Saturday, 23 February 2008


By Ben

Mom: So Mason said that you would work together when you get home, and do the tidying in there.
Mason: What does that mean, VAT?
Dad: VAT, it’s a. uh, tax. If they take it out it’s cheaper.
Mason: Why is it cheaper if they take it out?
Dad: ‘Cause you don’t pay the tax.
Mason: What’s tax?
Dad: Tax is a value assessed to…another…it goes to the government.
Mom: They took the whole window out between the first and second floor. That was pretty cool. Whose idea was that?
Dad: Brian’s.
Waiter: Cheese and beans?
Dad: Cheese and beans? That’s me.
Mom: Who wants tomato?
Mom: So will you guys do that, when you go home, will you empty the bookshelves?
Waiter: Chips?
Dad: Mm hmm. You have any ketchup?
Waiter: Yes, ketchup, anything else for you?
Kyle: You wanna try mine?
Mom: Yeah. You wanna try mine? It’s good.
Waiter: They need forks, also?
Kyle: Can I get some ketchup, Dad?
Dad: Like that?
Kyle: Put it right there.
Mom: Oh, this is good. It’s perfect.
Dad: Can I taste it? Wow, that’s good.
Mason: Try mine.
Mom: Can I taste it? Mm. It’s good. Wow.
Kyle: Dad, which of these smoothies do you like better?
Dad: I dunno.
Kyle: Mom, which one do you like better?
Mom tastes smoothies
Kyle: Do you like mine better?
Mom: I like yours a lot. Yours was sweeter. Mason’s was tangier.
Mason: That’s maybe ‘cause mine has more seeds in it.
Kyle: Ali…Ali said that her mom emailed you.
Dad: I haven’t been on the computer since we left. Huh? I saw your eyes pop out of your head.

A: Can I borrow the book?
B: What, the shit one? It’s signed, did you see how it’s signed?
A: No, I didn’t.
B: Here, my own signed copy from Crystal Love. Who the fuck would come up with the name Crystal Love?
A: Is it shit, have you read it?
B: No, but I spent an hour talking to here and she’s a dick.
A: I don’t think I’m going to read it now.
B: No, you should, you can read it and let me know if it’s good.
A: I might just take it and keep it for a while.
B: Yeah, sure.
A: Anyway, I’ve come to give you blessings. Of all kinds, heart, body and soul.
B: Thanks.
A: And a very merry Christmas.
B: Happy new year.
A: And can I have a new CD?
B: Seriously, you’ve heard all my happy songs. That’s it
A: You can find some.
B: I’m not spending money on it.
A: This is your homework, you can find some.
B: Maybe xxxxxxxx can make you a happy CD. Maybe xxxxxxxx, he’s like a ray of sunshine.
A: (singing) Walking on sunshine, ooh, ooh.
B: He’ll probably put that on for you.

Phone rings
A: Hello.
B: Hey xxxxxxx – even though I’ve had the most horrible day and I’m feeling shitty and I’m not going to the doctor’s because neither is xxxxxx, we are up for going for a drink. Whereabouts are you?
A: I’m just over in Primrose Hill. Where are you going?
B: Are you? We’re probably going to the social? Are we? Or are we going to Camden? We’re going to a pub. Right, we’re going into Camden, So we’re just going over to get changed and then we’ll go over to the office and I’ve got a couple of things to do. So we’ll probably get to Camden about half five. And I’ll explain all about my day, and xxxxxxxx will explain her day, and we’ll all explain because we are Explainers.
A: (Chuckle) OK, I’ll give you a ring at about half five and see where you are.
B: OK cool. You’re talking very quietly, are you still in a café?
A: Mm hmm.
B: Ha ha, OK.
B: (More laughter) See you later then.
A: See you in a bit.
B: Bye.
Twenty minutes later, outside work.
B: Hey xxxxxxxx -
A: - Hey -
B: - sorry, it’s been a horrible day -
A: - that’s OK, um, it might sound weird, but I’ve written down our conversation –
A: - It’s the new assignment for that thing I’m doing, you know, with my friend?
B: Oh, yeah, OK.
A: Is that OK? It might go on a blog.
B: Uh, yeah. It hasn’t got anything about me saying ‘wank’ in it, has it?
A: Uh…
B: I don’t think I’ve said ‘wank’ today.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


BRIEF - Transcripts of three real-life conversations.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008


By Sam

The guy was on the bus, talking into a little hands-free headset through mouthfuls of a sausage roll. The sunlight was making his hairspray glow as it strobed through the windows and it was that winter sunlight the colour of a new pound coin, that kind of sunlight that makes life glorious and simple as a pie chart. I sat a little way behind him, and watched the sunlight bouncing off all that hairspray. He was a big, fat guy – I mean, he wasn’t big because he was fat, he was fat on top of being big. He had a big voice too, spouting this yuppie shit.
I think we can expect a return of about five percent.
I don’t know, something about that sausage roll bothered me. I leaned up against the window, I watched the world skip by like a schoolgirl. Pigtails and knee-high socks and all.
The guy was in the cafe. It was one of those students and builders-type places, cheap bad fry-ups, cigarette smoke and XFM. I was eating breakfast, pretending to read an indie fanzine and watching these two girls wearing black eyeliner and All Stars painted with graffiti like the sides of New York Subway trains. The voice kind of slowly filtered in, and then suddenly it was all I could hear.
We’re still shifting stock from six months ago, the figures reflect this.
He was still talking into the little headset, talking through mouthfuls of the baked beans he was shovelling into his mouth. I don’t know, it was pretty disgusting. He must have been in his forties, and he looked pretty out of place, like he should have been eating a sandwich in Cafe Rouge or something. Prosperous I guess.
I paid and left, stopping to see if either of the subway-car-All-Stars girls would give me a glance but instead the guy was looking at me. He was still talking that yuppie shit into his headset, but staring at me really intensely. A kind of chav’s “I’m gonna kick your arse” stare. I walked out into that shiny-pound-coin sunshine pretty fast.
The guy was looking in the window of a stoner shop on Cooper Street, eating a packet sandwich.
As it stands we’re seven percent over target.
The guy was in the “R” section of a record shop eating a Cornish pasty.
We need to improve out portfolio in that sector.
The guy was sifting through biker jackets in the vintage clothing shop eating a fucking jacket potato. The guy was literally everywhere I turned, talking into the little headset and giving me his Superman lasers-for-eyes stare.
The shareholders have the final say.
I walked over to say something to him in the vintage shop, like, “Dude. What the fuck? Why are you following me everywhere? Do you ever stop eating?” But his had this look on his face – this look like he was actually just going to kill me there beside the leather jackets and, well, I just walked out instead. I mean, he was a big guy.
The guy wasn’t on the bus home. The sunlight was still as bright and yellow as an Argos necklace, but it just made my face hot and prickly and my palms were pissing sweat. I don’t know, the whole fat guy thing had made me pretty fucking nervous. I was looking forward to getting to my apartment. I was pretty much going to roll a joint and playing Burnout 3 for about three hours. Maybe have a wank. Subway-car-All Stars and black eyeliner.
The guy was in my apartment. I heard that yuppie voice bellowing about over target earnings as soon as I stepped through the door, and there he was standing in my hallway with his back to me.
Yeah, Mike? Mike, I’ll get back to you in a minute. Something’s just come up.
And he was there in my hallway, turning around, eating a fucking blueberry muffin and turning around.


By Ben

Soho always made him feel uneasy. The glare of strangers bothered him, the attention and pestering from all quarters. From beggars, restaurateurs, hookers, religious zealots and free-paper pimps. It all upset his balance. It crowded him unbearably.

There had been an accident on the road. Ambulances filled the narrow street, and beyond a web of barrier tape he glimpsed a deeper tangle of metal and worse. The ambulances’ lights cast the scene in a slow surreal strobe, as paramedics moved back and forth. He turned back, his usual route out onto Oxford Street blocked. He could catch a bus from Piccadilly Circus instead. As he turned his back on the scene of the crash, a figure moved across the periphery of his vision.
Funny, he thought, that amongst all those emergency crews in their hi-viz jackets, the one to stand out should be dressed so soberly, and half-hidden beneath a black umbrella.

He saw the same man not much later, as he reached the bottom of Dean Street. Passing a dimly-lit shop front promising a range of adult literature, he saw the dark suit and the black beard that stood out so starkly on a white, rubbery face. He hurried on, heading down into Chinatown. He quickened his pace to give himself the chance to pause outside a restaurant, pretending to scan the prices of the menu. The man was still behind him. The umbrella was folded now, and it swung like a metronome as the man took his measured steps along the street.
Relax, he thought, lots of people are going this way to find another route home. Still, he took the long way around to Piccadilly Circus, rather than take the shortcut through the alleys of Chinatown.

At the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, the man caught up with him. The hand on his shoulder made him think of an exquisitely animated puppet, the joints of the fingers like finely carved wood.
‘Oskar Lang?’ said the man in a voice as cracked and gritty as the pavement they stood on.
‘…no.’ said Timothy Clarke, quietly.


They had been standing together under the black golfing umbrella for over an hour and Tim was still struggling to adjust to what he had been told. He tried to arrange the facts in his head.

1. The car accident was not an accident.
2. The bearded man had deliberately caused the crash, in order to kill Oskar Lang.
3. Four people had been killed in the crash. None of them was Oskar Lang.
4. Oskar Lang looked very much like Timothy Clarke, and was now sitting over the road from them, in the window of the King James.

If Lang knew that he had just been the object of an attempted murder, he didn’t show it. He was sitting contentedly in the pub, in full view, talking and laughing with another man. The pub threw a warm light onto the street, an orange glow that spread over the road and stopped just short of Tim and the bearded man. The black umbrella hid them in a black void that seemed to Tim to be as solid and confining as a prison cell. He could hear the bearded man, still talking insistently in his ear.
‘It isn’t really a matter of why, Timothy. Sometimes people have to die.’

Tim opened his mouth to protest. A torrent of thoughts tried to articulate themselves at once, and in their rush, became trapped in the narrow door of his mouth. No sound came out.

‘You will find things much easier if you stop questioning’ the bearded man continued, his expression light and easy. ‘I stopped many, many years ago.’
Tim found his voice, a small, frightened rodent of a voice. ‘I think…I think I would find things a little easier if I knew what he had done.’
‘He has done many things. He has been to school for example. When he was nine years old he was sent home in disgrace for buttering the floor at the top of the library stairs. As a young man he enjoyed racket sports. He once found a wallet containing fifteen pounds and some small change on a beach in Wales. He donates to several charities, for example Friends of the Earth. Also Barnado’s. He has a wife, whom he loves and has remained faithful to. He looks at pornographic websites while she watches Coronation Street. You are trying to see some sort of grand arc to this story, aren’t you? There isn’t one. A series of more or less related actions and events is the best that can be hoped for. The odd accident. Some little planning.’
‘Are you insane? I don’t mean, “What has he done throughout his life?” What the hell has he done to deserve death?’
‘Nothing, particularly. As I said, I receive instructions and I prefer not to question them.’ The bearded man looked over to where Lang sat. Tim followed his gaze. Lang and his friend were playing dice, betting for notes. ‘My predecessor had a taste for the declamatory. “Life is a carnival of accidents” he liked to tell me, “And the revellers are quite, quite blind.” He sounded better when he said it. It was the accent, I think.’

Timothy Clarke sank to the pavement, his head in his hands. He felt his sore heel rub against the inside of his shoe, exposed to the leather where his sock had worn right through. He felt the damp of the pavement seeping through the seat of his trousers. He turned his head to look up at the bearded man, and found the white face and its pickled walnut-eyes much closer than he had expected.
‘And why am I supposed to help you? What does it have to do with me?’ he spat at the looming face.
‘For a start, I cannot act directly. That is one of the conditions under which I must work. And since my two helpers are now being peeled out of their cars, I need you. Bad luck for you, Timothy. Bad luck that your route home was obstructed by my crash. Bad luck that Lang left his office twenty minutes early tonight. What could that mean? Nothing, I imagine.’
‘If I refuse?’
‘You will die. It will be a terrible, meaningless shame.’


Fifteen minutes later, Tim was waiting in the alley behind the King James. He had a bright, sharp knife tucked up the sleeve of his jacket. His face was as white as the bearded man’s, and his teeth were grinding together. He watched as the side door opened and the familiar warm light glanced out in a beam that expanded and then shrank back. He waited in the shadows behind the large green bins until he could clearly see the figure that approached. He held his breath for a second, then lunged.


By midnight, he was walking with the bearded man along the Victoria Embankment. The tide was low and the gritty gums of the river were visible. They had disposed of the knife in the river and left Lang’s body to be found in the alleyway. Tim’s eyes were sore from crying. How could this happen? he asked himself over and over. A cracked voice answered inside his head.

-You have suffered from asthma since you were a boy. Your first girlfriend found it hard to talk about her needs. At the age of twenty-three you got a job as a marketing assistant. When you are alone you pull at the hairs that have begun to protrude from your nostrils. You briefly considered becoming vegetarian but decided you didn’t have the willpower. You were mistaken for a man named Oskar Lang one evening in Soho.


By Brook

It could be a coincidence that for the third day in a row the same woman is waiting for the same bus, only a few yards behind that same man in the dark, ill-fitting suit. It could be.

Her skin is taught; it looks like the skin of a grape stretched across the flesh of a melon. She is uncomfortably fat, and her eyes dare you to mention it. She is staring firmly ahead, and not once does she look over at the irrelevant man she is following. Not even once during their shared thirty minute wait for the 242 bus to Liverpool Street does she look at this ape in a suit, dawdling awkwardly in front of her.

As the man plays at waiting, he can’t help but reveal his growing anxiety. His nerves seem to be faltering , as he waits, as she waits, for his unreliable bus to work. Today he rings his hands, and his eyes dart over to the woman surreptitiously, as though he expects her to pull out a gun or run into the road. He is pretending, unsuccessfully, to watch the corner at the end of the street, around which the bus will soon turn.

His clothes are smart and expensive but he makes them look messy and cheap. People have always been naturally unsympathetic towards him, although he is wholly inoffensive. He is in his late thirties, and must be a civil servant, or an office worker of some description.
There is another girl present, who has thus far gone unnoticed by both the man and the woman. The girl seems intrigued by the tight faced woman, who is following the clumsy man, who is starting to sweat and grow red in the face. When the bus arrives, the three of them board in a movement that appears practiced. The older woman walks approximately three paces behind the man, who darts a nervous glance over his shoulder as he boards. The girl walks two paces behind the woman, who looks casually back at the girl, but who has yet to look at the man, even once. They each take a seat. There are only three seats available: the one behind the other, behind the other. The inoffensive man sits at the front, pulls at his collar, and mops his brow with the sleeve of his jacket. His breathing is visibly restricted, although his air holes are presumably unobstructed, and his lungs sufficiently large.

For the next twelve and a half minutes, approximately, the man seems locked deep in inane thought; his brow remains slightly furrowed and his fingers are clasped together on his lap. Subconsciously his index finger strokes his left thumb, in a feminine and altogether unattractive motion. The tight-faced woman takes a notepad from her bag, and begins to scribble furiously. She looks at the man occasionally as she pauses for thought. The girl puts the headphones from her i-pod into her ears and mechanically glances from the woman, to the window, to the man, who is now sweating uncontrollably.

The man swings out of his seat at Liverpool Street, and tries to look behind him, but is prevented from doing so by a sudden jerk of the bus, which sends him stumbling into an old woman in front of him. He is immersed in thought, and overlooks an apology. The old woman looks away with an expression that betrays pity and disgust. The sweaty, inconsequential man in the ill-fitting suit doesn’t notice this expression, but instead tries to steady his floundering feet.

In the meantime the woman has stopped writing and raised herself up in one fluid movement, and is waiting behind the man, who has not yet had time to steady himself completely. She looks over the man’s head as he steps down from the bus.

As the doors begin to slide closed, the girl with her i-pod jumps up as an afterthought, and makes it outside just before her handbag is crushed.

The three strangers walk along the street in unison: the one behind the other, behind the other. The girl walks five paces behind the woman, who is now walking six paces behind the man, who is now almost jogging. The woman with the notepad holds her gaze just above the ridiculous man’s head. She matches his footsteps instinctively, without once lowering her eyes.

His footsteps quicken, and his pulsating heart is almost audible over the rush hour traffic. He is now acutely aware that not one, but two women are following close behind him. He looks wildly over his left shoulder, and as he does so, loses his footing and staggers forward, eventually forced to take a dive towards the ground. His arms instinctively lurch out in front of him like the twisted prongs of a fork. In this moment he becomes a grotesque parody of a man falling over on a pavement.

The notepad-holding, tight-faced woman doesn’t smile, or even glance once at the paunchy bag of nerves lying in front of her. She continues walking, as though she hasn’t even noticed the man lying on his back on the ground. The girl, on the other hand, hurries forwards, and bends down to ask the man if he is alright. The man ignores her, transfixed, as he stares at the woman, who is indifferently marching forward. He watches her now as she disappears round the next corner.

Monday, 18 February 2008


BRIEF - A man realizes he is being followed by someone he doesn't recognize.

Saturday, 16 February 2008


By Brook

The duvet covers are wet; they feel like heavy string tying me into bed. Hot, sticky wetness. My limbs refuse to work together, and for the moment I am paralyzed, like a startled animal, waiting for the death blow. There is an electrical creature shouting at me from somewhere inside my room, from inside my own bedroom; this is shameless.
“Fuck off.” I admonish. I can’t move, and I can’t locate the noise.
Thick, wet headache.
I put my head back down momentarily, and bang; I find something harder than a pillow. The noise stops abruptly, and the room sinks into silence. Walking the fine line between intense noise and intense soundlessness, I am forced to remember what I’m doing here, and that it’s morning. Like a blast of cold air into a thick fog, I remember my yesterday, and my day before that. The pain in my head and the presence of this ‘other’ in my room cause me to focus. Focus on what?
I’m going to vomit.
I experience the sudden rush of fear rising up inside my stomach, the one that I always get when I realize that I’m about to be sick somewhere I shouldn’t, like in bed, or across my floor. I manage to swallow, but it leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. I know what it is that I have just hit my head on, and the knowledge hangs hard in my chest.
I gingerly lift the remains of my sweat-soaked pillow, and investigate the inevitable: a cheap plastic alarm clock, silent and stopped. My alarm clock doubles up as an old fashioned tape recorder; I reach forward, as I’ve become accustomed to doing and press hard on the ‘play’ button. The cheap plastic parts whir into action, and the machine begins to emit a rusty purr. Like a cat. The purr of the machine becomes louder, and indistinguishable from the cat’s purring. There is a seamless transition from machine to animal. I draw a sharp breath, and fumble with the ‘stop’ button, before abruptly pushing the clock away. A shiver trickles down from the hairs at the very top of my neck, just behind my ears, all the way into the dent at the base of my back. I close my eyes, but the purring doesn’t stop.
I can still taste a trace of acid in my throat. I listen to the continuous humming and it echoes inside me; it reminds me of the sweat-soaked bed upon which I am now sitting upright. The sound seems more familiar to me than my own heart beat. At once nostalgic and repugnant. It breaks into my sleep, and I awake to find it lying beneath my head, etched onto tape. It talks to me. By this I don’t mean that I grow to understand what it means, but that I begin to make out the words in the animal’s low rumbling. I begin to hear it speak.
“Fuck off.” I at once repeat, louder, unsure of myself. I stopped believing that I was going mad four days ago.
“Quieten yourself.” Comes the gentle response.
I look down at my feet, and vomit.


By Sam

It was a Maxell UR60 today, thirty minutes on each side, new and without a case. Yesterday it had been an ancient tape of indeterminate make, roughly cast out of heavy, cheap black plastic and so full of sand the voice had been barely audible. Today it was a new one though.
She switched off the radio-alarm clock and took a biro and a strip of white adhesive labels from the bedside table. She peeled one of the labels off the strip and onto the tape and then, in a precise but rounded script, wrote “January 28th 2008. Monday,” on it. The full stops were little circles.

She showered while the tape played in a portable cassette recorder on top of the bathroom cabinet, tape spooling under shiny clear plastic. Shaving foam stains on the cabinet mirror.
“You are in a supermarket. You are holding one of those little wire baskets and wearing your long kaki jacket, the warm one with the furry hood. The one your ex-boyfriend told you you looked like an eskimo in.”
Today the voice was her own voice, the turns of phrase familiar but the delivery flat and toneless, as if spoken under hypnosis. She took the showerhead and washed soap from her belly, the froth running down her thighs and collecting between her toes. The voice continued.
“You are in the produce section. You are squeezing an orange to see if it’s ripe, which it isn’t, when you notice a wolf standing at the far end of the aisle. It comes towards you, and for a moment you’re scared, but it just walks past you. Doesn’t look at you. It puts its nose in a basket of melons and sniffs around. Its wet nose, just like a dog really, you think.”

She dressed with the tape playing. A white bra with padded cups that were supposed to enhance her bosom, then over that a white sleeveless vest and her checked blue work shirt.
“You follow the wolf up the aisle with the mayonnaise and things. It brushes past a shelf and knocks over a bottle of soy sauce with its tail. It puts its nose in the soy sauce, but then it turns and walks back up the aisle, past you, brushing your legs with its tail.”

She ate a bowl of Rice Krispies with the tape playing on the kitchen table, picking out the burnt ones and laying them carefully beside the bowl.
“The wolf is standing in the dairy aisle, sniffing at the butter. You are an aisle down, in the fresh meat section. You say to the wolf, you say ‘Hey. Hey, this is what you’re looking for.’ You pull a steak from its wrapper, and the meat is cold from the refrigerator and blood gets on your fingers. You sort of toss the meat up the aisle towards the wolf. ‘Hey,’ you are saying.”

She rode the bus to work, checking her watch and listening to the tape an elderly Walkman she had borrowed from her brother.
“The wolf looks at you, like, cautiously. It sniffs the steak. You think it is going to eat there on the floor, start chewing on it. But it picks up the steak and sort of trots away, past the cereals and you don’t see where it goes after that. It doesn’t look at you any more.”
Sitting on the top deck she watched commuters queue up for the bus at the stop before work, weekly passes clutched in fingers pink from the cold. The wolf sticking its wet nose in a bucket of melons.


By Ben

The sun is coming up bloody and undercooked.

A second before she jerks awake, she feels the sensation of plummeting. There’s no sense of surprise anymore when she feels the tape cassette under her pillow. She thinks of the tooth fairy and their reliable contract. Fifty pence per tooth. No questions asked. Exchanges carried out under cover of darkness. She thinks of the ivory trade. She wonders what she is giving in exchange for these cassettes.

The first one arrived a week ago. Now she has three. She is going to play the first two, and then the new one. She can feel a lead bird nesting in the pit of her stomach. She starts the first cassette and as the tape picks up the slack and starts to reel forward, she feels the bird laying a lead egg in its nest.

Hissing tape.
The crunch of ice underfoot.
Under hoof.
The breath of an animal.
Hoof steps fading gradually.
The wind in pine branches.
In the distance, the rough bleating of a goat.

She remembers that dream. A black billy goat appeared out of the forest with moonlight caught in the fog of his breath. Walking past her like a matted, reeking ghost, it had turned its yellow eyes towards her for a second. She waited for a long time, watching the moon carve a path behind the shivering pines. She realised she was alone. She had woken feeling as though she had been given a warning.

She loads the second tape. Three days had passed between the arrival of the first tape, and this one. She played it once, the morning it had arrived. She plays it now for the second time. It is less clear, the sounds more jumbled and chaotic, than the first tape.

Barking, wild.
The splash of water.
A tangle of noise, splintering wood, louder barks.
Underneath, the scuffling of feet and paws on dusty ground.

The sounds are hazy, but her memory is as clear and sharp as a splinter of glass. It is a dream that has followed her for years. Even without the tape, without the dream, she still has the images of that day acid-etched into her thoughts. A summer day when the sun was heavy on their shoulders. The grass in their garden had dried and turned to yellow dust weeks ago. Her baby brother playing in the paddling pool while she kept watch. The pack of dogs that carried him away before she had time even to scream. The slow spread of water from the pool, seeping darkly into the parched ground.
Third tape. The new one. She turns towards the window where the sun is still low and red, and a light breeze is breathing the curtains back and forth. She loads the tape.

The deep growl of trucks.
Rain pats down on hot tarmac.
A tiny bird sings.


BRIEF - 500 words on a girl who wakes up every morning with her dreams recorded on a cassette that she finds under her pillow. The dreams involve some sort of encounter with an animal.