Nina Snedden: Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy or Goblin?

Flashing the words ‘Flower Boy’ on screens behind him, the artist, Tyler, the Creator appears determined to embody this title. Dressed in a pair of yellow shorts, a blue printed shirt and neon pink cap, he seems to be blooming; his goofy allure evident from the boldness of his choice of attire. There is a certain warmth which radiates from the strength of his presence: zany, eccentric and unpredictable. Lounging across his vibrant stage set, with its certain dream-like quality, Tyler offers refuge from the band of drugged-up, monotonous mumble rappers which headlined Longitude 2018. The screens go black. A cluster of rainbow lights pulsate before an idyllic scene appears; a light blue sky, flecked with the palest of candy pink clouds, an assortment of large and assertive trees and him. A single flower.

Hardly the archetypal criminal… yet in the summer of 2015, whilst attempting to enter the UK for a run of festival performances, despite being in the country just 7 weeks earlier, Tyler was turned away at the border and banned from Britain for 3 to 5 years by then-Home Secretary, Theresa May. Government documents specifically cite lyrics from five songs – ‘Tron Cat’, ‘Blow’, ‘VCR’, ‘Sarah’ and ‘French’ – from Tyler’s first two projects and explain that he was banned under the terms of Home Office policy on ‘behaviours unacceptable in the UK’ – a set of guidelines formed in 2005 to try to prevent suspected terrorists from entering Britain. Tyler is said to have been banned for ‘unacceptable behaviour by making statements that foster hatred, which might lead to inter community violence in the UK’, with his albums B******, in 2009, and Goblin, in 2011, labelled in documentation justifying the ban as ‘based on the premise of adopting a mentally unstable alter ego who describes violent physical abuse, rape and murder in graphic terms which appears to glamorise this behaviour’ and seeming to encourage ‘violence and intolerance of homosexuality’. This wasn’t the first time Tyler has had trouble entering a country. In 2014, he was banned from New Zealand for posing a ‘threat to the public order and the public interest’, and in early 2015 he became the subject of a large public campaign by Australian feminist group ‘Collective Shout’, who referenced early song lyrics in an effort to ban him from entering the country, leading to Tyler’s Australian tour being derailed. Is there any truth to the claims of the supposed ‘threat’ which Tyler poses? How can two such contrasting images of the same artist co-exist?

In an interview with The Guardian in September 2015, Tyler himself admitted that much of the work in question was written when he was ‘super-young’ when ‘no one was listening’. It is undoubtedly true that Goblin, and perhaps even more so B****** (Tyler’s first mixtape), upon first listen appear a nauseating stream of gore and horror, created for the sole purpose of shocking the audience. Songs like ‘Sarah’, ‘French’ and ‘VCR/Wheels’, diabolically twisted and loaded with graphic violent references and homophobic slurs – even 10 years after their release – still don’t sit quite right with me. However, it is important to note that these two projects form part of a trilogy. The third project in Tyler’s trilogy, ‘Wolf’, is the key to understanding his early releases. A far more mature Tyler, ever the ‘walking paradox’, grapples with deeply rooted psychological problems on ‘Wolf’ set to smooth dreamy simple beats. On ‘Answer’, Tyler appears more vulnerable than ever before, addressing his estranged father and bragging about all he’s achieved without him, whilst still praying that if he ever calls his father answers. Tyler also explores the loss of his grandmother, rapping on ‘Cowboy’, ‘ain’t been this sick since brain cancer ate my granny up’, before battling issues with fame and wealth on ‘Colossus’ and ‘Cowboy’ when he raps ‘You’d think all this money would make a happy me, but I’m ‘bout as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat.’ On the penultimate track of the album, ‘Lone’, the storylines of B******, Goblin and Wolf finally come together in a therapy session, with alter ego Dr TC asking ‘So, what’s going on, Wolf? Talk to me, man…what’s on your mind?’ It then becomes clear that the graphic violent images portrayed on Tyler’s earlier projects, through the medium of alter egos, have originated from a mentally unstable mind, whilst talking to a therapist. In the video for ‘Sam (is dead)’, we see Tyler shooting himself three times, leaving three dead Tylers on the floor, representing the death of his alter egos, Ace, Tron Cat and Wolf Haley. The track title also suggests Tyler has already killed the alter ego, Sam. In this way, Tyler’s complex concept album, Wolf, explains the inner turmoil which prompted the creation of such dark alter egos on B****** and Goblin, transforming Tyler from villainous brute to misunderstood misfit; whilst the track ‘Sam (is dead)’ shows Tyler maturing and killing off his dark thoughts to allow for his future brighter albums, Cherry Bomb and Flower Boy, on which Tyler eventually transcends his darkness to emerge into the light by coming out as gay. It is clear that this beautiful, intricately constructed exploration of the complexities of the human condition was lost upon Theresa May, and many other detached listeners, as Tyler seems to reflect on the track ‘Glitter’ on his most recent album, which ends ‘we didn’t get your message, either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection.’

This sort of investigation into our humanity is a commonplace of literature and film, recurrent throughout history, so why is it that when this same topic is approached by a rapper it is immediately attacked? Although not a traditional medium, rap is still a means of expression and art, communicating to a whole new generation; an art form judged by Theresa May, based purely upon presumption and ignorance. Rap is a genre with a long history of positive influence – from the anti-drug message broadcast to millions of youths on ‘Say No Go’ by De La Soul, to the reality of inner-city poverty and crime revealed in ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash – and an even greater potential for influencing the youth of today. Yet it has long been cloaked in the negative guise of a testosterone fuelled bombast by those who do not listen to, or understand, or wish to understand the sentiments expressed in the music. If Tyler’s same concepts had been expressed through the medium of opera, traditionally perceived to be a far more ‘intellectual’ form, would he have been attacked with such fervour? Or would he have been attacked at all? ‘The Rape of Lucretia’, an opera by Benjamin Britten, in which the voice of ‘Sextus Tarquinius’, a rapist, is adopted was not only not banned, but was in fact met with praise from critics. Surely this proves the deeply unjust and snobbish mistreatment of Tyler, and more broadly of rap as an art form. Art should be provocative and controversial. It is a means of pushing boundaries and re-defining societal norms. Why should this responsibility be reserved solely for orthodox mediums? Tyler himself queried ‘Why don’t they ban authors? Writers who write these mystery books about people getting raped and sabotaged and murdered and brainwashed – why don’t they ban them?’ Marquis de Sade’s books, notorious for their misogyny, sadism and gruesome details, are still widely available for consumers. Yet Tyler was detained for a piece of art, a dissection of human nature. It is undoubtedly wrong to restrain an artist’s expression in this manner. Tyler himself reflects this, stating ‘Now freedom of art and speech are at hand.’ In our current political climate, surely there are larger threats to British peace than a young artist’s means of self-expression, discovery and acceptance?

There is a particular, inane irony that it should have been Theresa May who made this ‘moral judgement’ on behalf of the country. This is a woman who, since becoming Prime Minister, has cowered to the will of Donald Trump, proclaiming her faith in her ‘special relationship’ with a man who actively facilitates hate. If May’s desire to protect LGBTQ rights is so strong, why is it that she prances about with Trump, whose transgender military ban does anything but offer support for the community? The implications of Tyler’s homophobia appear even more comical following his own ‘coming-out’, made explicit on his recent album Flower Boy. Yet, even prior to this, these accusations were largely nonsensical, clearly coming from a place of blatant ignorance. OFWGKTA, a hip-hop collective founded in 2007 by Tyler, himself, boasts notable LGBTQ alumni, Frank Ocean and Syd, with whom Tyler has repeatedly collaborated closely and undoubtedly regards as close friends. The profound hypocrisy of Theresa May’s stance becomes clear given the fact that her own past concerning LGBTQ issues is partially marred with murk. In 2010, May’s first act as Home Secretary was to ensure that public bodies did not have to actively try to reduce inequality. Whilst just last year, May hosted Ugandan MP, Jovah Kamateeka, who hopes to pass an anti-homosexuality law in Uganda which would introduce life-long imprisonment for gay and lesbian couples. Tyler, based on deliberately provocative acts of rebellion and artistic expression from his teenage years, which, unlike those of most teens, were lived under the microscope of the media, has been identified, targeted and morphed by May into a scapegoat for societal evils which he does not, and has not ever represented. May’s eagerness to seize the opportunity to vilify a young black gay artist, who is in fact blooming into an ironic gay icon for this generation, may be evidence of her ongoing, innate discomfort with the LGBTQ community.

May’s chequered past with LGBTQ issues – voting in 1998 against the reduction of the age of consent for homosexual acts from eighteen to sixteen to bring equality to the law affecting heterosexual and homosexual acts, voting against a Bill allowing gay couples to adopt in 2002 and remaining absent from four votes on the Gender Recognition Bill in 2004, before finally voting to introduce Civil Partnerships for LGBT couples in 2004 – suggests her act was a means of disguising her past disapproval of homosexuality. With the drastic evolution of May’s own stance, her decision to deprive an artist, who carries the possibility of creating a massive positive influence upon the youth of today, from the opportunity of sharing his own evolution with the public, is baffling. Was this evolution simply a convenient mask which May wore to fit in with David Cameron’s more ‘inclusive’ brand of Conservatism? Was her ban an act of good will or merely a quest for a tangible villain? May’s actions seem likely to have been a means of ‘proving’ her progressive thinking on LGBTQ issues to the world by banning someone who seemed to be attacking the community; an act which she undertook without bothering to take into account the whole truth behind Tyler’s body of work, and an act which, in fact, ironically ended in attacking a member of the LGBTQ community.

Was the decision to ban Tyler from the UK ultimately a reflection of an ultra-sensitive, overly-prescribed society, in which influential people keen to be seen to be doing the ‘right thing’ act on knee-jerk reactions and superficial interpretations rather than really listening to what ‘provocative’ artists are trying to say? Tyler conveys this himself, explaining, ‘It’s like the world is scared of everything. I feel like everyone is so sensitive to everything, and if they don’t like something it’s like: Oh my God, I don’t like the colour yellow – let’s get yellow banned from every country, let’s sign a petition – let’s start a hashtag to make sure this colour is never seen, because I don’t like it and I don’t understand it.’ And this is what Tyler wants to do – paint the world yellow, inspire and excite fans. From the nauseating darkness of his Goblin days, to the brightness and optimism of Flower Boy, his evolution is a potent one, reflecting the reality of the vagaries of life, and the struggle with acceptance of one’s sexuality. Who would’ve thought that the obscenity-filled works of B****** and Goblin would plant the seeds for Flower Boy to grow? Whether it be telling ‘black kids they can be who they are’ on ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ or supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement on ‘Foreword’, Tyler truly has bloomed into a role model for his fans.

2127 Words

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Niamh Stevenson: Project – Afton

Tam was in the back of the van with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts. He knew he should have snuck out the back door, but there were police at every exit, so maybe he would have been caught either way. He had messed it up nonetheless, and now he was going to have to face the consequences.

Crash!

Tam was jolted from his thoughts and thrown from his seat. He was lying on the ceiling of the dingy police van, looking out of an open door. This was his last chance to complete his unfinished business, before he was confined to a cell for the next 10 years.

He got up, stumbling. The blood was pouring down his face and he felt dizzy, but that didn’t stop him. Without thinking, he sprang over the barrier on the motorway and dashed towards the wooded area on the other side of the road. It was barely bright enough to see and the tall, thick trees only made it worse. The cold chill down his spine made him nervous. Tam knew that the police weren’t far behind him: they were bound to spot him at some point.

A few metres ahead, he ducked behind a thick tree and held his breath. ‘Where’d he go?’ He heard footsteps gradually getting quieter and he sunk down onto the ground: his breath was sharp and the sweat was dripping profusely down his face. When the coast was clear, he got up and ran away.

The sun was starting to come up, which made him hotter and sweatier than he already was, but the trees blocked out the light and occasionally he would trip over his own feet, or a large twig. Worst of all, his stomach was beginning to growl like a lion, and his throat was as rough as sandpaper. He hadn’t eaten since the night before.

He kept going for what seemed like hours until he came to a large town. He began to look around and found what he was looking for: “The O’Shanter Medical Research Laboratory”. Tam’s face was glowing. He snuck into the medical lab to the left of the main entrance.

It was nowhere to be seen. In a few hours, he would be too late. Then he spotted a clear bottle at the back of the cabinet containing a green liquid. The label on the front read: “Sweet Afton”. Tam picked up the bottle cautiously, examining the label: “Warning: still to be tested, only to be handled under supervision, can kill”. This was what he had been looking for. From the desk drawer, Tam removed a syringe and began to transfer the liquid. Once it was full, he put it in his pocket and dashed out of the front door. When he got outside, he tried to figure out which direction he had to travel in. He prayed that he was going the right way and hurried off.

He was almost there and started looking for number 34. He was on the right side of the street. 28…30…32…34! He ran up the stone path and stood in front of the wooden door. Tam removed keys from under the mat, but couldn’t find the right one. Everything seemed to be delaying him.

He burst through the door and bolted it shut. A tall, thin lady came running into the hall and pointed at a door to the right of the stairs. She looked frightened, but also relieved to see him. There was a banging on the front door and the hinges and locks were wailing with the strain. Tam hurried into the small room and headed towards a little girl lying in bed. He whispered under his breath, “Don’t be too late, don’t be too late.”

He took the syringe out of his pocket and rolled up one of the little girl’s sleeves. The front door gave in and two officers stumbled in just as Tam injected the liquid into the girl. The officers raced into the bedroom: one snatched the syringe and examined it while the other forced Tam’s hands behind his back.

‘We’re too late,’ the officer said, shaking his head. Then he turned to Tam and said, ‘what did you do?’

As he was led reluctantly away, Tam could hear the creaking of the bed as the girl sat up. ‘Dad?’

He spun around, a mixed look of disbelief and the beginning of hope on his face. The girl continued to speak. ‘How did you get the medicine? Mum told me the police caught you.’ ‘Dad? Medicine? What is this?’ the officer cried out, turning to look at the other in confusion. His partner displayed an equally confused expression on his face. ‘She was ill, really ill,’ began Tam, ‘but we didn’t have enough money to get the medication she needed to survive.

Both officers were now wearing looks of guilt on their faces, having realised the true motive of Tam’s escape.

‘Give us a moment’ one said and they began whispering to one another. Eventually, they turned around. ‘You need to come with us.’

Tam was in the back of the van, again, with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts. But this time, he was content in the knowledge that he had saved his daughter.

Juliet McKay: The Striped Paper Bag

The taxi pulled up as the rain poured down. The door slid open and a spindly woman was helped out by the disheveled driver. It was cold yet she was wearing a thin dress and was dressed entirely in black. She opened a large umbrella which I didn’t think necessary as her wide brimmed hat caught every water droplet that fell from the sky. None of the woman’s skin was showing including her face which was shrouded by a black veil.

The woman’s head turned towards me. Although I couldn’t see her eyes I knew she was staring right at me. Her hand reached down into her deep pocket reappearing holding a red and white striped paper bag. Peppermints. They were my favourite and they always had been. She held out the bag. As I reached forward I noticed that her sleeve had slightly pushed back and I peeked at the first visible bit of her skin. It looked grey and lifeless, how you imagine the skin of a rotting corpse. Something felt terribly wrong yet I still reached out for the sweets.

The woman bent her long legs to be down at the same height as me. If it weren’t for the veil we would be eye to eye. She dropped her umbrella which clattered as it hit the wet pavement. Still crouching, she lifted her free arm and gripped my shoulder. I looked down at her wrist. On it was a wristwatch. The glass was smashed and the hands weren’t moving yet it still made a small ticking sound.

She dangled the bag between my eyes. I grabbed it. For a brief moment our hands brushed against each other and my hand was filled with a cold sensation that spread up my arm. I took a step back, shaking her bony grasp off my shoulder. I took another step then another, then I turned and started to run as fast as I could. The rain got heavier as I ran and I could almost see the fog appear. The mist grew so thick in a matter of minutes that I could no longer see the paper bag of sweets I held in front of me. Then out of the fog I heard my name being shouted. I followed the disembodied voice through the thick grey clouds. As I blindly walked further I seemed to hear more voices. I walked backwards hands over my ears. The voices were deep inside my head and I couldn’t get them out. I could hear them closing in on me. I sprinted.

I blindly turned down random streets and quietly searched for my own house. I finally got there and slammed the door behind me. I stood, back hard against the wood, for a second steadying my breathing, still in shock and disbelief.

“Are you ok sweetie?”

I looked up and saw my concerned mum standing in the hall. She then glanced down at my right hand.

“Where did you get that bag of peppermints?”

“What? How did you know what was in here?”

“Who gave these to you?” she said her face a mixture of anger and worry.

“Just this nice woman in town..”

“Wearing all black?” My mum interrupted.

I nodded slowly still confused.

“Upstairs, now!” She said snatching the striped bag from my hand.

“Lock the door and do not let anyone in! I will tell you when it’s safe.”

I did as she said, frightened and confused. All of a sudden the temperature in my room dropped. It felt like a gust of freezing air had passed right through. I checked the windows but they were tightly shut. I went into my drawers to get a blanket and noticed a familiar leather strap. I lifted it and saw the dreaded cracked face and unmoving hands. I heard the strangely innocent ticking of the wristwatch. I shook the broken watch in a feeble attempt at getting it to work. A small bit of paper fell out of the back. Once unfolded it seemed to be a letter.

‘She’s coming for me and if you are reading this she’s coming for you too. I took her peppermints. She is sure to be here soon. You are in grave danger, it is too late for but I wish you the best of luck. Please keep in mind that if she can help it Zakara never loses a victim. Remember, no matter how tempted do not open the door. The letter worried me and left me with many questions. Who was Zakara? I went over to the window to close the curtains. She was there. The veil had been lifted and her grey skin was pressed right up against the glass. Her white eyes stared right into mine. I quickly closed the curtains. Shocked and dazed I sat on my bed. Then the thumping started. It began quietly and got louder as it continued. The window panes shook with every thud. I covered my ears and hid under my covers. I felt a single droplet of salty water run down my cheek. The tears rolled faster as I sobbed harder into my pillow.

I didn’t remember falling asleep but when I woke up the thumps had stopped. The silence was comforting. Then there was a knock at my door.

“Sweetie, come out, its all safe now!” My mum’s voice called out. I was relieved and walked towards the towards the door. As I walked closer the letter on the floor caught my eye. “Remember, do not open the door” I looked through the keyhole to see the abnormally slim waist of a woman wearing all black. I took a step back. Behind the door was some scratching and a single peppermint slid under the door. The door handle started to turn. There was no escape.

Elise Keenan: Meat is Murder

Douglas was an ordinary lad, who lived in Aberdeen with his dad Hamish, who was a pig farmer. As for his mum Morag, she and Hamish argued constantly. Morag was vegan, she would rant about how animals will one day take revenge. Douglas and his dad often ignored what she was saying, which had caused many of their arguments. Deep down Douglas knew they weren’t right for each other. They argued over the littlest things: who would get the groceries? Who drank all of the soy milk? One day the arguing stopped. She was gone by the time Douglas had woken up. Douglas and his dad were distraught for a while but they quickly adjusted to being a family of two. The one thing Douglas hated about his mother going away was having to meet all the women his dad had met on Muddymatches.com.

Tomorrow was the day that the pigs were scheduled to go to the slaughterhouse all ready for the market season. Douglas hated the slaughterhouse almost as much as the pigs. The outside was black like death; inside it was empty except for the ‘slicer’ and the ‘mincer’ in the corner. ‘Drip, drip,’ the blood splattered all over the walls, occasionally fell into a puddle on the floor. If you listened closely you could hear the past shrieks of all the pigs as they were brutally sliced into bacon and sausage.

Although the pigs couldn’t speak Douglas believed that they knew how their ancestors had been brutally killed and how they were going to meet their end. Douglas thought of last year; he remembered one of the pigs more than the others: that pig was trembling with fear, as it got closer he could see water pouring out of its head almost like sweat.

That night Douglas had a peculiar dream, he dreamt that he was at his annual school fair, but he had no control over his legs. He felt bewitched. They led him over to a small black stall; from within some kind of green smoke seemed to be drifting out in clumps. He wanted to stop, his legs kept moving, and as he got closer a large, bony finger grabbed the back of his neck. His brain was telling him to scream and kick his captor, but his body failed to move. It was pitch black and silent except for the slight thud that the captor’s feet made and he dragged Douglas. Two seconds later he was falling down some kind of black tunnel, falling until he landed with a bang. He seemed to be in a witch’s lair, an enormous cauldron completely black except for the slimy green goo frothing out of it. There was something wrong with his body; again it seemed totally under a spell, forcing him to walk towards the cauldron, bend down and take a huge gulp of the liquid inside. It tasted like acid, surely burning his insides.

Suddenly he noticed he was shrinking rapidly. His hands turned into trotters; he was turning pink. Seconds later he had completely turned into a pig. Douglas awoke with a jump. ‘It was only a dream, it was only a dream’, he told himself. But it wasn’t. He rolled out of bed, and fell onto all fours, he tried to scream but all that came out was ‘Oink’.

It must have been a very loud ‘oink’ as his father had woken up quite startled, he was now standing outside Douglas’s room. He opened the door; at once he saw the pig, and not knowing it was Douglas, he grabbed it and put it outside in the barn with the other pigs, who were sleeping peacefully. Douglas tried to attract his father’s attention, but he couldn’t speak; all he could do was ‘oink’ hysterically.

Although he was a pig he had a human brain, so you could say he was the smartest pig in the world. Then it dawned on him: tomorrow was slaughter day for the pigs, and more importantly him. He was going to die. Yet there were 12 other pigs and he was the skinniest; maybe they’ll kill the fatter ones, he thought. At the back of his head he stopped fooling himself: he knew that there was no chance of his life being spared. He thought about running, but his trotters were no running material and although the skinniest of the pigs, he was still heavy. He managed to fall into a light sleep but still dreaded the next day. His mind was filled with possibilities: maybe his father would realise he was gone and would remember the pig he found in his room. Maybe he would recognise his bright blue eyes, different from all the brown-eyed pigs. Maybe he would turn back into a boy after a few hours. He vowed if this happened he would become vegan and never hurt another animal ever again.

The darkness became light; the night was now morning, Douglas was very tired as he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. His father came with the last feed for the pigs, he poured it into the trough, then left. Douglas didn’t feel like eating at all: he was far too nervous.

Soon all the pigs were on the conveyor belt that led to the slicer; his father was up above controlling it. Douglas stared up and his eyes met his father’s. Fear took over his body completely: his legs were shaking in terror, sweat was pouring out of his head. How he wished he had sided with his mum, he would be safe then. Douglas was at the end of the line, finally it his turn. He braced himself. ‘Slice.’ Douglas is now bacon and sausage.

Matilde Radice: Untitled

Introduction

Imagine a world, an alternative universe, where everyone is born with a small tattoo on their ankle; a birth mark if you will. Everyone’s tattoo is unique, no two will ever be the same, and every time you fall in love, the other person’s tattoo appears somewhere on your body. It could appear somewhere easily visible, like below your eye or on your wrist, or, it could appear somewhere hidden like on your rib or foot. It will always be there, permanently inked on your skin, even when you don’t love them anymore. This story will talk about four different people. One who fell in love for the first time, one who’s fallen into a forbidden love, one who’s had their heart broken, and one who believes she’ll never find a love of her own.

First love

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.” “Sure.” They kissed, one of those kisses that left her with a smile on her lips and made her heart skip a beat. He walked up to his house, opened the door, turned around one last time to give a small wave and then went in. Finally she could let that overtaking smile turn into a grin and quickly turned away just in case he could still see her, smiling like an idiot, through his window. It was a cold night, she was still wearing his jacket. She hugged herself at the thought of a part of him still being with her. She couldn’t believe that this was now her second date with Nathan Robinson, the boy she’d had a crush on since primary six. She was rubbing her hands together trying to heat herself up, when she passed under a street light and something caught her eye. A small star-shaped mark had appeared on her index finger. Her eyes glowed as she remembered back to primary seven when she’d noticed this very mark on Nathan’s ankle. Her head started spinning, she stood still in the cold staring at her hand. She always thought it, but here was the proof inked on her skin. She was in love, madly and uncontrollably, with Nathan Robinson. Her first love. She sighed and continued to walk home, not knowing what to expect from the future. All she could hope was that her tattoo was somewhere on his body too.

Forbidden Love

The lady at the till gave him an odd look. He smiled back and tried to ignore the fact he was purchasing several tubes of concealer. “It’s for the wife,” he said. But it wasn’t, it was for him. He left the beauty store and hurried into his car, his heart beat increasing. With a shaking hand he opened the first concealer and applied it over the tattoo of a rose which had he discovered on his wrist the night before. It wasn’t meant to turn into this, Lacey was just someone he’d go to when he was alone, for his wife had been a bit distant, her job beginning to take up her life. Lacey was a friend from work, and she was known for not being interested in serious relationships. She started by asking him to drive her home on rainy days or touching his hand when he walked past. It wasn’t meant to turn into this. He never would’ve thought of himself as the type of man to have an affair and he never thought what he had with Lacey could turn into love. Whilst he knew that he and his wife weren’t what they used to be, he still cared a lot for her and knew he couldn’t break her heart by showing up at home with another woman marked on his wrist. He would tell her, eventually, he knew he had to, but he wasn’t ready. So for now all he could do was cover his arm in concealer, covering up the truth. 

Broken Love

He lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, he had nothing in him anymore. No more tears, no more anger, no more of that unbearable pain in his ribs, just nothing. He felt empty and alone, as if any light or happiness in his life had vanished. He moved his hand up to the side of his neck, to touch the cube shaped tattoo. This was Harry’s tattoo. He couldn’t feel it but he still knew it was there, marked on his skin forever. He felt his eyes begin to water again. He’d always been afraid of love, afraid of giving himself completely to someone, afraid that if he put his heart in someone’s hands, they’d easily be able to drop it, until he met Harry. Harry had made him feel safe and feel that it was okay to love another man. He made him feel loved. They’d had a secret story for a few weeks now, neither brave enough to tell the world. But at this party, he’d caught Harry with another girl, Nora. She was Harry’s ex-girlfriend from last year and believed that they were still in love. He couldn’t take in what he saw so he just started running home and eventually he could hear someone trying to catch up with him. Despite the tears blurring his vision, he knew it was Harry, calling out for him to wait and promising he could explain.

He rolled over in his bed and shut his eyes, attempting to forget these events which his mind kept replaying. Eventually he fell asleep, his eyes still wet with tears and his hand still holding his neck.

Impossible Love

She wasn’t a very happy person. From the age of 14 her life consisted mostly of therapy sessions and prescriptions. She hated it, just like she hated everything else; the pills made her feel sick and the therapy made her feel stupid. She hated how she did badly in school, how she never reached her goals, how she’d treated some good people in her life, the way she looked, acted, spoke, how she had no talent. She hated herself. But the worst part was that all this self hatred wasn’t even her fault. She was born like this, set up to fail, the chemicals in her brain constantly imbalanced. She wasn’t very lucky with friends either. Except for Ty. Ty had been her friend since they were 2; 15 years now. She could always count on him, he was loyal and would always make her feel better. She’d call him when she felt sad and he’d come over. Sometimes he’d bring food, sometimes he’d bring a film he knew she loved and sometimes they just sat in silence on the porch, looking out at the world from her backyard. Tonight was one of those times, although Ty seemed a little different.

“What’s up with you”

“What you mean?”

“You just seem…weirder tonight”

Ty looked over to her; something had changed in his eyes. “You have no idea how much I care about you, do you?”

She looked at him oddly, no idea where this conversation was heading. “Last week,” he continued, “when we were watching Notting Hill, you said you’ll never find someone who would look at you the way William looked at Anna.”

“Well yeah, I mean I can’t realistically see anyone falling in love with the mess that is me.”

They both smiled at this, and sat it silence for a little longer. Then, he pulled his sleeve, showing a small sparrow marked on his arm. At first she didn’t understand why he was showing her this. Was he trying to rub it in her face that he’d found love, something she never would? And then it hit her. She looked down at her ankle, just to double check, just to make sure that she hadn’t imagined that her tattoo was now permanently on his arm. She couldn’t understand and despite her best efforts, she couldn’t say a word.

“I’m in love with you” he said “and I’m sorry if that hurts you, and I know that you might never love me back, but I just wanted to let you know that just because you don’t see how beautiful you are, doesn’t mean no one else can”.

James Barton: The Strange Tale of Graham McKinnon

The city outside of my window looked cold and grey but the fire in my meagre hearth provided a comforting warmth that allowed me to doze softly. The flames cast dancing shadows over the cluttered office in which I sat dozing, reclined in my chair behind a desk strewn with paraphernalia: a magnifying glass, an empty whisky glass and newspapers. I was dragged suddenly back to reality by a sharp rap on the thin wooden door that led onto the empty corridor outside where any prospective clients would wait. Blinking groggily, I sat up with a groan and rubbed my temples. I’d been having such a strange dream. Only a great uneasiness and an indescribable terror clung to me. Failing to snatch more of the fantasy from my memory, I arranged my hands on the desk, aiming to exude an air of professionalism that was not aided by the state of my office.

I called for the client to come in. The door swung open and a large man entered. He had a long face and a weak chin. His suit was prim and proper and his buttons gleamed. But it wasn’t a client. DCI Crowley greeted me in his usual thin, rasping voice. I, in turn, greeted him and asked how I could be of assistance. He hesitated and licked his lips. He was more nervous than I had ever seen. I gestured to a chair which he gratefully accepted and sat down. An almost palpable silence bloomed. I repeated myself which made Crowley shake himself. He coughed. He asked if I had read about the spate of the, as yet, unresolved disappearances in the Highlands and the police’s lack of leads or evidence. I answered affirmatively. Crowley explained that the detective heading the investigation had now vanished. Perplexed, I inquired as to how this fact related to this consultation. He explained that the missing policeman was my old friend DI David Matthews. Surely David couldn’t be gone?

With great effort, I overcame the oncoming fear and apprehension and asked Crowley if he wanted me to continue the investigation in David’s stead. He nodded appreciatively and coughed violently. It sounded a painful racking cough.

Crowley explained that most of the victims had been from Alt Na Durach, a small village near Loch Ness. He promised that I’d receive all the police had on the case and stood to leave but paused. In a nervous voice, he commented on how strange that place felt. He described a feeling of being watched and of desperate isolation despite the villagers’ presence.

Crowley then left me with that eerie sentiment to ponder. True to his word, I had all the evidence files within a few hours. For once, the media were not exaggerating; the police really hadn’t a clue. There was little to no tangible evidence and what existed was not nearly substantial enough to warrant any more action. The only thing that linked the victims was the same obsession: that of the occult and one entity in particular: Shar-Nargrathoth. The name sent a thrill through me. I was sure that I’d never heard the name before but, at the same time, it sounded inexplicably familiar.

Being unable to glean more from Crowley’s documents, I headed out to catch the next train to Alt Na Durach.

The landscape flew past the window of the train as though it were being chased by some invisible beast. The peace of the train allowed me to mull over the facts: the villagers appeared suspicious; no leads; insubstantial evidence; this link to the occult and Shar-Nargrathoth. That name, so familiar yet alien.

On arrival at the desolate station of this small village, the first thing I noticed was the bitingly cold air. The second was a man standing by a car looking straight at me. There was something distinctly unsettling about his appearance but I couldn’t decide what. He approached and explained that he was a servant of Lord MacAndrew, the local laird and that DCI Crowley had called ahead to say I would continue the investigation. His voice was unsettling too, like a cobra’s hiss before it strikes. I got into the car. He drove us through the village. It was small and eerily quiet. We left the village and drove a short way out to a baronial castle that looked like it had seen centuries rather than decades of inhabitancy. The shadows were long when we reached the edifice.

The snake-man opened the car door for me and we both entered through the heavy oak doors. I was led through the grand hall into a room that seemed part-study, part-library. A writing desk occupied a corner, a table and chairs in the centre, whereas the rest of the room was full of books. Upon closer examination, most appeared to relate to the occult, while others were histories describing creatures and civilisations of such foul and phantasmagorical natures that I couldn’t bear to read further.

Peering out of the frosted window, I saw movement. My poor heart almost stopped at the sight of some form of creature outside. Ages after, I still haven’t the words! Its limbs were inhumanly long and it was staring at me with deep-set white eyes! Behind me, the door burst open! Pain flashed across my skull and the room slipped away from me.

It was the faint chanting, then the sickly scent and the damp air which eventually brought me back to some form of consciousness. Even now as I try to recall these events in this journal they’ve given me, the detail is hazy and too incredible. Like the flashing images from an old projector, I saw myself tearing the ropes that bound me, grappling with Lord MacAndrew and his acolytes, garbed in their flowing white robes. My one and only objective was escape. The cave walls fly past as though yanked from beneath me. The cool Highland air, the birds’ chirp, concerned voices then the stagnant lights of my newest prison.

Even with my failing memory, the followers’ screams of unadulterated terror and the unearthly screeches of the entity they had called forth as it satisfied its blood-lust, being cheated of its victim, will remain with me forever.

* * * * *

Patient: Graham McKinnon

Patient still maintains belief that he was kidnapped by cult. Suggested PTSD.

Dr MacAndrew

Anthony Thompson: More than just a stadium

Some people say I offer guidance. For others I provide hope. For many I am part of a weekly pilgrimage. They are faithful, devoted. I may not offer the healing of Lourdes. I may not offer the suffering of El Camino De Santiago. I may not off the riches of the Vatican. But the community which I provide offers an awe inspiring sense of camaraderie. Transformation: the city, the atmosphere, families, lives … communal, commune, communion.

Art surrounds me. Abstract buildings which lack any kind of symmetry. Every individual curve contributes to the uniqueness of this rare beauty. Construction is constant, changing, a chameleon. Pencil turrets protect the holy family stretching heaven-words. Yet Picasso’s words have never felt so true “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. In this place I call home los niños produce art in the most modern forms. Light and shadow, the modern designs, waves and undulations provide a canvas for new inspiration. Just as the artist flicks paint from the palette vigorously stroking ideas into the fabric, so too do Barcelona’s youths stride through the fiery orange sunset casting shadows and creating reflections on the concrete below. It’s a marriage of old and new and there is old and new art created within me, underneath my halo of light.

Here the canvas is green, organic and the art is created in moments. The physical motions produced are fleeting, not tangible. However the beauty constructed offers memories which last a lifetime. These memories unite people from all aspects of life(an art in itself) in a way that a frame on a wall could never achieve the passive experience of standing in an art gallery allows you to soak in and admire yet the experience here is so much more. It is a family it is synergy, it is adrenaline, it is climax, it is anticipation, it is bitter disappointment, it is art. And it is art which is constantly evolving, adapting to the style of the modern game. The generosity lends itself to the short sharp precision and equality of tiki-taka and still there is delicate weaving fluidity from individuals. The very laws of physics and the universe are called into question when a goal is in sight.

The worshipper strides towards the altar, genuflects then kneels in prayer.

These worshippers burst through the turnstiles, bustle through their row and raise their scarfs to the heavens.

The priest blesses the bread and the wine, creating the body and blood of Christ. Consecration. Genesis.

The player with his back turned to goal, transforms a dead ball, giving it life, creating hope. Magical. Messi.

Their voices chant in praise: “I believe in one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible”.

They chant, reaffirming their belief in this God. “Ole -le ola, ser del Barca ēs el millor que hi ha!”

The priest reads from the book of Genesis. “And on the 7th day God finished his work that he had done and he rested.

In the commentary box they pontificate over the work of this divine player: he had finished the work he had done, now is his time for rest.

I am part of history. This combination of oxymorons are the raw ingredients of the beautiful game.

Pedro Alonso, 96, sits front row with his wife of 70 years. The lines engraved on his warm face represent memories of close to a decade of Catalan history. He remembers the solidarity as the crowd booed de Rivieras dictatorship; he watched idols enlist to fight for the values of their city in the civil war. He helped rebuild the Barcelona stadium after a devastating attack. He remembers the football of old, the slow laboured pace of 11 locals scrambling in defence. Then came the revolution. Short electric bursts from geniuses exploding into attack. These are not just any players, they certainly were not just the 11 best athletes in the city. They have been mined, treasure, from the very ends of the earth. The commitment and longevity towards Pedro’s marriage seems mediocre when compared to his first love, F.C. Barcelona.

Pedro is one of my many thousands of children to whom I provide 90 minutes of pure escapism. I watch over them and follow each story. I have been with them through tragedies, supported through bereavements and have celebrated with them on so many levels.

Rivalry stains the city blood red, it flows through the streets like a Rioja during a fiesta. My greatest rivalry lies less than 5 miles to my east where the red cape billows in the wind striking into the bull. The matador and the bull are sworn enemies; showmanship, skill and sadism are pitted against the innocent angry animal instinct of the bull. It is versus animal, good versus evil, Barcelona versus Real Madrid. The red of the bull fight symbolises dominance, blood, rage. It is time for the cape to be buried in the dust of the arena. This rivalry is slowly dissipating. My spectacle, el Classico, is Barcelona’s main attraction. The red here symbolises the humble benevolent nature of my congregation. The ox blood stripes on the Barcelona kit represents the determined hearts of the players. They play for Catalonia. The cold monochrome of Real Madrid is indicative of their selfish character. This team play for the monarchy, they play for the rich wealth of Madrid. This team is here for themselves not the supporters. They embody the corruption of Spain. They are reckless, careless attackers who will win by any means necessary.

I am a proud father who has nurtured many sons and have been by each of their sides as they achieve greatness. I don’t have favourites, I see their flaws but I celebrate their successes. A few stand out … The eldest, Cruyff, is an innovative genius on and off the pitch. Ok, ok, I know I’m biased though it’s true. The balletic grace of a 180 spin simply just to change direction is a prime example of his practical magic … these seminal movements are unforgettable. Don’t even get me started on Maradona, the mischievous characters that everybody loves to hate. Fiery, feisty, fighty. Maradona done everything to win. It frustrates me that people remember him as a cheat with the “hand of God” but that kid had stunning technical ability. And the baby, my golden child with the golden boots, Messi. Although he is the youngest, Leo is a glittering example of sacrifice. I will never forget the day I welcomed this 13 year old into my home, his home, out home. A child on the cusp of adolescence, an amateur on the cusp of professionalism, an ordinary man on the cusp of becoming a legend. He is eclectic, reliable, inspirational, a leader, magical. They are everything to me. Mi amor por ellos es Infiniti.

On Las Ramblas, sipping Estrella with friends, they prepare. In La Boguiera enjoying cheese, wine and the bustling atmosphere, they prepare. Travelling through the pulsating arteries of Barcelona’s metro, they prepare. The manager delivers his sermon of motivation; the players indulge in last minute superstitions; the noise from the crowd channels hope within the players … they are prepared. It is 7:45. It is Saturday night. It is time. This is not a game, this is a legacy, a community, a family. Because without each other we are nothing. “We are more than just a club”. We are Barcelona

Thomas Gillen: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: How the people alone can’t stop Climate Change

Another doom and gloom headline flashes across your computer screen. The fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, Climate Change, has trotted into town, cutting down the polar bears, scorching Greece and sunny Siberia, purging the ice sheets and pillaging the coastline, and only one word is left in its wake – you. Global Warming is one of the greatest questions of the 21st Century, threatening the delicate balance of entire weather systems and more as the average global temperature rises – and is constantly spun into the individual’s problem, throwing the public eye away from the politicians and corporations obfuscating the issue in the courts for their own selfish agenda. I feel that the corporatocracy of today is the harbinger of a bleak tomorrow in the face of a worldwide crisis.

The paragons of anti-intellectualism and downright scientific denialism among those able to affect change – the elected – is no small sign of this pervading problem in politics. With very few scientists going into political professions, the parliaments are ruled by those who are poorly informed on crucial climate legislation and basic science – when Scott Pruitt, the current USA Enviromental Protection Agency administrator in a major carbon emissions centre is actively assisting the repeal of important legislation in the crusade against global warming, the environment is not in good hands. I personally feel the lamentable lack of scientific representation in government circles is hindering the ability of key countries to act against man made climate change, and the public’s ability to make waves in these issues wanes because of it.

Not every government is so apathetic towards the world’s plight. But even so, they still engage in debatable practices. Nuclear power is a developing, and very promising, energy industry that is constantly, and regularly, demonised by some in the political sphere. The energy output of 6 grams of uranium-235 is roughly equivalent to a metric tonne of coal – and all you hear is Fukushima, Chernobyl! The European Union (EU) is a leading proponent of the Paris Climate Agreements in 2015, and key members are still skeptical as the world’s hourglass runs ever drier – Germany’s reputation for efficiency is not highlighted by how its renewables and nuclear industry barely covers more than its fossil fuels usage, and there is no clear plan on phasing out the fossil fuels in the near future. For every green glowing France, there is an soot-covered Argentina, and with greenhouse gases flooding from the energy sector I think the nuclear fears being stirred by some political leaders are disingenuous and could have far reaching consequences.

Renewables, such as hydropower, fare somewhat better, with a cleaner past than other alternatives, but even that is fraught with trouble – Scotland is practically a world leader in wind energy (‘Scotland is home to the biggest renewable energy resource in Europe. We will set ambitious renewable energy targets and government funding will support low carbon technologies, energy storage and transport alternatives’) , and the UK recently announced a 56% cut to funding in that sector of the energy industry when renewables are still in dire need of help – which once again reflects a running theme in the climate discourse; The flaunting of progress in favour of short-term economic benefit.

There is, however, a price to all of these potential benefits. The start-up costs of these industries is high and not to be dismissed, with potential billions – trillions, by some estimates – of pounds having to be invested in low carbon methods to make any sort of worthwhile waves. Professor Gordon A. Hughes in Edinburgh painted the ever-so cheery picture of £16 of energy by today’s standards going for £38.50 and more, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to funding the ‘cheap’ alternatives – and while both renewables and nuclear are relatively cheap to run once they are set up, they still have their own issues. Nuclear is potentially vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist organisations in both the first and third worlds, with Al-Qaeda allegedly having schematics for various nuclear facilities – the fallout of a dirty bomb alone is a high risk to innocent lives. There is a catch to all of that – the nuclear industry recognises this risk and has made preparations for this scenario, involving military intelligence and more. And fossil fuels, while cheap in the short term, have much larger costs. All of the environmental disasters, from tsunamis to heat waves to harsh winters, will cause much more damage than our worst nightmares – trillions of pounds of property losses, wars over what little scraps of oil can be gathered from depleted sources, and that is not even considering the greatest loss of all – life. When the dust settles, any cost now is going to seem like nothing.

Politicians, however, are not the only ones responsible – moreso a peon of the greater culprit. The corporate impact on the environment is not to be understated – with 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from 100 companies, including the likes of ExxonMobil and Shell, the regular adage of ‘drive less’ and ‘eat less meat’ loses its potency. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that a coordinated effort to phase out staples of society like meat is far down the road, if at all, but the responsibility to reduce their emissions are still there – and while Big Macs are still in high demand, poor infrastructure and lack of subsidization in these industries is going to continue to fester like a tumour, putting profits above improvement. Personally, I’d rather not die to cow farts.

The constant shifting of blame in the climate debate is a terrifying precedent, and it is not being addressed by the top brass in nearly enough force. The public’s responsibility to combat climate change cannot be understated, but the complete lack of a unified vision and focus across the world is a much scarier thought. The Earth will always find a way to continue turning, and another extinct species – humanity – isn’t going to stop it.

Bibliography:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change

http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/research/

  https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html  

https://sciencing.com/about-6134607-nuclear-energy-vs–fossil-fuel.html

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/16/uk-green-energy-investment-plunges-after-policy-changes  

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07510-3  

https://www.ft.com/content/6c9a53f4-8597-11e7-8bb1-5ba57d47eff7  

https://greens.scot/policy/energy  

Maria McKeown: Untitled

A regular on the 38 bus service, a 15 year old steps on board. ‘Pound please’, she says casually to the driver as she drops a pound into the coin slot in front of him. She proceeds to climb the stairs to the top deck before taking her usual seat towards the back.

A young man ambles up the same stairs and to the middle of the top deck, where he slouches on his seat. He must be in his early or mid twenties, though his youth is hidden by the grey cast on his skin caused by the withering of his face by cigarettes, drugs and alcohol that he has probably been consuming since a too young age. After this journey he will walk briskly home in his matching grey tracksuit and worn out black nike trainers that look ready to forfeit at any moment. Accompanying his brisk pace will be his hands in tight fists switching back and forth nervously from his pockets to his shaved head. His final destination is one of the many neglected high-rise blocks of flats Glasgow so shamefully hosts. The flat where his family are forced to reside. But while he is understandably unsatisfied with his living conditions he is admirably happy, this is what he knows, what he is used to, home, Glasgow.

He watches as a woman tiptoes along the aisle, climbing gently with a nervous giggle over his rucksack that lies limp crossing into the aisle. She perches upright in a clean red coat with short blonde hair, probably dyed and well kept, though coarse, most likely with age. Her clearly expensive black leather bag sits neatly beside her, her with her wrist cautiously though casually rested through the handles, obvious that she is slightly paranoid while she is hesitant to draw attention to it. She answers her phone with an obviously watered down well-spoken Scottish accent and learned vocabulary with a put-on Glaswegian dialect. She’s well off, definitely comfortable with money, working a nine to five job as an accountant. By taking the bus she can feel humble, as though she is just a regular person, one with the less well-off people for whom the bus has unofficially become the typical form of transport for those with a lower income. Even though she knows plain well that in one aspect of life she is above the rest. She survives in the top.

She grins at the parents of two children who run relentlessly up and down the aisle, occasionally knocking into her. Their father, in his mid-30s sits forward, gripping the headrest of the seat in front as his wife seated across from him stares blankly out of the window. They pay no attention to their two children who run endlessly up and down the aisle, pausing to climb onto seats. Married seven years, there isn’t much excitement in their lives these days. At the start of the relationship there was though, spontaneous holidays and trips, nights out, being with friends. They unknowingly surrendered this lifestyle when they had children however. Since then the only excitement comes from the rare night at a restaurant or evening where the children are at sleepovers. The occasional obligatory dinner party with their daughter’s friend-from-school’s parents – and as you would expect these evenings struggle to make for a particularly interesting evening. On this occasion it was an attempt at a fun family day out, taking the kids to the cinema only to find themselves sitting through two hours of Pixar’s finest new animation. Two hours sitting in a room full of other children crying, shouting and screaming as though the end of the world for the duration of the film. And a room full of tens of other parents all enduring the same torture. Now they return home to a nice middle class home, parents exhausted from the frustration of children shouting through the film, children still full of the energy they had before the cinema. Tomorrow they will be straight back into the usual routine: up at seven, breakfast, get dressed, kids to school, get to work, pick children up from school, son to football, daughter to dancing, dinner, bed.

And so it goes.

But don’t believe everything you see- or read, for that matter. For these are merely the observations and assumptions based on stereotypes, created by a 15 year old from the top deck of a 38 bus service from Bath Street as she fills her otherwise boring journey with the stories and lives of those around her. And who knows, maybe the man in the grey tracksuit simply wears it for comfort, and is really just going home to an average household to greet his own family – his wife and two children. Maybe she was just being cynical, and the woman in the red coat takes the bus for practical reasons – it’s cheaper than the train and takes her closer to her house. The bus was not made for one group of people with a specific income. Maybe her well- kept, expensive-looking clothes are simply her work clothes, a set of garments selectively and hesitantly chosen on an otherwise smaller budget. This outfit is nicer than the rest of her wardrobe and only worn to work to fit a more prestigious look required for her average office job. It is entirely possible that the family had just had a very exciting day out, at a museum or another more interesting trip. The girl from the back of the bus will step off soon, and go back to her home where instead of living in other people’s stories, will have to live in her own unfulfilled one.

Callum Thomas: Halloween

A full moon glowed through the mist, chillingly.

The eerie silence pressed in like a heavy blanket.

Pumpkins glared down, the faces of the long forgotten dead;

Ventriloquists’ dummies stared out of shop-fronts, twitching, moving;

A murder of crows huddled in a tree, cloaked, watching.

Rotting tree limbs reached out as if groping blindly for children to catch;

Skeletal figures stood silhouetted against dim flickering street-lamps.

In the cemetery, hunched figures hid watching, listening from the shadows.

Long dark shadows sprawled out, concealing the unknown.

This was a Halloween like no other!

Tiernan Blain: Halloween Poem

All darkness, except for the lights from the houses casting an orange glow down the street.

Silhouetted birds sat in the trees, like death himself.

The wind wailed as the leaves rustled around.

Jack-o-lanterns stared like dead dubious delinquents.

A cold breeze nipped my nose.

A million eyes stared at me.

As I stepped, the mud turned to stone.

Every sound seemed to echo around.

There was a crunch of gravel that I didn’t make; could it have been made by the one I loved?

She will go back to where she belongs

Tomorrow by night.

Liam Kearney: My Journey Through Poetry

I love poetry. I love writing poetry, reciting poetry and listening to poetry. It is like a language of its own. It can capture the most heart-felt emotions, or extraordinary experiences in the finest of details and in the fewest of words, whilst implanting a vision of beauty in the reader’s mind.  At times, the language used may seem incomprehensible, but if conveyed with passion and emotion, it becomes easier for the reader to understand the sentiment of the poem, and so becomes more understandable. Many people who recite or write poetry have a story to tell about how their passion for poetry was first ignited, and how it developed, and so do I.

Four years ago, I was sitting in class reading a book, when suddenly, our poetry and drama teacher burst through the door. With a voice as loud as a foghorn, she announced that “there would be a grand poetry recital competition”. Back then, I was not nearly as confident and as valiant as I am today, and whilst admittedly I thought it sounded rather intriguing, I was ambivalent about whether I should take part or not. However, the choice wasn’t made by me, but rather the drama teacher who automatically nominated me for the competition! Now, I was thinking ‘Say no, just say no and you’ll be fine!’ but for some reason unknown to me, I heard myself say “Yes, I’ll do it.” All the while thinking ‘WHY DID I SAY THAT?!’ In the days that followed I was still bewildered at agreeing to this and assumed it would something I would regret, perhaps for the rest of my life. I thought all my friends would laugh and tease me and consider this an absurd interest as they were all keen on sports, and if it turned out I wasn’t good at reading poetry, I was fearful this would make me look foolish, and that perhaps I would disappoint my family and teacher if I didn’t win the competition. I also feared it may impact my confidence for the future and put me off attempting similar events. However, contrary to those fears, it actually turned out to be something that would change my life, for the better.

Later that day, I received the first piece of poetry I would recite to an audience. It would also be the first piece of poetry that I recited in my life. So when I took a glance at it for the first time, my mouth slightly dropped. All these words in Scots Tongue didn’t look like words to me. It just seemed like a jumble of letters.  Looking at the lines made me sweat with panic. ‘How am I supposed to learn this?’ I thought to myself, with pounding heart.

It was a Robert Burns poem called ‘To a Louse’. And whilst it was only an extract that was 4 verses long, it still was enough to confuse me. A lot. It took me a whole week to learn this extract which was around 30 lines long.   I have since learned poems much longer than this and in far shorter time frames, which reflects how tricky I found it, but also that learning poetry, like so many other things, is a skill that improves with practice.

The competition itself wasn’t very difficult, and not as daunting as first thought.  I recited my poem, following this the adjudicator gave some constructive criticism. I really thought it would be extremely tough, like one of those situations that makes your heart race and your palms sweaty, and has moments of extreme tension throughout, but this was not the case.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t win. So you would think, ‘He tried, and he didn’t succeed. That must be really demotivating. This must be the end of his poetry career.’

Well, you would be wrong.

You see, I am the kind of person that is persistent. I try and try until I succeed. Later in the year, my school held a poetry competition which I entered, coming first place for the class round and securing a place in the finals. I was very presumptuous and designated a spot on my fireplace for my tremendous trophy. However, after hearing some of the other performers, I began to have second thoughts about whether I would win the competition or not.The standard was so high it would have been difficult for the judges to select a winner. So when I performed my poem, and the winners were getting announced, I could almost hear my heart beating, and felt it pound inside my chest. I felt like the room was becoming hotter than a sauna. Then when they announced each place and it wasn’t my name being called, I became slightly apprehensive. As first place was called and I heard “Liam Kearney!” I was both ecstatic and shocked, as it really could have gone either way as the standard was so high.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I saw the whole audience clapping and staring at me as I went up and collected my trophy. All the while I was thinking that perhaps I had been right to be egotistical and have faith in myself; after all as it seemed to have paid off. I felt accomplished, ecstatic, but most importantly, I felt extremely proud of myself.

Recital, of course, isn’t simply about reading words off a page, and I have a strategy that helps the learning and delivery of my poems: First, I learn the words, then I learn the hand gestures and actions that I want to incorporate into my delivery, and finally, I project the tone of my voice to suit the emotion I am trying to convey: In learning the poem I have to understand what it is about so I can deliver it well and this helps my audience understand the poem better. By engaging in poetry competitions it has given me various different opportunities to recite at other events, the most recent being the Linlithgow Folk Festival, an annual event I performed at last week. I was invited to perform two recitals and a song. However, the most enjoyable piece was most definitely the song. It was called the ‘Glesga Budgie’, and it was about a colossal Glasgow budgie. The best part about it was….my aunt was dressed up as the budgie! Everyone in the audience had a good laugh! Even I found myself laughing!

Poetry has changed my life for the better. From starting out as a timid young boy who was nervous to volunteer and participate in competitions, to become what I now believe, a confident individual who thrives in his deliverance of poetry and who now tries to participate in competitions wherever and whenever possible. Poetry has taken me to many different places; I have spoken at many different events, have addressed the Haggis on numerous occasions at different Burns’ nights, and it has made my life more enjoyable. It has also allowed me to meet new people, and participate in events, such as the Robert Burns Summer School hosted at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is a truly great event.

Reciting poetry isn’t for everyone, of course; if you have stage fright, and there is a huge audience awaiting an amazing performance, you can be afraid. I have seen this a few times, where the performers see the crowd, and their cheeks go as pink as cherries, but practise makes perfect. I have practised reciting poetry a lot and I never get afraid; nervous is not a word in my dictionary.

I love poetry, and I believe that everyone should too. Famous poets have even inspired me to write my own poems. I believe that poetry will help me with my English literature skills, and give me a greater chance of improving my performing arts.  It also helps me with my writing skills.

You never know, I might even become the next great poet!

Louisa Fenney: Christ

Crown of thorns, bated breath, ragged pulse.

Crown of thorns, bated breath, flowing red.

Should the dial be reversed by command of the sun,

Should it be held high upon the horizon,

thundering would be all that was heard,

The thundering of a whip,

The crack so distinct, so jarring against his flesh

Flesh, which was the very same to be prophesied,

Flesh that was bound to be sacred and chaste.

Now, it holds no such promise,

Now, eyes remain clouded

Now, cheeks are wet

Mutters escape the lips of those who watch,

Mockingly some stare, they snarl and yap like wild wolves as they feast their eyes upon their bloodied meal

His hands fastened with iron

His ravaged limbs twitch beneath the heat of the sky

‘ Christ, what did you die for? ‘

One beast howls from the pack,

Heads snap,

Tongues are held,

Pulses shudder.

They await their answer,

They expect an up rise, They crave the signal from their wretched messiah.

Charlie McCallum: Santorini

Santorini

In Santorini,

Across the graceful Aegean

Flawless white stone lays submerged

Beneath Royal blue domes,

Branded by the Holy Trinity

One of Nature’s jokes:

A white celestial heaven

Born out of destruction and desolation.

Through a millennium of torture and Ash

Shines sheer perfection in the face of God

Almost.

Through every narrow winding street

Rugged merchants cry loud

‘Tomatoes, Capers, Chloro, Wine.’

And on every face that wanders by

Marks of desire, Marks of seduction.

As each day passes by

Cruise ships dock and disgorge

An Exodus of hungry consumers

Charging through, like legionnaires,

Stabbing her, tearing out her heart.

While the sinister drone of mopeds run by.

Poisoning her air,

Stealing her virtue.

From all corners of the world,

North to South

East to West

Her superficial purity and innocence

Attracts the fragile minded to her shores.

Shores of a tortured beauty:

Each grain of sand

Black as the ash which gave birth to them.

Her elegance though, compromised,

By those who seek to enslave her.

As Greek masters grow fat

They tighten their grip round the noose of their slaves.

Who function

As bolts on the wheel of capitalism.

They sit on their throne of corruption

In a ‘benevolent’ kingdom

Transcendent to the screams of poverty-stricken Athens.

However,

Santorini,

Atlantis risen from the sea.

She stands today,

A shinning beacon of light.

A glimmer of hope.

In this once noble house,

Known as Greece.

She’s reminiscent,

of the civilisation they once were:

Democracy, Philosophy.

Fallen, decayed into corruption and anarchy.

But no matter how lost,

Or hopeless it may seem.

Her sunset over the Aegean brings forth:

A supreme serenity,

A new dawn of change to come.

Charlie McCallum

Catriona Chong: All Kinds of Beautiful

All Kinds of Beautiful

They say the best things come in small packages:

Far in the west of Scotland is a very little, yet precious, gem.

Often in the business of my city life, my mind wanders

From the hustle and bustle of a loud city Glasgow away

To precious and humble Barra, often wishing that it was summer time,

So I can get on the ferry once again, and travel back to my Hebridean home.

Kishmul Castle stands strong as ever,

Having faced battles against crashing waves and bitter winds

All of whom fail to defeat her.

Proudly welcoming the Cal Mac ferry as it cruises into Castlebay

As a rightful queen in her stunning kingdom.

But she isn’t the only jewel in the treasure chest.

Over the hills past the wiggly one-car roads lies Borve,

Tucked below the road, her deep blue waves peacefully dance together

Pulling back, releasing out. Building, spiralling upward then plunging back in,

Like Mother Nature is directing the most beautiful ballet your eyes have seen.

The sand beneath your feet is like pillows, that cradle every step,

like a mother does her child, making you feel warm and at home.

In Northbay, the fishermen keep their boats anchored.

Our Lady, Star of the Sea up on the hill,

Watches over them while they work,

Along with Saint Barr of Fishing, his church overlooking them as they depart.

Inside, we too pray for them, their families and their health.

Because, although her waters are in all ways breathtaking,

It is a dangerous place to work.

In Ardmhor, however, the waters are tranquil.

The cockle strand, either a vast swathe covered in sandy shells,

or completely filled with her waters, little waves bobbing up and down.

Tiny Barra planes glide in from the clouds soaring down

Onto the runway like a swan onto a lake.

The only airport where you land on the beach, and what a perfect beach to land on.

Behind the airport and over the sand dunes hides the west sands

A real contrast to Traig Mhor on the other side:

The sand, gorgeous pearl white and soft at our feet,

 a small yet beauteous horizon and loud crashing waves spiral in a conch shape

Loud and present, commanding attention.

The strong wind carries the gulls and a little kite, frantically flapping around

Up in the north is Eoligarry beach, a Sandy strip covered in a cyan blanket.

A picture perfect body of water, turquoise which melts into a royal blue in the distance.

Like a pool of diamonds sparkling in the light, hardly any movement except the

Disturbance of a kayak, causing little ripples as they paddle.

A mosaic of crushed shells, blue, purple, pink and orange glistens in the sands.

And best of all the little seals, sticking out their heads and disappearing down again.

The weather changes from

A blue and sunny sky in the morning

To pouring rain in an eyeblink;

Sun, clouds, blue sky and raindrops tossed into a wonderful blender.

Even in showers of rain, the waters are still bonnie,

each drop creating a thousand tiny fountain-like splashes

Like many hands praising god for feeding her fields and keeping her mountains lush.

Barra is a mixture of all kinds of beautiful, each beach, field or mountain

is a snowflake, unique to themselves yet just as sublime as the other.

Michael McDonald: Are Comic Books Just For Kids?

”…this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me…”

Then the Clown Prince of Crime with a sinister smile on his face beats 15-year-old Jason Todd (Robin) to death with a crowbar as his mother watches on, with no hero to save him. In the decades that have followed this atrocity, Batman has suffered from what we know to be post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Only now after 30 years has he eventually salvaged his sanity, despite still being haunted by the sight of his arch nemesis standing over Jason’s limp and mutilated body. This is just one of the many horrifying moments that have occurred in the so-called ‘child’s entertainment’ industry that is comic books. Now, as a young child you may have read a comic such as The Beano or The Broons. However, now you’re all grown up and are ‘wiser’ in the ways of the world, you probably have this perception that comics are simply for kids, when in actual fact very few are.

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Tony Stark? Iron Man? Most likely you have but what you probably don’t know is that he was an alcoholic in the late 70s. How about Roy Harper? Ever heard of him? He’s Green Arrow’s sidekick and, like the singer-songwriter of the same name, he was suffering from a heroin addiction in 1971. A bit different from CBBC or Disney Channel, wouldn’t you say? I don’t know about you but personally, I wouldn’t exactly regard drug and alcohol abuse as ‘children’s entertainment’; however they do say each to their own. These events are actually what make the characters you know and love, but very few of you will have heard of these darker gritty sides of them as these aspect are only hinted at through their cinematic counterparts to make them more ‘family friendly’ or ‘PG’. Now don’t get me wrong: there are some comics that are aimed at younger readers, but to say that the whole medium is for kids is outrageous. For example, in an article in The Telegraph written by the journalist Rhymer Rigby, simply the headline alone, “No self-respecting adult should buy comics or watch superhero movies”, is preposterous. Take The Walking Dead; that show is well known for being one of the grittiest and most gruesome programmes on television but trust me when I say that it’s mild compared to the horrors printed on the pages of the comic book. In addition to this, you have masterpieces such as Saga, one of the most critically-acclaimed storylines in comic-book history, that is still evolving every month when the next issue appears on shelves. But this comic is far from the world of superheroes. It’s more like our version of Game of Thrones. Violence, sex, racism… it has it all, but not only does it portray these mature subjects, it deals with them in a serious manner by showing the reality of every aspect within these delicate matters. I don’t know any child that would fully understand these subjects, never mind take benefit from the way in which they are explored within the pages of this comic and in fact many other comics like it. 

Everyone assumes that comic books are simply about some witty superhero saving a cat from a tree or a man in spandex foiling a villain’s ‘foolproof’ evil plan to destroy humanity but they’re simply not. Like any other form of entertainment, there are hundreds of different genres and themes: ‘Alex + Ada’, a romantic sci-fi that explores how an artificially intelligent robot could possess emotions; ‘East Of West’, a sci-fi western that depicts a hostile America in the aftermath of the civil war that is segregated into numerous factions; ‘Postal’, a crime thriller that shows a young postman living in a town full of ex-convicts while also having to deal with the effects of Asperger’s disease; ‘Y The Last Man’, a post-outbreak drama where every man on the planet is dead except for one and we see the numerous challenges he faces. Honestly, the list is endless, but people are so naïve that they just stereotype them as being about superheroes. For any comic enthusiast like myself, this is infuriating, as comics contain breathtaking or horrifying tales combined with stunning and jaw-dropping artwork, yet they are still perceived to be on the same level as the Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine. It blows my mind!

From the $2 billion made by Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 to the $380 million made by Batman Begins back in 2005, the comic genre has ruled the cinematic box office for over a decade. Despite this, the stories that made these films a reality are still considered to be for children. If you looked at the revenue these films produce would you think their origins were just for kids? No, of course, you wouldn’t, because how on earth could a multi-billion dollar industry originate from some stories simply for children? The reality is it couldn’t have. These films are so popular because they appeal to people of all ages, whether it’s for the out of this world storylines, the extraordinary characters or even the ground-breaking and innovative CGI (Computer Generated Images) that has changed the world of cinematography forever. These films are being produced year after year in Hollywood due to the fan base continually growing and expanding. This can not only be seen through the money they make but through events such as the San Diego Comic Con where hundreds of thousands of adoring fans dress up as their favourite characters each year and descend on the city’s exhibition centre for all things comics. Nevertheless, our society still maintains the stereotype that comics are just for kids. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. The only difference between the comics and the films (other than the way they are created) is that in actual fact the comics are more complicated to understand and comprehend. Yet our society still believes that they are simply small magazines with a few cartoon pictures and some big speech bubbles with onomatopoeic words emblazoned within them.

Much like with any argument there are always counters and mine is without exception. Many people would say that if you’re an adult or even a teenager why buy what is essentially a magazine when you can buy a fully-fledged book? Well for a start it is not simply a magazine. It is a comic book and it deserves the same respect that is shown to the works of Dickens or Dumas. It contains the same amount of action, excitement, drama, comedy and twists as any other literacy masterpiece. However, as it contains pictures and speech bubbles rather than bland boring pages of text it is believed to be for children. It is honestly astonishing that this is the case, as these pictures and speech bubbles are actually created by award-winning artists and writers such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore, who have both proved themselves in the worlds of art and literature respectively. However, the world sees that as it is not page upon page of endless sentences and paragraphs it must simply be for younger readers. If people were to actually flick through a few pages of a comic they would immediately be drawn into an imaginary world of the author’s choosing, where any number of events could unfold. No different from any other King or Christie creation.

The reality is comics are just the artistic reincarnation of books. They are written by authors but adapted with stunning and scintillating drawings to help enhance the reading experience. Just because they contain pictures doesn’t mean they are just for children: they are for all people, no matter what their age who enjoy both art and storytelling. They are not simply about superheroes: they tackle a wide range of issues across different genres, such as discrimination in space within Saga or the horrors that plague an apocalyptic world within the Walking Dead. There is no limit to what they can express so they simply cannot be limited to children. They are for everyone.

Bibliography

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon_in_a_Bottle
  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowbirds_Don%27t_Fly
  4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/no-self-respecting-adult-should-buy-comics-or-watch-superhero-mo/
  5. http://comicbasics.com/a-death-in-the-family/
  6. Quote from Batman: A Death In The Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo

Lauren Boyle: Father

The dark, navy sky blankets the huge, thick forest. Silence fills the air. Blackness engulfs the forest: all is eerily still and quiet, as if there is no one alive left in the world. Snow falls heavily now; thick, white snowflakes balance precariously in the fir trees’ branches, creating a perfect Christmas card background. The Russian winter of 1941 has come early.

As the virgin snow drifts in the light wind, untouched by human footfall, the war feels many miles away. A sound breaks the silence. A howl slices through the thick air like ice. A wolf’s howl. The forest hides hundreds of them, waiting, prowling. Another howl, this time more desperate and deafening than the last, echoes into the haunting night sky and seems to rattle the window pane of our wooden cabin nestling in the forest.

I suddenly open my eyes and they are drawn to the rattling window. Another howl echoes through the everlasting night sky, pleading and desperate. In one swift action, my jacket, shoes and hat are on and I’m flinging open the door and stumbling into the darkness. The waiting snow scorns my sensitivity as I yelp in pain at its frozen grip. My legs are immediately immersed in an icy bath up to the knee. Again, a howl engulfs the night. It speaks to me and anticipation ripples through my frigid body like an electric current, warming my bones.

Through the darkness, green, hollow orbs stare me down. Yet, I feel no fear. Instantly, a kaleidoscope of different coloured eyes appear in the darkness, unblinking and unwavering. A smile dances on the edge of my lips. The green-eyed wolf howls as if only to me, slowly and thinly, like a whisper from tree to tree, a sound travelling on the scarce wind. Now, the smile bursts across my face.

Father is back home.

“Tatiana, why are you sleeping here at the front door? Get up!” My eyes open, my vision blurry as a yawn escapes from me. I see my mother standing there. A middle-aged women, hands on hips, wearing a bizarre combination of patterns on her trousers and thick knitted jumper, her face drawn and careworn. She is annoyed that I have fallen asleep on the door step again. “Mother you have to believe me, the wolves were calling me again last night!” I exclaim, scrambling to my feet shaking life back into my numb legs and feet.

Her eye roll is her signature action when I mention the wolves. She opens the dusty curtains, letting the yellow streaks of sunlight dance on the table. “Tatiana, what would your father say? Wolves are vicious animals, you have to stay safe.” The mention of father creates a knot in my stomach. If I close my eyes I can still see him waving goodbye to us, proud to go and fight for Mother Russia and Comrade Stalin. That was over a year ago. Six months later, a pack of wolves arrived, often visiting the cabin at night. “But he’s got father’s eyes,” I say quietly, almost to myself.

Recently, Mother has overheard whispered rumours in the village that the Germans are advancing and the war is not going well for us. The empty shelves in the shops speak of food shortages. The next night the nightmares came. I wake up, lonely and trembling with sweat dripping down my forehead, hands curled into fists with anxiety. The Germans are coming. At least that’s what I heard mother say. They will do terrible things to us, they want to destroy us. Why is your father not here to protect us? She is increasingly anxious for our safety, saying we may need to find another place to live.

As usual my minds racing and my head’s thumping making me unable to sleep. I walk downstairs to find mother sitting at the kitchen table. She looks like she couldn’t sleep either, with a cup of tea nestling between her hands. Suddenly the sound of a window smashing echoes into the living room, I jump in fright, mother’s eyes as wide as saucers. “Tatiana. Don’t. Move,” she hisses at me, her body frozen in terror. I steady my breathing. Have the Germans arrived, is this the end?

The door of my room falls off its hinges and what seems like a hundred wolves stare at us, with teeth bared and mouths dripping with salvia. The green eyed wolf leads the pack. Mother screams, “RUN!”

We sprint through the front door into the knee deep snow and the darkness of the forest beyond. The wolves are chasing, or are they shepherding us to a place within the forest? On and on we go. Mother and I are now far from our cabin, surrounded by snowy fur trees that seem to form a protective blanket around us. I can see a glimpse of our house, in the distance through the trees. “Mother, let’s go back, please!” I’m crying now. About the wolves who I thought were my friends. About father who is not with us. About the Germans destroying our lives. About everything.

Mother is shaking her head, staring into the distance at our cabin. “Tatiana, our house…the Germans have it.” I see in the distance the fire devouring our cabin, the house I’ve lived in all my life. “Mama!” I exclaim. “The wolves saved us! Don’t you see they got us out of the house before we were killed in the fire too! Mama!” The green eyed wolf emerges from the now quiet pack and in the darkness, lit only by the distant flames from the cabin, bows his head slowly.

My mother is silent for a moment. Everything has changed. “We need to go,” she says, a steely edge in her voice. I know it will be a struggle, but I have my mother and the spirit of my father with me. We have survived, we are together and alive.

In Russia, in the terrible winter of 1941, that is enough.

Rachael Eadie: Give it a Rap!

Rap music is everywhere: in the entertainment we consume, as background music in the shops and restaurants in which we go about our daily lives and even in advertising for mainstream brands like Pepsi or Gap. It has become a global phenomenon, one of the most popular and lucrative music genres in the world, creating worldwide superstars and legions of adoring fans. Surely a force for good? Well yes, if your idea of positivity is explicit language, glorification of gang violence, the perpetuation of racial stereotypes, misogyny, drugs and a fixation on money and materialism. Are these values we really want to encourage? If it was just to cater for a minority taste this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but since rap is now the most popular music genre in the United States, part of the mainstream in western culture and is rapidly increasing in popularity around the world, isn’t it time for some types of rap music to change their tune?

It wasn’t always this way. I struggle to understand how something so poetic in origin, rooted in the story telling culture of Africa and often used so successfully by early artists such as Grandmaster Flash, as a vehicle for highlighting issues of injustice, oppression and poverty has to such a large extent become so corrupted in its values, hijacked by the corporates and turned into a global money making machine. Nowadays the mere mention of the words “rap music” conjures up too many negative images.

The objectification of women is a huge issue in some types of rap music, particularly the hardcore and “gangsta” sub genres (which also happen to be the most lucrative ones). To my mind the lyrics and the visual representation of women in these rappers’ videos is more often than not offensive. What kind of example is this setting for young women today? How many rap videos portray a strong, independent, intelligent woman asserting her authority over men? Instead all we ever see is a succession of submissive, scantily clad women portrayed as sex objects. If that’s all you’re exposed to when you’re young, you’ll start to think that it’s normal. In the twenty first century we are surely beyond the point where the sort of goals women set for themselves is to see who can be the most “bootylicous”. Particularly in the wake of the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, it can only undermine the message of the #MeToo movement to glamourise the exploitation of women. There’s enough misogyny around already: the last thing we need is it being constantly blasted in our ears and shoved in our faces.

I also don’t get how, in a time where we are encouraging tolerance in so many other areas, many rap artists seem to get away with expressing sentiments and using words like, ‘hoe’ and ‘n***a’ which, in any other context, would be considered racist, sexist or offensive to the point of being totally unacceptable.

Another area where some rap music seems to create controversy is the manner in which the lyrics glorify violence and glamourise criminal activity. Think of all the rap songs that latch onto the same depressingly recurring theme of scoring drug deals, knife crimes, drive-by shootings and aspiring to be the next big gang leader. As Eazy-E quotes in his song, Boyz-N-The-Hood; “Little did he know I had a loaded twelve gauge/One sucker dead LA Times front page”. For some artists this does in fact represent the reality of their lives, as a few have found out to their ultimate cost e.g. the east/west coast gang rivalry which claimed the lives of rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. The irony, though, is that other rappers, Drake being one example, will happily create a “gangsta” alter ego for themselves for the purposes of commercial success when in fact they come from backgrounds a million miles removed from the deprived neighbourhoods of South Central LA. What angers me is that this is not only misleading but irresponsible. Many people idolise these artists and see them as role models, thinking that sort of lifestyle is something to aspire to and imitating their behaviour in the belief that it’s the cool thing to do.

So many artists in this genre seem to obsess about appearances and materialism, as if quoting designer brands, high-end luxury goods and top of the range sports cars gives them some sort of kudos. Maybe if more rap was not about getting the latest Rolex and more about getting a decent set of values it would set a better example for its audience. (But then, Kanye West didn’t get to be a billionaire by promoting the values of modesty, selflessness and caring for others: he got to be a billionaire by promoting his music and his trainer brand, Yeezy’s.) Yet this unhealthy fixation on designer “bling” can only serve to emphasise the gulf between rap’s megastars and their audiences, many of whom can’t afford to dream about the luxury Caribbean holidays and endless bling enjoyed by those they idolise. As Chuck D, leader of the group, Public Enemy, and one of the most prominent voices in politically and socially conscious rap music, cleverly observed: it is hardly the stuff of Robin Hood that the route for many of today’s rap stars to achieving success and funding their own lavish lifestyles seems to be to exploit their own fan base, much of which lives in relative poverty.

It would be an over simplification to suggest that all rappers subscribe to the language of crime, violence and misogyny. Yes, there are the socially conscious rappers who denounce violence, whose messages are inspirational and who seek to challenge, instead of perpetuate, the stereotypes. There are those voices promoting a message of love, peace and understanding rather than one of hate, tension and intolerance but they are at risk of being drowned out. If rap is to return to its historical roots as a force for good on its ever growing audience, it’s time to give more airtime to the likes of Frank Ocean and Stormzy and to call time on “gangsta” rap and its negative influences.

Bibliography: websites 

thecrimson.com

lyrics.com

impactofrapmusiconyouths.weebly.com

weebly.com

Orla Morrow: Debbie Downer

I’ve never liked waiting rooms. The anticipation makes me anxious. I look around, trying to find something positive-colourful to focus on; white-washed walls, polished floor, white vinyl chairs, the kind that squeak when you move. A painful noise. So much for colourful. I hate it. Everything is so clinical.

The door finally opens, I am greeted with a smile. The woman seems friendly. I shuffle into the office. The room is warm, drenched in a sweet perfume of lavender -an attempt to make people feel more relaxed, I guess. Not me. It’s too sweet – turning my stomach to jelly.

I lower myself onto a chair accompanied by a glass of water and a box of Kleenex. What have I gotten myself into?

She sits across from me with welcoming eyes, pen and pad at the ready. We sit in silence. I try to appear calm, deep breaths. Inside I’m screaming.All I can think about is her, about Debbie. I watch her watch me from the corner of the office. I plan out what to say in my head;

‘Debbie’s my best friend, we do everything together. I remember we first met last December. We had so much in common and soon became best friends. Inseparable. She’s always there for me when I’m alone. It’s comforting – to an extent. No one knows me like Debbie does. However, she can be difficult at times. Debbie craves attention. She gets angry if I ignore her for too long. Things get scary when Debbie’s angry.’

I shift uncomfortably and start pulling a thread on my school skirt. Everyone would be in 4th period by now. I wonder if anyone noticed me drive off earlier… I refocus my thoughts;

‘Debbie loves long drives. She insists on choosing the songs, I don’t argue, considering she introduced me to the blues. Debbie has a special connection with music. It’s her way of expression. She sees the sad melody as though it were a river, sloshing over every building, swamping the streets ,one with the rain that cries down the car window. It’s amazing how music can do that. Although, sometimes her pessimism drives me crazy. She has negative opinions about everything and feels I must acknowledge them. Especially when they’re about me. Some days, when she’s round, Debbie sits by the mirror and lists all my mistakes, or sings about my insecurities, or she just attacks my appearance- it varies. ‘It’s all constructive criticism,’ she claims, staring through the glass with a look of disgust. I frown. I drink it all in though. A good friend would only state the facts, right?’

I need a drink. I reach for the water, hands trembling. I take long sips, drowning with every gulp, sinking into the silence as I continue to think;

‘I wish sinking into sleep were that easy. I can’t whenever Debbie sleeps over. Most nights, she forces me to stay awake for hours arguing. It’s become so frequent now that in the mornings, I can’t get up anymore. When Debbie’s around, she scares me.I used to be able to escape her but eventually she overpowered me. Now the only escape is sleep (if I can).’

I feel a yawn coming on. Why am I so tired? Is it the lavender? I can’t be bothered with my plans anymore; A friend’s birthday party. I’ll have to rain check… again. Concentrate now, keep thinking;

‘I’ve been cancelling a lot lately, much to Debbie’s delight. She gets so jealous. Whenever I make plans with friends, she convinces me to stay home with her instead. She loves hearing the disappointment in their voice after my pathetic “I’m sick, sorry” over the phone.

I’m sick of it. She’s distancing me from everyone I care about. ‘They don’t like you anyway,’ she whispers. I hang up, empty guilt in my gut. Why do I listen? I tell myself, ‘maybe it’s time to tell someone what’s going on, I need help.’

‘No one cares.’ ‘You’re just overreacting.’ ‘You’re just seeking attention.’ ‘You’ll just be a burden anyway.’

Why do I believe her every time?

Defeated, I turn the lights off and crawl back to bed. Debbie hugs me, her grasp suffocating. I don’t fight it. Instead, I welcome the blues as I turn on her music, ready to be submerged into the depression of the lyrics again. I feel the hollow numbness, the confusion as to why I’m so… wrong. Why am I so broken? Everyone else is living their life, having fun, and here I am, night after night, lying awake in agony, all hope and joy- dead. Is this how I’ll feel forever? Nothing? It’s petrifying. NO. I don’t want to be like this anymore.

I want help.

I need help.

Suddenly, I feel a painful surge of energy and begin to cry. The first time in weeks. I didn’t think it were possible. Debbie hates emotion. Tears. Real tears. They drip down, like the ones on the car window. Hope.’

I feel a tear escape my eye, then another. A waterfall. I grab the tissues. All this thinking and no speaking. After 45 minutes of silence, I’ve cracked. I can’t bottle this up any longer. Uncontrollable sobs are released. The woman nods, as though she knows, as though she can read minds. Her welcoming eyes unravel me. “It’s smothering me.” I cry. “It feels like a nightmare; one I can’t escape. It’s terrifying.” Debbie sits in the corner, silent. Infuriated. She’s exposed. My ugly secret is out.

The woman simply smiles, speaking gently. Comforting me. She tells me I’m not alone. She’s the only person who understands. At this moment, relief washes over me. I relax. We speak for the remainder of the session. The more we talk the lighter I feel. She gives me advice, reassurance. It feels as though everything could be ok; As Debbie slumps, unwelcome in this space, I think to myself that maybe, things will be ok after all.

That first session was 4 months ago. Debbie stopped tagging along after week 6. She rarely visits nowadays. Now when I look in the mirror, I smile. I sleep well, I go out with my friends. I feel. Debbie isn’t gone completely, it’s impossible to dispose of such a wicked illness – but speaking about it helps. I am aware of her presence when she visits, and sometimes, I can feel her darkness leak in, but I’m learning to find the joy in life to light my path once more, one whiff of lavender at a time.

Thomas Gillen: Panic

It begins with a ringing in my ears, as always.

A fire spreads throughout my body, blazing through my arms, then my legs, a sickness advancing from the deepest reaches of human imagination – the mind at war with matter. I’ve been shaking and writhing quietly for weeks, told my skills were too valuable to get rid of. Work yourself half to death with bones popping out and guts oozing out of the wrong places and the Doctors will chuckle, saying ‘Walk it off, it builds character.’ Losing focus. Shadows blurring together. I would laugh at the Medicals now if I could, through laboured breaths and a cold, piercing sweat, at how I was somehow deemed perfectly healthy; ‘a prime specimen’. A bullet to the leg never hurt a fly. The trenches wash away that kind of naivety.

A faraway banging snaps me back to reality, dreary as it is. Something compels me to put one leg in front of the other, and then the other, until I enter a trembling rhythm, like a stumbling march down a rock-face to certain death. As I limp forward, a cursed stench fills the air, somewhere between blood and the droppings of a cow, accentuated by the rotting of the wood under foot. I wade through mounds of dirt, shaken, shivering, and waterlogged from near constant downpours into His Majesty’s personal sewer. My head pulsates and the dizziness intensifies, and I am left blundering through unfamiliar backdrops, grey outlines in my vision as I tumble from one corner of my foul surroundings to the next – memories and nightmares flooding to me with every waking moment.

Shrill screams and deafening cries ambush me, crimson bleeds into the sky, and the ground itself seems to move as though trying to swallow me whole. My hands begin to convulse uncontrollably, clamming up, and that accursed banging continues in some distant world from mine. I’m reminded of the teacher’s belt clamping down on an unruly child, the scraping sound of leather on flesh echoed through the pounding in the distance. Pain flares up in my palm at the memory. Keep moving. My throat dries up. No water. Bottle empty. Fire and brimstone. Eyes grow from the trees, contorted and weeping, bearing down on me from their perch above me, leering at my very being. A wave of coldness floods over me as I trip into a puddle of muck, and the vision of Hell is briefly replaced with a wall of ice trapping me under the surface, before I am once again sent reeling back into the ground by that damned banging. Slowly getting back up, I begin to trudge forward once again. The walls close in and the shadows seem to whisper of conspiracy. I can hear the maddening tittering of someone nearby, or maybe that’s me, or maybe…

A flash of light brings me hurtling to a stop in a field. Home. The sun inches out from behind the clouds and for a brief moment I’m back where I belong. Where trees do not cry into the soil, where the weary can get their peace. I can smell a fragrant, pleasant scent. Strolling forward, small figures seem to appear in the distance, radiating warmth and with gleaming smiles on their faces, a time before all of the suffering of the present – my family, toiling the fields for what little harvest they can glean, labouring tirelessly, but still… happy. Some way away, I can see my little brothers and sisters out in the garden, playing at soldiers and enjoying the sunshine. As far as the eye can see, pure bliss.

And next to an old tree, her.

Liz, the girl an angel couldn’t hold a candle to. Sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, everything to anyone, able to lift the spirits through the hardest times, always there when you needed her. I’d known her all my life, and from day one she was the sort of person who you loved before you even knew what ‘loved’ even meant; no-one better from here to America.

I walk up to the ash tree where she lies. A grey cloud is suddenly rolling over head, and a light breeze begins to rock through the hills. The hairs on my neck begin to spike up. I square up to her, needing to say something I should’ve really said a long time ago – but I’m stopped by a terrible sight. The corners of her mouth are dried with blood and part of her arm is rotting. The light drizzle transforms into a raging storm, and as the rising gale blasts through, her face starts to peel away, leaving nothing but gore and bone, a sick and wicked sight. I turn around, unable to face what I have just seen, and watch as my little bastion of hope is ripped apart around me as the wind ruptures the very fabric of my world.

I drop onto my knees, breathless. Wrestling myself back up from the ground, a tall spectre of a man slithers into view, here to collect me. I barely hear any of his words, but I make out enough. ‘Is this all the back-up? My God, they ARE trying to get us all killed…’ the vision mutters, spitting venom. ‘It’ll have to do. Alright, boy, if you’ll steady yourself for one moment…’ the rest falls on deaf ears. Something about an attack over the top, the Somme, your bit for king and country. A bang slams down nearby, flaking shrapnel and nearly hitting a few men near the dugout. One of them appears to be shaking.

I’m nudged towards the ladders, and told to take my time with any last prayers before we move out, as if God hadn’t already abandoned me out here. I walk up to my ladder, gripping it unsteadily, and slowly make my way up it.

A bell rings out, and we attack.

Eva Pryce: Twin

I sit poised on the edge of my seat, my hand twitching towards my foot, where painful blisters are appearing. I hate high heels. My auburn hair has been dragged up into an excruciatingly tight bun and I can’t help but rearrange the slightly baggy, dark skirt, over my slim long legs. I turn and see my features slightly distorted in the glass pane of a door. A small smirk appears on my reflection: I knew she was bigger than me.

Two minutes later, an officer arrives and I follow him downstairs, into the depths of a building I will never see again (hopefully). The officer can’t help but glance back at me. Over. And over. And over again. I’m used to this. “The price of good looks is prying eyes,” my mother used to say. All of a sudden, my thoughts drift to home and to a garden I know every inch of. Across the garden, I see my reflection waving and smiling and I can’t help but beam back at her. She runs towards me in her fairy costume, with a beautiful, neat bun and tiny silver heels (some things never change). I adored my twin. We were inseparable. I see 3-year-old us, dancing in our horrendously pink room. Flash forward and I see us standing hand in hand, as we enter our new high school for the first time. Flash forward again and I see her, hand in hand. But not with me. With a stranger. She beams up at him, as she leaves me standing all alone, for the first time.

I feel a hand brush my shoulder and almost jump out of my skin. The officer signals to the door in front of me and I take a deep breath and step through it. The smell of bleach stings my eyes and throat and I pray I can leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I’m in God’s good books at the moment.

The morgue attendant rushes over to me. On cue, his wrinkles form perfectly into a solemn expression and I wonder if it is simply a trick he has perfected over time, or if he is truly sad every time a body comes through his morgue. I decide to choose the latter. This is unlike me. I am normally cold and unforgiving, like the place where I stand just now but something about this man tells me to trust him. It could be his kind eyes or simply that I haven’t trusted someone in so long, that my mind aches for someone to talk to. To tell my secrets to. To believe in. I hope this feeling goes as quickly as it came.

My steps echo. The silence breaking with every clack of a high heel on a tile floor. Then I see her. I stop. Even across the morgue, I can recognise those features, so very like my own. My face slips into what I think is the correct expression for this kind of occasion. The perfect mixture of sadness and confusion. I step closer but with every step another image rushes through my head. Rushes. A river. Trees. Darkness. Wind blowing my hair all across my face. My palms clammy despite the cold. A twig snaps under my feet. And. And……

I gaze up and see a bright light. It hurts my eyes. I squint and role onto my side. The sterile smell brings me straight back to reality and I began to stand up. The morgue attendant forces a glass of water into my hand. The light glints off the edge of the glass and I see stars. I stumble back but the ever-watching officer reaches out a hand and stabilises me. The morgue attendant smiles weakly, “You’ve fainted dear.” I mumble a few sorries and I hear him say something along the lines of “happens more than you’d think”. I nod and step towards the body.

Every feature is mine. The full lips, the sharp jaw, the large eyes and the slender limbs. Not as thin as me, I think. I can’t help it. But then I see the differences. Her lips are blue where mine are warm and pink. Her eyes are shut tightly and her limbs, stiff and still.

The officer steps forward, “Please state your name for the record.” I open my mouth but have to stop myself. No, I think. Slow down. I allow some time to pass and then say in my quietest voice, “Jac Bright”. It has the desired effect. The morgue attendant gives me an encouraging smile and the officer asks me to identify the body. “Julie Bright,” I say.

I step away from the table and shut my eyes. I hear the officer tell the attendant that a man has already been arrested, and I feel the colour return to my cheeks. Part of me is slightly shocked when the officer says that he can take me back upstairs now. I had expected paperwork and interviews. This seems too easy. However, given that they have made an arrest, I must be nothing more than a grieving relative. This comforts me. I say goodbye to the morgue attendant, whose name I never really caught and follow the officer back out and up the stairs. The place seems obnoxiously loud after the silence of the morgue. High heels clack. Officers laugh raucously and some man is making a scene in the reception.

I practically sprint out of the station and into the taxi that is waiting for me. I arrive at my house remarkably quickly and take my time walking up the stairs to the front door. I want to take it all in. There is a beautiful hydrangea beside the front door. That will have to go. I step inside the house and stop. A wonderful wooden staircase lies before me. Her husband’s death made her rich. Well, my husband now. I sigh and stroll into the main lounge. I throw myself on a plush sofa and let my mind wander.

I think of her. I feel the cold blade in my hand and shudder. I look around her house and absorb the life that is now mine. I have taken her life but I feel no remorse. She left me. She abandoned me. I was her twin. Her soul reflected. I banish thoughts of her and turn to see my 65-inch television. In it my reflection smiles. There are advantages to being a twin.

Eva Black: The Village Idiot

Dear Diary,

Wow… just wow. I had the WORST day ever today. After strain and excruciating pain, I eventually put together my speech for Bothwell’s annual, local village politician elections. I even put great, big, smart words in it, like boondoggle, idiosyncratic and narcissist… don’t laugh! They are real words, it even said so on the website www.100wordstomakeidiotssoundsmart.com! But these young, modernised, stupid millennials don’t understand these words like I do! They can hardly say them, never mind know what they mean. For example, they don’t know that spectacular means very, very bad, or that insidious means extremely happy, or even that tedious means really good! Who doesn’t know that?! Anyway, I’ll tell you all about my spectacular day…

I woke up at ten o’clock sharp, to the sound of my Thomas the Tank Engine alarm clock. I got out of my bed and put on my clothes; my bright red tank top, my sunny yellow trousers, my lucky, green socks and my matching green shoes. I strolled down to my kitchen, where my wife was making my breakfast. She looked at me, her face full of love and compassion and said, ‘Oh, it’s you… Are you sure you want to be the local politician? I mean, it is a very important job and you might not be able to cope with all of the responsibility and pressure.’ I laughed; this woman knows nothing. ‘I did not take one… I mean nine years of online university to back out of a huge election like this!’ I said. She sighed and looked at the floor. ‘Of course darling, I didn’t mean to offend you… now sit down, I’ve made you some breakfast.’ What a silly woman. ‘Lauren, you know that I cannot eat a big breakfast today! I have to go to the town hall to prepare my speech and election campaigns,’ I explained. ‘Now goodbye,’ I continued, walking out the door. ‘Make sure to vote for me, Neil Black at today’s elections.’

When I got outside, I breathed in the cold, crisp, new spring air. ‘Today,’ I thought, ‘is the day, in which I will become the greatest village politician of all time.’ I chanted my motto three times in my head – ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again.’ – then walked down my driveway, opened my gate and strolled down my street, towards the town hall. Momentarily, I saw Mrs Moon, my neighbour sauntering towards me, with her small, white dog Coco. As I passed her I called, ‘Hope you’re feeling insidious today, Mrs Moon! Make sure to vote for me at the elections!’ She stared at me rudely and shook her head, which I thought was rather odd, but Mrs Moon’s always acting out-of-the-ordinary, so I walked on.

Soon I was at the town hall. I lifted my head and looked at the clock face smiling down upon me. I stalked into the town hall, and was greeted by my faithful assistant Bobby Jones. ‘Hello, Mr Black,’ he said. ‘Nervous about today’s elections?’ I rolled my eyes in disappointment. ‘Bobby, have you listened to anything I said in the past? Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failing is inevitable, as I like to say.’ I replied, full of wisdom. ‘But Mr Black,’ Bobby started, ‘it was Coco Chanel that said that…’ ‘Quiet Bobby,’ I commanded, haughtily.

After practicing my tedious speech three times, the election hustings was about to begin. I chanted my motto three times again in my head: ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again!’ Suddenly, I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. Bobby was standing, trembling with fear, pointing at something. I turned to see what he was pointing at: my arch nemesis, Tom Humphrey. Oh, how spectacular he was! Oh, how I wanted to beat him in the election! He smirked at me, showing me his perfect, pearly white, gleaming teeth. I felt an urge to punch him square in the face, but decided against it as he would probably get very, very hurt. So I smiled, through gritted teeth.

I felt another sharp tap on my shoulder. I turned around to face the most beautiful woman I had even seen. Her bouncy blonde hair danced like… dancers, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled like… sparkles and her smile gave me buttercups. ‘It’s your turn to go on stage now; good luck!’ she breathed. Gosh, even her voice was perfect! ‘Thank you,’ I said, sheepishly, blowing her a kiss then turning away and making my way onto the stage.

I sashayed onto the stage, blowing the audience kisses. I strutted towards the microphone and grabbed hold of the sides of the podium. ‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, old people and young people, fat people and thin people and tall people and short people. Why am I here today, you may be asking yourselves? That is a very good question,’ I started, looking around the audience for approval, although everyone looked confused. ‘Well, the question you should be asking yourselves is, why are you here today? Is it because you like going to elections or is it that you like hearing beautiful, amazing, talented people like me speak? Some of you may be sitting thinking, ‘wow, this man is a narcissist,’ but I cannot help being beautiful.’ I looked up and scanned the audience again, to see if they were intently listening to my speech. To see if they laughed at the joke I made. No-one was laughing, or even smiling for that matter. ‘Anyway, these are my policies…’ Then, I was rudely cut off.

‘You’re not the prime minister!’ someone at the back shouted. I raised my hand for silence and cleared my throat. ‘Here are my policies,’ I repeated. ‘Firstly, I want to build a wall.’ The hall went silent. ‘I want to build a wall, to separate us from Uddingston. For too long, they have brought their Uddingston-born dogs into out village! For too long, they have used our local Marks and Spencer’s! For too long, they have made boondoggles out of us! For too long, they have walked on our pavements, used our schools and have played in our play grounds. I say NO to Uddingston.’

Suddenly a couple of boos had turned into hundreds of boos, and soon the whole town hall was booing: even the beautiful blonde woman, even my wife, even Bobby! I nearly started crying there and then, but I didn’t. Instead, I raised my hand for silence again. ‘Secondly, I believe that people in this village should shower only once a week, to lower this villages water bills.’ Once again, the hall was silent. ‘Showering is not necessary. One time I went three weeks without showering and – ’ ‘Again I was cut off by the same person, shouting, ‘I vote No to Neil Black’ at the back of the hall. ‘Someone needs to take that idiosyncratic man away now,’ I demanded. Abruptly, the whole town hall erupted in booing, like a big, torrential wave crashing over me. I stood for a moment, not knowing what to do, then said, ‘Thank you for listening, and remember. My aim is to make Bothwell great again!’ I walked off the stage, and stood backstage, not saying a word.

Tom Humphrey strutted past me, onto the stage and gave this speech about charity and helping people less fortunate than ourselves… BORING! I was sure that I was going to win after that. Then people started voting. After around ten minutes, the votes were all in and counted and the winner was ready to be announced. I stood confidently, smiling out at the crowd.

‘The results are in,’ said the tall, skinny man at the podium. ‘And Bothwell’s new local councillor is… Tom Humphrey!’ I choked on the air. Spluttering, I ran up to the mean, tall announcer, pushed him and said, ‘I demand a recount!’ Security guards sprinted up and, taking me by the wrists, dragged me out of town hall.

Now, I don’t know what to do. I just feel… broken. But hang on. My story doesn’t end here! I can just move to Hamilton and be their local politician!

Your Sincerity,

Neil Black.

Madalena Loughlin-Gomes: The Real Death Cure?

Transhumanism: a not-so-new new-wave global movement describing itself as ‘a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form, by means of science and technology.’ This belief, which first made headlines in the 1990s, has steadily gained support ever since, and while I was initially highly sceptical, there is no doubt that those pushing the theory are on to something commercially and, just possibly, philosophically too. This is a world that I regarded as belonging to some distant future with flying cars and teleportation, but a quick Google search revealed whole businesses, bitcoin economies and ways of life revolving around the belief that humans really can – and ought to – live forever. Yet, does the vast scale of this movement make it morally correct? What justification is there for obtaining immortality other than selfishness?

What first caught my eye from the plethora of transhumanist organisations was a cryopreservation institute: ALCOR Life Extension Foundation. With just 40 years since its foundation and fewer than a dozen full-time employees, ALCOR made over $2 million in revenue in 2017 alone, making them the leading cryonics institute globally, and their CEO and transhumanist activist, Max More, a millionaire. So, what exactly is this multi-million-dollar enterprise? Cryopreservation is essentially the preservation in liquid nitrogen of people who would otherwise die due to the limitations of today’s medicine. I was quickly dragged down the rabbit hole of ALCOR’s online world of sci-fi-like inventions and possibilities. There were webpages covering areas from case-studies and cryopreservation demonstrations, to an FAQ section for ‘bio-luddites’ (non-believers in the transhumanist world).

I remember tentatively clicking on the ‘cryopreservation process’ page and being surprised to find out that it involved no freezing whatsoever, rather the replacement of blood with a solution to stop cells from bursting at sub-zero temperatures. I was more disturbed however, by the discovery that when critically ill patients are close to de-animation (i.e. death – transhumanists only refer to death in quotation marks and with a high degree of scepticism; as death loses its omnipotent connotations if you believe in immortality), there’s a ‘standby-team’ near them at all times, complete with bags for when the patient’s blood is sucked from their body, and an ice-bath to plunge them into minutes after ‘legal-death’. These various tools would surely be a harrowing sight for the patients, knowing that their literal lifeblood will be drained from their veins seconds after their heart stops beating (after all, no one dies in front of the crematorium, or in a morgue). Nevertheless, over 3600 people from all over the world have paid up to $220,000 for a lifetime membership to ALCOR for cryopreservation. The possibility of ‘resurrection’ must be an alluring concept to those with terminal illnesses, or even those who simply have enough money for membership. However, the more I thought about cryopreservation, the more questions I had. The essence of this moral dilemma boils down to one thing: a battle of science and ethics. The ever-evolving argument between ‘Can we do it?’ and ‘Should we do it?’

Trying to make sense of the ethical implications of cryopreservation is enough to make anyone’s head spin, due to almost every part being completely hypothetical. However, if we theorise that ‘reanimation’ is possible, what are the real-life implications for the patients? No expert in the world can accurately envision how waking up 200 years in the future alone, or perhaps even surrounded by their own descendants, will affect someone’s mental health. Will their memories remain intact? If not, will they really be the same person? As is it not from our memories that our sense of self – our individuality – stems from? What are their human rights? What if society has evolved so much that their level of intelligence isn’t high enough to play any real part in society? The unfortunate and frustrating truth is that no one knows, but it seems that many cryopreservation believers have accepted this. Dr Ralph Merkle (ALCOR member and Director since the 1980s) stated in a video interview quite simply that ‘Cryonics is an experiment. So far, the control group isn’t doing too well.’ A little morbid, yes, but still a solid argument that gives the argument some scientific acceptability. As for my many questions regarding what would actually happen to the patients if they are revived, I was left with no answers. It seems that transhumanists are still fighting to prove the effectiveness of the cryopreservation process but have not yet put much thought into what will happen if it actually works. However, bad mental health and unemployment aren’t the only problems that resurrecting people 200 years in the future may cause.

In a world where massive population expansion is leading to completely unsustainable levels of pollution and global warming, is it really ethical to store vast numbers of people that could eventually be introduced to what will likely be an even more over-populated world than what we already live in? We are all too accustomed to the shocking statistics of over-population: over half of our forests and wetlands have vanished in the past century, all due to the population more than doubling in only four decades. If humanity will be nine billion strong by 2038, what about 200 years from now? We may even have already colonised the galaxy by then (yet another problem for the ALCOR patients – have the FAQ experts thought about how bodies floating in liquid nitrogen will fare in zero gravity?). Perhaps they will get their own planet, a sort of time-warp or possibly even a museum of Earth 200 years before they were reanimated. Whatever way it’s looked at, reanimation will surely only worsen our ongoing disaster, as if even a third of our population is cryopreserved as standard by then, then the projected figure for future populations will surely be wrong by a couple billion.

I can understand why the future of these patients and cryonics in general remains unclear. However, there remains one question that still keeps me up at night: what happens to the reanimated when they die again? Will cryopreservation be seen as the new burial? Or will we all eventually be an omnipotent consciousness, wired into a hard drive by that point? In fact, Transhumanists have dubbed this merging of human and technological intelligence the slightly ominous and Matrix-esque ‘Singularity’. The most likely option would be that if cryopreservation is successful once, it will be used again, thereby continuing the cycle of consciousness. It is at this point that cryopreservation loses all appeal for me. Who wants to be truly immortal? Real immortality isn’t even fathomable to most people, yet there are some who actively seek it, and believe it will happen in their lifetime. These are the immortalists: another worldwide network that’s just as real and, perhaps, even more mind-bending than the transhumanist organisation. The anthropologist Abou Farmiain stated that ‘Paradoxically, Immortalists believe that given the development of scientific knowledge, humans can enjoy life after death, yet it is precisely their attachment to life in this world that leads them to this faith’. There isn’t a way to ponder the ethics of cryonics without spiralling into all sorts of life-questioning dilemmas, but if the scientific basis for cryogenics is divided and uncertain, what else could we turn to for guidance when navigating the murky waters where philosophy and science collide?

For many, their guidance on the morality of cryopreservation stems from their religion, but in our largely secular society, there exists an increasing cross-over between ethics and religion. A starting point for those who follow Christianity, for example, would be that humans should not actively seek to extend their life past what it naturally should be on our finite Earth, and they should accept that death is part of life, and they are destined for peace with God in Heaven. There were many such comments in the anonymous ALCOR FAQ, with one particularly memorable reply being ‘flying is unnatural for humans, but there’s no moral opposition to planes!’. Granted, this logic was a little rough around the edges, but I could genuinely see where they were coming from. But if reanimation becomes the norm, or the Singularity is achieved, what happens to God? How will new people be born? Surely computers can’t just programme a new consciousness? Will Heaven just stop receiving souls? Are there souls in the Singularity? However, it seemed like the transhumanists were busy answering the hundreds of other bio-luddite’s queries, as I unfortunately got no response when I posed my questions to the members of the FAQ page, not even a witty comeback.

To conclude, the world of transhumanism and cryopreservation is a web of moral, ethical, philosophical, scientific, and religious dilemmas. Unfortunately, my original aim of deciding whether cryonics was morally correct or not was lost somewhere between the fifth article on the transhumanist argument as to why cryogenically reanimated cyborgs should be given citizenship rights, and my third email to the Cryonics Institute regarding my confusion to absolutely everything. Whether or not I will choose to become a member of the ALCOR community, and float around in liquid nitrogen for a few centuries in a tank full of strangers – both bodies and heads – for a chance at reanimation remains to be seen, but one thing for sure is that I’ve got a lot to think about, and many websites to scour before plunging into the ice-bath.

 

Bibliography

1. Anon. ‘What is transhumanism?’: https://whatistranshumanism.org/#about (accessed April 2019)

2. ALCOR life extension foundation (information): https://alcor.org/ (accessed March 2019)

3. Cryonics institute: Information on membership, statistics, processes and case-studies: https://www.cryonics.org/ (accessed March 2019)

4. Dr. Merkle’s video interview for the Humanist Community in Silicon Valley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAei0a8FE18 (accessed April 2019)

5. Talal, Asad, ‘Thinking about the secular body, pain and liberal politics’ from Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 26, No 4 (November 2011) pp. 657-675 for the American Anthropological Association: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41336307 (accessed April 2019)

6. U.S. Transhumanist party ‘Transhuman Bill of Rights’ https://transhumanist-party.org/tbr-3/ (accessed April 2019)

Lucy Gallacher: The Glove

The glove. He’d left it in the ticket office as he ran out. Maybe they wouldn’t notice; after all, to them it would be nothing more than two pieces of brown leather stitched together and at least every man in the city owned a pair just like them, there was no way it could be traced back to him. Or could it? Because then again, if stitching is picked it can loosen the leather letting everything fall, just as one slip could unravel all his secrets.

He was normally more careful in situations like this, even going as far as to wipe the fingerprints off a glass of wine before leaving a restaurant. In his profession you could never be too careful. He had been following Case 29 for many years; it had led him through the generations. It had all started just after the war in ‘46. Smith had joined the intelligence in 45 after two years fighting on the front; because of this, not only did he have intel on the soldiers, but after what he had experienced he figured he could handle anything.

The Berlin air was cold as Smith ran to catch up with the lady in the navy blue coat coat. She was the newest edition to Case 29: tall, thin, with jet black hair pulled tightly into a bun. She wore large tortoise-shell sunglasses that covered her face, and her coat was embellished with three white letters: NHS. Smith presumed they stood for Nazi Headquarters Saldenburg, which is where the lady was heading. Throughout the years Smith had been able to pick up on details such as the brief case she was carrying: Bottega Venetia. That’s how she could not be mistaken: ever since the brand was founded it had been a trusty transporter of the Germans’ plans and files, and another reason she could not be mistaken was the fact that the briefcase could cost about two and a half grand. The women he was following was pretty and in her early 30’s; possibly a new recruit to the Nazi organisation. In his younger days, Smith would have maybe gone for her but now he was on a mission.

Smith had been informed by his colleagues that the briefcase contained the blueprints for the next attack from the German Troop 87 on the British troops at the western front. If Smith could reach these in time, he could report back to the station and compromise the mission so the British soldiers would have more time to react. His role was vitally important to save the lives of thousands.

By this point he had followed the lady with the jet black hair outside a cafe where she was then greeted by another lady in the same navy coat, again embellished with NHS. This lady had dirty blonde hair that rested gently past her shoulders; she was about the same age, still thin but smaller. They began to talk as the lady with the blonde hair lit a cigarette. Some people think you should be seen and not heard, others heard and but not seen. Smith disagreed with both: in his job he had to be completely in the shadows, therefore he stood a couple of yards away from the two women. They kept mentioning “The Doctor”. Smith figured this was the nickname of the man the two ladies were working for. Smith glanced at his watch: it read 8:39. He looked back at the two women: the blonde one caught his eye, then the two women hurried away in the opposite direction.

Damn! thought Smith; they had seen him. He decided that the most likely way to complete Case 29 was to follow the two women to wherever they were going. He began to run after them. After several minutes he reached a large, modern, white, square building. It was multi-storey and had lots of windows. Many people gathered around it, probably discussing the organisation’s business. The two women had made it to the entrance, but before he could follow, each of the women pulled out some form of ticket and scanned it on some piece of technology he did not recognise. After all, this was a secret organisation. Trust the Germans to have the highest equipment, thought Smith.

Smith had grown up in a very poor area of Manchester, therefore he had had to learn ways to survive. One of the greatest skills he had gained was pick-pocketing and now there was another chance for it to come in handy. Smith looked around for the unsuspecting bait. He spotted him: an older gentleman in a camel coat. There was no way on earth he did not work for the organisation: he had a narrow, bleary eyed stare but other than that, blankness spread across his face like ice over a lake as he lit his cigar.

“Excuse me” Smith said in his best German, “your lace is undone”. As soon as the man reached down to check, Smith swooped in to his pocket, grabbed the ticket and swiftly walked away. Child’s play, he thought to himself.

Getting in to the Headquarters with the pass was surprisingly easily: it was navigating the women with the blueprints that was hard. Luckily the woman with the dirty blonde hair was a bit of a loudmouth, and led Smith directly to them. He had reached a corridor with five or six small rooms in it; the walls were white and the bright lighting hurt his head, but finally he spotted it: in one of the rooms, on the corner of a table, lay the Bottega Venetia brief case. Smith secured the pocket-knife hidden up the inside arm of his shirt, as he did not know what he would encounter in the room. He stepped inside.

The room was strange: it wasn’t really a room, more of a cell and the only light that entered was that from the corridor. The strangest thing of all was that the walls were padded and covered with a white leather. Boom. Before Smith could think any more, he turned around to face to men wearing white masks that covered their noses and mouths, probably to conceal their identity. “Dammit,” Smith thought. He’d been trapped by the Nazi organisation. He tried frantically to figure his way out, but there was nothing! No window, no door handle. All he could think to do was rattle the small double glaze window and scream “Help!” “Help!” “Help!”

* * * * *

A tall, thin women with jet black hair pulled tightly into a bun stands outside the cell door. She holds a file that reads: ‘Bert Smith, patient, Heartwood Mental Institution.’

“Poor thing,” the nurse turns to the doctor and says, “fought in WW2, diagnosed with dementia and PTSD from fighting, still thinks he’s in Germany sometimes.”

“Let’s keep him in solitary until he calms down” says the doctor. “They found him with a knife and he was very distressed, shouting for help and everything.”

The Apocalypse in Frigidaire – Orla Morrow

Chapter 1

It was a beautiful morning as the sun lit up the sky around the village of Frigidaire. The gentle hum of the wind passing by was quiet and calm. Raindrops of water were scattered along the village pavements and a few still trickled down the walls of the neighbourhood’s houses. ‘Must have been a cold one last night’, Graham thought to himself, scratching his head. He clambered out of his bed, reaching for his glasses by the bedside, his green tartan quilt still wrapped around his large frame, contrasting against his milk-white skin.

He stood up and started towards the grand oak mirror standing opposite his wardrobe. This was where Graham would decide what freshly ironed shirt to wear and what colour of tweed jacket to match, and of course, which Cap to finish the look. You see, Graham was a very important ingredient when it came to the mix of the village. He always had to look fresh and presentable when he was around the villagers.

“I’ll top it off with a green cap today,” he announced cheerily to the fat reflection looking back at him through the mirror.

Graham was very tall, bulky and always wanted to look his best. Sometimes, he wished he was more tanned than his natural pale skin, but he was proud of it nevertheless. With a final nod of approval towards the mirror, Graham grabbed his keys and headed out the front door.

He stepped out onto the cobblestone walkway in the garden. The  wind whooshed around him, harsh and chilling, the air like shards of glass against his face. Unlike me and you, these villagers always had to live in a cold environment and enjoyed the freezing weather.

A sudden blast of wind hit Graham, causing his cap to fly off and dance in the air, almost as if it were performing right before him. It took its final bow and  gracefully landed in the Pineapple Patch in Mrs. Muller’s front garden.

“Good Heavens!” A thick German voice from the rose bush squeaked.

“I am so terribly sorry, Mrs Muller,” Graham cried, “ But I seem to have  misplaced my cap.”

“That’s quite alright, Mr Mayor.”

Slowly, a small and slender figure emerged from behind the roses, holding the escaped cap. This was the famous garden of Anna Muller. She spent a lot of her time outdoors. She loved flowers. Anna was particularly well known as the villages’ Green Grocer. From the fattest peaches to the sweetest strawberries, her garden was the main source of fresh fruit that every villager was desperate to eat from. Anna would open shop in the morning with  fruit baskets all  lined up and every basket would be empty before noon, Graham was in a privileged position, not only with having the advantage of being the charming mayor whom everyone adored, but also with having the pleasure of being Anna’s next door neighbour.

“Any exciting news for us today?” She asked, polishing the deep red apples that hung above her head.

“Oh no no, nothing too important. I’m just going off for my daily walk around the village, making sure everything is intact,” he responded, eyeing up the plump blueberries that were beginning to be picked off their stem, ready to fill another fruit basket.

“Well, it would be a sin if I let you go hungry.” She scooped up a dozen fresh blueberries into a cloth and handed them over to Graham.

“That is ever so kind of you, Mrs Muller. Your fruit never disappoints.”

Anna, bashful from the compliment, waved him off as he began his journey in the village.

Chapter 2

Graham was the most respected and admired person in Frigidaire. Everyone idolised their Mayor. His daily walk around the village would consist of constant smiles, waves and “How are you today, Mr Mayor?” He would never admit to it, but Graham loved the attention and the feeling of power it brought .

‘Okay, lets get started,” he thought to himself, nibbling on a blueberry. As Mayor of Frigidaire, he felt it was his duty to make sure he had seen every house, street, road sign and crack on the pavement before he arrived at ‘Cartone Inc’ . This was where Graham worked,  in the centre of the village.

His first stop was Brie K. Racker’s house.

Brie was an old friend of Graham’s, a soft person on both the inside and out , but with a sharp tongue when required. The Mayor strolled over to the front gate and let himself in.

“I see you are hard at work over there” he declared, looking round to see Brie standing in a big Vat, stomping down on hundreds of grapes.

“Well hi, Graham!” She grinned up at him, while continuing her stomping.

Graham smiled. Brie was the only member of the village who ever called him by his first name. Although he liked the feeling of importance the title ‘Mr. Mayor’ gave him, he also liked the feeling of love and welcome when he was called by his real name.

Graham cocked his head to the side in interest, reaching  for another blueberry.

“So, how is the wine coming along”

“business is booming, I seem to be selling bottles every 5 minutes! It’s never been better!” Brie responded.

“That’s great! I am extremely happy for you,” he laughed.

“Well, I just came by to check that everything was running smoothly and it seems that it is!” Graham looked down at his watch, suddenly realising  he was running behind schedule.

“Oh! I’m so sorry but I must be off. It was lovely seeing you.” He began towards the front gate.

“Wait! Wait!” Brie jumped out of the Vat and ran over with a glass in her hand, “take this with you, I want to know if it tastes good enough to start selling.”

With a quick sip of the wine, Graham nodded in approval and tossed one of Anna’s famous blueberries to Brie.

“Those new grapes really seem to be doing the job.” He shouted over his shoulder as he continued his walk.

Brie smiled to herself, jumped back into the Vat, and started stomping again.

The rest of the journey went rather quickly. A short hello with Tom Ketch, An exchange of waves with Colonel Colman and  and a quick catch up at Betty Anchor’s bungalow.

Finally, Graham arrived at Cartone Inc. where he was ready to finally sit down and rest. He looked forward to  having a quick cup of tea and devouring the remaining blueberries in his pocket before tackling his paperwork.

However, unknown to him , in his office there waited the bearer of news which would alter his plans for a lazy day.

“Mr Mayor! Finally, you’re here!” A voice cried from behind the office chair.

There stood Evan Boil, the village’s investigative reporter who’s job was to travel around the area, bringing news back to the mayor of any local events. Evan Boil worked for Graham. He was the most reliable source of information about what was happening outside Frigidaire. His news was usually very boring, mainly just the weekend weather forecast. Graham was fond of Evan, he could always crack him up with a good joke.

“Evan, what seems to be the problem?”

It seemed he had something more important than ‘rough winds’ to inform the mayor about today.

“ It’s terrible. Terrible!” he announced, holding back tears, “It started in Freezaires in the village of Solero. I was going there to do a report and it all happened so fast, everyone screaming. I barely made it out in one piec-“

“ Okay, okay! Calm down Evan.”

Graham tried to reassure him by sitting him down on the couch. “Don’t get into such a scramble. Now, tell me what is going on.” He nibbled nervously on a blueberry, waiting for Evan to respond.

“The sky went black. It was as if the sun had melted into nothingness. It was so strange. Despite the sun being gone, it felt as though someone had set fire to that village. People were collapsing everywhere I looked because of the heat.”

Evan paused, a long silence filling the air. His head turning both ways to make sure no one else was around. His eyes slowly traveled to Grahams’, and prepared himself for what he was about to say.

“Frigidaire,” he whispered, “Is next.”

Graham stood still  for a moment, his mind racing. He jumped up and started rummaging through his file cabinet, desperately trying to figure out what exactly this meant.

He pulled out a pale grey folder, marked : ‘Natural Disasters’

“An.. Apocalypse” He read aloud. Evan cracked his knuckles loudly. It was a nervous habit of his. “What does this mean?” He asked.

“Call a village meeting in the Cartone Hall immediately.” Graham declared.

He picked up the final blueberry and popped it in his mouth before racing out the office door.

Chapter 3

As usual, in Frigidaire, news had spread like wildfire and everyone rushed to the hastily arranged village meeting in the Cartone Hall.

“Settle down please. Now please, settle.” Graham announced over the worried voices filling the Hall.

“Why is this happening now?” Karen K.ale shouted from the crowd.

“Is Frigidaire going to be destroyed?” Mary Hellman, another scared voice, called out.

“Are we going to melt like everyone in Freezaires?”

What about the children?”

“Why aren’t you fixing this, Mayor?”

Questions were being fired at him from every direction and the frantic voices grew increasingly loud.

“Alright!” Graham yelled, shocked silence descended as no one had ever heard him raise his voice before.

“I understand you are feeling confused and scared. However, due to the circumstances of this situation and the information I have been given about this particular..erm.. event.. There is nothing in our power that we can do at this moment in time.”

An angry outcry arose filling the air.

“What do you mean there’s ‘nothing in your power’?”

“You’re our Mayor- start acting like it!”

The crowd began to get angry and frustrated. This was not going well for Graham.

“Surely this won’t kill us all?”

“ Now now, we cannot confirm any outcome of This.. um.. event.. but-“

“What is this so called ‘event’

Graham froze. He knew if he divulged the news Evan had brought him, there would be whole scale panic.. He couldn’t have everyone in turmoil. He needed everything to be intact and running smoothly at all times. Telling them this would ruin everything he had ever worked for. All the admiration and respect he once had would be lost. But he knew he could not keep this from them.They had a right to know what was going to happen. He took a deep breath, and leaned into the microphone.

“An Apocalypse”

His head slumped in defeat. It was his job to protect his people, and he felt he was failing them. Everyone was screaming and yelling at him for walking away. There was nothing he could do, it was out of his control, but as mayor, he had no choice but to take the blame.

“Coward!”

“You’re No Mayor!”

“You’ve gone Sour!”

So much noise blaring behind him, but he couldn’t hear them. All he could hear, were his own thoughts,

The village is going to be destroyed. People will suffer in the sweltering heat and pitch darkness. And the worst thing is …

there’s nothing I can do.

Chapter 4

Graham hid in his house for the rest of the day, too embarrassed to come out. He knew he would have to at some point. But not yet. He decided he was going to keep an account of all the strange things happening around him.

Day 1

Temperature : Normal

Light : Normal

It’s the first day of the apocalypse. I have been in my house for the past 24 hours. Nothing too bad has happened. Yet.

 It still seems cool enough to go outside and begin my daily walk, but I don’t think anyone will want to see me. They say I’ve grown sour and mean for not doing anything, but this whole situation is completely out of my control. I really hope Brie isn’t angry with me- or Anna for that matter. It’s pretty Incredible, all this is happening and there she is, still out In her garden.  

The sun is still out, which I suppose Is a good thing. I wonder how long It will take for the heat to travel from Freezaires to Frigidaire.

It all seems so unreal. Nothing like this has ever happened before, why now?

Graham woke up during the middle of the night, sweating. He put his hand to his forehead and scrunched his face in confusion.

“What is this?” He asked, “Is this.. sweat?” The mayor leaped up out of bed, in  horror at the thought.

“No, no this doesn’t happen. This isn’t normal..” He shuffled over to his bedroom window and opened it cautiously, sticking one chubby arm out.

“ It’s.. humid?”

Graham reached for his diary and started scribbling.

Day 2

Temperature : Humid?

Light : darker

I just woke up in a sweat! this doesn’t make sense. It’s supposed to be cool in Frigidaire and now it’s getting warmer. I can’t tell whether it’s night or day. I really hope the sky lights up again.

I fear the Apocalypse will begin soon. I just pray it doesn’t get any hotter.

I wonder how the villagers are holding up. Anna is still out in her garden, she appears more tired than usual. Why on earth would she be gardening during the night? or at least I think it’s night. I’m not sure. Anyways,  I will continue logging in regularly to update on the current situation at hand. In the mean time, I need to get back to sleep.

Once again, Graham woke up, hungrier than last time.

“Still dark?” he thought. His stomach grumbled. He stood up and reached for his coat.

Crash! The next thing he knew, he was lying on the bedroom floor.

He whimpered in shock and fright as he tried to drag himself up.

“it must be getting warmer now.” He groaned.

He propped himself against the mirror, panting in the heat, and began writing once more.

Day 3? or 4?

Temperature : hot

Light : almost out

Dear diary, I fell this morning getting out of bed. I feel so faint from this heat. i sense a bitter, spoilt taste in my mouth. I feel like such a lump. I’m also really hungry. Maybe I can ask Anna for some fruit, maybe an orange could help freshen me up. However, I can’t see her in her garden anywhere. I’ll just sneak in and take one. Hopefully she doesn’t notice. I really must go now, if I don’t I’ll starve to death.

Graham chucked his diary back onto his bed and struggled his way to the door, knocking a blue cap off its hook.

As he stepped outside, the heat intensified.

“How can it possibly get warmer!” he exclaimed. He looked at the ground. No raindrops. He looked at his garden wall. Not a single drop trickling down.

‘This can’t be good’ he concluded.

And then, his attention drifted from the dry wall to a rather peculiar sound. he looked up from the wall to see a terrible sight.

Chapter 5

“Mrs Muller!” he clamoured, running over to her garden. Anna was kneeling on the grass holding her blueberries, sobbing.

“What’s happened? Are you hurt?” He inquired as he knelt next to her.

“It’s ruined, all of it” She motioned to her garden. “ The peaches, the oranges, the berries, the apples, everything!”

Graham lifted up one of the apples, its once deep red now a bland grey. He examined it in shock as he saw that the inside was black.

“They’re rotting from the inside out.” She stuttered through tears. “my beautiful garden is dead.”

She collapsed into his arms, crying uncontrollably. He wiped her eyes and gave her a hug, trying to reassure her. After sitting in silence for a while, he told her to stay inside, out of the heat. As she went to leave, The mayor stood up, becoming dizzy in doing so.

He waved her off and began to walk back to his house.

Just as Graham was reaching for his keys, he froze. At that moment, he thought to himself,

‘If something like this has happened to Anna Muller.. What has happened to everyone else?” Graham swerved back towards the street, and began to take his daily route through the village.

“This is a bad idea” Graham stammered as he swayed along the pavement. At this point, It was very, very warm outside and it was dangerous for him to be walking around the village.

He came to a sudden halt, as he saw Brie K.Rackers, pacing angrily in her garden.

“What’s the matter, Brie?” he asked with concern.

“My grapes, every bunch of them have gone sour! I don’t know how this could have happened they were growing so well!” she roared. Graham had never liked this intense bitter side of Brie, It made him forget about the soft, good part of her.

“I cannot believe this has happened” she snapped, swaying from the heat.

“I hate this stupid apocalypse. I hate the heat. I hate the darkness” She ranted,  “ And I hate you, for not doing anything about it!” She turned her back to him. This hit Graham hard. Brie would never say such a horrid thing. He could feel tears welling up. He blinked furiously, refusing to show her how hurt he was.

“Just get out of my garden, before you spoil anything else.”

He obeyed her orders and left.

Everything was falling apart.Graham was hopeless . What kind of a Mayor would let something as dreadful as this happen. As he stumbled along the pavement, he saw Betty Anchor collapse. He sprinted over and tried to revive her.

“ Please, Help me.” She whispered, drained of all energy . He looked at her, completely helpless, as she melted in his arms. He looked up to call for help, only to find more villagers begin to drop to the ground.

Graham was running. He rarely did that. He never enjoyed sports, but that would have to change. At least for now. His heart was pounding and his mind was racing as he turned the corner into Quality Street, trying to figure out what on earth to do. He was the Mayor. It was his duty to ensure all his villagers were safe.

He  was blind in the darkness. There was a horrible smell of rotting in the air. His villagers were dying. All of his friends were near death.

“There’s, Too, Many, People” he gasped between heavy breaths. His head had gone fuzzy and his vision blurry.

“W-what’s happening?” He yelled in terror.

He looked down at his fingers, they appeared to be morphing into something different.

‘I’m- Hallucinating’ a voice in his head whispered. Everything in his vision started to spin, every shape morphing. He couldn’t hear anyone’s cries or see anyone’s burning faces anymore. Just as he thought this couldn’t get any worse, He was blinded by a bright , white light..

And then everything went black.

Chapter 6

Graham slowly opened his eyes, trying to adjust them to the new environment.  His body felt stiff and uncomfortable, he couldn’t move.

‘Am I dead?’ he wondered. He looked around to find 4 white walls surrounding him. He looked down and saw his arms and legs were gone. There was a green label wrapped around him that read In big white letters

‘ Graham’s’

Before he could figure out what to do next, a thunderous voice boomed from behind him.

Suddenly, one of the 4 walls opened up, revealing a petrifying sight. A colossal creature stood there, its face the size of Graham’s body.

‘What is that.. thing?’ he thought in alarm.

The creature frowned and scrunched up their nose.

“Mum!” The creature roared , “The Power went out!” Graham was paralysed by both fear and shock as he looked closer at what was around him. His house was no where to be found. The village had vanished.

The ground shook as another larger creature arrived. It reached into the box next to him.

“ Oh no, all the Soleros  have melted!”

‘Soleros ?’ he thought, ‘that’s the name of the village in Freezaires’

Graham looked closer at his surroundings and recognised several items around him.

“There’s Anna Muller!” he exclaimed as he saw a tall slender figure. “she looks very different.”

The wild hand reached for Anna and yanked her out of the box.

“Hey!” Graham screamed, “Stop!” But the creatures couldn’t hear him. “Let her go!”

“Ugh, my Yogurt is all lumpy!” The taller creature bellowed, “ I was excited to eat that. It came with blueberries !” And with that, the creature threw Anna into a black hole.

“No!” Graham cried.

One by one, all of the villagers were being plucked from the box.

Graham watched in horror ;

“This butter is completely melted!” – Betty Anchor Disappeared .

“Mum, This cheese is mouldy !” – Brie K.Rackers Vanished.

“ Yuck! This kale is all wilted!” – Karen K.ale was snatched.

“ Those eggs have gone rotten!” – Evan Boil floated away.

“Oh no, the condiments are nearly empty. Let’s replace them.” – Mary Hellman, Colonel Colman and Tom Ketch, all lifted away.

Graham was left in the box, all alone.

Then the massive hand reached for Graham and he squeezed his eyes shut, afraid of what was going to happen next. The pink, squishy flesh wrapped around his large frame and twisted his green cap off.

“Ew!” The smaller creature squealed looking into the Carton , “The milk has gone off. It’s all sour and lumpy!” And with that, Graham was tossed away to join his friends in the deep dark hole as he fell he heard the creatures speak…..

“I can’t believe the power cut. All the food is spoilt.” The smaller creature squeaked.

The taller creature shook its head and rolled its eyes, “That’s the last time we buy a fridge from ‘Frigidaire’.”

“Let’s try Samsung next time.”

Up in Flames – Hannah Martin

What bothered Detective Inspector Henderson about the Morris house fire was the straighteners.

He understood that all the boys at the office had written off the tragedy as an electric fault caused by the overheating of a pair of straighteners but still, he knew better. Veronica – ‘Mrs Morris, Steven,’ he frustratedly corrected himself – had never straightened her hair once in all the time he had known her, and to his knowledge did not even own a pair.

And yet the indigo hair tool was one of the only artefacts recovered from the blaze.

DI Henderson wasn’t officially assigned to the case due to the obvious yet unspoken personal conflict, but he could not resist investigating the death of a mother, father and teenage daughter for himself. After all, he did have the highest conviction rate of anyone in the North East Division.

And that is how he found himself at the station on a fog filled Friday night, staring with bleak, strained eyes at a computer screen whose words had converged into one riddled mess. He was deflated after another chaotic day of solving everyone else’s problems instead of being allowed to get on with his own assignments, and now he had stayed in the office for God knows how long in an attempt to find some closure through cracking this ‘incident’.

Henderson groped blindly for his mug of coffee, and grimaced at the bitter, cold taste. ‘Christ’ he wondered, ‘what time is it?’ He stretched over the laptop to grab his phone from the large pile of memos on his desk. The cheeriness of the lock screen staring up at him almost intensified the guilt that he was constantly attempting to repress. There was Sharon, beaming at the camera whilst fixing Jamie’s tie on his first day of school. Henderson remembered practically brimming with pride as he watched his son walk through those gothic iron gates for the first time. He was so happy back then, comfortable and pleased with life and everything it had to offer – it was not until much later that he had noticed the great feeling of unease in his stomach, causing him to doubt the content he held for life.

Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, DI Henderson attempted to clear both his mind and his conscience. Three people had died. Given that everyone else had shoved this case to the bottom of their piles, he had no other option but to try his hardest to ensure that if someone was to blame, they would get the punishment they deserved.

He reviewed all the evidence that had been gathered by the investigation department once more in the hope of connecting something that he hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t much to work with, only a few witness statements from neighbours claiming not to have seen anything out of the ordinary during the early hours of the 20th, and DNA results from the forensics lab from recovered items which came back inconclusive.

Henderson was getting more and more frustrated, and he couldn’t tell whether it was with the case or himself. There was nothing mysterious or even alarming about the house fire, just the deep sense of tragedy and loss that had instantly become deep rooted into the local community. But despite the fact there were no official suspects, he felt that the damning evidence needed to unravel the never ending thread of this case was close to being discovered, but he couldn’t seem to be able to grasp it.

With a deflated and defeated sigh, Henderson shut down his laptop, shrugged on his grey raincoat and switched off the IKEA desk lamp. He realised that he was one of only a few left in the dull office, before the unlucky members of the night shift claimed the space as their own.

He stood at the main door for a moment, his mind continuing to race as it searched for possible suspects, motives, methods, theories, anything. He became frustrated as he faced the prospect of having to leave this case alone with nothing to show for it but a gut feeling that it wasn’t an accident, as he opened his umbrella and stepped out into the car park.

The night immediately enveloped him, and he struggled with the harsh wind and pouring rain. He regretted not having driven his car to work that morning because despite the walk only being a mile or so, in this weather time would stretch itself out as far as it could possibly manage. He begrudgingly started the walk, while scanning the mental documents of his mind in the hope of exposing a clue to the fire that he hadn’t noticed before.

Henderson was so engaged in his review, he physically tensed up when the sound of a car horn entered his head. When he finally reconnected to reality, he located the source of the noise, a red Ford Fiesta which was being driven by a man who appeared to be beckoning him over. He strode over to the car with faltering confidence – why was a stranger intent on getting his attention?

“That umbrella’s not doing you much good is it pal?” The man had a cheery voice, held within a ruddy, weather beaten face that could’ve belonged to a 30 year old or a pensioner. Henderson began to recognise him, almost sure he was a constable.

“Ah yes, it’s my own fault for thinking that I could get fit,” Henderson replied politely – he didn’t know this man very well, and at that moment was reaching desperately into the crooks of his brain for his name.

The guard didn’t seem to notice his struggle as he carried on, “Here, aren’t you out near that new Sainsbury’s?”

“Eh, yes that’s right.” Was it Bob? No, definitely Bradley. Bill?

“Well what’re you still standing out there getting soaked for then? Jump in, I’m going that way anyhow.”

Henderson became immediately aware of the sense of suspicion that seemed to vibrate through him as he analysed the strange situation. “Are you sure? I don’t want to bother you.”

“Absolutely pal! It’s not a bit of trouble.”

Henderson walked slowly around the car, grappled with his umbrella, and settled into the passenger seat. He glimpsed at the dashboard, where he caught a glimpse of the police constable’s ID card. So he’s a Bill then.

After Henderson mumbled his gratitude, the first few minutes of the ride were tense and awkward, with the only sound being the windshield wipers as they struggled to clear the storm that lay ahead.

“So, Steve,” Bill asked casually, “where is it you live exactly?”

He gave Bill the address of his quaint, modest bungalow and watched as he took the next exit off the roundabout. They were getting close when Henderson felt a pang of guilt as he realised that he must be keeping Bill from getting home to his family. Henderson began to voice an apology when Bill abruptly cut him off. “Ah nonsense! It’s nothing to me, I’ve got no family, you see. Never married. No kids. Nothing. So pal, it’s the least I could do for a family man in need.” Henderson became quiet at that, feeling as though he had somehow brought up a sensitive subject for Bill.

“Ah look at that Stevey, we made it here in record time for this kind of weather, don’t you think?” He nodded in reply, and thanked Bill again for the lift home.

“Anytime pal,” Bill said earnestly. “I’ll see you soon enough.”

“Eh, yes I’ll definitely see you around. Thanks again Bill.” Henderson replied, getting out of the car in a brisk manner and attempting to dodge the huge swell of rain on his way up the path of his home.

Bill watched as DI Steve Henderson approached his front steps, readying himself to be greeted by his picture perfect wife and young son. Bill’s pebble eyes hardened, as he toyed with the lighter in his pocket. As he waited in the twilight for the family’s lights to extinguish, the arsonist could practically see how beautiful the bungalow would look as it became wrapped in the dancing embers of sunset flames. The arsonist waited, and as he waited he laughed to himself because after all – all good things must, eventually, go up in flames.

Land of Hope and Glory? – Nina Snedden

Trauma. Torture. Torment. All of which should be synonymous with the turmoil imposed upon millions by the British Empire. Yet, on the horizon of a post-Brexit Britain, a sickening sense of national superiority seems to have emerged from the dewy shades of the British empire, once extolled by many as the ‘empire on which the sun never sets.’

An underlying nostalgia for the imperial dominance that the British empire once brought, and a sense of chauvinistic pride surrounding it, and the supposed stability that it secured- despite its harrowing treatment of countries such as India, Yemen and South Africa- is detectable within Britain today. A large section of the British public seems trapped in a web of blind glorification through denial or blatant ignorance. Despite the shocking accounts of imperialist atrocities now widely available for the British public, many Brits seem, even with the knowledge of these events, to be party to a once dormant sense of pride due to the empire’s past assertion of power and dominance over other countries. In recent years, this mentality seems to have erupted once again; fuelled by the jingoistic sentiments of xenophobic politicians and recent events in Britain. A YouGov survey shows that 59% of the British public are proud of the Empire, only 19% are ashamed, whilst 23% don’t know. These results imply a sense of amnesia throughout a large section of Britain regarding British imperialist abominations. During the Boer Wars, Britain was responsible for the death of 10% of the entire Boer population in one year alone, including 22,000 children- yet a large percentage of the British population remains deluded by the miasma that obscures our nation’s understanding of our own history. How can this be?

Many empire fetishists argue colonies profited and prospered under the red white and blue of the gaudily coloured union-jack parasol. Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, falls under this category, writing,”… no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And no organisation has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world”. Yet, Britain, in fact kept its colonies and subjects in the shade, confining them to the dark shadows of exploitation. The empire’s indisputable intention was to plunder countries of their natural resources and labourers, with an utter disregard for the suffering of those living under their rule. Ashley Jackson, Professor of Imperial and Military History at King’s College London, comments, “The basis of empire is that you rule other people, you deny them independence, you exploit their labour and resources, and a lot of the ‘good things’ were often incidental and secondary.”

During recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, when counter protestors met white nationalists at the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally, a 32 year old woman and two Virginia state patrol troops were killed and 19 people were injured. This ostensibly indicates a rise in white supremacist activity and a reluctance to condemn America’s history of slavery. Britain has heavily criticised the US and Trump- with Theresa May commenting that there was “no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them”, and stating that “It is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.” Yet bizarrely, Britain itself still seems to glorify its imperial past, shrouded as it is in impropriety, immorality and iniquity. The discussion of it is often carefully orchestrated so as to imply that colonies largely prospered under British rule. Statues erected in areas of Britain dedicated to such tyrants as Cecil Rhodes and Edward Colston go some way to prove that the fetishisation of British imperialism is still rife within a large division of British society today. Having made his fortune in the mining industry, Cecil Rhodes became focused upon the annexation of present-day Zimbabwe. Rhodes succeeded in creating the eponymously named ‘Rhodesia’ in an attempt to assert the British as ‘the first race in the world.’ Rhodes can be held accountable for essentially engineering the system of ‘apartheid’ in South Africa, by separating the Africans working in his mines from the rest of civilisation, as well as stealing millions of miles of indigenous lands and prompting the outbreak of the second Boer War, which resulted in the death of 25,000 Afrikaners. In the context of Britain today, Rhodes would be widely regarded as a white supremacist, a racist and a criminal. Why is it that his statue adorns Oriel College, Oxford?

The Brexit vote in June 2016 further points to an underlying nostalgia for British imperial dominance and a hope to reassert Britain as a ‘world power’. Historian, Margaret MacMillan said ‘They’re talking about the glorious Elizabethan Age; they’re talking about that time that Britain ruled the world. It’s a fake sort of nostalgia because of course it doesn’t take into account the complexities [of the situation].’ This desire to return to an age of power and influence requires the renewal of trading relationships with past British colonies. In a speech in July 2017 Theresa May referred to ‘building new relationships’ and reaching ‘trade agreements’ with ‘old friends’. May’s reference to past British colonies as ‘old friends’ goes far to prove the extent of Britain’s delusion surrounding its nefarious imperial past. During the Bengal famine of 1943, many Indians perished under the hand of ‘the war hero’ Churchill, regarded by history as an honourable British leader. Yet it is unlikely that the 3 million Indians who died during this period would view Britain with the same bizarrely fond affection. Nor the 3 million victims torn from their homes in colonies and enslaved between 1562 and 1807. And certainly not the Adenese, who were stripped of their clothing, sexually exploited, and forced into refrigerated cells, in the torture camps opened during the Aden emergency of the 1960s. Foreign secretary, Boris Johnson commented “We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny civil service… Are we really unable to do trade deals?” However, British colonies including India, having suffered under the violent rule of the British empire for decades, have now economically, democratically and morally surpassed Britain. The rotting corpse of the empire cannot and should not be resuscitated.

Entrenched supremacy, racism and discrimination remains palpable within the British mindset today. The undeniably jingoistic Last Night of the Proms is another clear example of the underlying nostalgia for imperial dominance that still exists in a large faction of British society. Songs such as ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ extoll the “virtues” of British imperialism. John Drummond, who ran the Proms during the 1980s and 1990s for the BBC referred to being ‘moved from tolerant enjoyment to almost physical revulsion’ in response to the BBC’s glaring dismissal for those who suffered under the tyranny of the empire. Many argue that tradition calls for these songs to be played. However, it was not until 1905 that ‘Rule Britannia’ became a fixed song in the event, and not until as late as 1953 that ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ became a permanent source of particular frustration for anti-imperialists. Lyrics such as ‘Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!’, as well as, ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’ imply a specific disregard for the millions of civilians enslaved and murdered under the British rule. The undulating union jack flags hark back to a false memory of when Britons appeared to ‘Rule the waves.’

Unless we collectively address and condemn our imperialist past as a nation, statues will continue to be erected condoning slavery and torture, songs will continue to be sung glorifying an empire responsible for the death of millions, and Britain, although it will likely not return to the world-wide stature and superiority it once supposedly possessed, may continue to allow racism, violence and pain to be the basis upon which power is placed. We cannot allow Britain to regress in such a way.

Take a Bow – Molly Connelly

“A must-see production”, “Enchanting, feel good musical”, “Stunning performance.” Such phrases are typical of the comments commonly made by critics when reviewing musical theatre productions. These critics are of course, knowledgeable professionals who are much more experienced in the world of show business than I am. But I must say this: the fact that musicals are described in such superficial terms always disappoints me. To talk of a musical in terms of the ‘entertainment’, the ‘charm’, the ‘fun’ is, I feel, to miss the potential power that an onlooker can experience when confronted with a well executed musical. When the final curtain comes down to a roar of applause or a standing ovation, the theatre embodies the spirit of each magical production and makes a subtle impact on all those cheering. This essay is an attempt to convey that now I am sixteen, I appreciate that each stage production I have seen symbolises my level of maturity and provided life messages I unknowingly required at the time.

Whistle Down the Wind taught me about friendship during my youngest years; Beauty and the Beast was a lecture on love as a pre-teen; Les Misérables was there for me when I was ready to learn about justice not to mention providing me with the greatest album a thirteen year old should have. The whole experience of venturing to the theatre, making the climb up the red velvet stairs and excitedly looking for your seat, obviously whilst praying that the tallest person in the theatre isn’t sitting in front me, is one that I look forward to. The excitement isn’t just to witness a story but to walk away and feel empowered, through listening to legendary songs and watching the magical art of storytelling in its finest form.

Singing, dancing, and a rainbow of brightly coloured costumes are things that would fascinate any inquisitive five-year-old. However I was unlike any typical five-year-old. I was painfully shy, I couldn’t even maintain eye contact with my closest family members without my face burning. I was never the kid who put on a show for the applauding family members in the lounge. That would be my brother; I was always the one observing, wishing I could have an ounce of his confidence. Until I discovered musicals. Here was something I could watch and even though my role was that of pure admiration, I still felt included.

My parents separated when I was young and around the time they split my dad took me to my first musical: The Lion King.  As a child I found it even more magical than most. The Lion King offered a place for shy children to witness and be part of a room filled with energy and emotion and for me, I left with a spring in my step and that little bit more courage.

Shortly after my dad opened my eyes to musical theatre he moved to China, and I never saw him again. So you see, The Lion King is a major touchstone to my childhood and in many ways bittersweet; since that day I have seen the production eight times. I was this small timid little girl spending what I know now to be the final moments with my father. I really feel his presence when listening to the Circle of Life and looking up to the profound gold cornices of the Lyceum Theatre.  This marks the beginning of my journey.

Turning thirteen signifies the start of your teenage years, so it was the biggest birthday of my life so far (especially since I have Jewish Heritage). As part of the Jewish faith, the birthday celebrates you becoming a woman. My mother wanted to make this a memorable day for me so we went to New York. Broadway is world famous for being the home of musicals therefore we couldn’t resist the playbills stacked on every corner and the double decker sized billboards promoting the latest musical extravaganza. We soon gave into temptation and followed the bright signs of Broadway until we found ourselves at the half price ticket stall.

I had to choose. Would it be Wicked?  Or Les Mis? Wicked seemed the more fun and happy-go-lucky option but I was (or at least, I thought at the time) almost an adult and so went with my mum’s recommendation Les Misérables– even though it appeared the boring alternative; it’s about the French Revolution which is a bleak moment in time, I couldn’t imagine how it could be translated into a musical.  To my surprise it was without a doubt the best thing I had ever seen, I felt mature and cultured, as I was eliciting emotions to a topic I would have previously yawned about in history class. To this day, I Dreamed a Dream is still my ultimate shower song.

At thirteen I thought the things I would relay to my friends about the trip was that I had made the journey to the top of the Empire State building or jumped on the piano in FAO Schwarz just like they did in the film BIG. As it turned out, the defining moment of the trip was going to watch the performance of Les Mis. Not only did I enjoy the show, I felt a sense of growth and maturity making me realise I had come a long way from that little girl looking up at the gilded ceilings in the Lyceum Theatre.

In place of the obvious gifts for my age such as makeup and clothes, I would receive musical tickets. It became a common gift, meaning mum and I would take a trip down to London a couple of times each year. We would often do some shopping, have ice cream at Harrods, go for afternoon tea and then see a musical. This quickly became a tradition for us. I have always been very close to my mum but sharing some of my favourite things with her on our trips has created such a special bond. She is my best friend, a statement many would be embarrassed to admit but I have grown with confidence over the years and have learned the art of just being me.

Together we have seen a host of stage productions: Blood Brothers, Miss Saigon, Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent, Dream Girls, Matilda, the list goes on. We have even started to revisit old favourites. Recently we went down to London with no plans to see anything. We went for a stroll and passed the theatre showing Les Mis, mum casually turned around to me saying: “We should go in.” I was baffled until we went to the box office and sure enough they had tickets reserved for us both; mum had booked them months before. This was a strong reminder as to how much I had grown from that girl in New York: I was now excited to walk through the theatre feeling I was ready and mature enough to enjoy such a deep storyline.  I still enjoy the Disney classics as they take me back to where it all started: recently I went to the opening night of Aladdin. Now I’m sixteen going on seventeen (yes, did I mention I’ve seen the The Sound of Music too), I can see that my first experiences at the theatre that afternoon I saw The Lion King encouraged me to be that little bit more courageous and not worry so much, I still whisper to myself Hakuna Matata if things get a bit tough.

Musicals have helped me mature into the young woman I am today, and each experience I have had at the theatre has truly helped me evolve. When I was younger they gave me confidence, then nostalgia and now I make cherished memories with my mum and I hope they will contribute to my progression into adulthood. The emotional twists and turns of the characters in many musicals in ways remind me of my own journey: I was young and vulnerable with my father leaving me at the age of five.  And the musicals themselves have acted like friends, providing a stable background and scaffold from which I can now look forward beyond my teenage years to my own happily ever after.

Portrait of an Artist – Lewis Patrick

My mum is an artist. Okay, I imagine you are reading this and reaching for a phone and the social services number. I understand your concerns, I really do. But, no, she is not a conceptual artist. She does not paint using elephant dung, or photograph her unmade bed, or wrestle with sharks to encase them in formaldehyde. My mum is a traditional painter. Although you could be forgiven for not being entirely sure what that means anymore. The notorious Turner Prize and the writings of the latest, eminent art critics have rather blurred the lines. Please allow me to remind you. Traditional painting involves the timeless tools of the trade. The artist’s senses are invaded by the feel of hog hair bristles in brushes; the sight of brilliant colour from the tubes of pigment; and the smell of turpentine fumes. Further, the knowledge and understanding of these materials is used to produce representational pieces that do not require a first-class degree in philosophy to enjoy and understand the work.

Mum considers herself to be a ‘Contemporary, Scottish Colourist’. What does that actually mean? You may well ask. Well, it means she has ruthlessly swiped the term ‘Colourist’ from the famous group of artists that included Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell. The title was purposefully purloined in the vain hope that some of the glory associated with these guys would rub off on her and ultimately lead to tremendous fame and fortune. She is typical of her type. I mean, if you have had the pleasure of being in the company of artists you will know that they present as ethereal creatures. They assume a disinterested stance. Artists outwardly reject any form of financial gain, whilst all the time looking to their next scam. I know this, because, I have been educated at mother’s knee. I have watched, listened, and absorbed the trickery involved in ascending the greasy pole of artistic success.

In her previous life, mum was a teacher. In those days, despite a long commute and a challenging day at the chalk face, we (dad and I) were guaranteed a hot meal and clean attire. I often reminisce about those happy times. Nowadays, there is cause for celebration if there is a morsel of food in the cupboards or clean underwear in the drawers. I’m not talking Bleak House here, but the pendulum has definitely swung. Dad and I have been abandoned for the sake of art. But don’t write us off just yet. We are steadily adjusting to our new reality. He has finally worked out how to put detergent into the washing machine and I can just about ‘heat’ a supermarket pizza. Sometimes I have to squeeze myself into tiny, misshapen woollens and he has to eat inedible, undercooked cuisine, but we shall soldier on. Meanwhile, upstairs in the ‘studio’, our old lounge, the ‘New Scottish Colourist’ strides back and forth, back and forth in front of the easel, unaware, and unencumbered by domestic chores.

The studio, otherwise known as the ‘Sanctuary’, is a sacred place. Here, surrounded by the paraphernalia associated with her craft, stalks the artist. She who must not be disturbed in any circumstances. Once, in dire need of some love I tried to attract her attention by shouting, “fire, fire”, only to hear a muffled retort referring to that tired, old fable concerning boys and wolves. According to her, this level of detachment is crucial to the application of her brand of ‘sorcery’.

My mum considers herself an ‘alchemist’. A long time ago, she happened upon a book focused on the correlation between science and art, and since then has been banging on about the similarities between the scientist and the artist. She says, “It is all about gaining the knowledge and experience of the elements to produce something spectacular”. As a junior scientist, I disagree, but try arguing with her. I accept that she knows her Phthalocyanine Blue from her Indanthrene Blue, but does she know the composition of these paints – I don’t think so. I was once privy to an in-depth conversation with a sales assistant regarding the attributes of Lapis Lazuli paint. She enquired why it was so expensive, and the assistant explained that the manufacturer had travelled to Afghanistan to mine for the pigment. Now, would you risk your life in this manner? I think not. So, whilst being switched on about finance in some ways, artists are also highly susceptible to every peddler and quack who promises the elixir of success.

Success – that elusive goal. In contemporary times, meaning access to the most prestigious galleries and a healthy following on social media (Leonardo would have loved Facebook). Lately, there has been a certain level of progress. Mum, an acknowledged self-publicist has touted her work around the galleries and through gritty determination is now hanging in some decent places. Clarification required here – artist terminology for being included in an exhibition, she is not physically hanging; although, sometimes that would be the desired effect. Apologies, I digress, after a miss-spent childhood (in and around art galleries) I have gained quite a critical eye. In my opinion, there have been incremental improvements in the work. At the risk of sounding obsequious, the Hebridean landscapes have actually evolved aesthetically, and, now, rightly deserve some critical acclaim.

The thorny price of critical acclaim in the art business is the interaction with the galleries. Without labouring the point, gallery owners are a whole different species to the rest of civilisation. They can be pompous, contemptuous, fastidious and vindictive. As a generalisation, this description is pretty accurate. That’s the nice ones. First, getting a foot in the door can prove a Herculean task. They guard their walls and clientele like Cerberus guarding the gates to Hades. To deal with them you need a first-class degree in psychology. If you are too eager, they sniff you out like a pig going after truffles. An insouciant stance is required for this sport. A certain chutzpah. Throw open the door, swagger in, ignore the proprietor and throw down the gauntlet (I mean the paintings). This usually works. Sometimes, a particularly recalcitrant one gets the sunglasses and gum chewing treatment. Mum is good at that one. The teaching years have helped.

I have just described the entry. The exit is far worse. Sometimes, nothing has sold, meaning that mum has to return to the gallery, tail between the legs, eyes lowered, to collect the unsold work. Sunglasses and gum abandoned. Occasionally, there has been a sale – much celebration and then no mula. When the time comes to collect payment, the elusive gallery owner has ‘gone to a funeral of a dear friend’ or is usually skulking through the back. I know you are thinking this kid is prone to mass exaggeration, but, no, this is a reliable, witness account of the seesaw world of the artist. Lots of dirty derriere and less soaring through the sky. It’s a tough old game. But, mum’s a tough old bird.

This portrait might at times appear somewhat unbalanced, leaning more towards the negative, but that is not the full picture. The reality is that mum is doing something she loves, meaning that she is amenable as long as she has had a successful day at the easel. When teaching, she would come home like a bear with a sore head. There are pleasant jaunts around the country to doorstep the aforementioned ‘charming’ gallery owners; and a planned photographic trip to Stornoway in September. She is to be photographed in the pose of her beloved Joan Eardley (the famed Scottish artist) knee deep in the waves in front of her easel. You couldn’t make it up! But best of all, the pursuit of her goal has rendered her oblivious to the swathes of time I spend playing blood-thirsty computer games and eating carry-out – she was always a dreadful cook. So, life with an artist isn’t so bad after all. In fact, at times, it is rather good.

Beneath the Surface – Eva Pryce

Mandy gracefully swooped in and out of the looming darkness, blissfully unaware, like all the others, of the grinning spindly shadow following her. She twisted her way through street lamps and drunks, her final destination unknown. All she felt was a powerful desire to continue on with no real idea of why or where she was going. She slipped through a barely visible gap in between two sizeable hedges and, all at once, vanished. To even the most attentive of onlookers, she seemed to disappear into thin air, with the shadow quickly following.

The shadow, dear reader, was obviously her own. This is not a tale of fantasy or whimsy. This is truth. It is a warning to every woman on Earth. You are never safe. There is no escape when fear is masquerading as hope and evil is hiding behind justice.

There seemed to be no good left in the world. This thought lingered in Thomas’ mind as he gazed around at his colleagues, moving swiftly though the bar (as if 5 minutes would make a difference to this case). They slipped between sticky tables and puddles of god-knows-what on the floor; Thomas couldn’t even bring himself to enter the toilet, where there were undoubtedly enough germs and poor decisions made, to cause Satan to turn on his heel. The cops had disgusted looks on their faces as they frantically searched for…. For what? He knew they wouldn’t find anything. It was a footling waste of time. There was no evidence. There were no witnesses. There were no leads. There was no hope. Only fear. These poor women who disappear like smoke in the wind. The pain they could be suffering. The terror gripping them. Then Thomas felt a hand tap his shoulder and he turned to greet his, rather over enthusiastic constable, William.

However, when Thomas turned, William was horrified. For a split second, he saw a terrible smirk strewn across his mentor’s face but it melted into his usual stony features immediately. William assumed that it had been nothing more than a trick of the light and promptly informed Thomas that they had found something.

William scanned the detective’s face, expecting to see shock, possibly even elation at the possibility that they were one step closer to catching the “Maiden Murderer” (the wit of the media apparently knows no bounds) but all William saw was fury.

“This isn’t in keeping with his M.O.”, groaned Thomas, “It is most likely a trick. He’s never done anything like this before.” Thomas’ steely gaze fixed upon William. “Well. What is it?”

William handed Thomas a slip of old-fashion parchment and relief spread across Thomas’ entire stature.

“Pfft. Another wannabe Shakespeare. Talk about living up the cliches.” As Thomas unfurled the crumpled parchment (which had been left at the bar the previous night) he read aloud,

“In a lake of eternal sleep,

Every last one of these women,

Do I keep.

Their weak minds always bend to my will,

And no, I’ve not yet had my fill.”

Nothing. Nothing to work with, no clues. Simply, nothing. You’d think that saying “lake” would’ve made the deflated policemen somewhat optimistic, but having already sent divers into every river, pond and puddle they knew of, it only served to annoy.

“There were no prints on the paper sir,” muttered William, “The others at the bar saw a young girl matching the description of our missing lady with an older gentleman, at around 9:30pm last night. Her boyfriend reported her missing when she didn’t return home last night and none of her relatives and friends have heard anything. The only detail they remember about the man who was with her was..

“Let me guess.” interrupted Thomas. It was almost funny how the singular detail people remembered of this man was possibly the most intriguing. A beautiful gold watch on a metal chain. Thomas believed that this man was hypnotising the young brunettes into traipsing towards their deaths, without any knowledge of what they were actually doing or why. Of course, his narrow minded colleagues had laughed and laughed and insisted that he get out more, when they heard this, but Thomas was sure. Very, very sure.

It was almost too hilarious, seeing the desks of the two policemen side by side. Thomas had turned his office into a base hub for the investigation and so had moved beside William. Thomas’ desk was practically invisible under a mountain of papers and had just one, wilted and depressing plant on it. William’s desk was neat as a pin (a trait he appeared to have picked up from his late wife) and decorated with ornamental gold fish and pictures of his family, who were the resident “psychics” of a travelling circus. Thomas had long since realised that his trusted companion’s family were all con men and frauds, albeit exceedingly good ones.

“We’ve just had the results back,” said William, “The DNA on the note isn’t on file and the bar was covered in dozens of prints that would take months to trace.”

“Another dead end.” said an increasingly worn out Thomas.

All of a sudden every office in the room seemed to sit up perfectly straight, as the commissioner waddled into the room. With a large moustache and horrible grey suit, the commissioner appeared to be part walrus (a fact that lead to many sniggers between Sergeants around the water cooler).  If there were ever a person, thought Thomas, that I would frame for murder, this pompous idiot is definitely first in line.

“Officers Chalmers and Ray. I am here to personally inform you that we will be handing the.. em.. “maiden murderer” case, over to MI7, effective immediately. It was never really in your league, was it?”

If it weren’t for William’s quick thinking, Thomas may have beaten the living day lights out of the walrus.

“You stupid, arrogant excuse for a human being!” screeched Thomas. “They’ll never find him. We have the experience to take him down. He’s a genius and has been five steps ahead of us every inch of the way! If he were ever going to be caught, it would be by someone who has been with this case from the very beginning and not some young upstart with a high tech gadget permanently glued to his hand. You’re an idiot every day of the week but couldn’t you have taken a day off for once?”

“Say one more word Chalmers, and you’ll be suspended for slurring the name of a very superior officer. Ray, take the detective home.”

After a wearing and awkward car ride, William dropped Thomas off at his apartment. Thomas practically jumped out of the car whilst it was still moving. He ran up the stairs, got changed into a new suit and trench coat, grabbed his numerous keys and left once again, slamming the door behind him. He had taken the first ever call about a missing woman. This was his case, his job, his life. No part walrus, arrogant numskull, was going to stand in his way.

Meanwhile, William had returned to his mansion. This was a result of his wife having been filthy rich. She had gone missing some years before but was officially pronounced dead after 7 years (this was the law). William had married the beautiful daughter of a wealthy oil tycoon who had left his entire estate to his only child. William and Katrina genuinely seemed to love each other and this was why people assumed that William never seemed to be able to keep a relationship going for long. The women always seemed to end up moving away or just stop showing up for dates. In fact, it was a source of great confusion to many of his colleagues, as to why William continued to work a thankless job, when he had enough money to never need to work another day in his life.

William poured himself a glass of expensive whisky (the kind that was far too good to be wasted on other people) and wandered up the stairs to a gargantuan master bedroom. He opened the door of a beautiful mahogany cupboard and deposited a single lock of brown hair that he had acquired, in a locked box, which he placed deep inside the expansive cupboard, once more.

Seeing the good weather, and taking into account the fact that he had nothing else to do, William sauntered out of the house, into his back garden and strolled over to a deep and murky pond, that he had always loved.

“Don’t worry my love,” he said reaching his hand towards the pond, “we’ll find some more friends soon. This is just a minor setback. It will still be easy for that moron of a detective to appear in the frame of suspects. We’re too smart for them. All of them.”

A single foot drifted towards the surface of the water.

Arran – Charlie McCallum

Sun glitters across blue waves.

A flamboyant tail of clouds follows

An aeroplane across the blue summer sky;

A soft balmy breeze of cool air brushes

Against your cheeks.

The potent heat of the sun vibrates on your shoulders.

 

As you sit on the moist hill which lays host

To millions of summer’s green grasses,

Clouds of white merriment drift past.

The opera sounds of the sea

Enchant the mind into a solitude of euphoria.

 

In the sea, seals dance around in a glorious blaze

Beneath the sun, who casts her summer warmth

Across the isle of Arran,

And into the cool waters of the Firth of Clyde.

 

How is it that a landscape next to a village in Scotland

Can dispense such bewitching sensation,

Like falling asleep on a bed of satin?

 

Another hour goes by.

The once radiant heat on your shoulders develops

Into a breeze, a flurry of ocean air.

Like a dragon scorching an army of ten thousand,

The once blue sapphire summer sky has evolved

Into a dark red crimson.

 

The omnipotent sun falls over the Irish Sea,

And is slowly pulled under the awful waters

Of the Universe.

 

The day draws closer to a finish;

The sun is submerged under the world

As she explodes into

A halo of wonder and alleviation.

 

What a day of bliss

To make your eyes drunk with beauty and magic

That your mind could never have dreamed of.

 

Letters of the Sea – Yves Laird

My grief is like the ocean, dark and overwhelming. Its crashing waves engulf me, the darkness unfolds me. Strangling my veins. My thoughts are cobwebbed and suffocating my brain, drowning out my memories of you. But now those same waves have returned, their powerful white horses dragging her with them. If I hadn’t been a victim of the sea, I would have believed the facade. The ocean is powerful, with enough force to destroy and rival the land, as well as a loved one and their family. But then again, the most innocent of faces are always the wildest. You know that.

Death is never ending and ever present in my line of work as well as in my life, somehow painfully ironic. After being a detective for over sixteen years, just before you were born, and seeing everything there is to see, I never realised how much this present case would affect me.  The pain I’d buried with you, is now being exhumed.

Every day, month and year I strive to find missing children, or their killers. To ensure I can secure justice for those families, as I supposedly received. One thing I can never fix is the heartbreak and destruction left behind. How can I ever fill the hole in the parents’ hearts that is the shape of the child they have lost? No matter how much evidence, support and guidance I can offer, the puzzle of their heart will forever be incomplete. This is what I struggle with the most. No one thinks it’ll happen to them, every parent protects their child from this but sometimes, it’s not enough. Everyone sees the endless news reports, the appeals, the missing posters, the devastated parents, as they hold on to every hope of finding them. But no one thinks that that could have been their child. No one wants to accept this happens, but I have to. I’m one of them.

Pictures are all I have of you now, as well as the memories that will live on in my heart. But some pictures are too heart-breaking to look at: your ‘Missing’ pictures, the photograph that was meant to be proud and centre on the mantelpiece, of you in your ‘big girl’ school uniform with your blonde locks in pigtails that I had perfected for you that morning. Your innocence shines out of you as you grin cheekily. It’s a painful reminder that I’ll never see a graduation photo, or even your children. The other photograph of you with your floppy summer beach hat falling off your head as you giggled hysterically as we played on the beach – the beach you were found on only months later. Or even the first photograph we ever received of you, your tiny fragile body represented through a grainy image. I love that your beauty and our memories can live on forever with me, but the photos also hurt the most. They battle as comforters and tormentors both, as I think of all the memories that we could have made, that have been taken away from us forever left by the ocean. I’ll never see you grow up and leave school, or be able to walk you down the aisle, or even as much as speak to you again. You’ll forever be that missing shell from the shore that was taken and crushed by the dark cruel waves.

You will never know how much you were wanted, your mother and I were desperate to have a child, but couldn’t. The desperation nearly led us to breaking point, until we adopted you. You filled the missing piece in our hearts and completed our beautiful family. We vowed to protect you and we adored our gorgeous blue-eyed baby, but all too soon you were cruelly snatched out of our hands.

No one understands this pain until they have experienced it. The ‘Missing’ photographs just spark a brief flash of sympathy and act as a reminder of keeping your loved ones close to the public, but never truly come close to representing the emotional turmoil and life-destroying feelings behind it. Life beamed in all its energy from those photographs of you on the beach and death has removed all that vitality and potential, never to be seen again. After all of my experience both professionally and emotionally, I always keep in mind that a body isn’t just another case, it’s another life taken, another family broken apart another life I get to know, even after death. In some ways, this person does live on, at least for me. The crime scene is a parting message.

Now as I am tasked with unravelling the last few days of this girl, I keep in mind the justice I was served. But some days I am less at peace, like her family. Will what I do for her and my daughter ever be enough? Some days I have faith in the law and that the person that took you away had things taken away too. Some days I believe I can restore and heal fractured wounds, but I can never fill that missing piece.

The way she smiles up, with gleaming bright eyes and an honest wide grin through the picture, reminds me of an older version of you. She pulls you in and I can feel her gaze penetrate my mind and my thoughts, her energy seeps through the photos as I feel my blood surge through my veins. The photograph has captured her in a carefree happy moment, very similar to the one of you on the beach, and has frozen her memory there forever.

Her bloodied corpse now, bears no resemblance to this once beautiful girl. One very similar to how you would have appeared now. Her long silky golden hair no longer cascades down her slender back to her waist but now looks like broken straw cropped to just above her bruised cold neck. Her family say her hair was part of her personality and had always set her apart from everyone else. Her flowing mane added a halo- like glow around her striking features and fair freckled skin. Now her smile has vanished, her fair skin ice cold and stiff to touch and pale blue in colour. Her long athletic limbs are no longer fuelled with life and her red lips that once framed her sparkling smile are burst and frozen closed forever, harbouring the secrets of her mysterious death and final days.

As I scramble to piece this case together, I look at our last piece of evidence, the letters. As I slice the crimson red envelope open, the deathly white paper slides out and the words spill out onto my hands.

Dearest Ava,

I don’t know why it had to end like this. I never wanted to lose you or give you up. Today will be your sixteenth Birthday, and I still can’t believe my beautiful blue- eyed baby is now turning into a woman. I never intended to let you go, but I was only sixteen. I am desperate to see you, or even just receive a letter to see how you are doing? I have tried for many years to get in contact with you, but my letters were just returned. Please find in this envelope a birthday card for every year I wrote to you. I know I may be too late, but please know I will love you unconditionally and I truly believe we have the strongest bond any two human beings can have. After all you are the only person that knows my heartbeat from the inside.

I wish you all the happiness and joy in the world and hope you to hear from you soon,

Your loving mother, Anne xx

As I read, another piece of the jigsaw appears – an image of your tiny monochrome body in your first ever picture. It flutters slowly to the sand and blows on the calm breeze to the sea.

 

Physically Fit and Mentally Prepared? – Jenna Morton

What is time and distance? What are seconds and centimetres? To many people they represent units of measurement; insignificant and small. To me, however, they represent months of long training, constant practise, and interminable repetition. It can be the difference between first and last, winning and losing, being the victor or being the one who just takes part. In my sport of athletics, time and distance is everything because winning is everything. There are three things that are key to being a winner: mental toughness, physical strength and good coordination. And therein lies my problem.

I was diagnosed with dyspraxia at the age of 8, which means that my coordination is second-rate.  People with dyspraxia generally have poor integration of the two sides of the body, trouble with sports that involve jumping, and hand-to-eye co-ordination.  As a result they tend to have poor visual perception, with little sense of time, speed, distance or weight and a complete lack of rhythm. It is therefore difficult to rationalise how I found myself competing in the Scottish Schools pentathlon event.

I was always fast; tearing around the playground, chasing after boys. I took great pride in beating them. It allowed me to be me and I treasured the attention when I won.  I lacked confidence in everything else I attempted – I couldn’t spell, I apparently never listened, I was rubbish at maths and my inability to read situations didn’t push me to the top of the class popularity poll.

However, with running, I was the best.

Forget the bruises, the cuts on my hands and knees from my multiple falls and the occasional visit to casualty for minor concussion, it was worth it. The athletics’ club was where I felt most comfortable and relaxed. A coach recognised I had talent and pushed me towards multi-eventing. My ego inflated, I naively decided it was worth a shot. Athletics then became more demanding; more about technique than fun; more about using my brain than my limbs.

The effort it took to evolve and adapt to the necessary technical requirements was exhausting even before I had even moved a muscle. As coordination is a problem, some events seem like an impossible task, especially the high jump. Watching it on TV it appears to be merely a run and an awkward jump but for the athlete there is much more happening. The technicalities are hugely demanding: In tempo, swing the arms, control the turn of the hips, hitch the leg, hop up, arch the shoulders over the bar and keep the centre of gravity low and— flop. Each of these movements needs diligence, but being dyspraxic, I can only focus on one of these movements at a time so that what should be a fluid, deliberate motion, dynamic and graceful, often ends up as awkward and clumsy.

June 3rd. The morning of the Scottish Schools’ competition. I lay in bed, muscles like lead and devoid of aspiration. The voice in my head was already telling me to give up – I didn’t stand a chance.

The memories of the drudgery of those long, cold winter nights of training and self-sacrifice were tormenting me. Entering Grangemouth Stadium, I began reciting the mantra: ‘I can do this’.

In as much as I enjoy being the victor, sometimes I don’t mind being beaten. Today was different. “Positive mental attitude”, my coach scolded the whole time I was warming up. However, my inner demon kept insisting ‘you don’t have the strength’, and kept persisting ‘you are not a winner’. I could have easily absconded.

First event – the high jump. Paradoxically, your success is ultimately measured by your failure: Every high jump ends with a miss. Fighting against the label of dyspraxia, I had spent countless hours and energy, determined to conquer this event. My coach had painfully researched how to instruct a dyspraxic person and instructed me to concentrate on only one aspect of the jump. Over-thinking would result in the whole motion collapsing.  Stay up tall. These three words resonated over and over in my head. The high jump was centre field, everyone was watching. A churning sensation evolved within the pit of my stomach. Trying to block out the crowd, I took my first attempt. I cleared it. I couldn’t look back. I was petrified that just one glance would knock off the bar. I was elated. I repeated this several times before my luck eventually ran out. A personal best and the leader board established I was in fifth place.

The technique for the hurdles is simple: you sprint forward as fast as you can and then make some adjustments to clear its height. Having good coordination is a bonus, not one of my strengths, but speed is. Looking down the start lane, initially I was alarmed at the stature of the girls beside me, all tall and sinewy. Then I realised that all of my competitors, without exception were using starting blocks. I had none, they looked every bit professional; I, on the other hand, stood there looking quite amateur.

In the crouch position, I stayed calm. Bang! The starting pistol exploded. Simultaneously eight girls erupted, raising a rainbow of colours as they lifted into the air. I felt like a cheetah. I was blind to those beside me. I was on my own… out in front. The race lasted a little more than 10 seconds. I was shocked at my execution of the race, much better than I’d hoped.

After four events, I was fourth. The final event was the 800 metres. My event.

Approaching the start, I could feel the unnerving stares of my intimidating rivals and their coaches examining me surreptitiously. In the midst, I heard a faint voice plotting: “stick to number 108”. I wore 108. The expectancy of winning and how the race would develop now played on my mind. I waited patiently, each atom charged, for that signal to start running.

I pushed off the start line well and quickly settled into a rhythm; with each stride, the tension increased and the noise of a competitor quick on my heels grew in intensity. Instead of being intimidating, it urged me on, driving me to attack that bit harder. I couldn’t seem to shake her off but her breathing was laboured and wrong.

After competing for years one develops a special intuition, which allows one to identify when competitors are tired: a slight dropping of the head, a subtle shortening of the stride, a distinct quickening of breath. That’s the signal: one last burst. The bell rang for the final lap; it tolled for my main competitor, who collapsed with exhaustion. The strategy to stick to me had cost her a medal.

Approaching the final bend, we were running like a pack, reluctant to spread out though dispersing ever so slightly as we reached the home straight. Staying close, hanging on to each other, not allowing anybody to gain an advantage. All athletes pushing limbs to the limit, oxygen-depleted muscles powered now anaerobically. That last burst of power which flowed to my muscles allowed me to gain a few vital metres. I crossed the line first. I won the race.

Athletics, like most sports, is mentally challenging. ‘Losers’ don’t always lose because they were unfit or they didn’t get the best start. Many other factors come into play. Hence the reason sports psychology is so popular amongst top athletes. The winner takes the glory, because when all other competitors fade, they have that bit extra to give. June 3rd was my day. I came 3rd and exceeded all expectations I had of myself. My dyspraxia may give me obstacles to overcome but it has also gifted me with a determination that few others possess. Although my lane has more hurdles in it, it doesn’t mean I won’t finish the race.

Saying What I Want to Say – Ryan Duffy

My life is like a heartbeat: vitally important, but far too short.  The path to our demise is a gradual but certain one.  It has many twists and turns but the destination is always the same.  Looking at you I see that you have a longer route to travel while mine is brief.

Did my creator initially intend for such a brief existence?  I remember my beginnings, my creator starting with a blank page.  I had stealthily crept into my creator’s mind in the middle of the night, I was in his head sprouting and growing, I was as real as if I was sitting in a chair beside him.  I remember his enthusiasm and excitement when he woke, throwing his ideas onto the page like an artist creating a masterpiece, breathing life into me, putting me together, part by part, each piece representing an aspect of my very being.  My eyes dark and stormy, much like the turbulent relationship I have with my family.  My smile slow to emerge but vibrant when it does.  These features were not random; I remember what my creator looked like.  I have his eyes, his daughter’s smile, his wife’s hands and the tresses of her silky blonde hair.  I know that I existed in other people before the point I was conceived and brought to life.  As I look at you I realise we are very different. I can tell that you do not remember the point of your conception.  As I feel death closing in I see that you have such a long life ahead of you, but I see that my brief life may be better spent.  For you may have a job, a family and a house but I have done something more important.  I am saying what needs to be said in my short amount of time.

Characters are words made tangible.  We do not exist until a writer describes us on the page.  We drift, bodiless and ethereal, weighing nothing; we have no voice until we are anchored with words.  You may read about the heroic escapades of vibrant characters but I will tell you the truth about how we characters feel.  We know that when we have completed our quest, slain our dragon, our brief light will flicker and die.  We will disappear like a cool wind which you will feel but may so quickly forget.  But, I want you to remember characters such as I that are vivid, real, alive. Those characters that are so wonderfully three dimensional.  Do not think of us as just characters in books because we are anything but.  We are people whose lives you deeply impact.  But some of us do not realise what we are, rushing to accomplish their goal not knowing that the outcome will be their untimely demise. Some of them think that they are just little specks in a huge universe, but they are the opposite.  They take up huge amounts of the universe as the universe of the book is only what is described.

I ask of you: what type of reader are you?  Are you my favourite type of reader? The one who takes their time and savours every word.  Holding onto every letter that is written.  Or are you the type who reads because you are made to?  Forced to read by your parents, employer or teacher?  You feel the fire rising up in your belly every time you see the words, but you know you must read on.  Or are you the type who ends lives quickly?  Someone who reads book after book not realising the consequences of your heartless actions.  Are you the type of person who starts a book and never finishes?  You are the worst type of person.  You deny us of our happiness.  You stop us from ever completing our goal.

I feel that my end may be near.  I have said what I wanted to say.  That was my goal.  I have represented my side.  I want you to know that I am a martyr for the cause.  I am sad that my life may be over soon, but I am happy to know that my goal is complete.  In a strange way I am just like all the others, just striving towards a goal which signals my end.  I wonder what happens after this story ends.  Do I simply stop existing?  I may not change much in your world but at least I reached one person.  Now go spread the insights I have shared with you to all and maybe one day your people will savour every word that they are given.  Goodbye.  I hope it doesn’t hurt.

 

My Family and Other Animals – Patricia Gillen

Despite what Little Red Riding Hood would have you believe, wolves are among the most loyal of creatures, with their pack at the very core of their existence. Marveling at the rough hides of the wolves at the Highland Wildlife Park, I found myself wondering what it’s like to be a member of a wolfpack. What do wolves do when the alpha dies? They adapt and move on with their lives, promoting from within out of an animal need for survival. Which poses the question – what do humans do?

In 2013, the loss of our alpha left our pack bereft and significantly more vulnerable. As with wolves, a fellow member was forced to take over the alpha’s former duties; in our case, my mum had to take over the roles of two parents. This meant juggling her career with duties around the house, feeding and caring for five unruly children. Matters worsened when my sister was diagnosed with severe mental health problems. What do wolves do when a pack member is injured? On this, we differ. Wolves would leave the weakened member so that the rest of the group still have optimal chances of survival; we stood by our sister, despite it at times bringing the pack and its leader to our knees. Clearly, this was too much for my mum to cope with at once, but how to solve it? More colossal bills and mouths to feed ought to do the trick.

My mum has the most peculiar of addictions. It started 12 years ago, with 4 paws and a mouse problem. Putting the school of goldfish, crocodile tears and fishy burial ground which our garden had become over the years to one side, ‘Sam’ was the first real pet my mum had. We acquired him out of necessity: after seeing one too many mice in our rural Aberdonian home, we piled off, in our growing pack of four-and-a-half, in search of a cat, any cat. My mum never looked back; recently, the addiction has spiraled.

My dad often spoke fondly of his childhood rabbits ‘Starsky and Hutch’, which he, alone, religiously cared for in the small patch of grass which passed for his garden. And so, despite the initial shock of opening the car door one day to find on my seat two rabbits and my sister looking truly happy for the first time in months, it made sense that this should mark my dad’s first birthday since his passing. Naturally, my mum was roped into caring for the unwanted rabbits of Glasgow, with my sister taking this as a sign that she would be willing to ‘foster’ rabbits for a charity. Although wholly inexperienced and unprepared for this duty, she came to realise how truly therapeutic caring for these rabbits could be. At a particularly difficult stage in her life, despite everything else falling to pieces, she could take comfort in knowing that these rabbits would gladly run around in circles, never asking for anything more than the occasional bale of hay. This spawned several, indefinite fosterings of rabbits of every colour, variety and size, most recently, huge (as satirically characterised by my younger brother, ‘mutant’) continental rabbits.

Next came a blessing in disguise, in the form of small, hideous rodents. As normal 16-year-olds are wont to do, my sister spent her free time wandering around Pets at Home. In her extensive hours connecting with animals in a bid to avoid interacting with other humans, she grew particularly fond of the degus. Largely unheard of, and for good reason too: it’s not difficult to imagine why no one wanted to look after those little fists of bedraggled fur. This naturally meant that my sister felt she could relate to them and would not rest (or allow any of us to rest) until she owned at least four. Sleeping – or trying to – directly next door to those smelly, ratty creatures, it’s difficult to see how and why they fit into my home. The important thing is that they do, bringing indescribable joy to my sister and so alas, they are here to stay. That is, as long as the cat and I don’t get our claws into them.

Next, a Facebook page detailing Romanian dogs’ mistreatment brought a scrawny, scruffy hound to our doorstep after one month, thousands of miles and hours of bated breath. This large, but by no means formidable, dog fitted seamlessly into our patchwork quilt of a family: damaged goods, but a survivor all the same. Despite her initial trust issues and lingering fears, much like her wolf ancestors, Ania proved to be a pack animal, acting as though she would protect us all by any means despite her placid nature. This is particularly touching in the case of my mum, whom she too is dependent on. In many ways, Ania’s devotion to my mum is much like that of her former spouse, which may be just what she will need once the birds leave her and the nest behind. Ania seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle that is our family, bringing us closer together through family walks, which became like some kind of ritual and a cure for just about anything. Around then, I had lost a tremendous amount of weight in an unhealthy amount of time. It honestly felt good to take her lead in my gaunt hands and really think. Here, it became apparent how weak I had become. This realisation was very difficult and confirmed my worst fears: that in some ways I was becoming my sister. Often, I felt I could only turn to the dog for comfort as she stood by me, always there for a good cry.

In 2016, we lost the founding member of our family zoo, Sam. Obviously this differs from losing a family member, but there are similarities. There lies a particular solidarity in sorrow; the loss of a beloved pet is more immediate than that of a family member – you realise sooner how different things will be, as the death of a pet is easier to accept. Sam passing away acted somewhat as a key, opening the door to suppressed emotions about the loss of my dad. To an onlooker, it probably seemed ridiculous how upset we all were after his passing, but to us it made sense and I have come to understand its importance. If your pack has your back, then nothing can truly get to you. My mum and I felt a certain emptiness thereafter, with the cat flap a cruel reminder of the hole in our patched up family. Although my sister was terrified that it would feel like we were desperately trying to replace another member of the pack, but again, after seeing one too many a mouse, we needed a cat and fast.

‘This is the last one and I mean it’ said mum. Even if we had wanted to replace our overweight, geriatric cat, we couldn’t have been further from it in all 3 kilos of ‘Cutiepie.’ After one sleepless night in my room, it was clear that she was no ‘Cutiepie’ but rather a comically small cartoon villain, and so she lost this title and her welcome in my bedroom. Within her first five minutes in the big, wide world, ‘Pepper’ had skillfully decapitated the first of many victims in those deceitful yet dainty paws. (Don’t judge a book by its cover eh?) …but honestly, is it any real surprise that my sister’s leaving the nest to become a vet gained our pack a four-legged replacement?

Zoo: an establishment which maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public. It now seems strange to think that just a few years ago, you could look at my household without this analogy crossing your mind. Yet madness aside, it turns out that not all wolves can huff, puff and blow your house down – no matter how hard they and fate may try.

 

Planned Obsolescence: Weapon of Mass Discarding or Catalyst for Progress? – Hannah Berry

Emitting a dim yellow glow in a fire station in Livermore, California, the Centennial Light has burned for a record-breaking 115 years since it was first turned on in 1901. Fast forward an entire century, and light bulbs are burning out and being replaced within months. If a light bulb designed in the 19th century can last for over one hundred years, why, in the late 20th and early 21st century, have light bulbs tended to last no more than a few months? The answer is planned obsolescence, a by-product of modern capitalism.

Frequent changes in design; society’s views on fashion and trends; the focus on ‘replace over repair’ of goods and an astronomical use of non-durable material, are the largest contributors to planned obsolescence; a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing. Although believed by economists to be a social necessity for driving technological advancement and innovation, planned obsolescence is unsustainable for the future. Such a policy fuels the society’s damaging consumerist culture and wasteful attitudes, leading to high manufacturing demands, production of waste, natural resource depletion and damaging repercussions on consumers.

One of the most obvious injustices of planned obsolescence is the heavy burden it places on consumers. With the assistance of media, advertising and design changes, manufacturers are frequently introducing new changes in fashion and influencing consumers’ decisions and perceptions of styles which are deemed fashionable or trendy and forces them to believe they must have these products. Fashion of any sort is a classic example of ‘perceived’ obsolescence: consumers are manipulated to believe that a seasonal fashion or certain clothing is no longer in style, so they must be replaced by new garments. This results in the large waste of an increasing amount of items at a high financial cost to the consumer.

This lifestyle has tremendous financial costs for consumers. Often equipment that needs repaired will become obsolete as the price for repair is higher or comparable to the price of replacing the item altogether, or the service or parts are no longer available, resulting in the consumer having no choice but to replace the item, rendering it dysfunctional. For example, major corporations such as Apple and Samsung are now designing their smartphones so there is no access to the battery inside the phone so it is difficult to replace the battery, making the item functionally obsolete. Other examples include the updating of software or designs which make the older versions incompatible with the new advancement, forcing the previous version to become functionally obsolete and forcing the consumer to invest in the new updates.

Over the past few decades, the expected lifespan of products has drastically diminished, so that most consumers today purchase products with the expectation that they will need to be replaced within a couple of years. In an attempt to boost the economy after the World Wars, retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system, he said: “Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, discarded at an ever-accelerating pace.” (Lebow, 1955)

Since its first documented case in the 1920s during the Great Depression, to its adaptation, popularisation and acceptance over the decades, consumers have become acclimated to the practices of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence should not be normalised by society; this results in turning a blind eye on the ethically questionable practices and the destruction of the environment.

An even more serious concern, due to consumerist attitudes and our acceptance of the practice of planned obsolescence throughout society, is that the overall demand for the manufacturing of these products is rapidly increasing, thus the overall demand for the Earth’s finite resources is subsequently rising. Studies from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) found that global extraction of materials has tripled since 1970, and not once in the last 40 years has materials extraction declined, even during times of recession and economic crisis. In the past three decades alone, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed. We are cutting, mining, hauling and trashing the place so fast that we are undermining the planet’s very capacity to support human life adequately. By continuing to intentionally limit the useful lifespan of a product by making it unfashionable or no longer functional, manufacturers are creating a significant driving factor to unsustainable attitudes and practices, depleting the planet of its precious, finite resources.

Consumers often view planned obsolescence as a cynical plot by manufacturers and corporations to boost sales and profits while the consumer and the environment pays the price. Arguably, those in support of the planned obsolescence strategy believe it to be the catalyst and driving force for progress and technological advancement. When a new technology is developed, many previous inventions become obsolete. This could bring about truly innovative products, like the advancement of horse and carriage transportation to automobiles, or the typewriter to the computer. However, far too often, planned obsolescence is too easily justified by a slightly sharper camera phone, or slightly more memory, or a new operating system that confuses as much as it simplifies. Do we ‘really’ need these things?

Plastic water bottles, cutlery, plates, cups, razors and bags, seen in the countryside or on the streets or dumped in the landfill: today, we live in a ‘throw-away society’; a culture of over consumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable products. Planned obsolescence is the leading cause of our wasteful consumer habits and the constant manufacturing of these unnecessary products contributes greatly to pollution, which affects the water we drink and the air we breathe. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) found that only 1% of the products we buy are still in use as little as six months after their date of sale. In other words, 99% of our consumption is trashed within six months. The products themselves end up in landfills, taking up precious space that is often at a premium. According to the UNEP, E-waste, or discarded electronic appliances such as smart phones, computers, and televisions, is one of the fasted growing sources of waste. On average a person keeps a smartphone for 18 months, whether the battery fails, screens or buttons break or the operating systems can no longer be upgraded, the immediate solution owners turn to is not the repair of the current system, but the purchase of a brand-new device that is advertised to be ‘better than ever before’.

The disposal of waste releases harmful toxins into the air, the surrounding soil and ground water. A large majority of this waste is disposed of in landfills full of hazardous materials, often in the world’s poorer countries including Bolivia, Ghana and South Sudan. Jim Puckett, co-founder of BAN; an organisation for environmental health and Justice visited Ghana and saw teenagers and young adults working in the landfills, exposed to hazardous substances, burning discarded electronics, and releasing toxic fumes into the air. The accelerating production of so much waste due to planned obsolescence, impacts greatly on the environment, contributing to waste pollution and endangering human life, not only in the countries that produce this waste but also the developing nations.

If environmental and climate challenges are to be tackled, then the wasteful production and consumption patterns driven by planned obsolescence is not the way forward as a sustainable strategy to stave off an economic crisis. The investment in more durable items and taking steps to minimise your participation in a consumer-focused society is the way forward from a disposable and wasteful culture. Only the truly innovative products which provide significant positive advances in society, should light the path to a sustainable future.

The unsustainable practice of planned obsolescence, through the continual replacement, rather than repair, and the manufacturing of non-durable products, results in: masses of waste generation; pollution; loss of biodiversity; the rapid depletion of Earth’s precious resources; and high financial costs for consumers. These challenges must be tackled to move forward towards a sustainable future and can only be achieved by rendering planned obsolescence obsolete.

 

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Quiet Environmentalist. (n.d.). Is the Earth Doomed Due to Planned Obsolescence? Retrieved November 15, 2016, from Quiet Environmentalist: http://quiet-environmentalist.com/is-the-earth-doomed-due-to-planned-obsolescence/

Renner, M. (2016, September). Why Your Stuff Turns to Junk and Cooks the Planet. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from World Watch: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/consumption-turns-junk-cooks-planet/

Smith, L. (n.d.). The Disposable Society. Retrieved October 29, 2016, from Investopedia: www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/disposablesociety.asp

Vince, G. (2012). BBC. Retrieved October 29, 2016, from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20121129-the-cost-of-our-throwaway-culture

Wong, C. (2012, October). Planned Obsolescence: Buying into Consumerism. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from Economics Students Society of Australia: http://economicstudents.com/2012/10/planned-obsolescence-buying-into-consumerism/

WWF. (n.d.). Watse Disposal. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from WWF: World Wildlife Fund: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/teacher_resources/webfieldtrips/waste_disposal/

Late Night Wanderer – Erin Campbell

I couldn’t remember the last time I had spoken to someone else. Someone real. The days draw out in the cold metropolis, unforgiving and unkind to me. The constant murmur of traffic and people does nothing to pierce the thick and heavy silence that hangs around me each day, pressing down and suffocating.

I wrapped my coat tighter around my body and hiked my bag higher over my shoulders, aware of the bitter wind, weaving its way around my bones. Rays of burnt orange and gold offered little warmth as the sun sank behind the tallest buildings in the city, their silver spires reaching up to touch the sky. The endless avenue of mirrored glass bounced the light off every surface, illuminating the busy street below. I pocketed the little change I had acquired today. A few pennies amounting to the little charity of a nation. A group of women herded giggling children into the backs of their cars, heading home from after-school football practice or theatre rehearsals, maybe even parents’ evenings. Siblings battled for the right to claim the front passenger seat; the bigger of them usually overpowering the younger and smaller ones. Their laughter carried over to me, reminding me of arguments with my own brother. But that was a long time ago.

Realising the time, I pushed on down the street; it was getting later and it was a long walk back. I glanced back at the cars motoring on down the street, filled with the little-league team, and suddenly saw myself sitting in the back seat of my mum’s old car. The vehicle had seen better days; a tired-looking people carrier, the blue paint quite worn and the inside littered with toys and crumbs from biscuits and other snacks. My brother and I lounged in the back of the car, hysterically cackling at each other’s painted faces. I stared into the eyes of a fierce dragon with fire escaping from its mouth whilst my brother gazed at my own superhero mask, the insignia inked across my forehead proudly. We battled in the backseat of the car as mum drove us home; my super speed dodged the burning inferno of the dragon’s breath, and as I went to fly over his head, his wicked green tail whipped around and struck me down…

My thoughts were interrupted by the screech of a nearby car horn. Oblivious to the oncoming traffic, a group of well-dressed diners meandered across the road, en-route to the Michelin-starred restaurant on the street. The buildings here were smaller than the corporate skyscrapers from further up the road, but far more attractive. Old sandstone townhouses with gleaming statues on the facades dominated this section of the avenue, their cold eyes looking disdainfully on the street, following the movements of those out for a meal. As I walked past the entrances of restaurants, mouth-watering aromas of slow-roasted meat and warming spices overwhelmed my senses. I noticed then just how hungry I was: I couldn’t remember when I last ate, but knew that it may as well have been oxygen. As if on cue, my stomach gurgled, complaining of today’s lack of food.

The wind picked up, growing colder by the minute. The sun was completely gone by now and darkness enveloped the entire city, interrupted only by the headlights of thinning traffic or the orange glow from the overhead street lights. I noticed how quiet it was. The street was fairly empty, littered with groups of smokers leaning against the wall of the bar. Wisps of nicotine swirled through the night air, a ghostly fog rising eerily from the ground. I increased my pace further, realising how dark and late it was. I didn’t want to be out at this time, I had to get back as soon as possible, before I got into any trouble; my shoulder still ached from last week’s incident in the park.

My thoughts were interrupted by the clamour of men brawling outside a bar on the edge of the block, which had a reputation for the odd disturbance. Two men; both intoxicated, raised heavy arms to meet the each other’s faces, slurring incoherent abuse. They threatened to stumble from the pavement as another clenched fist swung through the night air. I hugged the wall on the far side of the road and kept my hood up; not that they would have noticed me anyway. A shadow blending into the night, I watched as one of the men landed a lucky punch; bursting the other’s nose. Blood streamed from his nostrils as he clutched at his face. I tried not to look as the crimson fluid painted its host’s face before spilling out onto the street…

…The pool of blood at my feet grew and grew, each drop from the endless cuts and bruises that littered my face, arms and neck. The gash on my left shoulder from where my seatbelt had sliced through my shirt leaked blood onto my lap. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the contorted shape of my brother, his limbs at unnatural angles with glass shards protruding from his tiny frame each drawing more blood than the next. My mum, now a statue behind the wheel, sat unmoving with her head hanging forwards. I remember trying to reach for her, but the searing pain stabbed through my body; ten thousand volts of electricity through every muscle and nerve. I slumped back against the remains of the crumpled metal cage and eventually drifted out of consciousness to the sound of wailing sirens approaching, yet growing fainter in my head every second…

I jolted awake from the memory, shuddering in the cold, the only sound the rustle of discarded newspapers being swept up through the wind, last week’s news now confetti raining down on the street. I reached the entrance to the old hospital building, the old steps climbing up in front of me to the main entrance. The uniform, rectangular windows were boarded up and many tiles from the tired roof littered the porch having slid form their places. Heaving my rucksack from my aching back, I knelt in the back of the porch and pulled out my thin sleeping mat and cover. The thick walls of the hospital offered shelter from the wind and cold whilst the porch ceiling prevented the rain from bombarding me during the night and leaving me soaked and cold. It was a long time since I had properly slept through the night: the constant threat of the streets kept me weary and awake.

I remember sitting huddled on the front steps of the hospital, nurses and patients bustling in and out of the building. Both nights, I hadn’t slept at all. The bandage round my forehead had grown grey since being dressed here three days previously. My face had greyed too; I hadn’t eaten since the doctor had told me what had happened. I had emptied my stomach after being told I was alone.

I never spoke to the lady who smiled too much and told me everything would be okay. I never told her my name, didn’t give her my family’s number. There was no one. I had no one.

I remember sitting on my own in the front pew of the hospital’s chapel. The two coffins stretched out before me, adorned with the cheap flowers from the gift shop. The service was brief, and afterwards, I was led out of the building by the same lady who had enquired about my family and who had given me empty words of hope, behind the pretence of her fake smile…

No one in my family had really left the hospital that day; not even me. The inexplicable pull of the place often unnerved me, how this place of personal tragedy had also become my small sanctuary. I would never leave the city. Morning could not be far away and tomorrow I would rise again and find something to eat with what little change I had left from last month’s cheque. However for now, nestling into the far corner of the porch and closing my eyes, I let the heaviness of sleep pull me under, drifting off to dreams of superheroes and dragons, and the distinct laugh of two young and unsuspecting brothers.

 

Into the Valley – Mbikwa Sitembo

I sat on the cliff, my legs dangling off the edge. I looked down at the valley surrounded by tall rock walls built by Mother Nature herself; in a day my dream would become a reality.

I lay back on the soft, green grass. The wind blew gently, making all the plants shift, and the clouds; all sorts of shapes sailed across the blue sky. I reached in my jacket pocket and took out the neatly handwritten letter.

Into the valley where I shall go,

Where no one else does do know,

No turning back,

On the track,

Goodbye, goodbye,

In case I do…”

With a heavy sigh at the torn part of the letter, I folded the paper and put it back in my pocket.

In case of what, dad?

I got up and looked once again at the valley; its colourful flowers stood merrily, its trees tall and sturdy and the grass wilder than the grass where I stood.

 I’ll come and find you in the valley..

Reluctantly, I turned my back to the valley and headed into the woodland. Before going home I stopped at a willow tree and checked its hollow to make sure the rope was still there. After patting my compadre – the willow tree – I headed home.

The sun was setting as I hastily climbed the fence that separated the town from the woodlands. My feet touched the ground, I breathed in relief as I hadn’t been caught then “Willow!” A voice yelled from behind me. I felt the blood drain from my face as I slowly turned. The sheriff stood there and my mother next to him – looking even more furious and worried than the last time that I had been caught. “Willow! What did I tell you about the woodlands?!” She sobbed more than shouted. It hurt to see my mother crying because of me, but this was an exception, it was something I couldn’t avoid.

“Willow!” She yelled, she realised I was blocking out her voice. “You’re grounded and banned from going to the woodlands!” This time I listened, I clenched my fists.

“What!” I said

“You’re never going to the woodlands again!” She exclaimed. Anger boiled within me, my nails dug into my palms, tears threatening to surface. “You — You don’t know anything!” I yelled then ran.

“Willow!” My mother called but I ignored and kept running, wiping the tears from my face.

She doesn’t get it, I need to find Dad

I found myself in front of my house. The little cottage-like house at the far end of the street. No smoke puffed from the chimney, meaning my mother was not home yet. With a sigh, I unlocked the front door using my keys. After I had entered the house, I locked the door behind me. The house was dark and empty. I made my way upstairs to my room then slammed the door shut and switched the light on. There was silence as I stood still, then I got my school bag and flung my school books out. I packed a sweater, jeans, a hair brush, spare shoes, gloves, socks and a woolly hat and scarf. I breathed heavily then got up and collapsed into my bed. I stared at the ceiling of my room, the spiral patterns swirled like mini tornadoes. With a reach into my pocket I took out the ripped letter, and read it again.

“Into the valley…” I murmured then I turned onto my side and closed my eyes, setting the letter down on the bed near me “…Where I shall go” I said, with a tune this time “Where no one does do know…” The sound of the front door creaking open rattled through the house. “No turning back, on the track”

“Willow?” My mother called

“Goodbye, goodbye” I ignored my mother’s voice “In case I do…”

The sun started to rise; light spilled into my room. I quickly got the school bag and went out into the hallway. Quietly, I made my way down the stairs and to the kitchen. I opened the cupboard for tinned food, took a three tins and stuffed them into my bag. Then I made my way to the bathroom and took a tube of toothpaste and one of the spare toothbrushes. “Willow?” I heard my mother call. I panickedly ran into the living room and looked around for a spot to hide my bag. “Willow!” Footsteps sounded from the stairs.

 The couch!!!

I put my bag behind the couch and sat on the couch to look as normal as possible. “Willow?” My mother said as she came into the living room. “Why weren’t you answering?”

“I – I…was asleep in the living room” I lied.

“But you were in your room last night.”

“I woke up to have breakfast, but I fell asleep on the couch.”

“Oh, alright… I’ll make pancakes then” she said, then left the living room.

After making sure my mother had gone into the kitchen, I got my bag and hurriedly run up the flight of stairs to my room, then pushed the bag under my bed.

 I woke up too late far too late

I sighed from disappointment then got up and headed down stairs.

After breakfast I made my way to my room – luckily avoiding my mum – and got my bag, then went downstairs.

“Willow?” My mother said looking at me. I nearly jumped when I saw her. She was standing between me and the front door.

“Darcy invited me to go shopping” I replied, I lied.

“Darcy?” My mother said. I walked past her and opened the front door.

“A friend from school” I said then I closed the door and walked calmly to the pavement then burst into a sprint down the street.

I ran and ran until I reached the fence. I scoped around before I flung my bag over and began to climb up the fence then I jumped over. With one last look at the town through the fence, I headed to the willow tree. Once I had arrived, I reached into the hollow and took out the rope “Thanks, compadre” I said as I put the rope on my shoulder. I continued in the direction of the valley. I stopped and looked down the cliff edge at the valley. Clouds started to form above. I went to the nearest tree and tied one end around the trunk of it. Droplets of rain started to shower down. I looped the middle of the rope around my waist twice then put the rest down the cliff.

The clouds roared with thunder.

“What’s with the weather?? Of all days, it had to be this one?” I said to the angry sky. The sound of rain and thunder continued on. I sighed heavily and looked at the sky once again then at the valley, I shook my head then began to go backwards towards the cliff.

 No, nothing is stopping me No turning back

I leaned backwards over the edge making sure the rope around the tree wouldn’t go loose. After a few seconds, I stepped on the side of the cliff, then another step.

 Don’t look down

I breathed to calm myself then took another step making me parallel to the ground on the cliff. My hands tightly held the rope, I moved back a few more steps. I stopped for a second, shivering from the rain. Each breath I took turned into a cloud of mist. I could feel my bag weighing me backwards towards the floor below. Cautiously, I looked down. A thick mist had formed below. With a sigh I took another step. Then came the dreaded sound of something tearing.

The rope suddenly jolted downward. Panic-stricken, I froze. Then I saw the tear on the rope at the cliff edge.

 No, no no no!

I pulled myself up and took a step towards the top, but this only caused it to tear more. My eyes widened as I realised how little of the rope was left. How little of what was keeping me from falling to my death was there. I should have stayed home, eating pancakes with my mother.

 My mother

She already had to bear losing dad, and now me. I had been so selfish that I didn’t think to ask how she felt after dad left. Again the sound that made me aware of what was awaiting me in the future came, the quiet yet frightening tearing.

Only three thin strings of the material were left. Tears formed in my eyes as I knew what would happen after those three strings tore. I took a breath shakily and closed my eyes then recited what would be my last words.

“Into the valley where I shall go,

Where no one else does do know,

No turning back,

On the track,

Goodbye, goodbye,

In case I do…”

The sound of the three strings tearing echoed through the empty valley, I felt my weight shift as I began to fall. “In case I do die” I finished.

 

The little girl was sitting on her chair “What do you mean you have to go??” she questioned. Her father’s face fell. “I have to go somewhere you can’t follow” he said with a weary smile. “But mummy said you’re not feeling well!” the girl said with a frown. “Yes, that’s why I must go to the valley. I won’t feel unwell there”

“You won’t?” The girl tilted her head in confusion.

“It’s a happy place, some people call it paradise. No one is sad or sick there. I call it the valley, because a valley is very peaceful.”

“Why can’t I come too?” The girl asked. A pained expression crossed her father’s face

“Only when it’s your time to go to the valley.”

 

“Willow!” A distant voice shouted.

“Willow!!” It drew nearer.

“Willow wake up!” This time it was next to me. Suddenly I opened my eyes. A spotlight of some sort was shining into my face.

Beep…Beep…Beep…

Jude – Frances Wilson

Hello, little spaceman.

I’m right outside waiting for you with Nana and Papa. I’ve been waiting for ages and ages and ages and now you’re finally on your way. When Mummy and Daddy told me that I was going to be a big sister, I screamed and danced and cried and twirled and Daddy put me up on his shoulders and we went for dinner and I ate loads and loads of ice cream. It was the best day ever. Until now!

I promise you that I’ll be the best big sister in the whole world. I promise that I’ll share all my toys with you and I’ll play nicely and I’ll never ever let any mean kids hurt you. I’ll always look after you.

Is it nice in there? I hope it’s cosy, a little nest for you all tucked in safe, before you come into the world. I don’t remember it at all but maybe you can tell me what it’s like when you can talk. When can you talk? We can talk all day about pirates and princess and Disney films. I wonder what your favourite film will be? Maybe it will be Toy Story. That’s why we call you “spaceman”, like Buzz Lightyear, because of how you fly all around Mummy’s tummy. My favourite is Beauty and the Beast because Belle loves books and she reads lots like me. I’ll read to you, too. I have lots and lots of books in my room and when you’re big enough to read by yourself you can read them anytime you like.

We’ve painted your room already, I hope you don’t mind. It’s blue with stars and rockets, you know, because of the Buzz thing. It was Daddy’s idea. I thought it was really clever. Daddy’s the smartest man in the whole world and he knows all the best games to play. We can put lots of toys in your room when you’re big enough to know how to play. For now though, you just have teddies. I have loads of them, too. My favourite is Snowy the Polar Bear but you can have her, if you like. I think you’ll like it, little spaceman.

*

The whole world stops for a second.

*

The nurse is speaking really quietly to Nana and Papa now. I can’t quite hear what she’s saying. Nana is crying, but I think they must be happy tears. You must be here now.

Papa takes my hand and tells me you’re just visiting. He says you’re not coming home with us. I don’t understand. We have a big room and lots of toys for you. Don’t you want them? I don’t know if we’ve done something wrong or if you want a new family but I just don’t understand. Me and Mummy and Daddy would look after you better than anyone else in the world. I would be the best big sister in the whole universe.

Now I understand why Nana is crying. She was so excited to look after you. Papa says that you have a better place to go to now and that you maybe just weren’t meant to stay with us in the first place. I don’t understand.

Daddy comes out of the room. His eyes are red and his face is puffy. He looks like I do when I cry and I know something is wrong because daddies don’t cry. “Do you want to meet your little brother?”

I nod and I’m scared and it doesn’t feel like I thought it would because I thought everyone would be happy, not sad and I didn’t think I would feel like I had millions of worms squirming around my tummy and I’m so confused when Daddy holds my hand and leads me into the room.

There’s a little blue bundle cuddled up in Mummy’s arms and I know it must be you. You’re so tiny. The world must seem so big to you. Mummy’s face is grey and her eyes are blank and as I make my way over to you, she looks up at me and smiles but it doesn’t look like a real smile.

“Jude,” she says. “His name is Jude.” And she passes the tiny bundle to me.

Little Jude, you’re so small and soft. You aren’t very wiggly for a baby. In fact, you don’t wiggle at all. You’re so still. I think you must be asleep. Your little eyes are closed and your lips look like a little smiling violet. You have lots of little grey eyelashes, more than I can count to. And under your blue hat, you have little wisps of fuzzy blonde curls peeking out, just like me. Ten little fingers and toes, chubby little arms and legs and a tummy waiting to be tickled all wrapped up in a blanket, warm and safe. You look happy. You must be having a nice dream, about clouds and fairy wings and maybe I’m in it too, with Mummy and Daddy and Nana and Papa. I hold you close to my chest and I wonder if you can hear my heart beating.

*

I watch her. I wonder if he would have known how much love for him is inside that tiny little girl.

*

The room is so quiet. Our little house is quiet, too. We live in a quiet house in a quiet street in the quiet part of town. You would like it, Jude. I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want to leave you behind. I don’t know what will happen next. I’m scared.

*

She holds him in her arms so gently. Our little bundle of dreams and possibilities and so much love and everything in between. Everything that could have been. I don’t know what will happen next. None of us do. But for now, I watch my babies together. My golden girl, holding a little universe in her arms.

*

Time passes so quickly. The years fall away like shooting stars. I grow tall. Dad goes bald. Wrinkles introduce themselves to Mum’s face. The boys are all in primary school now. The year after you was awful, a constant sadness looming over us all. And then we learned that Gabriel was coming. We were so scared, nine months of fear and not getting our hopes up. And then he came. Then came Mark. Then Finn, then Louis. When there’s a tragedy, people speak funny around you. Delicately. Sometimes people just pretend it never happened, ignore the blip in the timeline. But you were never a blip, Jude. You were real and ours and you’re on my mind every single day. I love space and the stars and the millions of universes and sometimes I imagine that maybe in a different universe things would be different and you would still be here. I don’t really like to think of it like that though. I think everything happens for a reason, and that somewhere, out in space, you are flying around in orbit – one of the stars we see at the night. A little spaceman in disguise as the brightest star.

“Uno cappuccino, per favore!” – Honor McWilliams

It’s breakfast: a busy day awaits. You have to remember to send this to soandso, you need to tell that to other soandso. Calls need to be answered, tasks must be completed and you have to transition from activity to activity without the slightest hesitation. Your head begins to swirl as you whisk through the never ending list of ‘To Do’s’ and you seriously question whether or not you will make it to lunch without collapsing.

But then salvation comes. Sleek and round, you see it gradually emerge in the distance. A distinct aroma fills the air and in some way your racing mind comes to a halt. Gradually coming closer, you are mesmerised by the soft, white shroud. You reach out to greet your saviour at last filled with warmth, hope, serenity.

“So, who’s having the cappuccino?”

Perfectly sized yet indulgent, simple but sophisticated, the cappuccino remains a cherished emblem of post-war Italy and her so-called ‘Dolce Vita’ or ‘Sweet Life’ in cafés and restaurants throughout the globe.

At least it should. Just last year, Starbucks announced that they were beginning to phase out cappuccinos in certain branches by replacing them with the more contemporary and stylish flat white. Staff complained that cappuccinos were too onerous to make in comparison to the more efficient and succinct preparation of the flat white, given that both taste virtually the same. But since when was coffee solely about taste? Surely a drink as classic as the cappuccino should symbolise something greater than just momentary pleasure?

Peter Thomson, owner of the Coffee Hunter blog, openly gushed over the popularity of the trendy flat whites, claiming they represent a “new wave of independent, hipster-style craft coffee.” When asked about the consequent cappuccino apocalypse, he struggled to hide the disdain in his voice when he said, “The cappuccino is a relic of when the whole world aspired to drink coffee Italian style.”

Aspired?! Who says we don’t continue to dream of discovering a modest little café which serves the most ‘belissimo’ cappuccino, tucked away down a side street in the Eternal City or elsewhere in Italy? Perhaps cappuccinos are indeed remnants of simpler times yet this does not mean that they should be forgotten or neglected by your local barista and left to collect dust. They should be preserved.

The humble origins of this frothy masterpiece date back to as early as the 16th century. The Capuchin Friars, an order of the Franciscans, were widely celebrated for their incredible service to the underprivileged and destitute while adopting a lifestyle of poverty themselves. The mere image of the Friars indicated this devotion to simplicity, opting to wear brown robes with long pointed hoods. It was from this distinctive hood, known as “cuppuccio” in Italian, that the Capuchins were named. Little did these modest monks know that they were to serve as the unique inspiration for possibly the most elegant hot drink in history four centuries later.

Picture 1930’s Italy. Amidst the economic turmoil following the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the oppressive fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini,  society sought for some form of escape. A small symbol of hope. At this very time, a mixture of coffee and milk topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles began to emerge in Trieste. It became fashionable and the trend soon flourished throughout Italy. Many began to remark that the unusual light brown colour of the mixture resembled the habits of the Capuchin Friars: the early cappuccino was born.

However, the coming years were no less chaotic for the Italian people- the horrors of further global conflict shattered national morale, citizens witnessed the tumultuous destruction of Mussolini’s government and the economy was in a perilous state. Just when Italy seemed to be peering into a dark abyss, a miracle occurred. The Italian Economic Miracle of 1950-60, to be precise. Not only did economy and society undergo momentous recovery, but Italian culture began to evolve with the improving times. Italians were now smiling at the sun.

This, though, was not the only miracle that occurred during this period. One equally as significant cannot be ignored: ‘The Age of Crema.’  This mass development of highly sophisticated coffee machines, capable of preparing pristine coffee to utter perfection revolutionised Italy. This single event ingrained the techniques and prestige of Italian coffee making all over the world, defining their culture and country.

Yet it was the humble cappuccino which captured the essence of revolution. These machines were especially designed to heat and steam milk, refining the original cappuccinos into the modern concoction we drink today. One half made of aromatic double espresso, the other of hot milk completed by steamed milk foam with a light dusting of chocolate. As Italian morale was rebuilt at the core of society’s new ‘Dolce Vita’, so too was the cappuccino.

Soon after its spectacular debut in Italy, the allure of cappuccinos spread throughout Western society. Europe, Australia and America all caught onto this trend in rapid succession by the early 1990’s, and it was due to the coffee craze that shops such as Starbucks were founded. While these were not meant to replicate traditional, family-run Italian cafés, they served to bring the flavour of Italy to a diversity of cultures.

Of course, as their success became unprecedented such American companies began to see the incredible gain of drinks like cappuccinos. They quickly began to neglect the precision and care Italian craftsmen dedicated to the cappuccino evolution. Thought turned to hastiness. Perfection became sloppiness. A symbol of new life was now no more than a poorly made drink. They cared little for the ‘Dolce Vita’ it epitomised.

But this casual disregard of past heritage and ‘relics’ has become increasingly common in our modern society. In our desperation to constantly evolve and move forward, we forget to find value in looking back in our fear of becoming cemented in the past. It is absolutely necessary to cling on to the most stylish and trendy thing at the current moment, yet we feel no remorse once we desire to toss it aside upon the discovery of something new. The flat white may be ‘in’ right now, but in a few years time this too will be shoved from the shelves like the cappuccino.

We must keep advancing, yes, but not to the detriment of everything that has brought us to where we stand today. We must learn to do one simple thing from time to time- pause.

When I have a cappuccino with my breakfast (never after 11am- that would be sacrilegious to Italians!) I’m able to stop for a while. Pondering over the brim of my coffee cup, I begin to feel more revived. After all, the cappuccino emerged in the wake of the very revival of the Italian people. I realise that although I’m anxious to get on with my day and complete the endless tasks that I have, I should make time appreciate my past and present. From there I can gradually evaluate the future. It is vital that we find some way to feel relaxed or comforted, and for me it’s by having a cappuccino.

The cappuccino first defined the sophistication of coffee, and it always will. Starbucks can change their menu as much as they like, but they can never re-write history. The cappuccino represents renewal, hope and happiness. It is imbedded in Italian culture and cuisine. It may not be as new as the flat white and other such trendy coffees, but they posses a timeless style that can’t be poured away down the kitchen sink, no matter how much Starbucks may try.

So have your frappuccinos, toffee lattes or caffè mochas. Pompously order your deconstructed coffees, skinny cortados and soy gibraltars. Rave about your pumpkin-spice lattes, caramel macchiatos and flat whites. I’ll stick to my cappuccino, per favore.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/history-of-cappuccino-whats-in-a-name.html

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/where-do-we-get-cappuccino-from

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappuccino

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappuccino

http://www.laperfetto.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,print,0&cntnt01articleid=1&cntnt01showtemplate=false&cntnt01returnid=16

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/11654320/The-cappuccino-is-disappearing-Thank-God-its-horrible.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/11653608/Ciao-cappuccino-Starbucks-replaces-coffee-with-the-flat-white.html

http://www.italiaoutdoors.com/index.php/764-history-of-italy/history-modern/1300-history-republic-1950

 

 

The Cadaverous Carnival – Sophie Paterson

It was on a Thursday that the circus came. Preceded by nothing more than the quiet murmur of a restless town, it arrived shrouded in mystery. The canopies flew into the azure sky where clouds twisted peacefully overhead and ropes clawed the ground of the swampy fields just beyond the furthest houses. Brightly coloured stalls littered like exotic flowers, draping the area with a suffocating promise of euphoria. The murmur grew into a buzz and for a few precious moments, the town forgot its problems.

Night fell. A sheet of stars accompanied by a deafening silence cocooned the deserted streets, only broken by the crisp crackle of her boots on the frosted grass. It was a short walk to the fields, through the maze of houses and past the sleeping occupants but the journey felt like an eternity. Soon enough, the oily glow of the golden lamps shone out in front of her but there was something amiss. This was not the circus she had spied being constructed only hours previously.

Bunting lay trodden in the mud-soaked field and the tents bore gashes bleeding out the flickering, dying light from within. Broken stalls lay haphazardly around, surrounded by gaudily wrapped prizes, mutilated and mangled. Popcorn was trodden into the ground at her feet and above her the entrance sign hung from a single cable from which occasionally erupted a shower of sparks like frantic fireflies.

Enslaved, she felt her feet drag her towards the torn opening of the tent. Hesitantly, she pulled aside the curtain and peered through. Her eyes tracked the path of drying blood painting the floor. Laughter, drowned by the broken sound of circus music, hung chillingly in the arid air. The eerie tune writhed its way into her mind as she craned her neck up to look at the disjointed trapeze artists who performed to the music as if they were rag dolls being thrown into the air. The large stage spanned the majority of the room and there were but a few upturned and empty chairs scattered around. The paint on the side of the wooden ladders and platforms was peeling and faded, like a memory long forgotten. Her breath lurched as she watched as one of the artists plummeted through the air like a ribbon. Her body slammed into the ground with a sickening crack; legs bent at unnatural angles and eyes glassy and unfocussed. Mere moments later, the body twisted and convulsed and the doll-like creature stood up again and walked back to the ladder humming the demented tune, whilst the others sat perched on the platforms like vultures.

Leaving the nightmare of the stage behind her, she slithered around the edge of the arena and made her way through the corridors, the music continuing to play in her head; a compulsive, conniving echo.

Time seemed irrelevant as she made her way through the labyrinth; her route random and careless, occasionally glimpsing disturbing scenes such as the ballerina who pirouetted mindlessly on a miniscule box, eyes hauntingly blank. She stumbled on, her hand finding purchase on an obsolete light switch, which illuminated the wall ahead.

The wall seemed to span a thousand feet in the seemingly impossible nothingness of the tent, a collage of monochromatic faces and a flurry of words. She ran her hand along the wall of youthful expressions until she stopped at a random poster pasted over several others. Missing. A boy. He was called Jonathan. His picture embodied the innocence of his youth; she imagined his mother’s desperation at the loss of her son.

She emerged into an unfathomably large room full of cracked and broken mirrors, their jagged blooded shards like predatory teeth. Coaxed into the dark by the sound of muffled screams, choked sobs and high pitched giggles, she stepped through the mirrors’ frames, oblivious to the myriad of small cuts which the remnants inflicted.

An imposing spotlight shone onto the act that stood in the middle of a desolate stage therein. She peered from behind the wooden, supporting beam, swinging her body to gain a better view. The light bounced off the bars of a cage, illuminating the faces of petrified children within who cowered into the corners and shrank in on themselves. Clowns in dirtied silk costumes crawled over the entirety of the enclosure, their bloodied, crimson claws tearing at the children’s skin as they cried out in terror. As the face paint melted off the clowns’ faces revealing mouths of needles and sinister grins, one child grabbed at the bars and tried to squeeze his skeletal frame out of the cage but to no avail. His clothes were dirtied and there was a deep cut over one cheek but his face was the embodiment of innocence. Jonathan.

All those faces, all those posters; it was as if the final piece of the jigsaw was in place.

Marching on, she found herself to be in a dressing room. The make up splayed over the rusty table was bright and bold; behind her lay rails upon rails of silk clothing. Stepping closer to the table, her eyes fell upon the worn leather whip, its tail curling like a snake onto the floor. She tentatively grasped the handle raising it to eye level before gazing in the dirtied mirror, gazing detachedly towards her reflection.

Her dark figure was clothed in a bloody, torn crimson tailcoat, which brushed past her long, worn black boots. A dirtied white cotton shirt flared from beneath the jacket and blood seeped through a rip in her black fitted trousers. She observed the ruby liquid with idle curiosity before drawing her eyes up to her face.  Her breath was even and her expression blank as paper.  The harlequin diamonds and white face paint was flaking off, revealing the rotting flesh and snake like eyes hidden beneath. She tilted her head to the side as she regarded her reflection. With a sharp grin and crack of her whip she twisted brokenly towards the door, the tears in her clothes sewing themselves seamlessly together as she sauntered towards the arena.

The air grew heavy with the electric hum of jewelled tents snapping to attention, hypnotic with colours of crimson red and emerald green.

As she moved forward, the glowing lights grew impossibly golden and all around there was music, warm and irresistible.

Now she is centre stage in a circus alive and intoxicating in its seduction.

She has a show to give. And it will be perfect.

The Pill That Opens the Gates to Heaven – Joshua Edwardson

Recreational drugs and their effects are usually split into three categories: depressants, which relax and calm the user, stimulants, which provide alertness and energy to the user, and psychedelic drugs, which cause hallucinations and distort the user’s perspective of reality. The most popular and commonly used recreational drugs are alcohol, marijuana and hashish, but there is a new kid in town, taking it by storm.

Polyphasidine is the latest recreational substance to seize the imaginations of the Americas’ drug-using populations. It kills the user, eliminating all of their vital signs, but only for a short while. Why people would ever want to achieve this is a commonly-asked question, and those who have experienced this strange high have answered by trying to convince the public that there is an afterlife that anyone can witness. Some of the users have admitted to meeting deceased relatives and friends. Some have even said they were in the presence of great historical figures. The majority of scientific minds are still questioning the legitimacy of these sources and the University of Michigan has begun to investigate the substance.

Researchers offered volunteers $200 to take the drug in pill form, so that their experiences could be documented. The experiment started as they knew it would; with 10 dead twentysomethings sitting in reclining chairs. However, within 15 minutes, the first subject had awoken from beyond reality and was immediately taken to another room for questioning. The time taken to wake up ranged from about 15 minutes to about 35 minutes, with each volunteer being questioned after their resurrection from the dead. Each of them witnessed some sort of heaven, telling the professors that they had re-lived a forgotten memory or that they had had conversations with dead family members. It was clearly a very moving and emotional experience for everyone who had taken the drug; however this encapsulates the greatest risk of polyphasidine.

For some, the drug helps them to truly appreciate life on Earth, while others find it difficult to transition from death to reality, with some becoming addicted to the drug or, if they can’t reunite themselves with it, committing suicide so they can go back. The rise in popularity of polyphasidine has been directly proportional to an increase of suicide rates in the United States, Australia and Denmark. This, however is not the only risk of ingestion. In some cases, people have gone into a coma-like state after use, taking as long as two days to wake up. Whenever this has happened, the patient requires constant monitoring because of the nature to the drug. This has led to a grave concern over the widening use of the substance in the medical community as hospital beds are often occupied by users of the drug for days at a time. Ironically, the drug itself was initially created for medical use.

Polyphasidine was originally created in Columbia for use in euthanasia. For about 15 minutes, it was thought to be functional, until the subject woke up again. The hospital workers tried to dispose of the drug but, it was picked up by a drug cartel who, after realising its effect and apparently managing to source and co-opt chemists involved in its production, began selling and distributing it. The drug spread though South America and Central America before inevitably breaking out in the USA. It gained media attention when pictures and news emerged that Keith Richards had overdosed and died while using polyphasidine, but was seen wandering the streets of London just days later. He then began to describe the high as “literally heaven”, a phrase only other users of the drug could truly appreciate.

In a recent interview, Keith Richards explained he had been introduced to the drug when the Rolling Stones had been touring South America for the first time. He recalled he was the only member of the band willing to experiment with it, but cannot remember actually having taken it, only his own afterlife experience and the commotion after he woke up. “They had phoned an ambulance and when I awoke I was lying in hospital. I have to compliment the ambulance service and everyone present, as there was only about 20 minutes between me taking the drug and then waking up in hospital,” said Keith. “But that was the first and last time for me. You just can’t put the people around you in that sort of situation.”

Despite the many risks, there are substantial communities based in South, Central and North America who are all campaigning to have this drug legalised. They are trying to win over the population with a strongly theological argument. They are telling people that by taking the drug, they can spend time with those they neglected when they were alive. In an attempt to convert those from different faith communities who are the most prominent.  The leader of the Arkansas community, Timothy Whitmann, appealed to religious listeners in a radio interview saying, “There is finally a way to speak to your God face-to-face. There is finally a way to thank your parents for everything. And there is finally a way to relive your favourite memories.” In many of his speeches and protests he has quoted the Bible, Torah and Koran, desperately looking for acceptance from those who disagree with him. He urges all to disregard the risks, throw caution to the wind and try it, so that they can make their minds up for themselves.

As the cult of polyphasidine grows, we may stand at the cusp of a crisis in human history. Could the usage of this type of substance lead to an epidemic of suicides? Is there anything the world’s governments can do to prevent or at least control the polyphasidine intake in their respective countries?

An Imaginary Family – Aidan Murray

Some people have imaginary friends; he didn’t. I didn’t. Some people have a family. He did once. Not anymore. I did once. Not anymore. We were best friends. We were. He had no-one. No-one but his imaginary family.

Aiden and I were best friends; we even had the same name… well, kind of. Each day when we walked into the jail cell called primary school, we always had each other’s backs. Beating up the baddies that came in our way using our heat vision, frosty touch, superpowers only we knew. We loved the same things, especially Pokémon cards! We would battle them as if it was a life or death situation, putting every last bit of breath into shouting out words on the card that we could barely read. We would brag for days about who would be getting pocket money first just so we could get the next Pikachu card. But that all changed. On the 35th of July, a day we said was real, just hidden by aliens, Aiden was diagnosed with a life-draining spell. One that was cast by the evil witch that is fate. Each day he would come into school slightly later than usual. He sat next to me, smiling the broadest smile that anyone has ever seen, but slouching nervously at the corners. I, at that time, didn’t know of his diagnosis.

Over time he disappeared; his smile, his passion, his enthusiasm. It was my quest to bring all that back. Aiden hadn’t been in school but that didn’t stop us from playing together in the different regions of the estate. Area 51 was where the park was. There was a den that we built from which we would gaze for hours and hours up at the multiverse, waiting for a sign that Mrs Blake – our horrible teacher –  really was just a ‘strange beast’ in disguise. Other than searching for extra-terrestrial life, Aiden and I would ride our bikes for ages, as if we were Chris Hoy or Michael Murray – that’s my dad, he says he could beat anyone in a race easily – I still have the scars on my left hand, either side of my middle finger at the knuckle, from when we fell off our bikes!

The week after that he was taken for good, captured, locked in a dungeon far away from any of the regions. I wondered where he had gone.

There’s shouting. There’s sirens. Panic rushes to greet paranoia in my mind with open arms. Red light. “Doctor.” Blue light. “Doctor!” Red light. “We’re losing him!” Darkness, I’m not the same. As the miniature glass stars brought me back to a state of consciousness. People. Do I know them? How do they know me? I walked up to the window in the four-walled labyrinth – ‘mint secret’ in colour, just like Aidan’s bedroom. Murmurs. What’s happening?

A note came from the hospital, signed by Aiden. His hand must have been shaking like Scooby Doo as he wrote it.

Letters to me, to you, from you, to me. It’s as if we were the Chuckle Brothers but the irony in saying that is that the letters weren’t full of joy and laughter but the complete opposite. Aiden was telling me of the people who zoomed past him, not noticing his cries for help; the doctors that talked about ‘Alan Pecia’ and how he would be seeing Aiden soon. He was also talking about his loneliness while being kept caged, like a neglected house pet. I reassured him that his family would surely be coming to see him soon. The next letter came. It consisted of four words scribbled onto a piece of paper. “I don’t have one.”

And many messages later I realised that after all this time my best friend – a person about whom I thought I knew everything – was an orphan.

His parents died when he was very young. Unsure of the cause of death, he grew up curious yet saddened living in Rosslyn Children’s Home. “Do what any kid would do. Imagine them. We are pretty awesome at that anyway!” I responded, aiming to get his hopes back up. The doctor, a woman – the parents who he thought were his, in disguise. Two children – in his imagination, his younger brothers that he always wanted yet were never born. And myself. We are Aiden’s family now.

From Pallet Town, to the Rainbow Tulip Fields in the Netherlands, to the Hitachi Seaside Park in Japan. Anywhere which Aiden and I had either seen on TV or read in a book or played in a game, was an adventure. He would write for hours and hours, telling me about the trip that I had experienced. We had experienced. Aiden, myself, and the imaginary family.

More letters came flooding in. ‘Alan Pecia’ had arrived. He was a man of evil, more evil than Mrs Blake. He came in, shaved Aiden’s head and moved on, presumably to his next victim. For this man stole children’s hair and then stuck it on his own head to fulfil the hairless void that he had lived with all his life.

One letter came into school that morning. Just for me, no-one else. It was from Aiden. He thanked me for all the things I’d helped him do; like rob a bank in Central Canada; scale Mount Everest; perform a magic show in which he travelled to the moon and back; run faster than the Flash. All events which I had no memory of, yet he remembered them as if it were yesterday. He told me not to fear or be sad, as he was going off to college to become an author, and his imaginary family and I waved him off.

Before he went off to college, two letters were exchanged. One containing a single Pokémon card – a Pikachu one, the same one which we had always talked about. The other describing how the recipient had beamed with joy as he discovered the card that he always dreamed of, and that same card returned to the original owner with a message on the back. “You and I have had some times together. When I see you again we’ll have some more. I promise!” A smiley face was drawn right next to it; as the swoop of the happy mouth arced back up, it plummeted again in one straight line. One. Straight. Flat line.

The Apple of My Eye – Alison McIntosh

It is the shadow that lingers, hangs thick around me in the air. It is the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It is tide rising, as though the moon is drawing closer. Her face appears before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I am suffocating, sinking. I think I know what I want to do.

She had lived only a short walk from my house when we were children. I would run to her house, or she would run to mine, and we would leave together to play in the orchard – weaving between the trees, ducking to avoid low branches. As we grew up, we would talk for hours about our hates, our fears, our dreams, whilst taking refuge under the trees from the heat of the afternoon sun or the wildness of the rain and wind. We would eat the apples, sharing our anecdotes and laughing loudly with each other.  Over the years we grew inseparable. The look on her face when I asked and she said ‘yes’, eyes wide and her face beaming, was to be forever woven into my memories.

I remember that she was the centre of attention that day – she always had been, to me at least. It was difficult to take your eyes off her. Her slender figure draped in a long dress, pearls hung around her neck with the diamond displayed proudly on her index finger. Her dark hair had always fallen in loose curls around her shoulders, and this time was no exception.  I remember her pale complexion, her high cheekbones and full lips. People gathered around her, wishing her well before turning to me and doing the same- tears often filling their eyes. I remember how eerily still she was. I remember when they closed the lid – sealing her away forever – and I remember when they lowered her coffin into the ground.  With my jaw wavering and tears dominating my face, I knelt over her grave. In the loudest of all silences I cried my goodbyes – but it was too late for goodbyes. She was gone.

We had waved goodbye to friends and family and stepped tentatively over the frosty ground to the car, piling our engagement presents into the back seat. She sat in the passenger seat and I drove – on our way home from our celebratory night out with those we held dearest. Grey skies turned to black and soon darkness engulfed the car. Wind howled through the lattice of braches of the trees that lined the single-track road and snow began to swirl, adorning their limbs. Flakes danced in front of the windscreen in a hypnotising display as they fell to coat the road. The road took a sharp left but I noticed only a moment too late. I fought to control the wheel as we skidded around the bend, left side of the vehicle slamming into the tree.

The rooms are frozen and empty, stripped of colour and devoid of comfort. Her perfume still seems to linger in the air, intoxicating my mind and haunting me wherever I go. Her makeup remains on the dressing table; the teddy bear we’d won together at the fair sits on the shelf, its eyes stalking me. The numbness has spread, stretching out through every fibre of my being. Eternal emptiness buries itself in my gut, my chest is hollow and loneliness boasts me as its best friend. Sleek black feathers blanket my brain, becoming thicker and thicker, their colour diffusing into my thoughts.

It had been months since I’d met another person. I tried to force myself to leave behind any memories, but this is impossible to do. And it’s not fair to her. I could never forget. I have only myself to blame. I’d lost my job, cut off my friends and family. I spent my days fuelling my own dejection and being ashamed of my hopes that I might one day live without it. She occupies my mind – the frame of the car crushing her. Her face sometimes shines in red, the liquid dripping down to her clothes. Then she is clean, lying in her coffin. Disturbing images outweigh those of comfort.

The embers of days gone by seem to always fall around me like snow on a mid-winter’s day, accumulating at my feet and serving to only make each of my attempted steps forward increasingly laborious. Encased in my own thoughts, stuck within the same four walls, everything staring back at me seems to declare me insane. My existence was once mapped out with coloured ink, but is now sketched out with charcoal. The desert of my mind holds no oasis and my suffering binds me to the conscious world. Pictures accompany me on my walk down the hall, a timeline of our lives displayed in snapshots – but any photos now would be bare without her.

A week after her death I had left with a handful of seeds and a shovel, making my way to her field outside the orchard.  I dug a small hole in the ground, planting the seeds above her grave.  She had once mentioned that that was how she wanted it; nothing more than a passing comment but I, of course, held on to her every word. From her loss of being, there grew a symbol of life.  I continued to meet with her in her field every day. I spoke with her, ate apples with her and cried for her. I watched the tree flourish over the years. It watched me crumble.

It was the shadow that lingered, hung thick around me in the air. It was the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It was tide rising, as though the moon had drawn closer. Her face is fixed before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I have suffocated, I have sunk. The shadow is not around me, it’s within me. I know now what I want to do – cut the apples open and extract the seeds. Weigh the seeds, blend them and drink them. Quickly. Quickly or it won’t work. I have to ensure there is enough – there are no second chances. There is no time for sub-lethal doses.