In the darkness, your hands outstretched before you, you are falling through eternity.
Deep breath and hold. Release.
You are perfectly alone and alone is perfect.
The comforting veil of darkness becomes scratched with pinpricks of light. Soon the images will come.
A shrill cry of surprise.
He drowsily unfurled his hands from his knees.
You see the lotus flower and you are the lotus flower. Obey the mantra.
A cry, thin and reedy, building up to a spittle-flecked eruption.
Patrick measured out his exhalation and allowed his mind to slip out from the veil. The area, his space, was still and empty. His calmness evaporated into a cloud of cold fury, then rained confusion. The beach was far below him, but the tide was in; the voice of the child that invaded his space may have come from within. Patrick chuckled as he closed his eyes again.
You seek the inner child and he comes to you with his hands curled tight.
He began again, the mantra tom-tomming around his temples.
The cry again, wordless then insistently lugubrious: help me, I’ve fallen and I’m stuck, somebody, I need help, anybody…
Patrick felt a growl journey from the back of his throat to his lips. He uncrossed his legs and looked around. The salted morning air still thrummed with combinations of the same words – help, somebody, anybody, and so on and so forth – but there was nobody on the soft carpet of grass, nor on the dunes at the edge of the horizon. The cliff face was too sheer for anybody, no matter how little that body, to be stuck. But, now fully decompressed from his wasted meditation, that was undoubtedly where Patrick thought the sound was coming from. He wandered over to the edge and peered down.
The wide and red-rimmed eyes of a boy stared back. His mouth was still volleying his own mantra into the air, but he was otherwise perfectly still. He was perched on the slimmest of ledges on the rock, his back to the wall, his legs splayed wide and fingers clutching for purchase. He looked like a cartoon coyote that had been cannon-fired into the rock face.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Patrick.
The boy paused his hollering for a split second and goggled at Patrick before the words tumbled forth. ‘I was walking my dog and he went over the edge and I slipped and landed on this bit of the rocks and I can’t move because the rocks are wet and -‘
Patrick allowed the rest of the words to tickle harmlessly at his earlobes without threatening to burrow in. He craned his neck at the water licking at the rocks below. The dog was long gone. The boy would be too, unless he could think of a way to pull him up.
‘-and I can’t reach the top, and you probably can’t either,’ finished the boy. ‘Please, call somebody for help.’
‘Hm? Oh, I don’t own a phone,’ said Patrick, trying to calculate the distance down to the ledge. He caught the expression of incredulity wrestle horror for space on the boy’s face. ‘I never need to call anybody,’ he offered, then lay over the glittering green edge of the cliff. ‘If I dangle my jacket, can you reach it?’
The boy frantically shook his head. ‘If I let go of these rocks, I’ll fall.’
Patrick doubted that, but there was little point in arguing. The boy was right about one thing: he was several feet out of Patrick’s reach. That ledge would probably have space enough for both of them, but it might not support their weight. Patrick was going to have to chance it and go down there. ‘Hold on a second and don’t move,’ he said. ‘I’m looking for something that may help. Back in a moment.’
The boy wailed, which Patrick thought a little melodramatic. He occupied himself with the search for something large and weighty enough to be of use. He found a massive stone, practically a boulder, and heaved it towards the cliff-edge. Patrick took off his leather jacket, which was now slicked with sweat, and laid it out on the ground with one arm extended. His muscles bulged and tendons complained as he lifted the edge of the behemoth and shoed the jacket sleeve under it, trapping it firmly in place. Patrick glanced over the edge, mentally calculated the distance, and took off his belt. He tied the sleeve around the buckle and pulled the belt with all of his strength. It held. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Focus.
‘I’m coming down now,’ he said. ‘Try to move once, to give me room, then not again.’
The boy began to whimper and Patrick ignored him as best he could as he lowered himself down the cliff face. His heart crawled into his throat as he felt the jacket shift slightly, but it held. Patrick’s feet touched the ledge and he grasped at the rock for support. ‘Kid, grab onto my shirt,’ he said. The boy shook his head violently and Patrick peeled one of the child’s small cold hands off the rock and pulled him closer. Patrick glanced across the curve of the cliff edge and saw a man in a red slicker several hundred yards away. The man waved frantically and held up a small black rectangle.
‘Ok, kid, we’re going to bed in here until help arrives,’ said Patrick, and pointed the boy’s attention to where the man was stood. ‘That man is phoning for help, so you need to hold on me and stay as still as-‘
A huge chunk of the ledge, where the boy had been standing moments previously, groaned mournfully and crumbled away, bouncing down the cliffs into the greedy maw of the waves below. Patrick swore and grabbed the boy by the chin.
‘We’re going to move now, or be moved,’ he said. ‘Quick, put your arms around me.’
The boy instantly encircled Patrick’s waist and stiffened, either through cold or sheer terror.
‘Not around my waist,’ said Patrick. ‘I’m not wearing a belt. If I’m going to be washed up from the sea, I don’t want to be naked from the waist down with a kid by my side.’
The kid sobbed once and Patrick squatted so that the child could put his arms around Patrick’s neck. He resisted the inclination to flinch; there was no time for that. The ledge lamented and Patrick reached for the belt. He pulled himself up just as the ledge continued its own journey toward oblivion. Patrick’s breath hissed out of him as the boy tightened his embrace. He cleared the length of the belt and grabbed hold of the jacket sleeve.
The sleeve began to tear.
The kid felt it too and his grip loosened. Patrick hurried upwards as the tension of the jacket stretched beyond reasonable expectations. The boy’s chest briefly spasmed before he went mannequin-stiff.
Patrick swore again and paused.
He grabbed the bulk of the jacket and hauled again. He strained and cast his hand upwards. His fingers clawed into the hard soil at the top of the cliff. One more lurch would do it.
The boy’s grip failed and he slid down Patrick’s back towards the void below.
Patrick’s arm shot out and he caught the boy. He ground his teeth as he felt the tendons in his shoulders pop in protest. ‘You hold on,’ he shouted. ‘You. Hold. On.’
Patrick levered the boy upwards and shoved him viciously. The boy’s head disappeared over the top of the cliff, followed by his torso and, after a scramble, his legs. Patrick gripped the cliff edge with both hands and forced himself onto the surface. He rolled over to the rock and stared dismally at his favourite jacket. The sleeve was almost torn in half.
Patrick marionetted to his feet. The boy ran at him and buried himself in Patrick’s midriff. Patrick placed his fingers on the boy’s head, as if handling a bowling ball and gently peeled him away. ‘Go away, kid,’ he muttered as the grass rose up to embrace him.
A voice, high-pitched but adult, jabbered its way into Patrick’s head. He opened his eye to a slit. A black rectangle was inches away from his face, a red sleeve and body standing behind it, the head obscured. Patrick groaned softly. What fresh hell was this?
‘There he is,’ chirped the voice from the headless torso. ‘Our hero awakens. Are you back with us, big boy?’
Patrick closed-eye watched the intruder, lying as still as possible. Did playing dead work with phone-creatures? It worked with bears, though given the frame of this apparition, Patrick supposed he was the more ursine of the two.
‘That was amazing,’ blared the voice. ‘You must have some strength behind you.’
Patrick heard a distressed canine whimper and wondered if the dog had somehow found its way to the clifftops. After a beat, he realised that the sound had emanated from his own throat.
‘How are you feeling?’ persisted the voice.
Of life’s cavalcade of questions, this was always the most inane. Patrick owwwed his way through a shrug and moaned. ‘Torn something,’ he said. ‘Let me rest.’ A new thought birthed and Patrick shuddered. He knew he would not cope with the notion of being loaded into an ambulance in front of this stranger, having him know which parts of Patrick’s body were failing him. ‘Was it just the coastguard,’ he asked. ‘Or did you call an ambulance, too?’
‘I think I saw the police were on their way in the comments,’ said the man. ‘Everybody else is sure on their way.’
Comments? Patrick finally opened his eyes fully. ‘You did call for help? You had your phone out.’
The owner of the voice popped his head out from behind the device. His eyes wore a sheen of alarmingly religious ecstasy. ‘Livestream, my man. You’re already trending! A totally modern superhero.’
‘Just a modern artist,’ said Patrick. ‘You were taking pictures?’
‘Livestreaming,’ corrected the cameraman, instantaneously.
‘What’s…doesn’t matter. I don’t care. Put that thing away.’
The cameraman lowered his phone, tutted and shoved it back into Patrick’s face. ‘This has to be fate,’ he splurged. ‘A desolate place like this, a boy in trouble and a big, strong guy like you just happens to be here to help. It’s got to be karma, or whatever. Why else would you be here?’
‘I came to disappear,’ said Patrick. ‘You should do the same before I find the strength to stand up.’
The cameraman gurgled explosively, a laugh performed by an alien that had only heard inaccurate rumours of what mirth sounded like. ‘Ah, don’t be like that. You said you’re an artist, yeah? I’ve done you a big favour; I’ve just made you famous.’
Patrick sat bolt upright and the amateur film-maker jumped back a pleasingly large distance. ‘You’ve done the thin end of sod all,’ said Patrick. ‘You saw a kid dangling from a cliff and you took pictures?’
‘Enough! What if he’d fallen? What if I’d fallen? Get out of here before I shove that thing so far up you that you’ll be live-streaming the back of your teeth.’
The cameraman glared at Patrick, finally lowering his symbiont. He glanced over Patrick’s throbbing shoulder and his lips melted into a smirk. ‘You came to disappear, huh?’ He stepped back a prudent distance and swept his hand outwards with a flourish. ‘Hero, meet your adoring public.’
Patrick shuffled around on his numbed backside and froze. The horizon was blotted and ruined by a gaggle, then a girth, then a mass of bodies. They jostled and pointed, lumbering bovinely toward him. For every pair of eyes that bore into Patrick, he realised that the devices they held contained a thousand more, each and every pair scrutinising and covetous.
Patrick scrambled to his feet, his legs shaking. He rocking-horsed his way past the red-slickered cameraman, again firmly ensconced behind his own device, and fled towards sanctuary.
Patrick panted for breath as he staggered through the coffee shop door. He slid into the booth nearest the door and waited until he was sure that the smattering of customers were paying no attention before he took off his hoodie. Three days had passed since the incident, days when he would ordinarily have meditated on the cliffs. This was, of course, impossible now in this shrunken town. Even his regular jogging routes were unworkable. They were paralysed with people. His regular haunts had become haunted. Home was no sanctuary; Mr. Anderson had poisoned the vibes since their row a few weeks ago. Patrick shuddered at the thought of bumping into his neighbour. This place would have to suffice.
‘What can I get you, sir?’ The barista, a human sugar-burst, had materialised beside Patrick as he brooded.
‘Oh. I didn’t know you did table service,’ said Patrick. He attempted to return the barista’s smile.
‘We’re not busy,’ she said, beaming. ‘I can make an exception. Have you been jogging?’
Patrick continued to grin, unsure of how long it was polite to do this for. ‘In a way,’ he said, then paused. He had no idea if it was still his turn to speak. ‘People keep jogging after me. Black coffee.’
The barista’s smile receded from her eyes and entrenched itself around her mouth.
‘You can get me a black coffee,’ Patrick clarified. This felt like hard work. How did people do it every day?
‘Right away, sir,’ said the barista, momentarily thoughtful. Her smile returned and she ghosted away from the table.
Patrick pressed his eyelids, glad to be untethered from this inanity. He smelled the coffee arrive and looked up to see the barista holding out several small packets of fruit.
‘On the house, sir,’ she trilled, her tone triumphant.
Patrick held one of the packets at arms length, mesmerised. ‘What is this for?’
‘You’ve been jogging,’ she said. ‘I thought you could use the sugar.’
‘No, what is it like this for? Why do you sell it sliced and bagged? Why not just an apple?’
The barista’s brow crinkled. ‘It’s on the house,’ she offered in lieu of explanation. She leaned forward, confident of her role as confidant. ‘I just want to say,’ she murmured. ‘I think you’re incredible. The way you dove after that little boy. That was amazing, Patrick.’
Patrick’s skin crawled into his trainers for cover. ‘You know my name?’
The barista winked. ‘I’d have to be Amish not to,’ she said.
This narrowing intimacy was quickly becoming a strangulation. Patrick took out his wallet. ‘The coffee and fruit. How much is it?’
A re-crinkling of the brow. ‘It’s on the house.’
‘I have money. I want to pay. I’ll pay extra.’
‘Honestly, it’s on me.’
‘Then I’ll give you the money,’ said Patrick, fishing through his wallet. He put a note on the table, pondered and emptied his change on the table. ‘Just please let me drink my coffee and eat my weird bags of fruit in peace.’
‘You’re a lot stranger than I imagined you’d be,’ said the barista, her tone almost dreamy.
Patrick watched as she sashayed back to the counter, her hand already fishing in her trouser pocket for her phone. He had to get out of here. There was only one way to stop all of this nonsense. He would hate it, but it needed to happen straight away.
Patrick shuffled and squirmed and fidgeted and finally decided to lean back against the chair. His hands, those treacherous slabs of meat, threatened to pluck a bead of sweat from his brow or wave a semaphore of distress. He clamped them to the armrests.
‘Ijustwanttosaythatidont,’ he began. The producer looked up from his camera-arranging and Patrick stopped. What had that article said about eye-contact? Patrick flared his eyelids and vomited out another assortment of vowels and consonants. The producer rolled his eyes hard enough to inspect his own brain for a retort.
‘Just try and relax,’ purred the journalist. She attempted to tap Patrick’s hand then thought better of it. ‘Look, we’ll edit out the ums and errs. Keep your answers short, mmkay?’
Patrick gulped an agreement.
‘So you were meditating and that’s something you do every day? Do you think that was a big factor in how calm you were, how you were able to leap into action and save little Tommy when most people would have panicked, and you were mindful enough to search for a rock and plan a rescue? Do you recommend meditation to our viewers to help them cope with whatever life can throw at them?’
The producer mimed a stretching motion with his hands.
‘It makes you stretchy,’ said Patrick.
The journalist glanced at the producer, who covered his mouth with his hand. ‘Let me put it this way,’ she said. ‘You’re mentally prepared for any eventuality with your daily routine. Do you think you’d react the same way again under the same circumstances?’
‘Of course,’ said the journalist. ‘There’s something you’d change about the day, yes?’
Patrick looked across at the producer. His new mime was two hands folded down from his chin and a lolling tongue.
‘I should’ve bought a hot-dog instead,’ said Patrick.
The producer shook his head frantically and stage-whispered ‘The. Boy.’
‘I’d have bought the kid a hot-dog?’
The journalist pinched the bridge of her nose. ‘I bet you wish you’d saved the dog, too. Tommy was devastated at losing him.’
Patrick thought about Anderson’s yappy tenant. ‘Not really,’ he said. Into the airless silence he explained, ‘I dislike dogs. My neighbour had one.’
The producer sat down with an audible whumph and turned his back to Patrick, shoulders melting.
‘I’ll level with you Patrick,’ said the journalist. ‘People needed a new angle on Tommy’s story since nobody could talk to you. We set up a crowd-funder to buy him a new dog. Do you want to guess what the current total is?’
She sighed. ‘Right…well, he’s due at this office in twenty minutes. We thought you might like to see him and his parents-‘
‘Why would I?’
‘To present him with his new dog. It’s a Pomeranian. You must want to say something to his parents?’
‘Yeah,’ said Patrick. He leaned forward and fixed his wide eyes on the journalist. ‘I’d like to ask them what kind of parents let their kid walk a dog along the cliffs by himself. Instead of rewarding their laxity, you should be reminding them that there’s no crowd-funder that could buy them a replacement kid.’
The journalist froze and the producer creaked around in his chair. Now he had their attention.
‘Then I’d like to say this,’ said Patrick. ‘Tell people to stop talking to me, stop following me. Leave me the fuck alone.’
The producer and the journalist faced each other and there was no mime that Patrick needed to interpret to tell him that this interview was over.
Patrick pulled up a chair to the frosted studio window and waved his hand over the huge pile of letters. Maybe this time they would combust or evaporate. No dice. A blur of movement caught his eye and he watched two small heads meerkat over the courtyard wall. He scratched his beard. Would they make it over or capitulate like most of the others?
Patrick leafed through the pile, slam dunking the cursive envelopes into the bin. At least, though, hand-written hate carried intimacy. His nascent social media accounts survived an hour after first opening the manhole cover and wading through the sludge. There was something infinitely depressing about a robot bleep-blooping bile into a void.
The heads on the parapet were joined by tiny bodies which lowered themselves on candlestick arms into the courtyard.
More supplier invoices, a bill from his dealer. This one looked different. An embossed portcullis underscored by ‘URGENT INVITATION’.
The windowpane thudded and a tiny, giggling hand smeared across the glass in lurid greeting. Patrick sucked his upper lip approvingly. Not the first this week to weaponise dog-shit, but certainly the only with the sense to wear gloves.
As the truncated tearaways padded back to the wall, Patrick tore open the envelope. An invitation to a hearing, non-legally binding and fair, no lawyer required and so on. Patrick stared at the anal arrangement on the windowpane. As far as he could tell, this was not a crisis, but an opportunity.
‘Mr. Harrison,’ said the impossibly young foreman, closing his suit jacket over his t-shirt. ‘Do you understand why you’re here?’
Patrick sucked his teeth. He felt overdressed and his collar was shrinking by the second. ‘I did something to help a kid and people loved me. Then they got to know me.’
The besuited foetus shook his head almost sadly. ‘People didn’t get to know you. They got to know about you. This is why you’re here, to offer a defence of yourself as a person. This is important and only fair.’
‘Why do I need to defend myself? I thought this wasn’t a trial. Who even are you people? You look like you still drink milk at break-time.’
The foreman looked across at his peers, who were all staring at Patrick from within their haircuts and smart-casual attire. ‘We’re not quite a jury, just a panel,’ he said. ‘But what we say carries weight and we’ve earned that right. We can help you, but you need to explain some things to us if your situation is to be rectified.’
‘What situation?’ said Patrick. ‘There was a fuss around me, now there’s a different fuss. I didn’t ask for any of that and I don’t want it. Just tell people to ignore me in the street and let me disappear into the background and I’ll be happy again.’ Patrick glared at the panel as they looked between each other and began tapping their phones.
‘Mr. Harrison,’ said the foreman. ‘You don’t want that. You’ve been famous, then infamous. There are some pretty serious charges people are levelling at you.’
‘Tell me what they are so I can be on my way.’
‘On two instances, with a coffee-shop barista and a journalist, you were seen to be leering at females before becoming aggressive and confrontational.’
‘Are you serious? I was just looking at them. They insisted on talking to me, that wasn’t my choice.’
‘You set up the meeting with the journalist.’
‘Not so I could gawp at her!’ Patrick gripped the sides of the lectern. His feet felt fixed in place. ‘I don’t really talk to people, keep myself to myself. What’s wrong with that?’
The foreman tapped out a note. ‘You have a history of rudeness, particularly to women. Would you call yourself a misogynist?’
‘No, I hate all people equally.’
‘And what about animals?’
Patrick felt his cheek twitch. ‘Is this all because I didn’t save the kid’s dog?’
‘It’s more that you’ve gone out of your way to harm animals before,’ said the foreman. ‘Do you know a James Anderson?’
Patrick closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Focus. ‘He’s my neighbour.’
‘As was his dog. Would you care to explain what happened?’
Patrick rubbed his eyebrow. ‘Look, that dog yapped all hours of the day. I couldn’t meditate, i couldn’t sculpt at home. It was in the shared garden and I thought it would help. That’s all there is to it.’
The foreman clasped his hands. ‘Are you saying that you let it out of the gate with solely good intentions?’
Patrick’s headspace cluttered. ‘I thought it would go around the block a few times, run off some energy. If I knew it would run onto the road…’
‘Mr. Anderson thinks differently. He says you haven’t even apologised, that you’ve avoided him. Would you apologise now?’
‘No,’ said Patrick, feeling savage satisfaction at the sharp gasp from the panel. ‘It was an accident, my intentions were good. I regret that it happened but he should have walked it more often.’
‘Mr. Harrison,’ said the foreman. ‘Do you think yourself a good person?’
Patrick chewed his lip then shrugged. ‘Who is?’
The foreman passed along the line of the panel and nodded as each showed him their screens. He turned to Patrick. ‘Mr. Harrison, in light of what you’ve said here today, we have to draw some conclusions. You have a capacity for good, the incident with young Tommy James demonstrates so. However, how do we weight that against your manner towards others, your disregard for feelings, your off-hand cruelty and misogyny? One good deed cannot justify this behaviour. I’m afraid that we’ve reached a verdict.’
‘Which is?’ said Patrick.
‘You’re cancelled,’ declared the foreman.
Patrick laughed delightedly. ‘What? I’m no longer online? Good. I got what I wanted, then. I want nothing to do with any of you people.’ He made to storm from this lectern, but could not move. He looked down at the space where, previously, his left foot had been. He stared at the phantom anatomy in bewilderment.
‘I’m sorry it came to this,’ said the foreman.
Patrick’s right foot was fading from view. How was he still standing? ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not right,’ he stammered. Left shin shimmering, he slammed his fist on the lectern. ‘What right have you? Who are you to judge? So I accidentally killed a dog? So I put myself in danger to save a boy? This is what people do, every day.’
Both legs dimming. Groin going.
‘You asked if I’m a good person? I’m just ordinary. I’m not a bad person who did something good any more than I’m a good person who did something bad.’
Waist wasting away.
‘How can you judge me? Do you think it makes you better people to obliterate those you disagree with? The world isn’t like that.’
‘It is,’ said the foreman.
Chest winking from existence.
‘You know what?’ said Patrick. ‘I don’t care anymore. You don’t make the world a better place by damning others. You get a buzz out of purity, but you’re toxic. I’d rather fade away than burn out in a society where people are looking over each other’s shoulders, where morality is black and white. I want this. I came to disappear and now I can.’
Patrick had time for one last deep inhalation before his mind slipped under the veil for good.
The foreman watched impassively as Patrick ranted, his final words inaudible as his head evaporated. As ever in these cases, the valediction of Patrick Harrison was a perceptible pop as his eyeballs vanished. The foreman turned to the panel and asked for a moment’s silence in memory of the defendant.
After a period, a buzz of chatter enveloped the panel and the foreman glanced at his phone. So, tomorrow was going to be Sweden; that young climate change activist had sworn at an aged heckler. The foreman felt a smile slowly spread across his face. Sometimes, he truly loved this job.
Barry Marshall is a literary fiction writer from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. He is studying a Creative Writing MA at Northumbria University and has been published by InkyLab Press Anthologies and STORGY Magazine. Barry is currently writing his second novel and seeking representation for his first, and a short story collection. Barry’s happiness can be measured by his proximity to cats and quality black coffee. He can be found on Twitter under the handle @BJM_Writes.
InkyLab Press web-store: http://inkylabpress.com/shop/
Twitter- @BJM_Writes: https://twitter.com/BJM_Writes
To celebrate the release of
We are offering a whopping 60% off previously published STORGY titles:
EXIT EARTH & SHALLOW CREEK!
That’s 21 stories for £4.99*
or 42 stories for £9.98*
*(R.R.P. £12.99 each. Postal charges apply)
Simply click on the images below and take advantage of this limited time offer.
Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.