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Commute

Andy Devonshire

It took me a while to find a seat. The things above the seats weren’t working, and instead of showing which seats were available and which seats were reserved, and between which locations, they were all showing as simply ‘Reserved’. Really fucking helpful, that. I’d already walked more than halfway down the carriage before I realised this, but then all of the seats had been occupied by at least one passenger anyway. I try to avoid sitting next to strangers if I can help it.

Then I got lucky: a pair of seats, forward-facing, completely vacant, not even with anyone’s rubbish left on the seat or the pull-down tray / table thing. I took the window seat. I prefer window seats to aisle seats because in the aisle you invariable end up getting your toes trodden on even if you keep them under the seat in front. Otherwise, you get you shoulder knocked or your head bashed by someone lugging a bulging bag down the carriage. What to they think the luggage racks are for.

Still, I soon wished I’d taken the aisle seat and blocked off the access to the window seat. No sooner had I made myself comfortable and opened up my newspaper than some obese middle-aged hag with a bad perm plonked her immense arse in the seat beside me. She didn’t even fucking ask if it was taken. Just sat down, overhanging my seat by a good five or six inches, her upper arms as big as my thighs encroaching into my personal space. She was wheezing like a steam engine with the effort of simply getting down the carriage and sitting down. And she stank. I know, fat people always say that it’s a myth that fat people smell, and I’ll admit, not all of them do. But it seems that every time a wheezer parks themselves next to me on a train, they fucking honk. Even so, this one was bad.

I shunted myself over so I was pressed against the window, pulled my iPod from my pocket and shoved the phones deep into my ears before turning it up. Even then, the full-on metal racket of Ministry wasn’t enough to cover up the noise of her breathing. She pulled a Kindle from amidst the folds of flesh and I could see she was reading some trashy crime novel where the characters who work for CID have alliterative names. Probably some toss by Lee Child or another mass-production mainstream writer aimed at people with a reading age of ten. She was on chapter 85. I’m guessing they were short chapters, but even so. The physical act of reading was making her short on breath, and sweat even more judging by the aroma.

For a moment, I pictured the scene in which chapter 86 saw Brian Brown rocked up to find a fat, blubbery corpse lying on a station platform and their discussion as to whether or not it was murder or if the hulking beast had simply expired, her enlarged heart having given up trying to pump the blood round the miles of cholesterol-filled arteries, the strain being all too much. My mind began to run through the various ways I could do away with her and I found myself wondering which method would provide the greatest satisfaction. Part of me wanted to stab her, just to see if she’d deflate like a balloon when punctured.

The train arrived at my destination before I had the time to act on my desire to bludgeon her to death with my laptop or to ram her Kindle so far down her throat that she asphyxiated. I disembarked and couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated. Still, it was probably for the best.

We’re not all bah, humbug here at Clinicality Press – although don’t think for a second that all the festive frivolities mean we’re going to be giddy with seasonal spirit. Life – and death – goes on, and when it comes to sticking the harsh realities in your face, few writers come more harsh in their realities than Karl van Cleave.

So we’re unveiling a second story from Karl’s forthcoming collection of stories, Incisions, Collisions and Aborted Missions via Smashwords. ‘Broken Wings’ is clinical, brutal and existential. And in the spirit of goodwill to all, we’re giving away the first downloads for FREE. You can get yours in practically any (virtual) format you can imagine by following this link.

bROKEN wINGS White Resized

 

Incisions, Collisions and Aborted Missions will be published as an e-book in February 2013, with a print edition later in the year.

We’re proud to announce that our first publication of 2013 will be a collection of short stories by Karl van Cleave entitled Incisions, Collisions and Aborted Missions. It’s clinical and exceptionally brutal and we love it.

Karl contributed a brace of cut-up poems to our landmark Clinical, Brutal… anthology in 2010 and has also had writing featured in the Clinicality Press online.

Ahead of the book’s release, we’ll be putting a couple of the stories out as free e-books via Smashwords, with distribution to other channels  / formats including Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook and Kindle. The first of these, ‘Blades’, is available as of now and can be downloaded for free from HERE.

BLADES 3

Short Term Effect

Johnny Webster

 

I was exhausted but equally buoyant after a successful presentation in Glasgow. It had been a long day – I had barely slept the night before and had been convinced that I hadn’t slept at all until I recalled dreams that had drifted through during the hours I had spent turning first one way and then the other in such a regular fashion that had I been a sausage I would have been cooked to an all-round even perfection, basted endlessly in my own sweat as it flooded uncontrollably from me to such an extent that I had decided that on my return home I would book an appointment with my GP with a view to tackling my anxiety. Anxiety in itself was nothing new to me, but the copious perspiration at the slightest sign of anything so much as resembling a stressful situation, or even one that required the smallest degree of energy and focus was a recent development and cause for concern.

Between the presentation and my train there had been time for a bite to eat and a couple of well-earned pints. I had consumed nothing but coffee and water – both in large quantities in an attempt to remain alert despite the sleep deprivation, which had left me feeling detached and strangely wired rather than tired, although I knew that wouldn’t last, and to rehydrate myself after the night’s sweat-fest. This was only proving partially successful, however: despite feeling relatively relaxed – I was well-prepared, after all – the water I was imbibing seemed to be flowing straight back out through my pores. Rather than taking the fluids into my system, I felt as though my skin had the retentive properties of a sieve, or perhaps a muslin straining bag used for making wine and preserves.

By the time I boarded my train, the adrenaline production, and consequently the flow of perspiration, had abated. I was tired, but yet still strangely alert. Too tired and disconnected to feel true elation, I felt like I was watching someone else in my shoes walk down the carriage to my reserved seat. Coach D, seat 38, aisle. Forward-facing, at least, even if the window seat was already occupied, meaning that I couldn’t spread out and truly unwind.

The occupant of seat 37 was a girl, blonde, slim, immersed in a crisp-looking copy of Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Seated directly beside her, I was unable to really take in any other details about her and I certainly wasn’t about to strike up a conversation. You can call me a book snob if you like but chick-lit is, to my mind, the lowest of the low. Burying myself in Tom McCarthy’s C, which I was 175 pages into, I would occasionally glance with my peripheral vision to build the image of my immediate surroundings, something I invariably do, partly to locate myself in time and space and partly because I’m just plain nosey.

She’s on page 45 and is wearing dark blue-grey leggins. The sky is flecked with purple hues as the sun begins to set, illuminating the light, high clouds that scar the flat, pale blue plains like bruises spreading across skin after contact with a hard, heavy object; a baseball bat, a piece of scaffold, perhaps.

I can’t make out her face without being obvious so settle back into the measured narrative of the novel in my hands, which is a large-format first edition paperback copy. I much prefer smaller, pocket-size volumes because I can cram them into my jacket pocket while travelling, but can see to my right that she has small, neat breasts, covered by a copper-coloured cardigan which she is wearing over a white blouse that comes mid-way down her lean thighs. In the window, I can’t see her because my own reflection obstructs my line of vision, but I can see the busty bird in the seat in front of me in her low-cut white vest top and mint-green cardigan as she taps out a text on her smart phone.

I’ve seen all I’m going to from this vantage point, so I return all of my attention to my book, and bung my earphones into my lugs, using the strains of The Stooges’ Funhouse to mask the sound of the conversations of my fellow passengers. The hum of chatter is distracting, but not nearly as bad as snippets of overheard dialogue that offer openings into full-on eavesdrop situations.

My bladder’s beginning to transmit messages to my brain that it needs to be emptied. Electrical impulses course through my body’s information channels and I stumble down the lurching carriage to the toilet and relieve myself with a lengthy and deeply satisfying piss that expels not only a large quantity of the coffee, water and beer but also much of the surplus adrenaline that’s gone past its expiry and beyond its usefulness.

Returning to my seat, I’m better able to clock the girl in seat 37. It’s difficult to determine her age: she could be anywhere between 24 and 36. She’s tanned and had fine lines and despite being age-fixated, I’m hopeless at pinning an age on people. She’s perhaps not as pretty as I might have imagined, or maybe hoped, but not bad-looking by any means. I resume my seat, pick up my book and continue reading.

She’s travelling from Glasgow to Morpeth: I know this because her tickets are face-up on the pull-down ledge that’s hinged onto the back of the seat in front. I wonder if she’ll have to change at Newcastle.

Before long, she begins to gather her belongings and she asks me to excuse her. I stand up and step aside and she brushes past me. She is conspicuous by her lack of scent, or perhaps my own stale sweat smell is drowning it out. She smiles and thanks me, and I fleetingly wonder if she’s perhaps quite attractive after all. Realising that I will never be in a position to resolve this internal debate, I sit down again and pick up my book and the train pulls into Morpeth, an unusual stop on this route.

The stop seems uncommonly long for a small station, and, on realising this, I glance up and lean to my left a little to look down the train. I always do this, although there’s nothing to be achieved in doing so. And then I see her. Her long, blonde locks flow radiantly as she rushes down the aisle of the next carriage ahead and I feel a small tingle of excitement. It seems all too strange and for an instant I wonder if I’ve actually nodded off and am dreaming once more. But no, the door at the end of the carriage opens and she races directly toward me. There’s a minute flutter inside and she arrives beside me. She gives me an embarrassed grimace as she reaches up and tugs her coat from the overhead rack.

‘You got lucky there,’ I say.

Her smile is mixed with relief as she pants a wordless response and then is gone.

Seconds later, the doors close and the train draws away.

Anonymity # 1: Listen…

Karl van Cleave

Listen up, motherfuckers, I’m not screwing around here. I’ve got a fucking gun and I’ll fucking use it. I mean it. This guy here…. Yeah, this guy, he’s my hostage. I don’t know him, I don’t care. I mean, he doesn’t mean shit to me, so he’s expendable. We’re all expendable. I’m expendable. I know it. I don’t know why you all think you’re so fucking special. The sooner you realise you’re expendable too, the better. Wise up! I’m telling you. No-one gives a fuck. You die, no-one will even notice. You die in dramatic circumstances, you’ll make the news for a few hours, maybe even a few days. Yeah, so I don’t give a fuck if I go down… I’d happily go down, be a footnote in history, a snippet of footage on the news, a half column in the morning paper. It’s more than I am now, it’s more than any of you are now. So what’s it gonna be? Huh? Huh? Yeah, I’m talking to you. And I’m talking to you! It doesn’t have to be this way… I’ll take the money and a break for freedom, that’s cool, but you don’t wanna fuck with me. Take the money and live, or get gunned down, it’s all the same to me. This is my one fucking shot, you hear? I’ll take you down, take this guy down – this anonymous guy – take you all down. I don’t give a fuck. Yeah, I’ve gone past caring and I’ve gone past living as just one more anonymous nobody. Hand it over, I’m a rich somebody. The cops take me out, I’m a dead somebody, but that’s more than any of you, more than any of you will ever be. You know it, you sad pathetic fucks. You’re scared of me, but you envy me, because you want to be where I’m standing. You want your fifteen minutes of fame. I’m getting mine, right here, right now.

I’m poised, I’m ready. I’ve rehearsed this countless times before. I’m coiled. One day, I’m going to snap.

 

Fans

Michael Hann

 

The singer was a prick. You could tell by the way he looked down on the crowd that he thought he was cool as fuck. Wanker.
Christ, he was only two years older than me and Mel. I could remember how he used to pick on us at school. It ended after I punched him in the face and nearly broke his cheek bone. Now here he was, pretending to be king of the world.
Fuck. Him.
“Now that guy,” Mel said, drawing out her words and smiling at me, “Is a complete cockhead.”
Some knob fell out of the mosh pit and slammed into me. I grabbed him by the waist and chucked him back in. I laughed and turned to Mel but she was too busy snogging Si, her latest conquest.
I hated the weedy little fucker. He was always hanging off her, with a sulk on and pretending to be bored. I’d thought a lot about catching him alone, maybe coming back from the bogs or the bar, and then taking him outside and kicking his face off. But Mel would eventually find out and I’d be screwed.
“For God’s sake Annie, give us some privacy.”
She’d caught me staring at them again. Shit. Someone brushed past my boob and I automatically raised my fist to smack them one. It was just some lass collecting glasses.
The band thrashed through their third cover, sending the small crowd mental.  I couldn’t hear anything. I was absorbed by the pleasure on her face, the way she bit her lip when he grabbed her backside, how she smiled when he ran his tongue over the inside of her ear.
The song ended. They momentarily disengaged from one another and joined in the half hearted clapping. Mel turned and looked right at me.
“Still,” Mel said, indicating to the knobhead singer. “You’ve got to admit, he’s got something.”
Something inside me… snapped.
I stormed forward, pushing people out of my way until I got to the stage. The bouncers didn’t see me coming. Before anyone knew it, I was up there and pounding the microphone into the face of the singer. They just about got their hands on me as I started biting into the bridge of his broken nose.
As they dragged me off him, I looked around for Mel. She wasn’t there. She must have left already.

 

Dead But Dreaming

Dave Howden

 

I’m standing in my living room. It is a large, plain room with magnolia walls. It is bright, filled with natural daylight that makes its ingress from the large window that occupies much of the large wall, one of the longer dimensions of the rectangle, to my the left. I guess I’m not quite with it, hungover more than likely. I just don’t feel particularly connected. Between space… my wife is beside me, at my left hand side. Our backs rest against the shorter wall and my right shoulder is close to the corner where the wall to my rear and the other longer wall, the one without the window, meet. It’s very warm, a dry heat. It must be summer. I’ve almost forgotten what summer is.

She seems to come from nowhere. It’s as though she’s entered through the wall, a silent entry, and completely unannounced. Of course, there’s a door, to my wife’s left, some distance from me, and it’s concealed, even if my view of it wasn’t obscured. We both know her, and although she doesn’t live with us, and only visits very occasionally, the surprise is only momentary. No-one speaks, and we watch as she walks straight past us, dressed in a Chinese dress, and places her palms against the wall, the longer wall without the window, at the far end of the room. Hot on her heels – her bare, shoeless heels – appear a couple of Indian men wearing turquoise robes. They stand in the middle of the room and converse with one another in Hindi and ignore us as they watch the girl as she continues to move strangely, her back to us and her hands on the blank magnolia wall, her palms to the flat surface, almost stroking it.

Abruptly, she stops. We all go outside. It’s been a long time since I have been outside. The world has changed significantly. How long has it been? Long enough to have forgotten that from my doorstep I can see the lives of dozens of other residents in the square unfolding in real-time through the large window elevations of their flats – large, plain magnolia expanses, just like the one I live in. I move back and step outside myself once more.

Song

I pried the wooden boards away from the door, fumbling with my old set of keys to the pub. Wiping liquor sweat from my brow, I checked the dark streets. Empty. I picked up the two cans of gasoline and marched in.
As soon as I was through the door I could hear them, their many voices whispering in the shadows. I had almost missed them. My hands shook as I took a swig from the whiskey bottle in my pocket.
I slid past the stacked tables and chairs and stopped at the dust coated bar. I traced my hand in the surface dirt and remembered the many times I’d be pulling a pint at the bar and frozen, trying to hear the words, straining to decipher their song.
Once I was captured by their song, only my wife and daughter could break me out of my trance, with their screaming and fists. I would come to, and see the beer pouring over my hand onto the floor and a room full of eyes staring at me.
I unscrewed the stoppers from the gasoline cans. Their voices were rising, trying to snare me. I could feel their panic distorting their singing and I smiled. They knew I had come to silence them, for taking everything I loved away from me. To make them pay.
I poured the petrol around my feet. Their voices harmonised, growing louder. Their song was attacking me now, creating waves of hurt and nausea to stop me. The gasoline cans clattered to the floor.
My body began to shake with pain as I struck a match. Their shrieks cut through me with a terrible beauty. My hands automatically moved up to my ears to block out the song, which was useless, as the glorious noise was inside my head. Even now, as the taste of blood stung my mouth, I still wanted to know what they were singing.
I cried out as their din overpowered me, forcing me to my knees. I prayed that it would end, that their sublime screams would finally tear me apart.
Then, it became clear.
As the match fell from my hand, my mind was filled not with words, but images. Birth, love, pain, family, war, sex, grief, murder, end, joy.
I felt nothing as the flames engulfed my body. I was lost in their song.

 

About the Author

Michael Hann recently published a zine called I’m Afraid of Everyone, an edgy and dark collection of short stories. He regularly writes gig and album reviews and interviews for NARC, and one of his short stories will be featured in the literary magazine Kerouac’s Dog in January 2011. He is currently working on my first novel, whilst gathering and producing the content for vol. 2 of I’m Afraid…

http://www.facebook.com/?sk=2361831622#!/group.php?gid=114517125268779
http://www.imafraidofeveryonemh.blogspot.com

   “So you think you’re quite the man, do you?”
    James winced. He’d only known Debbie a few weeks having met her through a friend at a night out with some of his course companions. Studying chemistry, he didn’t get to see many girls in the lab or in the lectures, but he always tried to address this when out socially. And he had quickly learned that Debbie was a bugger after a few drinks. What’s more, he’d got to recognise that tone of voice she had taken, and her mannerisms. They said something was afoot and it was likely to be trouble. He was keen to avoid trouble, and so he played it safe.
    “Well, I am a man…” he began cautiously.
    This was met with snorts of derision from his mates Andy and Joe, and a tuneless rendition of the line ‘I’m a man not a boy’ as performed by the long-forgotten teen band North and South who had featured in the BBC television series ‘No Sweat’ in an attempt to replicate the success of S Club 7, from Stu. The fool.
    “Prove it,” Debbie taunted flirtatiously.
    “What?” James couldn’t hide his surprise.
    “A drinking contest, silly!” she laughed.
    James flushed, especially when he noticed that Sarah and Jenny were laughing too. He knew he’d sounded excessively indignant and defensive.
    “Oh!” he exclaimed, relieved. He had reasons to be wary after some of the stories he’d heard of Debbie, and that she had herself recounted.
    “What did you expect?” cackled Sarah.
    Jim shrugged, and before he could speak, found himself being presented with a shot of tequila that seemed to come from nowhere and his thoughts buried beneath a chant of “Drink! Drink! Drink!” from all of his companions.
    He picked up the little glass and put it to his lips, keeping one eye on Debbie all the while. Then… Bam! He sank it. Debbie did the same, in unison. More followed in rapid succession and James soon began to feel woozy.
    “Think I need some fresh air,” he said as his vision began to blur.
    He made a sharp exit, and the cool night air hit him like an adrenaline shock. He still felt disorientated – tequila always ruined him, and fast – and sweat was beading on his brow, but he no longer felt like he would die and simply felt drunk enough for more antics. And more antics he would get.
    The rest of the gang quickly gathered around him. It was time to move on. Another bar, and en route Debbie insisted she make a brief call at her house – she’d left some cash there, and made a quick-change of her top while she was making the collection. Before long, they were on their way. Debbie lived in the heart of town, and so the next bar – a horrible, loud place that played pulsating dance music but did two-for-one student offers on certain nights – was only a couple of minutes away. James was glad he was utterly trashed: it was the only way he could ever find places like this remotely tolerable.
    Despite her enormous capacity for booze, even Debbie was beginning to show the signs of her consumption, and everyone else was utterly legless – as gashed as James, or so he assumed: it was hard for him to judge. But she hadn’t forgotten her evening’s objective, to challenge James to prove himself at every opportunity. And he was drunk enough to go along with whatever she put his way. So chatting up some alcopop-guzzling teenage floozy in an impossibly short skirt might have resulted in a truly humiliating rejection, but won the approval of his peers, not least of all the truly fearsome Debbie. Dancing shirtless on a table? No problem. It might’ve got them kicked out of that particular bar, but that was half the fun.
    Once ejected, they regrouped outside. Debbie guided them all into an alleyway and broke out her wallet, removing a piece of paper, the likes of which James had never seen before.
    “Acid,” she explained, an evil conspiratory leer on her face.
    “Oh no,” James said. He meant it.
    But a little coercion goes a long way, and before long, he and Debbie and three or four others had dropped tabs and the rest of the group – minus Stuart, who claimed he had to work the following morning – made their way to the next venue. After that, the acid was beginning to kick in, but despite the onset of some mildly disconcerting hallucinations, James accepted the challenge of skinnydipping in the river that ran through the town centre. He scraped his leg on a submerged shopping trolley, but it was worth it: after all, it was a laugh, he got to maintain his credibility in the eyes of the great arbiter, Debbie, and he got to see her without any clothes. She was a good sport, and would never set a challenge she wouldn’t perform herself.
    The evening began to blur, perhaps there were more bars, even a club. The group was reducing in size now: only James, Debbie, Jenny and Andy remained. Jen and Andy were flagging and starting to weird out, but James was on fire and managing to keep up with Debbie. More drinks purchased from an off-license or somewhere topped up those already imbibed and blended with the LSD. It was quite a trip.
    Somehow, they ended up on a building site. James wasn’t sure about this. He was being coerced to climb the crane tower. It was a good hundred feet tall, and was fuzzy and bending out of shape. He was scared of heights, and right now his balance and co-ordination were fucked. However mashed he was, he knew it was impossible. He didn’t want to die. But Debbie wasn’t taking no for an answer. Then, from nowhere, she pulled a pistol from her bag. She pointed at her friend. She cocked the mechanism with terrifying steadiness and certainty.
    “Climb,” she ordered
    James knew he had no choice.

‘Drinking Games’ appears in The Gimp, out on Clinicality Press on 11th October 2010.