Monday, 24 December 2012

I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus

 I saw Daddy kissing Santa Claus.  That was this time last year.  I don't see much of Daddy these days.  Mummy made sure of that, with something called an injunction.  I can't say I'm 100% sure on what an "injunction" is, but it sounds painful, and I think it involves needles of some kind.  Now it's nearly Christmas again, and I've been really good this year, so I’ve written a second letter to Santa with a very special request. 
I asked if he and Daddy could come down from the North Pole where they live together, and have Christmas dinner with me and Mummy.  I haven't told Mummy about the letter, as every time I mention Daddy she starts throwing around the word "migraine" and then I have to go and play in my room.  I think it is best kept a secret, for now at least.  After all, everybody is nicer on Christmas Day - surely if Daddy and Santa show up, she'll have to make them welcome?  We did a whole play on it at school.
Tonight is Christmas Eve.  Mummy has laid out a carrot for Rudolph, but she refuses to leave a mince pie or glass of milk for Santa.  I feel the beginnings of doubt in the bottom of my stomach.  What if she goes into one of her very grown-up strops tomorrow?  I know there is nothing to be done about it now, so I let her tuck me in and kiss me goodnight, then squeeze my eyes shut.  I can't get to sleep straight away, so I occupy myself by trying to remember all the names of Santa's reindeer.  There's Rudolph, of course, but I always struggle with the others.  Donner.  Dancer.  Prancer.  Dasher?  Cupid and Blitzen.  The other names evade me as I drift off.
I wake up early the next morning, and run into Mummy’s room, shaking her shoulder until she opens her eyes and grumbles at me to put the kettle on.  I carefully make a cup of coffee, like she showed me, and take it up to her in bed.  She gulps half of it down and then smiles at me mischievously, reaching under her pillow and retrieving a small red box with a green bow.  She hands it to me and I rip it open – it is a new bicycle bell. 
“Your bike will look good as new with that snazzy new bell,” she says, finishing her coffee.  I force a smile and I say thank you, even though I feel a little crushed.  I’d asked for a brand new bike this year.
We go downstairs together and Mummy makes us both cheese toasties for breakfast.  When I have eaten mine, and washed the crumbs from my hands, I am allowed to choose a present to open from my stocking on the hearth.
It is a book.  I smile and say thank you again, slightly less convincingly, and then I give Mummy her present, the one I have spent the last few weeks working on.  I’ve made her a photo album.  I have avoided putting in pictures of Daddy, so mainly it is just photos of Mummy and me, padded out with pictures of Mummy’s brothers and sisters and Granny and Granddad.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Mummy says, tearing up.  “I love it.  Thank you.”  She hugs me so tightly that it hurts a bit, and kisses me on the cheek, leaving a wet lipstick print behind.  I wait until her back is turned and rub my cheek furiously with my sleeve.
The next present I open is a bookmark.  To go with the book, I suppose.  I can’t help sighing just a bit, and immediately I feel the room go cold.
“Sorry, darling, if this isn’t quite up to scratch,” Mummy says icily.
“No,” I protest, “it’s fine, honest.”
“Fine?  Oh, it’s fine?  Well maybe if your pervert of a father hadn't decided to up and run off with Pere Noel, we'd be able to afford better presents.  But he didn't.  And we can't.  So you'd best like it or lump it, my little prince!"
I apologise, and Mummy calms down.  I am starting to seriously rethink my genius plan when the doorbell rings.  It can’t be them, can it?  Daddy and Santa?  It’s too early!  I look at the clock and realise I must have woken up later than I thought – it’s nearly noon.
“Oh no,” I whisper under my breath, and as Mummy leaves the room to answer the door, I think I might be sick.
“What are you doing here?!”  I hear her shriek from the hallway.  “And you brought him with you?  What were you thinking?”
“We thought you knew,” I hear Daddy say, calmly. “We got a letter…”
I don’t hear the rest of the conversation, but I am familiar enough with the stern, adult tone they are using with each other to know that I am in serious trouble.
When Mummy re-enters the living room, she is followed by Daddy and Santa.  Santa isn’t wearing his uniform, which surprises me at first, but then I imagine he must be shattered after his night shift.
“I think you have some explaining to do,” Daddy says to me, but I am just so happy to see him that I begin to tear up, and simply run into his arms.  Suddenly, the loudest thing in the room is Mummy’s silence.
“Please let them stay,” I plead into Daddy’s jumper.  “Please can they stay?”
I don’t have to be able to see Mummy to sense her exasperation as she sighs and reluctantly agrees.
“Thank you,” Santa says quietly, clearly embarrassed by the whole thing.
For the next few hours, Mummy busies herself in the kitchen preparing lunch, clutching a glass of white wine like a good luck charm, leaving Daddy, Santa and me in the living room, playing with the toys they brought me.  I am so grateful to have them there that I don’t dare ask Santa why I didn’t get the bike I asked for in my first letter.
When the four of us sit down together, Mummy insists on carving.
“After all,” she declares, “I’ve become the man of this house.  It was a desperately deprived role.”
Dinner is eaten in near-silence, and I start to feel rather foolish.  This is far too much like the Christmases we had before Daddy moved in with Santa – quiet and tense.  I finally understand that grown-up expression “an atmosphere you could cut with a knife”.  Maybe things would have been best if I hadn’t written my letter at all.
But it is good to have Daddy around again, even if it is only for the day.  I hadn’t realised how much I missed him until I saw him come through the living room door earlier, holding Santa’s hand.  I think Mummy has noticed too – that this is the Christmas present I wanted more than anything, even more than a bike.  I keep seeing her from the corner of my eye, watching me and Daddy.  I wonder if this means she will let me see him more. 
Over Christmas pudding and custard, it strikes me that I’ve been rather selfish.  I wished and wished for what I wanted for Christmas, when I should have been looking for a way to make Mummy less sad.  I decide that my New Year’s Resolution will be to cheer her up properly, so that she’ll be the way she used to be.
After dinner, everybody avoids looking at me when I suggest we play a game.  I think Mummy wants Daddy and Santa to go.  Santa tries to shake her hand as they leave, but all he gets in return is one of her famous frosty glances.  Daddy at least gets a hug, before he sweeps me up into a huge kiss and cuddle.  Then they are gone.
I thank Mummy as she closes the front door behind them.
“You’re welcome, my little prince,” she says.  “He’s your Daddy; I never should have made him stay away.”
“So I’ll get to see him more?”  I ask.
“Yes.  As much as you like.”  She replies.
“And might I be able to go and stay with him and Santa, up at the North Pole?”  I continue, hopefully.  Mummy freezes.
“We’ll see,” she says, finally.

Friday, 20 April 2012


So quiet is the night that her footsteps can be heard long before she appears.  As the girl makes her way out of the black woods, into the sheer white of the outside world, no footprints mark the snow behind her.  She is thin and pale, and her hair is so fair it is almost white.  If anybody were to see her, they might mistake her for   ghost, or something like it.  Something not quite of this world.
She carries a woolen bundle in her frail, skinny arms.  A soft breath coos up at her from its depths.  She attempts to ignore it.  If she avoids looking down at the tiny creature, she thinks this will be easier.
The white road brings her to a village.  Only a handful of houses, it would appear, all of which sit still and silent under their snowy blanket.  One house seems to beckon to her.  She moves towards it, pulled closer by instinct and a deeper knowledge. 
She stops at a ground floor window.  Her breath on the glass turns to a glittering frost.  Using her one free, frail hand, she opens the window and climbs inside.  A crib stands before her.  The walls are decorated with various birds and farmyard animals.  A colourful plaque hangs from the wall over the crib:
No noise comes from the cot.  The pale girl knows why.  Death took this child, took its breath and its soul, earlier this night.  She felt it from her home beyond the woods, and she sensed an opportunity. 
With her left arm she scoops up the still, cold babe, and with her right she leaves another child in his place.  He stirs as she lays him down, his tiny fists tighten, then he goes back to sleep.  The pale girl’s icy breath catches in her throat.  Her beautiful, forbidden child. 
This home will have a new Zachary.
She whispers words that would be inaudible to human ears; words that creep out into the stuffy bedroom air and settle on the infant in the cradle.  They are words to dull the brightness in his eyes and flatten the sharpness of his delicate features.  His pointed little ears become fatter, rounder, more human.  To this boy’s new parents, he will be the image of their own child.
The pale girl leans forward to kiss her baby’s warm brow, and his skin glistens for a moment in the darkness where her lips touched it.  She climbs through the window as silently as she entered, and slides it shut with one hand. 
"I will see you again,” she promises, although even she is unsure.  She turns away from the human house, holding their own lost boy to her chest, and she goes back the way she came.
Her wails can be heard for several hours after she vanishes back into the woods, but if anybody is woken by her unearthly cries, they will simply turn over in their beds and think it is the wind.
"Changeling" is taken from my Kindle anthology Sweet Tooth.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Nobody's Cub

 Once upon a time there was a young bear cub called Freddie. He belonged to nobody, and nobody belonged to him. He used to be very nonchalant and Holly Golightly about this, but if he's honest with himself (and he rarely is), he would like nothing more than to be able to point to somebody and say to a stranger "oh, they're with me", or "I'm with them", or some such lark.
He tries to get out there, to look for love as if a thing like love can be found on a map, X marks the spot and ever after, but for one reason or another his efforts are as empty and as fruitless as his cold, dinner-for-one lair. While others go on the prowl, Freddie stands by the wall, lonelier than a Smiths song, and when he eventually does pluck up the courage to follow the sign that says Bears Upstairs, all he can think is how much like a bedtime story it sounds, or a TV show for children. The Bears Upstairs.
Freddie's knees tremble as he ascends each step, anxiety creating blurry panic in his head and chest. What if his fur isn't as shiny as that of the other bears? Will they laugh at his small, non-aggressive growl? Are their eyes browner, their claws sharper?
As it turns out, the bears upstairs are no different to the other animals. When they laugh it is with no joy, all they care about is milk and honey. Freddie groans, a bear with a sore head, and once again heads out into the night alone.
Except something about tonight is different. On his way home, Freddie meets a man who calls himself Luke. His hair is flecked with silver and so are his eyes. Certainly not a bear, and Freddie doesn't know how he feels about having a daddy. But it is a bitterly cold night, so Freddie lets Luke take him by the hand and take him to his lair. His grip is firm, warm. It feels to Freddie like lying in a warm bed while a storm rages outside.
When they reach Luke's door, the man takes the young bear's coat like a gent and shows him inside. The man's house is cosy and warm, which is perhaps why Freddie allows himself to relax. A small fire entertains itself beneath the mantle, casting shadows that he doesn't notice straight away. It is only when he and Luke have sat down, when Freddie cracks a poor joke and Luke laughs, grinning widely in the process, that he realises.
"My," he finds himself saying, "what big teeth you have."
Then he sees the shadows of large, pointed ears cast by firelight against the wall, and he forces himself to look closer at Luke. At his pale eyes, and prominent nose... not Roman, but a snout maybe. Freddie has never had reason to keep track of these things, but he suddenly, strongly suspects that if one were to glance outside tonight, the moon would be full.
"Wolf!" He cries, and Luke flinches as if Freddie has sworn. Freddie throws himself off the sofa, grabs his coat with one hand and the doorknob with the other, but then something makes him turn around to look at the wolf in designer clothing.
Why, then, does the young cub not run?
Because when Luke laughed, Freddie heard the genuine mirth in it, the joy. Because his grip had been firm and warm, and because there is a fire in the hearth.
Freddie looks at Luke, but that joy is gone.
"I understand," says the wolf. "Go back to your people."
The coat slips from Freddie's fingers, and he returns to sit with Luke.
"We're all animals underneath," he says, and kisses him. Luke grins wolfishly, and this time his giant fangs do not fill Freddie with fear; rather, something akin to desire. And who is to judge? Everybody wants to be loved; it is the nature of the beast.
"Besides," Freddie adds between kisses, "I have spent enough time in the company of bears."
... And they lived happily ever after, if you like.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Personal Effects

It didn’t feel like that serious a bump on the head. Certainly not enough to kill her. But, here she was, standing over her own body, wondering what exactly was supposed to happen next.  It occurred to Eliza, just a few minutes after she slipped on a stray magazine and a brief collision with the coffee table ended her life prematurely, that her living room was kind of a mess.
“Eliza Brink?” A nervous, almost adolescent voice queried from behind her.
“What the…” Eliza span around, intending to chastise this intruder. “You made me jump out of my skin!” She admonished. “Or, out of my ectoplasm.” That thought made her wrinkle her nose. “I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure what figures of speech are appropriate for this particular situation.”
She turned her attention to her new guest. Tall, skinny, with hair that could do with a good trim and a denim jacket that had definitely seen better days.
“Who the hell are you, anyway?” She asked.
“Ah! Right…” The stranger reached into his jean pocket, pulled out a tiny rectangle of paper and proceeded to unfold it until it was the size of a broadsheet.
“I am the Reaper,” he read aloud, forming the words like a child who has only just learned to read. “But fear not, Eliza, for I am here to take you to a better place.”  With that, he refolded the creased document and returned it to his pocket.
“Is that it?” Eliza asked, incredulous. “That paper was huge.”
“The rest is directions,” he told her. “I’m new.”
“How new?”
Eliza rolled her eyes, then sadly realised that it didn’t quite have the same effect when her actual eyes were at floor level, staring at the ceiling.
“Fine,” she said, “but I have some things to do first.”
“Oh, sorry,” he shook his head, “that’s not how it works. There’s no time allotted in your schedule for unfinished business. Seems you must have kept your house in order, so to speak.”
“Except I clearly didn’t,” Eliza snapped, “or I might not have been killed by a rogue Marie-Claire. No. I’m staying to tidy up. Can’t have anyone finding my body in this bombsite.”
“Why not?”
“Why do you bloody well think? Because by the time the story gets around, they’ll be saying I was half eaten by cats and nobody missed me.”
“Jesus, lady…”
“Oh. Oh no. Enough of the lady. I may well not be eighteen anymore, but I don’t think I’ve quite reached lady yet! Not that I ever will now, I suppose.”
It was the Grim Reaper’s turn to roll his eyes. Eliza took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, glad to discover that it had a calming effect even when no air was going taken in or out.
“Listen,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“Pete,” he replied. Eliza perched herself on the arm of the sofa and patted the spot next to her. The grungy youth sat down next to her.
“Well, Pete…” She patted his knee, relieved that hand sanitiser would no longer be an issue, and said: “Is there any way, any way at all, that you could help me out? Please?”
Pete’s eyes flitted from the hand on his knee, to her chest, and then past her to the body on the carpet.
“Are you flirting with me?” He asked. “Because, I mean, I’m flattered and everything, and you are fit, but I just don’t think I’d be comfortable doing anything…” He lowered his voice to a whisper; “…with that in the room.”
Eliza removed her hand from his knee as quickly as humanly possible, and stood. Pete recoiled ever so slightly, as if she were about to slap him, but she simply began picking up detritus from the floor.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Masturbating,” she barked. “What does it look like, you cretin? I’m tidying up.” She vanished into the kitchen for a moment, then re-emerged with a bin bag.
Pete could only watch, and quietly despair. What was she going to do next, go upstairs and turn her mattress? Clean the toilet? This was exactly the kind of thing he’d been worried about. What had kept him up half of last night. He’d read her file beforehand, naturally. (Preparation is key in any job, his mum had told him that, before sending him off to Nando’s, CV in hand.) She seemed like quite a handful, for his very first job. His superiors had simply said, should a “situation” arise, to simply use his initiative.
Because initiative is something one is bound to find in a seventeen year old who died by falling off a motorbike while trying to impress a girl.
“Oh, Cindy,” he murmured wistfully, “we could have been so good together.”
He had a vague notion that Eliza had gone upstairs, but was too deep in his own reverie to notice – until she descended in high heels, a fur coat and ridiculously large sunglasses.
“What… is… that?” Pete asked, resisting the urge to tell her how much it reminded him of his nana’s nervous breakdown.
“What, this old thing? Nothing.” Eliza shrugged. “Right! Let’s blow this joint.”
“Um. Not so fast… You can’t wear that.”
“Why not?” She looked down at herself, then back at him. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing at all! It’s very… nice. But you didn’t die in it.”
“I’m sorry?”
“You can’t take it with you because it’s not what you died in.”
“Oh. That’s a rather unkind rule, don’t you think? What happens to all the people who die in those arse-less hospital gowns?”
“Exactly what you’d expect to happen, I’m afraid.”
Eliza grimaced, then acquiesced.  She removed the shades, then the coat, and finally stepped out of the kitten heels.  Then her eyes lit up with inspiration, and she strode over to where her body lay on the rug.
“I might not have died in them,” she muttered to herself, “but I can make people think I did…”  Then, to Pete, she said; “Come on, help me with this. Then I’ll be ready to go, I promise.”
Pete sighed, crouched by the body, and heaved the immobile torso up, enabling Eliza to wrap the fur around her own cold shoulders.
“You’re just lucky rigor mortis hasn’t set in,” Pete told her. “It would make this twice as difficult.”
“Yeah, I’m having a really lucky day,” Eliza responded, pulling both Ugg boots off the body and forcing its feet into the Manolos. Finally, she placed the sunglasses delicately onto her own face, which had turned a rather unflattering shade of blue.  The moment those glassy, unseeing eyes were concealed, she began to feel better.
“You know, the Ancient Greeks used to put coins over the eyes of their dead,” Pete said quietly. “So they could pay the boatman on the River Styx.”
“Well, those cost a pretty penny,” Eliza said, rising to her feet. “I imagine my fare will be paid a few times over.”
“You look a right picture,” Pete said, gesturing to the body with his foot. “In a nice way, I mean.”
“Don’t I?” Eliza beamed. “People will think I was off out to the opera.”
“Is it important to you?” Pete asked. “What people think?”
“I never thought so,” she said, gazing down at herself, “but yes. It is.” She was silent for a moment, then leant in as if to tell him a secret. “I had a look through my cupboards when I was cleaning. Found lots of coffee, and even more wine. Not much food. I hid a few bottles of vino in the back yard – didn’t want anyone thinking I was a lush.”
“Fair’s fair,” Pete agreed. “Are you ready to go now?”
“I think so,” Eliza nodded. She glanced around the now spotless living room, then down at her body one last time. “Come on then. Home, James, and don’t spare the horses.”
Pete smiled, even though this reference flew right over his head. He took Eliza by the hand.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” he said, suddenly nervous. Eliza squeezed his hand, and together they walked through the living room wall.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Face Of The New World

The Daisy Wyatt Interview
She sparked a global scandal, made history, and has been on the receiving end of endless fan mail and death threats. Vanity Fair editor Rachel Black sat down for an exclusive tête-à-tête with Daisy Wyatt and found out just how a bookie’s daughter from Yorkshire became arguably the most famous woman of the 21st century.
I first meet Daisy Wyatt in intimate surroundings; after the location of her hotel in North London was leaked to the press, she was forced to take refuge in a small guest house.  I can see straight away that Wyatt feels more at home in this cosier environment.  She wears simple jeans and a cardigan, and her dark hair tumbles over her shoulders in what has become known as her signature style (and has been imitated by many of her fans).
When I comment on her newfound status as a style icon among everything else, she laughs, then looks away.  Clearly, then, Wyatt is a girl for whom appearance has never been a priority – although she possesses alabaster skin to die for, and her eyes have a soulful, pensive quality that make me wonder if, in another lifetime, she might have been an actress.
Wyatt, née Sullivan, was born in Harrogate, the only child of Mick and Carol. Her mother died when she was a toddler, and she was raised by her father.  “He did the best he could,” she says now, her voice warming as she speaks of him. “He would always go without to make sure I had books, shoes, school uniform.”  When I ask Daisy what her father thinks of her newfound notoriety, she refuses to answer.  It can’t be easy, I go on, for her to maintain a semblance of ordinary family life, when she has been hounded by a media circus for much of the last year.  “It’s amazing what you can get used to,” she says defiantly, which I suppose is just as well, considering where she is headed in less than a month.
“Did you know,” she asks, gazing into the fireplace of this tiny parlour, “that there was more coverage on my wedding day than the Royal Wedding?”  I tell her yes, I do know.  Every channel imaginable gathered a panel of talking heads to express their opinion; everyone from Jeremy Kyle to the Archbishop of Canterbury had their say.
I want to ask her about Edgar Wyatt, her first husband, but he is on the long, long list of subjects I have been forbidden to discuss.  Still, since I will never again have the chance to be in the same room as Daisy, I feel it is worth the risk.
“Are you still in touch with Edgar?”  I ask, preparing for her to flinch, or for her expression to harden.
“Not for a very long time,” she answers, remarkably calmly.
“He has been markedly silent since the story first broke last Spring.  Why do you think that is?”
“He’s a good man.  A better person than I, certainly.  I hurt him terribly, but he would never seek to profit from that.”
“It is common knowledge that you and Edgar were on your honeymoon that night in Cornwall.”
Daisy raises an eyebrow.
“That night?”  She smiles.  “You mean the night my life changed forever?”
“The night the entire world changed,” I say. It is a date seared into living memory. The night that humankind first made contact with alien life.
“I was just out for a walk,” Daisy mumbles, clearly tired of telling the tale.  “Ed was in the camper sleeping. I went down to the beach, fancied paddling…”
“And then, like a comet, it appeared,” I finish for her.  Every man, woman and child in the world knows the words to this bedtime story.
“Yes,” she says.  “My first thought, although it seems ridiculous now, was that I would die that night.  I thought it was an asteroid, or meteor, that would drop into the ocean like a pebble into a pond, and the ripples would send a tidal wave to snuff me out.”
“But that’s not what happened,” I prompt her, aware that our interview time is running out. Soon Daisy will be ushered out of this B&B and sent to a new, more highly confidential location.
“No, that’s not what happened.  Although my life did end that night, in a way.  The life where I worked in Ladbrokes and married my sweetheart.  Nothing was ever the same again…”  She tears up, and I decide to push her no further.  We all know how this story ends.
A saucer, so similar to those in the films, descended from the clouds, spinning out of control.  It crashed into the water, skipping just like Daisy’s pebble, until it collided with the beach, a mere twenty yards from where Daisy stood.  Edgar, having heard the unearthly sound, ran from their VW to find Daisy, and together they watched as the saucer opened, and the first extra-terrestrial to set foot on Earth staggered, injured, onto the beach.
The rest is history.
Edgar and Daisy split soon after, around the same time that Downing Street and Buckingham Palace introduced the visitor to the world.  Following the break-up, as more and more ships gathered around Earth to meet the new neighbours, Edgar became unavailable for comment, retreating to his family home in Leeds, where his loved ones closed ranks.  Daisy found it harder to shake the press.  First, she was known simply as The UFO Chaser’s Wife.  But months later, when her marriage with Edgar had been annulled, she did the unthinkable.
Daisy Wyatt, née Sullivan, became the first human woman to marry an alien.
“I never wanted to make history,” she tells me now, as her guardians tell me my time is up.  “I just fell in love.”
And what more is there to say, really?  It is a twist, albeit a groundbreaking one, on the oldest story in the book.  Soon, Daisy will set yet another precedent by being the first person to leave Earth on an alien ship.  As we stand, shake hands, and part ways, I sense fear in Daisy, as well as endless wonder.  Hers will be the first eyes to see her husband’s home world; she will explore the galaxy in ways that Earth’s astronauts can only dream of.  An indescribably adventure, yes, but also a daunting one.  I wish her every happiness as we part ways, and can only hope that this second honeymoon is an improvement on the first.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Juliet 2.0

It is never a good sign when your phone starts to ring in the middle of the night.  I reach out from under the duvet and fumble around on the nightstand, accidentally knocking the phone onto the floor in the process.  I mutter some choice words into my pillow and retrieve the phone, answering it while still face down.
“Ty! It’s me, I need your help.”  It takes me a moment to recognise my cousin’s hushed voice.
“You need to get over here,” she tells me. “Now.”
“What’s the matter?”
“There is some guy in our yard!”
“He’s creeping me out. Can you come over?”
“Who is it? Do you know him?”
“Yeah…” I can practically hear her biting her lip. “I may have danced with him earlier tonight.  I thought he was cute, but that was before I realised he’s that psycho who’s had the hots for Rosie.  Real stalker material, you know?”
“And what exactly is he doing in your yard?”
Juliet sighs.
“I think he’s professing his love for me.”
“For you?”
“I know.  Rosie will be so relieved he’s not bothering her anymore.”
“Do you think he’s dangerous?”
“I don’t know. All the doors are locked, so he can’t get in.  But Dad’s away and Mum took one of her sleeping pills, so I’m all alone out here.  I think I’d feel much safer if you came over and told him to get lost.”
“Of course.” I stumble across the room in the dark, in search of my trousers. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.  Just shut the curtains and pretend you’re not home.”
“Thanks, Ty. I owe you one.”
“Don’t worry about it cuz.”  I hang up and pull on a shirt, before grabbing my car keys and heading out into the night.

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Cup Of Warm Sake

“You mean to say you’ve never seen Jules et Jim?”
I nod, and wonder why this is such a terrible crime. You would think, from the way that Sophie’s eyes have widened, that I’d just confessed to sacrificing household pets.
“It’s a classic,” Sophie tells me, which means absolutely nothing except to say that it is her own favourite film.
“If you say so,” I reply. “Personally, I think it takes more than subtitles and shagging to make a decent piece of cinema.”
For a moment I can’t tell if I’ve offended her, but then she smiles and effortlessly picks up another piece of California roll.  When she suggested sushi for our first date, I thought she was a girl after my own heart, but there’s something curiously emasculating about her nimble manipulation of the chopsticks. I fumble with my own for half a minute, then shamefacedly resort to using my fingers. 
Sophie goes on to ask me what the last book I read was, and I chew my salmon for far longer than necessary while trying to decide whether to namedrop an impressive doorstep of a novel or simply tell the truth.
Freakonomics,” I say eventually.  Sophie gives me a look of sheer, undiluted blankness for a moment, then launches into an impassioned case for why her new favourite read, Chocolat, might be the best book ever written.  I resist the urge to ask her whether she might prefer our date if I were an actual Frenchman, and reach for the tokkuri of sake that the waitress has just brought to the table.
“Oh, no thank you,” Sophie wrinkles her nose and places a delicate, defensive hand over her tiny cup. “I can’t stand that stuff.”
I shrug and help myself.
“It’s an acquired taste,” I say, not meaning to sound half as patronising as I do.
An uncomfortable silence falls on the table as Sophie nibbles on a sliver of ginger and I drink my sake.  Why isn’t this working? I ask myself.  I’m sat across from an attractive, arguably intelligent, attractive woman, but something doesn’t feel right.  And it’s not just the chopstick thing.
I awkwardly scrape the caviar off the one remaining piece of sushi before eating it.  Sophie watches me as I do it, and her expression once again betrays my sacrilege.  I bet she’s the kind of person who drinks champagne, regardless of whether she enjoys it or not.
The waitress brings us the bill. Your server tonight was Aiko, it says.  Aiko is quite pretty.  That’s not a good train of thought to be following on a date, I tell myself. Especially when, if you play your cards right, you could still be onto a sure thing…
I pay, and Sophie doesn’t even slightly pretend to reach for her wallet; somehow that makes her seem charmingly old-fashioned.  I don’t know if it’s the beer I had before dinner, or the sake, or maybe just the way Sophie looks as she stands up and smoothens her dress, but I’m starting to feel pretty good about tonight.  At the very least, I had dinner with a beautiful girl (and I may have written my phone number on the cheque for Aiko).
The taxi rank is just down the street, and Sophie leans into me as we walk out into the cold night air.  I instinctively wrap an arm around her shoulder, and find myself baffled at how naturally all this comes when there isn’t a table and conversation and bloody Jules et Jim getting in the way of everything.
“I had a great time tonight,” Sophie says, and I say the same, even though I doubt either of us really did.  It’s just part of the ritual.  Nobody likes to be rude, not when there’s the slightest chance of coitus in the air.  When we reach the first taxi, she places one hand on the passenger door, but lingers.
This is it.  That brief, tender window in which she decides whether or not to invite me back to hers for a nightcap.  I can tell almost straight away that whatever I’ve done tonight has been enough to swing the verdict in my favour; as I am about to bid Sophie goodnight, she stands up on tiptoe and kisses me.
She’s a little more forceful than I’d expected, and she tastes like lip gloss and salmon, but I’ve kissed worse.  Yet still, I pull away.  Some girls are just like caviar.  I know I should like it, but for some reason I just don’t.
At first Sophie looks confused, then wounded, but they both quickly give way to icy indifference.  “Night then,” she sniffs, and gets into the car.
It was a lovely first date, but I very much doubt there will be a second.  Why? A horny, indignant voice in my head asks as Sophie’s taxi vanishes around a corner. Why on earth would you pass that up?
“Because,” I tell myself out loud, “I am warm sake, and she is caviar.”

Friday, 10 February 2012


You kill the engine at the bottom of Carla’s street and turn off your headlights just like she asked. The clock on the dashboard reads 23:58; not long now.  You circled the block three times before coming this far, have been a nervous wreck all day.  The quiet is fucking unbearable, but you can’t put the radio on because she wants you to wait in complete silence.  23:58 blinks into 23:59 and you can’t stop your fingers drumming restlessly on the steering wheel.  Then the clock tells you it is 00:00, and she isn’t here.  She said she would be here at midnight.  What’s kept her?  Has something gone wrong? 
It is 00:05 when you finally see Carla approaching.  Her face is unreadable as she nears the car, and she doesn’t speak as she gets in on the passenger side. Her trembling hands struggle to fasten the seatbelt, so you strap her in like you would a child, then turn the key in the ignition without saying a word.  It’s 00:09 and you’ve driven at least a mile when she finally says;
“This feels too easy.”
“I know what you mean,” you reply, keeping your eyes on the road.
“Not sure that you do, hon.”
She fiddles with the heating vent and rubs her bare legs.  That’s when you notice the tiny dress she’s wearing, and tell her there’s a jacket on the back seat.  She kicks off her heels, curls up on the passenger seat and pulls the denim over her like a blanket.  For all her lipstick and nail polish, right now she could be a little girl.
You soon leave the town behind, turning your headlights to full beam as you hit the pitch black country roads.  She begins to doze, and you begin to understand that, as anxious as may have been ahead of tonight, she has been living in hell. Your flat is in a village nearly half an hour away; safe enough for tonight, but tomorrow you’ll have to take her further.  You have never met Victor Crane, but you’ve heard enough from Carla to know that you never want to.
A deer appears in the middle of the road, and you barely have time to slam the brakes on. The car stops a couple of feet away, abruptly enough to wake Carla from her doze in the passenger seat. You watch her watching the doe, as it dashes out of the car’s beams, keeping her gaze on the spot where it had been even after it has vanished into the darkness of the surrounding trees.  Your hand finds hers, and she grips it as if holding on for dear life.
You pass no cars on the entire journey, and reach the village at exactly 00:45.  Carla gets out of the car and walks barefoot to your front door, high heels dangling from the one hand as she uses the other to keep the oversized denim jacket from sliding down her shoulders.
You close the door, shutting out the cold night.  How many other times have you brought her here?  It’s become your sanctuary, the one place that her husband doesn’t know about.  She lingers in the hallway, and you can tell she is thinking the same thing.  That this may be the last time you both get to enjoy this secret place.
“We did it,” you say, kissing her neck.  “We did it.”
She begins to laugh, as if finally letting herself believe that their night journey has really happened.  You can’t help yourself from laughing too; it is impossible to picture yourself waiting in your car less than an hour ago.  You pick her up, carry her into the bedroom and throw her on the bed.  She squeals in delight, pulling the denim jacket from around her shoulders and throwing it at you.
You lean over her and yank her dress so hard it rips.  Her eyes widen at the sound, and a playful grin transforms her face.  You tug even harder on the dress and the seams at the back come completely apart.  She tears at the fabric, desperate to be free of it, until she is entirely naked and under you.  You haul your shirt over your shoulders while she unzips your jeans.  Now that the two of you finally have all the time in the world, neither of you can wait.  Your lovemaking is rushed, almost panicked, the fear of being found out still hanging over both of you even as the adrenaline of what you have just done courses through your veins.
“Where will we go?” She asks, afterwards.
“I don’t know yet.  Maybe we could hop on a ferry and have a little holiday.”
“I’m serious,” she says, sitting up.  “Once Victor knows I’m gone, he’ll stop at nothing until he finds me.  You don’t know what he’s capable of.  He…”
“Nothing.  It’s just that, for years, he had this power over me.  And I could never fight it. Not until I met you.  And even though I’m free now, I can’t shake this feeling.”
“What feeling?”
Carla hesitates, as if deciding whether or not to tell you the truth.
“That wherever I go, he’ll know where I am.”
“Then we’ll go far away.  We’ll change our names and learn Spanish.  I’ll grow a beard and you can shave your head.  We’ll be unrecognisable.”
Carla smiles, although it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.  You decide that it’s okay; you have the rest of your life to make her smile properly.  You switch off the bedside lamp, and then you do what you’ve wanted to do for months.  You lay your head on her stomach and close your eyes, knowing that she will still be there come morning.  
Extract from a work in progress.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Ideal Lestat, And Other Occurrences

To my delight this week, reported that Anne Rice's The Tale Of The Body Thief has been optioned for a film by Ron Howard. Body Thief is, after The Queen Of The Damned, my favourite Lestat novel, and it got me thinking: who would best play the brat prince a third time around? Tom Cruise embodied the role incredibly in 1994's Interview With The Vampire, while Stuart Townsend fared less well in the dodgy Queen Of The Damned adaptation. Below are a couple of suggestions for the film's producers, off the top of my head, along with more news from the web this week.

Tom Hiddleston
(Thor, War Horse, The Avengers)
He pretty much nailed "villainous" in Thor. Plus, cheekbones.

Michael Fassbender
(Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, Shame)
Anyone who saw him as fallen angel Azazeal in Hex (a fairly early role) will know he can pull off seductive immortal rather well.

Robert Sheehan
(Misfits, Killing Bono, Season of the Witch)
Stay with me, here. Lestat is a spoiled, selfish braggard, is practically indestructible and lives without consequences. Tell me that doesn't remind you of a certain Misfit...

Ezra Miller
(Californication, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower)
Youthful and incredibly exotic-looking, Miller proved he can go to some pretty dark places in We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Vincent Cassel
(La Haine, Irreversible, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Mesrine)
Alright, so he is perhaps a little old to be playing Lestat, but put him in the right light and Cassel would effortlessly exude the decadent Frenchness that saturates the iconic character.