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Prompts

Tanzania - Mt Meru - Spooky tree

Image taken by photographer Marco Homrighausen. You can see more of Marco’s photography on his Flickr page here.

In the spectral morning light silhouettes played against a canvas of grey sky. A foreign landscape of twisted trees and the heaving shapes of waking creatures emerged through the murk like ancient thespians performing under a council of cloud. The audience a thousand droplets of dew, sat on tired xerophytes and dusty shrubs, which would have glistened but the sun seemed a distant prospect up there, somewhere far beyond the veil.

With caution the ranger unzipped a section of the mosquito netting and one side of the tent flap and held the flap open. Peering out this small porthole into the fog. The air was cool and he enjoyed the breeze, a fresh relief from his stifling quarters. Through the night his sleep had been plagued with dreams and night sweats. He closed his eyes and listened to the rustling undergrowth and far away to the east wild dogs yelped. He eased himself up and stepped out the tent, scanning the ground and treading lightly so as not to disturb resting spiders or scorpions before choosing a spot on the damp ground on which to sit. With a gas stove he boiled coffee and ate a slow breakfast of dried biscuits and fruit.

To the west there was a ridge that slowly ascended to the top of the valley. It could not be seen in these conditions but the ranger knew it was sitting there idle. Time passed and while the light shifted the veil did not. He continued to stare at the void around him, a vast and consuming gloom and he saw the mist disintegrate from something whole to multiple somethings; individual shrouds that interlinked and became one, then decoupled and dispersed between each other again, then became one, then many, one, many. The mist was alive and the ranger was captivated. So vivid and wonderful were these visions that he had to check that it was ground coffee he was drinking, and not by accident ingested a cup of peyote.

From somewhere behind the tent the ranger heard footsteps and this sudden and unexpected approach panicked him to such an extent that he let out a cry and retreated back to the tent. Here he waited and waited, listening with shallow breath and shaking hands. A man of considerable knowledge and experience in the field reduced to a blinded child in a sandstorm. Because last month he had seen his dead wife drift past in similar conditions, and this is why the ranger found the mist so troubling. She would not turn around and face him but such was his fear of dread he was relieved she kept her eyes hidden. He scratched at an imagined rash on the back of his neck and exhaled in despair.

A rabid and inexplicable fear took hold of the ranger and he reached for the hunting pistol in his pack before he realised that it would be no use. There was nothing outside the tent that could hurt him. Where is my mind? He whispered and he found himself looking out into the mist once more. Like a veil the cloud descends and obscures not only the landscape but the mind, to transform both into uncertain plains. Can you spare me this fate? He softly spoke to the mist but there was no response. Sleep brought more dreams. He woke in relief, tangled in his sheets. Beside him his wife slept peacefully and he reached over to brush the hair off her face and lightly kiss her forehead. She stirred and smiled and opened one eye, and he kissed her with passion. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Once Upon A Time in Val D'Orcia...

Image taken by Italian landscape photographer Edoardo Angelucci. See more of Edoardo’s stunning work on his website, and also be sure to check out his flickr page.

Youth was a grand farmhouse on a hill, surrounded by fields of long grass and crops that spread for miles around in every direction, under the clearest blue skies and a strong sun that drove dozy cats into the shade and kept stone walls warm deep into the night. It was the air, pure, clear and yet thick with a fragrance that lingered on your person where ever you went. It was distant relatives, or were they friends of the family, who cooked for large crowds around the kitchen table, shouting and laughing and at peace with one another and with the land they shared.

A squat man stood labouring in the soil, his sweat dripping onto the very earth he was cultivating, and on approach he stopped and leant on his hoe, to listen closer.
Where can I find the podere capriccio?
He considered the question for a long time. A long time. Then he raised his right arm, a sun-burnt arm with thick black hairs, and listed it lazily from north to north-east.
Thankyou.
The squat man turned back to his work and did not look up again.

Memories had been formed around the farmhouse but of the surrounding area nothing was certain. These eyes have changed with responsibility and the irreversible damage of age. As vivid greens were now dull browns and once lush and fertile fields were barren and forgotten. Sand coloured dust tracks were gone and in their place printed tyre treads in the mud. Faraway pylons stood defiant and tremendous in scale, their lines powering the little specs of light in the valley. Would it still exist? The building, but more specifically the feelings it once evoked. If not for him then for some other family, a generation of descendents linked not by blood but by land.

On the horizon the distant shape of the farmhouse grew and it became clear the place had long been abandoned. Approaching slow in a void silent, interrupted now and again by the sound of the wind passing through broken windows and creaks from disjointed frames. Inside the layout was as it had been but the atmosphere was not. The air thick with dust, musty and warm. Brown wilted ivy and vines crawled over walls and overturned furniture, and paintings and picture frames lay where they had fallen. It was impossible to tell how many people, and who, had lived in this house after he. To recall its past appearance caused nausea and vertigo, and the walls seemed to pulsate gently. Memories that had never been defined by time felt old and devalued now. Nostalgia replaced by loneliness. Leaving the house and walking out into the dry fields under sporadic shadows of dead and dying trees, downed tools lay rusting in the soil.

There was still something beautiful to be gained in the isolation, something beautiful hidden in the desolate ruins, and slowly some of the colour began to seep back into the world, but still it felt hollow.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

miami

The backstreet behind our apartment in Miami, FL, taken in March earlier this year.

Earlier eyes stared out from barely-lit rooms, through blinds or from behind twitching curtains. Now a much later hour and a much darker night. Apologetic streetlights remain pulsating while the city breaths carcinogenic air down the cluttered way-bys. The alleyways separate the blocks like vital capillaries providing access for parking and garbage disposal and fire escapes. She walks past a group of homeless; all but two are passed out. The conscious talking in delirious and tragic tones, eyes small and black. A door is open and she walks up the stairs to his apartment, where a rat-like man escapes as she squeezes through and inside. It is dark and smells of sweat and bleach. He is on the sofa; there are others but he is speaking, no one else.

There are dead bodies decomposing in beds and bathtubs. Of course. The undersoil beneath the city is rotting and has been for a long time. We sit and wait while it slowly starts to taint the surface. You can smell it now, the dead waste that looks like broken dreams and concerns of crime and unemployment but the issues run deeper than that. All of that stuff is like overflowing trashcans. Unsightly yes but nothing to worry about. But those trashcans are being filled with trash from beneath the surface, and it’s growing quicker than this city can clear it.

It was clear he was high. His fevered speech quick, his movement erratic. Impossible to discern if he was preaching to her or delivering some unhinged soliloquy.

It’s not all bad. Don’t want to scare you, of course. But you need to know the depth of the situation. It runs far deeper than superficial problems on the TV, the radio, the papers, the internet! Oh, the internet. I won’t go into the internet, but you know all about that anyway. So yeah. It’s bad, but don’t lose hope. Don’t panic. It’s been building for a long time, all of this. You just got to think to yourself, for yourself. What am I doing today, and what will I do tomorrow. Remember what you said each day – does it correlate with what you said yesterday? If it doesn’t you should get flat out drunk. Flush the doubt out of your system and start again. You should also ask: why am I here? And also: do I feel safe? That one can be sort of objective, you know, do I feel safe in my job, do I feel safe on the streets, what is safety…how can you feel safety if you’ve never been safe? You know the sort of thing I’m getting at. Of course. Is it warm in here? Fuck it’s warm in here. And he stood up and strode over to the window, throwing it open then closing the curtains. Muting the weak glow from the street below.

When she left his apartment the next morning she heard the laughter of children from a school across the way. The streets were crowded and her straw-like hair covered her bruised face nicely. Opposite her bus stop was a convenience store where cars stopped to open their trunks to women carrying bags of groceries. She watched them come and go, fill up and move on. Her bus was late but it was a beautiful morning and she stood there, warmed in the sun and she didn’t mind the wait.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

 

chichen itza

A photo I took on a visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico, earlier this year.

Distant drums shake the ancient earth and a faint chorus of chanting grows stronger in the heat.  A pained father in a stained fabric loincloth watches on, his arms arranged in prayer to some deity in honour of which the ballgame below is being played. Several young men with plaited hair or shaved heads and decorative paint on their dark skins run on the dirt below, sweating bodies glistening. At this distance and under the haze of the midday sun they take on the forms of upright ocelots, chasing the sphere from one end of the court to the other. All the while they yell and screech, to themselves, to one another, to what lies above, but their shouts are swallowed by the noise of a thousand spectators who watch on with fevered intensity. Clapping and shouting and hooting their lips moist with spittle, the crowd like myxomatosed hares. Without any perceptible change in the atmosphere the game is over. Ceremonies start and finish. Sand and soil is stained with blood and down white limestone steps streams of sacrificed crimson escapes to become one with the soil. To feed the worms, the underworld below appeased. The sky is red and shadows grow stronger, emancipated from the trees and temples. The crowd disperses into the evening, drained from the passions of the day. The endless cycles of victories and defeats. Civilisations built and broken and rebuilt and reborn.

1,450 years pass and still the sun burns hot and people gather in the ball court. Less bloodshed, on these soils at least, but admiration and passion from travellers across the continent and beyond the seas. A culture lost but not forgotten. The architecture is outstanding and the acoustics are incredible. A handclap propels itself off the weathered surfaces. Noise refracting through these spaces as it always has done but unable to replicate past events. The visceral history and a wholeness that can only be imagined. Still images preserved on electronic devices, to be shared. Locals of mayan descent sell their goods; carved trinkets and wooden ornaments that imitate the catcalls of jaguars which scare the tourists.  

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

CNV00075

I took this using a disposable last summer at a folk festival in Sark, Channel Islands.

From the dirt track past fields of livestock they came in droves, wearing denim shorts and vintage shirts and straw hats. Some wearing less. Sore heads and bloodshot eyes in abundance, they shuffled their feet like condemned around a prison yard, but morale remained high on the approach. Over the hedgerows the white canvas tent tops stood tall. Weakened sunlight forced through cirrus clouds almost cosmic in their distance and it would be warm but for a gentle ocean breeze that brought the scent of brine and the calls of seagulls.

Across the fields the enchanting sounds of revelry and laughter. Jangling stringed instruments came muffled from within tents. Bunting and face painted children. Stalls with decorative shells and sheepswool jumpers and local jams and chutneys. Smoke from the hot plates of food vendors offering fresh fish and lobster, burgers and fries. Scents that stimulated goodwill. Mere distractions. Within a large tent the crowd sought an elongated bar staffed by thin black figures. Still pressed ciders and warm ales fizzed continuous from well worn brass pumps, the source of a benign frenzy whereby punters battled for the attention of the bar staff for a drink. Two or three, to lift spirits. Vitality restored, and stepping away from the bar revealed the view of a hundred heads, nodding in approval of the folk music for which they all were here and which after several days all sounded the same. A merged soundscape of local groups and acts from the mainland and beyond took to the stage with determined enthusiasm. Faces strained but smiling. 

The afternoon sped by, in and out of a tent now rife with the sweet smell of perspiration. The crowd smoking cigarettes and splashing beer from plastic cups onto the once green soil. Rhythmic dancing inconsistent with everything. Applause and whistles. Screams and shouts. Broken vocals fragmented down a microphone. The evening brought a blood red sunset and later a light but continuous rain that drove the saints away.

Joyous confusion when another band took to the stage after the last scheduled performance, but concerns were voiced when these latecomers were themselves usurped at an even later hour by another band looking tired and drunk. Now past midnight and still the crowd swelled, not yet ready to concede the evening over, not while music remained to carry them into the morning hours. The bar staff however were unwilling to carry on their shifts, nor the security staff, and rightly so, for this had not been agreed in their contracts and they were tired. And so from within the crowd bottles of foul smelling spirits began to appear and smokers crept in from the night into the warmth of the crowd with their lit cigarettes like amber warning lights in thick fog. Some climbed over the unattended bar to serve others and themselves. The temptation of dancing on the stage, with another apparition of a band taking over almost seamlessly from the last, proved too much to resist and they joined now, barely visible up on stage in the dim lamplight except when a stray strobe caught the face of a drunken reveller, fevered with eyes closed as if experiencing celestial interference from above. Old men partially concealed by smoke, swaying and leering like wraiths. The muddy path to the portacabin toilets was shameful, with lights, swarmed by insects, illuminating the vague and inebriated forms of the damned.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

Underwater Chair

An underwater chair in a lake in Hilterfingen, Switzerland. Photograph by Samuel Hess. See more of Samuel’s work on his Flickr profile here.

See the chair in the lake. A foreign instrument unheralded and strange but after time was, like all things, accepted and became part of the sediment underneath the turquoise luminescence. A chalk coloured bed mixed with loose and heavy fragments of bedrock and the chair now belongs to the lake as much as the crumbled deposits and the bones of fish and hardened compressed foliage. Hidden memento of some angler past.

On the shore and present fishermen. Motionless and stark against the skyline. Behind them trees and colonial houses. Behind them tower mountains. Above and below birds of prey, freshwater stalkers, migratory geese continue their hollow cycles. Moss covered rocks gently warm to the touch in the white spring sunlight, bright and brilliant and yet the day was cold. In strange ways such as these nature can contrast, conflict.

Back to the fishermen. Some are old, some young; but all alone. Working in isolation, a solitary day shift. Where are the fish, they each think. They would ask one another, share their concerns but these men have strange traditions. They fear embarrassment and value pride, and as such these men do not ask for help. But regardless they continue to think, where are the fish? A lake such as this produces many fish. Sheepish looks follow anxious remarks lead to wild thoughts of sentient creatures that communicate and hide, driven away from here, from hooks and callous looks, to cooler and earthly depths of which we can never truly reach. Not truly.

Night approaches when the failed fishermen trudge back to the village in silence, darkened light then shadows consume the lake, and they all see the chair. The absurd placement of a once tangible object in this incomprehensible place initially humours them. Cast off and forgotten and considered less than worth. Later a starless night falls and subconscious minds wander to the contents of the lake. With its splintered, washed-away appearance the chair could not be placed anywhere else. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

daisy mill blog

Abandoned buildings are fascinating. This photograph is by Flickr user Camera_Shy. See more stunning work in a variety of amazing, creepy, beautiful places at Mark’s website.

The glow of the beacon bathed his gaunt face in unnatural light. Exposing grey hairs and deep creases on his dirt crusted skin. At night the sky was a void, some black vortex which consumed sight and sound and stars and if the streetlights still illuminated streets at night like in his memories then they too would be consumed. But tonight was unlike other nights. A distant beacon, rebellious and pink pulsated in an act of defiance against the night’s sky. Illuminating Daisy’s tower. It looks beautiful. I’m coming Daisy, he whispered.

She was an idea of desperation that grew from seeds of loneliness. Immeasurable time spent on his own in darkness, what that can do to the senses and to a state of mind. There were times he questioned his existence, and if he were anything more than a shadow, or shallow breath on the wind. Yet shadows do not fear and shadows do not flee. The tower had been empty when he was a scavenger but that was several months ago and in the time that had passed Daisy blossomed despite the lack of light. Lack of light and of any other soul, sentient or otherwise, to hear him talk or curse like some lost and forgotten martyr. Daisy kept him here and when the beacon lit up the sky he cried. Tears reflecting the kaleidoscopic bliss. I am coming. A scavenger then but an explorer now, of dead and dying streets with a rucksack and a rifle.

Perhaps I can only see the light, was the answer to his own question, which had been: why has the beacon attracted no one else? Because this place is burnt and all the neighbours are dead, was another thought that crossed his mind. A preferable thought, but then why would Daisy return? He stopped himself: you don’t know if she is called Daisy, you don’t know if this person wants help. The light crunch of broken glass and dull echoes of his footsteps and the scent of must and rot. I must take care. 

Rusting supports and damp greased columns struggled for relevance in a redundant warehouse. Crystalline shards that could have been something beautiful once lay scattered on scorched granite beside a puddle of rainwater and motor oil. It was a dirty and degenerative place and the explorer knew this was the narrative for miles around. But morning arrives, and I am close, he thought, I am close. But this light is a curse, because I can see and I can be seen. Through the collapsed roof he saw the tower close all clad in brick and the letters seemed to speak to him and in the cold morning light he was scared. He could hear wild mongrels barking and fighting from below. Possibly a forgotten underground parking garage. He gripped the rifle. I must take care. I can protect her. Her name might not be Daisy but that’s what I will call her for now, until I know her real name, and even then I can still call her Daisy in my head. 

He still had the capacity to catch himself at the end of an internal conversation and with the stage set, props dead and rotting materials, he stopped now to think. What if she’s not alone? What if she doesn’t need help. He remained standing there for a minute. It was light now and he could hear birds. I had not thought of that, he said to himself quietly. I had not thought of it that way.

Bitch, he whispered bitterly. Bitch. He turned to go back (to what?) then wrestled himself back around. The tower was in front of him, above him, taller than he could have imagined. His ears were ringing and he prayed for silence but the dull barking grew nearer, less monosyllabic; inane dialogue of subconscious entities that were watching constant and clever. Fear took hold and with the rifle he crashed through a doorway and ran breathless up the tower staircase and at the top into an office with windows on every wall. The light here was unbearable and there was nowhere to hide, but why was he scared? There was no one in the room, no one but tables, chairs, cans and bottles, a stove still warm. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

josh_marcotte

Josh Marcotte is a photographer from San Jose, California. I was fascinated by some of his recent work dealing with themes of abandonment and urban decay, but Josh has a plethora of other great galleries over on his site, www.lostsanjose.com, which is highly worth a visit.

The squatter woke and lay still on the sofa, his chest rising and falling under a stained sheet. Some noise from outside had interrupted his sleep but as he lay there he heard nothing else to worry him. Still he could not fall back to sleep so he got up and went to the window to look outside.

With caution he pulled the curtain, heavy with damp, back an inch and ever so slightly the room brightened, but it was still dark and it was still gloomy. It was mid-morning. The neighbourhood was in disarray. The world outside was loud and unpredictable. Cars with growling engines queued up outside as people walked past. The window from which he watched the street was almost entirely covered by thick bracken from the front garden that had gone untended for months, and yet he was knelt under the windowsill, peeking out like a hunted animal. No one had seen him enter, and no one would see him leave.

Later he sat in the hallway reading old newspapers and flyers for local eateries and manifestos of the district politicians that had piled up on the mat beneath the letterbox, while happily eating cold beans out of a tin with a fork found in the kitchen. When he was done he entered the adjoining room across from the living room where he had slept. It was stripped bare but from observing scrapes and indentations on the wooden floor he judged it had been a dining room. The front facing window was more exposed in here so he crawled, creeping at a low elevation. Slowly he raised his head and took an alternative view of the street. Now it was quieter. It was after midday but the sun was hidden behind cloud and he reckoned it would rain soon. Cars passed infrequent and at slow speeds. He watched the street and he watched the rusted Chevy Impala in the driveway.

In the driveway the Impala sat. It had seen better days but a stylish ride once, for sure. From the 60s or the 70s at a guess. He wasn’t a car enthusiast by any means – he did not have the practicality to keep a car well maintained. Naturally he’d owned a few vehicles in his time but they were exactly that, a vehicle, to him merely a method of transport, nothing fancy or fast and not something to affect him deeply, as others sometimes form a bond, an inexplicable source of gratification whilst driving, the vehicle a vessel for the spirit. But this Impala, it caught his eye when he passed through the cul-de-sac, not only due to its state of disrepair (and thus stirring the squatter’s interest in the potential availability of the house), but because his older brother had driven an Impala for a few years, and it reminded him of his brother, and of home, and he could almost smell the wax that his brother would apply generously, every weekend, and as it sat there in the sun, the Impala would smell glorious.

The Impala was less than a foot above the driveway, its flat tires long deflated. Tall strands of unkept grass were springing up over the bricks in front of the house but underneath the Impala were weeds, yellowed and browned. The Impala had not moved in a long time. There was some conflict over the nature of abandonment of the property, for beside the Impala was a beautiful hedgerow of blooming flowers. It had more colour than the rest of the street entirely. This had worried him, but he monitored the house, and he was careful, and he reasoned that rainfall had been high and the seeds had been sewn a long time ago.

Sitting on the other side of the window pane the squatter considered the strangeness of the contrast between the blooming plants and the rusting Impala. How strange it is, he thought, how some objects in this world react differently, when left to their own devices. Some things flourish where others will struggle. Some things survive, others wither and die. Some bloom, others rust. He considered the house he was in. Was it blooming, or was it rusting. With the squatter inside it was a home. It was providing him some warmth, some shelter, some protection. Without the squatter what would it be? A shell, cold, dark and empty.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

 

crete fraser douglas

Photography by Fraser Douglas, a freelance photographer from Scotland. A beach on the island of Crete, and there are many more stunning images of beautiful landscapes at fraserdouglas.com

The morning was warm and close when they woke but the sky remained covered by thick cloud that cast unenviable gloom, a dull light, over the land. The prevailing wind was weak and thus today there was no cooling respite from the heat, and the wonderful scent they had become accustomed that would roll in from the Mediterranean, was absent. Visibility was, more or less, unaffected; the horizon was as always obscured by a haze caused by heat or strangled intentions.

And the group found themselves subdued in a strange way, all four of them under a spell of lethargy and not entirely without fear, hungover in their hotel room. After some time they shrugged it off, laughing: it’s lack of sleep! These late nights, our dark conversations and debates, accompanied by cigars and the local liquor, researching forgotten civilisations and irrelevant gods and mythology where there were no treasures left to be found. Not here, in the hills or mountains, the gorges and ravines, not here or anywhere. Let’s rest today. We have a few days left. This day felt strange, they all agreed but she, the sole female of the group, with a sense of obligation to achieve something during the trip, left the room as the others slept. Stepping carefully between beer bottles and filled ashtrays she slipped out the room and looked back through the gloom at the rest of them, sleeping on their backs with their faces to the ceiling. The darkened room was like a crypt, and she remembered to put the sign on the door warning ‘do not disturb’.

The lobby was filled with people milling around, indecisive and unsettled, as if waiting for the clouds to dissipate. Before leaving the resort she asked the concierge to recommend a quiet location on the coast. He told her there were many places on the coast that would be quiet, but he questioned her desire to leave the resort. The weather, according to the concierge, did not bode well. ‘Today is not so good’ he admitted with a tired smile, ‘but tomorrow – tomorrow is better.’

She ignored the concierge and walked out of the resort towards the coast. On her way down to the beach she noted there was little traffic. Few pedestrians walking the roads. One elderly man in a stained white shirt was leading a horse ahead of her, but she soon caught up as they walked slowly. It became clear that the horse had a limp, and as she passed the nomadic pair, the horse’s ears twitched and she saw the creature was missing its right eye. The horse nickered as she accelerated away and when she reached the beach she looked back for the man and the maimed horse but they were nowhere to be seen.

On the beach she observed forgotten towels covering sun beds. A collection of withered umbrellas, opened and closed, stood idle like cocktail decorations. She took off her shoes but the sand was coarse, rough on the soles of her feet, and she moved slowly, approaching the water but unprepared to go in. Across the water there was distant land. She knew it was all connected but it looked like a different place entirely. Was it better across there, across the water? Was it easier. A sharp crack echoed across the beach. It came from the road, but there was no sign of movement, no sign of disturbance, and yet the sound reverberated across the beach and back again. A ripple of anxiety and self-doubt. The beach felt unsafe and she wanted to go back, but she stayed where she was, amongst the obsolete sun beds, looking across the water.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

 

24459306840_89c43ce54a_o (1)

Photography provided by Flickr user ~Craig~. See more of his work here

I am tired. Every morning this week has been early, every night late. Yet here I am again, looking miserably between a pile of sub-standard work and an endless to-do list. The light outside my window begins to fade and I note the time, eight o’clock in the evening. That gives me a fifteen hour window, I think to myself. A portfolio of my work, a collection and evidence of the hard graft of the three months prior, is required to be completed and submitted at eleven hundred hours the following morning.

At first glance you might have observed a young man with calm demeanour, sat at a desk, cradling a cup of coffee. Working with diligence in a measured and methodical manner, the approaching deadline nothing but an unavoidable formality. Sadly this was not the case. I don’t know if that speaks more about your ability to read a situation, or said man’s ability to hide his emotions.. Either way, a facade.

Listen, the night went like this: I stared at the screen of the laptop, repeated the clicking, dragging, typing, printing. Mindless repetition. On occasion looking to my side and crossing a task out with a slash of blue biro, momentarily satisfied, only to add to the list minutes later. I’d swing my wide casement window open, pushing back the net curtains to let the night in. The air woke me, the cigarette brought clarity and focus. Blowing smoke out into the night. The housemates would smell the smoke had they been awake, but they were not awake, and I was, so I smoked, and I worked, and I smoked, and I worked. Music played on shuffle through the tin of laptop speakers and it sounded forgotten, nothing genres thrown together. The soundtrack of stress. And time, time passed inconsistent. Glances at the watch bringing increasingly disturbing updates accompanied by a quickened heartbeat, or palpitations. The laptop became my world, a screen with four corners and within flashed lines and numbers, shades of atmosphere and occupation. Specks of nothing that distorted and manipulated the focus of my gaze. I became blind, finally, and decided a trip to the off-license was needed.

Just a two minute walk down the hill. I was saddened but unsurprised that it was two in the morning. The street was quiet, the neon sign beckoned, reflecting luminous green off wet grass and puddles in the pavement. BR40. Ambiguous shop name. Hasan greets me. The kindness is appreciated. Maybe he sees the anxiety, the stress in me. Or maybe he is always like this? An automaton leering with fixed grin at whoever stumbles off the cold streets this time of night looking for alcohol or tobacco or a microwaveable snack to continue the party or complete the night. Energy drinks and chocolate and a pack of marlboro lights please, Hasan.

I wandered back to my front door, staring up in a trance at the bright and beautiful stars. Peaceful, nearly. Stumbling into my bedroom I cannot see my desk. I cannot see the four walls. As if the freshness of the night was a drug and had tuned my senses onto some other frequency far from here, for instead of my room I saw a shed in the snow, barely visible under the gloom of an industrial wall light, sat adjacent to a larger and more ominous building that hummed in the silence of the forest. All around stalks of grass and other plants reached through the thin white covering and in the surrounding darkness there was something else, and although I could sense it I could not see it, hidden by the inescapable blanket of night.

I flick the ceiling light on, the room returns, as does sight of that desk, that pile of notes and cardboard, that laptop still buzzing furiously, those papers and drawings strewn over the walls and floors and even covering my bed now, confirming that there was still work to do and therefore there would be no sleep.

Later I fell asleep at the desk, sat up, pen in hand. Not for long, but enough to feel guilty for it. Work continues to be churned out but the process is slow and it is painful. Later I showered, I put on fresh clothes. In an attempt to mask my tiredness – but it was there on my face, for all to see. Much later I had more coffee, a slice of toast. What I needed more than anything was sleep, that or assurance, and comfort.

Now – finally – I wonder through the halls of the studio, portfolio in hand. Heavier than you would believe. I wait for my printing to be completed. The anxiety, the panic, the nausea gone. Replaced with a numbness and a heavy sense of dejection. Small talk is difficult, more so than usual. I make the easy decision to leave now. Undeniably lighter I walk out and observe the day in a new light. A bus unloads dozens of students who walk up the university steps to a new day. A new day. The bus roars off and I follow, dizzy in wake of its fumes, sloping back up the hill and longing for my bed. To sleep, to rest, to forget.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016