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Prompts

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Photograph by Marco Ferrarin, who captures a wonderful sense of space and being in his work. You can find more of Marco’s photography on his Flickr photostream here

He awakens – some realisation of consciousness, the beginnings of awareness of his surroundings and situation – at five thirty that morning, so says the clock on the wall. It’s exceptionally bright. A single, naked halogen bulb hangs from the ceiling and illuminates the white room, with white tiles and white walls and the small frame bed he climbs out of, withs its tangled sheets and covers, is white. Approaching the window and poking through the blinds, darkness still consumes the streets below. No moving vehicles, no street lamps, no slow rising sun, and only the white light of similar windows, bearing occupants rubbing weary eyes just like his, confirms he is still in the city and not banished in the night to a deserted, inhospitable moon.

The silence ebbs away in a series of subtle steps. First, the birds, singing. He hears them before he sees them. Not long after this the sky begins to turn a lighter shade of grey, with a dull orange glow to the east. This seems to signal activity within the building. Doors open and close, pipes and valves creak. He can hear running water in the room next to his. Voices and muffled laughter. The day appears to be picking up pace. He returns to the window and the streets are visible in the half-light of the morning. Far below large shapes drive through lanes and queue up on long pieces of concrete. Some begin to honk, a harsh, impatient tone, and the longer they wait the louder they honk. But they never go very far anyway.

He looks towards the clock. It is eight-thirty, which alarms him, without fully understanding why. He stands in front of a tall mirror. The hair on his head is tufted and needs washing, the hair on his face has grown and needs to be trimmed, he smells of sweat and he is still nude, so he walks into the bathroom and has a cold shower. The mirror now portrays him in a suit, hair slicked back, his face shaved and smooth. Before leaving he discovers a portable computer on his desk. A window informs him that he has received twenty seven emails overnight. He puts the computer into a case along with several other paper documents of varying importance, and walks out of his apartment.

The walk along the landing is a short one and he soon reaches the lobby of elevators, one of which will take him down to the ground floor. He is going to be late, he thinks, and is perspiring steadily, but is glad of a light breeze coming from above. Where did the morning go, he mutters to himself, as he punches the call button, and steps back to wait for the elevator’s ascension to his floor. But, that step back, that solitary step, rings out around the lobby, again and again, softly echoing away from him, further than he could have ever believed, as if he had dropped a stone down a well that had no bottom. What on earth, he wonders, and he looks upwards to what should be a low white ceiling.

Instead he discovers a void above him. A huge circular space with pulsating lights, flashing colours he has never seen before, leading ever upwards to a celestial platform. The incomprehensible scene defied all logic. Spatially it was impossible, and the colours and grandiose structure were at war with the white and traditional high-rise building he had thought he was standing in. The only concept of the void even remotely recognisable  was a staircase that wound up the inside of the chasm towards an unknown destination. Somewhere high above there was a churning, a low but powerful buzz that sounded like a generator, growled in trembling shudders that shook him to his core.

The elevator doors open with a chime. He looks around the lobby for anyone else who could bear witness to this, but he is alone. At eye level there was little perceptible different in the lobby, but he raised his eyes once more and the spiralling staircase lit up with foreign illuminations was still there. Gazing up in awe at the distant, surreal beauty of it, he stood for some time, several seconds or several hours, he couldn’t be sure. Something wanted him to ascend the staircase. The rhythmic pounding of the machinery above matched the beating of his own heart. He walked towards the beginning of a staircase, which fused perfectly to the tiles of the lobby. He grasped the banister – it was hot.

No, he said. I must get to work. He released the banister and the growling upstairs intensified. But he ignored it, walked back to the elevator, which had patiently waited for him. He was thinking how he could possibly explain this to the boss as he stepped through the doors, and by the time he realised there was no floor, and no elevator waiting for him, it was too late. The lift shaft was dark, and as he plummeted down the machine at the top of the staircase quietened to little more than a purr. From the top of the high-rise, an elevator began to descend to the ground floor. It was nine o’clock and there was work to do.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

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Photograph by Lolo_. See more of his work on his Flickr Photostream.

When I was a kid I did not believe the sun could blind me so I used to stare at her for a few seconds at a time, perhaps I was aware of the risk but continued to do so regardless, acting out of juvenile defiance, a childish rebellion, I don’t remember it hurting too bad, just the intense fight against an impulse to shut my eyes, and it made my eyes sore but it also warmed them to such an extent that when I did shut my eyelids I felt that fantastic warmth for hours, and a blinding light continued on behind the screens of my eyelids, and when I could bear to open them again, the sky was dark, the sun was black, and all the buildings had turned white with blood coloured roofs and the streets were filled with cars and people stuttering in animated motion like lost footage found on an old videotape.

Last week I saw a blind man get on the bus. He dressed smartly and composed himself well but when he sat down in front of me I could see his eyes behind the thick glasses. They moved fast and frenzied and each time somebody walked past him I saw his pupils darting around the whites of his eyes, a panicked struggling for perception before they were swallowed whole and disappeared entirely and it made want to cry, what’s wrong with me, I thought to myself, but then he got off the bus, two stops before mine, and when he walked off I couldn’t see his eyes behind his glasses, and he suddenly looked very strong, very confident, and I forgot about him and started to roll a cigarette and smoked it after I got off the bus, but later I saw the pupil in that great white sea again, when I crossed the street outside the library, again when I met up with her later, again as I paid the bill, again in the taxi, again ascending the stairs to her apartment, again and again, deathly drunk, shouting at shadows.

Yesterday I found Davey at the bar again, it wasn’t long past midday, I told him I was worried for him, that drinking on a stool in the dark was not a healthy place to be, to which Davey said, You’re a liar if not a hypocrite, he told me, You have these ideas in your head about doing things a certain way and how one should live their life, like yours, to abide by a set of rules, but you don’t even know the rules yet, made up rules that change daily, not written down or even notionally figured out in your head, but you continue to live by them, and you quote memorised poetry and ancient texts, out of context, out of time, and this undefinable philosophy is a farce and a falsehood. You are, Davey said to me, more religious than you would like to think. Of course you would say that, I told him, You – a frustrated man of God – you know only the rules written by some unknown hand, so don’t speak of my rules, and don’t speak of my poetry, I told him, my poetry had more relevance than the verses you continually recite, and Davey said that it wasn’t about the verses, it had never been about the verses, and the fact I kept referring to the verses proved his point entirely. I can’t remember how that conversation ended, but we fought like that for a long time.

Yet here we are. Not friends, but not strangers, not tired of one another yet – but we are tired. David is slouched over the bar (he drinks a lot for a man of faith) and he begins to cry, and at the angle I was sitting I saw the whites of his eyes under the glimmer of tears, and I reach out to console him but I am further away than I had reckoned, and my hand feels detached and the room spins, all the while the waitress laughs at us and retreats into the kitchen to call us both a taxi home.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

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Photograph by Branko Mikich. See more of his work on his Flickr Photostream.

Mostly the park looked the same. Patches of grass on wet dirt that captured loose plastic bags and sheets of old newspapers and the prints of its visitors. It was still found in the city centre on flat ground with a tall brick wall that ran along the entire perimeter, breaking only for rusted iron gates in each corner, ensuring the surrounding city did not encroach and swallow the space entirely. But the park seemed smaller than he remembered, and there were fewer trees now. Or maybe his memory had planted those trees, for now only one stood in their immediate vicinity, and it did not seem a native tree to him, and it looked unhealthy and rather grotesque, with leaves like wrinkled skin.

On every side of the park tall constructions dominated the skyline above the wall, concrete towers that rose up beyond and into the starless ceiling of cloud or smoke, and from that elevated position they observed the city-dwellers, the ambitious and the struggling, the violent and the meek, as if custodians of these people and in control of their ultimate fate. As dusk descended despairingly surreal scenes were taking place in the hundreds of windows, in the light of flickering television sets, the couple witnessed obscure art hanging on walls of peeling paper, couples kissing with passion and lust, athletic groups frozen in synchronised poses, and beyond balconies draped with items of clothing the silhouettes of rangy figures taking part in some ritualistic dance to the beat of unheard music.

She looked at his face and he was frowning. What’s wrong? she asked.
Nothing, he said. They walked slowly through the park together hand-in-hand, stopping occasionally to light a cigarette or take a photograph.
Is it how you remember?
He shrugged. It’s how I expected it but it’s not what I remember, no.
Did you live in one of these blocks?
No. Possibly. Most of them are new. But some were always here, they’ve just grown a little taller.
Do they think they can see us from up there?

The park became busier. A woman was throwing a ball for her dog to chase. A pair of students passed them on bicycles. Commuters, he assumed, given the time, were filtering through the gate nearest the station. At some point between afternoon and evening they realised it was brighter than it should have been. In each of the four corners of the park was a towering floodlight that spat a bright and artificial light across everything beneath. Because of the earlier rain the spotlights were creating a dazzling haze and everything beyond the walls seemed ethereal. The lights and the high-rise blocks had imprisoned the park and it no longer provided the escape it once had.

Do you think they can see us?
Yes, they can, if they want to, he replied, but I don’t think they are interested in what or who is down here.
I wonder what we look like to them?

Under these lights, everyone has four shadows. Look, she gestured, and walked in a circle. He watched, and where her feet touched the group, four shadows reached along the ground in different directions. It unsettled him. These floodlights, they are new, he told her. I find it too bright. When I was younger, they locked the park at night. He nearly told her why the park had been closed at night but it was not the right time and he kept that to himself.

What must we look like, he thought, as the dog, he wasn’t familiar with the breed, ran passed them, and as it did so it was limping heavily, and as it bounded after the ball it slipped and fell over in the dirt several times, and she chuckled to herself beside him and squeezed his arm tightly. Can we go? she whispered, I’m starting to get cold.

What must we look like to them, to the residents of the towers, to the commuters heading home, to the homeless, to the tourists, to other visitors like themselves. To the man sat by the main gate, asking for spare change, with a fentanyl patch on his arm and a severe opiate addiction. With his bloodshot eyes barely visible, the addict scratches at his facial hair, shuddering and shivering but continuing to smile, as he sees two barely human streaks on an otherwise bleak landscape approach him. One of them bends down to drop some coins into his hat, before walking out of the park without looking back.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

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Image taken by Tyler Forest-Hauser, who captures stunning scenery in his native Canada. You can find more of Tyler’s work here.

“Whatever happened to the Italian girl you were with?”
“What Italian girl?”
“In Milan. After you broke up with Monica and left Paris – you told me about a girl you were seeing in Milan. Not for long, if I recall correctly.”
“Oh you mean Sofía. I met her in Milan but she was Colombian actually, and had lived in the South of France most of her life.”
“Oh I see. Did I meet her? I think I did. She had big brown eyes right?”
“She had brown eyes, but they weren’t particularly big. And you never visited me in Milan. You couldn’t get time off work. Or that’s the excuse you gave me. We last met briefly in New York before I came back here. Left or right?”
“Take a left. I swear I had been in Milan to see you. Must have been to see someone else, or for business. But then how did I know she had brown eyes?”
“I would have told you about her on the phone. Maybe I even sent you a photograph. I was pretty hot on her. I would have sent you something.”
“Maybe. Yes, I remember, you sent me a letter and there was a picture of her. She was hot, sure. So how long were you together for?”
“I don’t know. We were never really ‘together’ I guess. She was difficult to pin down. We spent a lot of time together, but she was still seeing other men.”
“And you weren’t seeing other women?”
“Well sure, I knew a couple of other girls out there, but with my writing I never had much time for the others. But I would always make time for Sofía.”
“So for how long?”
“It’s funny you thought she was Italian. Sofía was nothing like the Italian girls I spoke to. The Italian girls always seemed preoccupied with something else, whenever I tried to speak to them. They never kept eye contact.”
“Maybe they found you boring?”
“I thought that. I really did. But I’m not so sure.”
“Easy, I was joking man. Keep your eyes on the road.”
“No but I found something different about the Italian girls. And some of the other girls in Europe. Even with Monica, I never felt that close to her. Sofía was different. After knowing her I became aware of the stagnancy and decay in the city, and the misery of the people living there, whereas she, she was fresh. Sofía wasn’t afraid to stare at me.”
“So how long were you seeing her?”
“I guess two months. A little longer I suppose. I met her in my first week in the city. She was at a bar where I was reading some of my poetry. It was a Thursday night and there weren’t many people around. She came with a friend who had heard of me, had read my work.”
“And Sofía, was she a fan of yours? Is that how it started?”
“Not exactly. She approached me at the end of the night and said she wasn’t a big reader and she certainly didn’t know much about poetry, but she enjoyed what I had read and would like to hear more. I never really found out if she was really interested in my poetry or was just flirting.”
“Did you mind?”
“About what?”
“Keep your eyes on the road, man. About whether she was interested in your poetry or not.”
“No. Maybe she did like my work on that night, or maybe she just used it to start a conversation. I never asked – after a few dates I did not care.”
“Did she put out straight away?”
“She invited me back to her apartment after our second date. But I wasn’t chasing sex with her. I just wanted to spend more time with her. I wanted to know more about her. She had a knack of captivating me, of holding my attention, without really saying much. She would tell me about her work, her friends, her thoughts on films and music, and to anybody listening in on our conversations they might think them normal discussions – normal questions and normal answers. But it was what she chose not to say – what she chose to leave out – that fascinated me. Like there was something going on behind the scenes. Do you know what I mean?”
“Not really. You thought she was hiding something from you?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. Or perhaps a little.”
“You were in love with this girl weren’t you?”
“I don’t know. Can you fall in love with someone you don’t fully understand? The more I tried the more distant she would get. She didn’t sleep much and sometimes I would wake up in the night and the glare of the television would be flickering in the living room, and I would get up and she would be sat there watching late night shows with the sound off. I never asked her why she did that. I decided I didn’t want to know.”
“You haven’t changed. You just ramble. This is why I don’t read your poetry.”
“You can’t read any poetry.”
“Fuck off. So? What happened between the two of you?”
“She went cold. Or missing. Just disappeared. She wasn’t at her apartment anymore, she had moved out when I asked her neighbour, and she wouldn’t answer her phone. I used to try every day, then I tried every week, then every other week. Then I just kind of gave up.”
“Strange. Sorry, man. ”
“Don’t be. It was easier that way. She arrived in a fog and she left in a fog. Any other exit would not have suited her. And besides, we barely knew each other, so what do I have to moan about? This place looks familiar. Are we close?”
“Oh yeah. we’re pretty much here. Slow down, it’s just around this bend.”

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

 

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This image of an old schoolhouse was taken in rural Iowa, by American photographer David Sebben. See more of David’s work here.

Look at me. Standing here under the wintry sun having walked three miles up hill and now me sweating and panting like some herded animal. I should have met him at the house, lord knows he’s passed out drunk somewhere without the slightest recollection of our talk yesterday. He stank of booze then and he’ll stink of booze now. If he were an easier man to pin down I dare say I’d like the old fella. But as it stands I been here nearly a half hour and he’s nowhere to be seen and in my eyes that makes him a drunkard and a layabout and a waste of space and in particular my time. It is beautiful up here though.

Well strike me down lord look look here he comes now, the old man Liles walking on over here I see him. Could only be him. Jesus look at that greasy hair, all tied up under that ranger hat, as battered and worn as he is, the old goat, sweat drenched shirt with stains in the pits, if I wasn’t surrounded by cowpat I think I’d smell him from here, and he’s swaying, one side to the other, what a sight. He’s been drinking all day I guarantee it, and only as a means of continuing from the night previous, hell what a state of a man. Good-natured and mild-mannered by all reports, but I mean unclean, don’t give a damn about his appearance, not slightly, cares even less about what other folk think, but by accounts other than my own he’s just odd, a strange lonely man and being strange weren’t a crime last time I checked. People don’t like dealing with him but he’s done me no harm, folk like rumours and treat rumours as fact. Truth is I think folk are jealous of this lucked son of a bitch, he owns more land in this valley than there is land to own, and no family or woman or child to drain at his resource, all the more for him to spend on whisky and whores. Or whatever he spends it on. Maybe he’s not interested in what women can give him – like I said, I don’t know the man. Maybe he just likes being alone. He’s not a normal fella but he is rich, and I think he would rather have nothing and do without all the prospectors and farmers who pester him every day like flies round shit, but if you own as much land as old Liles does then there will always be folk looking to do business, land is the most valuable thing there is they say, and there’s some beautiful land round here and everyone wants a piece. He’s only selling what he has to, and even then it’s the land furthest from the house, so he don’t get disturbed. Neighbours are the last thing old Liles wants. Well I don’t plan to stay long. I just want my piece, I don’t need much but if I can get what I want I might be able to make a mark. Make something of this life anyway. Here’s the old goat now.

“Morning Liles.” Joe Abbott said as the old man approached.
Samuel Liles waved or swatted a fly. He was half drunk when he woke this morning but that was three hours ago and he’s had more whisky since.
“How’s the day treating you, kindly I hope?” Joe Abbott asked. The old man stopped near the fence a safe distance from the younger man enquiring on the land. Joe Abbott continued.”Was starting to think you weren’t coming.”
“Let’s make this quick.” The voice of Samuel Liles was quiet but it was not weak. As if were being suppressed beneath a pile of gravel and dirt.
“Sure Sam. If that’s what you’re wanting.”
Liles put a hand against the fence to steady himself and looked across the valley. “Everything you can see here is mine.”
“Yes.” Joe Abbott said.
“So point out what you’re wanting.”
Joe Abbott looked at the land for a while, then pointed. “From this stump here to the rise over there. Or whatever you judge to be two-fifty square feet. And don’t you try and stitch me. I’ll be getting it verified by those surveyors in town.”
“Do you want the barn?”
“No need for it. How much you thinking?”
“Fifty dollar. Sixty with the barn.”
“What’s in the barn?”
“Nothing worth having.”
“I’ll leave it then.”
They stood, having established the land and its boundaries, in the long grass and the afternoon was calm and the valley was silent.
“Now what?” Joe Abbott asked.
“The land is yours as soon as I get the fifty dollars. Put it in an envelope and leave it at the house. Leave the forms to me.”
“Don’t I need to sign anything?”
“I’ll send them into town. They’ll be at the post office by the end of the week.”
And with that old Samuel Liles swayed back in the direction of the house.
“Pleasure doing business with you Liles.” Joe Abbott called out to the old man, but the old man did not respond, so he turned back and studied the land he had purchased. He smiled and muttered under his breath. Old goat.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

Duration.

This image, taken in an abandoned VEB in Eastern Germany, was taken by Johannes Burkhart. You can see more of Johannes’ work on his Flickr photostream.

The blood trail led him to an opening in the trees and a building emerged from the forested landscape that took him somewhat by surprise. His eyes searching not for static mass but a limping creature with frenzied eyes and fur slick with sweat, instead found this concrete structure.  For some time he watched it then scanned the ground for blood before lowering his rifle to study the structure once more. An old factory or manufacturing plant he guessed. But no sign of blood or disturbances in the undergrowth and no sight of a dead or dying deer. Don’t crawl off and hide somewhere to die friend, he whispered, that way neither of us win. Advancing across fallen leaves he approached the entrance, observing faded graffiti amongst creeping ivy. A crash echoed from inside the building, distant but contained. You are not allowed in there friend, he said, and he crept up the steps and tiptoed through broken glass.

Into an atrium with a tall ceiling and tall windows caked in moss and birdshit. The last of the afternoon sun shone through over obsolete items of degrading furniture and peeling paint and a clock that had once hung now rendered inert. He stepped across patches of rotted carpet and spotted small droplets of blood. Empty beer bottles and used needles wrapped in dirty linen. So you are in here, he said. He saw burnt magazines and papers from another era and in articles and time-dulled images were unfulfilled promised that remained firmly in the past. Smiling faces and shiny automobiles and cheap weaponry. None of this means anything anymore, he thought.

He reacted to movement in his periphery. Against the illumination of a large window the erratic movements of two small silhouettes. Staying low he crept forward through chairs and tables to see two stunted children in tattered rags standing over the now deceased deer. He watched as without warning they fell upon the carcass, hunched over and tearing at it like savages and one, a male, was already skinning the still-wet fur off with a knife, basking in the warmth of the beast. The deer with limp head and loose tongue and glass eyes that only now could understand these ways and these rules lay on the cold concrete slab between them, fate accepted with a primal nobility. The hunter coughed and made his presence known. “That’s my deer.”
The two children jumped back and looked across with fear and dripping hands. A boy and a girl. “Who are you?” The girl asked.
“I’m the owner of the deer you just started to butcher.”
“This is your deer?”
“Yes. Of course it is. How many deers have just walked into the room you are in and died at your feet? Are you really that stupid?”
“But the deer wasn’t dead. We killed it. My brother grabbed it and snapped its neck.”
The hunter observed the boy. He stood tall but there was no power to him, no strength in his shoulders. But the children did look hungry and hunger was a powerful stimulant, the hunter thought.
“Even so – I wounded the deer. With this rifle. I shot it in the thigh, which has made walking incredibly difficult and tiring. I have been following it for hours. I know how tired it must be. It was exhausted and crawled inside this building to die.”
“And this is enough for you to lay claim on the deer?” the girl asked.
“Of course! I tracked the deer, I shot the deer, I chased the deer. Do you think the deer would have entered this place unless it knew it was to die soon? So you see, really, you did not do anything that was not already going to happen.”
The children were silent.
“Now get out of here,” he continued, “I will try to fix the mess you have made.”
Sullen and weak they walked out of the atrium and into the forest. He watched them go before turning his attention back to the deer.

Later the hunter made his way out of the building with the carcass over his shoulders and in the cool evening darkness was falling fast. Exhausted and in need of sleep but unconcerned by the events of the day. He travelled north east towards his parked truck just over three miles away. Halfway there he stumbled blindly and fell into a ditch. His rifle was lost to the night and face down in the damp soil he listened to the carcass as it slid down the bank. It came to a standstill in a slow moving stream far below, and howls rang out through the trees and through his flesh and through his bones. Tearing, snarling, ripping. Moonlight flickered in the eyes and bared teeth of wolves as they set upon the deer, now mutilated beyond any point of recognition, with a ferocity that shocked the hunter as he gasped and retreated back up the hill.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

where your words mean nothing

Photograph taken by Michael Marsh, a stunning image taken on a beach in Whitstable, Kent. See more of Michael’s work on his Flickr photostream.

The world is crowded and I despair the noise of modern life. Too often inner thoughts are lost; drowned in the superfluous swells of people, traffic and advertising. With these eras of anxiety and neuroses and the burdens of responsibility there is not enough time spent on the self. The inner mind, solitary and unique. So rare it is now that those who do indulge in the self are dismissed as dreamers, romantics, hopeless fantasists. Clinging onto unrealistic desires. Floating through life with naive optimism. Clairvoyant wanderers, twilight visionaries. I just want space.

These surroundings desolate and at times unforgiving. With its emptiness however is a landscape perfect for self reflection. Spiritual reckoning. I walk out for miles to reach the very point where the sea merges with the sky, a transfusion of brine and cirrus clouds, a totality reached between water and air and no way of separating the two. Horizon consumed by a blue surface reflecting the brilliant white light of the sun. Towering wind turbines stand defiant with mechanical motion and the incessant whir across the waters. Hear them roar. The faintest ebb and flow from the slight winds rolling off the ocean out there. Time may be paused or passing at a slower rate.

Standing on a street of shingle surrounded by the calm waters and I acknowledge the obscene vastness of the sky above. Tranquility found, peace at last. But for how long. Hold it close because when it’s gone, it’s gone. Why don’t I do this more often? I should call my mother. Get in contact with my friends across the sea. Stop drinking so much. Become comfortable in my own skin.

My phone rings. Irritable as if vibrating from under the skin. I am torn and withdrawn from the sanctuary of my mind. Helpless as one by one the turbines slow then groan, rust and die. Sheets of worn and weathered metal stripped by the wind and carried away. The propellers fall into the sea causing spray to erupt into the air, and while a majestic sight it is also sad. Not long after follow the towers, emasculated and inert, crumbling away. With nothing on the horizon to stabilize me I look down at my feet but they are submerged and the growing waves lap over them. I have lost the coast.

Eventually I leave the beach. It is dark. My feet are wet and I see lamps swing on some distant pier. The wind turbines continue to hum across the water into the night. I reach my car. A parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wiper. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.