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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.

It’s here!

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The first ever issue of 404 Ink has been released, and my short story, reboot, is published within. I haven’t fully digested the magazine yet, but from what I have seen and read, there is some fantastic work (not just fiction, but essays, poems, even illustrations and comics). It’s also really well put together. Editing, layout, print is all great. It feels ‘proper’.

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I’d encourage you to purchase it – not only to check out my writing, but to support the guys at 404 Ink. They have a lot of talent and passion and it would be great to see them do well. You can buy a printed version, or as an e-book, here. Cheers!

About a year ago I heard about The A3 Review, a monthly contest where writers and illustrators are encouraged to submit work on a particular theme. This can be prose, poetry, graphics, photography, painting – as long as it fits the theme, can fit on an A6 panel and is limited to 150 words. The chosen pieces are then displayed in a neat, folded sheet of A3 that can be opened out. I’ve entered a couple times over the last year (haven’t been successful yet!) without ever actually checking out the Writing Maps, the central focus of the site. 

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Creator Shaun Levin is a writer himself and has taught workshops and classes on creative writing for over 20 years, and his writing maps aim to combat writer’s block. Within each folded map are several ideas for prompts, with hints and guidance on how to expand your writing.

Not only do the maps give informative tips, exercises and examples on several aspects of writing (for example, the map I bought focuses on tone of voice and point of view), it can provide a source of inspiration, a prompt for ideas upon which you can put any new learnings into action. If you’re looking for some extra help and inspiration that comes in a slightly different form – fun and visual and easy to digest – then take a look at the multitude of different maps available on the site.

Visit www.writingmaps.com for more details.

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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.

My short story ‘reboot’ is to be a part of the very first issue of new literary magazine, 404 Ink. The theme of the first issue is ERROR, and is available to preorder now for release in November 2017.

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There’s a link to the 404 Ink site, blog included, here, and they also have an active voice on twitter.

Naturally I’m over the moon. My work in print, amongst other experienced and talented writers, is a strange and giddy feeling. It would be incredible if 404 Ink can establish itself and have a successful launch. So if you’re interested, please do visit the site and pre-order the first issue!