A street off Smithdown

And so we continued. Outside is a slightly tatty street off Smithdown, but by now the yellowing curtains that covered the bay window were enough to isolate us from that day-to-day scene of Londis and Vauxhall Novas and purple bins. Those curtains obscured a view that could, for all we cared, looked out onto war-torn Iraq or the steamy streets of central New York or shimmering fucking glaciers because we are in our own world. The warm brown light from the old table lamp lights one corner of the room while a knackered, green lava job burns in the other and day or night we do not adjust these settings, rarely leaving the haven we had created for ourselves. There we fucked, mostly on the duvet and cushions in the corner which had accidentally become our bed, sometimes on the sagging grey couch or the debris-filled back kitchen from which the only outside light emerged. But that only consumed half of our energies.

In between we sit across from each other at the table in the middle of the room with the laptop and the old PC and the printer and type. And type. And type. Sometimes looking up from the screen and the darkened keys to glance and smile at each other in-between bouts. Quote something we were proud of, only to have it cheekily shot down as shit by the other. And every time I was turned sick by those deep fucking gems of eyes that offered much but revealed little. Stopping to skin up sometimes, passing bottles and spliffs across as we got lost in and what we’re consuming and the worlds we are creating, writing to the rhythms of Pendulum and Nick Cave and The Libertines and the wall-thumping of the neighbours. Every so often the passion for something other than Scotch and Microsoft Word consumes us and a glance of eyes leads to one of us taking a big swig and stalk over to the other and we put aside the words for a while to fulfil our other desire, other need, lost in the intoxicating path of creation.

The PC stopped working, broken when we were having a drunken rave. We think. So we now work shifts on the laptop while the other scribbles away in notebooks. She was more in her element there with her beautiful, flowing hand. With my spider scrawl, especially when pissed and trying to get it all out as fast as I could, I struggled to read back what I wrote. Getting the notebooks had required a rare trip to the shops and the suspension of the illusion. To queue in the harsh, fake light of Londis in clothes I don’t know how long since washed and receive under-the-breath “Smackhead” comments. But it was worth it, for now we pasted our work on the walls ever more, without telling each other what we had done, to be read at leisure for more amusement and delight and thigh-slapping shouts of “Yes!” prompting us into further bouts of passion.

The lights have gone out now. I penned a stern letter to the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board that I never managed to send before the battery went on the laptop. We barley noticed the turning of days and nights now, but continued to write and love and drink and merge and we sometimes got up to venture out but never quite managed it and things spun more and more and further and faster we could barley see each other anymore as we reached ever closer to something unimaginable as we began put our works together, but they became harder to find. Fragments got lost in the dark. We got lost in the dark.

I woke up and looked across to the table where I expected to see her writing but she wasn’t there. Was she here at all? I couldn’t tell. I called out but she didn’t answer. I called and called for her to find me and bring some light. There was some light coming through the crack in yellowing curtains but it wasn’t enough. I called until the bile and rawness choked my throat. I tried to get up, but my weakness dragged me back to the ground.

The next thing I recall was when they came. They opened the curtains and shattered the illusion. Stern faces carried me up and out.  I could see only a mess now. Smell only the detritus our creation had produced. I tried to call out to her again but nothing came.

I’m awake now. She is gone. I returned. They allowed me after I while. I wanted to get together all that we had created, make it what it as meant to be, but most of it had already gone. I sifted around but they had left only fragments. Fragments which on there own were but shadows of what we had formed. She had been devoured by what we had done, by longing and desire and darkness. And I had failed her by letting them separate us as we were about to merge. I’m awake now, but I am cold and alone, standing in a tatty street off Smithdown Road.

By Kenn Taylor

You Can’t Go Home Again

Raw yellow and white, the sun beat down hard and impossibly bright onto the city. Michael regretted not digging out his sunglasses as the five lads padded along the Strand in shorts, T-shirts and trainers, no socks.

This was the perfect day for it. It was Saturday, summer, 2008 too. Albert Dock was loaded with tourists. The Duck Tours vehicle bounced along the road past the group, its assortment of visitors gawping, Beatles songs blaring out.

The boys jostled each other as they went along, pulling tops and slapping arms till they reached the bridge filled with people streaming in both directions. A few tourists had stopped to gaze at the vista of the waterfront, sweating, squinting into slick digital cameras, looking for the perfect angle. Michael, smiling, eyed some of them menacingly and they cast their gaze away from him uneasily.

Leaning with his back to the dull, black bridge-side, arms outstretched along the railing, Leon quipped: “Who’ll be the first brave man to step up eh?”

Michael grinned widely at Leon, his dimples nearly reaching his narrow, brown eyes. Without speaking, he pulled off his washed-out grey t-shirt detailing some long-forgotten event, then stepped forward and mounted the wide ledge of the bridge in one movement.

He stood legs wide apart on the edge of the bridge and looked around him. Some passers-by were already stopping, shielding their eyes with their hands to look up at him standing in the sun. On the ledge he caught the wind blowing in cold and strong, straight from the river. It hit the sweat that covered his body, encasing him in a strange coolness as the moisture froze on him. He felt everything with renewed, innocent, strength. He was proud of his gym-enhanced body. They were watching him. He had power. He squeezed his toes around the edge of the hot metal bridge, feeling the sun harsh on his face and the beads of sweat sliding down slowly from his close-cropped hair to his crack.

Looking down, the water remained uninviting, a thick, slopping, miserable, green-brown. He turned around again, slower. More people had stopped.

“Stop posin Mike and fucking jump,” Evo said quickly.

He faced the river again, feeling now nothing more than the overwhelming heat of the day and the desire to escape it. He put his hands forward and leaped.

In an instant he was blinded by the full shock of the sun’s glare and screwed his eyes tight. Air rushed around him, but before he could recover his sight he was enveloped by the water. The cold sliced through him instantly. Sinking in the dark liquid, his eyes, ears and nose filled. The power he had only a few seconds previously vanished.

He carried on plummeting downwards through the drink, eventually slowing in his descent till he felt his whole body turning, cradled in the water. The darkness was total. Sounds surged in his ears and then slowly began to fade. There was nothing outside of him, nothing past or present, only the water and the cold.

Sensing danger, he struggled with his arms, thrusting forwards to what he thought was the surface in sheer panic. But he found no respite from the total darkness that overwhelmed his senses. His every movement was heavy and laboured and drained his resources further. Whichever way he turned seemed to bring him no closer to any light. He tried to speak and a pained roar flew out in bubbles.

Michael felt the slow ebbing away of his energy and began to cease in all thought and function.

As his movement became ever slower, weakened by the pressure, he felt himself begin to disappear into the blackness and accepted his fate. He knew it was right.

Then with a rush he was dragged rapidly back. Shooting towards the glare, he pierced the top of the water and coughed up half the Mersey as he broke the surface.

Through stinging eyes he looked up to see the boys cheering and tourists clapping. Feeling the sun once again attacking the back of his neck, he swam towards the old metal ladder, his vision blurred, his head pounding. He was back. He was powerful.

But he already missed the cold.

By Kenn Taylor

Northern Intelligentsia

By Kenn Taylor

“CAMUE!” Tom spat with vigour. “Don’t you talk to me about fuckin Camue!”

“I never said I didn’t think he was an interestin writer, I just disliked his characters at the time.”

“Oh come on. You couldn’t handle the Existentialists for years cos yer filled yer head with all that Marxzist bollocks. And now you’re trying to tell ME about Camue.”

“In me old age I realised the cunt had a point. But there were just too many fuckwits in my college carrying around a Penguin Classic of The Outsider and wearing long coats and leaving their shitty fucking poems around and all the dopey bitches ate it up.”

They fell silent. Tom sucked hard on his tightly wrapped rollie, scrutinized the end to see if it was worth taking another drag, then squashed it hard into the ashtray along with its brothers and sisters. Sean casually examined the long varnished-over graffiti hacked into the wood of the table, while Tom rolled another one from his half-empty Golden Virginia packet before re-igniting the conversation.

“Well, it’s not Camuze fault ye went to a wanker’s school.”

They both went quiet again and gently surveyed the yellowed back room of the pub and the strange gaggle of Wednesday afternoon drinkers slumped in its corners. Sky bubbled away in one corner while the feet of innumerable pedestrians flitted past the high-level window which let most of the light into the once grand, submerged lounge bar.

Sean restarted the chatter once more. “Eh, talking of frog writers, I read this thing in The Gurdian the other day, and it reminded me…I bet you used to think tha Rambo was pronounced Rimbaud, like it’s spelt not Rambo.”

Tom snorted, “Ahhh, fer sure, you n’all? For yeaaaars I thought tha till I was talking to some university cunt when I used to go to the writing group when I was about 25 and he was like “It’s Rambo you cretin” in the arseyiest voice you can imagine. I would have lamped him there and then, but I just thought he was wrong, so I was like ‘Naah man, that’s the dude out of the filums ya know. It’s Rimbauued! And he just walked off. It was only when I saw something on telly about him…”

“Ha, come to think of it, that happened to Cantona too ya know?”

“Cantona? Eric karatekicking fucking Cantona?”

“Aye. Some journo asked him ‘Oose yer hero Eric?’ and he was like ‘Rambo’ in his dusky Frenchie and people started sending him all these fucking pictures of Sly Stallone!”

“Ha. That’s classic. Ah, the issue of being mostly self-taught. I used to say Hedgemoney for years rather than hegenemy.”

“You fucking twat. Even I knew tha.”

“Bugger off. Anyway. Did you say you’d been reading The Guardian again? It’s bad for ye health tha. It’s a slippery slope, you’ll be listenin to Radio 4 next and then you might as well just fuckin top yerself.”

“Ah, don’t get all Daily Mirrorfied on me sunshine it doesn’t fucking wash. You used to read The Guardian every day when you were last working and you could nick it from there. Yer just cheap.”

“Well,” said Tom, staring into the black of his pint and then back at Sean, “just don’t start getting Private Eye or I’ll fucking disown you.”

“No fear.”

There was a marked silence as again they looked around the room. Tom glanced at Sean. “Same again?”

“Yeah. Oh aye, get us some Bacon Fries while you’re at it.”

“Rot yer insides!”

“Fuck off veggie!”

Sean swayed his well-lubricated head slowly and looked around the room once more at the other drinkers all talking their respective bollocks and thought: Was there anything in life better that this?

Tom retuned with two more jars of Beamish, a pack of Bacon Fries and some no-mark Cheese and Onion crisps stuffed in his pockets.

“Talking of long beuks, ya finished Ulysses yet?” He said as he plopped down the pint glasses and tossed the Fries at Sean.

“Ah, god man. No, not yet. I am ploughing through it. It’s not fucking easy though man. How long did it take you?”

“I shudder te think. It was years ago n’all. I should probably read it again to be honest.”

“I mean ‘Portrait’ was hard going enough as it was. Especially that bit in the middle were he goes on and on about his Catholic guilt over shagging that prossie. He needed an editor man. I would have been like ‘Nice book Jimmy, but shave about twenty pages off the guilt trip’. It was fuckin depressin man. When I read it I was in college and it brought back all those church memories too. I was like ‘Ah, I’m deffo going to hell after what I did with Sarah McLaughlin.”

“Ha. It never leaves ya, lapsed or not.”

“Aye, lapsed Catholic, lapsed Socialist, lapsed Evertonian. But a glimmer of faith always still always burns in yer somewhere.”

“Apart from with the Evertonianism!”

The Extreme City

Liverpool is a city of extremes. That is its genius and that is its folly.

Liverpool is the second city of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Liverpool is a decaying backwater, the laughing stock of a twisted country.

Liverpool is St George’s Hall, the greatest Neo-Classical edifice in the UK. Liverpool is row upon row upon row of crumbling, boarded-up terraces.

Liverpool had more millionaires than anywhere outside London. Liverpool has the worst poverty, deprivation, disease and alcoholism rates in Britain.

Liverpool attracts people from all corners of the globe to come and live in its vitality. Liverpool repels its own children from the darkness, desperation and cruelty it inflicts upon them.

Liverpool has a world-renowned friendliness and openness, unknown elsewhere in the UK. Liverpool hates outsiders, and not to have the accent is not to belong.

Liverpool has a legendary dry wit that stands for no bullshit. Liverpool is arrogant, philistine and bloody-minded.

Liverpool always puts a brave face on, walking tall even when faced with despair. Liverpool wallows in its own self-pity and does nothing to cure its own situation.

Liverpool is united in a crisis. It never walks alone. Liverpool cries as its children are slaughtered, but no one will ever dare to GRASS on DE FAMLEE.

Liverpool is Saturday night – the lights, sounds and magic of one hundred thousand people determined to have a good time. Liverpool is Sunday morning – vomit, dirt and black blood swilling through the deserted pavements.

Liverpool is North Liverpool: decay, despair and pain etched into the very fabric of the buildings. Liverpool is South Liverpool: fucking poets drinking fucking plonk in fucking wine bars.

Liverpool is Catholic: drunken, fatalistic, dramatic and burdened with guilt. Liverpool is Protestant: pious, arrogant, brutal and judgmental.

Liverpool is the dreamer gazing at the sunset and the Liver Birds from the shadow of the Anglican Cathedral. Liverpool is the vicious, dead-eyed fucker coming up behind them, looking for a fix that the rich architecture won’t provide.

Liverpool is an extreme city. That is its brilliance. And it’s folly. The city is a thousand broken, beautiful dreams shattered on the rocks of reality. Always willing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, gun always pointed firmly at its own feet. People love Liverpool passionately, people hate Liverpool passionately, and it is these polar extremes that create the culture. It can be tough, but always remember, that famous line from Harry Lime in Orson Welles’ The Third Man:

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

11:15 Oxford Road

The cracklin speakers make it sound strangled, distent, but it’s still unmistakeably a recordin of a posh girl who pronounces everythin just so:

“The next train to arrive at platform 2 is the 11:15 service to Liverpool Lime Street, calling at:

Deansgate
Trafford
Irlam
Birchwood

Padgate
Warrington Central
Hunts Cross

Liverpool South Parkway

Edge Hill

And Liverpool Lime Street”

Bet she’s a right filthy bitch that one.

I’m just glad it’s fucking coming though. Can feel the tiredness deep in me bones. Getting this job over and getting home is all I can think of. It’s been a right slog this one, and now this train.

After we did the switch, I legged it cross town to catch the ten o’clock from Piccadilly, only to watch it saunter away from the platform on me approach. Fuck. This meant another ride on the gauntlet: The Last Train From Manchester To Liverpool. Always from Oxford Road, always 11:15pm. It’s an experience whatever day of the week, but a Satde night was going to be hellish.

I wandered back across the city as it began to really light up for the weekend. The grand ald cotton buildings of Mancland, now neoned-up pleasure palaces, much like the old dock warehouses back in the ‘pool. We’ve got more in common than we’d sometimes like te think ye know.

Least Oxford Road had some decent pubs to kill the time in like. But it’s ard not to feel shifty carrying a large packet and drinking alone at this time a night. I ended up skulkin in the corner of The Salisbury with a Guinness, watchin the clock.

Havin no desire to miss the last train and have’t spend a cold night curled up in a photie booth till the next service at 5:50am, I left the warmth of the pub just before the train was due. Up the slope and onta the right-hand platform, as is custom, and I joined the ranks staring at the murky floor, clutchin bags, arms and each other. The bitter cold nips through us as it always does on this high, uncovered station, chillin even the brightest of travellers into a resigned look. Only a few late night revellers wearin thick beer jackets seem immune te the weather and fall over each other, singin and shoutin. The dull, yellow light of the waiting room is invitin and repulsive at the same time.

The train slowly pulls in, an, as one, we all shuffle quickly te the doors. The loud group at the end seem determined to make as much as a kerfuffle about getting on as is possible, red-faced and white shirted, they carry on singin as they barge on past tha few people tryna get off.

Meself, I’m more polite, but still determined. As soon as the last person is off I step on in one bound. I am going to get a fuckin seat. I push along and spot the nearest wiv a window seat still free. It’s still gonna be a while before we move off, always the shittest fucking set of carriages they can dig out too. I press me face against the cold glass, past the reflections from the carriage lights, and block out the banter and chatter and noise of the engine tickin over and imagine livin in one of the posh flats by the station. After a few more of these runs maybe eh. I look around at me fellow passengers, all headin back to Merseyside this late for their own reasons.

Lovers on their way back home alone as late as possible, commuters that ha’t stay behind in their miserable jobs, stag dos, hen dos, leaving dos and general nights out on the piss nearin their end.

I guess some of em might be coming for a night out in Liverpool, not many tho. It’s nerlee always the other way round. We would always need the Mancs more than they needed us. We’re like a retarded younger brother, an embarrassment they reluctantly associate with. Always laggin behind, needing help and a way inte the outside world.

One of the lary gang from before starts singing a Queen song. He’s a beady-eyed fucker with a cheap gold chain bulgin around his fat neck. Directly cross from me, and it seems oblivious to the fat bastard murdering the soft-rock ballad, two excited guys in their late-teens discuss the gig they’ve just seen at the Ritz.

Now, that’s summat I can relate too. I’ve been doing this run for years. First as a kid to see gigs, then in my own band playin em. Fame was slow to come though, so I started flyering for a club, then did a bit of bar work and eventually, I became a bar manager. As is custom in that trade, I passed the nights of mopping up the piss and chucking out the cunts with a large amount of cocaine. Now, that is a shitty drug. Started taking out the till to keep up with the bills, and, well, you should not fuck with the kind of people who own places like tha. If you play with fire, you get burned. Then buried. If yer lucky.

So, to pay off the debt, I do what they tell me. Whatever they tell me. Courier mostly, stuff like this, swapping packages with the Mancs. I didn’t need to be told what the alternative would be. I’ve done other things too, things I’m not proud of, but you do what you need to survive in this life. I like to tell myself it beats the 9-5, but fuck knows what it’s doing for me soul.

Life’s funny like tha, simple dreams can lead you down strange, dark avenues till you don’t know which way is up anymore. I did used to think a was a good person. But you can slip downwards, and ye don’t realize it till ye hit the bottom. But eh, morals mean nothing. And gangsters at least, always pay on time – which is more than I can say for some of the ‘legitimate’ businessmen I’ve worked for in tha past. I’m not really profiting off anya this anyway, me one-room flat and dodgy space heater attests to that. But still, I’d rather be back home there than amongst the detritus of Warrington’s latest shotgun weddin.

The train finally starts to drag its battered frame out of Manchester into the wilds of Northwest. Through forgotten towns once dominated by anonymous mills and factories, now dominated by even more anonymous retail parks, wide and dead in the night.

As the train slips into its familiar rhythm, the weariest passengers stare straight ahead, eyes wide open, mind closed. The lucky few with MP3s close their eyes. A solitary, red-nosed drunk slumps forwards on his table, head in is hands like a condemned man. Some posh goth girls headin home having been to Manc to see their latest American idols chatter quietly and look a little nervous. The few pints I managed in between picking up tha package have only added to me headache and the pain starts to move into me eyes under the garish lights of the train.

“Caaame ern girls, letz sink a song.” Says the fat Queen singer from earlier to the goths. Timidly but friendly dey chat back, doing as little as possible to encourage im. I squeeze me eyes shut.

I dunno what’s in the packets I carry and I don’t care much. I tell me friends I’m carrying severed ears back to rival gangs to wind em up, but I reckon it’s just drugs. Maybe guns. That’d bother me a little. That’s a whole different ballgame tha. But no chance of being caught, who’s gonna fuckin check? No one gives a fuck about people on trains. Specially not a midnight inter-regional service through the North West of Fucking England.

I could be carryin a fuckin bomb and I wouldn’t know to be honest. If tha went off it would cause a bit of a ruckus, but not tha much, this isn’t the London Underground. It’s unlikely anywey, the terrorists just wouldn’t botha. They’re smart them guys in Al-Qaeda; they know were the power is, how to strike at the heart of a country, and it isn’t Newton-Le-Willows.

We’re into Merseyside now, nerlee home. It’s hard to tell tho, all dese little towns are almost indistinguishable in the dark, cept the stations now carry the yellow and grey M of Merseyside Transport Authority, rather than the red and grey M of Manchester Transport Authority. Vive la difference eh.

Me head’s tryna to do its own forced shutdown. I draw me collar up past me face as far as possible to try’n block out the world. What am I doing on this fucking train eh, where did it all go so wrong?

A sudden jolt and the sound of metal grindin violently on metal startles me awake, I go onto instinctive alert and glance round. The carriage is now empty apart from meself. Good. Then notice a thin stream of spital encrusted on me chin and I wipe it away with a tinge of embarrassment. I look out the window to see where we are, but apart from the darkness there’s only a constant line of orange-red lights that reveal little. Still, we must be near Edge Hill now. Almost home and no conductor, my decision not to purchase a ticket was clearlee a wise one.

I always get off at Edge Hill, which is local parlance by the way, for, Coitus Interuptus – last stop before the terminus see. No chance at all then of being stopped and asked what I’m carryin there. Now and then dey do have dogs at Lime Street.

The train shutters on quicklee. A little shock runs through me as the lights suddenly disappear outside, replaced by total blackness. Bollocks, we must have already passed Edge Hill and have gone into the deep, dank cuttin that takes us that last bit into the city proper. Ah well, should be fine. I close me eyes for this last bit and sigh in relief at the approaching end of me journey. I look again through the window at the sandstone walls of the cutting, scarred from the tools and explosives that hacked through it all those years ago. It looks different in the dark, craggier and redder.

“Shit.” I’m shaken from me weary musing and exclaim aloud wen the realisation dawns on me that me whole leg area is soakin. Ah, no surely I haven’t fuckin pissed meself?

I glance around, definitely no one in sight, thank fuck. The wetness is now going down into the seat and is starting to soak inte me arse.

Careflee, I lift up the box and look underneath. The bottom of it is wet through, brown at the edges and in the centre, deep, dark, red. Bood. Unmistakeably fucking blood. Lots of it. Seeping through the box and onto me legs.

I’m gripped bya terrible sickness, what am I supposed to do with this now? What the fuck have they got me carryin?

An idea flashes in me head to dive into the toilet. But there’s no toilet on this typea train. I swing around again at what sounds like someone approaching. It’s nothing tho. Fuck fuck fuck.

I gentlee place the box down on the opposite seat, sit right back down and stare at it, losing myself a little in the train’s constant, reassurin rhythm.

Should I try’n throw it out of the window? No I think it’s too late for that. We must be nearin home soon, not much chance to do anything really. The train rattles on, louder. Through the windows the panorama of dark rock continues te speed past.

I’ll have te see what’s inside. God help us, but I gotta know what I’m dealin wiv here. I get hold of the external wrapping of the parcel, plastic and bubble wrap soaked in blood an pull through the sodden material. It flakes apart in me hand, the blood smearing all over me fingers. There’s a brown box inside. I lift the top.

In it is a rectangle, frameless mirror, a ffuckin mirror. And no sign of the blood that coats thee outside.

What the fuck, whats this some sorta mind game, what are they playin, what the fuck is happening?

The train moves ever faster now, more erratic. The sides of the carriage shake under the speed.

I place the box back on the seat opposite and look at the red smeared all over me hands.

The rattlin of the train increases and the internal lights flicker, I stand up and ready meself to get off, clinging to the hand rail as the wheels screetch along beneath me. I look down the corridor of the train. All carriages are the same, all empty as far as the eye can see in both directions.

The juddering gets more violent, I grip the handrail harder till my palms start to sweat, then the train lurches to a fast grinding halt, swinging hard forwards then back again to stop. And then silence. Through the windows I can see nothing but darkness. The doors open, all of em, with a faint hiss. There’s a bad smell in the air.

It seems as if me long-awaited judgement is finally come.

This story appeared on the website Rainy City Stories.

By Kenn Taylor

London

At the centre

A vast hub of solid gold

With a thousand diamond and platinum inlays

All gleaming to the glory of the wheel

Out of it, a million interlacing spokes reach out into the world

Shining still, near the centre

But as they loop further out

The dirt starts to stick

From the wheel that grinds

Keeping the hub from the ground

And by the edge, deep engrained

Blood and shit and sweat and sick

And the ever fragmenting framework

That will one day

Collapse

The Beat

It’s just too much, too much.

She ran down Wood Street, its long, narrow stretch punctuated only by the occasional inebriated passer-by and bursts of noise from the packed bars that peppered the road’s length.

The static air streamed into her nose, heightening her senses as she dashed past the warm, multi-coloured glow of The Swan’s stained-glass window, in and out of dark and light, through illuminated patches of water stagnating on the cobbles. The figures that she passed were just ghosts, their voices amalgamated with the cars and music seeping out from the clubs, sounds rising and falling in a constant hum that persecuted her as she ran on, consumed by her own tears, her own desperate breathing. All she could feel was the power in the air, the need to go on, to get further away, to try and escape from her destruction.

Eventually exhausted, she ground to a halt, doubling up and leaning on a crash barrier for support. She looked up to see she was on Hanover, faced with the enormous glowing spectacle of the Paradise Project’s cranes and towers. The noise and light from the city proper filtered down to her, and, as she caught her breath and cleared her stinging eyes, she could see a few revellers passing by in a blur of movement and sound. One guy held back briefly from his group and gave her a slight look of concern, before moving on and re-joining the laughter.

Overcome once more by the rushing heat in her head and the screaming ache in her insides, she ran on, down the road and across The Strand without pause and causing Mark to slam the brakes of his van. He jabbed the horn violently as she ran out of his eye-line and then paused to regain his composure. His engine ticked over as the car rested on the otherwise deserted road and he looked down its expanse. Paul Weller’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ crackled out of the shitty speakers. He looked around his cab, lit only by red LEDs and the sodium from the streetlights, and thought about his wife.

The river was full that night, a fluctuating slick of semi-solid blackness that licked near the top of the dockside’s high walls. One ship, lit by only a handful of bulbs, moved slowly toward the sea and on the opposite bank, the orange lamps that lined it stretched off into the distance and a well-lit Irish ferry loaded up with trucks for the late crossing.

It was to this that she arrived and rested, finally, against the cold black bars. She looked up and down the silent promenade to see no one and breathed out in relief that she had finally escaped the energy of the town centre. Here was a kind of peace. She breathed in the clearer air, looked and listed to the water’s rise and fall, and, for a time, the knot in her chest loosened. For all the troubles that had come to face the river over the centuries it had yet to produce an answer, but it often helped, she thought.

She thought back. Back 18 months, to the heat of another night in the club, reality, as usual, softened by darkness and smoke and drink and flashing lights and music, into a strange space where the barriers that we create for ourselves are blurred just enough for us to unite.

And through the usual intoxicating spectacle of the boys and girls in their loosening finery, she had seen him moving on his own, glowing in and out of the strobe. She saw him and was drawn immediately, the way he moved, in time with the music but still looking like he wasn’t even trying, like he didn’t care what anyone thought. Most of those assembled moved freely and happy, but clumsily. He moved only slightly, eyes closed with a big smile, and alone, perfectly connected to the music. Without even the usual nod to her mates, she moved over towards him.

Feeling that slight, beautiful ache and heightening of the senses, she slipped through the crowd to where he stood. It was still early, so the place was busy but not yet rammed. She stepped in front of him, but facing the opposite way, then shot him a quick, direct look.

His eyes remained shut and she instantly felt a jab of self-consciousness. She had left herself wide open for rejection and the piss-taking of her mates. She turned her head back away and slipped more into the music, preparing to slide away and make excuses to her friends. Hey, no-one could deny that he was hot.

But before she moved, something seized her; follow your goddam instincts, woman, there’s nothing else that’s any use in this bloody game. She flicked her head back around to find him with eyes open, looking at her.

Would he be a cool operator she wondered, if so he could fuck right off. But no, straight away he moved towards her so she turned to face him fully and they swayed toward each other in the music. By the time ‘Debaser’ was played two records later, they were together, falling about in the mass with not a single thought for anything outside their own connection.

Another record played, prompting a break as they both shouted something along the lines of “Ihatethisfuckingsong”, and a joint laugh further cemented their bond. She took the initiative and pulled him by the hand through the growing crowd towards the light of the bar. It was time for a closer look. It was then she remembered her friends and swung her head around expecting to catch sight of them pointing and gesturing and doubling up with laughter at her forward actions, but they were nowhere to be seen.

He retuned with two vodka and Cokes. More drinks and dances and kissing and more feeling, and she forgot about her friends. They agreed to go before the lights came on, so they wouldn’t have to see the aftermath and could pretend that this, all of this, would go on forever. Grappling up the crowded stairs, she saw others couples in similar embraces and was cheered that that they were not the only ones who had found their way. They stepped out onto the street, clinging to each other at the sides, falling about between the crowds. Everything appeared fluid, the lights, the street, the people and the cars veering in and out of each other turned into a beautiful slick. Out of it she managed to pick out of it the orange glow of a free cab. They tumbled in, he murmured some instructions to the driver before turning his attentions back to her and they necked gently. She considered for a moment her actions, this was much faster than she usually moved, but again, instinct told her to carry on. And as the cab swung around she caught site of the Chinese arch in all its silly glory before they became lost in each other again till they reached the dead terraced street.

They kissed and groped slowly up the stairs, she noticed the rotting flower-patterned wallpaper that covered the walls, and he led her into a room. He didn’t turn the light on. Fumbling instead at some plugs till the room became lit by a UV tube and a gently spinning fibre-optic lamp. She followed him onto the bed and they slowly worked to a conclusion.

And as they lay together in the haze of the early hours, indecipherable noises echoing in the distance, she knew that this is what she had been looking for and said “I love you.” He remained silent. She slipped into sleep.

When she woke, the realisation of her actions, and the prospect of facing the truths of the night in the cold hard day, kept her pretending for a while. Eventually, she rubbed the crust from her eyes to find herself alone. She was relieved. It would give her time to clean herself up before he returned form the toilet or downstairs or wherever, time to compose herself for reality.

And then she waited. And waited. He didn’t appear. She searched through the scruffy, bare house, with its ragged wallpaper and out-of-time furniture. No guy, nor a note, and it was at that point she realised she couldn’t remember his name. Had he told her? He must have done, she wouldn’t have gone back with someone she didn’t know the name of, would she? The memories of the night were already beginning to fade, replaced by a searing head and a thousand questions. She fumbled for her phone as she sat on the sofa. Six ‘Where are you?’ messages from her friends and a final ‘We’re going home’. She searched for a photo or a letter even for some indicator of his name, but there was nothing. She waited some more, watching the hands of the intricate old carriage clock on the mantelpiece revolve till she was overcome by the desire to vomit. Cleaning herself afterwards she felt better, but a growing hole filled her stomach instead.

It was time to leave. She composed herself and stepped out into the still quiet street, expecting to see curtains twitching. Fearing judgement, fearing that she was just one in a line, she walked up to the main road and beckoned a cab, said her address and ducked inside as quickly as she could. Watching the river flit in and out of view between buildings as the cab sailed along, she bit her lip and concentrated hard on her composure, which was enough to contain the tears until she slammed the door of her flat closed.

She returned 18 months later to the club, long after emotions had been released to exhaustion,  explanations had been given, walls had been built up to protect and sense made of the irregularities, or forgotten for the sake of sanity, and all pushed back into the stream of time, past so much. She bounded down the stairs again, towards the electric, beckoning hum, straight through the crowd, onto the floor and into the middle. To see him dancing alone and another girl moving towards him slowly, and then she saw in the blink of a light the satisfied smile and, even though his eyes were closed, his knowledge of everything that was going on around him in the smoke and mirrors.

A choke in the throat and she ran and ran till the grey bones of the new stadium towered over her.

She knew. She didn’t know how, but she knew what he was and what he was here for, why he came and danced.

Shadows in the half-light, lurking in the stickiness and vibrations that surround us. Taking, only taking, feeding on us as we expose our core, share out the pure energy of our being and aim for the point beyond life. He had to do it again, every week a new soul to live.

Leaning on the cold iron by the river, she knew what she had to do.

By Kenn Taylor

God is a DJ

“Sorry mate, can’t help you there”

“Arrr ‘kinell, then…have you got…erm”

His eyes glaze over momentarily, eyelids tremble a little, his feet still tapping away, and he swings his head up fast with a mad smile, eyes like piss holes in snow.

“Yeah, howabout…?”

He mumbles another request, one I can help him with.

“Sure boss man” I say and I give him a little smile

He bounces off across the floor like Zebedee and excitedly gives the good news of my approval to his waiting group of mates who all punch the air on receipt.

Ahh de kidz, I scribble it on the list covered with stains of indistinguishable origin and take a swig of water. Slowly sliding the battered faders down and up as the last song disappears from the speakers and the needle moves onto the already spinning record on the other deck. The momentary quiet is filled with the chorus of ever present background of life usually drowned out by my selections.

“A pint of Snakebite cheers”

“S/he’s fit”

“Yeah every Friday, what’s your name?”

“Upstairs, really?”

“Can’t do that mate sorry”

“The DJ was better yesterday”

“Mark, let me guess you look like a Sarah”

“Yes S/he is”

“Ah SHIT, who is that one by?”

“IAMFUCKINGBUZZZINMATE”

“Nah its Lucy, what do you mean I look like…”

“Don’t fancy his/her mate much though”

“Isn’t it…The Cure?”

“Too many students in here for my liking”

“I reckon I would be a great DJ, I’ve got all the records”

“And poseurs”

“Why?”

“Just going for a piss, can you hold this?”

“What was I thinking, Lucy, of course, weren’t that an ace fucking song?”

“S/he’ll do”

“I’m going to make you my bitch”

“Yeah, imagine that getting paid to play records”

“That’s not very ladylike”

“Well I think it’s a bit derivative to be honest”

“I…cos…phew, yeah, yeah hang on…I better sit down for a bit”

“Do you want to get off with us then?”

“Would beat being a bloody phone jockey anyway”

At least I reckon so, I aint been down on the floor in years now and you can’t here that much up here unless they bother to come up and talk to you.  But the song usually remains the same, especially if it’s a good one.

I let the music rise through the cabs again; a hundred battered ears turn their radar looking for old recognition or new excitement.

“Now this is a good song, yeah ok”

“BOLLOCKSTOSITTINGDOWN!”

“Christ, just, made it wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one”

“See, I would have played that one next too, it’s a piece of piss”

“Come on he/she and her mate are dancing now, get the fuck in there”

“No it’s not them…that was…ah fuck it, lets dance”

“Apparently they can’t do snakebite anymore…bugger”

I rummage amongst the world-worn flight case for the next selection and take a another swing of lukewarm water as the guy who requested this tune looks over gives me a quick smile of recognition before losing himself in his own world.

And that, is the fucking point.

By Kenn Taylor

JOHN 7:14

‘Eeeeeeeeeee, state of youz fuckin moshers, get a wash you smelly twats.’

‘Devil-worshipin pricks.’

A further hail of abuse came from the assorted crew of scalls as they prowled across the square towards the waterfront.

‘Twats, narrow-minded twats’ muttered Ian quietly and bitterly as the last of the group spat a mouthful of gob at the deck of the memorial.

Amber looked at Claire and sighed. ‘It’s normally okay round here for chav knobheads.’

‘Yeah the only reason they normally come around here is when they’re on trial!’ guffawed Ian, ‘What do you call a Scouser in suit? The accused! Fucking waster, retard scumbags.’

Claire hadn’t been hanging around the courts with Amber and the others very long and still felt nervous amongst group. Her still clean Converse stood unimpressively next to Ian’s massive flame-toed boots, though she thought the effort that she had made with the tartan mini-skirt and Green Day top was pretty cool and she had felt sexy, if slightly uncomfortable, when she had seen Mark checking her out earlier.

Ian was now on a roll, ‘They’re all fucking thick. A bunch of sheep, dressing and acting the same retard way because they don’t have any mind of their own. It’s great around here except for the locals.’

‘Erm that’s not really fair, my dad was born in Liverpool.’ The words came out of Claire with confidence but she felt the heat rise in her face the moment she had finished and she received a stern look from some of the others.

‘Well, at least he had the sense to get out’, he said in slightly restrained tones.

Amber took her to one side, ‘Ian’s a bit over the top sometimes, but him and a mate got beaten up by a group of the bastards once and his mate lost an eye, bad business.’

Ian continued his tirade a little more quietly. Amber rolled her eyes and walked away tugging Claire with her towards the side of the monument. They peered over the side and Claire was pleased to see Mark grinding along the steps on his board. ‘He’s so fucking cool’, she said almost without thinking, prompting a giggle from Amber, ‘Bit old for you isn’t he?’

Claire just carried on looking. Ever since she’d seen him in his own clothes when he went into the sixth-form, finally released from that bloody uniform, she had loved him intensely. Yet their only contact so far had been nothing more than a vague acknowledgment when they saw each other around. So she had begun to hang around more and more with Amber at the expense of her other friends to get closer to him. It wasn’t just about Mark now though. These guys were all so great, they knew loads about great music and films and stuff that other people didn’t know about and she loved the way they didn’t give a fuck what people thought of them and weren’t down on everyone who didn’t have the latest stuff or didn’t have a perfect body like some of the others were. They made her feel normal.

It was so much fun too, every Saturday coming over together on the Merseyrail in a big group and walking over to meet the big group from all over the place. Sometimes on the Queen Victoria monument, sometimes the Pier Head. It was so much better than kicking around bloody Hoylake where her brother’s mates would take the piss out of them. Amber went on nattering and Claire carried on looking at Mark

*  *  *

This is me favourite time of day to walk through the city, strolling down Bold Street when everyone’s gone home from the shops but before anyone hits town for a night out. The hum of the city is still there but stuck in a strange state of clam. There are some benefits to working till 6:30 on a Saturday I suppose.

The heat is fading away but the sun’s still there and bounces off the buildings in vast shadows. Another day over and I can get back home. No night on the raz tonight, go home, get a shower and out of these clothes. Hang on I’m bleeping…

Can’t w8 2 cu l8r hun. Xxx.

Me neiver sweet.

Another agency gig the last couple of weeks. Haven’t had a regular job since I packed in at that shower of shit in Kirkby, basically flogging shite over the phone to poor, dozy old ladies. No thank you matey. This job anit bad though, franking mail at a property firm on Hope Street, nice office, nice people and on a weekend I can come in me own threads and don’t have to wear that crappy suit from TJs.

It’s just a stop-gap mind. I’m going to study business in September at the college. Get some quallies, get a future, no more of this temping shite. Get a car and rent somewhere with Anna. Still in me fucking room at home. Mates take the piss like, but I’m the one with money left to go the pub at the end of the month when there starting to struggle to feed themselves.

Cut through past the courts. Ha look at all the goth kids, silly buggers. Don’t know why they all dress up like tha’. Still you know, each to there own. They all go a bit quiet when I go past. Probably think I’m gonna kick their heads in. See a fellah in trackies with close cropped hair and that’s what they think. Fuck that – told ya, each to there own. Wanna look like it’s fucking Halloween all year round be my guest. Look at him. Hair like the guy out the fucking Human League. Eh, I can’t talk I suppose, my atrocious ginger locks are probably what frighten them. Me sister Julie gets me mums nice dark hair and I get me absent fathers orange shite, scare anyone that.

Our Julie dresses like they do n’all. Drives me mum mad with her three-coloured hair but she’s a good kid like. She’s doing art at Myrtle Street College so it kinda goes with the territory I reckon.

It’s getting chilly now as the sun fades. Bugger, I’ve left me coat in the office, got me wallet in it n’all. AH well, back we go I suppose.

*  *  *

Claire wandered around another corner and once again found herself at a dead-end made up of white sheet metal.

‘Shit’

They’d gone off to look at Quiggins one more time before the bulldozers moved in. Mark and a few of the other s had climbed over the fence to check out some of the graffiti that now covered the walls. Amber had got bored and headed back but Claire insisted on waiting.

But they never did come back over and when Claire leaned over the fence they were nowhere to be seen. Now she was on her own and trying to negotiate her way through all the massive rebuilding going on. Streets she was sure would lead her back to the courts didn’t seem to exist anymore and she moved further and further towards the southern part of the city centre, down between the silent frames of construction sites and derelict buildings with Pigeons cooing inside.

It was nearly 7’o clock now and she wanted to get back over the river. Thoughts began to race through her mind.

She wandered across a wide road she didn’t recognised and seeing the familiar shape of the Albert Dock in the distance, she cut through down another side street and started walking towards it. Tall, dank old warehouses covered in scaffolding and sheeting towered above her on both sides.

In the distance she saw a lone man in blue trackies walking up towards her with his head down. A tingle of apprehension shot through her nerves but she dismissed it. He’s just a guy, just a guy.

As he got closer he looked up and at her, but didn’t change his expression from one of disinterest and looked down again.

The docks had gone out of sight again as she went further down the road and the sun bleeding through the glassless windows of the buildings that surrounded her was getting lower. She decided enough was enough and walked over towards him, trying to adopt a confident tone and expression, ‘Scuse me mate, do you know which way it is to the courts from here?’

She noticed then how dead his eyes were. He looked at her slightly puzzled. Some Seagulls cawed above their head.

There was a silence between them that seemed last forever and Claire felt her nerves begin to rise. Then he blurted out, ‘Yis wannin to hang around wiv yet iclke mosher mates are ya?” then grinned oddly.

‘I’ll show ya, it’s this way’ he said suddenly grabbing her hand.

‘No, no it’s okay’, she said as forcefully as she could and tugged away, but he tightened his grip and pulled her into off the cobbled road onto some rubbish strewn wasteland.

She screamed, long and loudly, before he grabbed her mouth, kicked her leg and locked his narrow eyes onto hers.

‘Make another fucking sound sweetheart and I will fucking kill you ya little bitch.’

He pushed her onto the ground. Still holding her mouth with one hand he began to undo his pants with the other. Grinning.

Grinning.

She glanced tentatively around for something to pick up and hit him with but he watched her intensely and she was frightened what would happen if she shifted her gaze from his. Sweat trickled down her back as she gently moved her fingers across the fragmented ground for something to use.

‘WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING SUNSHINE?’

He broke her gaze and both of them looked to were the shout had come from. A tall guy in trackies with ginger hair stood next to them,

‘I’m just having some fun wiv me little chick-a -dee, now piss off you fucking perv.’

“I heard her screaming mate, now fuck off before I do ya.”

‘Wait your turn cunt.’

Claire felt jagged concrete cold against her hand, gripped it tight and swung it at his balls.

He yelped and fell back doubling up in pain, spitting ‘Youfuckingslag’.

Not grinning now.

In between desperate, rapid breaths she managed to say, ‘He, he grabbed me on the road over the… I don’t know who he is.’

The ginger guy looked at her for a second then went for the other one, grabbing him up by his arms.  The other guy grunted, swung around and broke his grip, running off with his legs at odd angles. The ginger guy turned as if to run after him, stopped and looked back at Claire. She felt another pang of fear.

‘You alright hun? It’s okay now he’s fucked off’ A warm smile reassured her a little. ‘Do you want to go to the Police?’

She thought for few seconds, everything was moving at a strange speed. ‘Yes. But first I want to get my friend Amber. Will you take us to the law courts, please?’

“Sure love, I was down there before and saw your lot.”

There was an awkwardness in the air now that the drama had began to fade. He helped her up and said, ‘You look a bit like me sister you know.’

Then he let out a low yelp, his eyes rolled back and he fell sideways. Claire stared at him then looked up. Ian was stood there with a broken chunk of concrete with a small wet patch of black in one corner of it.

‘We were looking for you and I heard you scream, thank fuck I got here.’

‘B…but…’ She suddenly felt very sick and confused.

Ian looked at the silent figure of the ginger man on the ground.

‘Come on, come on, lets just fucking go in case any of his mates turn up’, Ian grabbed Claire’s hand and dragged her back towards the street.

She looked back as he pulled her along. The ginger man didn’t move. A seagull cawed overhead.

By Kenn Taylor

The Fan and the Pipe: A fable

I am a fan. I live in the wall of the old Ayrton Saunders complex on Duke Street in Liverpool.

My rusty blades spin around and around in the wind and you can see right through me.

I used to have a motor to spin me around when I lived inside. I made the wind

I was an important fan too. I fanned the people that made the medicines in the building I was fitted in.

But then they moved away and switched me off and I fanned no more.

Till they knocked down the walls in front of me and I moved again, in the wind, though there’s nothing for me to fan anymore so it’s all a bit pointless.

I’m very old now. I was made in England you know. Most fans are foreign now so they would not understand me if I spoke to them.

But there isn’t any fans round here to talk to anyway, just the pipe. He used to be important too – part of the complicated machinery – but now he’s just a broken pipe.

He’s a bit of a knobhead too if the truth be told but he’s my only friend.

They left us alone for a long while when everyone moved away. And things just fell away around me and decayed. I began to rust away too and bits fell off me.

Some people came to look at my home with interest, but not many. Most people just walked through quickly if at all.

Then things began to change. They started to do-up some of the other buildings around my home.

Then they opened an art gallery next door and lots of arts and media people came around to talk bollocks to each other.

At least someone was there though.

But then they went away and some diggers came and dug all around my home and I feel that soon they will knock down the wall I live in like I did with the other one.

And then I’ll be gone, the pipe too, 60 years old and no one to mourn me. It’s been an interesting life though I suppose. I’ve seen a lot changes, but there is no place for me to spin around in the new Liverpool. Oh well.