet. I go to the bar.
here ale, how dark is it?
Fairly dark, sir, is that one, says the gentleman behind
From Edinburgh. I tell ya, they're comin strong nowadays they are, with their dark
ales. May I try it? I say. You seem to know what you're saying. Unlike my lot. And that
lighter one on the end too? That'll do. Hmmm. Not bad. Not really my mood today, though.
Let's try this. That's the one. I underestimate the lighter numbers sometimes. Cool taste.
But with taste, not like lager.
The gentleman nods and smiles, says, “Anyone
with taste would say the same, sir.”
Not many do though, I tell him. The world is riddled
with pedestrian types. Those who settle for the mediocre, those who sit around and agree
things are good and reject people who differ. The norm is a committee. Once they've agreed
that certain things are what they are there's nothing you can do to convince them
otherwise, not because they're stupid. Not because they don't have the capacity, but because
they simply don't care enough.
The gentleman smiles, I agree wholeheartedly, sir.
Marvin Gelman sitting in the corner and sipping this ale. Savouring each mouthful.
And keeping your head, sir. Last orders are at midnight at my pub. I watch out the window
And there's Steve at twelve-thirty. Limping out the front door. Poor bastard. Up I get.
Out the front. Slow walk to my car. Climb on in. Wait a while longer then drive down
the road. Dead quiet on a Wednesday in this depressing town. Never any action. I always
wanted to leave but never could. Mum getting ill like she did. Stole so many years of my
Driving past the old
bastard and stopping ahead of him. Reaching and pushing the back passenger door open for
him and calling out, Hey, Steve, hey. Lemme give you a lift. C'mon.
Steve squints his eyes,
staring at me, confused.
You gonna walk home in this Baltic temperature? C'mon,
my friend. Lemme help you.
Steve approaches me.
Lift? he says.
Reminds me of the time I helped Brian out, and of course Karen before him. It's
good to help people who need it, and who needs it more than the lowest thinkers on the
Lift, I say.
I'll ask you one more time. What's your favourite
Steve dribbles, groans, What the fuck do ya mean?
my pub. Off the top of your head. What's your favourite drink? I place the knife at his
neck. Quickly Steve, you don't have much time.
Hmm. That's a lager, not a drink.
And dig into
the skin. Steve wails, straining against the cable ties and leads. You cunt. I swear to
fuckin' God you cunt, I'll do ya once I get outta
here. Jus' stop.
Dear me, Steve, even when in searing agony you're brainless. I fear my instincts are correct.
There is no integrity out there.
Steve looks at me, out of breath, confused and angry,
What the fuck are ya on about ya psycho?
Had you chosen
Dark Side of the Moose, third from the left on the second T bar, I might've been surprised.
It's a complicated taste, that one.
Had you gone on to explain in depth how and why you like it, and your opinion showed
some credence, even if I agreed with you or not, I'd have been proven wrong, wouldn't I? Don't worry, old man. It won't hurt
I go to the bench and select a sharper tool. One that can really drain a man's blood.
To the mess before me I say, Come now Steve, I have several
more questions for you. Something, Steve, I look deeply into his eyes. Please, anything.
Give me something.
Steve can't seem to think.
Blood moon tonight.
Beautiful. Now sip more Rioja and brush over this bit again. Real gentle. Real careful.
This substance is fragile. Fit to spill. But just be precarious about it and...yes. There
we are. Really ties the image together. This one has an abstract look to it. Dare I say,
an authentic one. It looks like and has the texture of the inner workings of a human heart.
See how the darker openings there also look like tears. And inside of it a football logo
torn apart in four segments. Hung drawn and quartered. And a sea of what can be
interpreted as broken glass. And red. So much thick, red. It's such a beautiful
colour and there are so many fleshy shades of it. A warmth overwhelms me when I
look at it. But it only lasts a moment.
Watt is a militant writer and connoisseur of dark literary fiction, as well as a
musician and journalist. He was previously published in two editions of The 13 Anthology (2013, 2015). Dedicating
his time to creativity in all its forms from poetry, to short fiction, to creating terrible
noise in various musical projects, he is fascinated by the morbid, the minimal, and the
Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for
horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and
magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent
poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA
Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal
Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous
anthologies. Her short stories have appeared
recently in Night
to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as
well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats
from the Big Easy, Thuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared,
briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007
Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having
lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides
in southern Arizona. https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/