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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!

Quick update: I haven’t given up, I’m just busy.

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Very busy. By the end of this month I will have submitted work to seven literary magazines, publications, short story competitions, etc, etc. Each with a different piece of work entered. And there’s more to come in October and the rest of 2016. Some stories have been kicking around for a while. Some already existing pieces have been rehashed and reworked into more coherent wholes. Others are completely brand new. Some of it I think is pretty good, some still needs more work, and some of it won’t go anywhere, but I have a bit more choice and perspective over what has worked and what hasn’t.

(I’ve had some good news already but I can’t say more that that right now)

It’s been intense (and a real strain at times) but I am slowly building a small body of work – whereas previously I just had a few nice prompts on a blog. I’ve loved working on the prompts and updating the blog in general; the occasional complimentary comment from readers and the photographers I’ve been inspired by are fucking great to see, and I really appreciate them. But at the same time, they won’t get me anywhere. Where am I trying to get to? I don’t know. But I do like writing stories and if I want to take things more seriously I need to push myself.

So I apologise for the lack of content, now and possibly in the next few months, to the few who do regularly visit my blog, and to myself, because I do enjoy writing here. But I’m doing it for the right reasons.

Also I’m 26 today (fuck!)

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Photograph taken by Flickr user ‘kiekmal’. Check out his Flickr photostream for some outstanding work in abandoned scenes, creating fascinating narratives despite the absence of life.

Of which direction the voices originated I could not say for sure but I thought it wise to keep my head down as I lay prone alongside a bank of earth. Face down and cheek pressed against sprouting moss and wild mushrooms. In a localised dialect they spoke low and urgent and I could not piece together their concerns. When the voices had passed I continued in the opposite direction, occasionally looking back over my shoulder while wading through the leaf-covered ground, stepping across fallen branches and in between stumps. There was no sound here but the crunching of my footsteps and the singing of distant birds. After some time I found myself walking on broken and cracked concrete, roots bulging beneath, an absurd feeling under my feet when all around me such an edenic environment – vines and ivy and dead or dying trees crawling over all – and yet here, something created by man. It became apparent I stood on what once had been a road, as when I glanced left to right I began to notice the faint outlines of doors and windows through the walls of green. I picked at random a door ajar and stepped through a curtain of matted vines into a hallway that was bare but for the staircase at the end. Musty scents overbearing in the confined darkness. Climbing carefully but the silence continued.

At the top of the stairs windows without glass were covered from the outside by vines and ivy and bathed what seemed to be an apartment in a sleepy green glow. If it was an apartment it was modest, with a few tables and several chairs scattered and abandoned. Dusty plates and empty brown bottles and on the cold concrete floor a large wall sign with peeling paint that spelt ‘RESTAURANT’. When I turned a tall thin man stood in the empty frame of a doorway. His hair was grey and his skin covered with dirt and dust. His shirt ripped and his trousers rags. But his eyes were bright and blue and looked alien on his weathered face; they made him look incredibly sad. As if his eyes took no willing part of this. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Excuse me please. I’m just passing through.”

“Through my home?”

“It doesn’t look much like a home.”

“It was a restaurant. We are closed for renovation. Sorry, you need to leave.”

I looked around. I doubted this man was the owner of the building, and much less once the proprietor of a small business. More likely he found shelter here, hidden in the forest and squatted in his filth and solitude. As I regarded this place and the man’s place within it he spoke again.

“I know what you are thinking. You do not believe that this place was once something else entirely, much like I was once someone different entirely. I understand why you would think that but that is the very nature of time. The beautiful thing about time is that it will continue to pass. But for now, it remains my enemy. For now I must remain closed. I cannot reopen. Who would use this restaurant? Nobody visits this part of the world anymore. The streets are covered by forests and cobwebs, long grass and dead leaves hide the concrete surface and the only clue that this was once a street are the stained and weathered signs, pointing to other, living, streets. This street is dead. They need something to come for. Would they come all the way into the forest for a restaurant? No. They might come if there were people here, living people, enjoying a fountain and rows of classical houses decorated with hanging baskets of floral beauty and elegant street lamps, and there were vendors and stalls selling fresh meats and ripe fruits and handmade trinkets, that can not be understood by foreign tourists but are revered all the same. If this street had all of that, something worth visiting, then I would open my restaurant. Then I would get customers and they would be in awe of the food and the drink and they would ask, how can you prepare such cuisine in this unforgiving climate?”

I wished the man all the best for the future and I left. Shielding my eyes from the blinding rays falling through the canopy of trees I stepped out into the street. I heard more voices, once again in a manner I could not understand. A couple were emerging from the forest and before they could see me I leapt into the long grass and continued in the opposite direction.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Frank Formsache

Image taken by Frank Formsache, who manages to capture breathtaking details in beautiful scenes. See more of Frank’s photography on his flickr photostream here.

I want to document certain changes I have witnessed on site recently, starting from the discovery of the pit, to geological anomalies and later strange behaviour I have noted from the men. This is not about me, and my perceived understanding of what may or may not have been unearthed in this quarry. I have a logical  and sound mind, a man of science and physics, and the last week has raised… No. Let me start again. This is bigger than me.

Something has changed here since we found the pit. It appeared in the quarry one morning when we woke to eat breakfast. The chewing mouths fell silent and cups of coffee spilt as we witnessed a hole in the centre of our dig site, astounding in its size and depth and inexplicable being. Gathering around its circumference we had two main questions. Who, and why? Workers, supervisors and watchmen were questioned for any insight or leads but the answers were the same: nobody saw or heard anything suspicious overnight. While inquests were carried out we used the reserve drilling equipment to carry out readings on the shifted sediment and groundsoil investigations at the bottom of the pit. The water table had sunk and there were large samples of black soil, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and manganese. We couldn’t fathom the presence of a soil typically found in the tropics. Our thoughts clouded with the false possibilities we raised. A tectonic shift or earthquake? No other sign of disruption in the surrounding hills and valleys, and no reports of any shaking from those awake. An asteroid strike? Again, no sightings of flashes or explosions, and the debris from any collision would not be neatly piled to one side of the crater. A sinkhole became the most likely scenario, and a large proportion of the men repeated surveys (having already been passed weeks prior) of the soil and its composition, for no building work could take place on unstable ground.

For the longest time I suspected a joke. It became obvious, however, that this could not have be done by our workforce. To dig a hole of this magnitude (no exact measurement was undertaken, but my trained eye would suggest a rough circle 200ft in diameter at its widest and 80ft down at its deepest; and although the pit sloped gradually to this depth, I was uneasy to walk too close to the edge) would have taken our thirty-five men days to complete. No, the notion that a rogue faction of pranksters from within our ranks was laughable.  The night following the discovery of the pit my assistant and I walked atop the excavated mound of sediment. It was all deposited on the west side of the pit, piled high and steep, and one of the officers warned against such a climb. But curiosity got the better of me, and after a gruelling ascent we reached the top. Despite the bizarre and frustrating circumstances (for this interruption I knew would delay the project, even threaten its abandonment entirely), we admired the view of the surrounding quarry. That is, until my assistant shouted as we watched one of the cranes at the edge of the pit begin to move. We could see there was no man in the cab; as crazy as it sounds it was moving of its own accord. There was no slope, and no visible force to push the crane in. In all honesty, it appeared to us it was being dragged. Helpless to act, we shouted out to get the attention of any nearby workers, but it was too late as the crane toppled over the edge into the pit below. The machine lay discarded and rigid, as if in a state of shock.

The head supervisor left without permission the next day, leaving me in charge of the men. My first objectives was to extract the fallen crane. They set to the task with discipline and efficiency, but when I attempted to stop them at five they insisted they wanted to continue into the night. I was impressed if a little confused at their dedication to the cause, and retired to my office. I was awoken at an early hour of the morning to the sound of several machines operating from what sounded like the pit. Anxious I left my bed and walked down to the hole. The men, dripping with sweat and moving in almost synthetic unison, were slaving away, entranced.

They did not listen to my commands and they would not stop working. I put up with this for another 24 hours, what else could I do? It seemed I was the only man in this quarry who still regarded sleep as essential. Even my assistant traded his administrative duties for labour, to join the men working down in the pit. They had changed. There was no lust for women or cars or money, just an insatiable need to dig. Soon my frustration got the better of me and only when I struck one man in the face did they stop their work and pay attention. So disturbed by a sense of malevolence I felt from each one of them, that I ran back to my office and barred the door firmly shut and fastened the shutters over the windows. That night a group of them tested the door handle and whispered unintelligible words through the broken glass. I kept my lamp burning throughout the night. I should give up on this pit. Some questions cannot be answered, and some answers cannot be understood.

They don’t sleep or eat anymore, I don’t think. The machines are running night and day and when they do stop, I hear earthly drums and distant wailing from down in the pit. I should probably try and force my way out of here, it’s been months and still no one has come for me. But despite the threat I like it out here. The air is heavy with salt as if we were stationed on a seaside coast. While I have not seen the men with my own eyes for a week they still leave meals and water outside the office. If they meant me harm, why would they bothered with this? The next time I sense one nearby I shall try to get its attention. Ask what they are doing down in that pit. Maybe I can help.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

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.

Posts have been running a little dry recently as I’ve been away; Sark Folk Festival last weekend, and the weekend prior to that, Glastonbury. My recovery has been slow and difficult, and while there was much fun to be had, I just don’t feel human anymore.

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Glastonbury 2016 was a lot tougher than previous years (I blame the mud)

But the reason for this post is not an opportunity to complain about the “Great British Summer”. A couple of months ago I entered a small writing contest, hosted by author Curtis Bausse, who challenged writers to submit a short piece based on the following passage from his book The Cats);

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.

More information on the contest can be found on Curtis’s site here. I chose a rather dark take on the passage, detailing a rainy night in a diner for the central character as he returns to the hometown that brought him so much pain, for the funeral of his estranged father. (Note, I haven’t actually read the book of which the extract is taken from.)

I did not win, but a group of us – around 20 – impressed Curtis, and guest judge Atthys Gage, enough to suggest bringing our selected stories together to create an anthology.

The title is to be decided (it will be cat themed due to the subject matter), and several rounds of proof-reading are currently underway, but I don’t think the finished anthology is too far off. There will be no profit gained for each participant (anything earned from the project will be going to charity), but that was never the point. It’s been flattering to be selected and involved, and so beneficial to be working and learning from like-minded people. It’s a small-scale project but I hope to learn a lot from the experience.

Once more is known, perhaps a release date and title, I will post another update, and of course will announce when it is done and available to purchase. Like I said, it’s not a huge deal but this will be the first time a piece of my work has been ‘published’ in anything other than this blog, so personally, I’m really excited going forwards.

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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

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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

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An edited version of a submission to the A3 Review last year. Image of kudzu by Katie Ashdown.

The kudzu blanketed the town overnight, covering all that had been.
They ran. Fled from their homes while vines and moss supplanted.
Using the tools of their predecessors doors were entered, walls painted, windows broken.
Within the deep thickets of lush vegetation life began again,
Audacity and elegance in organic symbiosis.

Hatch woven plains rising and falling over the ghostly foundations of man.
Trunks and roots a tangled epiphany of celebrated existence.
Blossom blooms vivid and rich, springs and dances
While fruit and seed drop like stones flung to the bed below
Where it is musty, dark, warm. Verdant in its very nature.

The ancient hum of earthly pastures, older than any known treasures.
More beautiful than anything known or to be known,
And no eyes would return to witness.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016