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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

july-15-08It’s home. This damp, tired little room that reeks of stale sweat, shit and fear. It hides us from the sky, which is something, not that I think it does us any good. This is it, the whole wide world reduced down to two-hundred square feet of misery and darkness, the dim light of a novelty LED torch, the slow bubble of slop buckets and on every surface the weird scratchings Hope has made.

Of all the people in the station, it’s Hope I saved. I don’t know why. I don’t even know how old she is or her real name. I know nothing about her at all and she’s not one for talking. Not since I met her. I think she was a writer, a secretary or a personal assistant. Her purse had a notebook in it, filled with scrawl, but I couldn’t read her handwriting.

Now she squats by the wall and draws on it, endlessly, with children’s chalks we took from one of the little station shops. She’s worn two sets down to nothing, covering the room with her spirals and swirls. Sometimes it looks a little like the sky, when it broke.

I saw it, when I ventured to the surface to see what all the panic was about. People were crowding into the stations to get away from it. Rebelling against what they saw, like insects running away from the light. The street was worse, half the people staring slack-jawed into the seething sky, others clawing at their eyes.

When I looked up, against all reason, the sky was a riot of colour and motion. Like the coloured images of nebulae and galaxies that they used to show on the television. The stars moved and slide, the sun seemed to dim. It made no sense and yet everyone could see it. Then space itself broke and from the fractures threads and tendrils came and began to pluck people up from where they stood.

There was something malevolent about them. The way they toyed with people, pulled them away on the brink of safety, pierced children to use them as bait. Some tried to fight, but for every tendril they destroyed two took their place.

I had the key to the back rooms of the station. Late at night there weren’t many others but me. I don’t know what made me take her. She was the nearest person stumbling by the door when I unlocked it. I suppose I just didn’t want to be alone but with a silent, staring maniac who never seems to sleep, I might as well be alone.

The buckets needed emptying. I’d been putting it off for days. A diet of snack-shop chocolate and cola hadn’t been doing us much good, especially eked out so much to make it last. It made the buckets even more foul than they had any right to be. That and even leaving the room had become terrifying beyond reason.

Boredom and fear. Eventually one wins out over the other.

I left Hope to her scratchings on the wall and took the heavy weight of the buckets. I clasped another torch between my teeth and elbowed out of the door. Dead escalators are hard to navigate in the pitch darkness, especially carrying buckets. There are shoes and bags, left in the rush. The people have long since disappeared but the civilised skins they shed in their panic are still there to trip me up.

The station is slowly flooding. Inch by inch, day by day. I don’t reach the bottom before I find the water. A foul brew of bodies, rags and the shit I’ve dumped here week by week, day by day while we survive. I don’t even see the rats or the mice here any more. A shame. A rat would make a welcome change from a Snickers bar at this point.
I empty the buckets and ‘rinse’ them as best I can. Sitting on the lowest step I dare to get my breath back before I head back up.

Something ripples in the water. Another body bobbing to the surface? No. Tiny waves lap against the shore and them with a gurgling slurp a bloated corpse is dragged beneath the surface. In the bluish LED light a shadowed shape beneath the muck shifts and twists and then, the panic finally pushing me to move, I turn, leave the buckets and run. Scrambling up the steps on hands and feet as fast as I can until I get back to the room and slam the door shut, weeping.

Nowhere is safe. Not really.

I slump against the wall and slide down, tears tracking lines through the dirt on my face. My jacket smears Hope’s drawings, something that normally freaks her out, but this time she just silently paces over to me and touches my hand.

It’s simple human touch, but it’s not something I’ve felt in days, weeks, however long we’ve been down here with no clocks, no day or night, no way to mark the time save by the number of times we sleep. I look at her and it’s strange to see her face so changed.

She has dark rings around her eyes from lack of sleep, and I do not blame her because the nightmares that come when I close my eyes make death seem like a good option. Still, despite that, she looks younger than when I first saw her. Softer, the innocence of a broken mind giving a softness to her face and body that was never there before. I caught sight of myself in a patch of clear water some time back, my body – despite all the chocolate – has been sculpted by hardship into the kind of slender muscle people would have paid a fortune for.

I touch her filthy cheek and sniff, blinking away more tears.

Dare I?

It would be like taking advantage of a child. She’s mad, insane, a mute with no voice and taking care of her gives me no right. But she is also soft, and warm and human and, for all I know, we are the last two people alive in all the world. Just to feel close and safe would be…

…she kisses me. Kissing away the tears as a mother would her son. Did she have children I wonder? Where are they now if they are anywhere? The touch seems to awaken something else in her and she makes an inarticulate sound and clumsily kisses my mouth.

I try to turn away, this isn’t right still, somehow. A betrayal of trust. I look after her, for no reason, simply because it is the right and human thing to do. The human thing to do. A warm, human, with no desire to kill me, with soft lips. Even the stinking breath and the stale-sweat smell of us is human. The air everywhere else has this strange, chemical, tide-line edge to it that chokes your throat like chlorine.

I don’t know that I’d have looked at Hope before everything went wrong. Here she’s the last woman on Earth and I am the last man. I have no illusions about my worth either, but we are here and she is still kissing me and I cannot resist. For my mind, for my body, for the sake of a fleeting moment of pleasure in a world of pain I let my reservations collapse.

Fingers cut through grime. Damp clothes peel away from soft and yielding skin. A human sweat, a human stink, a human taste. Was this what pleasure was like? I barely remember. Candy and soft drink would have been a pleasure back before all this, now its a chore. Warmth, softness, these have been lost to us for so long, both of us. I touch her back, slide my hands around her, find the suppleness of breasts to match the softness of her mouth and kneeling, her astride my lap, riding with naïve eagerness, we clutch and cling to each other in the old dance and damn the world beyond the walls.

She takes me and I lose myself within her. I take her, on her hands and knees atop our grubby blankets. She takes what I have to give and gives what I offer. Innocent eyes and soft features hide a ravenous body as starved of affection, pleasure and wonder as I have been. Every orgasm is a light against the darkness. Every gush of cum or wave of pleasure a defiant light against the darkness.

It makes it tolerable, down here, to fuck and rut in the darkness. To sleep together in warmth. A little camp-fire of affection and humanity, however flawed. Is this what passes for love now? Taking care of someone? Is this what we used to be? Hiding out in caves from the monsters. The brave ape-man protecting his mate and daring the world beyond to provide?

I can’t go out though. The world is dead, so far as either of us know or care to know. The food is almost gone and there is nothing more I can. Nothing more to find. There are things in the water that rises every day. No rats, no mice, not so much as an insect. There’s only us and a knife to my own throat is the only way I have anything left to give.

For hope.

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Edit-da-fé

2125264_f496There came a loud and authoritative knock on the door.

Sometimes when you hear a sound like that, a rat-tat-tat on the door frame, the ring of the phone, you just know its something awful. Your stomach drops through the floor before you even hear the second knock or the bell tolls a second time.

This was one of those knocks.

“Shh.” I raised my finger to my lips and gave her a wide-eyed look of caution which she mirrored in her perfect, quivering eyes.

She backed up against the bookcase, swaying the leather-bound volumes as she sensed my fear, infectious and bowel loosening. For my part I stepped to the door and opened it on its chain, peeking through the gap at the person standing outside.

Severe is a good word. So is austere, even grim. I can never settle on what, quite, is the best word in these situations. Apart from the trousers and the sunglasses she could have been the stereotypical domme-secretary or imperious librarian escapee from Eroticopolis way. The badge put paid to that thought though. Flashing silver on brown leather, perfectly spaced helvetica:

“Amenda Wordsworth, literary division. Do you have a moment?” She looked at me over her sunglasses and my stomach dropped for a second time like the world’s worst rollercoaster, or an overworked simile falling flat.

I panicked.

I slammed the door in her face.

“Novella! Run!” I slammed my back against the door to try and keep the editor out, but I knew it was only a matter of time.

I lifted one arm to jab towards the window and watched her run, my perfection, my love, dear sweet Novella.

“This door seems a bit too strong and well protected for a flat in this area. I think it would be more realistic if it were battered and rotten.” I barely heard the words through the banging against the door, but it was enough.

There was a strange ripple and the door changed, cracking and splintering as the editor threw me into the room and onto the floor. The bookshelf rocked and heavy leather bound books tumbled and fell towards me like paper rain, transforming into paperbacks, the rarer volumes – from a lifetime of collection – exploding into lorem ipsum and scattering letters everywhere.

“Unauthorised fictogenesis, you’re in a lot of trouble, but maybe its salvageable.” She had one heeled boot on my back and I knew it was pointless trying to struggle, she was a Strong Female Character and clearly subscribed to Death of the Author – I shouldn’t push it.

In the mirror I could see the editor unholstering her gun, a massive, chrome-plated .44 Magnum Opus. Her heel ground into my back as she hand-loaded a couple of heavy looking paragraphs into the chambers. Then she stepped off me and moved to the window. I could still hear Novella on the fire escape, but she was endearingly clumsy and wasn’t getting away fast enough.

I struggled to my knees and watched the editor lean out of the window and line up her shot. I summoned every ounce of narrative agency I had left and threw myself against her. The first shot went wild, the leaden prose blasting an unnecessary bollard from existence on the street below. She backhanded me away though, smashing me back through what was left of the door into the barely-described hallway and all I could do was close my eyes tight and wish as I heard the second shot and Novella’s piercing scream.

***

I got away with a fine, twenty-thousand words of penance. ‘Due to past artistic contributions’ so the Publisher said.

Novella didn’t get off so easily though. She was stuck in limbo while they pieced her back together. She’d taken the paragraph to the face and fell three stories to the ground. The editor had called it in and after that it was out of my hands. I’d been in a cell, unable to do anything while they worked her over and it was only now I was allowed to see her.

I held her hand while the Designers unwrapped the bandages. It was horrible, not knowing what had happened to her. I closed my eyes and squeezed tighter as the wraps came off and finally steeled myself to open my eyes.

The horror of it was, she was even more beautiful.

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Genealogy is a fascinating subject.

What, though, if it takes you back to the ‘old country’ and to a town that no longer exists. What can you learn from a crumbling cliff and a village sunk beneath the waves?

Smashwords

Lulu

Drivethrufiction

Amazon

Also available in a bundle with my other ‘neo-pulp’ stories.

Soon available on iBookstore etc. Just search for my name or the title.

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I’m published in this with a nice, dark little tale of hidden justice.

LINKY-POOH

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He’s late, but she doesn’t complain. It’s an old dance now, between the two of them. The late nights, the lost weekends, out on his work. She doesn’t know, she doesn’t want to know and that suits both of them just fine. He plays the role of the provider, she plays the role of the dutiful wife, they share a few words at breakfast, a few words at night, a bed and that’s all.

He hangs his coat on the hook while she fusses in the kitchen. He hasn’t the heart to tell her that he’s already eaten. The meat sits heavy in his stomach making him full, sluggish, as he loosens his tie and sits down, ready to do his best.

While her back is turned he picks the little bit of gristle from between his teeth and hides it. Offering her a faint, tired smile as she slides his plate in front of him and sits opposite, a smile plastered to her face though her eyes look harassed. Some book or other she read told her to smile and so she does.

The knife cuts the steak. He takes his time doing it, cutting it into pieces, arranging it on his plate in the faint hope that the extra time will allow his stomach to digest the meat already in it. To make room.

It doesn’t.

The steak is overdone, his fault for being late. He eats it slowly, nodding along to the few things she says. Telling her that he’s tired, that he has a few more things to do before bed. It takes him an age and his jaw is tired by the end of it, but he finishes his meal and kisses her before he shuffles off to his office.

She doesn’t come into the office. Nobody does. It’s his one safe place. His sanctuary from the house and the world. His ‘work room’, the work she never asks about. He closes the door behind him and twists the lock shut.

It’s not a big room, this sanctuary. A desk, a small book case, a computer and The Wall. He stops at The Wall and brushes his fingers over the yellowing and curling paper. The heater makes the paper age faster here, but he sort of likes it, it makes things seem older and more distant. Historical.

Each article a dead man or woman, their bodies – or parts of their bodies at least – found. Suggestions, hints, daring allusions to the fact that some might have been eaten. Other articles, items, from the Sunday papers, series on human monsters, Fish, Chikalito, Dahmer, Meiwes, arranged around these more local, more recent cases.

He stifles a belch with his fist and pats his chest, stepping across the room and pulling the little bookcase away from the wall. This is his sanctum sanctorum, his hiding place, the holiest of holies. A place he can safely keep his special things.

He kneels down and pulls out the stack of papers with care and reverence, leafing through them. Safer to have them on paper than in a computer these days. He clicks on the lamp and flips through the stack, ashamed and excited at the same time.

The top page, his favourite, a crude black and white drawing, pixelated, expanded to fill the page. A depiction of a woman impaled on a spit, impossibly still alive, a fire burning under her while a man, the ‘cook’ has his way with her helpless body.

He bites his lip, hating himself as he leafs through the stack, dozens of depictions, torture, killing, cannibalism, women being eaten by snakes, toads, monsters from mythology and from the twisted minds of the artists who have lovingly depicted a hundred, a thousand, devouring ends. Vore, Dolcett, Guro, why does he love it so? He doesn’t know, it just does. A single image fascinating him for hours and invading his dreams.

He’s aroused now, the need overcoming the shame, but he’s determined to hold out. Hurriedly he stuffs the papers back into the hole in the wall and drags the bookcase back into place, realises there are tears on his cheeks and wipes them away self-consciously, even though he’s alone.

He sits, heavily in the chair before the computer and powers it on. The flat screen lighting up and filling the room with a pale glow as the drives clatter away. He peels an old post-it note from under the desk and opens a browser window, into a proxy, tapping in the numbers he reads off the paper, numbers he knows, but checks every time.

It’s a primitive forum, old by internet standards. No graphics, no user icons even, just text. That’s all they need. Here they share stories, fantasies, the dark and the forbidden. He scans the titles one by one, eyes flickering in the dark from one to the next.

NEW: Devoured by a demon – 1

NEW: Scalding in the pot – 1,2

NEW: Eat my tits – 1,2

NEW: Donor’s Rights? – 1,2,3,4,5

NEW: Blood Sausage – 1

NEW: What about clones? – 1

NEW: Mad Cow Disease? – 1

NEW: Cannibal Holocaust (Redux) – 1, 2, 3

Then he sees it, the little ‘x’ to mark a private message and he opens it up.

 From: MeatGirl69
To: DaddyCook1971
I’ve seen you on the forums, talking. You always seem to be the voice of reason and your intelligence and your comments shine through every time. I think, from things you’ve said, that we live near each other and I would like to meet. Maybe I can be your donor, maybe you can be mine, maybe we can have someone who understands, in the flesh, to talk about these things.

She leaves an address and a time. Tomorrow night. She makes it so easy for him. He feels that strange combination again, fear, arousal, shame, excitement. He closes the window, shuts down the computer and shuffles up the stairs to bed. Heaving into it he leans over, hips back so she can’t tell he’s aroused. He kisses her, once, on the neck, aching to bite, but he can’t and he won’t.

He sleeps little. The address burned into his mind, dancing before his eyes until the sun begins to crest the horizon. He shouldn’t go. Not again.

***

It’s not a hotel, it’s a house. Out in the suburbs. He drives, precisely because so few people do in the city. The boot is filled with his things. Plastic bags, plastic gloves, a change of clothes, all the tools, everything he might need.

The club sits heavy in his pocket. An old-style truncheon, buried deep, a reassuring weight, familiar at his side. He sits in the car and smooths back his thinning hair, building up the courage. His hands are trembling as he forces them to obey, wrenches open the door and walks, briskly to the front door through the drifting mist of autumn drizzle.

No bell, just a knocker. He clenches his fist to still the trembling and raps it, three times, smartly against the door. He tastes bile, his stomach spinning with tension, his whole body rigid as the door opens, safe on its security chain. A single eye peers up through the gap at him, a quiet voice, almost lost against the wind. “Daddy?”

“Meat?”

They both nod to each other and she fiddles with the chain.

“My real name is…”

She cuts him off, opening the door, shaking her head. “We don’t need to know Daddy. These names are the real us anyway, right?” She’s so quiet, timid, a slip of a thing really, close cropped hair, neat little breasts under a white blouse, that draws his gaze immediately. Shorts, bare feet. She barely opens her mouth when she talks, a tight lipped smile and doleful eyes, perhaps as nervous as he is.

He steps inside and closes the door, follows her, glancing down, watching her hips, watching her body, imagining her naked and… that shame and excitement hits him again, makes him giddy, dizzy, he almost stumbles.

“Do you want to talk or..?” So quiet, he has to strain to hear her, that little-girl lisp to her voice is almost endearing.

“Or,” he says, emphatically.

She shivers at the way he says it. “Do you want to… eat me… or do you want to be… eaten?” Her eyes are wide, staring, is it fear, is it hunger, what is it?

“I want…” he swallows back the acid taste in his mouth as he speaks the forbidden. “I want you… to eat me.”

She takes his hand, her touch is light, but cold. She pulls him, by his finger, towards another room, gently urging him behind her, then ahead of her, through the door, sliding in behind him and closing it, with a click.

He stops and looks around, blinking his eyes. Every wall, the floor, even the ceiling, is covered in plastic sheeting. Stapled to the moulding and the skirting board, pinned to the Artex. The room has a single furnishing. A mattress, under more plastic, an elegant and expensive set of chef’s knives laying on it in an open case.

“This is my dream room,” she says, quietly behind him. “Where I come to think about these things.”

“I have somewhere the same.”

“How do you want to…?”

He heaves a deep sigh and slides his hands into his pockets. Strangely more ashamed now than he been in the sanctuary, or fumbling with himself over pixelated blood, imaginary flesh and bone. “I’ve changed my mind.”

She stares at him, blank incomprehension and there, beneath the little-girl-lost act a flash of anger. Her lips are still pressed tight but she’s no longer smiling, her hands behind her as she glowers, sneering out the words. “You can’t change your mind.”

“Meat… this is just supposed to be a fantasy, a kink. You’ve crossed a line into madness,” he raises his gaze to meet hers but the act is entirely worn away now, she’s furious.

“You told me you wanted this. You came to me. You consented. You’re a donor,” her mouth opens now as she hisses at him and he blanches. Her teeth are filed to points.

“And the others. I bet they were donors too. Did they change their minds? Did they really consent?” His voice is harder now. He fist winds around the truncheon and holds it tight, white knuckled.

There’s a ripping sound. A blade, hidden beneath her blouse. She bares those sharp teeth and brings it up like a dagger, a Japanese sushi knife, trailing ribbons of duct tape.

Time seems to slow down as he yanks the truncheon out of his pocket and throws up his arm to ward off the knife. She comes at him like a furie, screaming like an animal. Her blade’s so sharp he doesn’t feel the cut. A razor’s edge parting his suit, his skin, his flesh but it doesn’t stop him. The hard length of the truncheon catches her in the throat and she goes down, the scream abruptly cut off, replaced by choking, dropping the knife as she struggles to breath and claws at her own neck.

He pins her, strip-binds her wrists and kneels on her. Middle-aged weight holding her down as hot, wet blood runs down his arm. Absently he licks at the salty-copper while she gasps like a landed fish under him and he fumbles for his mobile phone.

One call to the station and this is all over. Following a lead on the Internet. Plaudits, promotion, newspaper articles, talk shows, interviews in magazines. He’ll be a hero.

She struggles, weakly beneath him and the taste of blood fills his mouth with metal.

Almost touching the call button his thumb hovers.

Hesitates.

Stills.

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The plan was to just move out of cover and slot him, shoot him in the back of the head just as the unspeakable cunt deserved but then things got complicated, just as they always do.

He knew I was there.

He poured himself a drink from the cabinet, whiskey over ice, if I didn’t already hate him that would have tipped me over the edge but compared to everything else, adulterating good drink didn’t seem significant somehow. As though he didn’t have a care in the world he turned to the shadowed corner in which I was hiding and spoke, right to me.

“I suppose you’re here to kill me?”

There was no point hiding any longer, I raised the pistol and stepped out of the shadows, keeping it centred on his chest. The gun was suddenly feeling heavy. This was supposed to be an execution, not a conversation. I swallowed and tried to keep the rising nervousness down. I was supposed to be a fucking professional.

“You know who I am I suppose and that doesn’t intimidate or worry you,” he went on, he wasn’t even scared, the ice barely rattled in the tumbler as he drank – unless the drinking was the sign. This was too much like a movie, generally you aim a gun at someone and they piss themselves and do whatever the fuck you want, not this cunt, he was made of sterner stuff, but then, I already knew that.

“I know who you are.” I replied. Swallowing again, to my own ears my voice sounded weak.

“British? I was expecting some crazed internet lunatic from San Francisco, not this. Hardly seems fair. You knowing everything about me and me facing a man dressed like it’s London 1980 all over again.”

I growled and my grip tightened again on the pistol, knuckles white under black gloves.

“Seemed appropriate for killing a terrorist.”

That seemed to surprise him, finally, his eyes widened and he stared at me incredulously. “What? You mean you found me… with the intent of killing me, but you still think I… you still think we…?”

Infuriatingly he began to laugh and that was more than I could stand. I stepped forward and I slammed him across the temple with the gun, skin split, blood ran and he fell to his knees, spilling his drink. Copper over whiskey, on his knees on the thick carpet. I slammed the pistol barrel against the side of his head again, but something stopped me making that last step, he was making me doubt. I couldn’t afford to doubt.

He was still laughing.

“What’s so fucking funny? Three thousand casualties and fuck knows how many killed in an unjustified war, and you can sit here and laugh?” I presed the gun harder against his head, blood was pouring down now, matting his hair, staining his cheek, but he was still laughing.

“You got all the way to me… but you still think we did it.”

I ground the gun against his temple, breathing hard now, furious, angry, teary-eyed, trying to focus.

“We know you did it, you’re connected to each scene, you confiscated the evidence, you masterminded the whole thing, the whole coverup, all of it. We’ve got the evidence, we’ve got the pictures and the documents to prove it and we’re going to get to all of you. Justice will be done.” That was better, a little self righteousness and I was back on track. The man was scum, he deserved to die. I was ready.

“Don’t you want to know what really happened and why? I’ve no reason to lie now, you’re going to kill me,” he looked up, he wasn’t laughing, but he was still smiling. He was mad, that was it, insane, you’d have to be to do what he did. I didn’t shoot, yet, he went on. “Yes, we covered it up, yes we hid evidence, yes we put out false reports and doctored things to look suspicious but no, we didn’t do it. It was just a group of religious zealots and frankly, we’ve had it coming for almost a century.”

“If you didn’t do it, why cover it up?” I was weakening again, my resolve seeping away once more as he spoke, the gun wavering. Maybe he was right, maybe he was just pleading for his life.

“Government’s are transitory, short term things,” he explained. “all they care about is the next election, that’s what; five years at most? They can’t think long term, they’re incapable of it. That’s why China is going to outstrip us. Democracy doesn’t hinder them. But there’s us. Government bureaucracy doesn’t change, we stay the same, us and business, and we can think long term.”

“So it was bureaucrats and business, that still doesn’t excuse you.” If he was pleading for his life he wasn’t doing a very good job.

“No, you don’t understand. We didn’t do anything this time, but one day we might have to. We have to be prepared for contingencies, don’t you see? One day we might have to kill our own to justify a war, or we might have to fake some atrocity or cover up an experiment gone wrong. We haven’t yet, but one day, we might. Its all about contingency. Create baseless stories of conspiracy now and in the future, when we are covering something up, the people crying about it will be dismissed as lunatics just as they are being now.”

I stared down at him, that was insane, all that trouble, all that pain, all that extra grief, just to pave the way for some unformed future conspiracy to get away with things? That was almost worse than masterminding it themselves.

“Why not just tell the truth? Why not just be open? What about the businesses making money off of all this? What about the new crusade?”

“Opportunists.” He answered. “Vultures, nothing more. As to telling the truth? We tried that with Project Bluebook and the crazies are still having a field day with that.” He sighed and looked up at me, right into my eyes. “Look, we didn’t do anything, we just made it appear – to certain people – that we did. Just in case. You kill me and you don’t avenge anyone, you don’t set anything to rights. You just add another number to the bodycount.”

So that was his plea.

“Alright, alright. You didn’t do it,” he smiled, but it was premature. “You’re willing to in the future.”

The pistol barked, once.

Just once.

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I set out to investigate the richest people on Earth and what I discovered surprised me.

There was one man, not known to the public, who controlled a truly massive amount of wealth, hidden away behind false fronts and illusory companies. It took me years to find out who he was and when I did he didn’t hide, he invited me to come and see him.

I was incredulous at first. The address he gave me was a tiny flat in one of the worst parts of London. It was summer at the time, stiflingly hot and as humid as a steam bath. Britain still hasn’t gotten used to these hotter summers and outside of businesses we stubbornly refuse to get with the global warming and to invest in air conditioning. Even the richest man in the world didn’t have so much as a fan and had only opened his half rotten windows half way to let the stagnant air circulate.

It was like entering an oven.

He lived alone here in slovenly bliss. The flat was a nest of empty pizza boxes, mouse droppings and patches of what may have – at one time – been flock wallpaper and hideous nineteen-seventies carpet. He wasn’t like any rich person I’d ever seen. Unkempt, bearded, wearing a faded Hawkwind T-shirt and cargo shorts, no sign of any plastic surgery – or any personal grooming at all. He was like the Richard Branson of some strange mirror universe where things had turned out very differently.

He cleared some junk mail off his sofa so I could sit down and took the easy chair across from it. Easing back into its foetid cushions with obvious delight and comfort. Sitting there, grinning at me, waiting for me to open my mouth and ask the most obvious question imaginable.

I obliged him.

“Why? Why do you live here if you’re so rich? Couldn’t you buy a Caribbean island or something? Why live in squalor in London when you could live in… I don’t know… paradise?”

His eyes twinkled and he leaned forward in the chair, springs popping back into place as his weight shifted, the floor creaking under him. “Where do you live?” He asked.

“A little village out near the new forest,” I answered “but…”

He interrupted me. “Is it nice there? Near the trees, the ponies, the gorse?”

I stopped a moment and thought before I replied. “I guess, yes…”

“You guess? I bet it’s paradise compared to this isn’t it?”

I coughed nervously. I was meant to be interviewing him after all, still, I felt compelled to answer. “Sure, without meaning to be rude…”

“But still, you said ‘I guess’, you had to think about it didn’t you?”

I nodded to that, I had.

“Well, that’s why I stay here. I can get used to this. The smell. The neighbours fighting at 2am over the last can of cider. The kids smashing up the windows or burning the cars. I can get used to living in absolute squalor, in hell, to the point where it really doesn’t affect me any more.” He shushed me with a gesture as I took a breath to speak.

“So any time I do encounter something wonderful, or beautiful, it’s… intense, pleasurable, wonderful. Living here the awful has become ordinary and I don’t really perceive it any longer. It doesn’t touch me. I’m used to it. I don’t live in paradise because I don’t want to become acclimated to paradise. I want to notice the good things, the wonderful things, the beautiful things. I don’t want to get inured to them because then I would only notice the bad things in life. Not the good. Wouldn’t that be terrible?”

He leaned back into his seat after his revelation, easing onto the soft cushions of the mouldering easy-chair with a pleasure I knew I could never understand and leaving me staring at my shoes, fumbling for anything more to say.

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