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FuckThisPrickI know, it sounds like a bad supervillain’s name – and maybe it is.

Groundlord is a tree-surgery company in the Andover area, whose concept of ‘surgery’ would seem to be more in keeping with a medieval barber than the consummate professionals we think of what we use the term.

They, most particularly Joshua Pritchard is an abusive and destructive individual, whose skill in the horticultural arts is matched only by his debonair witticisms. To wit, ‘faggot’.

Now, it can take an awful lot for an Englishman to get his dander up. I think we can all draw comfort from the knowledge that in whatever post-apocalyptic scenario bedevils us in the future some starving British ghoul, eating cold rat from a Wellington noot with a corkscrew, will still sigh and comment to themselves ‘Still, mustn’t grumble’.

What, then, could drive one such as myself to put digital pen to digital paper and to misplace my rag in such a manner?

woodsbefore

This is what the hill path used to look like.

Well, this chap – who is to arboreal care what Bob Dylan is to clear vocal delivery – has been employed to ‘tend’ some much-beloved woods at the top of the hill in St Mary Bourne, Derrydown Copse. Apparently, we live in Bizarro World as the word ‘tend’ apparently has a meaning we would more commonly associate with rampaging Vikings than with people we entrust our plants to.

They’ve been criticised before, of course, there is a local Facebook page where people have raised their concerns about the work that has been going on. Many of them, including myself, quite reasonably, asking about the work that was going on, the apparent destruction, the wildlife, and trying to ensure everything was as kosher as Rosh Hashanah.

These concerns were met with a tirade of abuse from Mr Pritchard, and a constant excuse of ‘conservation’, which has grown about as convincing as a combover. Appropriately enough, the copse on the hill could use a combover to cover over all the bald patches it now sports.

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And this is it now, bald as Patrick Stewart

Maybe the work did have to be done, but it has been going on for a couple of years now – this progressive destruction – and the promised boon to the local wildflowers has not been forthcoming, nor has proper care of the birds, nor proper testing of the Ash trees.

You’ll pardon me, I’m sure, if I have trouble believing that someone addressing me as ‘Oi, faggot’, is au fait with gene-testing for Ash die-back resistance.

It’s less a copse or woodland now, and more a loose collection of socially awkward trees at a school disco, trying to maintain their personal space. Perhaps ‘corpse’ and ‘copse’ are spelt similarly for a reason.

Quite apart from that, I don’t think in this day and age we should happily, and without pushback, suffer abuse gladly (particularly homophobic abuse). Certainly not just for showing polite concern about their work. Less polite as time wore on and the abuse piled up, but still, an effort was made. The venom and vociferousness of the abuse is just the excremental icing on the faecal cake.

So, if you enjoy hiring rude, obnoxious, bigoted gentlemen whose talents are better suited to onanism (figuratively handling wood, rather than literally), knock yourself out. If you want to recreate World War One’s No-Man’s-Land, or you can’t afford agent orange, you might have some use for them.

Otherwise, steer clear.

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As I was a walk-en’ one morn-en’ for pleas-ure,
I saw a huge bear just a lopin’ along.
His fur was all matted and his claws was a scratchin’
And as he approached he was growlin’ this song.

Whoo-pee, ti-yi-o, git along little meth heads,
It is your misfortune and none of my own,
Whoopee, ti-yi-o, git along little meth heads,
I’ll gobble your bowels and make your stash my own.

“God fucking damn it!” Liam smashed his fists down on the table, sending empty packets of cold and flu medicine flying in all directions. “Why can’t I make this work?”

“What are we doing wrong?” James was muffled through his breath mask, frowning. He was little use for anything but passing ingredients, but he had some street smarts.

Liam yanked off his own mask and shoved the window up in its frame, rotten wood breaking away and sending startled pill bugs rolling everywhere. “If I knew that I wouldn’t be doing it. Goddamn, I wish I’d paid attention at school.”

James shrugged, which wasn’t much help either, but he seemed to want to do something, so he began gathering up the empty packets and flattening the cardboard. “At least we can recycle these.”

Liam grunted, frowning furiously at the stained print-outs, flipping them over back and forth, as though they would give up even more secrets on the hundredth reading.

“Liam…” James said, low and quiet, but Liam was trying to concentrate.

“Liam!” He tried again, hissing.

“What? I’m trying to think!”

“There’s some weird old dude out by your car.”

Liam scowled and squinted out the window, the shack was dark at the best of times, but the sun was out, and looking outdoors made his head hurt.

Sure enough, there was someone out there, a ‘weird old dude’ with long grey hair and a straggly white beard. He was dressed in a ripped sleeveless flannel and greasy blue jeans with biker boots. He limped as he moved and, as he turned, Liam did a double take. The old man’s face was covered in burn scars, and he carried one arm high and crooked, the flesh on it red, puckered and tight from scarring. One milky eye peered out from the middle of the scars, the other a bright and brilliant blue.

What really gave Liam pause, however, was the huge, fuck-off bowie knife, sheathed at the guy’s back, and the battered revolver in his hip holster.

“James. Get the fuckin’ gun.”

James grabbed the shotgun from the skeletal couch and followed Liam out, both of them wishing they looked more intimidating than they did in their plastic coveralls and freezer-bag booties.

“What the hell you doin’ here? This is private property!” Liam shouted. Behind him, James racked the shotgun. Truth be told, the intimidating noise was the real reason they’d settled on a shotgun.

The old fellow wasn’t phased.

“Sure it private property. Jus’ ain’t your private property.” He grinned. “No need for all that, jus’ a friendly neighbour stopping by. Nice place, really got your ‘Evil Dead’ vibe going on. Though your Oldsmobile’s too new.” He hooked a thumb back towards the car.

“Well, you said hi. Now get out of here.” Liam took another step, James following behind him, moving slightly to the side and half lifting the gun.

“Boy, don’t point that at anyone unless you’re willing to use it. Like I said, I’m just here all friendly like. I’m a cook too. Name of Carter.”

“I don’t know what you…”

“Horsepuckey. Come on, we’re brothers in meth. Show a little professional courtesy. You havin’ trouble?”

Liam deflated slightly and pushed the barrel of James’ shotgun down with his hand.

“Yeah, how’d you know?” Liam squared his shoulders defensively.

“Smells wrong. Want me to come take a look?” Carter shrugged, lifting his hands up and away from his body.

Liam exchanged a look with James, both of them fretful and suspicious.

“What the fuck, it’s not like we’re doing too well by ourselves, right?” James’ eyebrows lifted, and he glanced back towards the old man.

“Aren’t we rivals?” Liam asked.

“Shit, since the cartels pulled out all people have is stove-top cooks like ourselves. There’s business to go around.” Carter started up towards them, dragging his injured leg and they followed on in after them.

Carter expounded, at length, about the ins and outs of cooking good meth, holding court while Liam listened and took notes. After a good half hour of talking, he fell back onto the skeletal couch with a thump, sending rusty dust falling to the ground.

“Well, that’s me fuckin’ parched. You got a pop or one of them piblets?” He pointed to the mound of empty cans in the corner. “Don’t beat yourself up about the fuck-ups. A ton of people watch a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad, read a Wikipedia article and think that’s all they need.”

James reached into the cooler and dragged out a can, tossing it over. Carter snatched it out of the air with his good hand and yanked the ring-pull, taking a long, deep pull from the can. “Ah, that’s so much fuckin’ better. Now, you boys have been real polite, but you’re wondering about the scars, right?”

“No, no, we weren’t,” Liam shook his head.

“What are you talking about? Of course, we were.” James wasn’t subtle, or that smart. At least he had looks and charm going for him.

“Ah shit, nothing to worry about. I know I look like a badly cooked burger patty and it’s only natural to wonder how it happened.”

“Cooking accident?” Liam said.

“Not exactly. You boys ever heard of Meth-Bear?”

“Oh, come on man. You going to tell us that’s what a bear-mauling looks like?”

“No man, but let me tell you what happened.” Carter leaned forward and took another swig from his can. “It goes like this…”

“Back in eighty-eight or eighty-nine, I forget which, me and my buddy Wyatt hit on the idea of cooking meth. Reaganomics hadn’t worked out for everyone, and we had plans, man. We were caught up in the whole ‘money’ thing of the eighties, and the nineties counterculture hadn’t kicked in yet. I was going to cook, I had a chemistry degree that wasn’t worth spit and Wyatt was a charming motherfucker. Kinda like the set-up, you fellas have here.”

“Told you I was useful,” James grinned to Liam.

“Anyway, we hit on this fantastic idea of coming out here. There’s a few caves, that’d help us keep cool, and people wouldn’t find them if we were off the trails. Seemed smart. We even made sure we found a cave with two entrances, so if the police happened by we could get away.”

“Clever,” Liam observed.

“Your set-up is fine, this place is run-down, but a building is a bit obvious if people cotton on to you bein’ in the area. So, we had our Batcave, made it about as cosy as you could hope to make it, with all the burners, broken glassware and toxic waste. We made good shit, and we got a bit of a name for ourselves, even got a brand, a rubber-stamped piece of paper with a buffalo motif in every bag.”

“Buffalo meth? That’s you? That’s some great shit!” James started away from the wall, against which he had been leaning. “You’re, like famous.”

“Ha, thanks. Yeah, still making it, still perfecting it. The best shit, and often the only shit, you can get. All was going real fuckin’ swimmingly until one day when we rolled up to work.”

Carter heaved a deep sigh and crunched the empty can in his fist, tossing it into the corner. He fumbled some rolling papers and tobacco in his good hand, as he continued.

“So, we come back one day, and the cave has been turned over. Everything’s smashed to fuck. Barrels are overturned, our stock is gone, or ruined. Glass is all smashed. All we can think of is some rival gang or a bunch of kids wandering the trails happening on our cookhouse. Still, we were spooked, and we decided to move, in a rush, to another cave.”

“Was it the cartels?” Liam asked, getting drawn into the story despite himself.

“They didn’t really muscle in until the nineties, so it wasn’t them. Something just as bad though, in its way. We had a big order coming in, Wyatt was working his magic with the Sons of Silence, and they wanted to make a big push. Needed the money for something, we didn’t care, we needed the money to make up for all the lost gear and chemicals anyway.”

“Sons of Silence, the biker gang?” James asked.

“Yeah, one-percenters, real bad dudes. If you want to shift a lot of meth, you’ve gotta get in with the bikers, but they’re assholes to a man. You gotta ask yourself if it’s worth the trouble. Now, I’m not the kinda person who gets high on their own supply, all these teeth are my own,” He grinned, broadly.

“That time though, we were up against it, so I admit, I got a little high to push through a marathon cooking session, and even after we were done, I was wired as hell. Couldn’t sit still, needed something to do, so I left Wyatt lookin’ after the stash, and I took myself out, back to our old cave. Still bothered me, you see, that we’d been fucked. Pops used to take me huntin’, and I figured – high as I was – maybe I could track whoever did us over.”

Liam handed Carter another Pabst, which he popped open with a hiss, wetting his whistle.

“I found tracks, but they were weird. More like an animal, but I followed them nonetheless. I don’t know how long I was walkin’ for, but I was mad and higher than balls on a giraffe. I’m starin’ at the ground so hard I don’t even realise I’ve arrived until I stick my boot right in some poor fucker’s guts.”

“Jesus,” they said together.

“Pure, fuckin’, carnage.” Carter gestured with his twisted hand, drawing an invisible horizon in the air. It’s a campsite, a pop-up cookhouse, another one of our sainted brotherhood, avoiding the pigs by movin’ around. Only some dark, dark shit has happened to ’em. I yank my boot out of this poor dudes entrails and look around. There’s two, maybe three guys. Hard to tell they’re in so many pieces. There’s baggies everywhere, blood, campfire’s been smashed and tossed, tents are ripped to pieces, broken glass all over, but of the meth, there is not a sign. Only dust.”

“Fuck, what did you do?” Liam felt a little sick from the apparent relish with which Carter told the tale.

“I was freaked out. I’ve seen some horrible things in my long life, but those ripped up bodies stay with me, and the stink. A backed-up sewer from their spilt guts, and grilling bacon from where some giblets had landed on the embers. It’s enough to make you vegan.”

“Are you?” James asked, always curious about people.

“Shit no,” Carter laughed. “Let’s not get crazy. I didn’t need an excuse to quit that scene, but it was all fairly fresh, and I was worried about Wyatt. So I high-tailed it back to the cave.”

“And that’s when you saw this Meth-Bear?” Liam was edging back towards incredulity.

“I shit you not. I get back to the cave, and I hear roaring and screaming and Wyatt’s Colt going off. Bam! Bam! Bam! Hurtin’ my ears as it came out of the cave mouth. Fuck knows what I thought I could do, or if I knew what was really going on, but I charged on in there like a rodeo clown after a buckle bunny.”

“And then you saw Meth-Bear?” James was spellbound.

“Then I saw Meth-Bear.” Carter took another long swig from his can and shook his head.

“He was huge but thin, even skeletal. His fur hung off him in ropes and strands, and he was covered in sores and scabs. When he roared you could see he only had a handful of teeth, but his claws were enormous, caked with blood. He had a mad, starin’ look in his eyes and he stank like the north end of a skunk walking south. Wyatt was still trying to shoot the bastard thing, and he was hitting, but Meth-Bear just didn’t seem to care. If he hadn’t been shooting it, maybe it would have left him alone, but never get between a bear and his meth.”

“What did you do?” James asked, in hushed tones.

“I didn’t have a gun, not that it would have helped. I didn’t have a knife like I do now. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but a giant, stinking, balding grizzly certainly wasn’t it. I was scared shitless and couldn’t move. All I could do was watch as it tore Wyatt to pieces.”

“Fuck,” the boys said in unison.

“It swiped his gun hand and all but took it off, so it hung, ninety degrees to the ground. Never heard a man scream like that before or since. It tried to bite him, but it only had a few teeth, so when it got hold of his neck that wasn’t an end to it, just made the screams…wetter.”

The sun had shifted while they talked, and now it came through a crack in the shack’s wall, striking Carter in his white eye.

“I still couldn’t move, and poor old Wyatt was done for. Meth-Bear finished him with its claws in his guts. They fell out on the ground like spilt noodles, and it near-as-hell tore him in half. All I could think of was the bodies I’d already seen. Then it turned and looked at me.”

Carter’s voice had been getting lower and quieter, drawing the boys closer.

“I’d just seen what it’d done to Wyatt, and that was enough to finally make me move. I fumbled my lighter out as it charged me, and I torched the chemicals.”

“Badass man, badass,” James commented, wonderingly.

“I remember the explosion and the fire, but not a lot else. I woke up in the morning, and the bear was gone, Wyatt was very dead, and I was horribly burned all down one side of my body. It’s amazing that I was still alive. I managed to crawl back to the trail, and some hikers found me. Luckily enough my hospital stay meant the Sons of Silence believed my excuse and then the medical bills got me right back to cookin’ meth again. He’s out there though, Meth-Bear. Cooks around here have a bad habit of disappearing.”

“Are we in danger?” James glanced at the shotgun, wondering if it was remotely adequate to the task.

“This was the eighties man, that bear is long dead,” Liam noted.

“Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it’s not the only Meth-Bear out there. All I know is that cooks still keep disappearing. So if I were you, I’d learn the lessons I did. Cover your tracks. Cover the smell. Never leave your meth uncovered. If it is Meth-Bear though, it’s like he’s paying me back, taking out the competition.”

Carter drained the last of the can and tossed it over with the others. “Well, good luck boys. Maybe we’ll run into each other again. Just keep in mind what I said.”

They shook hands, and he left.

“What do you think?” James asked Liam, as the old man reached the treeline and disappeared into it.

“It’s bullshit, but it makes a good story. Maybe he’s just trying to scare us off his patch. Still, we can try cooking again tomorrow with his advice, it sounds right.”

“It is a cool story though,” James stared out into the woods, a little apprehensive.

Carter walked away, humming to himself, back towards the caves. Every few steps, ever since he left the shack, he dropped a tiny little rock of meth, one after another, the humming stopping as he broke into a wicked grin.

As I was a cook-en’ one morn-en’ for money,
I saw a huge bear just a squattin’ right there.
His teeth were all missin’ and his scat stank like death,
And as he a sat he was growlin’ this song.

Whoo-pee, ti-yi-o, git along little meth heads,
It is your misfortune and none of my own,
Whoopee, ti-yi-o, git along little meth heads,
I’ll gobble your bowels and make your stash my own.

Car-in-Pond-009“Come on Spacker!”

“My name’s not Spacker,” Spacker frowned so deeply his brow blacked out half of his vision. He small fist clenched around the wholly inadequate pen-knife in his pocket and, not for the first time, he fantasised about stabbing his’ friends’.

His friends, Joe and Nick, didn’t have nicknames, they were just ‘Joe’ and ‘Nick’. Nobody called them ‘Spacker’ or tripped them up at school. Nobody put dead wasp’s nests in their locker or stole their lunch. The only reason they hung out with him, it seemed, was to have a regular target for their own meanness and sometimes that appeared to be a fair trade to keep the worse bullies away.

“What was that Spacker?” Joe was always tanned from family holidays and had that particular brand of viciousness only wealthier kids could have. Ragging on other’s threadbare school uniforms, rubbing their noses in Instagram pictures of beaches, hotels and bikini girls.

“My name isn’t f-fucking Spacker!” Spacker shouted, struggling to keep up. Joe and Nick harboured fantasies of playing for a professional football team and seemed to enjoy the sweaty, wheezing mess Spacker got into trying to keep up with them.

“Yes, it fuh-fuh-fuh-fucking is, you spaz.” Nick was a more conventional arsehole, though he’d grown out of Chinese burns, pink-bellies and dead-legs and preferred vandalism and spite these days. A slight improvement.

“I’m not a fucking spaz you fucking fuckers.” Spacker could feel his face getting red now, and he was having trouble breathing. He yanked out his inhaler and dropped it onto the scrubby grass. Dropping down on his hands and knees to get it, and taking a couple of big puffs. That was better, but now he really did look like a spazz.

The boys had finally reached The Hedge. It wasn’t an original name, but all the kids at their school who spent any time on the wrong side of the tracks knew where it was. In the old days, it had been legendary as a place to find rain-smeared copies of Asian Babes or to smoke a crafty dooby. Then it was a place for illegal raves. These days it was mostly relegated to being a fly-tipping site and the venue for kids with off-road bikes to do sick jumps and get tetanus.

The boys hung out there just to get away from their parents and the other kids. To build dens out of rusty junk, fire arrows at each other, start fires, vape and to pick on Spacker without anyone interfering. Today, they were the only ones there.

Joe put on his leather gloves and pushes the brambles and dog roses out of the way so Nick could clamber through. Unhelpfully he let them go, causing them to snap back into Spacker’s face, leaving him with cuts from the thorns and little ruby-red beads of blood slowly running down his face.

He didn’t cry.

Bitter experience, since his very first day at school, told him that wasn’t something that would help at all.

Instead, he pushed his way through, unpicking the thorns from his clothes and caught up to the others.

A train rattled past at the top of the cutting, distracting him for a moment so that he all but walked into Nick’s back. He drew himself short just in time and realised they were looking at something.

“What is it?” Spacker shifted around them for a better look.

There was a ‘pond’ of sorts here, as long as anyone could remember it had been. Google and Wikipedia had informed them it was a ‘dew pond’, and it certainly looked like one when they looked it up. It was a lot deeper than it was supposed to be, and local legend was that a body had been found in it, back in the day.

Though nobody knew for sure, though generations of people who went ‘up The Hedge’ swore up and down that it was true. The boys had never found anything much past a few old bones and a drowned kitten. That had given Spacker nightmares for weeks, and he still hated the pond, blaming it somehow for the poor, bedraggled thing, rather than whoever had done it.

Today though, there was something in the pond. Something big. Something visible. Something new.

A car.

“It’s a car you dopey fuck,” Joe sneered.

“It’s a Ford Mustang Boss,” Said Nick. Then, when Spacker and Joe stared at him, “What? I know things! I’ve got old Top Trumps’ about cars. It’s a Mustang, in Grabber Blue.”

“What’s it doing here?” Spacker regretted asking the moment the question left his lips.

“Someone nicked it, didn’t they?” Nick was the master of the obvious.

It, after all, wasn’t the first time a stolen car had ended up here. The rusting, skeletal, weed-riddled remains of a couple of them were still down here, even though – time to time – the police or the council would come by and tow them away.

Looking more carefully, Spacker could see now, that it was more obvious it had been stolen. The passenger side window was smashed, little square fragments of glass glittering in the mud. There were long scrapes and dents down the same side, and the front end of the car was half submerged in the murky, brackish water of the pond.

But the running lights were still on.

“It must have been ditched not long after dawn,” Joe broke the reverent awe and curiosity with which they were staring at it and stepped forward towards the swampy car for a better look. “Keys must still be in the ignition.”

“Fuck yes! Reckon we can drive it?” Nick jogged after him, leaving Spacker still hanging back.

The pond still made Spacker think of the kitten and, even when he tried to step closer, he could barely take a single step, the toe of his shoes dragging through the grass.

“Guys,” called Spacker. “I don’t think this is a good idea. What if the police…”

“Oh fuck the police, come on!” Joe beckoned and stepped into the mud, which slurped and farted around his foot as he peered in the window. “Keys are in!”

“We don’t know how to drive!” Spacker took another, faltering step. “We’re only thirteen! Come on, leave it, we can make a fire or something.”

“I think I can drive,” Nick hurried to catch up to Joe, looking in through the shattered window. “Fuck, it stinks. I think they tried to set a fire on the back seat and then someone’s taken a piss in here or something.

Joe yanked the door open. “Here, you can get. If it starts, we can probably reverse it out.”

Joe and Nick swapped sides, Joe in the passenger seat and Nick on the driver’s side, climbing in and looking suddenly small in the adult-sized seats. Joe leaned out the broken window and shouted. “Come the fuck on Spacker! You can sit in the back while we do doughnuts.”

Spacker took another couple of dragging steps, but looking at the shore of the pond, all flint and chalk, discoloured with weird, oily shades, all he could think of was the kitten, and the memory was bringing stinging tears to his eyes. “I don’t want to.”

“Get the fuck over here, or we’ll take turns kicking you in the balls,” Nick shouted, rolling down his window to lean back and holler.

The threat got Spacker a couple more steps before he came to a halt again, startled by the gurgly, half-hearted chunter of the engine as Nick turned the key.

Joe and Nick cheered as, after a second try, the engine roared properly into life, and exhaust stained the air, the first smoke black and foul somehow. The whole car trembled and vibrated, and Spacker found himself fascinated by the way the small flints on the shore around it quivered and bounced like dust on a speaker.

There was a deafening graunch and splutter as Nick fumbled with the gears, inexpertly grinding it into reverse and – perched on the front of the seat to reach – pushed his toe against the accelerator.

Spacker’s eyes dragged back to the car as, to his surprise as much as theirs, the vehicle lurched forward – not back – and plunged into the water with a huge splash. Its back end rose into the air and began to sink straight away, bubbles of foul air breaking the surface all around it.

Everything seemed to slow down. Spacker’s heart hammered in his chest, and a sensation like pinpricks flushed back and forth across his skin. For a moment he was stunned. For another long, unworthy moment – that felt like an eternity – he found himself coldly assessing whether he even wanted to do anything. The pond still terrified him, and his friends were nothing but slightly lesser bullies. If he let them die, nobody would ever know.

No.

His legs obeyed him, finally, and he ran towards the pond. In his heightened state, it was like one of those terror-dreams, where you want to run but can’t. He felt so slow. He also noticed, in a way he was sure he wouldn’t have before, that there were no tracks from the car leading up to the pond. He waded through the noxious mud and floundered deeper, into the sludgy green water. He held his breath as best as he could, and he dived.

Beneath the water, it was like another world. Bone white flint at the bottom and the shadowy, bottomless well at the centre of the pond now obvious. Strands of algae, a film at the surface, cutting out most of the sun, while strands and clumps of the same substance stuck to his face like slimy cobwebs. The car was still lit, easy enough to find, though through the algae it seemed ephemeral and indistinct and its lights seemed red, oddly, rather than green.

He swam, weakly, lungs already burning, close to the car and reached it. Joe was inside, in a panic, hammering at the window with his fists.

Wait. Hadn’t that window been broken?

In the dim glow of the overhead light, he could see them struggling, but nothing seemed to work, and the car was sinking lower and lower. He could barely hear their screams through the windows and the water but heard a single word with clarity.

“Door!”

Spacker grabbed the handle of the door and pulled. It gave, weirdly, under his hand like plasticine or icing and to his horror he was stuck. He yanked out his little pen knife and stabbed it against the window, but it didn’t even chip, let alone crack. The pressure on his ears was getting intense, and it was getting darker, he could barely see.

Spacker couldn’t breathe well at the best of times, and now in a panic, he was sure he was going to drown. In desperation, he levered at the door handle, but it wouldn’t give. Fuck Nick, fuck Joe, now it was about him. He loosened his grip on the handle as much as he could and jammed the knife under his fingertips, pulling as hard as he could.

Spacker burst out of the water, gasping for breath and dragged his way to the shore, crying and wheezing, clutching his bleeding fingers in his armpit. He fell onto the edge and pulled himself, one-handed, as far as he could onto the dry grass.

Bloody fingers fumbled for his inhaler, shaking out the brackish filth so he could inhale, forcing his breath under control and rolling, sobbing onto his back until the stars at the edges of his vision finally went away.

His phone was soaked, broken, useless. He couldn’t call for help. All he could do, until he found his nerve, was to sit, shuddering on the shore of the pond. Even as the water washed the shore and the car – empty now – reversed up onto the edge, squatting and malevolent as red entrails and matted, drowned hair washed up at the fringes of the pond.

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A romantic poem for Valentine’s Day.

If it’s not too much trouble.
If it wouldn’t put you out.
If it’s not too much to ask.
If you’re free of nagging doubts.
If the kids are at your parents.
If your mother doesn’t stay.
If the cat doesn’t interrupt.
If you’ve had a good day.
If I haven’t eaten garlic.
If neither of us ate chilli.
If the mood takes you.
If I wash my willy.
If I ask you nicely.
If I ply you with romance.
If I get forms signed in triplicate.
If I don’t rip your pants.
If there’s nothing on TV.
If there’s nothing on Netflix.
If you’re feeling healthy.
If you’re not feeling sick.
If you’re not intent on reading.
If you’re caught up on Facebook.
If the bed’s not too cold.
If I give you ‘the look’.
If you don’t have to be up early.
If the shower isn’t blocked.
If the Moon is in the seventh house.
If the door is locked.
If the stars are right, up in the sky.
If the dreamer wakes.
If pigs have learned a way to fly.
If there are no earthquakes.
If the house does not catch fire.
If it doesn’t flood.
If the sheets are clean and fresh.
If it’s not the Time of Blood.

Then, oh my beloved.
May I pencil you in?
For 15 minutes, in 6 months.
Of horizontal sin?

graveyardofdreamsGraveyard of Dreams by H. Beam Piper
Read by Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot

The people of Poictesme scrimped and saved to send Conn Maxwell off-world to carry out a secret mission. Conn was to infiltrate the military and find the secret location of the “Fleet-Army Force Brain” a supercomputer buried somewhere on Poictesme. Now Conn is returning home with a secret he dare not tell his people.

1 MP3 file, 45.4mb, runtime 49 mins 41 seconds

The first independent to go on sale on my site. If you have RPG or other tabletop game material, or fiction or audiobooks that fit the overall ‘ethos’ of Postmortem Studios I’ll consider selling your material on my new site too. Get in touch.

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A great deal of Brexit sentiment, and more broadly nationalistic and populist sentiment, comes from people’s nostalgia for a Britain that no longer exists and cannot exist in the modern world. Britain always seems to be looking back, through coke bottle rose-tinted spectacles to Victorian imperialism or to ‘Fortress Britain’ standing defiant against the evil Hun. How ironic then, that many who express this sentiment are far closer to fascists in their outlook than those who fought them.

There’s another kind of nostalgia and another kind of Britain though, the one built by the people who returned from that war and in a time of inescapable austerity built the institutions we used to be so proud of.

As Empire slipped away, by and large more peacefully and with better grace than the other Imperial powers, and we struggled with rationing that dragged into the 1950s, we instituted the National Health Service. A huge and costly change but one that greatly improved the lot of all our citizens. Having pulled together in wartime we applied that same spirit to civil society and while planned economies would end up discredited this period did give us nationalised industries that worked for the people and a blunting of poverty and homelessness previously unparalleled in our history.

Those soldiers who returned home had fought alongside people from all around the world, and had seen the horrors (my grandfather liberated Belsen) that indulging nativism, populism and nationalism could cause. While the euphoria of peace wouldn’t last, alliances, talks and internationalism became obvious in their utility. The United Nations, NATO and yes, even the European Union were born out of those realisations.

Where the wartime generation gave us our social fabric and our institutions, the postwar generation brought us social liberalism. A great flowering of free speech, free expression, acceptance, LGBT tolerance and equality and a huge interest in foreign culture, food, art and more.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that we, for some perverse reason, set about dismantling all we had accomplished – or at least the ruling classes did. Now, weirdly, that same destructive attitude is being displayed by your average Jane or John in the street. A lashing out at the few remaining institutions we have, and the hard-won victories for personal liberty we won.

It’s not just coming from one side however. For every EU-hating Daily Mail reader, there’s a Guardianista demanding censorship. For every skinhead brawler there’s a mask-clad antifa. The nationalists and populists undermine everything that made the nation something to be proud of, the ‘Social Justice’ left threatens our individual and collective freedoms, and makes the right stronger with every illiberal act.

I want my country back too, but my nostalgia is for a country with social housing, a well-funded and publicly run NHS, infrastructure that works for the people, university grants, polytechnics, apprenticeships – and yes, free milk for schoolkids. I want my country back, where my business is none of your business, where ideas of ‘obscenity’ or ‘problematic material’ are attacked with the same robust energy we have devoted to Lawrence, Wilde or Kubrick.

Most of all though, and my bias shines through here, I want the British Left to be left-wing again. Concerned with society, its function and ensuring we lessen people’s suffering and have a country that works for all of us. I don’t want it to be monomaniacally fixated on whatever middle-class first world problem du jour is exciting the chattering classes.

Hey, my nostalgia may not be any more accurate than yours, but isn’t that vision a better one than a domineering, insular, jingoistic, ‘I’m alright Jack’ bully of a country?

I think so.

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I’m tired.

More than anything else, that is the feeling I take with me from 2018. It has been an exhausting year.

Most of that year I’ve been fighting for and fretting over getting assistance with my depression and anxiety; this has meant wrangling with the Department of Work and Pensions and ATOS (Independent Assessment Services). A pair of organisations for whom the terms ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Kafkaesque’ were seemingly invented. I’d call them ‘Gilliamesque’ in a nod to Brazil, but there’s no humour in this system successive governments have created. Not even black humour.

In my professional life it has been a struggle to produce anything, and as a result, I’ve offloaded some work to others to get it done. Perversely, I feel bad not necessarily because I haven’t been producing much, but because -as a result – I haven’t been able to give other people as much work. People who need it, and who I get a kick out of boosting and helping out.

Personally as well as professionally, I am also exhausted. In this ongoing culture war, it takes so much effort to tread water and stay in place, let alone to make any progress. So many people mistake change for growth, not understanding that the direction of travel can be backward as well as forward. Year on year it seems things continue to get worse. People I love, people I used to respect, excusing the worst, most censorious social and even legal acts of suppression the modern west has seen in generations. It’s shocking in anyone, but it’s especially surprising – at least to me – when it comes from the political left and the creative community.

I am tired of that constant fight, just to stay still.

I am tired of being called things I am not, simply because I don’t sing the unholy hymnal in the same key as the approved choir.

I am tired of holding my tongue, swallowing back my anger and ignoring people’s political and historical illiteracy in a vain attempt to reach them.

I am tired of waiting for being principled and consistent, for working hard, to pay off.
I am so very tired of being mentally ill, but that’s my life now, and I have to adjust to it.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to abandon those principles and that consistency, just for a more comfortable life. I’ve realised, however, this year that I am just intrinsically incapable of being that kind of person.

I am tired of the repeated realisation that I’m a rare bird indeed, because of that.

I don’t know how to be happy.

I only know how to be authentic.

A ‘new year’ is an illusory and arbitrary break in time. Nothing is new; nothing changes immediately when that clock ticks past midnight. Still, I want this next year to ‘pay off’. I want to do more than survive. I want to do more than exist. I want being a ‘good man’ to finally reap some of that positive karma I’ve heard so much about.

Whoever you are out there reading this, I want the best for you. Friend or foe, stranger or intimate. I hope everyone does better, and if I can’t get what I want, I hope you get your heart’s desire.

Raise a glass and watch that clock tick down.

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