Archives for posts with tag: short story

It never got any easier. He only got better at dealing with it afterwards. Sonny took a deep breath in and put the point of his knife to the stranger’s cheek. Perhaps the man would wake up; some did, others didn’t. It ultimately made no difference. The message was clear either way. As plain as the nose on their faces. They would never bother him again.

None ever retaliated or reported him to the authorities, just like his brother had told him all those years past. The best defence is offence. Sometimes Sonny’d cross paths with one of them by the markets. They were always men. And their gaze would immediately fall to their feet. Sonny would pretend not to see them, ashamed of his still-visible handiwork. And they would go about their days without bothering the other.

Sonny penetrated the skin and pulled down the face in a slow wide arc, his other hand pushing the stranger’s face down and away from him. The man twitched underneath him and moved. He didn’t wake. Sonny adjusted his position to accommodate the movements, riding the chest and shoulder with his knees.

He twisted the knife and arced back to make a giant S, that bled into the man’s eye. S for Sonny.

Their eyelashes always fluttered before they opened their eyes. Sonny waited uneasily, patiently. He felt most nervous at this point. What if he’d flubbed the dosage and they just bench-pressed him clean off? The man took a long moment to register his situation: gagged and immobilized, with a blade to the face.


He made throaty sounds with his voice and his nostrils flared frantically. Sonny swapped his hands over, keeping the man’s jaw firmly faced away from himself. He lined the knife with the stranger’s eyeline.

‘You settle down and behave if you want to see to morning.’

He could feel the man’s heart beating away under his right knee. His hard breathing blew gloopy strands of red blood across the floor. But the man didn’t resist.

‘You, sir, have only yourself to blame for this predicament. You prey on the feeble and weak. Do I look weak?’ Sonny turned the man’s face to him with the flat of the knife. ‘Look at me.’

The man shook his head and tears welled in the congealing pooling of blood about his right eye.

‘I swore to my brother that I’d never be prey again. That I would choose to never be a victim ever again. And that means sending a message to predators. Would-be predators.’ Sonny slowly undid the gag on the man’s mouth.

‘I ought to take an ear or nose right now.’ Sonny stood up and pulled the man up with him. ‘There will not be a next time.’ The man was clearly in shock, dusting his patterned shirt off even as fresh blood dripped down his face. ‘Say it.’

‘There will not be a next time.’

‘Good. Now fuck off.’

Sonny waited until the stranger fucked off before tucking away his blade. He got as far as a lamp-post before he had to throw up on a tree.

It never got any easier.

Screenshot of Netflix's Punisher season 1 finale, subtitled: "When you looked at your ugly, mangled face, you're gonna remember what you did."
on that note, Punisher season 2, let’s go

There’s something immediately beautiful about the incomplete. Some visceral unquantifiable quality is lost when an incomplete work of art becomes the polished completed product. And this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t aspire to finish their projects. No. Not at all.

Only that some emotion must inevitably be reigned in and filed down to make a cohesive thing. Honest contradictions must be reconciled, or one prioritized over another, to make a wholly rational statement.

One must have a true endgame in mind to make art. A journey without a destination is aimless wandering (and it should be noted here that aimless wandering can be its own destination). Yet the journey is the essential spirit where the art resides. The destination becomes inconsequential before the desire to reach it. But there must be a desire to reach it.

So the process then, when in servitude to a higher cause, is the master. It is the real true art and mastery. And so, we return to incomplete works of art.

Those works that are stalled before reaching their True North. An unfinished draft; raw video footage or unpolished grain. Half-drawn sketches. Living beating hearts, laid open-breasted upon a table.

And what are our lives but incomplete works of art? Unaccomplished dreams. Grieving loved ones. Shopping lists and chores. Words left unspoken. Nobody leaves this world with every thread resolved and their character arcs concluded. We exit it as untidily and ill-prepared as we came into it.

And so we come to me: the artist at the end of his life. I have been a vagrant upstart. The pale imitator and the disrupter. The visionary prophet and then the establishment. The follower, heretic and mentor. I have been the babe at the teat, and father. Leader, ruler, dictator. Advisor, businessman, monument.

My body of work is beyond reproach. I have sculpted the very heart of man and painted the heavens themselves. I have lived and I have loved and been loved in turn.

I have reached True North. I am sadly complete.



Mara stopped in front of the house. She knew it was the right house; could feel it was the right house. She could feel him inside, tossing and turning in his bed. And she knew he could feel her stood outside in the wet darkness. She rang the bell on the bicycle twice and just like that, the curtains in one of the upstairs bedrooms parted. He hadn’t heard the bell of course. That wasn’t why he had come to the window. No, that was pure instinct. A mouse frozen stiff from the scent of a snake.

The rain was beginning to lash down harder now. It was almost that time of night. She waited on her bicycle for the door to open. This had to be quick. A light came on upstairs. And then downstairs. Slowly the front door opened. It was difficult to make out the details of his face, with most of the brightness behind him drowning out his features but she knew it was him nevertheless. Not that she knew him personally, nor that he knew her, but his kind were all the same. They all smelled the same. Smelled guilty.

He stepped out into the open, still in slippers, and entirely undressed for the worsening weather. Unmoving again, a mouse caught in the glare of a snake. Unbreathing. Mara nodded. The man stepped back inside then came out again in a jacket and shoes, locking the door behind him.

It was the dead of night and everybody was tucked away in bed, deep in sleep, including all of the man’s own people. His partner and children. His neighbours. Mara looked around her. A little further up the road, right at the end it, was a small community garden. It consisted of a metal fence that ringed off some bushes, one lone tree and a most modest patch of grass. A set of benches and what appeared to be daffodils were about as much thoughtful planning as had gone into the garden. Even then, Mara couldn’t be certain the flowers hadn’t sprouted entirely by accident. It would have to suffice, she decided.

Mara gestured at the man and he walked over to the bicycle wordlessly. He was pathetically wet already now, soaked through head-to-toe but for what his jacket covered of his upper torso. She pointed to the garden and then cycled slowly to its gate, waiting for the man to catch up. She reached into her basket and pulled out a knotted jumble of rope. She fished out the wooden handle and began untying the knots until the skipping rope fully untangled and the other end hit the ground. The man reached her in time to catch the handle before it too hit the ground,  and began scooping the rest of the rope off the concrete pavement. Still holding the neatly folded rope length to his chest, he reached into a jacket pocket and took out a bank card. Mara looked at her new trophy with the greatest care, tilting it left and right under the street light to read the embossed name, MR D MANN.

In the small garden, the man, Derek Mann, climbed the solitary tree and hung himself from it with the skipping rope. His body swayed with the increasingly diminishing force of a pendulum. His legs eventually stopped convulsing. Mara didn’t look up from her prized card.

She ran her fingers along the silver writing, feeling his name like braille. It was almost that time again. Mara slipped her newest trophy into her dress pocket and rode off through the worsening downpour, dry as a ghost.

Art by the superdope Edwin Ushiro

Chip’s facial monitor flashed red emoji over and over. Anger. Anger. Anger. He stabbed the point of his longsword into the ground, using it momentarily to steady himself. Chip lifted it overhead with both hands like an executioner, the sword pulsing visible heartbeats of light.

‘And now I am become an instrument of vengeance; nothing more. The swift sword of retribution. The arm of god’s divine will.’

The battered old man raised his hands at the metal-headed youth’s feet and screamed. “Wait I beg you. Please. Spare the life of this old cowardly fool.’ The professor’s bladder had not relented to the same fears that had crippled his colleagues. Fears of disembowelment or decapitation. The old man was pretending.

‘Do you take me for a fool still, old man?’ Chip’s monitor flashed red.

The old professor dropped his pretences and chuckled to himself before slowly standing up tall. ’I’d be the fool if I didn’t try.’ He spat on Chip’s face, the saliva creating a visible streak of magnified pixels as it slid down. ‘You are an abomination. Strike cleanly.’ The man closed his eyes and looked up at the ruined skies above, through eyelids and ceilings alike. ’Don’t bring further shame upon your creator. No more than you already have.’

Chip swung downward, hard, at the old man, slicing him cleanly as requested. The chosen target was not a bare throat, but instead a knee. The professor exploded into blood and anguish as he collapsed to the floor once more.

‘My leg. My leg.’ He repeated to himself uncontrollably, clutching at his stump.

‘Your bombs obliterated my home and murdered my family. You butchered the man that took me in and made me whole again. You took everything away from me. Because of you…’ Chip rapped his blank facial monitor twice. It made the clinking sound of glass.

‘I didn’t make you a freak. I didn’t. I had no such part in your project.’

’The project saved my life. That same work will not save yours. Instead you will die a dog’s death here and now.’

Chip raised the longsword again and again and hacked the defenceless old man into a thousand pieces. His monitor displayed a green smiling emoji.

‘So you’re like the grim reaper? The angel of death?’

Ib looked up from the document in front of him. The woman caught herself playing with her hands and stopped.

‘Nothing quite so grand but you’re free to look at it that way if you’d like.’ The woman looked young and visibly nervous. An inexperienced face putting on a confident front. Ib was more than familiar with the look.

He said nothing. The silence seemed to bother her more than him. She buckled under his gaze and continued on. ‘Think of me as an associate or representative if that helps. It’s not within my job description to be usually making calls out like this but we all do what we can to keep the train on the tracks.’

Ib stared at the woman a little longer, hoping she’d whittle on. She didn’t this time. She had introduced herself as Mag something-or-other but it seemed wrong to refer to her as such in his mind. ‘The woman’ seemed appropriately impersonal so he stuck with that.

‘So he exists then? Death?’

‘So far as a void can exist, yes they exist.’ The woman’s fingers lightly rapped on the tabletop.


‘They, he, she, it. All of the above can work.’

‘But not you.’

‘Like I said, consider me an associate. What I normally deal with is actually a lot less glamorous.’

Ib couldn’t help snickering. ‘You have a desk job.’

The woman stabbed at the paper between them with a brown nail. ‘Sign it.’

Ib looked at the very bottom of the statement, beside his printed name IBRAHEEM YAHYA, at the blank line. ‘Why? What makes me so special?’

‘There is absolutely nothing special about you Ibraheem, I promise.’

‘Nobody else has to sign a consent form before dying. You’re literally asking me to sign my life away.’ Ib wondered if that was the right time to use the word ‘literally’.

‘If all we wanted was you dead, don’t you think you’d already be dead? Please Ibraheem just sign the form so we can both get going.’

Ib picked up the piece of paper and glanced over it. He knew the letters, it felt like. They weren’t in English but nonetheless there was something homely about them. The words almost hovered into comprehension every time he strained his eyes. Almost. ‘You expect me to sign but I can’t even read this hieroglyphic bullshit.’

Mag – the woman – plucked the paper back out of Ib’s hand and waved her own over it before returning it to him. ‘There.’ She said. The paper hadn’t creased at her rough handling. The letters danced, blurred, unfuzzed, into the Queen’s own English.

Ibraheem Yahya, a young man of twenty-three, took his time to read twice the page which detailed fully his current situation and dilemma. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and on cue, a barista re-filled his glass of cucumber water. Someone should tip her, his wandering mind thought for a second.

‘Will I remember any of this?’

‘Nothing from when I contacted you up until the moment the ink dries on the form.’

‘And then I die.’

‘You will walk out of this café and collapse after taking an undisclosed number of steps.’

Ib scratched the bristly shadow of his face and picked at his dry hair. If he had gone to the barbers, he could’ve left a fresher looking corpse behind. ‘And then my family will cry over me and bury me and mourn me. And then I’m just supposed to climb back out of my grave as if nothing ever happened?’

‘As if nothing ever happened. We anticipate some media attention but nothing sticky. The news cycle is shorter than ever.’

‘I still don’t understand why you can’t just let me stay alive. You want to turn my family’s life upside down and then put them through the circus show for what?’

The woman – or girl; she looked much younger now – looked down at her hands. ‘Executive mistakes were made, it is true. Certain cascades were initiated that cannot be rolled back at this point. All we can do is let them run their due course and then fix things afterwards. This is a momentary blip in the system. You can still live a full life.’

Ib found himself staring at the girl’s hands too now. Her fingernails seemed perfectly cut, perfectly coated in brown. ‘Was this what happened to Jesus? That was a joke.’

Mag bowed her head. ‘Please sign the consent form, Mr. Yahya.’ She presented Ib with a ballpoint pen from the inside pocket of her suit jacket.

‘I want an apology from whoever’s responsible first.’

Mag bowed her head lower until it almost hit the coffee table. Ibraheem Yahya of Claremont Road, Moss Side signed his name in red. The girl lifted her head and smiled.

Ib stood up from his table, with only the thought in his head of getting some fresh air. He excused himself to the pretty girl with the nice hands as she asked for their bill. Then Ibraheem Yahya, 23 years old of Claremont Road, walked outside and died for the first time.

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