People Are Not Fixed Points

Scary, sometimes sexy, but always really short stories




He was lying in bed the first time the face appeared. It must have been a Sunday because it had begun with his rising anxiety at being unable to sleep. The later it got the harder he knew work was going to be. At some point you crossed some sort of tiredness event horizon, after which there weren’t enough hours left to enable you to function effectively at anything beyond the most basic tasks. And he couldn’t afford that, not with things the way they were at the company.

The sequence of his insomnia was always the same. It would start with an earworm. This time it had been some sunny girlpop thing – Carly Rae Jepsen or Haim, maybe? – but not the whole song, just a snatch of the chorus, looping again and again until it was layered on top of itself. And into this private cacophony came sliced chunks of sentence. Unbidden, nonsensical leftovers from his subconscious, swirling with the song’s lyrics, his own idiot Babel that would play until it was replaced by birdsong, and the sky beyond the shuttered windows finally lightened.

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Of all the possible kills, as far as Harry was concerned, the most beautiful, the tenderest, was the one which the universe provided for you. This idea had crystallised in his mind after reading an article in The Sunday Telegraph about the release of big cats on a South African game reserve. For weeks the trainers would track the repatriated young lion, at first dropping wounded scrub hares in its path, then, once the taste for live prey had taken root, they would leave semi-sedated impala staggering around for it to find. And so, meal by quivering meal, the lion found its way.

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He was being seconded to London. It didn’t necessarily mean a promotion, but if he played it right perhaps it could turn into something permanent. Beyond the time and location his regional manager hadn’t been able to tell him anything, other than that he was the only one they had asked for.

The meeting was in an office in St John’s Wood that he hadn’t heard mentioned before. The company’s headquarters was on a godawful trading estate in Welwyn Garden City where he’d had his induction eighteen months ago, and he took it as a positive omen of this job’s importance, whatever it actually entailed, that it was located centrally.

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"…and the retail opportunities are going to be just incredible," she said, too excited to touch the plate of risotto he’d slid in front of her. "Everyone at the office is buzzing. You won’t need to worry about footfall ever again. Gucci will be able to put a boutique on top of a mountain. Rick Stein can open a seafood restaurant on an Arctic ice shelf. I bet Apple are already thinking of putting a store on the moon."

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From the first note his eyes have been fixed on the violinist. Not the drummers, both of whom are pounding out a demented cavalry charge, heads down, shoulders slicked. And not the guitarists, five in total, ripping great sheets of noise from their instruments and tracing silvery patterns that coalesce and separate in a fevered waltz that spills out over the Hampshire field. He watches her, and her only.

Michael’s clothes are smeared with mud from squeezing under the fence to get in. He’s come to see a band that has never released a record and never been interviewed. Band isn’t the right word really. They’re more a sort of oblique collective, the personnel shifting regularly, only communicating through posts on messageboards hidden within which can be found the location of their next, increasingly rare, show.

His reward for months of scouring is a place among this crowd – gaunt obsessives dressed in black, big-eyed kids clutching at each other smiling, well-connected hipster scum – all here to see the last great rock and roll band. The few bootlegs he’s managed to get hold of sound to him like Gorecki’s 3rd rewired for an artillery battery of Marshall amps – a slowburn build from aching, barely-there drones, through lockstep drums and keening guitars, to a final brutal crescendo and release.

Only tonight the release never comes. At the centre of the makeshift stage the violinist is a lithe smudge, hair tied loosely back, sawing faster and faster at the strings as she binds the music around her. Behind the band a pair of screens show looped Super 8 footage. On one a dog chases its tail forever on a plane of glass, on the other the camera hurtles through derelict factories, washed blood red.

Michael glances around him and sees that people are no longer nodding their heads. More and more they wince and cover their ears against the onslaught. He grins. Lightweights. Still she plays, spinning on her heels and kicking out in time to the mighty cymbal splashes. Gradually the melody decays, overwhelmed by coruscating noise.

Just as Michael thinks he might not be able to take any more of it, she arches her back and shouts something guttural that splits the sky open. And with that the rest of the band falls silent, their noise replaced by something even louder that rushes in through the tear she has made, around which the stars are now parting. It is the sound of an arrival.


She wasn’t coming. There hadn’t been enough time to get across London, so they’d agreed to meet later, after he’d eaten. His eyes ran down the menu, moving quickly past the token salads and pastas put there to appease the meat widows, and flipping over onto the other side and the main event. Burgers of every creed and construction. Singles and doubles. With or without oak smoked bacon. Cheddar, Gruyère, American or Monterey Jack.

Christ, what was the American? Surely they didn’t mean that squeezy processed shit.

He motioned to the waitress and half-smiled. She acknowledged and picked her way between the tables to where he was sat. “My friend isn’t going to make it after all, so I’d like to order,” he said, the half-smile still fixed.

“Sure, what can I get you?”

“I’ll take the Classic please,” he said, putting maybe too much emphasis on the please because he was sat alone, “with cheese, uh, cheddar, and French fries.”

“That’s great,” she said scribbling, avoiding eye contact. “And to drink?”

“Coke please. Oh, and, uh, what’s in the signature special sauce?”

“Well it’s kind of like Thousand Island, only with little bits of chopped gherkin.”

“Sounds awful,” he said, grinning, and although it felt like he’d got the tone and timing just right, she flinched slightly.

“It’s actually pretty nice.”

“I’ll just take it as is, thanks.”

“All our burgers are served medium, is that okay?”

“That’s great,” he said, the half-smile gone.

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'Yeah, but come on man, what would you really do first?’

Something inside Brady sinks slightly. He must’ve had conversations like this a million times, more often than not when buzzed on college-grade weed, or lying next to some dumbo who’d soon be segueing into some shit about how all the stars up there make you feel so small and insignificant.

Brady didn’t feel small and insignificant much of the time at all. What he did feel was unbelievably unlucky to be stuck drinking Micehlob at LAX with Frank Stockton, regional manager and one of the dimmest of the company’s already hardly megawatt lights.

'What would you do Brady, if you could actually teleport?’

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It must have happened while he was staring out of the window, half hypnotised by the gulls circling over the patch of wasteground that lies beyond the railway tracks which run behind the Centenary Industrial Estate. Every now and then the birds dropped to earth and busied themselves with something in the scrub that he couldn’t quite make out. He realised he could hear the clock ticking and turned back to his office to see why the salesman had stopped talking. Only then did he see that his visitor had somehow set fire to his hand.

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For the first year the agony was so bright that it obliterated any thought before it could form. It radiated through every nerve in his shattered body, more intense even than the vast solar flares, which hung suspended from the surface of the blue hypergiant, and should have long since burned away his one remaining retina, had time any meaning here.

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"Window"; wood, paint, linen, voile, projected slides, simulated wind; 2002,  The words of Kahlil Gibran, the night breeze, and the open window.

He lifted her out of the bed so gently that it was only once they were outside and the cool air rushed over her skin that she opened her eyes. The sky was cloudless and carpeted with fat Disney stars.

They were a long way from the city. She shrunk into his body, burying her head in the crook of his arm, the thick scent of him mingling with the fields that surrounded her cottage.

"Where are we going?" He didn’t answer. It didn’t matter of course, she knew exactly where, but still felt some need to engage him, to make him at least say something. "I hope it’s not somewhere posh, I’d have worn something more dressy."

For a second he stopped and looked down at her, tiny and shivering in a Sonic Youth t-shirt. She laughed and he pulled her tighter to him. The wind was almost still, yet she doubted anyone would hear her scream.

It will always be like this, she thought, remembering that first time he had come for her. Then, every inch of her had prickled just at the sight of him.

Her fear and her excitement had long since faded, leaving what? The feeling of being held. Perhaps it was enough.

He made one of those sounds which she still had no way of interpreting and began to move again, his long, thin legs picking their way between parked cars and over hedgerows.

Hundreds of feet below them a rabbit looked up and froze, stamping the ground before bolting back to the safety of the earth.



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The window was open but he hadn’t seen it scuttle in. Hadn’t seen it scuttle anywhere in fact. It just sits there motionless on the wall, but there’s no way anything like that doesn’t scuttle. It’s way too big to be a spider, but those legs, and the fact it’s on the wall in the first place, rules out almost everything else. He tries to focus in the moonlight. He isn’t dreaming. The fucker is definitely there.

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