A Slinky Death Or Two

•January 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The cat sparkled as she ran. Trace fires seemed to run from her legs and the tips of her claws as she pelted across the floor, around the feet of the table, out of the back door. The only thought on her mind was lunch, and she grinned a secretive grin to herself as she scrambled after the thing through the back garden. this one is mine, she panted through long, sharp teeth, and she ran ever the harder, her whole desperate heart and hunter’s soul fixed on the pounce and the bite and the play and the life squirming beneath her paws as she ran ran ran ran and still the thing was an inch in front of her.

She stretched as she ran, looking to close the distance to the pounce, and the thing rippled and flexed and was two inches further out of reach. The hunter’s heart quickened as the game finally became a chase proper. This was it. This was the life. This was what everything was about, the thing, the thing, the thing and her, locked together, in an instant and forever, whirling in a dance that could only end with her teeth. Locked. Around a scrawny neck. A shake, ceremonially dumping the thing before her in a heap of bloody rags. Carelessly poking it, carefully shoving it around, casually carefree… then the kill. Almost incidental, after all that. Teeth and nothing at all. Yes. Yes, please. Let it be soon. But not too soon. No no no.

She bounded faster, cutting corners, mouth slightly agape, ready. Ready. Ready. She was ready. Any second now, a mistake would be made and that would be enough. She was the ghostly hunter, the shadow killer. She played with the idea in her head, made herself out to be great, flaunted herself in the mirror of her own ego. This was her defining moment, all over again. Soft toys were one thing, but this was what she was meant for. Godlike in the chase.

And then the thing bucked and flowed and changed, right before her eyes, and was coming right at her. Her instincts were flawless. She skidded and leapt, fangs aglow in the half-light, claws extended into possibility, and the thing was made of sudden stone, frozen in grey muck, a ready snarl echoing her own, and the fish eyes and the furled wings and the ridiculous human scratchings on and around its feet somehow spoke to her. A thing, she thought, right at that last second. It’s not just a thing to be hunted, a toy. From the moment she’d first seen it, frozen grey and high on the fat human’s shelf, she’d wanted it… and then it had curled, turned, gazed at her. Expressionless, as if carved it stone, it had smiled. And it had run.

And she had filled with delight and leapt to the chase, and the game was on, and how was she to know? Truly. The stone mouth somehow gaped wider, tentacles – what is a tentacle? – flaring in triumph, and she had time to try to turn her whole body in midair, still able even at that moment to change direction, to flip on the turn of a coin, peerless hunter-killer-dancer that she was. And the bunched tentacles flared again, and an eye like the face of a coin, and behind them a beak, sharp and quick like that of a crow. And the thing made of expressionless stone grinned and hunched and leapt. And that was all there was of that.

Slow Burn Thunderstorm Days

•September 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

slow burn thunderstorm days

tension of the infinite possibilities

body tingles and mind twitches along

in time

invincible self becomes black hole

swallowed and crushed at the vanishing


event horizons of the self


I’m stretched out

falling in


for one glorious moment I’m

everything/no-one/alive/awake(for the first time)/a secret

what you and the world has been waiting for heart-in-my-mouth

even the seagulls are portents of greatness

and the crazy guys on the corner

share in this secret knowingness


later, in the pit:

bitterness and confusion

tripped over my own fear

fallen crashing from the heights

angry at the world because…

there are no Jedis,

not even me

Vicious Traditions

•September 7, 2011 • 3 Comments

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel just fine. Got a bottle on the go, and another in my bag, and the whiskey is slipping down like we were made for each other, the happiest of couples. Come to our wedding. Bring flowers.

The sun is setting, and I think it’s for the last time. I really do. There’s blood on the horizon, and it’s cooling, turning brown, crusting over. When the prime minister went on the telly and declared martial law, they thought that was the end. When the army went unilaterally AWOL, deserted in droves, they thought that was it. Then the telly stopped. Just stopped, every channel. And everyone crowded out in the street, whispering, and the whisper turned into a roar, and that roar said THIS IS THE END, without a real word being spoken. Nothing you could hear, but everyone understood anyway. I swear that they did.

And then the sun came up again, and it carried on. But late last night there were two moons in the sky, and even though the streets were deserted, you could still hear that roar, like a rising ocean. The second moon was too big, and had a greenish tinge to it, and someone on Twitter said they swore they could see a face in the shadows on the face of the second moon. There’s always someone who says this kind of thing, more than one, I guess. This time, people listened. No one could ever agree whose face it was, but people listened, and they responded, and Twitter went down seven times that night, but it kept coming up again, #faceonthemoon and derivatives of that, trending worldwide for hours. And then the internet stopped, and it never came back.

They say that this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang. But with a whimper. I think they’re right. I never heard a sudden noise, just a series of cessations. Things just began to stop. And yeah… there was looting, violence, a little here and there from what I heard. But mainly there was a stunned and growing silence. And then all of the people who’d gather in the street outside every night to whisper together, all of those neighbours who’d barely exchanged a word for years until those words were all they had… well, there were less of them every night.

I was out there. You probably were too. Speaking to strangers become confidants, swapping rumours and stories. The guy from four doors down told me that New York had been hit by a tidal wave. I don’t know where that came from. The phones stopped working the same time the internet stopped, how the hell would he know that? He told me he had a dream, cocked his head to one side with an odd glint in his eyes, and then nodded at me. Turned back into his house, closed the door, and I heard the bolts clicking home and I knew, I just knew, he wasn’t planning on coming out again. That’s what it’s come to. Thousands of miles away, and we’re so used to just knowing, but suddenly the global community is just a few hundred people in a few streets in a suburban community, and the buses and the trains just aren’t running anymore, and no planes fly, and those hundreds of people turned into a few dozen in the space of ten days, and no one knows where the others went, and I think we’ll be next. And he had a dream. Funny, really. All of those things were supposed to have started out with someone having a dream, and making that dream a reality, through work and innovation and some kind of vision for things to come. And now it’s the end, and someone has a dream, and it doesn’t foreshadow any of these things. Nothing new, and all the work is done, and the vision is of nothing to come. Nothing at all.

This morning I went out to buy cigarettes and the local shop was shut, and the supermarket up the road had one member of staff in it, the manager, and he was about to close up and told me to help myself. Didn’t ask me for money, just waved at the counter, and then I saw him leaving without even locking up. I took him at his word. Walking back down my street, bag bursting, I saw a rat scurrying down the street a few doors down. I got to my door, looked back. It looked back at me, cocked its head, an odd glint in its eyes, nodded at me and then ran away. Ran for its life. That’s when I knew.

And then just now I woke up, and it’s 4am, and I’d worry about that, but I stopped going to work two days ago when I turned up and no one else was there. I woke up because I dreamed that the world was ending. Just vanishing, bits and pieces and chunks of history, stopping. Here. There. And eventually, everywhere. And while things ended (in my dream), a voice whispered, a voiceover to entropy. Just saying, over and over, this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends. I woke up and I was happy.

There’s not much to be happy about, these days. Before the telly stopped, before the internet stopped, we’d all hear about it. You were there, right? About murder and sudden death, about warfare and children fighting in the streets, about economic collapse and the rise of the right. About not enough God in our schools, and too much God in the world. About how their God is bigger than your God, like we’re still at school and only the stakes have changed. You’d have thought… you’d have thought we’d have learned. It’s us that have to change. Maybe this is our time to change.

There’s not much to be happy about, these days. I was happy. I really was, I swear. I thought it was the happiest I’d ever been. And then she left, and I was left to myself, by myself, and being left on your own is the worst, the worst, the worst. The absolute worst thing in the world. I swear that it is.

I was told at school that the world has ended before. They say a cloud of ash rose over the world and killed the dinosaurs, and I have no idea how many ice ages have risen and fallen, how many glaciers the size of mountains slowly marched over the face of the planet and slowly melted away. When I was younger, I read about the great flood in the Bible, and when I was older I read that, in the original Hebrew, the words that describe the state of the world after the flood are the exact same that, only a few chapters earlier, describe the world before anything was ever created. Those words don’t appear anywhere else in that book. They translate as “chaos and desolation”, but that won’t do. It really won’t. Because it’s happened since, and it’ll happen again. The world is ending, all over again. It’s traditional. A vicious tradition.

The world is getting smaller, and people aren’t here anymore, people you thought would always be there. There are two moons in the sky, and apparently New York is underwater, and maybe there’s more. And maybe there’s less. And I’m sitting here, in my chair, facing the window, staring out at this smaller, different world, and I’ve started on that second bottle, and I’ve long since stopped bothering with the ashtray, and I know it’s nearly time, and there’s no one here, no one at all, not anymore, but I don’t feel like I’m alone anymore. And I’d swear to almighty god if I thought he was still listening, but I do, I swear, I swear, I swear. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been.

Baby Strange

•February 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Baby Strange is sat on the wall outside of the post office, smoking a cigarette. Someone stops (it’s Mrs. Winchley from the library, always poking her nose in) and asks her, are you old enough to be smoking young lady, to which Baby Strange replies truthfully, which appears to flummox. Baby Strange always replies truthfully. She’s not sure how other people lie so easily. She says if she wanted to lie on a semi-regular basis she’d be a writer, wouldn’t she, and there’s no faulting that logic. Baby Strange is waiting for a bus. Mrs. Winchley says, oh, well, wouldn’t it be easier to wait for it at the bus stop then, and Baby Strange just gives her an old-fashioned look.

Baby Strange isn’t Baby Strange’s real name, that would be silly. Who gives their kid a name like that? No, Baby Strange is what her dad used to call her. She loved her dad, even when he hit her. He didn’t usually remember he’d done it, he was like that. Not a drunk, that would have been ok, everyone knows someone with a drunk for a dad. Baby Strange’s dad was just a bastard, and wrong in the head. She knows that, but it’s ok. He’s not around anymore.

Baby Strange finishes her cigarette and jumps off the wall. The bus is nearly here.

Davey is twenty-nine, but he tells people he’s twenty. Davey likes to feel young. Truth to tell, Davey doesn’t remember a lot about the last twenty years, so he could be right. He likes the word ‘twenty’. It feels silly on his lips. Twenty. Davey felt cold again this morning, all cold in his head, so he went to ride the bus. He isn’t going anywhere – where would he go? – and in a couple of hours he’ll get off again, maybe when the driver notices he’s still on the bus, maybe not. The cold is clear and white like winter in his head. Davey can’t remember when it started, but that’s kind of the problem, so Davey sits on the bus, hands in the pockets of his parka, and watches the people getting on, getting off, sitting around him, walking the streets along the bus route. Davey likes to watch people, and sometimes he’ll see someone that reminds him of his mum, and that makes him feel a little less cold. He misses his mum.  Sometimes she would buy him Fruit Pastilles when they went shopping together, if he was good. Davey always looked forward to going shopping with his mum, she was happier out of the house, happier in the fresh air. In the house she would close in on herself. First she would stop talking, and then she would begin to just sit, and then to stare. Things were always much better out of the house. Davey learned that from her. Davey sits on the bus with his hands in his pockets and watches the people going by.

Baby Strange hops onto the bus, and walks along the aisle, nodding in a friendly manner to strangers, because she thinks this is disarming and Baby Strange likes to confound. She walks to the back, and sits in the seat next to a youngish man in a parka, hands in his pockets, and she takes out an orange and begins to peel it, little scruffy bits of pocked rind falling to her lap and to the floor at her feet.

Davey smells oranges, and looks to one side. There’s a girl sitting next to him. She’s wearing blue jeans with biro doodles on the thighs, the kind you make when you’re on the phone to someone, blue jeans and a summer dress over the top. Her hair is thick and cheerfully tangled and quite, quite red, and he did not see her sit down, or walk up the aisle of the bus for that matter. This is odd, because Davey was looking, watching people as he does. So now he’s noticed her, he makes sure to look at her, struggling to peel her orange.

He feels compelled to point out that her nails are too short. She grimaces and carries on picking at the fruit, starting to look slightly mangled in her hand, and he adds, you shouldn’t bite your nails, it’s a bad habit. Davey’s mum told him that. He looks up again as the bus pulls in to a stop. Two elderly men get on, gently arguing with one another in a foreign language, spend too long buying tickets from the bus driver, and then stoop their way down the bus to find one of the free seats each. A man in a suit stands up so that they can sit together, and they nod at him gently to say thank you. A woman moves up the bus behind them, a woman that reminds him a little of his mum. Kind, worried eyes, roots showing in her hair, a nice coat now fraying at the edges. She smokes too much, Davey can see by the slight yellowing on the first two fingers of her right hand. She can’t find a seat, so she stands and holds onto a pole for support as the bus turns a corner.

Davey feels a movement in front of him, and looks down again. The girl has thrust her hand out. He hesitates and then takes it by the fingers, giving a little shake. She nods in a chipper manner. “I’m Sury,” she says, and he finds himself replying, “David.”

She says to him, I always bite my nails when I get nervous, with the air of carrying on an interrupted conversation that he’s sure never really got started. She says she thinks it comes from when she was a kid. Back then she used to talk a lot when she got nervous, and her dad didn’t like that so she started biting her nails to keep her teeth busy.

Davey doesn’t really know what to say to that. Do people use their teeth to talk? He thought it was all lips and tongue. Teeth were for biting, surely? He looks up to the woman standing in the aisle. She is staring off into the distance, but she doesn’t look like she’s looking at anything. Davey knows this look, it’s the look his mum used to get when she was closing in on herself, and that’s not right, that isn’t the way it happens, the fresh air is supposed to help her open up. He feels his hands clench a little in his pockets.

The girl gives a tiny, throaty little scream, right under her breath, and he looks back to her, startled. She’s having serious problems with that orange, and the look she’s giving it suggests that the whole thing is about to get the better of her. Davey looks back at the woman standing in the aisle. The cold in his head is beginning to feel a little less white and wintery, as it often does by now.

“Can I borrow your knife?”

He looks back. The girl has cocked her head as she asks, and this, with the shock of tangled red hair, suddenly makes her look very young. Davey takes the little knife out of his left pocket and passes it over. She grins happily at him, says, thanks. Davey is surprised to find himself smiling back a little.

The girl begins confidently peeling the orange with Davey’s little knife, larger and larger scraps of rind falling to her lap now. She peers up at him again. You like riding the bus, she says. Davey doesn’t really want to talk to her, he wants to check on the woman in the frayed coat, but that seems rude, his mum told him never to be rude if he could help it, so he says he does, it helps him relax. He knows ‘relax’ is the wrong word, but he doesn’t feel like getting into that right now.

She says she doesn’t think he looks relaxed, as he’s starting to look back again, and he blinks, shakes his head. He’s not. He clenches his fists a little tighter in his pockets. Inside, his head is beginning to feel cold again. Winter trees. He steals another glance at the woman with the kind, worried eyes.

She says, maybe you didn’t mean relaxed? And at that he looks back. She’s looking at him, he head cocked again, the orange ignored on her lap, and he realises, all of a sudden, that he’s missed something important here, that there’s something else going on apart from everything else. And Baby Strange smiles at him, and gives him the freshly peeled orange, and while he’s eating it, she tells Davey about her dear old dad, and how she killed the cunt.


Baby Strange and Davey get off the bus with the two old men and the woman in the frayed coat. Davey turns a little to watch her as she walks off, worried and staring in that way he wants to reach out to, but Baby Strange has his hand, and is dragging him off. She’s excited, it’s a bank holiday and the funfair is in town. She wants to go on the waltzers and get candyfloss. Davey looks back at her and lets himself get dragged along again. It isn’t too hard. He’s enjoying it quite a lot. Ready for the fair? she asks him, something sparking merrily in her eyes, and he says yes, absolutely, and his head doesn’t feel cold at all anymore. Funny, that.

Davey gets a brief flash of memory then, his mum, staring, and him wanting to do something to snap her out of it, to wake her up, to make her see him again, wanting it so much he felt like his heart would swell and burst out of his chest, but she’s not looking at him, she’s not, not since dad left, and he can’t cope with the bursting feeling in his chest anymore, and then there are those two knives, one little, one big, and then Davey doesn’t remember much after that. After that, it’s just been riding the buses.

Davey slows, and then she spins around and plants a finger in his chest and says, none of that. She says, it wasn’t your fault. She looks at him, and places the palm of her hand on his chest, and says, Davey. It wasn’t your fault.

“It wasn’t her fault either,” he says. “She was hurt. I didn’t know what to do. I was only small. She didn’t mean to hurt me, she just lost herself for a bit. When she woke up it was too late.”

Davey doesn’t remember much after that. Just blood, a lot of blood, and two knives taken from the kitchen side, one little, one big, and his mum crying and screaming afterwards, like she had a wild animal inside her. He remembers lying there with her crying over him, and feeling cold inside, like winter, and when he woke up again his mum wasn’t there anymore and everything was different. Different, but exactly the same, and it’s been that way for so very long now.

Baby Strange cocks her head, and smiles at him. It’s ok, she says. You’ve been riding the buses too long, that’s your problem. Come on, the funfair’s not far. She runs behind him and gives him a push and he allows himself to be propelled along, surprised to find himself laughing a little. And then? Davey asks, what happens after the funfair, Sury? She smiles again, shoving him playfully in the small of the back as they run along. Then I take you home, she says. Don’t worry. It’s your home too now, and Dad’s gone. We’ve made a new family now. It’s great down there.

Down? he asks, and she waves her hand in an exaggerated fashion. Down, up, left, right, whatever, it’s over there, behind everything else and overlaid on top. She says, don’t worry about it. She says, it’s gonna be ok now, Davey. We’re doing things differently, and no one gets left behind anymore. That’s what I’m doing, picking up people who got left behind. People like you.

Davey smiles, and allows himself to be dragged along again. They stop just once more, and drop two knives off in the litter bin near the park, one small from her pocket, one big from his, and he leaves his parka draped over the top. He shivers a little in the sudden cold, but then Baby Strange grabs his hand and drags him off to the funfair, and everything’s all right again.

I Can Write It Better Than You Ever Felt It

•February 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I conjured a ghost last night.

It was waiting inside the kind of red maudlin that only comes from drinking wine alone. Thumping these bloody words out as an exorcism or penance; what self-aggrandising bullshit. My ghost’s been with me for 24 hours as I sit. In the corner of my eye even now, proofreading these words and sniggering into its 4 year old fist.

I typed your name and hit return and so it was in the room with me as you smiled next to your husband, his arm outstretched as he held the camera out and pointed it back at the both of you.

I won’t pretend that my ghost has your face; that would be disingenuous. And I refuse the notion that, by writing this, I become some kind of ghost of yours. That smiling face is a stranger to me, because in truth it’s the only time I’ll ever see you happy. I just needed a hook to hang this on and what can I say? Your face fit. I won’t make the mistake of typing your name again.

So I’m not writing this to you, but you, my reader. And I won’t lie to you either. I won’t pretend that this ghost has my face. That sick fuck. Although it does like to wear it now and then. It doesn’t have a name, so can never truly be summoned because it never truly leaves. It doesn’t have a name, so it can never be truly banished.

Of it I will say this: sometimes you can listen to a well loved song and a lyric that you’ve been mis-hearing for years suddenly becomes clear.

Of myself I will admit this: sometimes I possess my ghost, and fill its head with all the oily thoughts that I don’t want to own. Sometimes I’ll be crueller still and put those thoughts into your head. After all, when I’m crammed into a slow moving lift with strangers, I believe that Lucifer’s grievance was justifiable.

The First Mourning

•February 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Her arm across his chest. Her head on his shoulder.

She sighed a little and pulled herself in closer, one leg seeking a space between his, and he shifted so that they could entwine a little more. The weight of her on his ribcage as he drew air in steadily, almost at peace – he delighted in it.

The curtains were thin and morning was washing the bedroom in cloudy lemonade light. He passed his eyes carefully over her crooked arm – remember this – which seemed to mould itself effortlessly across him. The light brown freckle on her bicep; the fine hair of her forearm made almost white as it seemed to trap the growing light. Remember it.

He took in the smooth white skin of her shoulder and the feel of her breast pressed at his side whilst the dark and hectic night hummed behind him. It jumped out occasionally to grip him and squeeze before slinking into the background babble again. Frenetic and urgent. ‘Abandon,’ he thought, and almost spoke it out aloud, almost waking her too soon.

It had been like freefalling. He was right, it had been complete abandon.

Months later he would remember the time when he had last made love to his first love. Eleven years ago. She had visited him in his bedsit to tell him that it was over, and they’d made love, slowly and sadly, and all the time he’d kept his eyes open and told himself ‘Remember this. Remember this.’ Funny, now all that he could remember of that final time was that insistent command as he’d tried to delay the inevitable; attempted to stretch out a moment.

And now, in this room, in this house, he felt time become plastic again. The day held in abeyance for a few precious minutes. Wakefulness not yet fully upon her or him; just the glow before day and lazy, languid limbs coming to life amongst each other, and her arm across his chest and the feel of her closeness. And this was what he wanted to remember. The gritted, taut memories of the night would be easily recalled; but this calm, this elegance, would fizzle away on the edges of memory just as dreams diffuse at the edges of consciousness.

This was what he wanted, so he turned slightly – legs rubbing slowly – and slid an arm out and around her, pulling her in – and she let herself be drawn, and she exhaled languidly, both their heads resting on one pillow. He looked at her face and he had a moment of that before her eyes opened; then they looked into each others’ eyes for seconds and seconds.

Pale blue. Flecks of grey.

Remember this.

Soon they would have to talk.

Soon she would say, ‘We can’t do this again.’


•January 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There was once a city on a hill in a country far away, and in that city lived a tailor, whose name was Henry Musk.


Every day (except for Sunday), Henry Musk would wake with the sun and dress in his smart spats, his sober black frock coat, his stiff white collar and his pristine white cravat. He would spend exactly two minutes polishing his half moon spectacles, and exactly two minutes buffing his elegant top hat. Every day, Henry Musk took time to trim his full beard, plucking and tucking until, no matter how hard he looked, he could not see a single hair out of place. Every day, Henry Musk would open the little shop downstairs at precisely eight o’clock, beginning a brand new page in his big black ledger for the day to come, and every day the shop would close at precisely five o’clock.


And every night, locked up tight in his starched white nightshirt, Henry Musk would sleep and dream of Raggedyann.


In every single dream, Raggedyann was different. Once, she was a small blonde lady, with an elaborate coiffure and a powdered, china-doll face. Once, she was a heavy-set Mediterranean woman, with dark olive skin and a throaty laugh. Sometimes she looked to Henry Musk like someone he might have known when he was younger, for Henry Musk recalled, with no little embarrassment, that he had been young once. Sometimes, Raggedyann looked like a stranger, distant and unknown and quite, quite fascinating. But whatever she looked like, she was always Raggedyann.


Henry Musk had always known that Raggedyann was his, and his alone. She could not belong to anyone else, for he dreamed her into being each night, and locked each little portrait of her tight within his starched white heart. And he knew, as people will know such things, that one day Raggedyann would walk into his little shop, and that she would never, ever leave. Henry Musk slept and dreamed, woke and dressed, polished and trimmed and waited for Raggedyann.


One day, at almost half past eleven, the bell over the door of Henry Musk’s little shop rang once. Henry Musk looked up as the door closed, and saw Raggedyann. He was not surprised, for he had known for a very long time that she would come. Henry Musk closed his big black ledger, and smiled at her, and said,


“Excuse me, madame. Might I enquire… how much for that splendid coat?”


The customer was surprised at this, for wasn’t she the one to buy things here? But Henry Musk was smiling at Raggedyann, and asked again, and so the customer named a price. It was twice what the coat was truly worth, but Henry Musk handed over every penny without a blink.


That day Henry Musk closed his little shop at twelve o’clock, noon precisely, and took the coat upstairs. He hung it on the hat stand next to his bedroom door and sat on the bed opposite, his hands folded across his lap, just looking. The coat was made of the softest brown leather, with shining steel buckles on the belt : it was ankle-length, with varnished wooden buttons on wide lapels, and a rich scarlet silk lining. But all Henry Musk saw was Raggedyann.


Henry Musk sat and looked at Raggedyann for the longest time, and then he sighed to himself, just once, and took the coat down from the hatstand. He folded it once across his arm, and went downstairs to his little workshop behind the tailor’s shop.


In his workshop, Henry Musk laid the coat out onto the bench and stared at it, deep in thought. And then he began. It was easy, because he had been waiting for a very long time, and so knew all of the details and all of the measurements just so. Henry Musk cut and trimmed the coat until it lay in brown and scarlet pieces along his bench. Then he buffed and polished the scraps of soft leather until they gleamed shyly in the lamplight. Henry Musk stopped for a moment, and would have smiled, ever so slightly, had he remembered how.


And then he bent his head and began to stitch.


As he shaped and moulded the leather with thread and needle, Henry Musk brought out each and every little portrait locked tight in his starched white heart, and sewed a fragment into the leather. A piece here, and a piece there, until there were no more portraits, and until every curve and corner of Raggedyann lay, shining dully, on his workbench.


Then Henry Musk stopped, and lay down the tools of his trade. He looked down at Raggedyann and closed his eyes, as though deep in prayer (but Henry Musk had forgotten how). And then he opened them again, and picked Raggedyann up as though she were a doll, and carried her up the stairs and back into his room. And then he closed and locked the door.


And in his room, Henry Musk took Raggedyann and did terrible things. For all of the portraits of Raggedyann that had been locked up tight within his starched white heart were now stitched and sewn into soft brown leather and scarlet silk, and there was nothing of Raggedyann left there at all.


When he had finished every terrible thing, Henry Musk picked up Raggedyann and hung her in his wardrobe, suspended by her wrists and neck. And then he laughed to himself as though he was happy, and closed the door, and because it was now late, Henry Musk went to bed. And dreamed of Raggedyann.


Before that night, Henry Musk had dreamed of Raggedyann and she had been different each and every time, a patchwork of people and personalities. But the dream he had that night was not the same. Henry Musk stood in his smart spats, his sober frock coat and his pristine white cravat. He wore his half-moon spectacles and his elegant top hat, and not a single hair was out of place in his full beard. And before him was his own bed, and on his bed lay Raggedyann.


Henry Musk stood at the foot of his bed for the longest time, and stared at Raggedyann. He stared at the dull gleam of her skin, and her short, blunted limbs, at the buttons of her eyes and the buckles of her ears, and at the flash of scarlet silk at the base of her belly. Henry Musk stood for the longest time, and thought her hideous beyond hideous. He would have shuddered, but a voice spoke to him, very softly, from just next to his ear, a warm whisper.


“Do you know who I am?” it asked, and Henry Musk shook his head.


“Raggedyann,” the voice breathed out, as though it was happy, tickling his ear.


Henry Musk opened his mouth, but the voice went on whispering warmly in his ear.


“I cannot rise to greet you, for when you made me you made my arms and legs as stumps, and they are useless to me.” Henry Musk was again about to speak, but the voice went on.


“And I cannot speak to greet you, for when you made me you gave me no mouth, and I am mute.”


The voice whispering warmly in Henry Musk’s ear paused. And then,


“But I feel every breath of wind through my tight leather skin. And it is so very tight. Won’t you loosen my skin?”


At this, Henry Musk moved forward and took up a pair of heavy iron scissors, and snipped – first at one stitch, and then at another. And so the stitching began to loosen, and to unravel, until the leather gaped open, and with a rustle of scarlet silk, Raggedyann stepped out.


Henry Musk stared at her, and she was as she always had been. And Raggedyann said to him,


“When you dreamed me before, I danced for you. Why did you make me a skin with no feet to dance with?”


And Henry Musk had no reply. So she said,


“When you dreamed me before, I sang for you. Why did you make me a skin with no lips to sing with?”


And once again Henry Musk had no reply. So Raggedyann reached up, and took off his elegant top hat and his half-moon spectacles, and untied his pristine white cravat. She took off his sober frock coat and his smart spats, and then took up the pair of heavy iron scissors and snipped – first once, then twice. And so the stitching began to loosen, and to unravel, until the leather gaped open, and with a rustle of scarlet silk, Henry Musk stepped out.


And Raggedyann laid down the pair of heavy iron scissors and smiled at him warmly, as though she was happy. And then Henry Musk woke up.


** *


Several days passed before anyone began to be concerned about Henry Musk. His little shop remained closed. Regular customers were forced to go elsewhere, and deliveries were left piled at the back door. Eventually, the police were called, and with no answer to their knocking, broke into Henry Musk’s little shop by a rear window. They found nothing but dust in the little shop, and nothing but tiny scraps of brown leather and scarlet silk in the little workshop. And in the room upstairs was a bed, and on that bed they found a doll about the size of a man, made of brown leather and scarlet silk, with buttons for eyes, and buckles for ears, and sheer unbroken leather where a mouth should be, and stumps for arms and legs. But of Henry Musk there was no sign at all.


When Henry Musk awoke, his room was full of smartly uniformed men, making notes and looking puzzled. He tried to sit up, but he could not move his arms and legs. He tried to speak, but no sound came from his mouth. Helpless, the bedclothes clammy against his back, he watched the uniformed men shake their heads, close their notebooks, and leave, one by one, until at last only one remained.


The smartly uniformed man stared down at Henry Musk, and for some reason looked very familiar to him – perhaps the poise of the head, of the cast of the eyes. Finally, the uniformed man sighed, and smiled an odd smile, as though he had nearly forgotten how. He bent, and gently stroked Henry Musk’s curiously unresponsive arm. The smartly uniformed man’s touch felt like polished leather, and Henry Musk felt a shudder pass through him. But the uniformed man did not seem to feel it. He lifted Henry Musk from the bed and carried him from the room as though he were a doll. And at last light dawned on Henry Musk, and he realised and he knew and he opened his mouth and he screamed. But of course he had no mouth, and so Henry Musk could not scream at all.


Nevertheless, he screamed. For the longest time.


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