The curse of the Bell

“We’re leaving. There’s no future for us anymore. It’s too late to change what’s happened; it’s time to make a fresh start.”

The words were still ringing in his ears.

 Tick. Tick. Tick. Time was running out. The pressure was rising. No matter how he crunched the figures he couldn’t get it to work out the right way. Desperation was beginning to set in.

A bead of sweat fell from his brow onto his notepad. He stared into space as the sweat smudged his calculations. Time and time again he reached the same answer. The wrong answer.

He could feel the bands of panic tighten around his chest. He needed to get a grip. Some air would help. As he stood to leave the room he glanced at the photo on his desk. Picking it up, he rubbed his thumb over the glass, clearing the dust from the smiling faces looking back at him. Sighing, he placed the frame back on the desk. He had to work harder; he couldn’t afford to lose them.

It was dark outside. How long had he been working on this? The pain in his head suggested longer than he’d originally thought. He didn’t have time for this. Rubbing his brow, he turned to make his way back into the building. Headlights picked out his silhouette against the concrete walls. They were here.

 “We need to make sure we’re making the right decisions. It’s not like we can go back and undo the past.”
“It has to be right first time?” he’d asked.
“Right; no room for mistakes. Literally.”

It was too much. How could he make these kinds of decisions on his own? Of course he had models to fall back on. But we all know that these situations bear no resemblance to normality. We’re seduced by the simplicity of the curves. The bell tolls and we blindly follow. The consequences could be disastrous.

“We only have room for 5%. We must trust the curve.”

He sat back down at his desk with a thump. The dim light from his monitor highlighted the lines on his face as he waited for the answer to flash up on screen.  Tick. Tick. Tick. Fail. Again. They would be here any minute; this was his last chance to get this right.

Footsteps ricocheted through the empty building as his fingers tapped furiously on the keyboard. They were here to collect the list. His eyes desperately scanned the screen for her name. It had to be there; surely he’d selected the right parameters this time? Surely he’d be able to save his own family. There had to be a payoff for being the one who’d created the curve. Didn’t there?

He jumped as the door flew open. They were here.

“Is it ready Tompkins? We don’t have much time.”

“It’s ready Colonel. I’ve used the parameters you selected. The country’s top minds, movers and shakers are all here. You’re ready to go.”

“Good, get your coat. We’ll head off now. A helicopter is ready to take us to the launch site.”

“No. I’m not going. I have to stay here.”

The Colonel turned sharply. “What do you mean you’re staying here? You have your orders, just like the rest of us. We’re leaving in two hours, there’s nothing here for us anymore. We’ve wrung this planet dry.” His old mentor paused, anger flushing his cheeks. “You know that by staying here you’re signing your own death warrant. There’ll be nothing left after the evacuation. Even if you do survive, what will you live on? Mini Rolls and microwave popcorn?”

“I can’t leave them Sir. I won’t leave them.”

The thick silence was suddenly punctuated by the phone ringing. The Colonel turned and walked towards the door. The irritation in his voice softened, “Good luck Tompkins; you’re gonna need it!”

He ran for the phone, catching it just in time.

“Hi, honey? Is that you?” Her voice washed over him like a warm, soothing wave.

“Yes, it’s me. I’m here.”

“Is it true, what they’re saying on the news? They say we don’t have long, that the planet is dying. Is it true? Malcolm? Is it true? Is everyone going to die?”

He closed his eyes, searching for a way to break the news to her, to make it better. To tell her that all the years of hard work, lonely nights and broken promises were for nothing. How could he tell her that even after all of her sacrifices he still couldn’t save them?

“Don’t worry my love, I’m coming home.”

by Maria Ingram

Lesser-Known Saints of the Hellfire Club

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wang Gong

Two surnames, both of them false; the first name both emperor’s handle and the most common-or-garden variety in mainland China, the second rooted in imperial calamity. A pioneer of hand charming, and a palm-stroker of no small renown; in a short life Wang entertained the very filaments of global power. His country seat in Nether Mallow was drenched red and gold; in tribute, he said, to a life long ago. Many guessed him older than his looks would confirm. In conversation, he would appear, as from the ground, his suit millstone-pressed, his tongue slightly proud of his lower lip. He bequeathed the club a fortune, saying, “Find it all, seek it, guzzle every last scrap of knowledge. It’s all here. It buzzes in every sperm’s head. It meditates in the sleeping egg.” His last words were “Find my father’s father,” and a simple request for water.

Bqaq

One of the great mysteries of our time, the individual known as Bqaq was born, depending on who you ask, in one of three places. Experts from the Roma chapter claim he was found by nuns beneath a piece of Pompeian graffiti declaring “The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison”. Bogotá have produced documents on the discovery of a half-burned boy on the steps of the Primary Cathedral, and London herself lays claims to Bqaq. The diary of John Mears references “a scarlet, nigh-on demonic babe”, left at the door of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, ”splashing in its mother’s wretched gifts”.

As for achievements, only one is known, and this alone secured Bqaq’s beatification. The sovereign has always traditionally been our organisation’s enemy, however many of their offspring are members. On 1 January 1900, as the new century stoked its boiler, the man known variously as Berquaque, Boerkrack and Berukakku-san bought every man in a Mayfair pub a single-malt whisky, before pulling on a costume depicting Queen Victoria as a ‘scarlet lady’ and blowing himself up.

Oberon

A chaste and modest man by club standards, Benjamin ‘Oberon’ McBride championed more intellectual pursuits than most members. His fifteen backgammon trophies still glitter on the smoking room mantel, and it is said that he communicated with the dead grandmasters for tips. Fond of the company of his fellow man, he never married. Upon his death (misadventure) a note was found addressed “To my darling Hereford”. Into this he had poured out such passions as had lain dormant. The only Hereford in the club records had died five years before McBride was born. And where McBride’s blood had fallen, a curious reaction had caused two shapes to form: a skull and a butterfly.

Sonnenschein

Eventually unmasked as a woman, the Kiel-born Sonnenschein (real name Lutzi Abendroth) was six-foot-two and an unmatched procurer of girls. No evening was complete without a dozen firm-thighed ‘sunbeam’ dancers, and indeed the club’s membership octupled during her tenure. Acting as Herr Blitzen (a private joke at the expense of the English), she made a thoroughly handsome rogue, and talked many a pious virgin into the red shoes of the Hellfire Club. The writer’s grandfather remembers a breathy confessional in which a young shipping heir confessed to unnatural feelings for his fellow man. How relieved he was to discover the truth! When Abendroth’s skirts were figuratively raised, following a tip-off from one of her lovers, fierce debate was raised on her eligibility for membership. In the end she was banished, but immortalised. Her image, in full gentleman’s garb, still hangs in the hallowed Dashwood Gallery.

Wovenbad

A sommelier without rival, Baron Karl Wovenbad was a robust man known for his boxing abilities. In contrast to his sporting, jolly demeanour, he often claimed to be able to summon the Morningstar himself. Such claims were often made under the grapeleaf, and affectionately mocked. Wovenbad, growing tired of being called a liar, called a meeting of the monks and set out the letters of the alphabet on the floor. Henriksson tells us that he “raised his arms and called out in a shrill voice, asking the devil to come out and greet his disciples.” When, after an hour of trying, no demon appeared, Wovenbad retired to the water closet. He did not return. Upon his body was written “Sleep and sleep”.

Bubasarin

Dmitri Bubasarin, a native of St Petersburg, was rumoured to be a friend of the Tsar. As a club member, he was active, with mutinous interests. Despite a strong accent, he was able to talk anyone out of the room; numerous attempted raids by the police would end with the uniforms bowing deferentially out of Bubasarin’s imposing presence. He was known as a satyr of the first order. According to Pan, minute-taker for the Knights of West Wycombe (one of our pseudonyms), he would routinely stand naked upon the club’s antique chairs and bellow that he was hungry for love. He would then proceed to repeat this ‘shop’ call in seven languages, ending always in his native Russian.

Bubasarin’s sainthood was a surprise to all but those present on Walpurgis Night, 1907. When the police made their monthly visit, and he was dispatched to field their queries, he pulled from his pocket a great handful of feathers and a pocket knife. Before the officer, he stripped to the waist and proceeded to whittle each quill, before stabbing it into his shoulder blades. All the while, he laughed maniacally. The pain and blood loss eventually won, and Bubasarin fell to the floor like a shot pheasant. Three of the feathers can be found in the archives, the dull brown bloodstain never cleaned away.

By Kirsten Irving
@KofTheTriffids 

Over Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday March 21st 2013

I hadn’t told my wife. Work knew of course.

Well, they had to really; I was hardly there.  I should come clean to her one day. One day.

But the Doctor thought I was getting better so why put her through all the pain? Not after what she’d been through with her Dad. And the fact Toby’s being bullied at school. She didn’t need any more straws on her camel’s back. No way.

Didn’t seem right to tell her about tests, tests and more tests. Yes, there was an outcome after each one. The tumours had responded. Or they hadn’t…those were the main ones. Infliximab seemed to be doing the trick for the problems I already had, but the more serious things on top weren’t good. And there were side effects to that drug. Strange ones. Steroids helped, but they had side effects too.

Trying to keep up with work when in hospital wasn’t ideal. Too many people coming in and out; it was noisy and just down the corridor from the main A&E. But my business needed to keep breathing too, so I had to do it.

The nurses always said I was working too hard. Crohn’s leading to bowel cancer was common. And in a lot of cases of early Crohn’s flare ups were related to stress. But I kept saying, this is more serious than just Crohn’s so it’s not from stress. They just looked at me with disdain. Even Doris; the friendly one.

I was getting cabin fever in my room… (Note to self: I’m mildly claustrophobic) …so I went for a walk. I know it’s somewhat sick, but I sort of, in a dark way, enjoy walking around hospitals. Looking into rooms at people in various states of disrepair. ‘Enjoy’ is probably the wrong word. It was more to do with intrigue. Similar to when you walk around a town at dusk, just before people have drawn their curtains or shut their blinds and you can see into their homes. It’s a morbid fascination. And that word is more apt here I suppose.

Then I hear what sounds like Toby crying. He can’t be here, can he? But then I see him. I have to hide. He’s with Samantha! Bloody hell. I wonder, why isn’t she at work? Toby’s bleeding. Why?

So I hide behind a screen and listen.. Someone’s coming. It’s ok; it’s the nurse. I just pretend I’ve lost my pen.

“Pen? You working again Richard? You should be relaxing. Your kind of treatment takes a lot out of you. And you shouldn’t be down here. You’re staying overnight this time aren’t you?” She says, more telling me than asking. She’s a big lady and she’s lovely. She looks at me longer than she should.

“What’s wrong with the kid then, Doris?”

“Oh…he got hit at school – with a cricket ball apparently. Pretty bad. But he’ll live. You walking back with me?”

“No it’s ok. Can I just stay here for a bit? I’ll be back in 10.”

Really? Mmmmn. I bloody know where that ball came from. Carl Smithson, the little shit.

The Infliximab doing its worst again. Feeling faint. I get up to see if I can see them. I can, so I scuttle back behind the screen again and listen to Sam consoling him. I sit on a pile of old magazines. (Heidi Klum has a different view of the world for a while.)

I’d love to be able to put my arms around him. Them, even. Nine years of marriage and I love her more than the day I saw her dancing round her (fake) designer handbag to ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’. But I’m not telling her things have got worse. I’m just not.

About twenty minutes passed.

From the crack between the curtain and the metal I can see Toby, all stitched up. They’re leaving. That makes me feel faint again.

I watch them go down the corridor, hand in hand. Both leaving a mesmerizing reflection in the spotless hospital floor.

No wonder I’ve got three missed calls from her on my (silent) phone. Poor Tobes. Oh well, she knows I’m busy and thinks I’m staying in a Premier Inn miles away tonight; out with Derek and the new lead in Oxford. Well, I’ve got to get that ‘contract’ haven’t I? And I’ve got to pay the mortgage.

Need to go back and type that email. Could call them… but they frown on that here.

Back in my ‘not very MTV’ crib. Nurse gives me some more tablets. And loosens my tie some more. I lie down. And then sit up to send that email. Then lie down again.

Really tired now. Even though it’s only 6.37 p.m.

“See you Tuesday Richard,” squeals Doris as she disturbs my nodding off. She’s got a few days off. Visiting her son in Yorkshire.

Can’t wait to see Sam and Toby tomorrow.

……

Samantha looked up at the Doctor. A lone, large tear had made its way to the end of her nose.

 The Doctor looked back with an understanding frown and nodded at her to read on.

……

Tuesday March 26th  2013

Feeling pretty lousy today. But at least that new contract’s sorted…

 

By Daniel Headey

People

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone sitting here, love? Cheers. Didn’t fancy standing all the way to Wimbledon – not in these shoes anyway, soles practically hanging off, look! ‘Scuse me talking, you probably want to read your book.

What is it you’re reading?

Don’t know Tony Morrison – is he good? Not a reader myself, not exactly a brainiac. Debs always said that, if she’d wanted brains, she’d sooner of married Rex here than me, ha! Eh, boy? Debs was always on the ball like that, quick, quick, quick.

My brains was the problem though, because I was bloody stupid. Pardon my French. You think: you’re young, you know it all, like you’re the boss. But when work dries up, and it’s beans on toast every night o’the week, and nappies cost Christ knows what, you realise you had no idea how hard it is, day in, day out.

I remember going to the Ladbrokes on Chapel Market, thinking: ‘I can sort this out.’ That’s what you think to yourself, every time.

Oh – your stop already? Well, it was lovely talking to you anyway. Enjoy the rest of your day, yeah?

Course, mate, have a seat. Where you off to, then?

I’m off to see the wife, actually. Well, we’re kind of separated. But we’re going to sort it out.

It started one morning last week, at Old Street. Everyone buzzing round like blue-arsed flies, like. I’d already seen some of the usuals: a guy who’s always there bang on nine o’clock, immaculate in a three-piece suit. The kids who dress like cartoon characters, off to bed while the rest of the world is waking up.

And then, my favourite: a gorgeous black kid, about six or seven, bit scruffy, always with his mum. I liked him because he always smiled and waved at me, every time he passed. It was like he didn’t realise yet that I was one of those losers you’re supposed to ignore.

Right then Debs phoned me. Said she missed me – missed what it had been like, before – and said how if I went to the doctor she’d help me, and maybe we could sort things out. And I was there, with the biggest, stupidest grin on my face, saying ‘anything, I’ll do anything love’.

When she hung up I was – what’s that word? Elated. I felt like I was full of sunshine. And I just wanted, I dunno. Just wanted to make a good decision. I took off my watch – it was only a cheapo, and the battery had died ages ago, but it was still shiny – and gave it to this kid, a gift, like. And he beamed. Course, his mum came dashing over, dragged him away, threw a few coppers in my coffee cup so as not to look too judgemental, like.

That night, I slept under my ratty old blanket like I was tucked up in the Ritz. You know what I mean?

Debs is one of those special people, though. I always knew she was capable of that, that amazing belief, that forgiveness.

My dad, he always said that people live up to your expectations. Saying that, he didn’t seem surprised when I told him Debs was gone, she’d taken Jack, and I was sleeping rough in Old Street station.

No mate, you go ahead and reply. Nice phone, that, bit fancier than mine, ha!

Anyway, couple of days later, I arranged to meet Debs at McDonalds, in Kings Cross, at six. To talk things over, talk about the future. I’d ‘borrowed’ a new T-shirt from Peacocks that morning, you know what I mean, and washed my hair in the gents. I had butterflies, like it was our first date or something! If I’m honest, part of it was excitement – but there was another part which was nerves. ‘Cause there was this voice in my head, saying: you do always balls it up, though, don’t you?

That’s when Jimmy came along, saying, let’s have a drink. I said, nah, Jimmy, I’ve got to keep it together today. But he said, go on, we was gonna toast my new life – come on, you know you want to, you know you’re going to have one in the end.

And I thought: yeah, just one.

God knows what time it was when I finally called Debs. But she was screaming at me, saying: I called you twenty times, I waited an hour, and nothing… And you’re pissed, I can tell from your voice, you’re pissed. And it was all just this raging whirr until she said: ‘I didn’t expect nothing else from you. You’re the worst dad.’ Swear to god, that was like a wrecking ball. I can’t remember what I said, but I remember feeling like I was going to throw up or pass out or something, and then the line went dead.

Next morning, on that dirty blanket, I felt like my skull was sheet metal, being hammered out of shape. Mouth like the bottom of a hamster’s cage. The usuals whizzing about, three-piece suit, cartoon kids. Jimmy there, snoring, oblivious.

Suddenly I had my hands round his throat, screaming: you effing bastard, Jimmy, do you know what you’ve done? He was too shocked to fight back, eyes popping out of his head. Rex was whimpering, and I was all snot and tears, and there was blood on my knuckles.

And then it was like I exploded. Debs and Jack didn’t exist for me anymore, and I was scum, and everybody else was scum, and I was shouting that the whole world was nothing but scum.

The last thing I remember is station guards putting their hands on me, and me kicking and screaming as they dragged me out of Exit 1 and kicked my sorry arse down the City Road.

I always thought my old man was wrong about people living up to your expectations. But that was only because he never lived up to mine.

Maybe mine weren’t really expectations, though. Maybe mine was only hopes.

Anyway, it was yesterday morning. Back on the blanket with Rex. I’d woken up really late, probably around lunchtime, since there seemed no point in waking up at all. No sign of Jimmy this time.

And I looked in the bottom of my coffee cup, see if there was enough for a bacon sandwich, and there it was amongst the coins: my watch. My crappy old watch. Just the same – but this time, the hands were moving. Half past twelve it showed, matching the station clock for the first time in its pathetic life. And next to it, a note, in what looked like a six- or seven-year-old’s writing, that said:

people are awesome

 I tell you, I did not expect that.

I stared at that watch for what must have been an age, only looking up to see if the kid and his mum were passing by. But no sign. And I sat there until it went dark, thinking – maybe he’s right, you know? Maybe he’s right.

No, she doesn’t know I’m coming. So, it’s gonna be hard. But that’s life, you know? Ups and downs. And I really believe things are going to be OK. I’m not going to balls it up any more.

Anyway, this is my stop. And look at my watch – I’m half an hour early!

You have a good day, yeah?

by Kate Baxter

Hugh Dalton and I

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hugh Dalton and I have known each other for twenty-three years now. Of course, I have the higher IQ, although he was always too pigheaded to admit it.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little unfair on the old boy. When it came to chess, he was in a league of his own. I had always thought of myself as a talented player, so naturally I was overjoyed to have stumbled upon such a worthy adversary. The hours we spent testing each other’s nerves, calling each other’s bluff, battling it out over black and white. And the look on his face each time I beat him. You should have seen it! All puckered up like a pit bull’s arse. Poor Hugh. He never could take losing to a woman.

Hugh could have been anything he wanted to be, you know. I used to tell him he should go for the top job – an Eton boy with an Oxford degree and a fine head of hair like that; he would’ve been a shoo-in. But he wouldn’t listen. Whenever I tried to give him even just an ounce of friendly advice, the pit bull’s arse would reappear, all red and puckered. So when I found out that Hugh was joining my department I was naturally both delighted and disappointed.

No, there was never anything romantic between us. Although I must admit I was a little surprised when he told me he was going to propose to Amelia Atherton-Jones. You could practically hear the two brain cells clacking together in that empty skull of hers. I just couldn’t understand it.

I tried to hide my distaste for the matter but the way Hugh looked at me changed. You see, Hugh was the only person who ever really saw through me, which was simultaneously an advantage and a disadvantage for both of us. Over the years I’ve often felt his gaze on the back of my head, catching his stare in my peripheral vision. We’d become very close, he and I. We even used to leave each other little messages on the Post-It Notes we keep in the office. It became a sort of running joke, so we just carried on doing it.

Yes, three weeks ago – just before he left for Vienna. You see, I was on the verge of a major breakthrough in my research and naturally I wanted him to be the first to know.

Well it was really quite unlike him. He had always acted as if we were indulging in a permanent game of chess – constantly trying to anticipate my next move and better it however he could. So I was expecting to see the pit bull’s arse again at any second, but it never reappeared. Instead, Hugh got himself all excited, asking question after question after question.

After that it wasn’t long before I realised Hugh was planning on stealing the glory for himself. I overheard him telling a mutual colleague about my discovery, claiming it was his. I couldn’t let him put one over on me like that, so I invited him to my place for supper and confronted him.

No, of course not. Hugh was a good sport. He knew he’d been rumbled, so he apologised and that was that.

Why should I hold it against him? We both knew how this little game of ours worked. In fact, I think I might have even been a little disappointed if he hadn’t at least given it a good go. That would have been an insult to my intelligence. Neither of us had ever expected the other to bow out gracefully.

He finished his supper, we said goodnight, and he left for Vienna a couple of days later.

The last note I left him? Yes, it said: ‘Have a lovely trip! x’

No, I don’t know why he didn’t return.

What are you implying?

I’d like to have a lawyer in the room before I say any more.

by Steph Smith
@Steph_J_Smith