Savage Omnibus #4

July 24, 2008

MORNING by Suzy Devere

A Dollar Bill, Crisp and Falling~ Joel Van Noord

In Sumeria ~ Elizabeth Rose

vuh shit tree by peter wild ~ part one part two part three part four

Savage Omnibus #3

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MORNING by Suzy Devere

July 24, 2008

“Okay, there’s the rub,” I thought, rolling over and trying to open my eyes. But the light was so fucking annoying.  Too bright, like an x-ray sizzling through my brain.  Louisa was pulling back the curtains and it was hellish.  I drifted back out to sea.

“Ms. Suzy, Ms. Suzy.  I’m sorry but chu tole me no to let chu sleep today pas lunchtime.”

Louisa’s voice was hovering and mothering, almost as annoying as the light, but for her I pulled it back to shore.  She loved me.

“Yes, yes.  Thank you, Louisa,” which, I can honestly say I meant, but not for waking me up; who gives a shit about getting up?  I could’ve slept till California sunk into the sea.  No, what I was thankful for was that she was there, making sure I wasn’t dead.  And if I was?  It was reassuring to know she’d be the one to find me first.  Louisa, my hero.

“Could you check with Anthony downstairs to see if a package from Rupert Flynn came?” I said, not very nicely, eyes still less than half-mast. I wanted that package.  Been waiting for it for days.  It was the Will with new appraisal values, blah blah.  I didn’t give a shit about the stuff, but I also didn’t like the idea of fuck-off lawyers and my uptight, slit-stitched, step-mother taking it all without a fight.  Fatty said his lawyers would take care of it if I wanted.  I told him to ask someone else because I wasn’t talking to him.  Couldn’t hear him. 

“Is that a dog I hear barking somewhere in the distance?” I’d said angrily, cocking my head to one side, pretending to listen to something far away.  He shut up.

The truth is I didn’t want him to see what I was all about.  He had his ideas about me, and that was fine, but they were only ideas.  In much the same way I had my own ideas about me, and I didn’t want anything—especially not facts—telling me otherwise. Lord, I didn’t want to have to look into Fatty’s eyes and see “understanding” or “empathy” or any of the other sad-sack things that show up in people’s eyes when they think they really have you pegged.

Ugh. It wasn’t his fucking business, my father’s affairs, you know? 

Money—the spending of money and the owning of things, any things, not just rich / poor bullshit—can tell someone more about you than you know about yourself.  This fact being the one true thing I felt sure of—that my father’s estate would tell others who I really was—made me feel sick. From the first day I’d heard he was dead I knew I’d rather lose it all, the money, the things, than have full disclosure to deal with. 

The other thing I knew was that people react to things in weird ways.  Fatty could read the Will and decide I should be on my own without his help, financially and physically, and that would be bad.  It was his constant bullshit and my hatred, channeled all towards him, that pushed me through the days. Lucy had long disappeared, and I hadn’t really done anything for years but fuck people, dance a little, spend a lot, and get loaded.  Didn’t want to rock the boat.

By the time Louisa dutifully came back, bulging brown envelope in hand, it was nearly two o’clock and I was still unwashed, undressed, and unimpressed by what the day could hold.  She looked at me strangely, like an investigator.

“He say hello to chu, and he tell me chu need to come to take a walk.”

“You tell him thanks for the tip, and to take his own walk.”  Louisa winced but said nothing, just as I expected.  Talking about the staff to other staff, no matter how different their positions, was always a bad idea.  They didn’t like it.  Made them feel insecure, even though for a moment they also felt privy to insider information, which made them feel superior.  It still was bad form, one of those no-nos of the elite.  I’d never been comfortable with having staff.  It was the staff that were high-maintenance. I couldn’t be bothered too much to watch my tongue for anyone, especially not the kitchen help.  Make me a fucking omelet and shut up while you’re doing it.  Is that too much to ask?

Anyway, Anthony was well intentioned; a good doorman but a little on the nosy side with a touch of desperation to him, a pleaser.  I hated kiss asses.  Therefore I really hated Anthony, but knew I shouldn’t.  He didn’t deserve it.  He was hired to fill a spot no one could win in.  No one was James.  Old James wouldn’t have made a comment on my personal habits, or anyone else’s in the building, for a thousand bucks, and that was his old-school training comin’ through.  Anymore the doormen in Manhattan were pompous asses with greasy palms, control issues and bad hair.  Could I blame Anthony?  He was just trying to look after the girl / lady / person who never came out in the daytime except with dark sunglasses and flip flops to go walk somewhere that always took the same amount of time:  29 – 36 minutes.  That’s how long it took me to get to the Food Emporium on Third Avenue to buy cigarettes, a Klondike Bar or Peppermint Patty, and the occasional E.P.T. Home Pregnancy Test.  Other than that, why travel?

Now I was standing, Louisa pouring my coffee twelve inches from my face like I was a baby, and I wanted to throw up.  I’d been feeling sick for days but I always felt sick, except when I was high so who could know?  Fuck all, she was looking at my face closely now…

“Louisa, move back.  Spit it out already.  You’ve been staring at me for twenty minutes.  What’s the matter?”

“Ms. Suzy chu no look so good,” she said with an embarrassed shake of her head.  “Chu look…” she made a strange face I’d never seen before, “Chu look blue.”

Mother of God.  Blue?  What the hell was that supposed to mean?  Of course I look blue.  She’s brown and I’m “white” but we all know that means I’m blue when my skin hasn’t seen sun for a while. 

“I’m just pale.  You know that,” I growled.

She shook her head and her eyes got wide.  I could tell she was weighing her words carefully.  That was what began to freak me out.

“No, Ms. Suzy, chu look blue like something left chu.  In chour face.”

Shit.  Maybe this was the end?  Maybe I was finally gunna’ die?  Either that or I was pregnant.  Same thing, I figured.  I told Louisa to go shopping.  She asked for what? I told her to think of something.  She knew that meant I really wanted to tell her to fuck off but that I was behaving nicely.  She got the drift and got lost pretty fast; I think she knew that I wasn’t right in the head.  Well, I never was…but that this time something was really different.  Really wrong.  After she left I moved in slow motion to the guest bath where I proceeded to vomit blood and coffee, held an E.P.T. stick in my piss for five seconds and then laid it flat on the gray and white marble sink while I went back to bed.  Tomorrow Louisa would find it and tell me what it said.  Although she couldn’t read English, she read those tests better than me.  Happily, I washed three pink pills down with a shot of Woodford Reserve and hey, lights out.

—Suzy Devere

Savage Omnibus #3

July 21, 2008

Fall Out by Melissa Mann

You burn your regrets but leave mine to me by Ben Ashwell

Coward by Steve Vermillion

Waste (for Cliffy) by Chris Major

Three looming cranes in the distance by Lee Rourke

Fall Out ~ Melissa Mann

July 21, 2008

Disgust an’ fear crash through’t toilet door, me right behind ‘em.  I fumble wi’t lock, breath I’ve been ‘oldin’ since I climbed over ‘im ready to burst out o’me top.  There’s barely room to swing a cat in ‘ere.  On’t floor, a pool o’piss laps at me flip-flops. I steady meself against sink.  There’s a bar o’soap turnin’ to scum by’t tap.  I pick it up – it’s all slimy in me fingers – then I sink me teeth in an’ bite a birr’off, lerr’in it lie there on me tongue a bit.  Then I close me eyes an’ start to chew.  Me lips’re tryin’ to peel the’selves off me face.  It tastes like dead roses an’ mecks me gag.  I scrape a fingernail down me tongue, along’t inside o’me cheek then start scrubbin’ at me teeth an’ gums ‘til me finger goes all numb.  I spit into’t sink, wipin’ me mouth wi’t back o’me arm.  Bloodied spew slithers down’t plughole like a jellyfish.

Coach brakes an’ swings left, throwin’ me against door; we must be leavin’t motorway. Eventually it stops, ‘ydraulics gaspin’, engine rumblin’, door ‘andle thrummin’ in me fist.  I unlock toilet door an’ peer out. Ron’s ‘eadin’ up the aisle toward me. Next thing am pushin’t  emergency door open, theme tune to’t ‘Great Escape’ playin’ in me ‘ead. Am Steve fuckin’ McQueen, me!  Or mebbe it’s theme to ‘Reach for’t Sky’ in which case am Douglas Bader an’ well, am fucked then, aren’t I.  Ron reaches out, ‘and like pork sausages, all blotched an’ knuckleless.  But am ‘avin’ none of it, me.  I jump off’t coach, door alarm screamin’ as I fall out into’t path of an on-comin’ Volvo.

* * * *

Two hour or so back

I look down an’ see me smilin’ back at meself, smilin’ like am about to breck me teeth.  Emlyn’s in’t middle, one arm round me, t’other round our Paula.  They’re lookin’ at each other instead o’t camera.  I fold’t photo in two so am pressed against Emlyn’s chest.  We’re that close I can feel ‘is ribs pressin’ into me cheek.  I squeeze the folded edge between me finger an’ thumb, firm like, up an’ down… then I tear us apart.

They’re screwed up in’t ashtray now, pair of ‘em.  Ow, fuck! I’ve a paper cut now, look.  I suck me finger.  It’s a sign that cut; someone up there tryin’ to tell me sommat.  I slot what’s left o’me into’t seat pocket, wipin’ under’t eyes I can see starin’ back at me through’t nettin’.  Just me now. Am on me own an’ am never goin’ back.  Am free though, s’all that matters.  Me great escape, this is.

We’ve just pulled into Leeds coach station.  There’s a few people waitin’ to gerr’on but not many: this Asian lass wi’ bootleg jeans under ‘er sari, an Arthur Scargill look-a-like an’ some bloke wi’ no neck in a Leeds Rhinos’ shirt.  Seat next to me’s gorr’all me stuff on it – bag, Now magazine, can o’Red Bull an’ some cheese sarnies I got from’t kiosk at Bradford Interchange.  Tons o’seats further back though so it mecks no odds.

Yeah, me great escape, this is.  Knew’t minute I set eyes on Emlyn ‘e’d be me ticket out o’Wakefield an’ ‘avin’ to work in mam an’ dad’s fish shop.  Never thought it’d turn out like this though.  ‘e’d come to work for’is aunt in ‘uddersfield ‘ad Emlyn.  Dead exotic ‘e were what wi’is slick-back ‘air an’ Welsh accent. Yeah, it were lust at first sight wi’Emlyn – fo’ me any road.  Same fo’ Paula as well, though she reckons it were love.  Love?!  What does she know about love?  Never even done it, she an’t.  I bare me teeth at winder an’ scrub at a red lipstick mark.  Below me’t driver throws in’t last bit o’baggage an’ slams the flaps shut.

Well that’s just bloody great tharr’is.  Arthur fuckin’ Scargill wants to sit ‘ere, dun’t ‘e, next to me. All those seats at back but no, ‘e wants this one. Christ, would yer look at state of ’im.  Bet yer’any money ‘e gets travel sick.  Nervy sort, yer can tell.  Look at ‘im, slammin’ ‘is trainer on’t footrest like it’s the brake or sommat. See, it were a sign that paper cut. A five-hour coach trip to London sat next to some middle-aged Bradford City supporter, weaned on Tetley’s an’ liable to puke any minute. Yeah, somebody up there’s defo gorr’it in fo’ me.  Oh an’ did I mention the attractive comb-over?

“Can yer believe this driver, eh?  Useless in’t ‘e, the pillock.  Y’all right?  Not squashin’ yer am I, love?”

“Well, I could do wi’out ‘avin’ yer lunch box in me lap, thanks very much.”  A Star Wars bloody lunch box too, if yer can believe that.  I mean, fuck me to Wakefield an’ back!

“Oh yeah, sorry love.  Don’t want yer nickin’ me egg butties when I nod off now, do I.”

Oh just take the bloody thing, will yer.  I turn me back on ‘im an’ look out winder. Kid goes past in’t back o’this Merc.  Stickin’ its tongue out one minute then ‘idin’ under’t seat the next.  Up an’ down like a yo-yo ‘e is, little brat.  I look down, watchin’t M1 slide away under’t wheels.  It were seein’ Emlyn an’ our Paula in’t back o’is car what started it off. That’s when I knew I ‘ad to do sommat. ‘oldin’ ‘er face ‘e was, lookin’ right in ‘er eyes – ‘er speccy-four-eyes, ha!  I pull on me lashes; mascara’s all clogged up.  Yeah, drastic action were called fo’ cos suddenly me way out were lookin’ more like a dead end.

God, I could murder a fag – fuckin’ hours ‘til we get to Milton Keynes.  Could sneak a puff in’toilet I s’pose.  Yeah! Since when did National Express get s’bloody PC any road?  Smokin’ pro’ibited but anti-social comb-overs welcomed wi’ open arms, is tharr’it?

“Me name’s Ron.”

Christ, do we ‘ave to bloody do this?  I don’t want to talk to yer, ar’right.  I force a smile, feelin’ me foundation crack then I turn an’ look out winder again.  Travellin’ by coach allus does this t’me, mecks me ‘ate the world an’ every fucker in it.

“‘Ave yer not gorra name then?”

“Err…sorry, yeah. Alice.”

“Oh, like that lass what went to Wonderland.  Very nice.”

Fuckin’ ‘ell!  Nod an’ smile Alice, nod an’ smile.  I look at ‘is lunch box an’ get this, ‘e’s only gone an’ gorr’ a nametag on it.  A bloody nametag, I ask yer.  Well congratulations Ron Butterfield.  ‘alf an ‘our in your scintillatin’ company an’ am already on page ten o’me self-‘arm manual. I look at me watch.  Great.  Another four an’ an ‘alf hours meckin’ small talk wi’ some fat twat who probably ‘as ‘is name sewn in ‘is underkecks.

I pick me bag up offat floor an’ pull out a mirror.  God, I look a right fuckin’ sight; make-up’s all over’t place.  Not like it were’t other night.   Immaculate it were, then. ‘ad me war paint on, din’t I; Emlyn didn’t stand a chance, poor bugger.  I pick at what’s left o’t nail polish on me thumbnail.  Feel a bit bad about it all now, if am honest. ‘ad to be done though.  Needed to see, din’t ‘e.  Needed to see before it were too late.

Ron’s fidgetin’ about in ‘is seat again; warm-up to openin’ his gob again, I bet. An’ while we’re at it Ron, ‘ow much bloody room d’yer need, eh?  Is yer tackle really that big yer need to sit wi’ yer legs so wide apart?  It’s a coach seat not some big girthed mare yer tryin’ to straddle.  Euch, I can’t look.  ‘e’s got that white gob-shite stuff in’t corners of ’is mouth.  Stringin’ between ‘is lips, it is when ‘e talks. 

“Am a salesman, me.  Sell zips an’ Velcro an’ what ‘ave yer.  Get to travel all over’t country.”

A nod an’ a smile wi’ a bit o’raised eyebrow called fo’ this time, Alice.  There yer go, a 6.0 fo’artistic expression from’t Barnsley judge fo’ that one.  Oh, eh yup, Ron’s usin’ ‘is passenger brakin’ system again.  What we stoppin’ fo’?  Fuck’s sake!  Another sign this is in’t it; somebody up there layin’ it on wi’ a trowel.  Well I gerr’it, ar’right.  Yeah, so I shagged Emlyn when ‘e’s supposed to be gerrin’ wed to our Paula but I never… it… well it just ‘appened, din’t it.  I just ‘ad it in mind to seduce ‘im a bit, that’s all, gerr’im to see sense.  Meck ‘im see ‘e’d chosen’t wrong one, like.

I lean me ‘ead back an’ think on about other night.  ‘e were a bit worse fo’ wear after ‘is stag do, wer’Emlyn.  Dead shaky an’ all cos ‘is best man Timmo’d organised an ‘hit’ for’im.  Timmo’s uncle runs this business, right; Party Assassins it’s called.  They do practical jokes an’ that.  Yer know, strippergrams an’ spikin’t groom’s drink then leavin’ him stark-bollock-naked on Emley Moor, that kinda thing.  Timmo’s uncle were part o’t Bradford Mafia, if yer believe’t talk.  This were a few year back now.  Party Assassins was ‘is way o’going “straight”, like, or so folk said.  Bradford Mafia?!  Yeah, what-ever.

Anyway, there we was, me lust an’ me, sat on mam an’ dad’s couch when Emlyn walks in, covered ‘ead to toe in Alphabetti Spaghetti an’ Cheerios.  Like a female ‘unger striker’s wet dream, ‘e were – ha!  Next thing I’d fallen out me clothes, am on top o’im an’ ‘e’s printin’ mucky jokes all over me tits in pasta an’ ‘holegrain ‘oops. Din’t know what’d hit him, poor bugger. An’ I wan’t takin’ no for’an answer, me – full works or me money back!

So, ‘ere’s me now, stuck in a five-mile tailback wi’ Arthur fuckin’ Scargill’s clone sat next to me.  Yeah, somebody up there’s defo meckin’ me pay fo’ it, big time.  I never set out to ‘urt our Paula though, ‘onest t’God.  It’s just, I were bored, fed up, yer know ‘ow it is?  An’ Emlyn needed to see what ‘e were missin’ before ‘e settled on little Miss Innocent wi’ ‘er specs an’ ‘er M&S dresses.  Why ‘er, eh an’ not me?  I don’t gerr’it.  Must ‘ave ‘idden depths that one.  An’ she in’t all sweetness an’ light neither.  Gorra right temper on ‘er, that one, ‘specially when she’s on ‘er period; she can be a right cow.  Well anyway, mecks no odds now cos I’ve gone, am’t I; left ‘em to it, all that gerrin’ wed an’ ‘appy ever after bollocks.  I snap the ‘air elastics round me wrist an’ peer through’t raindrops spermin’ across winder.  London 87 miles.  Come on, gerr’a fuckin’ move on bus will yer.

Oi, Ron, gob-shite, stop leanin’ on me – Christ!  What’s ‘e gorr’in that ‘an Solo flask, then, voddy? An’ what the fuckin’ ‘ell’s ‘e grinnin’ fo’, eh?  God ‘is breath’s rank.  Smells like fags an’ ale an’ denture glue.

“Did yer know there’s 824 cones in yer average contraflow system?”

Nice one Ron, yer’ve only gone an’ used up me entire stock o’polite conversation.  I slump in me seat an’ look at me watch.  Reckon I’ve still gorr’another four hours o’this, traffic way it is.  Four fuckin’ hours sat next to some saddo ‘ho knows’t reference code fo’every zip an’ strip o’Velcro ‘e’s ever sold.  Christ, if this in’t the coach journey from ‘ell, I don’t know wharr’is.  Please, somebody shoot me!  Oi, now what’s ‘e doin’?  I’m warnin’ yer, gob-shite, lean any closer an’ I’ll stab you in’t gonads wi’ that Bradford City badge o’yours.

“’Ave gorra little present fo’ yer,” ‘e ses.

What-the-fuck….. let go o’me face yer nutter. ‘e’s gorr’is lips suckered to me mouth!  Get-the-fuck-OFF-me!  That’s norr‘is tongue in me gob that’s norr‘is tongue in me gob… think am gonna puke.  Oh thank bloody God.  I press an ‘and to me mouth.  Can’t feel me lips now, can I; they’ve gone all numb.  Christ, that’s norr’is gob-shite snailin’ down me chin, is it?  Fuckin’ is, an’ all! 

“What the fuckin’ ‘ell d’yer do that fo’, eh?”  ‘e’s got this big grin all over’is face, an’t ‘e. 

“S’like I said, a little present fo’ yer, courtesy o’t Party Assassins from your Paula.   It’s fo’ shaggin’ ‘er fiancy.”  ‘e scratches ‘is balls. “An’ I can’t tell yer ‘ow much am lookin’ forward t’next bit o’ this ‘hit,’ Alice,” ‘e ses, lickin’ ‘is lips, “cos it won’t be just me tongue I’ll ‘ave inside yer.”

It’s always pleasant when you meet someone who resembles a character that you once created. You feel a certain fondness towards them, as if you know them already. It makes you feel like when your friends said that they enjoyed reading your story they weren’t just being polite. It makes you feel like at least something you have written has some honesty in it. Unfortunately for me, most of the characters that I create are unsavoury in one way or another, even if I don’t intend them to be when I start out, when I read the piece back I realise what I’ve written.

I recently had the pleasure (as I write this word I realise that is not at all true) of meeting a woman who resembled a female character that I had written about nearly half a year ago. She was the femme fatale of a story in which she broke the protagonists’ heart. She couldn’t sleep until she had done so. Having met this woman I was filled with the kind of fondness that I described earlier. Fortunately for me the feeling seemed mutual.

Over the next few weeks we saw each other casually, occasionally staying over at each others houses. I once went to hers to find that her room was full of smoke. When I asked her about it she told me that she had written down everything that she had wanted to change in her life on pieces of paper. Then she threw them into a fire in order to get a spiritual high that she recommended strongly. Considering my initial fondness for this woman had grown during the past few weeks, I was levelled by this gesture. I thought that I’d finally found someone that suited me. Someone with some “depth” (I write with my tongue very firmly in my cheek).

A few days after this she stopped returning my texts. After that her phone always seemed to be turned off. She was the first person to ever take an interest in me so I hoped that something had gone wrong with her phone. As the week continued I remembered that she had once phoned me from a different number. In that moment everything made sense; her old phone had broken and she’d forgotten to tell me that she had a new number.

My ears were full with the dial tone and my head was filled with her, but as the phone rang I felt a tingling sensation in my temples. Maybe this wasn’t her number; maybe she was avoiding me. Before I had time to acknowledge these sensations the receiver clicked and I heard a man answer in a brisk voice that echoed like the lowest frequency of a double bass.

“Hello.”

“Hi. Is Esther there?” I tried to hide the surprise in my voice.

“No. Who’s this?”

“Who’s this? I’m Buddy,” I replied, a little bemused by the aggression in the man’s voice.

“I’m Esther’s boyfriend. How do you know her?”

“Oh, err, no, I’m, err, I know her housemates.”

“Are you sure about that that?”

“Yeah?”

He hung up halfway through saying, “Good.”

I laid back on my bed, slightly panicked by the threat in his voice. As I laid there a thought entered my head, I can only assume through the temples. Maybe I was on one of the pieces of paper that she burnt. Maybe I was on a few of them. Maybe I was the reason that she felt she needed to do that in the first place. I began to ask myself over and over again, “Was I naive to assume that a girl is single if she invites herself back to my flat the first time that she meets me?” I thought about that for a while before I rolled out of bed and walked across the road to my local, fully aware of how much of a cliché I was being. In the pub a drunken old man asked me if I was married.

“No, but I do have a girlfriend,” I replied in a beat.

Savage Omnibus #2

July 11, 2008

rapture by max dunbar

restless by elizabeth rose

fuck kafka by joseph ridgwell

words of love by michael keenaghan

dog day afternoon by marquis de chalfont

never lick the floor of a lift by matthew coleman

tourettestial by james quinton

It’s hot. It’s

not         where   I

want to be. But,

I wait.

I know it’s

wrong – so wrong.

But I’ll not change

it – yet.

For now, it’ll

do           just fine.

Sitting, waiting. All

the while

watching.

Sometimes, you

just wait              

and it comes.

It all works out in the end.

Rapture ~ Max Dunbar

July 11, 2008

The first of that day’s many strange events occurred at the Oxford Road junction at 11:42am. It was a sunny spring morning with a plane gunning quietly through a blank blue sky.

Oxford Road is a four-lane street lined by restaurants and bars. A four-way junction sits by the Cornerhouse and splits the traffic down Oxford Street and another major road. Along Oxford Street, a courier for a large city firm had been stuck behind some arsehole in a Vauxhall Corsa, listening to Talk Sport and waiting for the lights to change for what seemed like half an hour. The traffic light finally descended into green, and the Corsa waited a few seconds before accelerating.

Come on, pal, today, the courier whispered, fingers drumming an impatient tattoo on the wheel.

            At last the Corsa edged forward and began to accelerate. The courier hit his own pedal, and surged forward right into the back end of the red Corsa. The arsehole had just driven a few yards, and then stopped.

            ‘Right, that’s fucking it,’ the courier murmured to himself, getting out of the driver’s door. There was a note of satisfaction in his voice. He was going to demand the Corsa driver’s insurance details, and if the driver did not comply then he would find half his teeth gone and a few major bones reset at new and interesting angles.

            The radio seemed to be going nuts, panicky voices overlapped by grinding static, but the courier barely noticed or cared. He strode up to the Corsa, put one hand on the door and wrenched it open.

            There was no one there. The car had that familiar smell of exhaust, sweat and tobacco, and the Corsa guy’s radio was still on, but the vehicle was definitely unoccupied. He looked up and around him – but he knew that there had been no time for the driver to get out and abandon his car in the short seconds since he had put on the brakes.

            He looked around… and kept looking.

There was a twelve-car pile up at the Oxford Road junction. The petrol tank of a black cab had caught into a serious blaze that was spreading to the traffic islands. As he watched, a 192 bus drove up towards a junction, then wavered onto the pavement opposite, smashing into the double doors of the conference hotel. A couple of students had been walking on the pavement, and the courier had seen one of them turn around at the last minute, seen the man’s imminent death register in his face (a change of expression that was almost cartoonish in its sudden shock and dismay) and then the vehicle’s undercarriage had swallowed them, no blood, no screams, nothing.

He jogged back towards the pile-up at the traffic islands. There were a couple of people trapped inside a family saloon whose doors were now buckled shut by the impact. A man with a broken leg had crawled out of his vehicle and was levering himself toward the pavement, blood dripping from his face onto the tarmac. But many of the cars were empty, GMR and XFM and Key 103 still blasting from whatever radios still worked, cigarettes smouldering in ashtrays, half-drunk Evian bottles and coke cans spilled on the seats and floor. Amy Winehouse was singing about how she wasn’t going to rehab, no, no, no.

            The courier got out his mobile and called 999, but there was only an engaged tone.

            He looked up into the bright blue sky. The airplane traced a semicircular contrail as it headed towards earth.

 

Scenes from the late morning and afternoon of April 19, 2007:

            A call centre manager marched into the open-plan office to demand an explanation as to why no one had replied to his emails, and found that about half of his workforce had simply vanished into thin air. Every light on the phones was glowing red. 

            Paul Adams and his brother Dave had gone to the King pub in the Northern Quarter to watch the sport, as they’d done every season for the last forty years. It was a slow game and the two men had lapsed into argument. Paul was in the middle of what he thought was a particularly good point about City’s midfield when his brother disappeared. He just fizzled away into nothing, like he was on a teleporter from Star Trek. His pint glass shattered on the ground.

            Shocked, Paul looked back to the game on the big screen, which had been abandoned due to the disappearance of fourteen of the players, seven linesmen and one of the commentators. Disoriented fans milled around half-empty terraces.

            In a Fallowfield apartment, Jonathan Robson was having sex with a beautiful young clubber that he had been chatting up for the last twelve hours, first at the Music Box, then at the afterparty in that warehouse in Belle Vue. He’d spent hundreds on pills, coke and wine trying to get her into bed, and now he was going to fuck this woman’s brains out.

At least, that was the idea. But the girl vanished just a few moments into the intercourse, leaving Robson with a wilting, dripping cock and the notion that the whole encounter had been some kind of wishful hallucination.

            It was outside association time at Strangeways prison, and the guard on duty was surprised when many of the inmates dematerialised from the exercise quad. A few more saw an opportunity and moved towards him. The guard, Dennis Stringham, was one of the more corrupt and bullying of the prison officers and widely hated.

            Through the closing circle of his grinning charges, Stringham saw a few other prisoners making a run for the exits. He screamed for backup, but none came: most of the duty screws had dematerialised as well.

            Over at Manchester Royal Infirmary, the A and E was flooded with casualties from car crashes and train derailments. One guy was being treated for multiple fractures after his business partner had vanished while the two of them were carrying a heavy couch up a flight of apartment stairs. There were plenty of beds, as many of the long-term patients had disappeared. The downside was that a lot of staff had gone too, including medical specialists, surgeons and technical operators.

            Danny Hansen had been on his feet for a while. He had ingested nine MDMA caplets and two and half grams of cocaine since finishing work the previous night. Now he was in a post-club party at the Music Box on Oxford Street. A lot of his mates had flagged or passed out or copped off, but he was still up for it, still going strong.

            He was broken out of his rhythms when the guy behind the decks faded into the darkness. Danny swigged at some water, trying to convince himself this was some trick, some sophisticated buildup. Some of the dancers around him were also fading. The big black guy with the glowstick between his teeth, the blonde girl in the white trouser suit, the stout young goth with the red hair – going, going, gone.

Other clubbers were looking around, indignant and confused at the loss of the beat. But Danny thought this was the most amazing thing that had ever happened in the span of his twenty-four years. He took a few steps backwards, looked around the decimated dancefloor and shouted: ‘Fucking phenomenal!’

 

Harry Prentice walked over to the Cornerhouse bar and got a drink. He had to serve himself, since the barman had dematerialised some time ago. Out of habit, he put a pound in the tip jar.

            He returned to the other three in his group. They’d all had a long Friday night and had come out early to get over it. It was now approaching the evening. The smoke seeped through the glass in the walls. Their best option seemed to be to just keep drinking.

            ‘Will this happen to us?’ asked Andy Milligan. ‘Are we just going to, like, fade out of existence?’

            ‘No, man,’ Harry said, although he couldn’t know that. ‘I reckon if we were going to go, we’d have gone by now.’

            Julia stood up. ‘I want to see the news. I want to know what the official version of this is.’

            Harry and Julia searched the half-empty bar and found an old portable TV in a back room near the glass collecting station. They plugged it into a socket by the window and turned it on. The electricity still worked. At least for now.

            As expected, the only programmes running were news broadcasts. The picture was overlapped by fuzz and the shot kept jerking and wavering, perhaps because many of the cameramen and technicians had vanished. The newsreader looked like a harried stand-in.

             ‘…looks like between fifty and sixty-five per cent of the population have, and there’s no other way to put this, just disappeared off the face of the earth. And this isn’t just in Britain: we’re getting reports from the United States, Europe and Asia that say that the same basic occurrences are happening there. As you can imagine, this has caused major chaos and disruption to the country. The FTSE is at an all-time low, roads have come to a standstill and there has been looting in the streets. We’re going to go to Number Ten for official reaction.

‘Now, the Prime Minister disappeared some hours ago, as have most of his Cabinet, but we can still talk to Mr Blair’s spokesman, who should be appearing on the picture behind me any minute – ah.’

A middle-aged man in a suit appeared on the big screen beside the newsreader. He was standing outside Downing Street and holding a sheaf of papers.

            ‘Now, Michael, I understand that you have intelligence on what’s happening today?’

            The spokesman cleared his throat. ‘Yes. Earlier this afternoon, I was visited by a man claiming to be an emissary from God, who appeared in my office shortly after these disappearances began. When I say appeared, I mean he literally materialised in my office. He introduced himself, like I said, as an emissary from the Lord, and explained that the strange events we’re seeing today were in fact the beginning of the Rapture, as foretold in the Book of Revelation.’

            ‘The Rapture?’ the newsreader said. ‘You do realise how fantastical this sounds?’

            ‘Yes, Ian, I must admit I was initially sceptical about this assertion, but when one thinks about it one realises that it is the only explanation that makes any sense. The emissary explained that this is indeed the beginning of Armageddon, when all the people who’ve served God well are ascended to heaven. He asked me to read this statement.’ The spokesman unfolded a sheet of A4 paper, and cleared his throat again.

‘’Behold, mortals, for this is the time of Apocalypse and the End of Days. Those righteous among you, who have kept the Lord alive in your hearts, will be taken into the kingdom of Heaven, there to spend eternity in His loving embrace. Yet there are unrighteous among you, who have led men away from the Truth and the Faith, and they shall perish in that perversity and abomination which they have created. Tremble, mortals and sinners! This is the time of the Prophet and the End of Days! There shall be a wailing and gnashing of teeth, their cities will burn, and ye shall hear the cries and lamentations of their women.’

The spokesman paused. ‘And, well, it goes on like this. I don’t know if I should read out any more, as there may be young children watching this broadcast, but the statement goes on to detail various graphic punishments for the, ah, sinners among us. It makes quite unsettling reading.’

            The newsreader said, ‘Well, Michael, I have to say I’m shocked. This is all just, well, literally unbelievable.’

            ‘I wouldn’t say that,’ the spokesman said. ‘We are, after all, an ostensibly Christian country, and everything the emissary said is indeed predicted in the Book of Revelation. The emissary also said that, ah, representatives from the kingdom of God will be arriving on Earth to facilitate the ascendance process. These are, as you say, very strange times, but I think they also give us an opportunity for renewal, to move forward as a nation that celebrates spirituality, of all faiths and cultures.’

            The newsreader then began interviewing church leaders for their reaction. Julia said, ‘Jesus. This doesn’t look good at all.’

            Harry picked up his drink and walked over to the glass wall. Sure enough, a man surrounded by a radiant, almost yellow light was ushering people into a glowing conical tube that extended up past the windowpane. He felt like the straightman in the world’s biggest joke. It was all true. The religion, the holy texts that he had hated and mocked for most of his adult life, it was all true.

            He walked outside and up to the man of God. Except for the soft outline of light, the apparition looked completely normal; he could have been a council employee. He was holding a clipboard.

            Harry said, ‘Excuse me. Erm… this can’t be happening, can it? Can it really?’

            ‘What’s it look like,’ the man said, not looking around from the queue of the Saved.

            He was close to the ray of light but hardly dared look at it. It gave off a faint humming sound, and he noticed that the hairs on his arms were on end. ‘But… why now?’

            ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘the numbers 19 and 4 have a special significance in the Bible. Don’t quite understand all the numerology shit myself, but it’s all in there. Plus, it’s your just punishment to be left to stew in your own corruption. Your society is an affront in the sight of the Lord.’

            ‘What do you mean by that?’

Harry turned around at Julia’s voice. She had walked out onto the steps without him realising. The other two were hovering behind her.

            The man of Heaven said, in matter-of-fact tones, ‘You’ve separated church and state, you’ve encouraged the spread of idolatry and blasphemy, and you’ve allowed mortal law to supplement the word of God. Did you know only seven per cent of people in this country go to church? Seven per cent! Can you fucking believe that?’ He turned to face them, distracted from his duties.

‘I mean, look. You’ve let Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians and Christ knows what else come into your country and set up their own heathen churches and kebab shops. Despite the fact that the Book of Deuteronomy clearly states that you should kill all heretical believers and destroy their property. You’ve granted rights to women, to the blacks…’ He waved an arm up towards the Gay Village on Canal Street. ‘You’ve even got a whole district just for the sodomites! Did you cunts never read Leviticus?’

He shook his head. ‘That Enlightenment thing, that’s where you all went wrong. Christ, that was one almighty fuckup you boys made.’

            Andy Milligan said, ‘But the vicar at my church said that Christianity was a religion of peace, where everyone was accepted. He said all the stuff about killing was, you know, misinterpretation.’

            The emissary snorted. ‘Yeah, and that was another mistake, all those liberal priests. I mean, what’s the point of having religion if you’ve got to be nice and politically correct about it? God may see every sparrow fall, but it doesn’t mean He gives a fuck.’

            Julia said, ‘How do you choose who gets saved and who doesn’t?’

            ‘We take people who have kept themselves pure, and stayed on the path of righteousness.’

            ‘Hang on,’ said Andy Milligan. ‘I was raised Catholic. I go to church every Sunday. Why aren’t I coming with you?’

            ‘When you were fifteen years old,’ the man said, leafing through the papers on his clipboard, ‘you had lustful thoughts about the girl who sat in front of you in biology class. Heaven only accepts those who have denied such mortal urges.’

            The Saved had lost their look of resentful impatience and were taking an interest in the conversation. A pigtailed blonde said, ‘So what’s Heaven like, then?’

            ‘Eternal paradise,’ answered the man promptly.

            ‘But what do you do all day, in Heaven?’

            ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘one of the great delights of paradise is being able to look down and see the unrighteous sinners boiling in the lake of fire and the agonies of punishment.’

            ‘Okay,’ the girl said. ‘What else?’

            The man was looking harassed now. Every eye in the queue was on him, and a murmuring ripple had spread at the back.

            ‘Look, Heaven’s good. Being out of the world is good. Nothingness is good,’ he said with impatience. ‘Now, we’ve got a lot to get through. Move along, move into the light.’

            Harry looked around at the wreckage of Oxford Road. Paramedics were helping people into an ambulance and tending to their wounds. Firemen were using industrial cutters to rescue families from their crashed cars. People were looting the shops, just like the news had said, but he noticed that they were sharing their food and drink rather than fighting over it. He saw a woman, released from an upended Volvo, rush over to a man who was walking over from Odder Bar with his arms outstretched and tears in his eyes. The woman threw her arms around him with a survivor’s intensity and they held each other for a long time. The fireman who’d done the cutting watched them, his stance devoid of envy and pride.

            He was flooded by a joy and resolve that made his arms twitch as if electricity was running along them. He thought it was something only a mortal creature could feel, an atheist’s epiphany.

            Harry Prentice moved past the queue of souls (some of them were now looking around with a very human doubt on their faces, as if tempted to break the chain) and went to join the cleanup operation. His friends were by his side. There would be a lot of work, and heartache, but maybe later there would be time for drink, and talk, and love, and all the good things of the world.

            The man of God watched them go with an expression of jobsworth’s contempt. He’d seen those odd speculative looks in his queue of the Saved, and quickly hurried them on; this was no part of the plan.

            ‘Come on, move along, we got a lot to get through,’ he repeated, and placed his body against the street as they shuffled forward, not wanting them to see what they were missing. 

Savage Omnibus #1

July 8, 2008

respect by zack wilson

death of miss america by sean mcgahey

georgetown tammy by sean mcgahey

last generation of pig swilling gin drinking amoebas by sean mcgahey

black room by suzy devere

metamorphised word spam by karen welsh

remember me to myself by melissa mann

november song by tony o’neill

No one knew James Tattoo’s real surname. He’d never told anyone. We all knew he’d been in prison because he liked to tell us all how he’d got there.

            James had had a young son at the time who was apparently very keen on birdwatching. James had bought him a little spotters’ guide, one of those little hardback books called summat like ‘Birds of Britain’. The kid took it into school for one of those ‘show and tell’ days and a bigger boy took it off him and threw it over a fence into the canal. James’s lad went home crying and James took it badly. He went round to see the bigger boy’s dad.

            He knocked on the dad’s door and the dad answered. He was apparently a large chap who said he couldn’t care less about bullying or bird books. James knocked him down and tied him up with fishing line and gaffer taped his gob. Then he put him in the boot of his car and drove him round the East Midlands for six hours before dumping him in a lay-by near Long Eaton. When the coppers asked James why he’d done it he said it was because he’d wanted the cunt to apologise and mean it. James did six years for that I’m told, but other offences might have been taken into consideration.

            Maybe prison was where he’d got all his tattoos. He certainly had some strange designs. Some religious icons and lines of Chinese characters, all manner of beautifully drawn wildlife, including a hovering kestrel on his left bicep with ‘Lenny’ written under it in copperplate that he said was a tribute to his son. Lenny had died of Leukaemia whilst James was inside.

            We got to see all his tattoos when he turned up to the pub one day in a dress. It was a Sunday and he spent the entire day in the pub wearing it until he passed out on one of the new settees and Stewart, the landlord, tenderly covered him with a blanket. It had been a long and tiring day.

            I didn’t dare ask him why he was wearing the dress. No one else seemed particularly interested, especially not after they’d seen James ask Vince for the money he owed him.

            Vince owed him a couple of hundred quid. I think he’d had a few wraps of chang on tick and hadn’t quite got round to paying. James, still in the dress, a nice pastel blue thing with a tasteful floral pattern that hung down far enough to kiss his kneecaps, took Vince out in the car park and got him in a savage headlock. We all watched through the pub window as he repeatedly tried to put Vince’s head through the back fence, Vince’s slightly obscured face growing redder with each failed attempt. Eventually, when James had had enough and got bored, he let Vince go and trot off to a cashpoint.

            James came back into the pub with the happy air of a hill-walker who’d just conquered a moderate summit. I asked him why he’d banged Vince’s head against the fence so many times, was it because Vince had taken liberties?

            “No mate,” he explained, “it’s just that I’ve ‘eadbutted an ‘ole in that fence easy before now and I can’t work out why Vince’s head didn’t go through in one.” He looked genuinely baffled. James, despite his slim build, was a strong man by anyone’s standards and should have been able to get Vince’s head through the fence easily. I didn’t like to point out that there was a brick wall behind the fence at the height Vince’s head had been at. I kept schtum about that and accepted the pint of Strongbow James offered.

            I knew James was strong because we’d tested it. One Sunday there was an old plastic dustbin outside the pub, the old fashioned type that they used to use before wheelie bins were everywhere.

            Anyway, this one was left over in the pub car park after some event from the night before. It was filled almost to the top with cement and had a vertical tube in the middle of it. It had been used as a base for a pole for a light or summat. Someone had forgotten about it when they were clearing up and it had got left behind.

            So it was sat in the car park and as afternoon darkened in to evening we decided to amuse ourselves with it. Everyone threw a couple of quid into the bucket Stewart uses for raffles and suchlike and the idea was that whoever could lift the bin highest won the money in the bucket.

            Everyone lined up outside to have a go, even the lasses had a go for a laugh. Everyone except me and James had had a turn and no one had been able to lift it, not even the Slovak with the unpronounceable name who’d been in the French Foreign Legion.

            James took his turn and he thought he was the last to go. He strained and his face went all red and screwed up and chimpy as he lifted but after two or three seconds he managed to lift the bin about an inch off the floor. Everyone was cheering and clapping, and Stew had a big laughing smile on his face as he handed the bucket to James.

            “Hang on a second!” I piped up, “I’ve not had a go yet.”

            There were cynical mutters and good natured sneers, but I’m used to being underestimated. They were all forgetting that I do a lot of heavy lifting at work and before I’d moved down to Ashby I used to play Rugby League. James already had one hand on the bucket as he, along with everyone else, turned to face me. There was an expectant rising moan from the crowd, a kind of ‘woooohhhrrrrr’ that started low and got louder as I grasped the puny handles on the sides of the bin of cement and lifted. It was bloody heavy, and Christ knows what my face looked like as I lifted it but I managed to get it an inch or so off the ground and then with a final massive heave that nearly made me vomit I raised it another three or four inches and felt it bang against my shins before I had to drop it. The crowd gave a big cheer and I shook my arms, trying to loosen the killing pain from my elbow and shoulder joints.

            James didn’t seem to like being beaten. He grabbed the bucket of cash by its handle, clamping it in both of his strong hands. I put a hand on the handle but he wouldn’t let go. I tugged it and he responded by banging his chest into mine and staring straight into my eyes from close range. He was a good three inches shorter than me but the unguarded rage in his eyes was terrifying. I held his gaze for a few seconds and then he threw a half-hearted headbutt, more of a challenge than an assault. I caught it on my forehead and rode the momentum. Then I pushed back. Our foreheads were locked together as the focal point for a bizarre pushing dance for several seconds before James pulled away laughing and let me take the bucket. I gave it back to Stew and feeling like the Milky Bar Kid in one of them adverts announced to the crowd, “The money’s going behind t’bar! Drinks for everyone courtesy of me and James!” There was a big cheer after that and everyone filed back into the pub talking and laughing.

            James had his arm round my shoulders and we had a right good session that night. Since then, he buys me a drink every time I see him and he was good to my sister too. After her accident he paid for her and her boyfriend to have a weekend in an hotel in Devon, gave them five hundred quid spending money too. I didn’t ask where the money came from. It was a touching gesture after all.

            Respect, I suppose, is what it’s all about. Mutual respect. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone do a Sudoku as fast as he can and he nearly cried when I gave him that Bumper Book of Puzzles the reception girl at work gave me. Sometimes lifting heavy weights does teach you things.