Myth Confirmed – 100 Word Flash Fiction

 

He was onto it now, Bernard could feel it. He’d tracked the beast through the snow for hours, and knew it must be close by. Once he caught it, he would be famous! The tracks led into some bushes, and Bernard followed. Then he froze, dumbfounded.

“Nessie?!? What the hell are you doing here?”

The serpentine neck turned gracefully to regard him. “Oh, I just fancied a change of scenery. Bigfoot raves about this place.”

“But how can you, a cold-blooded reptile, survive here?” Bernard asked.

The plesiosaur gave him a quizzical look. “You’ve never been to Scotland, have you?”

*     *     *

This Friday Fictioneers entry was brought to you by Scotch Video Cassettes, because screw Netflix.

I wasn’t all that happy with my last attempt, so I thought I’d have another go. I’m much happier with this one. Apologies to any Scottish readers who might be offended. Please don’t nut me.

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Myth Confirmed by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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False Alarm? – 100 Word Flash Fiction

 

Jake yawned purposely, eyes closing tightly enough to aggravate his migraine. Freezing air filled his lungs. He didn’t want to be here. Crouched beside him, the engineer was finishing up. Jake wondered how easy it would be to make him just disappear.

“I can’t find any sign of a leak,” the engineer said. A false alarm, apparently. Jake was certain he’d smelled gas in his kitchen, but it was 3 AM, he was tired and eager to leave the dingy apartment building basement. He apologised to the engineer and showed him out hurriedly. As he did so, he made sure to avoid glancing at the darkened alcove near the entrance, where he could’ve sworn he’d seen a figure watching them.

This Friday Fictioneers entry was brought to you by Kia-Ora and their vaguely racist ad campaign. “I’ll be your dawg!”

Hey look, I’m back again! A little late, but I got here in the end. Don’t get used to it, though, I’ll probably disappear again before next week. Things are still unsettled on the home front.

This one is drawn from a personal experience, which took place earlier this year. It’s not 100% accurate – I didn’t see anything, but I was sure I’d heard someone, or possibly something, moving about in that little offshoot. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I made sure the engineer was stood between me and the alcove. I was probably imagining it, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.

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False Alarm? by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Patience – 100(ish) Word Flash Fiction

 

Johnny walked hurriedly down Loughborough Road, his heart thumping. Every day he made this journey to and from school. And every day he passed that empty white house and the hair stood up on his neck. He had no idea why, but that old house terrified him. Today he dared to take a sideways glance, caught a brief snapshot of flaking brickwork, dirty windows and mouldy net curtains. His mum had told him it used to be a doctor’s surgery, many years ago. Johnny hated going to the doctors.

He looked away and carried on walking.

*     *     *

A grey, tapered forelimb rested on the windowsill. Through mottled net curtains, it watched as the boy hurried off. The faint chatter of children’s voices drifted out of its subconscious – was that really how they’d sounded? It couldn’t be sure anymore. It had been so very long.

It turned away and carried on waiting.

*     *     *

This Friday Fictioneers entry was brought to you by Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Stick it on your shopping list!

Right, first off, if you’re new to the whole #FridayFictioneers shebang (in which case I can say without hyperbole that you have not lived) then please visit Madison Woods’ blog to find out WTF it’s all about and HTF you can take part. While you’re there make sure you check out her entry, then have a gander at the comments to find links to others. Feel free to read and comment on as many as you can, because they are all guaranteed to be awesome. If you are already aware of the #FridayFictioneers then you’ve just wasted valuable reading/commenting time on the above. In addition, you may or may not have discovered that I’m a damn liar.

Moving along, apologies for my absence these last few weeks – what do you mean, you hadn’t noticed? Little bit of traditional English self-deprecation there. Consider that a bonus for depriving you of my obvious talent. What do you mean, what talent? There you go, have another! I’m all about giving.

Frivolity aside, an explanation is in order. I’ve been busy for the last month or so doing up my flat to get it in a reasonable state as we’re hoping to move. Between this, the Domain and other commitments I haven’t had a lot of free time. I was all set to make my stunning return this week, when unfortunately I happened to get sick as a dog. Lazy, useless antibodies. Fortunately I wrote this piece and prepared the illustration in advance, so this time I will not be denied! I won’t be able to read or comment on other entries tonight, or respond to any comments here, as despite technological advances it remains difficult to do so from the confines of the bathroom (apologies for that mental image, I’m trying to dilute my own ill feeling by spreading it around a bit). Hopefully I’ll feel up to it tomorrow. After that, I might do a bit of reading and commenting! There you, a side serving of euphemism to go with your double helping of self-deprecation. Another little bonus for you.

While I’m here, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Susie Lindau for taking part in my recent 200th comic special. Sadly the planned follow-up has been kiboshed by this accursed disease, but you will still get your cameo appearance as promised, alongside a certain other well-known blogger. Look out for that next week.

Till then, this is Jake Kale signing off. Hopefully not permanently.

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Patience by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Turn On, Log In, and Freak Out – 100 Word Flash Fiction

 

Jake stared at the comment field, the expectant square as blank as his mind. Everyone else’s comments were so witty, insightful and encouraging. What could he possibly add to the discussion? He thought for a second, then his figures skipped about the keyboard.

“No comment.”

*     *     *

I hope Susie, Madison and elmowrites will forgive me for incorporating them, or at least their avatars into the story, such as it is. And I hope you’ll all forgive my self-doubt, not to mention my self-indulgence. I like to take frequent, cutting shots at my own inadequacies. I have no idea why.

In case you’re wondering, the unseen entry they’re commenting on deals with a character my nephew came up with named Mr. Facemelt. I’ve referenced him before, here and here. One day I’m going to explore that character in full, bloody detail.

As always, for more details about the Friday Fictioneers check out Madison Wood’s blog.

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Turn On, Log In, and Freak Out by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Breaking the Surface – 100 Word Flash Fiction

Dust scattered as if moved by a mighty exhalation. Shafts of hot light penetrated the gloom, revealing a whole new world that long vanished eyes would never see. It had faced annihilation, the end of life, yet it had persevered. And now, after enduring the bone crushing weight of time for so long, the great beast had finally surfaced.

Dr Bob Jackson knelt before the scant remains. To think, he’d almost walked right by them. As he lightly swept away the baking earth the maxilla appeared, immense teeth still routed in the jaws. Jackson smiled. “You made it, big fella.”

*     *     *

OK, so I tweaked the prompt a little. Call it a compromise!

To be honest, I couldn’t not use this prompt. The second I saw it, I thought, “Dinosaur!” I have been a prehistory nerd since before I can remember, and I retain that fascination with these awe-inspiring animals and the vanished ecosystems they inhabited to this day. In my geologically insignificant time on this planet I have seen our understanding of them and their world, and of the worlds that came before and since, change many times over as intrepid palaeontologists pushed the boundaries of what we can know, what we can learn. I have seen things that just a few years ago I would’ve thought impossible become reality. This story is dedicated to the efforts of the men and women who venture out into the world to discover its past. If I’d had their drive I could’ve been out there with them. I share their fascination though, and I thank them for their work. To coin a phrase, you guys rock!

As always, thanks to Madison Woods for giving me and others an excuse to write/kick up the backside. Go to her blog to learn more about the Friday Fictioneers, and please feel free to comment and leave links to your entries there and here. And if you haven’t yet then please join in. It’s fun!

One last bit of business. This is shameless begging, so I apologise in advance. This an appeal to readers who have visited my other site, The Master Of His Domain. I’ve recently posted a review of the 2011-early 2012 season and I’m looking for feedback. I’ve been running it since late 2009, and while its audience has grown steadily I want more. I’m really trying to make the site a success so any suggestions/criticisms/squeeing would be very much appreciated.

Jake 

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Breaking the Surface by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

My First Time – 100 Word Flash Fiction

 

It was twelve years ago at my first Gathering. There were thousands on the beach, their surf-specked bodies undulating in the twilight. I was nervous, self-conscious, until I saw her. She beckoned to me. No words were spoken; we simply lay beside each-other, thrusting into each-other, feeling the bodies of our compatriots thrusting into us, our minds and bodies converging.

Then suddenly an intense light shone down from above, freezing us in sharp clarity. Behind it a shape, deep black and tall as a mountain, shifted ponderously. Then she was snatched up into the sky.

I never saw her again.

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My First Time by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Untitled

By Jake Kale

I’m honestly not sure what to title this. I can’t think of a title that doesn’t sound like a cliché—I’d considered “My Confession”, but that’s not particularly fitting as I don’t intend for anyone to see this. At least, not yet. Not until I’m ready. I think I’ll leave it untitled for now.

My story begins about five years ago. I used to be a journalist, freelance of course and mostly restricted to local matters. But I was good, and I was respected. One day I got an email from a former colleague of mine who’d gone on to become a fairly successful writer in London, inviting me to a conference there. It sounded like fun, and it was a chance to meet up with old friends and make new contacts. To network, as the saying goes. So I booked a hotel and off I went. But by the end of the second night I’d had more than enough of my companion’s lack of humanity. Truth be told, I was at a bit of a crossroads, and was seriously considering switching to a new career. The conference made up my mind, and after foolishly spending a further two hours in my friend’s company at a bar (“for old times’ sake”) I left the on the pretence of having to go home early the next day. Which was true, but it wasn’t the real reason. I just had nothing in common with the man, and found myself wondering what warped part of my mind ever thought that I did.

While the bar had been a pretty upscale joint you’d never know it from the alleyway that led to it. It was like something out of Whitechapel circa 1888—dark, dingy and much more intimidating now that I was alone. The narrowness seemed to funnel the shadows towards me, eliciting a claustrophobic reaction so intense that I almost went back to the bar. Like a fool I ignored this perfectly rational, sane reaction and kept going, reasoning that the alleyway was short and I’d soon be out on the street. I couldn’t have taken more than five steps before a shadowy figure emerged from an offshoot that I didn’t even know was there.

“Give me your wallet,” the figure demanded, and at first I didn’t respond. Not so much out of fear, more because I couldn’t believe this was happening. In an absurd way I almost thought it was a joke. Then I saw the glint of a blade in his right hand, and my blood ran cold. Now it was fear that arrested my motor skills, and I found I couldn’t speak, couldn’t do anything other than stand there like an idiot, eyes wide and lips moving noiselessly. I could sense my aggressor’s impatience and thought I was about to die, then the door to the bar opened behind me and I saw his face in the dim light—a teenager, or perhaps in his early twenties, with narrow, bony features partly obscured by a dirty stubble and long, stringy hair, wild, frenetic eyes staring out from sunken eyes sockets, the classic junkie countenance. I saw fear in those eyes, fear of getting caught, and for a second I thought I was saved. Then he advanced and, grabbing my arm, yanked me into the offshoot he’d secreted himself in, hissing at me, “Get in here or I’ll cut you’re fucking throat!”

He held me against the wall, the knife right at my throat, and I dared not draw breath in case my expanding airway caused the blade to puncture the flesh of my neck. A man and a woman, both stumbling and giggling like toddlers, somehow made their way past, not even noticing the smaller alley where my life now hung by a thread. The drunken imbeciles must have seen me being dragged in here, but either that didn’t fully register or they were just too entranced by chemicals and rampant hormones to care. I felt my anger kindling. Once they’d gone the kid moved back round to face me, holding the knife just under my jaw line. “Now give me the wallet!” he ordered, but his brush with discovery had obviously taken its toll on whatever nerve he had possessed. The depth had disappeared from his voice, and he stuttered while saying the first two words. He both sounded and looked terrified, he was even shaking! I started to shake, too, and I felt cold beads of sweat on my brow, my heart expanding and contracting rapidly in my chest as the adrenaline flooded my system. As the darkness froze my heart and swallowed my soul. And in that moment, whether I lived or died, I knew one thing.

This snivelling little shit wasn’t getting my wallet.

Like a lot of people, I suppose, I’ve often wondered how I’d react if I were mugged. And, like a lot of people, I’ve even planned what I’d do in that situation. One idea I’d had involved “accidentally” dropping my wallet and then tackling the mugger whilst he was off-guard. I knew it would be risky, but thought that if I acted quickly enough I might be able to disarm or at least incapacitate him long enough to get away. This was the strategy I used that night. Doing my best to appear as terrified as he was (I was still visibly shaking, but that was entirely due to anger), I reached into my jacket pocket and made a big show of groping for my wallet. I finally pulled it out, and I think I did a very convincing impression of fumbling with it before it “flew” from my grasp. It landed a couple of feet away to my right, and so far my plan was working perfectly. I was all set to tackle the kid when the unexpected happened.

The stupid little sod actually bent down to pick it up!

I’m not sure what came over me in that instant. It was like a rapid-fire of impressions and emotions—surprise, apprehension, glorious anticipation among others, experienced at a rate that made it impossible to keep track of them all. I saw the opportunity was right there in front of me and in a moment of seductive impulse I wondered if I could actually do this. If I could actually get away with this. Then I acted.

I kicked him in the head, my foot connecting just beneath his jaw hard enough to bruise my calf. The kid’s head whipped to the right and his body spun with it, and he dropped to one knee but didn’t fall any further. I knew I couldn’t stop now, so seizing my chance I circled behind him and grabbed his right arm, forcing his hand into the floor at an angle and snapping the blade clean off the knife. At this point he tried to stand, so I adjusted my grip on his arm, keeping him doubled over, and ran with him, using his own momentum to drive him headfirst into the wall on the opposite side of the alley. This time he did go down, slumping on his left side before rolling onto his back, and I caught a brief glimpse of his dirty, withered, hopeless face, his dull, half-open eyes registering shock, and then I was on him, kicking his head repeatedly, over and over, and then I was stamping on his face and neck, and I felt a soft squelch and then a satisfying crack as first his nose and then his lower jaw yielded to my heel. And I kept kicking and stamping, I couldn’t stop myself, and I wasn’t angry anymore, I was euphoric—I’d never experienced a thrill like this in my life!

Finally I stood back, shaking harder than before and gasping for air. It felt like there was a hurricane in my head, carrying my thought processes away in a vertiginous mix of terror and excitement. I knew I’d killed him. I almost couldn’t believe it, but I knew it was true. Jesus Christ, I’d actually killed a man! I never imagined I’d be capable of murdering someone. I’m just an ordinary guy. But obviously there was more to me than I realized.

That sounded boastful. Sorry about that, I didn’t mean it that way. It was just a thought.

Just a thought. Maybe that’s what I should call this—“Just a Thought”!

No, that was distasteful. To continue in this vein would cheapen the entire thing, and I don’t want that.

So . . .

As the adrenaline wore off reality set in pretty damn quick, and I saw what I had done and wondered what the hell had come over me. I felt sick, and I had to get away from there, so I turned and ran through both alleyways and into the street where I stopped and bent over, sucking in deep lungful of clammy air, trying to stop my gorge from rising any further. I knew I had to get away, so once I was satisfied that I wasn’t going to throw up I stood and started walking. Fortunately there was no-one else around, but still I forced myself to walk as slowly, as nonchalantly as I could on wobbly, aching legs, even as every muscle in my body tensed in anticipation of flight, as my anxiety-ridden mind screamed for me to get as far away from here as I could. Somehow I willed myself to keep calm and keep walking. I got perhaps another fifty feet when I remembered I’d forgotten to pick up my wallet.

I froze, terror once again seizing my body in its icy death-grip. I had to go back! The idea of going back to that alley was repellent, and my body resisted it violently. How could I have been so stupid? I knew I had to go back, I couldn’t leave the wallet there. As afraid as I was, as much as I wanted to get away, as much as I didn’t want to see what I’d done to that kid’s face, I knew I had no choice.

I had to go back.

I turned around and started walking, and my terror was almost overwhelming. I thought, What if I’m wrong and I haven’t killed him? What if he’s waiting there for me? Or, worse, what if he is dead, but there’s someone else waiting for me instead? Someone in a uniform? But even as these possibilities occurred to me I knew they were not the real reason I was afraid. I simply did not want to confront what I had done. What I had become.

When I reached the scene of my transformation from everyday man on the street to cold-blooded killer I saw that nothing had changed. The kid was lying where he fell, mostly hidden in shadow. You might even think he was sleeping, at least until you looked closely enough. Steeling my nerves and carefully averting my eyes from the crumpled, still form of my would-be assailant-turned-victim I searched for my wallet. It lay on the ground next to a dustbin where I’d “dropped” it, about five feet from the kid’s right foot. I quickly bent to pick it up, then stuffed it right down in my coat pocket and stood. As I did so I couldn’t stop myself from turning to look at the body.

I don’t think I had time to wonder about how I would react when I saw it, though I do remember thinking that I might vomit and end up leaving trace evidence behind after all. The body resembled a heap of old rags arranged on the floor in a spread-eagled humanoid form, with only tattered shoes and greasy hands to indicate that there was an actual human being hidden within. The skull was little more than a dark, slick-looking pancake framed by stringy hair and punctuated by irregular shards of broken bone. A faint but noticeable metallic scent hung in the air. Strange as it may seem, I no longer felt any revulsion at all. I not sure what I felt, but it wasn’t revulsion. Once again a powerful urge overtook me, and I honestly don’t know why I did this, why I even thought of it. But as before, once I had, I couldn’t stop myself.

I pulled out my mobile phone, flipped it open and took a picture of the body.

I left the alleyway for good then, though I had no idea where I was going to go. I knew I couldn’t go back to my hotel yet—I probably had blood on me, and my shoes were bound to be covered in it. Fortunately they were black and as it was dark I was confident no-one would notice. I was more worried about leaving bloody footprints on the hotel carpet. I tried to wash the blood off my heel in a puddle, but then I decided to let it dry. I spent the next few hours wandering the streets of the capital, trying to sort through everything that had just happened. The fear was unreal. I became very aware of traffic cameras, and froze when I spotted the flashing blue lights of a passing panda car. CSI-inspired fantasies plagued my mind, as I imagined revellers stumbling onto the corpse, and perhaps catching a glimpse of my fleeing form. I imagined swarms of glum-faced and determined police officers descending upon the scene, followed by clean-suited forensic technicians armed with tweezers, cotton buds and spray cans filled with luminol. I visualized seated silhouettes scanning CCTV screens in darkened rooms, the images before them flickering rapidly as they watched the attack and tracked my movements afterwards.

Eventually I worked up the courage to go back to my hotel. When I entered I ignored the clerk’s cheerless “Goodnight, sir,” (which I immediately regretted, certain my sheepish behaviour had aroused suspicion) and swiftly made my way to my room. I was relieved beyond measure that my shoes left no bloody tracks. When I got to the room I took off my clothes and examined them. There were indeed a few spots of blood on my trouser legs, and the soles of my shoes were caked in it. It had dried, but was clearly visible as a dark brown flaky coating. I debated dumping the lot, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the room. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t—dumping my clothes in the vicinity of the hotel quite likely would’ve led the police straight to me. Instead I packed them into two plastic shopping bags and stuffed them right at the bottom of my luggage. Then I took out my mobile and decided I had to delete that picture. But I didn’t. As incriminating, as damning as I knew the picture was, I couldn’t bring myself to even look at it.

Afterwards I showered and put on fresh clothes (I didn’t bother changing into my pyjamas as I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep, plus I wanted to be ready to get away quickly in the morning), then I sat down on the bed, drawing my knees up to chest, about to begin a night-long battle with paranoia. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t sleep a wink that night—I kept expecting a knock at the door any moment. When I thought about what I’d done I started to shake all over again. I’d never committed a crime in my life, I had never so much as got a parking ticket. Now I’d thrown myself right in at the deep end. I was a murderer. And the truly frightening thing was I’d enjoyed it. The next morning I paid the bill for the hotel, checked out and caught the train back home to Cranford. Throughout the journey I expected to see police officers entering the carriage, or to feel a tap on my shoulder.

When I got home I dumped all the luggage that was in the bag with my bloodied clothes, along with the bag itself, well away from my home. Then I tried to get back to the usual routine that was my life, and as the days, weeks and months passed I gradually stopped expecting that fateful knock at the door. You might wonder, as I did, whether the killing of a random junkie would be considered “newsworthy” in our jaded modern times. In fact, it was—but not for long. Pretty soon the papers went back to swooning over “celebs” and calling for immigrants to be forcibly ejected. Maybe if the mugger had been a former actor or musician fallen on hard times, or a refugee from Afghanistan or Iraq, he might have merited more attention. Luckily for me he was neither, and of the scant coverage his murder received, I didn’t bother to collect any press cuttings or tape any news reports. I didn’t need to.

It honestly surprised me that I felt no guilt. Don’t get me wrong, I lived in a state of constant nervous tension for months afterwards, but that was purely a fear of getting caught. I didn’t feel sorry for the kid—he’d brought it on himself. He was just another worthless, apathetic junkie who’d given up on his life and was simply waiting for it to end. I did feel some sympathy for his family, but they no doubt expected this to happen some day.

So that’s my story. I still can’t think of a title for it—I think I’ll leave it untitled. I have to wonder, assuming somebody else is reading this, what you might make of it, and of me. Most people who know me consider me pretty well-adjusted. I’ll go further and state that I actually consider myself to be a very well-adjusted person. I had a very happy childhood—I’ll admit I’ve been bullied at school, once quite badly, and I’ve been a bully, too, but nothing serious. I’ve built up a good career in which I am respected and, I hope, liked, and have a good home. I’ve never had any mental problems, not even depression, which everyone seems to get these days. And my relationships with others—family, friends, lovers—have all been healthy and fulfilling. In fact, throughout my life, both up to that night and beyond, I’ve gone out of my way to help people. I’m not a sociopath—I have empathy for other human beings, I don’t see them merely as “objects”. And that’s what confuses me.

Because I’ve killed six more people since that night.

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Untitled by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Parasite

By Jake Kale

Mark Lewis was dying.

He was just twenty-four years old, but already his body had suffered more abuse than it could take. The relentless ingestion of narcotic substances to dull the mental and physical pain had poisoned his system beyond all hope of recovery—his breathing had slowed, and he had long since lost consciousness. Within minutes his already faint life-force would be spent.

And the parasite would have to find a new host.

The parasite was all too aware that it had caused this. Its kind had evolved to target their hosts in a specific manner, to suppress the production of certain neurotransmitters in such a way as to stimulate the depression, paranoia and hatred they fed on. It required great skill to manipulate the host’s mind enough to feed yet not so much that it was injured or caused itself injury. It was a delicate balance, and it was all too easy to become greedy. And that’s exactly what the parasite had done—it had become greedy. It had pushed Mark Lewis’s mind and body too far much too quickly. It had driven him to despair, and to inflict psychological and bodily harm on himself and others. And while the parasite itself was immune to these things, its host was not. It had finally driven him to death, all that potential for nought, leaving behind a devastated family, a devoted if foolish girlfriend, and an unborn child.

The parasite felt no guilt. This was the nature of things, and the parasite knew better than to fight nature.

Mark Lewis had stopped breathing, and the parasite prepared itself for his death. While it had become used to it, the act of leaving one’s host and re-entering the outside world was always a difficult transition. It was worse if it had been with the host for longer—after an extended period of time living in tandem with another being it was common to lose yourself within them, to actually come to believe that you are one and the same. But that was the goal. To be as one with the host. To work in tandem with it, to instigate and prolong its suffering in order to feed.

As Mark Lewis’s brain died, the parasite swore that next time it would pace itself. Next time it would be sure to truly savour its host.

The end came within seconds, and the parasite knew it needed to leave. Summoning all of its strength, it tore itself free of its former host’s deceased mind, and the agony was exquisite. All too suddenly the limited world of three dimensions melted away as the parasite pulled away from Mark Lewis’s body and went back to the Source. It struggled to orientate itself, specialized sense organs that had lay dormant for twenty-four years reawakening. In this place all levels of reality converged and coexisted, and the parasite had its pick of new hosts from any point in time and space. However, it had already made its choice.

It hoped Mark Lewis’s child lived longer than its father had.

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The Parasite by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Reflection

By Jake Kale

I doubt I’ll ever really know what happened that night—I can’t trust my memory, for reasons which will become obvious. For a long time I had no memory to trust or distrust, and I suppose I should have been grateful for that. But I’m a curious guy, and that curiosity soon overrode my common sense. It’s taken me ten years to get this far, ten years of my mind taunting me with isolated flashes dealt at its own irregular pace, daring me to explore further. Ten years of fitting those flashes into a timeline, a coherent chain of events. This is the result.

At the time I’d been out of school for just over a year and had begun working for an employment agency called Progress Workforce, and if you’ve ever worked for such an agency you’ll know work tends to be sporadic. Progress was especially shoddy (in fact they’ve since closed down) and I’d had no work throughout the summer. Then in September several jobs opened up at the Denhams factory and Progress got the gig. I was offered an evening shift, two till nine, and while I preferred day shifts funds were getting desperately low so I accepted.

The Denhams factory was located on the Gatehouse Industrial Estate in western Cranford, and was typical of the buildings on that estate—a huge brick box built around a flimsy-looking skeleton of scaffolding. The Progress workers manned a line of tables in front of the delivery bays, row after row of tightly packed clothing behind us. As with all factory jobs the work was mind numbingly boring, and in the case of my merry little band involved taking delivery of cardboard boxes from the bays and hanging the contents on a ceiling-mounted railing, then pushing them round to the either the right or left aisle where other workers would transport them to their assigned place on one of the three floors. We found ways to entertain ourselves, usually by firing the elastic clasps that we had to remove from the clothes at each other, or by wolf-whistling at the redheaded college student who always wore a long dress and always seemed to end up on the second floor, so that we got an eyeful through the grating.

I’d been working at Denhams for a little over three months when that night began, a personal best during my time with Progress. My recall of the start of that shift consists of little more than fuzzy impressions. My friends from the factory told me that I had complained of a headache early on, and I vaguely remember I’d been feeling sick as well. The only clear memory I have, which strangely enough was the first one to come back to me, is of standing in front a sink in the toilets, staring into the mirror. It confused me for a long time, because I had the strongest sensation that my reflection was talking to me.

Apparently I managed to endure the pain for a whole two hours before I decided enough was enough and asked if I could leave early. My supervisor was a decent bloke and had been happy with my work so he OK’d this, but when I telephoned Progress from one of the kiosks in reception (this was back before everyone had a mobile phone) I was informed the minibus would not be coming out until the regular pick-up time. Which was another six hours away. So I called for a taxi instead and because I needed some fresh air I waited for it on a bench outside.

The air outside certainly was fresh, I remember that clearly. In fact it was bitter—I was “freezing my Frankincense off” as a colleague of mine used to say. I remember it was getting dark, too. The factory’s entrance looked out onto Gateway Road, the main road through the industrial estate. A wooded path bordered the other side of the road, and in the setting sun the outline of the trees had seemed to glow. To my left were the delivery bays, while the booking in area and, I believe, a small car park were located around the right side of the building. The only sign of human habitation had been the pale blue flickering of a portable TV coming from the security hut. I sat for I don’t know how long waiting for the taxi, feeling cold and miserable, but the only traffic I saw was the odd lorry thundering past or through the main entrance. My recall becomes confused here, as I have another memory of myself sitting on the short wall in front of the chain link fence next to the entrance, staring back at a row of empty delivery bays, only now the sky was dark. I don’t know if I came back to the factory later that night or if this memory is from a different night. I do know that my taxi didn’t turn up.

I eventually got sick of waiting, but I couldn’t call back to check on the taxi as I’d used the last of my spare change to book it in the first place. It would’ve saved me a lot of heartache—ten years worth—if I’d just asked the girl at the desk if I could use the phone there, but for some reason I think there was bad blood between us, so I didn’t. In a testament to masculine obstinacy, I decided instead to follow the road out of the estate and get some change from one of the shops along Mill Street, then look for a phone box there. What the hell made me think that was a good idea I don’t know. But that’s what I did.

I remember Gateway Road being longer than it seemed by minibus, and what I thought would be a five-minute walk ended up taking maybe ten. The sky darkened, and being an industrial estate I saw no other pedestrians. The road snaked ahead of me, shadowy trees on one side and the black edifices of other factories on the other, the smattering of orange night lights that covered them providing little in the way of illumination. The trees made me nervous, and I also worried that passing lorry drivers might not see me because I was wearing dark clothes. The fact that I’d worked at several of those other factories during my employment with Progress made me feel a little better, though. I knew safety was nearby if I needed it.

I finally reached the turn-off from Mill Street, a short shopping district that ran parallel to the industrial estate. I remember it was just as empty as Gateway Road had been, but at the time I didn’t care. I was just grateful to be back on a street with houses and shops, signs of actual habitation. Since there was no traffic about I jogged across the road and started looking for a somewhere to get some change. Most of the shops were closed, except for an off-license and few takeaways. I wasn’t in the mood for anything alcoholic and I certainly wasn’t up to a curry, so I ignored those and carried on up the street, passing a phone box which I noted for later, and finally spotting a lone newsagent, Merton’s I believe it was called. I went in and I think I bought a bottle of water and some mints because the miserable sod wouldn’t change a tenner, and I definitely remember the look on the old git’s face when I insisted on small change.

After I got my change I went straight to the phone box. I’d already decided by then not to bother booking another taxi but to call my friend Russell instead and ask him if he could come and pick me up. Unusually for phone boxes in this part of Cranford this one had been pretty clean with all its windows intact, though when I entered I remember I couldn’t close the door completely as there seemed to be something wrong with the hinges. I remember putting the money in the slot and dialling Russell’s number but getting no answer. I let the phone ring for a while and turned to look outside the booth, and that’s when I caught sight of my reflection in the glass.

I think of that moment every time I look in a mirror or out of a window, and I know I always will. I’ve tried to convince myself that I must have imagined it, that I couldn’t really have seen what I think I saw. Because what I think I saw was the ghostly image of my own face staring back at me, it’s mouth forming words I couldn’t hear, even though I knew my mouth was closed. I was too shocked to react, so we mirror-images simply stared at one-another until a liquid glint drew my eyes to my double’s chest, which I saw was slick with dark fluid, and looking up again I spotted its source—blood was gushing from a ragged slash across it’s, no,  my throat.

Here my memory falters again, and honestly I’m glad. I have no desire to pursue it, because as things stand I can at least hold on to the possibility that my mind is simply playing tricks on me, that I just imagined my bloodied reflection in the phone box window, and the earlier vision in the toilets. That my timeline is off and I’ve somehow got that moment confused with later events.

In any case, my next clear memory comes some time later. I hadn’t been able to reach Russell, so I’d apparently decided I was going to walk home. Again I have no idea what made me decide to do that, particularly if I really did see that reflection in the phone box. I think I was just desperate to get home. The route was pretty straightforward, up Mill Street, down Wealden Road and into south Loughborough Road. Straightforward, but not exactly short—four miles in total, most of that via a busy route into the town through sprawling fields. To get there I needed to cross back over to the other side of Mill Street, but I believe I didn’t do so immediately, probably due to the trees that still lined that end of the road. After a short while those trees gave way to terraced houses and I think I must have crossed over there, and again I’m not sure if this is my imagination screwing up my recall, but I have a strong mental image of the lights being out in the houses I passed.

Further on the road inclined steeply then levelled out, and my next clear recollection comes from there. I know I was nervous and walking quickly, and I was also bursting for a piss so I must have drunk the water. I passed tall hedgerows, then a low guard rail, a sheer grassy slope on the other side. The slope cast a deep shadow over the new housing development at its base—if it wasn’t for the dim light coming from behind closed curtains you’d never have known it was there. To my mind those dark, squat houses looked ominous, like the colony of some alien species. I remember a security light suddenly flashing on outside one of them, and I paused to look. I saw no sign of movement below, no indication of what caused the light to trigger. Feeling highly conspicuous at the top of that hill, I started walking again.

Thankfully more hedges obscured the view from that point, and I started to see signs of life again. A couple of cars went by, and I saw someone walking by the houses on the other side of the street. I think he must have come from or across Wealden Road, and I remember my relief at seeing another human being lasted only until he got closer to me. The man—the figure’s build made me certain it was a man—was wearing a dark-coloured jacket and scruffy, dirty-looking jeans and trainers. The jacket had a fleece-lined hood which he’d pulled up, and his head was low so I couldn’t see his face. I remember looking straight ahead but watching him from the corner of my eyes, feeling thoroughly intimidated. As he got closer still I’m sure I saw the hood twitch almost imperceptibly in my direction, and he slowed. But he didn’t stop, and to my immense relief he soon passed me. I walked a little further, then turned and waited until I saw him disappear down the incline. I waited a few more seconds, then I carried on.

Eventually I reached the point where Mill Street and Wealden Road crossed over each-other. I remember the old three-story houses that lined the roads in all directions, except of course the one going east, which was bordered with yet more trees. And which unfortunately was the route I needed to take. I know I stood at the intersection for a while, debating my options. I don’t know if I was just coming to my senses or not, but after the encounter with the hooded figure I remember the thought of walking home through that road had become a lot less appealing. I’d had good reason to feel apprehensive here anyway, since this area was a well-known accident black spot—a man had been killed in a crash only a couple of years before. Predictably, local legend had it he still haunted the scene. That night I could well have believed it. As I stood there I saw a flash in the corner of my eye, and I turned to see a car approaching from the opposite direction. The driver was moving at a ridiculously high-speed, and instinctively I backed up, my stomach tightening as I worried the lunatic would lose control and veer off the road into me, and then he was gone. I watched him drive away, breathing heavily, and as the yellow glow of his tail lights faded I realized just how dark it was there, and looked up to see the street lamp next to me flicker on.

That was enough for me—I don’t know if I thought that was some kind of sign or omen or what, but I decided I definitely would not be walking home. Instead I was going to give Russell one more try, and if he didn’t answer I was going to go back to the factory and wait for the minibus, no matter how long it took. I started walking back the way I came, keeping a wary eye out for the man in the hooded jacket as I hurried past the grassy hill and down the sloping street, crossing over to the shops at the bottom and going back to the phone box. I saw no sign of the man in the hood, and I  avoided looking at the windows as I entered the phone box, though whether that was a conscious decision on my part I couldn’t tell you. I rang Russell’s number and this time he was in. After some persuasion he grudgingly agreed to come and pick me up.

I told Russell to look for me outside Merton’s the newsagent at the bottom of the road, then I hung up and went to lean against the wall next to the shop door to wait for him. Russell took his sweet time getting there, and I was getting more anxious by the minute. I remember my head was absolutely pounding, my hands were numb, and my stomach was doing somersaults. I can’t truthfully say why I was so on edge but I was, and I think I had been since the start of my shift. Maybe half an hour passed with no sign of Russell’s old Vauxhall Corsa when the lights in the newsagent suddenly went out. I remember thinking it was a little early for him to close up for the night, then I heard the dingle of a bell as a shop door opened, and looked further down the road to see the man in the hooded jacket leaving the off-license I’d passed earlier. He sauntered up the road towards me, his pace deliberate, his hands in his bulging jacket pockets and his hood now held up, the shadowy, faceless interior aimed right at me, and I tensed as he drew closer—

And nearly jumped out of my skin as I heard Russell calling my name.

He’d stopped at the curb just a few feet away, and I wasted no time getting into the car. Russell pulled away and I relaxed, still a little jittery but relieved that I was finally going home. Russell had to drive a little further down Mill Street before he could turn around, and as he drove back up past the shops I noticed the man with the hood had vanished again. I remember Russell was moaning about having to come out to fetch me, complaining that he’d just got in and was dog-tired, and we traded insults as the car limped uphill. We reached Wealden Road, and Russell took a break from the verbal abuse to check the road for oncoming traffic. I was leaning back in the passenger seat with my eyes closed, and opened them in time to see the backlight of the car radio go off. Then Russell pulled out, far too quickly for my liking, so I looked up through the windscreen to make double sure the road was clear only to catch sight of my ghostly, emotionless alter-ego glaring back at me . . .

That’s the last memory I have of that night—I woke up in a hospital bed the next day. I learned from my parents that we’d been hit by an oncoming car doing 60mph. I’d suffered a severe concussion, cracked ribs, several fractures to the vertebrae in my back—injuries that have never fully healed—and lacerations to my upper body that were so severe I was lucky not to bleed to death. Russell was not so lucky—he was killed instantly. The other driver escaped with a few cuts and bruises. My recovery has been arduous to say the least. I have chronic back pain which has left me unable to work, and as a result of the concussion I suffer from migraines so intense I feel nauseous. I have trouble sleeping, I have real difficulty focussing (which made writing this a challenge), and my memory is terrible. I’ve been told my personality has changed too, and not for the better. I’ve tried various tablets to ease the pain and the depression, as well as a few less conventional substances, but none have helped. I get so miserable sometimes the only thing that stops me ending it all is the thought of what that would do to my Mum and Dad.

The truly strange thing is, apart from the back pain, all of these symptoms have appeared recently, since I started putting together the events of that night. I was so much better, so much happier when I didn’t remember anything. I was optimistic, I was determined, and even my physical symptoms felt less intense. Everything went to hell when I started pursuing those fractured memories, when I started trying to figure out what happened that cold December night, and it’s slowly gotten worse since. I wish so badly that I’d left them alone! That’s why I’ve chosen not to delve any deeper into that vision in the phone box, because I’m terrified of what I might do if I were to find out that it was real. If I were to know for sure that I really did see that apparition of myself from just a few hours in the future, and that it was not my mind confusing an unrelated incident with my last moments of consciousness in that crumpled car, my friend a bloody mess beside me, my own blood gushing from the wound in my throat as the edges of my vision darkened, leaving me aware only of the shards of broken glass lying on the dashboard with my own face reflected in them, my accusatory doppelgänger multiplied and calling back to me.

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Reflection by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Frigid

By Jake Kale

I’ve seen some interesting things outside my window.

I currently live a spacious third floor flat in a converted factory, and the window in my living room offers a stunning view of eastern Cranford, and the old Abbeyville golf course in the distance. Directly below are twin car parks separated by a wire mesh fence, one side belonging to the apartment building and the other to the Weaver Club, a fairly swanky little pub opposite. There’s always something going on out there. I only moved in July last year, and in that time I’ve looked out the window and seen a parade of drunken soldiers getting a bollocking from their CO after being turfed out of the pub, a wedding party that unexpectedly erupted into a near full-scale riot, and at least one car that was definitely a-rocking when the policeman came a-knocking. Another night a bunch of star gazers turned up in a silver minibus laden with telescopes, and my mum even reckoned she saw a UFO out there when she came over a few weeks later. And the police are regular visitors on Friday and Saturday nights.

While most of these incidents involved transient visitors, one presence remained constant—a white refrigerated van. It always seemed to be there, all day long, come rain or shine. It was a large Ford Transit, and it was a company van, I could tell as much from the name on the side, a name I read and immediately forgot several times. It was always in pristine condition too, no mud or stains from traffic fumes. No humorous “I wish my wife was as dirty as this van!” messages scrawled crudely on the back. Its driver clearly took great pride in it. That was something that struck me as odd—I never saw the driver. I knew someone was driving the van during the night because every morning it was parked in a different place. But while I didn’t go out of my way to look out for it I soon realized that I never saw it leave, I never saw it come back, and I never saw anyone get in or out, or even approach it. I assumed the driver was a shift worker and was probably sleeping during the day. Still, it sometimes seemed like he, and I was quite confident it was a he, was being deliberately secretive. And I developed a minor obsession with that van, and with trying to spot its enigmatic owner.

That white van became my white whale.

One Saturday night I decided to stay in and see if I could spot the driver. I pulled my desk chair over to the window and sat leaning on the sill, my grandfather’s binoculars beside me. I watched as cars pulled into the pub car park, preening men and women on the pull exiting the vehicles and strutting their way inside, full of hopes and soon to be full of spirits. I saw several of them leave a couple of hours later as alone as they’d arrived, and I got a snide chuckle out of that. Gradually both car parks emptied, so that only the van remained. I waited for another hour, feeling increasingly stupid. Why did I care so much about who drove that damn van? Even if I did spot the driver, what would I do then? I’d probably just go to bed, feeling a damn sight sillier than the drunken idiots I’d been laughing at earlier. I pulled my chair away from the window, and to lighten my mood I turned the TV on and watched repeats of Angus Deayton era Have I Got News For You on Dave, or UKG2 as it was called then. I fell asleep in my chair after a while and woke up around half three. Out of curiosity I decided to take one more look out the window before I went to bed. Predictably, the van was gone.

I stopped trying to spot the driver after that, and for a long time I consciously avoided looking for the van. I still saw it every now and then, parked in a different spot every time, as per usual. Summer gave way to autumn, which in turn yielded to winter, and Christmas and the New Year passed. Then one late January night—or I should say one early February morning—I got up to go to bed and just happened to glance out the window, and saw that the van was parked right below my flat.

With the back doors wide open.

Looking down from that angle I couldn’t see very far inside, but my intrigue was well and truly piqued, so rather than go to bed I stood and watched, certain I was finally about to catch sight of the phantom driver. I might even discover exactly what he kept in there. Five minutes passed with no sign of him, and I wondered what the hell he was doing. Five more minutes went by, and I was getting fidgety. Suddenly a thought occurred—what if I were to go down and have a gander inside? It was a ridiculous thought, one I’d never imagined myself entertaining. I’m not a nosy person by nature, yet I’d developed such a fascination with that van. I debated with myself for a while, wondering whether I should, whether I dared, and just what the hell I’d say if the driver turned up. “Nice van you got there!” Yeah, that’d work.

Finally I decided, sod it—I had to know what was in that van. I grabbed my keys and left the flat, the light in the communal hallway flickering on as I did so, locked the door behind me and headed for the lift. On the way down I almost lost my nerve—or came to my senses, both amount to the same thing—and I’d decided to press the button to go back to the third floor when the lift stopped. Then it juddered to a halt, and I jumped off and went straight out the front door.

The air was absolutely biting in the car park, and I wished I’d worn some thicker clothes—I was clad in a T-shirt, track suit bottoms and trainers, none of which did a damn thing to repel the winter chill. I hadn’t bothered to put on a coat or anything because I didn’t want this golden opportunity to pass, and because I didn’t intend to stay out there for long. Rubbing my exposed arms and inhaling painfully cold air, I looked to my left and spotted the van about thirty feet away. The back doors were still open, and there was still no sign of the driver. The cab was empty, and a quick scan of the car park told me I was alone. The pub had been locked up for the night, and the windows in the flat and the houses in the street were dark. I started walking towards the van, my nervous excitement going someway to negate the cold. As I got closer I noticed the door nearest me swaying lightly, and it was at this point that it finally dawned on me that there was something highly suspicious about this whole scenario. Where the hell was the driver, and why had he left the doors open?

I really should have turned back then, and I wish I had. It was stupid going down there to begin with, and I knew that at the time, but it didn’t stop me—I’d got this far, now I had to know. I walked around the door and stood facing the interior, feeling like Indiana Jones on the threshold of the Temple of Doom. I couldn’t see much to start with because it was too dark. Within seconds my eyes had adjusted enough that I could make out vague shapes inside, and I was somewhat disappointed to realize the van was stacked with empty plastic baskets. What the hell I expected it to be full of I don’t know, but after months of wondering and after coming down here in the dead of night to see it seemed a bit of an anticlimax. Then I noticed there was something else. Right at the back, between the boxes I could see something lying on the floor. I squinted to try and make it out, and then my mouth fell open and I felt a chill that came entirely from within.

Because poking out from behind those baskets was a human arm.

At first I thought it a toy, a joke. But even in that dull light I could tell it was real, and I realized that this whole thing was a trap, and I’d gone and fallen right into it. I spun, readying myself to try and fend off the attack I knew was coming, but there was no-one there. I had maybe half second to register surprise, then my inner voice screamed at me, Get back inside! and I did as it instructed, racing back to the front door, pulling my keys out of my track suit pocket as I went, and I almost ran through the glass door when I got there. I thrust the fob to the sensor, but it wouldn’t work! Then I realized I had it backwards, so I corrected my mistake and yanked the door open, darted inside and pulled it closed after me, and it resisted but finally clicked shut. I ran to the lift and pressed the open button, risking a quick look back at the door—there was no-one outside—and the lift doors parted, and for one horrible instant I thought, Oh God, he’s in the lift! then I saw it was empty. I dived in and pressed the button for the third floor, and when the lift stopped I sprinted straight back to my flat, the key held ready, and I let myself in and locked the door behind me.

Once I was inside I felt the adrenaline drain out of my body, and I leaned against the wall as I caught my breath. That had been so close! I knew I had to do something, I had to call police before the driver came back. Then I heard a door opening somewhere in the corridor outside—it sounded like the door to the stairs. I heard footsteps, quiet and purposeful and heading in the direction of my flat, and I told myself, It’s probably just one of the other tenants when the footsteps stopped right outside my door.

And the handle started to turn.

My eyes bulged, and every muscle in my body became taught as I stared at the handle, unable to move, unable to blink. He was right outside! The door moved forward perhaps a millimetre and I realized he was leaning against it, trying to force his way in. I thought, He’s gonna do it, he’s gonna break it down and then I won’t stand a chance! Then I heard him step back, and the door handle released. I heard a breathy sigh that froze my heart, and at last those stealthy footsteps started moving away from the door. The stair doors opened, then closed again, and the corridor outside was silent. A few minutes later I heard the sound of an engine turning over, and I listened in the dark as the van drove away, it’s mysterious, murderous owner still unseen.

I spent the rest of the night sitting in my hallway, not daring to move, and I swear I’ve never been so afraid in my life. I panicked when the light outside flicked off, even though I knew that meant there was no-one out there, and that it would come on again the second someone stepped into the corridor. The next day I moved a heavy chest into the hallway, which half-killed me, and every night since then I’ve shoved that chest against the door, just in case. I sleep in an armchair facing the hallway now, a baseball bat I bought from a charity shop in my lap. I say “sleep”, but it’s a rare night that I drop my guard long enough to get more than a couple of hours worth of shut-eye. And I almost never look out that window anymore.

I never saw the van again, and I never told anyone about that night. What could I say? There was nothing I could do—I couldn’t remember the company name on the side, I have no idea what the registration number was, and I never saw the driver. It was just a generic white van. What was I supposed to say to the police? “Excuse me officer, but one of the hundreds of white van drivers in this town is a murderer. Which one? How the hell should I know?” I could walk by the bastard in the street, and I wouldn’t even know it. But he knows me, and he knows where I live.

For that reason I’ve decided to move. I’ve found another flat, and it’s maybe a tenth as nice as this one, but it’s also all the way over on the other side of town. Everything’s arranged, and I’ll be going in a week’s time. Still, I know I’ll never truly feel safe again, and my conscience will never leave me alone. I’ll have to suck it up and learn to live with the guilt, and try hard not to think of that night, and about the hand lying in the back of that frigid van.

Its blood-stained fingers clawing feebly at the floor.

Creative Commons Licence
Frigid by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.