The Stew Maker Dream

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In times of war, we look to our leaders for guidance and courage. But who do the leaders look to?

In this particular war I was looked upon as a leader. In real life, I might have been called General, or President, maybe even Queen. But in this, I was known as a Stew Maker. 

Stew was a sacred food in this war, and few of us knew how to make it. But there were ancient and sacred rules the Gods decreed upon my duty:

1: Thou shalt not give thy stew to any other mortal unless in dire need.
2: Thou shalt not divulge the sacred recipe to any living mortal.
3: Thou shalt never be without thy bowl of stew.
4: Thou shalt not fight for fear of spilling thy heavenly supplement.

Follow in these commandments and thou shalt have our holiest protection.

These rules saw me standing on the sidelines of battlefields, watching my men die around me whilst raising the tender, slow cooked beef to my mouth. It was torture. I watched men die of starvation in the trenches, the last thing they remember being the succulent scent of home-cooked stew. Every day I walked through the poverty and famine of my people, forever eating and never gaining weight.

Sometimes, when nobody else was looking, I would throw pieces of meat to the hungry, or use it to keep my family alive. Of course the Gods would know this, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt powerless without their protection, but if I kept it a secret, people would still believe I was untouchable, and that would prevent me getting instantly lynched.

I wasn’t the only Stew Maker in our district; there were a few of us, including my little brother. We were seen as guardians, as good omens. As long as the Stew Makers followed their duties, the majority would be safe from harm.

The only people more revered than us were the priests. Every time they sang, thousands and thousands of people would make the ascent up to the ruinous castle, myself included.  No matter which side of the war you were on, everyone followed the rituals. The hill was situated in the very centre of the country, easily accessible from each of the four districts.

Each night we would all gather at the top of the hill in quiet contemplation, listening to the humming melody of the priests.

My African-American warrior friend sat with me on a rock as I gazed into the night’s sky. She wasn’t a Stew Maker, but she was well-known and cherished among our people for her feats in battle. Today, however, several idiots from our enemies’ ranks decided to mess with her.

They picked and pressed and bullied her until she stood up on a high rock and hissed, “dammit, don’t you know who I am?” I saw her fists clench and I prepared for the wrath of the priests when a fight ensued and the holy song was disrupted. But the men just shrugged and laughed at her. She sat down, ego instantly deflated.

When the dawn began to break and the first stain of colour spread across the horizon, the song dissipated and we all went home. My parents sat on the sofa in our humble house. Our allies surrounded us; they felt safer being near us at all times. My parent’s stew making days were long over, but they were still sworn to keep the recipe secret. However, the Gods were not kind, and did not permit previous Stew Makers to continue eating once their time had run out.

My mother’s face was gaunt and thin. After a life of constant delicious meals, the latter years of her life had not been kind. I stood on the balcony and occasionally chucked them a piece of beef when no-one was looking.

A couple of hours later I set off for work, stew bowl still in hand. All this war and tension around me and I still had to work. Typical life.

It was a foggy morning and I could barely see anything. Still, I knew I was early. Through the bleak whiteness I saw the men from last night on the other side of the street, jeering at me but not daring to come near. I was wary of them. But soon I began to daydream as I walked, completely unfocused and yet walking automatically towards my goal. My mind became as fogged as the air.

When I finally came to my senses, the first thing I realised was that my hand felt considerably lighter. I looked down with dread to see that my stew had disappeared. How was that possible?

The air was clear now, and I figured someone had placed a sleeping draught or hallucinatory into it in order to steal my stew. I began searching for the men, but had no such luck. Turning into the nearest alley, I fell to my knees in grief.

My little brother, only six years old, was chained to the wall and slumped in death towards the floor. His angelic blonde floppy hair shrouded his face, his knees bent at awkward angles. Beside him in the dirt was my stew bowl, recently washed up and still warm. The stew was no more.

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The Binned Bodies Dream

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I got a job in Tesco (already you’re thinking, wow Claire, I’m gripped! Tell me more!) It was a giant store with two floors filled with absolutely everything, with a work force of over a hundred. It was such a big and awe-inspiring Tesco that even on my days off I’d turn up and just chat to the team, sitting on the railings behind the tills and munching on cola bottles. That was the life.

For several days I followed this routine, sitting in my spot and people-watching. One particular day I noticed a few shifty looking guys with full matching tracksuits and caps, scouting around the supermarket. For some reason the security staff didn’t seem to notice them. Lots of people in the area had gone missing lately – maybe they were in some way related?

After several days of these men coming in, looking around and buying nothing, I followed them outside (not an easy job when in uniform). One of them had a vicious looking pitbull on a metal chain, foaming at the mouth and barking at anyone close to it. I watched as they followed a woman through the trees across the park; heard the snapping of bones as the dog’s teeth went through her arm; her pitiful, hopeless scream…

Nobody so much as blinked.

The next day I went back to work on autopilot, still in shock. The men and the pitbull were nowhere to be seen, despite me watching vigilantly all day. There was a full bin bag where the dog was usually chained up and I dared not look inside.

At about 5pm the manager’s voice echoed over the intercom:

“This is an emergency announcement. Can all customers and all staff please vacate the premises immediately. A mass fumigation is underway.”

The entire building and surrounding streets evacuated, heading for the train station ten minutes away. I was one of the last to leave with two colleagues; Mark, who I had confided everything in earlier that day, and Dan, who laughed and joked, blissfully unaware of the danger unfolding around him.

A mist descended over everything. We could barely make out the road in front of us and the crowds we were following had long since vanished.

“Proper zombie weather, this,” Dan said. We remained silent. This was no fumigation. At least not of any pests. And this mist wasn’t natural.

The further along we walked, the more lost we became. There was nothing to see but the mist and several full bin bags littering the pavement. These rapidly increased in quantity until there were more bin bags than floor space. Hundreds of them lining the walls and up against trees. Around lampposts shining dimly in the foggy winter sky, they were piled in vile pyramids.

“Jesus, where did all these come from?” Dan kicked the nearest bag.

“Don’t!” I hissed. He looked at me as if I’d gone mad. “There are bodies in them.” I felt sick. He laughed, waiting for me to reveal a big prank. When I didn’t he looked at Mark, whose pale and trembling face held no comfort. Dan swallowed.

“If they really are bodies,” he said slowly, “Who’s killing them?”

“A group of men.” I started walking again, encouraging them onwards. “Although I’ve only seen three, and there must be more of them to kill this many so quickly. But I’ll know them if I see them.”

As if on cue, a silhouette in the mist appeared from the treeline. I could just about make out the shape of a chained animal.

“Run,” I whispered, but they’d already seen us, undoubtedly had been hunting us the entire time. “RUN!” I yelled. Mark and I made good time, but Dan wasn’t as prepared as we were. The dog caught him easily and ripped him to pieces.

There was no time to stop, no time to cry or throw up or even think. We had to keep going with no direction or idea of any safe place. Everywhere we ran we heard the snapping of jaws and gleeful laughter. It felt like we were getting nowhere.

But the further we ran, the clearer the air became. Soon we could make out roads again and a glimmer of hope reached my heart. We’d come to a motorway where cars were running as normal, as if a massacre wasn’t happening only streets away. There we met a woman who we didn’t bother explaining to, we just told her to run, and to her credit she did.

Until her shoe fell off and the idiot went back to get it.

I turned just before the dog’s jaws clamped down over her head. It stood there, chewing, blood dribbling down its flews and insanity in its eyes.

We ran.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ludicrous Letting Dream

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Moving house is never fun. There’s the packing, the sorting, the endless application forms and fees. But when you’re all sorted and the ordeal is over it’s usually worth it.

…Unless you move into an old cottage on the top of a block of flats with no roof on it.

I don’t know what I’d been thinking when I’d arranged to take it. Maybe I hadn’t arranged it – I didn’t remember doing so. There was something unique and cool about having a whitewashed cottage with original beams five floors up on a modern building. And a little odd.

I was handed a two pronged key, much like a cattle prod, and the final paperwork. Then the estate agent left me to it, probably ecstatic some moron had finally taken the troublesome cottage off of his hands. I walked up the several flights of stairs and arrived at my new abode.

Inside was a little derelict to say the least. Beams hung broken from the ceiling, there were holes in the floorboards and a thick layer of dust lay over everything. But hey, it had character! And bonus, the windows were all in tact. The whole house may fall down around me, or even on me, but at least I had windows.

I began tidying and unpacking my things optimistically, and it was long into the evening before I finished. As I stopped moving around, I noticed it was getting much colder. There was a considerable draught, and as I looked in the direction of its source the afternoon’s optimism thoroughly dissipated.

There was a ruddy great hole in the roof.

And ‘hole’ is an understatement. There was more sky than roof in the main bedroom. And bedroom is hardly the word. There was a raised bit of floor I’d chucked my bedding over to make a sort of bunk bed. I lay down on it and looked up at the stars whilst I reevaluated my life choices.

There was a knock on the door – the front door of the cottage that led to a large drop into nothingness. I looked through the door pane to see my friend, Beryl. She was peering through, so I waved and let her in.

“Hiya!” she said in her usual chirpy manner. She held her handbag tight on her shoulder as she walked around my new home. The longer she looked, the more forced her smile became. It disappeared completely when she clapped eyes on the roof.

“Oh Claire,” she said, “what are you even doing here?”

“It’s not that bad,” I said, smiling. Karma chose that point to make the sky rumble and pour torrential rain onto my freshly made bed. I watched helplessly and shrugged as my life fell further apart. Beryl just stared awkwardly at it.

“Aaaand over there you can see the bedroom and shower. I’m saving space,” I said, trying to lighten the mood and stop myself from just breaking down and sobbing.

Beryl didn’t laugh. We were interrupted by the side door opening. One of the guys from the neighbouring flats walked in. I hadn’t realised they had such easy access to my cottage. The man glanced briefly at the watering splashing all of my possessions, then demanded my rent payment. I blinked blankly back at him, then asked who the hell he was.

Of course this tosspot had to be the landlord’s son. Beryl chose this convenient moment to make her farewells and disappear, and I’ve never seen her more happy to leave. The guy shoved an invoice in my hands which showed an amount far larger than the agreed rent.

“What’s this for?” I asked, gesturing to the extra figures.

“We’re having a camping party, he said. “Someone’s got to pay for it.”

Sure enough, through the open door I could see several tents and a camp fire set up in the corridor of the flats. Tenants in sleeping bags lay on the floor, watching us eagerly.

“Am I even invited?” I asked.

He chuckled in response. Took that as a no.

I handed him over the money in a slight how-did-my-life-get-to-this trance and he smirked and left me to it. They began playing loud music and laughing at my misfortune.

Well, I told myself. Could be worse…

The Mindgames Dream

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I had two highly trained and well-equipped psychopaths determined to kill me. Why I do not know. But I knew them by face, and I was terrified.
Mum and dad went away for a weekend and left me to house sit. This was when they made their move. They’d been watching the house, waiting for the opportune moment when they could get me alone and have their fun.
There weren’t many hiding places in the house. I was upstairs in my pyjamas when they walked casually and loudly through the front door. They were playing with me. I dived under my bed – not fully covered in any way. It was a terrible place to hide. But for some reason or another they never came into my room. I heard them come up the stairs – the man, the woman and one of their accomplices. The man and woman went to my parent’s room, the other to the spare room.
As they got into bed I heard the man say, “she’s not going anywhere yet. I’ll get up in four and a half hours, I’m exhausted.” He’d said it loud enough for me to hear; another game to see if I’d make a break for it. That was how they’d get their fun, luring me out on my own accord. I waited a while, then started to get dressed. I accidentally turned a light on and cursed, standing still and listening for a few minutes before deeming it safe to carry on.
Eventually I took up the courage and tiptoed silently through the house.
…Their plan must have gone south, seeing as I heard snoring. I managed to get out of the house and ran to safety at a friend’s. They didn’t find me.

When the weekend was over I went home again. As I reached the front door, mum came out carrying two big bags of rubbish. As I approached she scowled at me. “You have some explaining to do, young lady,” she said, gesturing at the bags. “Full of needles and drugs. And disappearing? You were supposed to be looking after the house, not trashing it and leaving.”
I led her back in the house and shut the door. “It wasn’t me, mum.”
I explained the situation to her, and for someone who’s just discovered there are people trying to kill her daughter, she didn’t seem overly worried.
“Ah, we’ll get you into uni, you’ll be fine there.”

Of course I wouldn’t be. They knew exactly where I was, to the point that on my very first day in halls, they took advantage. Mum parked the car and she parked it terribly, with the rear end practically obstructing traffic. I looked at it and thought, “we’re getting in shit for that.”
We sat in my new room, having unpacked most of my belongings. Mum was reassuring me that everything was fine, that I’d have a great time here and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone hunting me down. There was a knock on the door.
“Who is it?” I called tentatively.
“It’s the police, I need to speak to both of you.” My immediate thought was of the badly parked car. I almost believed it… but the both of you. How did they know there was two of us? Mum opened the door before I could stop her, and followed the lady out of the room. “Mum no…”
My heart stopped with panic. I ran not two seconds behind them, but mum was already in the adjacent flat, and holding the door open wide for me to see was the psychopath woman, grinning. Her face reminded me of Elaine the Pain from Tracy Beaker. I yelled in panic at my mum, “NO MUM! THAT’S HER!” Mum looked at her in horror, but before we could act, the door had been shut and locked.

I wandered around campus, wondering what to do. They’ve got my mum. I saw the male pyscho masquerading as a lecturer. He saw me and smiled. Maybe I could try and talk to him? The lady did seem crazier.
I went to the student bar and saw my friend writing on a slab of rock in the shape of a love heart. “What are you doing?” I asked, peering over her shoulder.
“I’m breaking up with my boyfriend,” she said, not looking up. I read the message she’d tip’exed onto it:

Dwayne,
I’m sorry, but we have to end this. You’ve been my rock…

I had to stop reading there. It was too ironic that she’d written that on a piece of stone. I started laughing hysterically. It was at this point that her boyfriend turned up, saw the message and me laughing, and burst into tears. Oops…

Pyscho man drew up a chair next to me. We began talking, and he seemed like an okay kind of guy. We didn’t mention that my mother was currently the hostage of his wife. Maybe if I befriended him he would help me…

Paper Veins

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Between ochre sunset and glittering mirror,
mother and child stand.
Between the two; an elephant, calm as the river
and warm under hand.

The water cleanses the three. Sand squelches under toes.
Small fingers caress the rough nose.
Later, its head and back are donned with rug and cap
of cardamom and indigo.

Plodding down the dusty road, feeling the strains
of the cracked earth beneath.
And all of this frozen within the paper veins
of the leathery leaf.

Forever is the elephant, now fragile and thin,
depicted in brush strokes on silvery skin.

The Greater Good Dream

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Most people go to pubs to relax with friends after a hard day at work. You know, have a laugh with a pint or three. Apparently in my dreams, I go to the pub to catch a killer.

I was sat with two friends at a table in the corner, quite casually despite the news; since we’d been there, three bodies had found. Nobody seemed to be overly bothered by this as the pub was still busy, if not busier, than before. Was it a new attraction, The Murder Pub? Did people come here to dance with death? It was crazy. It was also extremely obvious who was executing these deaths.

Of course it was the sullen, lanky guy who glared at everyone. He wore all black, kept his hands in his pockets at all times. He said nothing to anyone, towering over us all like we were beneath him – literally. He had an air of disgust, and to be quite frank he was frightening.

We were seated by the toilets as it had been the only table spare. We watched as a drunken man staggered into the gents and this murderous beanpole followed him. We sat with terrified anticipation. Beneath the loud music and raucous talk of the crowd, if you really listened, a muffled gunshot was just about audible. We watched in horror through the glass panel in the door  as the floor slowly turned red.

Another man headed for the toilets. “No!” We hissed at him. He turned his head in our direction, confused, but didn’t stop walking. He pushed open the door and stopped, staring. He backed out, let the door swing shut. Then he turned around and headed back to his table, pint in hand, as if nothing had ever happened.

What the hell.

My friend nudged me. She looked meaningfully at her jumper on the table. I lifted it up and saw a pistol underneath. She nodded at me and I knew what she was telling me to do. Before I could gather my thoughts and take action, the murderer emerged from the gents. He looked deliberately at our table and he smiled at us. My skin crawled.

He walked among the people, drinking nothing, saying nothing, but forever watching us. I kept my hands under the jumper, fiddling with the gun. I had to stop him. I had no evidence that he was the murderer, nor did anyone seem to care about the mass killings.

Determined, I began to play around with the pistol. I’d never used one of these things before. I didn’t even know if my aim would be accurate. But seriously, what was this pistol? It was almost part slingshot in the way you had to load it. There was a single strap of leather that had to be nooked behind the bullet. I was thoroughly confused.

The longer I struggled with the pistol, the more I began to think myself out of it. These people hadn’t properly witnessed this man murdering people. But if I shot him there and then I’d be the murderer, and that would be all they knew. They’d probably accuse me of killing the others too.

But if I didn’t, more people would die, myself potentially included. To sacrifice my life, potentially spend the rest of it in prison, would save all of these people. Did I want to give everything up for these complete strangers though, for the greater good? Why had my friend put this pressure on me?

As my morals and self preservation internally debated, the murderer began to circle his next prey…

If Only

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But what if?
If only.
Only once more…
More often than not.
Not a chance.
Chances are…
Are you certain?
Certainly not.
Nothing makes sense.
Sense doesn’t matter.
Matters are out of control.
Control is hard to keep under.
Underneath it all I’m not okay.
Okay? The answer is yes.
Yes is a lie.
Lies get us nowhere.
Nowhere? I want to be somewhere.
Somewhere with you, but I can’t.
Can’t do it. It’s impossible.
Impossible… but…
But what if?
If only.