Thank God it’s FRIDAY!

 ripvanwinkle

circa 1989

THE FRIDAY feeling was no different to that of any other Friday. Nothing out of the ordinary, just pretty much the same old, same old at the Fontainebleau office and an eagerness to get out of there as fast as was humanly possible. I was off the train and back in my hovel of a bedsit that wouldn’t even pass for a garret by quarter to six.

The sofa bed lay crumpled within feet of the door. As usual, I hadn’t had time to fold it. Now it just beckoned, especially since I wasn’t that hungry and didn’t have the energy even to toss a salad. And then there was my social life, which wasn’t exactly teeming outside of work – I had nothing better to do …

And so it was that I laid my head on the pillow …

II

I SQUINTED at the travel clock perched on the arm of the sofabed. Nearly seven o’clock and it was already past twilight. The idea of calling it a day and turning my quick nap into an early night was tempting, but the first stirrings of hunger made me want to fight it, thankful that I hadn’t once allowed myself to fall into deep slumber. Within minutes, I felt recharged enough to sit bolt upright.

Yet still I couldn’t be bothered cooking, so I pulled a yoghurt from my makeshift fridge of cold water in the washbowl, closed the curtains and switched on the TV to catch the evening news and the now familiar face of Guillaume Durand.

It was only half way through a news report and the penultimate spoonful of yoghurt that I paid any attention to the date displayed at the top of the screen. The hair on the back of my neck stood to full alert, as I attempted to grasp the magnitude of what I was seeing.

I flicked through all six channels and nipped to the nearest tabac to buy a newspaper, just to be sure that I wasn’t going out of my mind.

I wasn’t. Or maybe I was. Whatever, it was Saturday night.

FIN

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2015

Stranger than fiction

gears

BOXING DAY 2014. As usual the telly is crap. Flicking through the mindless list of channels, we finally stumble across Jonathan Creek and I declare “Aha!”. Since it was once rather compelling, it is logical to think that it might still be, even if we are about to watch a repeat. However, as we become drawn into the clever weave of mystery and intrigue, it seems that it has been so long since I last saw it that it feels fresh. This one is called “The Judas Tree”.

In case you’re not familiar with Jonathan Creek, the main character is a creative consultant to an illusionist and in his spare time he solves crimes that appear to be supernatural. The bad guys are always clever illusionists themselves and it’s Jonathan’s job to figure out how they pulled off their dastardly crimes. He has had three sidekicks – this time it’s not Caroline Quentin, it’s the blonde one.

Anyway, there we are sitting in front of the TV, Alex trying to have a conversation with me while I try to keep up with the complexity of the plot. Jonathan meantime is rooting about in a darkened room, experiencing his own “Aha” moments with increasing frequency yet, like me, still scratching his head.

Earlier that day, I took Alex to task for having resorted to clipping my thigh with the back of his hand in order to get my attention. Now he is doing it again.

But this time, before I have a chance to yelp the word “Ooowwwww!”, Jonathan’s bubbly assistant Sheridan says to him, completely out of context with the rest of the dialogue, “What’s that smacking sound?”

In true Scooby Doo fashion, my jaw drops and I turn to Alex, who is looking back at me, eyes nearly popping out of his head.

All together now “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!”

“Shaggy?”

“Okay, Alex, seriously – how did you do that?”

Once the initial shock of such a freaky coincidence is over and we are both satisfied that the other hasn’t been sneaking a shifty peek on a +1 channel, we devote both our attentions to the eventual resolution of the case, convinced that if we keep our earflaps wide open, the significance of the smacking sound will be revealed. After all, it is reasonable to assume that it is a clue. We listen … and we wait ….

But the eerie part is this … when all the pennies finally drop, the smacking sound is not one of them. Those four words served no purpose whatsoever. Now I’m going to have to replay the whole damn lot to make sure it even happened.

Can two people imagine the same thing? What if the idea to start slapping my thigh had actually been planted in Alex’s head two nights before during an earlier episode of Jonathan Creek? I’m scared to google this in case I’ve just taken part in an outdated and well documented mind control experiment by the BBC! I’d hate to ruin a good story.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes

As The Crow Flies

crow

MIDNIGHT had long passed and it was raining hard. Visibility was limited to that which was illuminated by the bright flecks of driving rain caught in the beam of the headlights. All else was black.

The dance was now a distant memory. Despite the conditions and a bloodstream full of whisky, the man in the brand new Hillman Imp knew this single-track road from Torrin to Broadford intimately. He had no idea he was getting sloppy but he did concede that he was feeling tired and welcomed the thought of his warm bed.

Just as his eyes were getting a little heavier, the man became aware that he was about to pass the old haunted graveyard. The realisation gave him just enough adrenalin to restore him to a state of wakefulness, for Kilchrist was a place that struck fear into the hearts of anyone that had ever been within its perimeter. The man squinted at the timepiece he pulled from his coat pocket.

Two o’clock. God, was that the time?

The witching hour. His grip on the steering wheel became just that little bit tighter.

II

HAD THE man still been in a stupor, he may have had less of a fright when the creature appeared out of nowhere. What looked like a pair of shiny black wings exploded into view, piercing the driving rain and heading straight for him.

The man slammed his brakes, veering to the other side of the road to avoid lurching forward and flying through the windscreen himself. When the car finally screeched to a halt, he sat for what seemed to him an eternity, his fingers and forehead glued to the upper rim of the steering wheel. It was only when he lifted his head that he realised he had no idea which direction he was facing. Whatever that thing was, it had pulled up and over the vehicle just in time.

But even when the danger appeared to be over, the fear persisted and his darkest imaginings ran wild. He could hear the voice of his mother rambling that this was the work of the Devil and at this very moment, he wondered if she was right. He reached for the glove compartment and pulled out the leatherbound Bible that his mother had insisted he keep with him at all times. Without his spectacles, he drew his comfort just from holding it, reciting the Lord’s Prayer until his heartbeat settled into its near-normal pace and he started to feel foolish. Putting the whole episode down to having drunk too much, he returned the Holy Book to its hiding place.

With no inclination whatsoever to get out of the car to investigate, the man had to switch off the headlights to get his bearings. He reoriented himself in the direction of Broadford and went on his way. When he crept into the house, his parents were asleep and he was quiet as a mouse.

III

IT WAS breakfast and an hour past sunrise. The man’s early morning chores up on the croft had been completed and he was on his second cigarette. His mother drew a bowl of steaming porridge from the cast iron pot perched on the range and placed it in front of him. She said not a word. Her face was more drawn than usual.

His father fixing on him through rings of pipesmoke from the opposite end of the table made the ticking of the grandmother clock on the back wall seem unnaturally loud and the man nervous. His intakes became longer and deeper.

His mother muttered some inaudible excuse and headed outside with a basket of clean washing. Once certain that she was no longer in earshot, the Old Man leaned over the table.

“Iain, is there anything you would like to tell me?”

Mid-draw, Iain stopped in his tracks. He scanned his memory to figure out if he should know the answer to the question.

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Well, how do I put it? The Old Man emitted a long puff as he tried to find the right words. “Have you done anything?”

Now Iain’s heart was beating faster. Something was clearly not right.

“Done anything? I still don’t know what you mean.”

“Did you do anything you shouldn’t have?” A shorter pause. “Last night to be exact.”

Iain’s heart stuttered. Sharp intake of breath. A cough. Murky half-faded images from the night before sought form in his head.

“You’re scaring me. If you’re talking about last night, I went to the dance. I danced, had a few drinks and came back. End of story.”

“You sure about that?”

It was hard for Iain to look his father in the eye. The only thing he could think of was that he might have taken a liberty or two with one of the wives, so the look of guilt was unmistakeable.

“Will you please tell me what you’re talking about?”

“You really don’t know ….”

“No! Now will you please tell me.” Panic was setting in. “I don’t want to be late for work.”

The Old Man drew long and hard on his pipe. He was clearly going to stretch this out.

“Well, Iain,” he said, “you must have done something. Not long after you came back to the house, there was a strange and mighty rattling sound coming from the window above your bed.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You were fast asleep. Well, I got up to have a look and in the name of the wee man, if it wasn’t a great big black bird trying to get in. It was making one godalmighty commotion, flapping its wings and pecking at the glass with its beak.” He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “It was trying to break the window ….”

Iain’s fingers were trembling, his face ashen, when he stubbed out his last cigarette of the morning.

“Really?”

extract from Close Call: Short and Bittersweet, published April 2015

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2014

The Visitation

visitation

Wee Willie Winkie runnin’ through the toon,
Upstairs doonstairs in his nichtie-goon,
Chapping at the windaes, peekin’ through the locks,
Are a’ the children in their beds, it’s past eight o’clock.

(slightly customised version of Scottish nursery rhyme –
Wee Willie Winkie is the Scottish equivalent of the Sandman)

I

THE NIGHT began just like any other. Mum and Dad had bundled my brother and I up the stairs and into our pyjamas in the expectation of a child-free evening in front of the telly. And, as usual, we chattered across the room for as long as it took. In those days, my little brother really was my little brother. I was seven, nearly grown up, he was still a baby at only five.

Back then I was afraid of the dark. But neither of my parents would have known about my recurring nightmare, the one where I had to hide because the Bogey Man had come to get me and the only place I could think of was under the hearthrug in the sitting room. Of course, he would find me and then I would wake up. Nor would they have known of the one where I would wake up and go downstairs to talk to them, only to find two hooded faceless figures sitting by the fire like Reapers. I would flee the house and keep running until they caught up with me. Then I would wake up for real.

Regardless, the hall light was always left on, the bedroom door ajar to let in just enough light to keep the ghosties at bay.

My brother and I had been chattering for some time, when we heard someone creeping about at the top of the stair. When the hideous shadow appeared on the bedroom door, we knew instantly who it was. I clutched the bedclothes and braced myself, unable to bear the thought of what might happen next.

The bulbous nose, the shape of a Rumplestiltskin hat, the jarring whiny voice … everything about this creature reminded me of the baddie in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who frightened me more than anything that Doctor Who could throw at me.

The Voice asked if we were fast asleep.

Ours trembled, as we replied “No.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” we whimpered.

“Who am I then?”

“Wee Willie Winkie.”

“Exactly. And you know what happens to little children who don’t go to sleep after eight o’clock, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well then, go to sleep. No talking.”

“Yes, Wee Willie Winkie.”

Then the Shadow was gone, the only indication of what had passed the creak of the dodgy floorboard by the landing bannister.

For an hour or so, we were too terrified to utter a sound. It was a blessing when at long last the dreams came to take us away.

II

I WAS in my late thirties when I recounted my traumatic encounter to a friend.

“… and then when I went to school next day, I told all my classmates that Wee Willie Winkie had come to my bedroom door, and they laughed at me, because I still believed he actually existed. Shit.”

“What?”

“The devious jammy …”

“Who?”

“My dad.”

“Why?”

“It was him. In all the years since that happened, it never crossed my mind that it was a setup. Duh, wot a plonker. Ah well, at least I don’t have to scratch my head now trying to figure out if it really did happen.”

III

TODAY, as I was about to pen my tale, I looked up Wee Willie Winkie on Wikipedia. Seems we were double had. The original nursery rhyme clearly states that all children should be in their beds by ten

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2015

High Altar

A LONG long time ago in a far off town, some friends and I were invited to a swanky party at an abandoned Victorian monastery that had been converted into a corporate events venue. Rumour had it that back in the day the monks used to run their own moonshine.

II

ON FINDING ourselves a table, we could queue up at any of the seven feeding stations, themed according to each of the Deadly Sins. The catering staff were fitted with horns and forked tails.

After the buffet and the band, the venue became an instant nightclub, the dance floor in front of the High Altar, the music leaning towards anything with a deep base and a strong beat. Lasers and soft psychedelics blended into stained glass, dry ice oozed from the seams.

Doof. Doof.  Doof. Doof.
Doof. Doof.  Doof. Doof.

I itched to join in the revelry but couldn’t bring myself. Haunted by an image from Sunday School of a psychotic-looking Jesus wrecking the Temple because it had been put to wordly use, I declined all attempts to drag me onto the floor.

Until I raised my eyes, I hadn’t paid much attention to the dying Christ suspended from the rafters. The thorns, the twisted expression of pain and suffering, sinews taut, a cloth barely covering his dignity, the unimaginable sorrow of a man in his final moments.

And punching the air beneath the feet of the naked guy nailed to the cross was the tall man wearing a jumper and a dog collar, his sweaty face gleaming through the fog. The vicar.

Dear God, I’ve seen it all now.

A subtle movement above his head caught my eye. The painted wooden crucifix swung back and forth like a pendulum. Hardly blinking for several minutes, I could see the movements become more pronounced. One swing now for every four doofs.

I ran my eyes up and down, looking for the weakest point. The pendant hung from two long metal chains, hooked onto rings attached to a high wooden beam. Beyond that, it was hard to tell what was what.

But one thing was certain. That crucifix weighed a tonne and it had a life of its own. I could see it all now. The plummet, the loud crash, the gasps, the cloud of dust, the horror as it smashed into the minister and his immediate entourage.

Images of screaming choir boys in St Paul’s Cathedral, a mummified Richard Burton lying in a hospital bed. The bit of paper at the end of the movie scrawled with the words ‘Windscale’ … The Medusa Touch. How little it would take to bring that lot down. I should be careful not to think on it too hard. I might cause it.

And didn’t I know just how easy it was for those screws to come loose. Oh yes, I had watched episode upon episode of CSI. I had just seen the one where the house collapsed because the sonic boom of low-flying aircraft made the screws drop out of the walls …

I could see it now, JESUS SPLATS RAVING VICAR. Great headline … very messy …

Swing. Doof, doof, doof, doof. Swing …

III

I CAN only assume that everyone survived. My friends and I left before we had a chance to find out.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes

Who needs drugs?

Let’s go on a day trip.

To the country?’

No, not exactly. We just nip to the place

where the very walls vibrate their way

from being oh-so-matter-of-factly Georgian

and into a realm of bristling auras and dizzy spells

and sages who know there’s a very fine line between heaven and hell.

.

The Beast lurks in every corner,

the carpet waxed while the moon is on the wane.

It’s hard to feel relaxed

when the Eye that Sees All is upon you

in the name of the infernal Pantheon,

who shall remain shameless

but who we all know and love

as they watch from above

the chess-ridden hall of nameless pawns

who were shot down in flames.

.

And the Book of the Dead teeters

on the brink of a shelf-ful of dust,’

while Madam Blavatsky, screwed to the wall,

struggles to think.

Tales of alchemical lust in the back rooms linger ….

Here lies deceit – and exploded hearts,

every …

so often …

missing …

a beat.

.

It’s not very hard in a place such as this,

to enter the twilight,

cross the veil into the Abyss,

beyond the pale

where devils kiss.

.

Copyright Morgan MacInnes (c) 2000

The Power of Suggestion

blood

MANY full moons ago, in Ninety-eight or thereabouts, I stumbled on a late-night episode of Dark Skies. In those days, The X-Files was more my thing – Dark Skies was just a little too dark for my liking. I was just about to flip the channel yet again when I realised that the main female character was in the process of reliving an alien abduction – that’s the one where Kim undergoes hypnotic regression, only for this gi-normous Hive implant inside her head to cause her nose to bleed. I don’t recall whether or not I watched the rest of the episode. And I certainly haven’t the stomach to wade through an entire season online only to discover that the implant was in fact quite minescule …

Some time in the wee small hours, I had a dream. I remember nothing other than that I took some kind of road trip in which I missed chunks of time. And waking up on a riverbank full of faerie folk. Then I woke up for real.

Once I had given up trying to remember any other details, I finally managed to drag myself out of bed. I had a work meeting that day, so in order to look the part, I spent longer than usual straddled across the toilet seat applying my make up (my bathroom was tiny and the best light could only be achieved by perching the mirror on the window ledge behind the cistern).

Imagine then my horror and disbelief when just as I am putting the finishing touches to my lips, a gob of fresh crimson appears as if out of nowhere and splashes onto the groove beneath my nose then onto the cistern.

“Holy shit.” The force of the recoil from my reflection in the mirror causes me to catch my foot on the floor mat and narrowly avoid glancing my lower back off the side of the bath.

Needless to say, I have since been exceedingly picky in my night-time viewing habits. As for horror movies, never EVER again. Noo siree …

 

Copyright © M K MacInnes 2018

Kiss

kiss

IT BEGAN with a kiss. Not a passionate embrace but a soft brush on the cheek.

The feeling of warmth and love from an old friend lingered on beyond the dream and well into the following days …

Like a little seed, the feeling grew and grew until I longed to be with my old friend. All the while, I thought to myself how sublime that Cupid should strike without even so much as the presence of one who I hadn’t heard from in years …

The phone call came three weeks later. He came round for a few beers and we shared stories. He’d sent me a distress flare of sorts three weeks earlier, he said. Yes, I definitely got the message, I said. And then the rest was history.

Copyright M K MacInnes 2018

Brothers in Arms

templar

TO THE strains of Dire Straits, I am surrounded by battle in its last throes, a sea of mud everywhere. These fields of destruction, baptisms of fire, I’ve witnessed your suffering, every man has to die …

But not just yet. A trapped horseman is pulled from between his fallen mount and the mire. Am I the one being pulled or the one doing the pulling? I can’t tell which of us is which.

I do not know where I am or who I am other than that I am a man. And I know not how I know but the other man is Rab …

* * * * *

BOTH RAB and I fluttered in the same social circle. For me anyway, the sense of having met before was instantaneous.

It was while walking along a busy street only days after our introduction that I was hit with the cinematic picture of horses flopping about in the mud and an intense feeling of loyalty, brother to brother. I had never had a ‘vision’ with audio before.

Somewhere between a week and two weeks later, I meandered through Leith Links, on my way to the house of the mutual friend who had introduced us. Having never taken that particular route before, I scanned the open green and surrounding buildings. As I did so, got a strong impression of mud where there should have been grass.

The answer to my immediate question came quickly and without the asking. It was my friend who told me that here in the middle of the 16th century, the French had occupied Leith, until they were forcibly removed by the English army in 1560. Like most Scots, I had never heard of the Battle of Leith Links, or rather the Siege of Leith.

A short time later, Rab and I found ourselves blethering – as we were prone to do – like there was no tomorrow. Only this time our conversation took a more spooky turn than usual. Ghosts, dreams, you name it. The situation was ripe for bringing my battle vision into the conversation.

Thing is, Rab beat me to it …

“I’ve been having this recurring dream,” he said. “Well, actually, it’s more like a vision coz I only get it when I’m awake during the day.”

I know what he is going to say. Baited breath.

“I’m in a battle and I’m being pulled out from under a horse.”

I felt my face turn to rubber. It must have blanched, for he said “Not you as well.”

Up to that point, I had told no-one.

I choked “Was it a muddy battlefield?”

“Yes,” came the whisper.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes

The Sarah Connor Complex

ASTEROIDMILLENNIUM Fever was in full swing and it seemed that every man and his dog expected a cataclysm of one description or another by the time the year was out. And just to make sure that even the most logical-minded got sucked in, there was Y2K. Although steering clear of prophecies or New World Order bullshit, I had got wind of a great almighty asteroid heading straight for us. On the 29th of August 1999 to be precise.

I was quite frankly at that point where I had had the world up to my chin. I didn’t want to be in it. Not as it was. All around me what had the cheek to call itself a civilisation was ready to implode, just like all the others before it. If not now, then at some point in the not too distant future. And I almost wished it would. Get it over and done with and all that so that whoever was left could start over.

Being the over-thinker that I was, I prepared myself mentally. Assuming, of course, that I even survived it. And being the self-analyst that I was, I called this my Sarah Connor complex. Syndrome would have been more accurate but complex sounded so much better.

29 August 1999

INSPIRED ages ago by my utter lack of preparedness for life in the wilderness, I had bought Lofty Wiseman’s SAS Survival Guide and built up my ready-for-anything tobacco tin and small ready-for-anything rucksack. I had the tools, Armageddon or no Armageddon. And at least if nothing happened, I wouldn’t make a complete tit of myself.

It was a clear starry evening when a friend and I enjoyed a warm goblet of wine in front of a hot fire. With no intention of bracing myself, I had accepted her invitation to stay over and chat into the wee small hours. She had no idea of the impending asteroid strike and I didn’t discuss it. After all, without proof I didn’t want to scare the shit out of anyone. I felt no anxiety as such, just a sense that whatever was thrown at me, I would deal with it. Bring it on.

In the meantime, maybe I could anaesthetise myself a little … just not too much …

Night came and went. The next time I opened my eyes, I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment.

Bollocks, we’re still here.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes