Category Archives: Short fiction

First days…


It’s an amazing feeling, that first moment of contact, the first glimpse as the ramp of the horsebox is unfastened and lowered, hitting the ground with a heavy thump. The smell of sweat and ammonia released in a puff of warm air, the sound of hoofs against the wooden boarded floor, and the soft nickering of tentative communication. Stepping up the ramp and grasping the aluminium divider, pulling the retaining pin and swinging the hinged partition back I get my first look at the newcomer. Beautiful and scruffy at the same time the yearling colt steamed from the heat of the lorry and the stress of the journey, muscles bunched like coiled springs, ready to unleash the raw, animal power that even as a youngster, this beast had at his disposal. He was big for a yearling, well put together, with clean limbs and a well shaped back and neck. Red and white, not uncommon colours for the breed, but in beautiful proportions marking him out as one to watch in the ring, his size and shape and markings were what had first caught my eye when I saw his photos.

He was unhandled beyond the effort to get him onto the horsebox. He didn’t fit the criteria of his breeders, so he was a cast off, but there was little doubt that in the right hands he had a lot of potential, and his bloodlines confirmed that initial assessment. I’d paid top dollar for what was essentially a reject, but I had an instinct for these things picked up over years of experience and time spent with some of the finest horses the World has known. Those first few moments confirmed my initial instincts, that this little chap was something a bit special, something with that elusive secret ingredient that makes a horse stand on and more importantly makes a judge take a second look in the competition ring. There was a purpose to the purchase, this wasn’t a heart ruling the head moment. This youngster was the start of something that would grow and flourish and become not just sustainable, but worthwhile for the development of a different type of sports horse. One based more firmly on the ‘cob’ type that had been overlooked as nothing but a throwback to the days of horses being beasts of burden. One that elevated the cob cross to the status of the Irish sports horse as a multipurpose competition animal. Bred to succeed in any form of equestrian competition. 

He clattered down the ramp, leaping off the end into the field of lush summer meadow grass and as he flicked his back legs, bucking and squealing, galloping to the hedgeline before lifting his head and tail and trotting along the fence as though he owned the place I smiled, happy with my choice and certain that I had made the right decision….

Broken…


Waking up, the first conscious breath of the day drawn painfully through cracked lips, rolling over to silence the alarm, wincing as joints creak and twist. Eyes closed, the lids barriers against the World outside, protecting the senses from the onslaught that comes every day, all day, overwhelming and shattering, splintering the already fractured mind that sits behind the eyes. The brutalising reality of the combination of physical pain and mental torment, never a possibility or respite, no option to relieve the ongoing suffering. 

“If I was a dog they’d have put me down years ago! I’m fit for nothing and I can’t remember the last time I found any pleasure in a new day. If I had the strength and resolve I’d do it my bloody self but I couldn’t even get that right! I’m finished, done, I can’t go on like this….”

The girl sighed, her eyes heavy with lack of sleep, moistened by tears that had long ago stopped falling. She looked up from the chair she had spent the night sitting in at the older mans bedside ;

“Come on Dad, don’t be like that, the snookers on later, you like the snooker!”

She tried to force the smile on her lips into something other than a rictus of pain but she struggled to remember the last time she smiled for real. A moments weakness allowed her mind to voice the thoughts she fought against every time they had this conversation.

‘Maybe he’s right. Maybe he would be happier if he could just slip away, get some rest finally, get some relief from his pain… Oh my God, what am I doing? How can I be thinking these things? How can I be wishing him dead?’

She tried again to force the smile, her cheeks painful with the effort as blinking back the tears she looked at him again and said quietly ;

“Come on, let’s get you washed and dressed and you’ll start feeling a bit more human. You know the mornings are always worse…”

“I know, I swear its, getting worse though..”

“I know, but we’ll find a way, we always do.” 

she pauses for a moment….

“I love you Dad”

Cover songs and other oddities


“Originality? It’s over-rated at best and at worst deeply limited. It’s also mis-understood. So you think that fan fiction is derivative? That the covers band that entertained the pub last night weren’t credible creative artists? That any artist working in a genre they didn’t create is simply pastiche? Seriously? I guess nothing’s original, right? There’s no point trying to come up with anything because all of the good ideas have already been explored? You know what? Fuck you! Fuck your petty bourgeois reactionary rationalism! Fuck everything you’ve ever thought! How fucking dare you tell anyone else what is valid as art? What the fuck do you think makes you judge, jury and fucking executioner over what is and isn’t original or acceptable different or worthy? I’m done with fucking arseholes pontificating on subjects about which they know precisely half of fuck all!” 

I took a swig from the dark, black, bitter, burnt coffee, swallowing the lukewarm dregs with a grimace,

“Enough already! Fucking makes me sick, bunch of fucking deeply unpleasant pricks!”

I blushed as I realised that the background volume of chatter in the coffee shop had fallen away as my rant had increased in intensity and ferocity, my vitriol overtaking any self-esteem issues just as the power and passion that inspired writers, singers, artists to revisit and recreate the glorious work of their idols and heroes, their muses overwhelms their natural instinct to try to create something unique, the dark desires awoken by a chance discovery, the need to do it again only better, harder, faster, deeper, softer whatever. I slump in my seat, drained as the adrenalin flooding my system abates. She smiles, acknowledging that she has once again coped with my outburst, coped with the strange passions and behaviours of her friend, coped with being my friend….

Beginnings….


The dark of the night seemed to crowd in on the windows of the workshop, hidden away between the trees at the bottom of the garden path. The plain concrete slabs forming the walls held in place by the steel frame, the structure topped by a raft of corrugated iron sheets, painted a dull olive green to blend in with the encroaching foliage. One door and three windows are the only access to the structure, the frosted glass in the frames preventing the observer from seeing more than the diffuse light inside and the occasional shadow as the occupant moved inside. A solitary figure, now pacing, now bent over some undiscerned task, now blocking the light, now disappearing from view into the deeper recesses of the building. For six months, every night the occupant had walked the path from the house to the workshop, always alone, always with a preoccupied air of someone with too much on her mind. Always dressed in the same manner, bib fronted coveralls and a long sleeved sweatshirt, industrial workboots and a knitted wollen cap, unmindful of the prevailing weather conditions the clothing taking on the essence of a uniform, workwear for an undefined task. Her previous life, her routines, established over fifteen years service to the military-industrial complex, and before that five years of undergraduate and postgraduate study at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, has embedded in her a sense of order and structure that is impossible to break. The pressure of a woman operating in the extremely male envionment of engineering and even more so military engineering research has given her a single-minded determination and an intensity of focus that precludes mundane concerns of fashion or social interaction.

A bright, sharp light flashes within the workshop, the harsh actinic blue glare of an arc welder, the sputter and fizz of molten metal as pieces are fused together. The cover of the trees and the postion of the structure make accidental observation almost impossible. An observer would have to know what they were looking for in order to discern anything of the activity inside. She was on a watch list, everyone associated with the projects she had worked on until she walked away six months ago was. High security risks, high risk of being tartget by the opposition. Security awareness had been drilled into her early in her career, and as with her style of dress, had remained with her, ingrained in her psyche. Her routine, though rigid, allowed for variation of working hours, of movements, strategies designed to confuse and disorientate any watchers trying to establish a pattern of behaviour in their target. Her personal security awareness paying dividends now as her personal project neared completion. The security extended to the sourcing of materials, a trick learned fully seventy years earlier by minds more attuned to subterfuge than hers. The secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb, no supplier being given enough material orders to guess at the eventual use, the secret being kept despite hundereds of thousands on people with a small amount of knowledge but no idea of the bigger picture. It had made sourcing materials far harder but she slept more soundly knowing that she had done everything she could to avoid detection.

The horse….


Raw power,. uncontrolled, fleet footed, muscles bunching under the skin as the horse gallops across the field enjoying the warmth of the latwe spring sun on his back. I lean on the gate, watching, smiling, feeling the stress of the last few days draining from my body into the ground at my feet, running off me like water cascading down my body in the shower. I lower my eyes for a moment, draw a deep breath, and, cupping my hands around my mouth, whistle loud and long. The horse stops, turning his head to look towards me, whinying in recognition. I smile again as he accelerates into a trot, les crossing the grassy field as he approaches. I climb the gate, entering the field as he nears, standing, waiting as he trots over, circling away once before slowing to a walk and approaching, muzzle lowered, as I, eyes down, extend my hand, fingers open, palm up. His nose touches my hand and I feel the hot breath from his nostrils as he snorts, renewing our friendship, reaffirming our bond in his own language, a physical language of gesture and posture, one which I have learned as we have grown up together.

I stroke his cheek, running my hand down his neck as I move closer, his head over my shoulder as he nuzzles my back, the connection strong, growing as we stand together, a man and his horse, a connection stretching back to the earliest domestication of animals. The horse and the dog were the first and it shows as I feel the history of my ancestors, men and women of the horse through the generations. The feeling comforts me as I rest my head against his shoulder, my arms around his neck, finally at peace amidst the wreckage of my shattered psyche. This is the therapy I need, not words, not medication, just the connection with another living being who asks nothing of me other than to be treated with respect, who demands nothing of me that I am not willing to give, who will never hurt me unless I make a mistake. I am at peace, at rest, and I feel my heart beat slow as I breath in the sweet smell of his sweat, burying my face in his neck as the tears begin to fall…..

Happy….


Am I? Are you? Does anyone really care? Define it, go on…What is happy? How do you know? A smile? A laugh? They can be faked, forced. The rush of endorphins in the brain on an fMRI scan? That can be induced by all sorts of things! What’s the point in happy? What purpose does it serve other than to beat down those who don’t feel it for being less worthy, less perfect, somehow fundamentally wrong and flawed for not being able to experience happy, not being able to shake the black dog every day and bounce around like a grinning idiot on command. Maybe, just maybe it isn’t me who is broken…. maybe, just maybe it’s the inability to see anything to be happy about in this World of shit and pain where brother kills brother, father, sister, mother, this World where life is measured in dollar values, where the press and the politicians are wined and dined by the same fat wallets and corporate expense accounts, where nothing is too extreme, nothing is too corrupted to be considered possible, where planet wide genocide and biocide are commonplace, where life is no longer sacred, where the very building blocks of life are for sale at any price.

Give me a break, and have one yourself while you are at it. Don’t think happy is everything, anything but a word, that it is an aspiration, it really ain’t, not until we have something to be happy about….and that day is a long way off once you step outside your little bubble life….

Toe tapping beat….


Sitting, headphones jammed into my ears hard, blocking out the world outside as, eyes closed, the music swells transcending the limitations of the cheap speakers, the flawed digital source to blend within the filters of my mind into the crescendo of a live performance, the passion, the sweat, the energy, the anger, the screaming guitars and souring vocals scouring my soul over and over as the music fills me, bringing sweet oblivion from stress and dis-ease. Without bidding my thigh muscles begin to twitch in time with the pumping drum track below the bass. I can’t fight this even if I wanted to…my toes push against the inside of my boots, lifting, pausing, waiting for…..the beat, the lashing, cracking, deep, velvet, purple beat of that bass drum foot pedal crashing the head of the beater against the taut skin, the reverb backlash of the bass beat pounding, driving the bass line faster, harder, the toes slamming down, fury, anger released against stress that has brought me to this point, this need for freedom from pain, lost in the music of my youth, the lost and jilted generation, the post-war pre-millenials, the misfits, the outcasts, the lost boys…..the only ones

The garden….


Deep brown, rich, fertile soil,. turned by spade and fork, improved by the addition of humic matter, the vegetable remnants of the previous season mixed with the waste from the local stable yard, horse shit and straw, the composting material changing the soil structure and adding much needed nutrients to the ground. Dug in in the autumn and allowed to work it’s magic over the cold, dormant winter, the warmth of the sun in spring completing the process as the spade once again turns the soil, integrating the rich matter into the ground. The soil worked, broken down, refined to a fine tilth in preparation for planting. In the potting shed, compost fills pots and trays in preparation for the seeds, the beginning of the long process of back garden horticulture, the “grow your own” hobby that provides relaxation, joy, and healthy crops to the family, reducing their reliance on shops and large scale agribusiness. Each seed sown in the shed is tended with loving care, watered, monitored, the temperature checked and adjusted as germination and growth transforms the small brown seed into leaf, and stem, and root, the potential unleashed as the young seedling grows rapidly, tracking the sun, increasing in height and strength towards the day that it is ready for planting out.

The calloused hands of the gardeners, a couple, mature, the rough edges knocked off by life, tender as they transfer the peat pots and plastic trays from the potting shed to the prepared ground of the vegetable plot. Trowels and small forks open the ground to accept the young plants, welcoming them as they are firmed in, earthed up, watered, tended. Beans, with their bamboo frames for support, brassicas, brocolli, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage,then the onions and shallots, the leeks, the potatoes, lovingly chitted in the warm dark of the airing cupboard. In the greenhouse the tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and bedding plants. A cornucopia of cropping plants growing to provide the gardners with sustainable and health meals through the late summer and autumn. The simple joy of sitting amongst the growing crops watching the wheel of the year turn as they ripen towards maturity, the pleasure of a well tended and productive garden. The reward for the efforts of cultivation….

Girl on a train….


Sunglasses on her head holding back the waves of dark, soft hair threatening to fall over the soft curves of her cheek, her eyes, half lidded, brown, accented by the bronze eyeshadow glance out of the window before scanning the rest of the carriage, meeting mine briefly. A flicker of a smile on her full lips as our eyes meet. She watches me writing for a moment, unaware that she is the subject, that she has become my muse. She sips from a bottle of flavoured water, hep lip closing around the neck of the bottle, her throat extended as she raises her chin, the peristaltic movement of each swallow strangely erotic. Her necklace, long beads strung on a fine wire sits against her smooth skin emphasising the slender garcefullness of her figure. The straps of her dark pink top define the paleness of her skin. Her colouring is almost Irish, dark hair, pale skin, slender, graceful figure. The neckline of the top, curved, falling below her trachea conceals the swell of her breasts, high, firm, the hint of an erect nipple pushing at the soft cotton fabric, no bra under her top. her arms, bare below the straps of the top and unblemished, unscarred, the muscles under the skin well toned giving a sinuous line to her upper arm.

She smiles again, glancing over towards me as she talk to her companion, a friend, blond, in jeans and a t-shirt, an open, smiling face but nothing compared to my muse. The dark hair and eyes draw me in deeper and more completely as I can’t help but look across at her as I write, the story becoming reality as I focus more closely on her, building words around her intense beauty, knowing that my attention will not, can not go un-noticed. That this woman will know that I am fixated on her.

Will it make her uncomfortable? Will she revel in the attention? Would it make a difference to know that my interest was artistic inspiration rather than any romantic longing? Does it make a difference? Is an artist and less of a user of his subject than a lecherous voyeur? I look at her for my pleasure, my joy in being able to capture her image on the page, words attempting to do justice to her perfection, yet am I any less questionable in my ethics than the Victorian bug collectors with their killing jars and pins, trapping beauty on board as I trap it on the page. I may not pin this beauties heart to the page in a physical sense but my attention on her, noticed now will surely pin her heart with either fear or longing. Do I have any right to use a stranger in this way? Yet I can not stop myself. I look across at her again, catching her eye, she smiles, I write, she leans forward across the table between us….

….”What are you writing? You look so intense….”

‘A Marriage Ended’ The Graphic Narrative Process Part 4


Page 6 DraftPostit note page 6

Matt again, describing the next step of my process. After completing the draft and before starting the finished image I will spend time observing elements that need to be altered (as well as ideas I pick up along the way as I’m drawing it) As I’ve said before I would not spend so much time thinking about it, but I am being a lot more analytical and this is a useful step for me, and perhaps in the future I will be more intuitive about it.

This is something I observed storyboard artists doing to correct mistakes, rather than using an eraser. Using post-it notes, sticking them over the image and simply drawing over it, it could be as simple as a car, a limb or a whole panel. All I’ve used is pencil, pen and a little pro-marker, just to emphasise the shadows a little, but the benefit of this is that post-it notes are throw away, they’re cheap, they come in packs of a hundred, so you draw these quite quickly and you’re not being so precious about it.

I decided not to showcase all the changes I’ve made on all the pages, but instead just one example of a page that needed the most changes, the page 6 draft. After I completed the draft, all the pages were spread on the floor in order and myself and the other Matt were standing over it in silence, just thinking. All things came out, both positive and negative, things that worked, things that didn’t work etc. We both agreed that this page in particular didn’t fit; Matt highlighting that the facial expression were not appropriate for that moment, and after some compare and contrast I pointed out that the whole page felt ‘flat’, there was no dimension to it and there was a lack of ‘black’ as there were in other pages, a simple over-sight of mine.

As well as making the illustrations I will annotate, which is why one post-it note contains my chicken scratches, some of the things i have mentioned are “the main problem were the facial expressions, they didn’t match the overall tone”, “not enough pure black on the page, “the figures and objects and backgrounds are way too flat and straight, “add more angles and perspectives, more dimension and revised body language and facial expressions”. Overall this has been very important for the process and would encourage others to give it a try, now on to the final draft. Exciting!– Matthew Parker, matthewparkerart.wordpress.com