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Photograph taken by Andy Schwetz. See more of Andy’s work on his website here.

The crowd grew restless. They had been waiting a long time for tonight’s performance. But the speaker was late. It was quarter past nine, with the speaker due to start at eight. It was a warm evening and in an attempt to keep the noises of the city out, all windows had been sealed, and the hall was already at full capacity, so the doors had been locked, and in these conditions the atmosphere was fevered and close and the audience began to foam at the mouth. Any spark threatened to ruin them all.

Half past nine: several people get to their feet, and are followed by the rest. They climb onto their chairs, they shout obscene chants. A member of the entourage emerged from behind the curtains. She reached for the microphone and began to apologise, but programmes and plastic cups and even chairs themselves were thrown onto the stage, and the entourage and venue staff soon retreated. In anger the audience swept into the aisles and stripped the wood panels from the floors, the padding from the seats, the paintings and the light fittings from walls. Like a rising tide they engulfed the stage and tore down the decorations and the displays. The curtains were set alight and burned down as ashes in a matter of minutes. Howls and roars erupted from the mouths of the protesters. A brick was hurled through a window. The doors were hacked open. In their frenzied hysteria they ran down the steps of the theatre into the streets, where onlookers stopped and watched in bemusement. Feeling somewhat sheepish the protesters fell silent. Their anger dissipated into the starless night sky and they walked away the streets. The damage was done and the accused speaker forgotten.

Several years later, the accused, a tall old man of lean build with dark glasses, tottered forward onto the stage, using a stick for guidance. Shattered glass cracked beneath his feet as he went. There was debris strewn over all. Animal droppings covered the aisles and splintered chairs. Graffiti decorated the walls and doors. He found a square tile of carpet and stopped, knowing he was stood in the centre of the stage, but as he reached out ahead of him, the microphone stand was not where he expected it to be. He got to his knees to feel for it, but all he could pick up was trash, and he dropped his stick to kneel on the ruined stage. The sound startled a bird in the mezzanine above, which cried and flew out one of the holes in the ceiling, and the old man looked up and smiled. He gave up looking for the microphone and sat himself down, cross-legged, on the tile of carpet, allowing his hands to rest gently on the glass shards and rotting flyers.

Clearing his throat, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for waiting. I want to apologies for the circumstances surrounding this evening, most notably my lateness, but also the troubles we’ve had with seating arrangements. I trust you are all now seated comfortably. Now,” the speaker paused, tilting his head as if straining to interpret something inexplicable in the air. He thought he heard footsteps, but it could have been the echoes of his own words. Or perhaps the bird had returned.

“We can begin.”

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

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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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The crew are excited. She’s in the building, she’s on her way up now. She’s somehow famous, although I’m not familiar with her work. The presenters meet her first, show her around the studio, take her to the sofas. On her way past our eyes meet. What must she think of me?

We begin. Welcome, it’s a pleasure to have you. Oh please, the pleasure’s all mine. For those of us who don’t know who you are, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself? Oh, she’s so humble. She talks with such grace. And look at them. Lapping it up. Am I the only one? The real world. Did I see her smoking outside earlier? No.

The questions are fluff, her answers trite. She shines under the studio lights and her smile is hungry and white.

We lose sound for a second. We’re out of sync. But the world kept spinning and now we’re trying to catch up. In my ear, the director screams. What the fuck happened? I fix it, I always do. But she knows. She’s smiling, and she flicks her hair, and that smile, the danger it holds, that hair, those eyes, that smile.

She looks for me. Blame the soundman. She doesn’t find me immediately but she knows she will, and she does. When our eyes meet again I shudder. She’s talking, she’s carrying on, but she’s staring at me.There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And one by one, heads turn, and now I’m stood in front of an audience, all eyes on me. But not the camera lens.

The questions are fluff, her answers trite. She shines under the studio lights and her smile is hungry and white.

Goodness, she’s perfect.

Last year Curtis Bausse hosted a writing competition, which I took part in. I did not win, but my short story was included in an anthology. My piece was called ‘Coffee, Whisky, Funeral‘, and it followed a man returning to his home town in order to bury his father.

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All submitted stories had to use the following quote (from Curtis’s novel One Green Bottle) as a prompt:

A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.

Curtis has been taking part in the A-Z challenge, in which he is attempting to blog every day throughout the month of April. Recently, he chose to focus on Coffee, Whisky, Funeral for one of his posts. You can visit the link on Curtis’s blog here.

The anthology is called Cat Tales and you can purchase it on Amazon here. The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria foundation.

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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.