For Dark Winter Nights 3

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It was the freezing air that tried to enter. 

For a moment he stood, transfixed by what had taken place. The world had changed and it was waiting for him.

One small step and he was through the door. He wore only flimsy slippers, worn away to the bone. He wanted to turn back. He didn’t.

Under the slight shelter of his porch, he paused momentarily and surveyed the blank covering. It was simpler with snow. It was also easier to pick out tracks that could have been responsible for all of this nonsense.

In his eventual urgency, he had forgotten to take a torch, but a full moon rode the night sky and leant illumination. Snow covered contours, levelled slopes and shadow-covered hazards. It also betrayed tracks, or footsteps, of those that had been there. Yet, although he tried, he could not discern anything of importance.

He had always prided himself on his ability to track and to hunt. Little escaped him when he set himself to the task of proving his worth. In the old days, he had hunted the upper slopes and even the peaks. Both he and his brother ventured far into the higher reaches in order to win the respect of their father. They were as tight a team as any other on the mountains. No, they were tighter. But this didn’t stop their battle.

A year separated them, making him the second in line. Everything would go to the eldest. He had never considered this when they were younger boys, journeying into the winter lands and calling each other’s dare. Their challenges were frequent and forever evolving in difficulty. They liked to push themselves and each other to see what was possible. They had no mother to worry for them and their father expressed little concern. The boys could be gone for a number of days at a time, but there would be nothing of concern coming from the old man; nothing to suggest that he considered that there was any real danger. After all, hadn’t the last of the wolves been killed in his father’s time?

“Stop thinking about it!”

He had spoken these words out loud. He now spoke much of his words out loud. There was nobody to hear him, nobody to suggest that he was a crank. He could do as he liked.

“Hellooo,” he hollered into the vast emptiness and waited for his words to bounce back.

The exertion of the utterance had an unwanted effect. He was sharply aware that he needed to piss again. The house was behind him, further away than he had imagined. He didn’t realise that he had travelled so far away from it. Half a mile, he surmised.  Half a mile? However did that happen?

He had choices: he could turn back to the farmhouse now or he could just relieve himself out here. He could stain the brilliant white with his yellow issue. The idea appealed to him. He liked the freedom of pissing out of doors. He liked the potential offence that it could cause others. He enjoyed spoiling the perfection of it all. Just as long as it didn’t freeze his cock off.

He laughed to himself and started to extract his tool.

The piss was greater than ever. It flowed in an impressively torrential jet of liquid and steam. When it hit the snow, it cut through it like the proverbial hot knife; or, hot piss through snow. They had had pissing contests.

His brother prided himself on the unusual length of his member. But beyond showing it off at any chosen point in time, there was little else his extra inches were good for.  It was his, the younger brother’s item that could shoot faster and further, much to the annoyance of the eldest sibling. These days, his power was less, much less. The years meant that he needed to visit more, but those visits were very far from torrential; drips were all that occurred, drips and a bad aim.

“Tonight, I piss for the gods!”

And he did. He pissed so long and hard that the covering of already hardening snow completely relented and gave up its sovereignty. He watched it with wonder.

“Praise be,” he announced as his waters continued to part the ground. “God is great!”

He decided to leave his own name for everyone to see. Not until he had finished did he realise that he had spelt out, G O D . He laughed at his mistake. He felt that he could laugh until he died and that felt good, very good indeed.

It was the first howl that stopped him in his tracks.

He hastily replaced himself and searched the scene for the source. Some way off a stealthy shadow watched him, but did not move. It was the man’s turn to move. He was too old to play such stupid games and so, he set himself for the journey back to the house.

He had travelled only a few steps when his feet were lost from under him. He fell helplessly and face-first into the snow. He was dazed. He reached around himself to get support and something touched his outstretched hand. It was there in the snow all along and he had walked past it. But now as he pulled the thing towards him, he recognised a hand, a very old hand.

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This time, the solitary howl was joined by several more.

For Dark Winter Nights 2

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Beyond his window was winter. It had finally arrived.

A long-awaited smile cracked beneath the surface of his leathered skin. He inhaled the cold air that had perpetrated beyond the pane of glass…at Last. 

“So, you have returned to me.”

The empty world gave no response. 

He watched the frozen landscape, and the moon, impaled on the highest peak. This was how it was meant to be.

Finally.

Then, the noise.

He knew that he couldn’t be dreaming because he never dreamt. He was pleased that he did not wander in the nocturnal world of flotsam. He had never read a newspaper nor had he read a book. If he ever allowed the truth to be told, he would have admitted to not being able to read. It was a skill that was beyond him and one that he really didn’t need. A book was paper and it could be burnt, but wood was better.

The noise was from outside. The one that woke him seemed to be distant, but the one that he now heard was much closer. It was close to the house.

A long time ago, in his father’s life, there had been wolves that roamed these mountains. They would pick off lambs in spring; move in groups to worry herdsmen with their charges. And every now and again, at certain junctures of brashness and bravery, they would even attack dairy cows. He had grown up fearing these creatures whilst wishing that he could be given the good fortune to encounter one, face to face, in the open, an even contest of skill and nerve.

There was scratching at the door.

In the room above the cellar’s stairs was his gun.

It had not been used since the dog. Tonight he reached for it, took a box of cartridges, loaded, then made his way to the door. Whatever had been making the noise stopped so suddenly that he heard te echo of the space into which it had gone. He stood for a long while before leaving the night ot itself. He told himself that it was probably a stray mutt from the village below or a tourist dog that had decided to stay on for the winter. None of them went hungry when the tourists were around , but as soon as the season was over they were like vagabonds and scavengers, raiding refuse and even sneaking into homes to steal what they could. Whatever pedigree they were, to him they were vermin. His hand caressed the gun and his finger stroked the trigger.

Alive, he thought, at last.

 

The scratching was getting louder and more frantic.

Whatever was out there wanted to come in. Perhaps the sudden snap in the temperature had caused the creature to search for shelter. Perhaps it could be running from some other; prey and predator. Either way, it would get a shock. The gun was still firmly in his hands, cradled, one might say. He placed his hand on the key and turned it slowly. In response, the scratching increased. The door was now being pushed with a force that he had not reckoned on and he almost stopped, a shudder of apprehension warning him of the unknown. He had climbed the high mountains, survived the worst of the storms when others had not, and had outlived all of those who thought they were his betters. As the frantic activity continued to escalate, he opened the door.

Something pushed hard from without. It was but a momentary force, but he felt it.

“I have a gun,” he warned, regardless of the sense in it. Then he pushed it shut again and turned the key. His old heart beat a manic rhythm and he felt something that he had not encountered for many, many years; fear. He waited and panted away the panic.

Minutes moved as he leant his shoulder against the wooden divide. The beating of his heart was joined by a throbbing pulse in his temples. An urge to shout, to scream defiance, to offload his firearm into the timber, all demanded action. but he resisted.

Time passed and his heart slowed. The throb in his temples was now only a dull reminder of what had gone and the pressure he was exerting on the door eased. There was no scratching, no sound above a vague wind falling down from the peaks.

“Nothing, you stupid old fool. Nothing,” he reassured himself. “It was only the wind that pushed the door. That and your own imagination.”

Yet, he had no imagination.

What he could do, what he should do, was to open the door once again and shoot whatever had caused him to be so afraid. He remembered someone, some time long ago, saying that there was ‘nothing to fear but fear itself’.  That was a good thing to say and that was something that he had remembered down the decades. Now the line came back to him and forced him to act.

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His hand reached out for the key once again. He forced it to be steady. He inhaled deeply and began to turn… 

 

For Dark Winter Nights

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If anyone had told him about climate change in the past, he would have scoffed. ‘Tree-huggers,’ he would have muttered. These days, that was different.

He was awake again. A full bladder told him that he not only had to visit the lavatory, but that he was getting older. This happened to men past a certain age. Things wore out. Things didn’t work. Others became obsolete. If anybody had dared to suggest that this would be him in decades to come, he would have laughed right into their faces.

The house was still. He had never married, never felt the need to have another share his bed. People who did that were weak. He had never been weak. He could look after himself. He always had. Now, at two o’clock in the middle of an unseasonably warm autumn night, he was taking care of himself.

He pissed long and hard into the toilet. These days, his aim was less sure of itself. No matter how well he targeted the big white mouth, there was always an offshoot. That was another thing that he did not expect in his advancing years. Piss pools on the floor. He would clean it in the morning.

Another year without snow. He remembered when it would start to fall as shaken by the hand of a clock. By November there would already be a thick covering on the peaks and ice would beset the higher roads that wound around them. By December, the higher passes would no longer be safe. By January, nothing moved above the summer’s highest pastures. Tonight was mild. Last night was mild. It seemed that the whole of last year was mild, but tonight he shivered a little on his way back to the warmth beneath his covers.

Something had moved. He was awake again, shot out of the oblivion of sleep.

He never dreamt. Some sound had occurred, something from further up the slopes. If his dog had not died, he would have looked for confirmation from its superior senses. The dog had been with him longer than anyone or anything else. In the days when it was alive, it would sleep at the foot of the bed and wake him with its soft mutterings.

Some people loved their dogs and treated them as if they were children. A dog is a dog, he thought. It is loyal and that is its value. To pretend that a dog is anything more is the type of modern madness that the people of the towns and cities indulge in. When he discovered that the back legs were becoming a problem for the creature, when it could not rise from sleep and showed signs of infirmity, he shot it.

Its body, he left in one of the high pastures for carrion.

He listened to the silence of the night and scoured its nuances to discover what had woken him. The night was blank. The rain had stopped falling. He could hear the stream flowing some way off. The waters would be cold, the offshoot of the glaciers that still managed to survive in the face of a warmer world.

He thought of the mountains and tried not to. He had not been up there since the time…

There it was again. The noise.

He had fallen into the first drifts of sleep when it woke him. His eyes opened and he sprung up. He had heard a noise, he was convinced. He wasn’t taken to imagination, never had been. This time, he would investigate. The bedside clock pointed out that it was three in the morning. It had only been an hour since his trip to the lavatory, but the temperature had fallen; dropped dramatically. His breath formed clouds in the cold air. His feet were bitten by the night’s new turn.

At last, he thought.

His slippers were deep beneath his bed and he had to bend to find them. His knees cracked and his spine rung out in alarm. The winter had finally arrived. Finally his exploring hands found what he wanted and pulled them towards him. He had to sit on the mattress and recover before attempting to slide his strangely blue looking feet into the relative warmth of his footwear. And then the noise came again. This time, he was sure of it.

He made his way to the widow and looked out.

The scene had changed.

 

To be continued…

 

 

Going nowhere on a tragic cycle…

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The problem with tragedy is that it never has a happy ending.

Tragedy ends in death.

It starts with a bad decision, leads on to disgrace and downfall, scrapes you through a period of suffering that appears never likely to end before there is a realisation, ‘Fuck, that’s what I did wrong’ or, ‘Fuck, I still don’t know what I did wrong.’ Regardless of self-awareness or not, the tragic circle wants to play itself out.

You, if you be the tragic hero, have been brought low for a reason: hubris, peripeteia, anagnorisis, hamartia, or just the fact that the unknown gods are wanting to have a bit of fun with your oh-so-mortal concerns, once it happens, you are doomed.

And then you die.

Not fair, but then apart from democracy what did the Greeks ever do for fairness? As far as I can see, they spent their time in white sheets, bestriding the known world, creating stories that spoke of our eventual doom, admiring each others’ butts and keeping their wives in a state of servitude that made slavery look humanitarian. Deeply flawed themselves, the enlisted a guy called Aristotle to run out a series of rules that would govern the purity of tragedy. It wasn’t the Bee Gees but it did stay at number one for an awful long time.

So, Mr Morbid philosopher, why is it that you are so interested with me at this moment in time?

Reminders of tragedy surround me. I walk into a school or college and Macbeth springs out. Willy Loman makes a dramatic entrance or Tess Durbeyfield ambles along. And at the back of all this is me, the witless teacher who is being employed to stand in front of groups of young people and explain the importance of the tragic. Some deep irony, I am thinking.

Now, if what Aristotle says is to be believed, there is no way out for me; I’m as good as a gonna already. What’s the point?

The point is that I have to earn my right to be released into the dark embrace of an even darker infinity of complete darkness. Why struggle when the fisherman of fate has got you, hook, line and sinker, and he’s pulling you from the waters of Styx by your very own testicles. What a ball-ache? No wonder we are leaving the Common Agricultural Policy – it’s got Greek written all over it! Tragic.

So, back to me and my little problem with being trapped in the role of a tragic character.

I am not a hero, never wanted to be, not even when I had a Jesus complex. I have not committed any great error of judgement, unless one thinks that going into the teaching profession was significantly grave to determine that I should be staked out on the bare rock of Mount Olympus in order to have my eyes eaten out and my liver exhumed (only for it to be played out again at the next day’s matinee showing).

Yet here I am, standing at the foot of some great precipice, staring up at dark clouds that are threatening to dump their even darker load of shit upon me just for the sake of theatrical rules. It is simply not fair.

I am an ordinary man. I have had moments (usually sleep or drug induced) when I may have thought otherwise, but after much self-evaluation and expert analysis, I can sadly say that I am normal. So, why, why, why am I being employed as a plaything of the Gods?

And what makes it ever so galling is that these bloody gods are not my gods or anyone else’s gods as they have been bloody well dead for centuries. It’s like being stalked by a ghost of somebody who was, in life, and agnostic a non believer, a sceptic. You don’t bloody exist, this tragic wheel on which I have been tethered does not exist, these coincidences of literature that my students are studying do not exist in the way that a non-existent Fate would have them exist. But when I look at my arms, I realise that the reason that I can’t move them is that they are tied to some forever turning wheel that will not let me get off unless I completely check-out.

Reminder to self: what strategies can I use to get out of tragic proceedings?                    

 

Blessed are the Piss-makers.

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Subject A woke up in the middle of darkness and felt for the glass of water at the side of his bed. He found it just as his fingers decided to add some urgency to their search. The resulting action was a slow, slow-motion tipping of the glass and its contents off the bedside table and onto the floor.

His wife stirred beside him, but did not wake.

“Shit, shit, ducky shit,” he muttered to himself. But the spilt milk, or water on this occasion, was the least of his worries.

Subject A felt the dryness of his mouth and tongue. He struggled under the pounding in his head. And he felt the sure and powerful flood of his vital blood coarse through his veins.

It was Fryday and the wolf was returning.

Keeping himself together, he eased out of bed. He left behind a fresh layer of hair on the sheets which he would have to blame on the cat later. The cat was sleeping in another room. She would know that he was moving about, but she would also know that it was wise not to investigate.

Subject A descended the stairs and walked to the door.

With all the stealth he could muster, he undid the locks and eased it open before stepping outside. He always found this last procedure to be better and quieter than merely stepping through the door.

Outside, he breathed deeply beneath the cold, full-moon that gazed lovingly down at him.

 

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In moments, he was off and running towards the open common-ground where he hoped to find some rabbits, a piece of virgin ground to crap upon, and a tree to rub his scent over before he anointed it with his bursting bladder.

Better Than Sex (Don’t Procrastinate).

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The little death is a translation from the French “la petite mort”, a popular reference for a sexual orgasm. The term has been broadly expanded to include specific instances of blacking out after orgasm and other supposed spiritual releases that come with orgasm.

Speculations to its origin include current connotations of the phrase, including:

* Greco-Roman belief that the oversecretion of bodily fluids would “dry out” one of the believed four humours, leading to death
*Islam’s reference to sleep
* Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’s quote: “Life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change.” (Existence through many changes, “births and deaths”)

 

Before my father died, he asked me to buy him this book: 

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It’s about horse racing. My dad never knowingly rode a horse, perhaps he did in his dreams, but he never actually got astride one and let it canter down a field or furlong. The closest he ever came to this was when he would place a bet on others, professional jockeys, racing at the various meetings around the country.  Betting on horses was, for him, a release.

I have never been bitten by the betting bug. Okay, so I have but a few quid on a Grand National sweepstake but nothing else. My brother-in-law, who had lots of insider knowledge, once gave me the name of a ‘cert’ that had wonderfuly tempting odds and which would make me a fortune if I dared to back it. I didn’t and it lost.

My dad would occasionally win BIG. Nothing ridiculous, just a few hundred or maybe a thousand. He wasn’t ostentacious, never bragged, showed little emotion, and definitley wasn’t vainglorious, but he did win; he knew his stuff. If anybody were to be asked, however, who the big gambler in the family was, they would probably point to me.

I was the risk-taker, I gambled on life.

 

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Yup, you guessed it. That poor schmuck on the left is me.

Origin of schmuck

First recorded in 1890–95, schmuck is from the Yiddish word shmok (vulgar) literally, penis (of uncertain origin)
The Dice Man is seemingly an autobiography, narrated by a bored, clever New York psychiatrist, Luke Rhinehart. He is a nerd run mad. He decides that, in pursuit of ultimate freedom – or nihilism – he will make decisions using dice. He offers the dice options, and they choose for him. The dice tell him to rape his neighbour, but he fails because she wants him. The dice make him tell his patients what he thinks of them (my favourite dice decision).
Ultimately, the dice leads to downfall and death. But doesn’t everything?
I read this when I was in my late teens and it left an impression on me. I am only just coming to terms with the impact that my choice of reading had upon my embrionic id.
Anyway, the smart schmuck followed the dice. Some may argue that he only followed what his subconscience wished him to do. It was he, after all, who lay down the options for each of the dice numbers to follow. He devised the parameters of the game and he accepted the potential consequences.
After the novel’s publication there was a slow growth in its readership. Nevertheless, it is still in print today and has sold more than 2m copies.
Amongst those who have read it are Richard Branson (he of Virgin), who ‘diced’ as a way of breaking through a sort of capitalist conundrum. He did it for twenty-four hours because “it was too dangerous to carry on longer”. Others have used ‘dicing’ as a non-subjective, left-park way of acting. perhaps it liberates us from the fear of consequences because, if the dice rolls that way, we are certainly not to blame. It also adds a little zest to lives that may have become a little lacking in taste.

 

Schmuck is a Yiddish word for penis. Le petite mort is French for little death. Betting is claimed to be better than sex. the Greeks and Romans may have believed that too many orgasms dried you out. Whereas, Islam points to sleep.  Bhuddists take a more balanced view that tells us that in the great scheme of things (assuming there is a scheme), it doesn’t mean a thing. Life continues ragardless of what we do.

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George Cockcroft, the real Luke Rhinehart.

The Stand is an old friend.

I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up.

My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King; well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. But it never came. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.

I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences, whilst leaving behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction.  But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.

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The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision.

My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his stage. At that time Larry was mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. I have a student who goes by that name, but he hasn’t got an arc or a zoo. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages.

Once again, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in life.  I was afflicted with that good old Jesus-Syndrome. Reading, The Stand is like reading me and about all that has happened during the time that I became what I am today.

 

My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick Andros. The latter is a youngish man who can’t speak nor hear. He is very special in the grand scheme of things. Larry, because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character. He wants to be good but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women, who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t have slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted  to do the right thing in a world which was not right so, he just went along with it and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his critics.

 

Larry is an artist who has struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and the end of days conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, are swept away by this janitor from Hell. Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy” but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?

images-34    Randall Flag

If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have been written in the same the way that it has turned out. Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence, and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?

 

Thanks goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.