Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for January 2014

Savage Writing: Bag End

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Great meet this Wednesday! Loads of new people – could barely get around everyone in time. Some great work, too. This piece was definitely on the middle-to-lower end of the quality spectrum. Eh.

The task was “the slip”. I spent a night reading about Fred and Rosemary West thanks to this. Fun…


When we slid down the wall on Pillory Lane, Johnny turned to me, all red-cheeked and chest heaving, and said:

‘I think we gave ’em the slip.’

In my hands, the coin purse that had led us from the abbey to Clare Market. Enough to feed us for two weeks, it was. Maybe more. Enough that it’d be trouble if we didn’t find a place to hide it sharpish.

He heard the shout first, and he jumped up like a startled cat. Could’ve been anyone on the market, I wanted to say, and even if it was a bobby then we were faster than them. But too late, we were off, sprinting down the maze of alleys ’til we were deep away from the biggest stalls and into the dead end of the slum.

We stopped, bent over our knees and allowed ourselves to puff. This was the silent end of Clare Market, where our runs often ended. It was an abyss where no bobbies or bullies ever found us. The windows were shuttered, and all the doors barred, except for one: Lanky Pete’s house. No-one ever came out to that dead end, except Lanky Pete.

He was there within a few seconds. ‘What you puffing out here for, lads?’ he said from his doorway. ‘You in trouble again? Get in, get in, else they might find you.’

‘They won’t find us here,’ I said, but I walked in after him. Johnny hung a second behind. He didn’t like Lanky Pete, he said. No-one should grow that tall, he said, cause Lanky Pete looked like he’d been stretched on a rack since birth. His long, greasy hair threatened to brush the ceiling when he stood straight.

‘Where’s the missus, Pete?’ Johnny asked. It was always the first thing he said to Pete. I always thought it was ’cause he knew a missus would make a fuss, seeing two dirty thief boys in her home.

We nearly filled the place up, the three of us. One room, one basin, one bed, one table with two chairs. Pete’s clothes hung from lines on the ceiling, their hems down and ragged. Johnny always eyed them like they were ghosts.

‘Out,’ Pete replied as he sat down. His limbs folded up like a switchblade. He tapped his fingernails on the table, and his eyes looked hungrily on my hands.

‘You done well for yourselves today, lads. Reckon you can spare a penny ol’ Pete’s way, for giving you his hospitality this last while?’

‘No,’ Johnny said, but I opened the purse. I flicked Pete a sixpence, and he snatched it out of the air with a grin.

‘Kindly, lads. Fancy a bite?’

He gave us both a slice of bread with a thick layer of butter on top. That was why I liked that we had found Lanky Pete, a few months back. He always had bread and butter, and a swig of gin, if you gave him a slice of what you earned. We sat on his floor, and I ate like I was a lusty sailor just paid for his whore.

‘You’re some pair, you,’ Pete said, as he watched us. He looked like he was fighting with something inside. ‘Capering down my road end all hours. Never know what trouble you’ll run into. There’s all kinds out here. The things you hear…’

His eyes were still hungry, fixed on the purse on my lap. Johnny tugged at my arm, and I pushed him away. I wasn’t done eating, and until I was done, nothing else was more important.

Pete sighed and stood up. Butter is an amazing thing, you know – nothing else like luxury after days of nearly nothing, nothing else that so takes your mind. I didn’t notice a thing ’til Johnny punched me hard on the arm. When I went to shout at him, that’s when I heard Pete lock the door.

Johnny really had the reflexes, more than me. By the time I stood up, he was already at the door, already scrabbling at the handle, already wrestling Lanky Pete. Pete laughed and pulled him away by his hair, threw him to the ground. Johnny’s head bounced off the floor. I knew better than to try, after that.

‘Take it,’ I said, throwing the purse down at the tall man’s feet. ‘Let us out.’

‘Oh boys,’ Lanky Pete sighed, like a tired old man.

He didn’t look at the money at his feet. His ravenous eyes were on me.

‘Let us out,’ I said again, but it came out like a croak.

Lanky Pete said nothing. Johnny started to cry.

‘He hasn’t got a wife,’ he sobbed.

‘Now, now, that’s not fair,’ Lanky Pete said. ‘I did used to. But it was more fun getting rid of her than having her, understand?’

‘Please let us out,’ I whispered, because I didn’t know what to do.

‘Oh boys,’ Pete sighed again, ‘d’you really think anyone will miss you?’

For one second, I had a heart-stopping clarity that I was going to die. One second. Then Johnny sprang up from the ground, and threw himself on Lanky Pete like a wild dog, screaming and biting. I had to do something, then. As Pete wrestled my friend, I grabbed the chair behind me and I threw it into the shuttered window. The wood and glass shattered, and I knew we had a chance. I grabbed the other chair.

With a shout, Pete tossed Johnny onto the floor. When my chair hit him, he tumbled like a house of cards. Johnny jumped up, I’m sure he did, he had the reflexes of a cat. I’m sure he was behind me when I climbed out the window. But when I looked back, I saw the soles of his feet, and I heard him scream.

I ran.

I’m sorry.

I ran, and I didn’t stop. Pete didn’t follow me. I gave him the slip. That’s the way they said it, when they talked later: I gave Lanky Pete the slip.

Johnny wasn’t so lucky.


Written by G.J.

25/01/2014 at 1:54 am

Finger Slipped (Stranger Tales No. 4)

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Dear God, or whoever you are, she prays. Don’t let me die this time.

She’s lost count of her attempts to get through this. Still, when she blinks back to consciousness and finds herself once again standing at the stop of the hill, she prays that this time, she will get to the bottom alive.

No time to think. She’s running forward before her brain has registered the crash behind her. Debris flies on either side of her: twisted panels of metal, planks of wood, boulders. Nothing hits her, and she’s grateful for that at least. Her muscles are aching and her breath is ragged already. She never comes back fully rested – that’s the cruellest thing. Always as wounded and tired as she had been the first time the plane crashed behind her. That feels like months ago.

Her abdomen pangs from where she was stabbed earlier. There’s been no time to heal, no chance for the muscles to knit together, and it is a constant and literal pain in her side. Still, she runs, because she has to – because the plane is crashing behind her, and because it’s not her will behind her legs any more. Her soles hurt when they slap the ground, stamping on stone and sand and wood. Each new surface threatens to throw her off-balance, but she never once trips. Not unless she is made to.

It’s been only a few days since she felt the other will imposed onto her, like a woollen blanket that sank into her blood. She spends hours jogging from unfamiliar place to dangerous hole, running when she’s not jogging, shooting for her life any time she stands still. She is certain she must be living in a nightmare. When she is finally allowed a minute of rest, she cannot cry because it is too much effort. But she would only wipe dirt into her eyes, anyway. Never been so filthy in her life. She worries about the long term – worries about all the dirt getting in her cuts and injuries, worries about the scars she will have, worries that when she finally gets home, she will be feral and unrecognisable. She is made to run, regardless.

A slip – but it is meant to be. Something smacks into her back and she tumbles over her head, same as every other time. It never stops being terrifying. She thuds onto her back and now she’s sliding. She blinks, closes her eyes, screams every time a pile of splintered wood or boulder or bush rushes towards her, but always she skids out of the way. It is like being on a rollercoaster in her own body: one track, high speed, someone else pulling her out of danger in the nick of time.

This is it: she comes to the platform at the edge of the ravine. Her arm jerks out and grabs onto the wooden ledge, and she swings down, shoulder nearly pulling out of its socket. The rest of the wreckage flies over her head, and then she is made to clamber up. Her tailbone is aching. Her fingers have splinters in them.

So far, so normal.

Next part.

She turns and jumps to the wooden ledge beside her. Half-destroyed shacks, hanging off the side of the ravine. What kind of idiot would build one, let alone ten, she thinks for the fortieth time.

More jogging. She sees the series of shacks waiting in a line in front of her. This, again.

I want to go home.

Instead, she turns and sees the jump. Planks of wood jutting over the cliff, a four foot leap to the next ledge, and a fifty foot drop underneath. The panic will begin again. She is not ready for it, but she has no say in the matter.

She takes a running jump, though every part of her body wishes she wouldn’t.

CRASH. The shacks start to fall apart, wooden walls tumbling like card pyramids at her presence. Ceiling caves in. Floor tilts underneath. She runs, and jumps to the next. The falling rocks won’t hit her, she knows, but still she flinches as she runs underneath them. Run, squeeze the energy from your thighs, leap, feel the judder in your shins as you land and the planks quiver underneath you, run before you can sense the pain, run before the floor gives out.

It is coming now. Sick dread fills her mouth.

Another jutting plank, a leap that is too far to be jumped. A scroll, a banner, something hangs from nowhere in the middle of the space between her and her destination. It’s a swing bar, and that’s what matters. But the next shack is positioned slightly to the right instead of dead on, and the empty doorway ahead of her is narrow, and this is the part that always goes wrong.

Wait, her mind screams, wait, wait, let me direct myself, let me aim, let me do something about this, please.

No waiting permitted. She launches herself off the plank, hands stretching for the bottom of the banner. Her shoulders jolt as her weight lands, she swings, legs ahead of her – she can see the ledge in front of her – Straight, straight, let go, that’s it

Instead, her legs jerk to the right.


Her fingers release the banner, though she prays that just once they will hold on.

She flies to the right of the doorway. Her shins collide with the fragile wooden beams that support this ridiculous shack in its ludicrous place on the cliff. She screams as she feels them break – beam and shins.

Then, she is falling, part of the debris. She tumbles into the foggy nothingness beneath. Once the fog clears, the ground rushes to meet her like an old friend. Snap. Overwhelming, excruciating, fiery agony –

A few seconds of blissful rest.

She blinks and she is at the top of the hill again.

There is a crash behind her.

Please, she begs as she starts to run. Please. Not this time. Not this time. Please…please…

Written by G.J.

15/01/2014 at 4:14 pm

Savage Writing: Poison Apple

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I was off-topic this week.


We’re not talking again, and he says that’s a good thing, when he’s on the phone to his friends in the other room. “Bitch and moan”, that’s the phrase he always uses. That’s what I do whenever I open my mouth. Even if I ask him how his day went, who’s making dinner, I bitch and I moan. Last time I asked him why he hadn’t cleaned the bathroom in so long, because that was his job, and he threw his hands up in the air like it was some impossible demand. Said I needed to get off his case. Said there wasn’t any point talking to me if all I did was complain. I thought I was being reasonable. I’ve always thought I say things like an adult: cool voice, neutral intonation, eyes down on my plate. It never works. I don’t know why I don’t just scream instead, if that’s all he hears.

It got to four in the morning and I couldn’t sleep, and I ended up on my hands and knees, wiping the grime away from the corners where the wall tiles meet the floor tiles. Place was sparkling, and then I finally went back to bed. He woke up when I got under the covers, and he said I stank of bleach and cleaning stuff, and I told him I couldn’t have a shower at such a ridiculous time of night. He asked why I was cleaning at that time anyway. He called me a freak. With his eyes shut, turned away from me, so casually like how he used to ask me to put the bedside lamp out: “You’re a freak.”

I burst into tears and he sat up. He was really annoyed – what was I crying about?! – and I told him I was just tired because I hadn’t been able to sleep. So he told me to calm down, and gave me a hug that was two seconds long and all angles.

I pretended I’d calmed down, and I still couldn’t sleep.

I stumbled around work the next day, disguising my yawns as thoughtful pauses whenever I was on the phone. My shift leader told me to take a half day, since I was obviously unwell and needed to be at home. I’m glad I refused, because when he came home ten minutes after me, he was in a pan-rattling mood – even the fridge magnets were laughing at him, even the eggs on the counter must have been stressing him out, because he smashed one on the floor and swore at it, said there was no fucking point in cooking if everything always went wrong, if everything always fucked up. If I’d been home on a half day, he would have been worse at the sight of me, I’m sure.

Ten minutes later, slouched on the sofa with his shoes discarded under the freeview box, he asked me – eyes still on the telly – if I could clean it up. I said I already had. He muttered thanks.

I slept that night. He seemed in a good mood after a while. I wondered if he was going to ask me for sex, but he hasn’t done for weeks. I wondered if he would notice if I went upstairs and did it to myself while he’s on the couch, because I never have time when he’s not in. I wondered if he would notice if I had an affair. I wondered if he would kill me if I did and he found out. I thought I was going to laugh at the thought – a voice in me said ‘How absurd! You should laugh at the idea, go on, laugh!’ But no laughter came.

Still, he was in a good mood, and I managed to sleep until half five, so that was something, right?

We’re not talking again because I asked him when we were going to shop for his sister’s birthday present, and he said he couldn’t deal with that kind of thing just after work. I said it needed to be done soon, and he said I never did anything but complain, and I should trust that he would get around to it, though I know if he doesn’t, then I’ll be getting the blame.

But then, he might. He might turn around one weekend and say ‘Let’s go out and do that shopping,’ and he’ll buy her present, and then he’ll say I should have a present too, and he’ll get me chocolates or clothes or a gold chain like the one I’m wearing right now. And he’ll tell me he loves me, and that I’m so good to him, and he’ll kiss my cheek and we’ll walk to the car hand-in-hand. It’s not a fairytale, because he’s done it before, and I know, I just know, he has it in him to do it again.

But right now, we’re not talking, and when he’s in the living room and I’m in the kitchen I hear him say that that’s a good thing, because he’s sick of hearing me talk, sick of all my bitching and moaning. He says it loud enough for me to hear, and I sip my cup of tea, and I finger the necklace lying just under my throat, and I tell myself that one day, my prince will return.

Written by G.J.

09/01/2014 at 3:53 pm