Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Posts from — June 2011

You Killed White Claw

“I

made a cat into a hat once. Feel kinda guilty saying that. Found it washed up in a sewer with a bunch of plastic cups. But I tell ya, all that chocolate soup made the fur real soft. I still got it in the wardrobe. Could show you: it’s got ear-flaps and the tail hangin’ down the back. If I stuck it on a teapot it’d still look like a cat.

“Look, don’t look at me that way. I’m a ‘sterminator. An’ cats, well, you’re vermin, really. Ain’t chya? An’ you got shit for personality: buzz-saw through birds – and I don’t mind the little birdies by the way – and moochin’. Like you’re doing right now – rubbin’ ma socks over ma jean ends; the whatchya call it, purrin'; and all you want is that Gallo salami I got in ma lunch box. I could throw you a piece, but I got a whole building to fumigate. Rats up there, so big they could swallow you whole and shit out the collar.

“Ha. What? You not talkin’ to old Baz Kennedy ’cause he says it as it is? What are you? A kitten, or a cat? Don’t answer that. There obviously ain’t enough on ya to make a right-hand-glove for a Leprechaun.

“And get the F’ away from that box. Jesus-God, cat, you got a death wish or what? It’d be soooo damn easy to scoosh you down with this nozzle, right now: tank’s pumped up, trigger-guard up, target locked. Scoosh, scoosh. Meoweee!

“God knows what’s in them chems, but the rats don’t like ‘em.

“Oops. Uh, man, damn thing leaks. Look at that, ma finger’s gone as yeller as lemon meringue pie!

“Scat! Clap, clap. Damn it. Okay, I’m takin’ the damn box away. Worst mistake a man can make is give’n a piece of his lunch to a God-damn cat.

“Hey, I move it left and you look left. Right, up, left, right again… that’s funny. Your head looks like it’s on a spring. You ejit!

“You want a piece of this? For real? Okay, I’m gonna gi…

“…eat it maself. Ha, you wuz too slow.

“Arp! Ugh, heartburn. Jeez, just like Aunt Annie.

“Gain? Okay cat, get that tabby fur greased – roll up yer little, furry sleeves. You wan’ it? You wan’ it?

“Ha. Too slow, I got it again. Man, you one stupid furball!

“Ooooh, is that, like, a little, tiny, cold cat-shoulder I’m gettin’ for teasin’ ya?

“Well, I guess, alrighty, then. What with you bein’ pissy n’ all. Here, a tiny bit, but only ’cause I’m stuffed, an’ ma yella finger’s burnin’ – that fingernail better not come off, is all I’m sayin’. No wonder them rats are goin’ off like bombs up there!

“Whoa, chewin’ that salami up like it’s one lip-smackin’ piece of griz – sounds like a wet welly stuck in mud. Yummmmmm… delicious lips n’ assholes. Eat up little kitty. Ugh, table manners of a tapeworm.

“So what is this? Fifth job, with you getting under ma feet? An’ I don’t feed ya. Well, mostly. You’se the closest I ever got to a pet, an’ you’se just a no-good stray.

“True that cats kinda zone in on people that don’t like ‘em, ain’t it?

“Maybe I should ask you what’s-what, ’cause, well, hellova thing–

“What the? It’s a frickin lace, not a punchbag. Come here ya little–

“Like that was really worth huntin’ from the other side of ma boot? You cat’s can love some strange shit!

“Anyway, thought I heard a cat talkin’ today. Up the back of the warehouse. Rat ‘festation goes haywire tryin’ to get way from the cloud, all the exits taped, and blow me if some ugly lookin’ tom ain’t in the middle of it. Goes over like a sack of spuds. One eye, an’ white fur that was so grubby it looked wet, and a tongue hangin’ out, chipped fang, the works. An’ I coulda sworn. I coulda sworn it said somethin’.

“Now, ‘atween you an me, Frank (your Uncle Frank, I guess) has a piss-ant kinda humour, that’d have him secret-learnin’ ventriloquism for five years, just to give me a turn for two minutes thinkin’ a cat’s readin’ out the dog results. But, he was downstairs tossing rats to the refuse – swingin’ ‘em by their tails like nunchucks and whizzin’ ‘em into black bags. Three-hundred-and-sixty-eight. Not a bad count, now, is it?

“Anyway, the cat says…

“… an’ look, you’d tell me if you could talk, wouldn’t ya? Wouldn’t ya? Ha, ha.

“Anyway, the cat says, ‘You killed White Claw.’ That’s it. ‘You killed White Claw.’

“Weirdest thing.”

 

***

 

In the half-darkness, the kitten stopped batting around the man’s lace, though its claws were still extended like tiny fingernail clippings. It sat back on its tail, and tipped its head in an inquiring manner, eyes black and beady. It was almost as if it understood the man, whose beard was a little white at the end, and who smelled of death and the violence of chemicals.

When it came, the cat’s voice was thin, and high – as much a mewl mated with a pipistrelle bat – and its said, “You killed my brother.” Then, after an ear-flattening hiss, “White Claw will be avenged.

The man dropped the rest of the salami and backed away, but the cat ignored the forgotten morsel, which, a moment before, had been used to so richly tease it. It was too busy with the sounds and feel of its own bones popping in its flanks and guts, and now it was down flat on its haunches yewling and yewling, as a force ran through it, that pumped it up and up like a rag being shaken out, until it was nothing more, and nothing less, than a snarling mass of muscle and bone, twice the size of a Pitbull: jaws a bucket of knifes, claws like butcher’s hooks.

It ate the man, peeling off the rubber suit like a mouse skin, chewing off his head, playing with the carcass a little – as is the way of all cats – and then, somewhat bemused, it bounded up and out through an open window.

As it ran, the splash of gore that greased its fur turned from a bucket of blood to a thin streak of red, as the discarded flesh released a kitten… that skittered away, chasing a peppered moth across the cobbles. The moth’s delicate fluttering left a pleasing sparkle in the sunlight.

 

June 24, 2011   11 Comments

Cheer Up

T

anika has an unfortunate face; one of those long, hang-dog faces that looks as if it’s been beaten into a faint frown. No matter what she does, or how she concentrates, she can’t get over it. She just doesn’t look happy.

She had a cat once who was just the same – a black and white cat called Albert (Alby for short) – and Alby, right down to his extraordinary eyebrow whiskers, had white patches where he should have black, and black where he should have white, and every damned day, he looked terrified: every slink was a cower, every mooch, was a burst into feline tears. But if you squinted your eyes, and looked past those drowning white eyebrows, you saw Alby had a cat face. Normal. Normal eyes. He was just staring – checking out a butterfly, or a particularly crunchy bluebottle. But people put the clay on him, and Alby, well, he wasn’t much liked. Tanika could see the real him, though, and loved him all the more, because she, too, was a sad-faced stray.

And here she is: struggling down the corridor at work, bag over her shoulder, others breezing past like a warm, Caribbean wind, and they’re talking, laughing, and miming their invitations to each other for a ‘quick cuppa’ before the filing begins, but nobody says hello.

Sure, she could be reading something into these eddies and cliquish clots, that isn’t helping: maybe she should say hello? Break into her own dazzling smile. Except, that just looks… pained. Five hundred – a thousand – startled look-aways, say whatever’s plastered on her face, it ain’t encouraging. She’s not so much ‘blonde bombshell’ as ‘unexploded ordinance’.

Take the latest encounter in the kitchenette – the break-out area, whatever you want to call it. Three-and-a-half hours of sales invoicing has passed and Tanika is pretty happy, and not, as you might expect, about ready to ‘file herself’. She likes that wrote, repetitive work – she zone’s out and thinks of… well, England.

Rich Barker (Finance and Admin) is hogging the microwave; cooking up something that smells of garlic, onions and raw meat. He’s in three minutes before lunch, on this floor, because he wants to get the jump on his own 800W, prick-plastic-and-place-on-plate brigade.

Anyway, he catches her off-guard; relaxed. She’s sitting at what amounts to a school table – Formica in blue, gingham checks – reading a copy of Woman’s Weekly: ‘I Slept With my Husband’s Brother’s Wife,’ which is taking a little working out…

As Rich breezes past, fork held expectantly, microwave grumbling round like a quern stone, he says… he says – sweet Mother of God – he says, “Cheer up. It might never happen,” and gives her a wink.

He’s off now, humming along with the electric radiation that’s burning the heart out of that stinking plate of offal. But you know what, ‘it’ has just happened. Cheer up? I was bloody happy!

It may be irrational, but there are tears prickling her eyelashes and, hand shaking, she’s crushing the arching lip of her plastic cup into the bridge of her inconsequentially, pretty nose.

“I can’t stand it,” she whispers into the cool, white reservoir, lips touching a little iced water. She sighs, and the plastic amplifies the shuddering breath. It feels safe in there.

The distraught plastic flexes with a pop.

Down with the cup, slopping a jolt of water onto the magazine, and zips out into the hallway.

Other office – persons – wandering the other way, look up to smile, and then stop mid-glance, smile dying, as if this is some stranger in their midst. Look at the frowning frump! Look at that bad-tempered minny!

Cheer up. It might never happen!

Bangs through the restroom door, tears in her eyes and begs the place to be empty for five, whole minutes, so she doesn’t have to have that rictus of a smile plastered to her face; doesn’t have to expend effort on relaxed glee, while everyone else just carries it off in their sleep.

They don’t have to try and cover up that paralysing tic – whatever it is.

Looking in the mirror, in that wide open land, she can’t see anything but face. She can’t see anything. But she doesn’t look happy.

I’m not happy.

But that’s only half the story. Those lips are sliding in their terracotta ensemble, those eyelashes a little too angular, that brow a little too convergent, those eyes – a fresh, olive green like her top – are little paper slits cut into mild despair.

And here she is, bending over the taps to get close to the mirror, pulling her skin down with a finger to try and see where the damned expression beg– begins.

Muscles gather here, just by her nail. Bone beneath. The skin is firm but layered and oily. And that damned frown is hanging on her face like a wobbly milk-tooth in a kid.

I could walk out of this place the happiest woman on the planet; I could walk out a million dollars, if I could just… pull

But there’s no handle. She rolls her finger over her bad-tempered flesh, and…

“Oh. My. God.” She whispers.

…starts… rolling up a little bit of that embedded expression…

It parts easily along a straight, thin line, like something left by a razor blade. Picking then, it slops back twice, until she gets a fingernail under, and slowly pulls.

At first, it doesn’t want to come, and she’s got that sticker-on-a-book moment when half of the damn thing is threatening to tear or stay behind (please don’t leave me  with ‘carefree disgust’ or ‘hilarious despair’!), but she keeps an even pressure, keeps it taut, as it starts to pull out from her nose, and up off her cheeks – keeping in one piece like a moulded, surgeons glove; translucent and touched with the skin pores and makeup. It comes away with the taut hiss of plastic tape pulling apart, right down to the full lips that pluck back from the mask. It hangs now like an angry, shred of shadow in her hand; and what’s revealed beneath is pink, and soft, and clean of all artifice.

It’s a fresh start.

She grabs for her make-up.

Out in the corridor, Theresa says, “Hey.” Then, “You do something different with your… hair? I mean…”

Anyway, Theresa thinks she looks great.

Then, some… guy, he smiles.

Then Rich gives her ‘that look’ as he wanders past, stinking of onions, like he’s only just seen her for the first time. He waggles his eyebrows.

Back in the bin in the restroom, wrapped in paper towels, is the last of her innocent disgust.

I’m a natural blond. I have a natural smile.

 

June 21, 2011   8 Comments

Mei-Yin

“Y

our father’s up to no good, Tiff.”

Up above, the black clouds have gone all scribbly.

Tiffany, who is only six, stares at the cat, who is white and bleached, and is tied together like a bundle of chopsticks, without the tying up bits. No wool. No pipe cleaners. The cat used to be – probably still is – called Mei-Yin.

The little girl frowns. “A bad thing?”

“Yes,” says the cat, rubbing against her leg, tweaking her calf with its rough edges. Tiffany shifts her foot, but reaches down and the cat jumps into her arms. Somewhere inside its architecture – empty as a biscuit tin – a faint purr rattles.

Back that ways a bit, past the fences and dumpsters that look like huge cans of cat food, is the family compound. That’s where Tiff stays and it’s very, very naughty to be out – especially at night. This is what Papa would say: Bla, bla, bla… Tiffany, Bla, bla, bla – if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a millions times!

A ‘millions times’ seems a bit unlikely. But still.

Up that way – the way she’s headed, as soon as stuperific Mei-Yin stops clawing all those little loops out of her jumper – are dark buildings, more like cliffs in the absence of moonlight.

This is what Papa would say about that (you can draw on your own moustache and wag a finger if it helps with the maginings): You are not to go to where Papa works, okay! Play out back. Play with your medical kit. Dress up like a lawyer. Learn to be a heart surgeon or something – for your mother.

By all the levels of Diyu and all it’s insufferable horrors! Look, I got you this, okay?

Another thing crouched in a bamboo cage from the Yangshuo market, bright eyes shining with fear.

Be a good girl.

Tiffany yawns. The truth is, she doesn’t like those sorts of pets any more. They always die.

At least, they always used to.

The cat softly tweaks her hand with a sharp, broken tooth. “Keep it together, sleepy head. Watch your feet on that glass.”

It’s really, really windy.

The pair are soon surrounded by two wings of the Shimao Central Palace Apartment Buildings, rubble everywhere. It hasn’t been lived-in for twenty years. Papa says it was the bad qi – says it with a smile. Makes her want to cry without knowing why. Strips of cloth flutter on brown glass at a window, thorny plants grow from walls and the surprisingly grey rubble, the windows and doorways are empty faces. The gathering winds tousle Tiffany’s hair, and the spaces sigh in a rising and falling susserance.

The cat nods. “Follow the bird.”

Somebody has forgotten to stick the feathers on it. Unable to fly, the nightingale hops along, skittering through the dust devils. Tiffany puts her head down and barges through the gusts, intent on following. Her jacket crackles like a plastic bag.

The cat presses with a claw. “Don’t let them see you.”

The bad men. She sneaks past the black cars – like they’re Mr Wolf coming to get you, ready or not – the glass-polish filmed with dust; and then past the archaeological frames and diggers and mounds of excavated rubble. Jinhai Construction is written in English under Chinese characters woven through themselves like balls of wool.

The grey stone and plaster of demolition, is replaced by spoil-heaps of reasonably fresh earth bearing the odd memento of the building’s construction – corroded, pale yellow plastic; an old coke bottle – to a sudden stain of red sandstone and the huge blocks, that appeared two days ago, hauled out by a really cool, Meccano crane. These stones are so huge, so perfectly finished, they look like alphabet blocks.

Lights twinkle.

The bird vanishes through a hole in the bottom of a building where a window has been pushed through.  A string of bulbs rattle and clank together here like bottles on a line; ten green lanterns hanging on a wall.

A dull cat’s growl, calling for hush. “They’re down below. You know about ladder’s, right?”

“I think so.”

“It’s easy. One paw after another.”

The faint chug of a generator rises up from the guts of the building.

The cat drops down so she can descend. “Take that hat.”

She takes the white dome from the rusted metal rack. If she tips her head one way and then the other it bing-bongs on her ears.

“It’s big-big, silly billy.”

“Don’t worry. Safety first.” There is a faint whispering of cat laughter. “You do look like a shiitake, though”.

Hand-over hand, deep in concentration, she touches down with a splat. Down here it smells of mud and concrete, oil and stale water. Waiting by the ladder are the papa and mama mices, baby mices, two other kittys – once strays – Mr Parrot, the nightingale, Ken Fredric Chicken, the snake. They look like toys made out of teeth, bits of eggshell, and no glitter.

“We’re quite the little army,” says Mei-Yin. “Very well. This way.”

The clatter and whispering click of tiny bones rattles down the excavated passageway, on a ramp of compacted earth.

“Down we go. Hoppity hop. Tiff, don’t stand on anyone…”

It’s only now, toddling along in the darkness, that Tiffany wonders how bones might actually walk. For instance, where does the cat food go?

That morning, Mei-Yin had returned from the great pet shop in the sky. Six months ago, she had been tears and tissue paper, and a red plastic shovel.

Papa, do cats go to heaven?

Definitely not! (Pause) Ah… well, that is to say, certain Asiatic cultures… Certain postulations… (Pause) Okay, yes. Yes. (Some makings) There: a Christianic cross out of barbecue sticks. Now let me press on with translating. They said these pictograms were almost entirely tenebrous, but they’re Yangshao – 4800BCE. Very, very old.

(Sighs) Err, no… that’s much older than Papa…

Now be a good girl.

Privately, Tiff thought she could do much better with a snappy old crayon: looked like pictures of men messed up with wolves.

Anyways, today’s morning, Papa was away digging, as always and always.

Then there was something scratchy and funny and wise standing right there in the hut. Something that probably shouldn’t be.

Don’t frighten it! Don’t pull it’s tail!

So, standing protectively behind an old trainer, she’d crouched and whispered close to where she assumed an ear would be, “Where did kitty come from?”

The cat’s tail twitched. It whispered back, “Sugar and spice and all things nice. What makes your graveyard grow? Why the pyramid, of course.”

Tiffany was somewhat indignant.

The cat sniffed. “Bad kitty yourself! You can so get pyramids. Egypt’s not the only – Look, it’s down there. Buried. Under.” It patted the metal floor with its paw. Tang-Tang-Tang. “Can’t you feel it? Getting stronger?”

No matter. Every dead thing she’d planted at the back of that portacabin had come back, in one way or another, hauling itself out of the mud like a little white robot, smelling of bad milk.

The cat’s jaw creaked. “And why are we whispering?”

Now the earth underfoot gave way to stone, as they passed through a hole torn in a wall.

“This is the apex. Ah, the ‘top bit’. Of the pyramid; the pointy bit – Meow! Don’t look at those. Keep going.”

Tiffany’s eyes drift past black slabs of slate mounted in the red stone. Bones, horrible eyes, knives. The carvings look shiny in the electric light.

The cat whisks down the steps. “Really, there isn’t much time.”

These steps are so big it makes her legs go funny. Her hips ache. Can legs fall off?

The stairwell descends rapidly. It is a lot of stepping down, but there’s only one set of lungs to register the exercise. Fresh cables twist around the sides like strawberry laces.

Eventually, a dark space opens up. There are statues here, on either side, that have bodies like big fat ladies and their heads are like octopuses; like the ones sliding over themselves in the market tanks. In one hand, a brass lantern, intricately fretted like lace, in the other, a skull – this time a peoples’ skull.

“Okay, quiet as a kitty cat. That means you, Tiff. Mice, birds, spread out.”

The huge chamber, beyond, is filled with bony figures as far as the eye can see – warriors arrayed under great brass, tarnished gongs, the metal jade-green with verdigris. Armour is half sloughed from necrotic bone. Amongst this endless army, are great beasts, twisted with silver-turned-black wire – shapes that should never have been – in the yokes, chains and traces of huge war machines, and carved artillery, more demonic than dragon.

There is one arc-light in the distance, at a central circular set of steps. Her Papa working. Trying, it seems, even this far away, to fit a final piece. Tiffany likes puzzles, but this one reeks of mania. Chinese men in suits. Chinese men lounging with guns.

The dead pets scurry, hop and run through the armed ranks, flitting through the long shadows – minnows dodging the shark’s teeth and corrosive faces – heading towards the gathering of men.

One of the kittys – Little Qing, perhaps – is gnawing and gnawing at a thick trunking cable.

Just like him; if it is him.

Mei-Yin nudges Tiffany’s leg. “Stay off the crunchy bits. If you make a noise, you’ll be dead too. I have to go.”

“Don’t leave me!”

“Don’t worry,” says the empty face. “You know I always come back.”

The cat scampers away, with a creak of ligaments and the tottering tick-tack of upright paws.

Tiffany crouches, bug-eyed in the shadows.

Qing is arring and gnarring. Ages later, there’s a yowl followed by a bug-zap of a spark, that illumes the inside of the little cat, and then the lights go out. There’s a horrible smell of scorched bone.

Shouts of, “Wù sè!”

Screams.

An explosive gun shot. Automatic weapon fire clatters, followed by hollow-pottery explosions, and the rain-maker sound of bone fragments.

A hurricane of dust is blowing down the stairs; the wind wailing in the throat of the pyramid. Grit in her eye. “Mama!”

Something buts her leg.

By feel, she finds a smooth skull, then something metal and glass in the cat’s jaws. There is a rattle of teeth on chain as the links run through her fingers. At the touch of the metal, a chill runs through her – her nails and bones buzzing like an electric toothbrush.

“I got stuff in my eyes!”

A nip to her fingers. “Break it! Break it!”

“Why?”

“If you don’t, then, well… bad things! Bad things!”

“Zàn zhù zài fù jìn!” shouts an accented voice. “Shoot! Shoot!” cries another.

“The bad men,” gasps the cat. “Now or never, Tiff. Now or never. On the ground. Step on it, step on it!”

By feel she presses the metal under her shoe, almost falling over, almost stepping on her own fingers. Then she balances and fumbles upwards in the darkness. Hanging from a lantern chain, swinging like a monkey, she presses to her tip-toe.

Nothing happens.

Other foot on top. A little jump.

“Who’s there?” cries an ugly voice. A bullet burns through a brass belly, close by. The metal rings like a prayer bowl.

Then a big, big, bouncy, pointy jump.

There is a pop of crushed crystal and a blue flash outline of her sole. Her toes tingle.

“Well done,” says the cat with a strangled sigh.

The wind abruptly dies, to be replaced with the gathering roar of bone collapsing in the darkness, like a flood in a butcher’s yard.

“Kitty? Kitty?” But the cat’s voice is nowhere.

 

June 10, 2011   10 Comments