If Trouble Was Money

Numb – Gary Clark Jr.

Life was good for Daniel.

He was in the zone.

The beat was hitting just right, there was just the right amount of alcohol in his system to enjoy himself, without losing control and the girl in front of him was smoking hot.

One of his boys, a charming Scouser with a cockney accent came up to him and passed him another beer, as they continued to dance.

Daniel grinned at his friend and as the chorus swelled up, they both yelled in unison.

Beautiful, Beautiful Is Boring!
Beautiful, Beautiful Is Boring!
Beautiful, Beautiful Is Boring!
Beautiful, Beautiful Is Boring
!

Then the band, a dark edgy pair of female punk rockers, known as BONES UK, shredded their guitars and both men banged their heads away, lost in the musical moment.

Just as the music peaked, Daniel’s phone rang and he could feel it vibrate away inside his coat.

Frowning, he pulled it out and stared at the screen.

“Ahhhhh bollocks!!” cursed Daniel as he realised who it was and in an instant was sobered up.

“Harry, mate! I got to go bruv. I’m sorry man. It’s Abby.” apologised Daniel, as he pulled Harry close.

“What?! Did you say Abby? Ah sorry bruv. Yeah I get it. Go!” yelled Harry over the din of the concert.

Daniel gave his mate a hug. “I’ll catch you soon yeah? Fill you in on the tea soon bruv.”

“No worries man. You mind if I chirps your peng ting though?”

Daniel laughed and cuffed Harry around the head. “Tosser! Yeah go for it, ya numpty.”

Harry grinned at Daniel’s consent and immediately forgot his best mate, as he focused his attention on the girl who Daniel was hitting on for the entirety of the concert.

As Daniel started to make his way through a raucous crowd, he looked down at his hand and realised that Harry had stolen the beer from his hand and was now offering to the attractive blonde.

Laughing to himself, Daniel grabbed his coat from the check out chick at the front desk and made his way back out into London.

At a tall, lean, 185 centimetres tall, with dark ebony skin and a magnetic smile, Daniel Abara’s model looks were only accentuated by his grey tweed coat and tortoiseshell glasses that made him look younger. He was the iconic British upper class schoolboy. Confident, polite, always up for a good time and impeccably dressed for any shenanigans, illegal or otherwise.

Women and men would stare at him, as he walked down the street, entranced by his natural cocky swagger. Daniel Abara was truly on top of the world.

Except for this one girl.

Hunching himself into his coat to protect himself from the iconic English weather, Daniel pulled out his phone and rang back Abby.

“Abby? Hi! Where are you?” asked Daniel urgently.

“Oh Danny, I’m a mess right now. Please help me. I’m at St. James Square. Please hurry.”

Looking down at his dress shoes, Daniel swore inwardly and began to break into a jog. Replying back to Abby calmly over the phone, Daniel said “OK Abby. Hang on. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

From the Wigmore Hall to St. James Square, was a solid mile, in the direction of the Thames. As his feet pounded the pavement, Daniel wondered to himself, how many times it was now, that Abby would call him up in the middle of a night and ask for help.

Probably a solid dozen by now thought Daniel as he ran down New Bond St, ignoring the horns that blared at him angrily from behind.

Why I keep helping this chick is beyond me. Before he could query his own statement further, he saw the picturesque garden of St. James Square.

Running through the gate, Daniel scanned the small garden anxiously, before his brown eyes settled on a lonely girl, her long legs up to her chin, her pale arms around herself, as she rocked silently on the bench.

“Abby…” whispered Daniel as he moved towards her. This situation looked different to the previous rescues. There was something haunted in the way how one of his oldest friends moved.

Keeping his hands in front of him, Daniel moved slowly towards Abby, concern suffusing his handsome dark features.

Up close, Abigail Robinson was your definition of a stunning attractive British blonde. Svelte, elegant, refined and almost too good looking. No matter the angle, Abigail presented flawlessness and seduction. Full lips, a straight nose, large blue eyes and a strong, sharp pair of eyebrows. A slender body that had enough curves to draw attention, without sacrificing fashion appeal.

When she smiled, dimples graced her cheeks that would stop traffic. But it was when she was crying, Abby’s true magnetism shone through. Her big blue eyes would hold your attention and melt everything away, until only her problems existed in the world.

It was her melancholy that made her an overnight sensation.

Abigail was one of England’s most in-demand It girls, gracing both magazine covers and nightclubs with equal abandon. Her star was rising and it seemed to Daniel, that his friend of 10 years was soon going to outgrow him.

To see her here, all alone, without an entourage to look after her was something extremely bizarre. Especially with the way how Abigail was dressed, a golden low-cut shimmering dress that shone under the amber lights of London.

Daniel walked up to her, unsure if it was really his friend.

“Abby?” asked Daniel in a half whisper.

The girl looked up, tears running down her cheeks, and sobbed in relief.

“Danny! Oh, thank God you’ve come.”

Daniel instinctively took off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders. Sitting down next to her, he placed his hand across her shoulders and brought her in close.

“Abby, what the hell is going on? What are you doing out here alone?”

Abigail looked at his gentle expression and unable to control herself, burst into tears. Daniel recoiled slightly in shock, before bringing her in even closer, her arms wrapping themselves around his torso.

“It’s alright Abby. It’s OK. I’m here.” whispered Daniel soothingly. He rubbed her back tenderly, confused and concerned as one of his oldest friends continued to cry into his chest.

“What happened Abby?” asked Daniel in between her sobs. But she remained mute. Sighing, Daniel looked around at the desolate park and winced. Pulling out his phone, he called for an Uber before nodding seriously to himself, considering his options as he noted the 4 minute wait.

OK, first thing first. Just like any Abby rescue mission. Let’s look for her kit. thought Daniel, as he looked around for any of Abby’s possessions, as she clung to him desperately.

“Take it easy, darling. Did you bring anything else out here, other than your phone?”

Abby merely shook her head in his chest. “OK. I just called an Uber. We’re going to your place OK?”

Abby violently shook her head.

“OK, OK. We’ll go to mine then.”

Abby nodded silently.

“Christ Abby …you’ve really outdone yourself this time.” as Daniel settled back and continued to rub her back comfortingly.

The shudders started again. Daniel sighed again, in as many minutes.

They stayed together for a few minutes, with only the sounds of the city and her sobs to accompany their lonely comfort. Just as Abby began to relax in his chest, the lights of Daniel’s Uber flashed through the trees of St. James Park. Daniel shook Abby gently, however she refused to move.

Wrapping his arms under her legs, Daniel effortlessly lifted one of Britain’s top models and carried her to the car, where the considerate Uber driver recognised the situation immediately and hopped out to get the back door. Daniel nodded his thanks and placed her down gently in the backseat, before doing up her seatbelt and climbing in himself.

“Sorry bruv, but slight change. Instead of Camden, can we go here instead?” Daniel punched in the new coordinates for his apartment in Greenwich to the app.

“Yeah, all good, guv. She alright?” asked the driver, concerned.

“Yeah, she’ll be OK.” said Daniel curtly, shutting down the conversation.

The ride to his apartment took less time than he anticipated and Daniel left a 5 pound tip for the driver, when he opened the door again, as Daniel carried the wreck of an Abigail Robinson into his apartment complex, where he flashed the security guard with his ID dangling from his mouth.

By now, Abby was almost asleep, her consciousness fading in and out of her emotional state.

The guard raised an eyebrow but buzzed him through, calling the elevator to the 7th floor. Daniel nodded politely in gratitude. The whole night was only going smoothly due to the kindness of strangers.

As Daniel stumbled out of the elevator, his arms burning, he set her down on the floor before swiping open his apartment and holding the door open with a foot, whilst he bought her in, before placing her on his bed.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Daniel wrapped his blanket over Abigail, before heading into the bathroom to change.

As he shoved his dirty clothes in the laundry, Daniel caught a glimpse of himself in his hallway full length mirror. The tired, stressed Daniel that looked back, was a far cry from the easy going version only an hour earlier, and a lot less impeccably dressed, with tracksuit pants and a worn dark grey shirt with the words of his favourite band, MUSE written across it in block letters.

Shaking his head, Daniel walked into his kitchen and put the kettle on, pleased that at least his apartment was clean. It was large, even by London standards, spacious enough to fit a small home gym, and a walk-in wardrobe. A spare bedroom operated as his study, which was filled with custom military jet models that he had painted and collected over the years.

Glancing at the antique clock that hung on the wall, he sighed at the sight of the hands reaching out to 1am and walked back into his room, to check that Abby was fast asleep.

Grabbing a spare blanket and pillow, and smiling forlornly at his friend, Daniel walked out into his kitchen, switched off the kettle just before it was about to whistle and made a comfortable makeshift bed on his couch.

Flicking on the TV, Daniel settled himself in with a cup of hot chocolate, some digestives and surfed the channels, until he came across a relaxing music channel that only played progressive rock.

In what seemed like only moments later, Daniel woke up, bleary eyed, to feel a weight on his shoulder. Abby had woken up, changed and was now only wearing one of his large T-shirts, another one from his rock collection, a white print of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. Her bare legs were stretched out next to his, her blue eyes were closed, as her long blonde hair flowed down his chest.

How many times has this happened and I’ve done nothing about it. wondered Daniel. Sitting up, Daniel heard Abby sleepily moan, as his comforting warmth faded away from her and she also began to wake up.

As Abby stretched, Daniel looked up at his clock again and winced. 3am in the morning. Still, no time like the present to have a deep and meaningful conversation.

Shrugging internally to himself, he put on the kettle again and waited in the kitchen, whilst Abby covered herself with a blanket to keep the chill away.

Pouring out hot chocolates again, Daniel handed one to Abby, who nodded her thanks gratefully.

Sitting at the end of the couch, their legs touching mid way across the leather, Daniel raised a suggestive eyebrow over the lip of his coffee mug.

Abby licked her lips nervously and sighed heavily.

“I fucked up big time Danny and I’m paying the price for it.”

Daniel looked at her concerned. “How did you fuck up Abby? What happened tonight? Where was everyone? I mean, where’s Topher, your manager? He’s always by your side.”

“That’s the thing Danny, Topher is the problem. He … He …” Abby’s tears began to flow as she struggled to get the words out. “He …” Abby began to gag as the memories came flooding back.

Sensing the coming eruption, Daniel reacted quickly, slid his hot chocolate onto the coffee table, grabbed the nearest waste bin with liner and placed it under her mouth, whilst holding her mug with his free hand.

Abby vomited. Desperate, emotional and traumatic dry heaving. Her whole body was convulsing with shame, fear and disgust.

Daniel knew deep down what had happened, but he was too shocked to truly grasp what had happened to his beautiful friend.

Handing her a tissue to wipe her mouth, Daniel got up and grabbed an diffuser, to waft away the smell of bile.

This time though, Daniel sat down next to her and put his arms around her. Her body was still shaking, but it calmed down slightly when he softly stroked her head.

“He raped you didn’t he …” said Daniel with a terrible finality.

Abby nodded. She didn’t have the strength to say it. To say it aloud, would be to acknowledge that everything inside she was feeling was true.

“Oh Abby … I’m so sorry.” whispered Daniel. There was nothing more he could say. He didn’t know what the hell to do.

Normally, when Abby was in trouble, it was literally as simple as picking her up, taking her home, tucking her into bed and sticking around, until they both woke up in the morning and she would rant about her wild night over mugs of hot chocolate and left over sourdough.

Daniel knew then, that there wasn’t going to be any sleep. So he stayed beside the broken British model, softly stroking her hair, and her shoulder, silently trying to inject some strength back into her, as his long time friend clung onto him, despairing and trying to forget, but unable to remove the pain she felt in her heart and in her stomach.

It was around 7am, when Abby finally found the strength to be more herself. She took a ragged breath and tried again. Daniel squeezed her shoulders encouragingly.

“That’s it Abby. There’s only one way through this, girl.” Daniel paused and lifted her chin, so that she could look at his earnest brown eyes. “Tell me what happened and we’ll sort it out together, I promise.”

“I feel so disgusting Danny.” said Abby sadly. “I can still feel him inside of me and I can’t get rid of him. I hate myself so much right now.”

Tears streaked down her cheeks, but this time the convulsions weren’t as strong. She was slowly coming to terms with her trauma.

“I went out alone tonight. It was just Topher and me, going out to Luv, the nightclub. After the week I had, fucking 3 shoots in a row, I just wanted to let loose tonight.”

“I wasn’t thinking straight Danny. I really wasn’t. By the time I got changed, I was already a bit tired. I actually thought about cancelling and staying at home, but Topher insisted … he told me that this was the perfect way to relax.”

“God, I’m so stupid. My whole life, I’ve always let other people tell me what is good for me. Like they know me better than I do. I wasn’t feeling it at all last night. I thought Topher understood that, so about an hour in, I asked him to get me a glass of water.”

“I honestly don’t know what happened after that. I think he roofied me … because the next thing I remember, I’m inside a cab and he’s touching me everywhere and I can’t control my body.”

Abby dry-heaved again as her body relived the sensations. Daniel hugged her tighter, horrified.

Wiping her mouth with a wet tissue, Abby took a ragged breath.

“Next thing I know, I’m in my apartment and he’s lifting my dress and he … he fucking RAPED me Danny.”

Painful sobs wracked Abby’s slim frame and she began to bawl her eyes out in earnest at her confession.

“Oh God … Oh my fucking God … I …think I …”

“No, No, No.” whispered Daniel. “Let’s not go there. I’ve heard enough. It’s OK. We’ll get through this, I promise.”

Abby nodded slowly. “Thank you Danny. God … you’ve always been here for me, but I’ve treated you like shit. I’m so sorry. Oh my God, I didn’t even ask you what you were doing before you came for me … I’m the worst. I’m so sorry Danny. I really am. I’m such a fucking toxic mess …”

“Oh for the love of God, it’s OK Abby.” smiled Daniel ironically. “An abandoned Bones concert is skint to what you went through tonight. Come on, we got to get you cleaned up. You want something to eat?”

Abby nodded vigorously. “Please.”

“OK, well, jump into the bathroom and take a hot shower. Trust me, it’ll make you feel a lot better. I’ll get some bacon, eggs and toast going out here.”

For the first time, since the fateful phone call, Abby could stand on her own. Daniel nodded approvingly at her, proud. “That’s it. You got this, girl. Brekkie will be waiting for you when you come out”

As the sounds of the shower running and the crackle of bacon mixed together, Daniel looked over at his stereo and put on a slow song: Sway as sung by Anita Kelsey.

Laying out two plates and piling a generous serving of eggs and waiting for the shower to stop, before toasting the bread, Daniel poured out two glasses of orange juice and smiled at Abby, who came out, rubbing her long blonde hair with a towel, still dressed the same way.

“Thank you Danny.” said Abby gratefully as she sat cross legged on the kitchen chair.

Daniel nodded silently as he leaned back on the kitchen counter, drinking his orange juice thoughtfully.

Abby ate gratefully, the food slowly restoring some sanity to her fractured mind. A question suddenly burned in her mind and she looked at Daniel with a slight panic, as a realisation struck her.

“Can I ask you something Danny?” queried Abby with a hint of trepidation in her voice.

“Yeah, course you can, what is it?” replied Daniel.

“This is going to sound really dumb, but I just realised that whenever I’ve needed you, you’ve always dropped everything for me. Can I ask why?”

Daniel felt his breath catch, as he beheld the girl who he had fallen for a long time ago, but could never quite articulate how he truly felt.

He looked away from her blue eyes, unable to really express himself.

“You know why Abby. I think you’ve always known. But I guess the timing was never quite right between us.”

Abby looked away from Daniel. “I’m sorry, Daniel. I truly am. But I don’t see you that way …”

Daniel took a deep breath. “I know Abby. I’ve known that for a long time too. I’ve gotten over you in a lot of ways, but not enough to stop helping you when you need it. We’ve been friends for a long time, and that hasn’t changed.”

“I’m a toxic mess Danny. You don’t need me in your life. You need a woman who got her shit together. I mean look at me … I honestly don’t deserve any better. I ..”

“Hey!” interrupted Daniel. “You didn’t deserve what happened to you last night. What Topher did to you was fucked. And I sure as shit, ain’t gonna let him get away with it. Who knows who else he’s done this to? No, Abby, we’re going to get that bastard. You definitely did not deserve what happened.”

Daniel moved closer to Abby, holding her hands.

“What happened to you Abby? You’ve changed so much over the years. You’re not the same girl I remembered when we first met. Do you remember what happened?”

“I kicked your bully in the head.”

“That’s fucking right. You stood up for me, when I was being bullied at school. No one else did that for me. What happened to that feisty, hellraiser? You need to be that girl again.”

Abby looked away from Daniel’s brown eyes and stared at their entwined hands.

“I’m not sure I can be that girl again Danny. I don’t even know if she still exists.”

“You got to find her again Abby. Because at least that girl knew what she wanted to do with her life. The one before me … she’s on a bad track and it doesn’t look like she knows how to get off.”

Abby sighed heavily. “I know Danny. I know.”

She looked up at Daniel, transfixing him with her blue, melancholy eyes again. Every time, Daniel always fell for them. They were too mesmerising to ignore, too deep to not fall for and far too expressive to dismiss.

“But seriously, Danny. Thank you. I don’t know where I’ll be without you.” Abby squeezed his hands and kissed him gently on the cheek.

“Any time.” said Daniel with a smile.

Author’s Note

It’s been a while since I last wrote something and I can already sense the rust when I was writing this story. It’s a bit meandering in places and arguably, I’m not too happy with the conclusion.

This is a shame, because I actually had a really strong idea on where this was headed, but then my holiday came and put everything on hiatus and thus I lost track of the pulse.

I was inspired to write this, because I’ve been recently thinking about my new lifestyle and how much easier it is for me to be supporting friend, than what I used to be. Whether its a new-found confidence or better perception into people, I’m a bit more abuzz with the ability to comfort and reassure people that things will be alright.

Anyway, whilst I wasn’t super happy with this one, even bad drafts get published on this blog, so hope it wasn’t to terrible to read!

Until the next one

~ Damocles.

Just Surrender

Still one of my favourite fight scenes ever.

I can taste blood.

Metallic, tangy and weirdly addicting.

Running a finger along my mouth, I can feel the sharp prick of a split lip and I lick at it, relishing the pain, to sharpen my focus.

A big right hook sweeps in towards to my eye and I lean back, allowing the knuckles of the Turk to brush across my chest.

His back was now to me. The worst position for any fighter.

Stepping in close, I softened his torso with a right handed blow to his ribcage, before scything my left elbow towards his face.

The fight should have ended there.

Instead, the Turk saw the move coming and he ducked his chin, allowing the brunt of my elbow’s force to dissipate against his strong forehead.

Grimacing, I keep my momentum going, to break free of the close quarters we were in, and we both glared as each other, as we stood on opposite ends of the fighting square.

Our chests heaving from physical exertion, I decided to take quick stock of the situation I was in.

The iconic smell of sawdust mixed with centuries of beer and blood perfumed the air and set the scene for exactly what this fight was: a pub bash, with 70-ish people crammed in a small space, baying for more blood.

The ring wasn’t exactly circular, more a square that was commonly used to herd in fresh cattle on market days. Straw matted the floor, making our fight perilously slippery and it didn’t help that spilled beer sploshed constantly, as the crowd cheered on the Turk who came stumbling forward, his dark face twisted in a fierce scowl.

The cheers turned to boos, as I dodged out of the way and tripped him with my feet, causing him to crash into the wall and knock over 3 over enthusiastic men, their coats and beer mugs flying into the air, as they stumbled back into a less than happy crowd.

For a man so large, the Turk was extremely nimble. He was sheer muscle, a former strongman that worked at a circus, lifting heavy items and astonishing people with his muscle mass.

Which, to me, meant that he was a tiny bit slower than the fighters I was used to, but also a lot damn harder to take down.

Hitting his body, was like punching a wall.

But I had to persevere. I could tell that the last punch to his torso hurt him, more than he was anticipating. And that was because, this entire fight, I was just aiming at that one spot, dodging and dancing, counter-attacking at that single spot, just underneath his ribcage.

Already I could see that his dark complexion was even darker in that spot, ugly purple bruising mottling the skin. His right arm wasn’t as quick anymore, and the recovery move to protect himself was now significantly slower.

Despite these percieved disadvantages though, I was getting thoroughly trashed.

My knuckles bled from hitting such hard muscle all the time. I couldn’t feel the right side of my face properly, and there was a gash above my left temple, where his fist had nearly split my head open.

Blood was dripping constantly from my left brow, causing me to wipe at it constantly and I was now favouring my left side, after a monstrous blow nearly split my kidney in two.

I was losing.

The Turk though, was still hesitant to finish me off. He was still wary of me, my counter-punches that had slowed him down, enough to cause doubts in his mind.

I had also worked out a simple trick. Every time I wiped my bloody brow, he would advance and try to get into my blind side. Then he would feint to my strong side, before coming at me from my bleeding left side, eager to give me another trashing.

I knew that this was his favoured strategy, but I had to apply my knowledge carefully. It had to be for the final blow. I was recovering still, gathering my wits, will and fists for a final attack.

Both he and I had been here for too long, the match that was supposed to be over in seconds, now dragging out the minute hand of the grandfather clock, where the pub owner stood with everyone’s bets.

Our breathing was getting heavier and heavier, the Turk’s grunts as he threw punches louder and more savage, and my feet were starting to drag sawdust, straw and blood along the ground, instead of nimbly dancing above them.

The next hit, rocked me to the floor. The Turk had feinted with his right shoulder, before coiling his left hand into a fist and sending a massive sternum punch that launched me backwards and left me kneeling on the floor, coughing.

The Turk, sensing my weakness, charged forwards, eager to deliver a final king hit that would win the fight once and for all. His huge dark body, glistening with sweat, his face contorted into a viciously smug scowl, bared down on me.

The crowd screamed and cheered as they sensed the fight ending. Flecks of beer foam rained down on the fighting square.

I wiped my bloody brow.

The Turk just went straight for my blind side, coming in hard and fast towards my “unseeing” left side.

Just as the Turk pumped the brakes, and raised his right leg to kick me square in the face, I swiftly moved my head out of the way, allowing his leg to rest on my left shoulder and uppercutted the bastard right in the nuts.

The crowd instantly fell silent.

The Turk’s face went purple from the pain, and before he could even reach down and cup his balls, I placed both of my hands on his knee that was outstretched in front of me, and chopped down brutally, nearly breaking the joint.

The Turk toppled backwards as I released him. He screamed in pain, tears streaking down his face. Incredibly he was still standing, his breathing coming hard and ragged, his damaged right leg, hobbling behind him.

The Turk hissed in intense pain as he glared at me pitifully.

It was time to end this.

I feinted to the spot that I had been hammering away for the entirety of the fight, and the Turk dropped his arm to protect himself. However, as his head drooped down, I stepped in and chopped an overhead elbow, right into the side of his head.

The Turk barely had any time to react, as his head was promptly met by my rising knee that sent his neck cracking back up the other way.

I cut my elbow across his face for good measure, and the Turk spun around.

The poor bastard was now stunned, defenceless and barely conscious.

Discombobulated.

But still, he was standing.

Taking a step back, to the deafening silence of a stunned crowd, I ran forward, like the Turk had done to me, but this time, I knew that he was truly done.

Jumping up, I raised my knee and slammed it, right into the spot just underneath his ribcage, where his kidneys were.

A sickening crack could be heard, as I broke two of his ribs and an even louder crash swiftly followed, as the Turk smashed onto the floor, completely unconscious.

I landed on my feet, and gasping for air, I raised my right fist in silent triumph, before wiping bloody spittle from my mouth, and spitting in the corner.

No one could believe what had just happened. Looking over at the pub owner, who nodded in respect, I opened the door to the fighting square, and grabbed a spare towel, from a stunned patron, wiping myself off before collapsing into a chair.

The pub owner grabbed a bottle of whiskey and threw it underhanded at me. I barely caught it in time, but the moment I ripped off the cork with my mouth and chugged a good portion of it, I could feel a hint of pride in still being able to function adequately, despite the immense damage to my body.

The stunned crowd then cheered raucously and clapped loudly, as the pub owner broke the spell by yelling “Alright lads, show’s bloody over. Come and get your winnings!”

Random men came up to congratulate me, clapping me on the shoulder, shaking my hands and throwing me respectful nods.

As the bar attendants cleared the ring and carried away the Turk upstairs, I sighed and took stock of my injuries, gratefully dousing my bloody knuckles into a pitcher of cold water that one of the bar’s local prostitutes bought over.

She was pretty too, with blonde hair, green eyes and porcelain skin that whipped at the senses, when you noticed her plunging decolletage.

Always after a dollar, I thought to myself as she came up and gently stroked my shoulders, sitting astride me with a naughty tempting smile playing across her red lips.

“Good fight out there lad. Need some help loosening up?” whispered the girl into my ears, she gently massaged a knot in my shoulder.

“I’m not sure I qualify as a very attractive client right now, lass” I replied as I close my eyes, enjoying the way how she is digging into my back.

That’s never stopped me before, has it now, Jack?” said the girl teasingly.

“No Lucy, it certainly hasn’t.” I smiled at her.

“Come on then, let’s get you upstairs and cleaned up. Otherwise some of the other girls might get the wrong idea.”

Lucy pointed looked at the other girls, who were glaring enviously at us. No doubt they were angry that Lucy and I had a long term understanding, thus she would get the first pick. After all, I was a man who had just made a lot money in a fight and all these girls wanted a piece of me, no matter how badly I looked.

Lucy was still continuing her ministrations as I sighed and swallowed the rest of the whiskey.

“You’re insatiable Lucy. I don’t know what is worse, not knowing whether you’re after me or my winnings.”

Lucy pouted prettily at me as she allowed me to wrap my arms around her shoulders and we slowly climbed the stairs to one of the spare rooms above the pub.

Looking back, I could already seeing the next fight about to commence, this time a young aristocratic looking boxer taking on an wiry Indian. The crowded bayed once again, and I shook my head before looking ahead and wondering if my body was even going to perform for the next strenuous exercise.

Lucy, sensing my trepidation, gave me a cheeky smile.

“It’s OK, Jack. I promise you own’t have to fight much. Just surrender to me darling.”

~

Author’s Note:

This one was astonishingly easy to write and it was all because of an tennis injury I sustained recently. Going for a forehand, I misjudged the timing, and complete with the sun in my eye, ended up smashing my racquet into my lip, cutting the inside and leaving me with a split lip.

So inspired by the strange new look I had to sport for a few days, I wrote this and was very happy that everything was quite smooth to write. I obviously based it off the Sherlock Holmes slow motion fight scene in the pub but made my guy a bit more of a dirty fighter and tried to pay more homage to the setting with the inclusion of different ethnicities being forced to fight for money.

Hope it was as fun to read as it was to write!

~ Damocles.

Earlwood (Fantasy Draft Chapter One)

Reign of Fire (2002). An underrated gem.

There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.

Cold sleet rain bracketed the moorland as pools of water slowly gathered in depth, rising with each rivulet that ran down the slopes of the Valley of Earls.

Running equally as fast as the water across the Valley, was the terrifying shadow of a dragon.

Terrifying, awe-inspiring and legendary, the recent accidental re-discovery of dragons could be attributed to man’s constant pursuit of technological advancement.

The project known as the Albion’s Underground, was a complex and ambitious transport project that was going to transform the rail network across the country. Tunnels were to appear all across the entire nation, creating a super network of trains that would connect every citizen to every major and minor city.

But as the projected advanced, strange stories began to emerge.

Strange tremors spooked the workers early. Then came the discovery of large stones that resembled eggs. It wasn’t until the stories of huge caverns that were not made by man that the public began to fear.

Then came the first death. A simple man, Robert Mayor, father of two sons, a loving husband, a dedicated miner, accidentally struck what seemed like a spiky wall.

Within moments, superheated flames spewed viciously from an open cave mouth, and extinguished Robert Mayor in seconds.

From that moment on, the age of Man bowed before the Era of Dragons.

The dragon that flew over the shallow pools of water, was atypical of its species. Males were smaller than female dragons, and more brightly coloured, despite their stony complexion. It wasn’t uncommon for males to have a more reddish tinge to their dark, granite skins, with different eyes. Their fire was also more amber, than bright red.

These biological differences mattered little, when dragons could fly in speeds of 300km/h, boasted an average wingspan of 60 metres, weighed 30 tons, had nearly impenetrable scaly spiky armoured skin and whose breath could melt anything it touched at a scorching 200 degrees Celsius.

But this was the scientific view of dragons. What they represented to the survivors of humanity, to the final, dwindling population that once ruled the world, was extremely potent. These dragons were once the stuff of mythical legend, now a horrific reality. They were monstrously terrifying. Within 3 years, humanity lost almost everything, dominion of the water and earth, superseded by air power, something they hadn’t quite mastered yet, nor would ever do so now.

There was a nonchalant arrogance, to how the dragons toyed with humanity, how they would casually swipe away armies of men with a slow, lazy flick of their huge clawed legs. How the sound of a dragon’s dive from kilometres above petrified people into standing still becoming easy “ash” prey.

To see a dragon, was to acknowledge a creature far superior to yourself. The huge dark golden eyes that emanated ancient intelligence. The scaly and muscular reptilian body that radiated heat when breathing fire could be felt metres away. And the wings, ancient and beautiful, when splayed out for take-off, would buffet and send humans flying with their powerful updraft, bullets bouncing off them with impunity.

The population that scorched the Earth, only numbered less than a hundred. They were slow to adulthood, but once fully matured, an unstoppable, almost celestial force.

The simple rule was, if you saw a dragon, you prayed to the lords of the sky, the deliverers of ash.

Fortunately, there was no sign of life in the valley. It was as desolate as any area in Albion was. So the dragon kept flying onwards, searching for any survivors, rolling lazily in the sky, a King casually surveying his kingdom.

Situated on the coast of Albion, the Valley of Earls was noted for its’ tunnel tombs, in which laid the ancestors of the Blackmouth clan. These ancient tombs were numerous in their numbers, sorted by generation and accessible only via humble grassy mounds that protected large burrow entrances.

Despite their humble appearance, the Valley of Earls’ tombs were sophisticated. Water that drained down the slopes of the Valley, were actually directed into the tombs, to fuel huge water wheels that powered much of the underground city, that now existed in existential fear of dragons.

Named Earlwood, the underground city was carved into the sheer cliff-side of the Albion coastline, accessible only by submersible or by boat when the tide was sufficiently low enough.

Earlwood was constantly under construction, a testament to its newly created status. Silence did not exist in this noisy cavern, with the sound of people’s chatter and machinery, a constant hum that created its’ own special type of headache, nicknamed by the locals as “earlesome.”

In addition to the silence, Earlwood denizens had to constantly deal with a crush of people. Despite it’s significant size, which was only growing day by day, due to constant work on the “Wall”, it was too small to accommodate all 250,000 survivors, with more coming in every week, as they searched for refuge.

As terrible the noise was and the constant crush of people that filled the narrow, claustrophobic streets of Earlwood, this was only one of two safe cities on Albion that offered decent protection from the dragon threat. The other city, similar in scope and design, was in the north, named Dukes.

Whilst Earlwood was rough and poor, Dukes was beautifully crafted, despite the apocalyptic nature of the world. Artisans and city folks had turned Dukes into a semi-paradise that despite its’ appearance was hiding extreme maintenance issues, whilst the more wretched and desperate had created a cavernous stronghold that was functional in the extreme.

It was in this dark cavern of a city, lived a young man of barely 17 named Will Ashburn.

An “ash orphan”, after his parents perished in an dragon attack, Will didn’t know any better about the world before the age of Dragons. He never knew how green the grass was, how humanity once lived above ground, paranoia-free and with their heads aimed at the ground, instead of the sky.

No, Will only heard these stories from the old men who talked too much at the King’s tavern, or second hand re-tellings of the exploits of the legendary Huntsmen, a special forces unit that was specifically tasked with hunting dragons and the only men allowed to venture surface-side.

It was every boy’s dream to join the hallowed ranks of the Huntsmen and don the iconic dark green uniform and cloak and take the fight to the dreaded dragons. Will had heard so many stories, that he could recite each mission with compelling accuracy.

His favourite story was of the legendary lone Huntsman, the infamous Black Huntsman.

Unlike other Huntsmen units, who worked in groups of 4 to take down dragons, the Black Huntsman was an anomaly. Taller than his brethren, stronger and quieter, the Black Huntsman was famed for his stealth kills, which flew against traditional operating methods of his comrades.

Normal dragon take-down procedures often involved elaborate use of bait, a pair of Huntsmen known as runners who would lure the dragons in, dousing themselves in water and flame retardant clothing. They would run for a limited stretch, before diving into prepared burrows that would protect them from dragon-flame.

As the runners sprinted for their lives, the other two Huntsmen, the snipers would position themselves on either side of the dragon, targeting the singular weak spot on these huge, terrifying behemoths …. the dragon’s golden eyes.

No one quite knew why only the dragon’s eyes were their only weakness, but it didn’t matter. This was where the snipers had to aim, and use their specialised Boys Anti-Tank Rifles, a huge 1.5m gun that fired the monstrously heavy .55 calibre bullet.

With only 5 rounds in the massive top-loading magazine, the snipers were under enormous pressure to ensure all 5 bullets would be aimed at a dragon’s head, moving at 250 km/h.

If at least 1 of the 5 bullets went in, the dragon would be blinded and lose motor control over it’s 30 ton body. Crashing into the ground, one of the runners would then approach it and apply the coup de grace with his Anti-tank rifle up close, aiming the weapon up through the eye socket and targeting the brain.

Numerous hunts, kills and deaths have gone into this dangerous and risky procedure. But it was the only one they had.

All except for the Black Huntsman, who had a custom Westley Richards’ Droplock Double Rifle, chambered in the awe inspiring .577 Nitro Express. Originally designed for elephant hunting, the Droplock Double Rifle was a two shot weapon that featured custom double triggers, one for each barrel.

His method was far more riskier. Slow movement, steady hands and sheer gutsy stealth, the Black Huntsman would sneak up on Dragons whilst they were feeding or asleep, and empty both of his barrels at close range, staring at the Dragons head-on.

A single misstep, a flawed shot, or even the tiniest fraction of hesitation, the Black Huntsman would be killed instantly, either by fire or claw.

But he never made such mistakes. He was the most elite Huntsman in the entire unit. Credited with over 25 Dragon kills.

For each Dragon he slayed, he would keep a claw, and use it to scratch the tally of kills into the butt of his rifle.

He was humanity’s shining hope, the sole reason why the Huntsmen’s ranks always swelled with recruits, ashen or not.

He was born of Earls, slayer of Dragons, wielder of the Double Rifle and conqueror of Ash.

The Black Huntsman.

~

Every ash orphan like Will Ashburn, when they came of age, 18, would automatically be recruited into the ranks of the Miners.

The Miners were the men who constantly worked on the “Wall”, the nickname given to the sheer rock face that surrounded the city.

No matter the hour, day or even during Dragon attacks, work on the Wall was constant. It was a necessity for the survival of Earlwood. The city had to keep growing ever larger. They could not build up, so instead they built further and further into the ground. Work on the Wall was chaotic, dangerous, claustrophobic and horrific.

Tunnels could collapse at any given moment, cascading down into further tunnels beneath them, killing men by the dozens in mere seconds. But such was the nature of mine work, that everyone merely carried on their digging and axing, ignoring the bodies that were carried out by shattered men.

Will dreaded the idea that within a year, he would be pressed into mine service. Which is why he was currently in line for the Earl’s Army recruitment line.

This was his only way out.

Will knew that there was little chance of getting in. The age for enlistment was the same as the Wall. But he had a bit of faith in himself.

Years of surviving on the dark streets of Earlwood had created a man who stood tall, muscular and brooding. His brown eyes were hardened by the continuous hardships of fighting every single day for his existence. Yet they were softened by a curious intelligence, which was fuelled by the dozens of books he had stolen over the years.

Will Ashburn didn’t know why he loved reading so much, but after a whore had taken him under his wing and taught him how to read letters and numbers, Will never ceased his education. He knew deep down, that he had to learn everything faster and more expertly than those around him.

So he would devour books after books. Fiction. Non-fiction. Adventure. Romance. Science. This was the early onset of the 1900s. Knowledge was becoming the more prolific. Humanity was finally on the cusp of conquering the world, and mastering the art of metallurgy and industrial revolution.

Only years ago, this was heralded as the new Golden Age. That is, until the Dragons were unearthed.

Will however had no such interest in what might have been. What course humanity would have taken, if an apex predator never challenged them.

He was only interested in the immediate future, whether his rapid maturity was enough to fool the Army recruiter to let him into the hallowed ranks of the Earl’s Army.

Even his very existence, proven by old records was splotchy. Will Ashburn wasn’t even his real name. He had named himself, having grown up without any guidance, his true name a complete mystery to him, like the nature of his parents.

It was only by a miracle, that he was adopted by the fallen women of the famous Covent Garden brothel. Despite their status and lack of means, it was these women who created the tough bastard that stood taller than his more wretched brethren in the line.

They taught him the power of harnessing his emotions, on how to defend himself and the truth of living on the streets. They showed him how to deescalate a situation, how to aggravate then nurture people. The power of emotional manipulation was in his grasp, as was using his darkly handsome looks to his advantage.

The Covent Garden women were fiercely loyal to Will, as was Will’s allegiance to them. It was at their behest that Will had chosen this particularly Army recruiting line, amongst all of the hundreds of others.

The Army recruiter was a well known client of a particular girl at the Covent Garden stable. If anyone was going to overlook Will’s age, it would be this particularly greasy individual.

As the line shuffled forwards, Will kept his gaze forward, biting his teeth in nervousness, as he watched the large, rotund Army recruiter in his olive green uniform and cape wave men through and shake his head in disapproval at some of the younger looking folk.

Will was so preoccupied, that he almost forgot to hand his fake papers to sergeant who was busy processing paperwork.

Name?

Will took a deep breath. This was his ticket out of here. To establish his own legend in a legendary unit. To finally take the fight to the beasts that have taken so much from him.

Just as he was about to announce his name, Earlwood shook with all the force of a dragon attack.

~

Author’s Note

This first chapter in a fantasy setting was written for the Vocal Media “The Fantasy Prologue” challenge.

I hope you enjoyed reading it!

~ Damocles.

Zero (Ninja)

Hideo looked over at the sleeping Yukie, caressing her dark hair softly, as he felt his body stir awake with the rise of the sun.

Gently pulling the blanket aside, he climbed out of bed and walked softly over wash basin, where he scooped up water and ran it over his face and neck, luxuriating in the cold, clean sensation.

Closing his eyes, Hideo stayed still for a moment, as he traced the sensation of water running down his neck and across his chest, calmly controlling his breathing. For Hideo, this meditative state allowed him to visualise the day ahead and everything he needed to achieve.

This was his daily morning routine, cleansing the body and mind, to prepare for the work ahead with a clear spirit, free of any distractions or lingering memories.

Achieving zero … maintaining zero. echoed Hideo in his mind, as his breathing steadied.

Opening his eyes, Hideo felt his spirit steady itself for the day and night ahead. Slipping on his dark grey kimono, he cinched the excess material tight around his lean frame, before stepping out of the bedroom and sliding the door silently, as to not wake Yukie.

~

The sparks from the flint scattered softly across the wood, before dancing upon paper. With soft blows, the paper caught alight, generating heat that soon engulfed the wood in flames. Stepping back, Hideo fanned the flames higher and higher, until they could sustain themselves.

Placing the paper fan aside, he walked over to the well that was just outside their home and cranked a bucket of water upwards, until he had enough to prepare the rice and tea.

Carrying the two buckets of water over, he felt something run between his legs and smiled gently at the sight of Hime, their domesticated chicken scurrying away, eager to be fed. Pouring the water into the kettle, he placed it gently over the flame, before walking back outside with a handful of feed.

Cooing softly for Hime to come over, Hideo smiled as she waddled up to him and began to peck at the feed on the ground. Stroking her back gently, Hideo walked over to Hime’s roost and plucked out the two eggs she had laid overnight.

As he prepared the breakfast, a simple omelette with miso soup, Hideo kept his mind empty still, allowing each task to be performed with a precision that could only come from a calm spirit.

The eggs were perfectly scrambled, curdled and rolled, before being spliced into 8 equal rolled rectangles. The green chives were expertly cut, and sprinkled gently atop each serving of egg, whilst his rice was beautifully fluffy and round in their wooden bowls.

Hideo’s miso soup was the perfect blend of cloudy soup and green seaweed, with little islands of tofu poking through the surface. A tiny dash of togarashi serve to create appetising colour and a hint of spice that would awaken the senses after sleep.

As Hideo finally put the finishing touches to the breakfast, Yukie sauntered out, dressed in a sky blue kimono, her long dark raven hair tousled over the front of her shoulder, highlighting the pale slender beauty of her neck and jawline. She smiled gratefully at her husband, washing her hands in the sink and giving him a lingering graze across his hand in affection.

They both sat down cross legged at the low table and clapped their hands together, before eating their food in silence. This was their custom, another way of maintaining harmony within themselves and each other.

The morning was a time of reflection, of preparedness for the rigours ahead. When they were so busy with life, especially in this difficult time, their morning meals was almost the only time they could take to relax, ponder and think.

They would clean up together, before Yukie would break away from Hideo’s side with the barest hint of sakura perfume.

Her day would always start with lunch preparation, invariably another simple, elegant meal that spoke of their humble yet fulfilling lifestyle, whilst Hideo would retreat to his room, where he would examine his tools of war.

~

Armed with the stalk of a bamboo cup, a bucket of water and a dark rag, Hideo would open the drawer of a large wooden cabinet and inspect his weapons.

Yukie would do likewise, inspecting her precious knives for any rust or impurities, before opening a door where they kept their smoked meats. For today, Yukie took out a smoked mackerel that Hideo had caught a few days before, as well walking into their garden and cutting some herbs and vegetables that had been grown weeks ago.

Laying them out in a semi circle, both Yukie and Hideo selected the first item to be washed, in Yukie’s case, a batch of spinach that would be simmered in soy sauce and sake, whilst for Hideo, it was his prized kusarigama, a unique weapon that consisted of a sickle and a chain, meant to immobilise swords. Then came the sharpening of radish and katana, the gentle cleaning of spring onions and quiet tabi shoes and the slow inspection of chicken stock and kunai knives.

They mirrored each other, absorbed in their meticulous tasks, focused on every step.

It would be midday, when Hideo and Yukie finally parted ways, Hideo heading into the fields to work on the local lord’s farm and Yukie making her way to the local market to shop and buy new equipment that would let her mend her husband’s clothes faster.

Before he left, Hideo softly stroked on Yukie’s cheek, before thanking her for the lunch and slinging the bag on his walking stick and setting off for the long 7 kilometre walk to work.

It would be a long day, of tending the fields and moving cattle. Like any work day, Hideo savoured his small break to enjoy the simple mackerel don that Yuki created for him, and reflect on what he would have to do that very night, rehearsing moves and routes, incorporating body stretches and martial arts movement into his field work.

~

It wouldn’t be until twilight when Hideo came home, to greet Yukie, busy at work at the fireplace, simmering a rich broth for their udon dinner. Placing a hand on her shoulder gently from behind, he squeezed fondly, before retiring back to his room, to prepare for the night.

Yukie sighed softly as she heard the door to Hideo’s room click shut. For months now, Hideo had been in the service of their lord as a shinobi, eliminating rivals to the clan. Tonight’s mission was going to be particularly difficult, but the lord had offered enough money to soothe their lives for 3 months.

Such an offer was almost worth the risk.

As she shook the excess water off the udon and laid the thick glossy noodles in a bowl, Yukie kept her mind focused on preparing the meal, ignoring the terror she felt at losing Hideo and the prospect of him being caught at a rival clan’s castle.

There was nothing they could realistically do.

There was only life in the moment. They had to live the best they could now.

Yukie poured the broth in, pleased with the amber colour, before slowly adding in fish cake, the same soy simmered spinach she had prepared for lunch and a luxurious slice of pork chashu she had bought from the market.

She had just finished adding half a egg and some thinly sliced spring onions when Hideo came through the kitchen, fully clad in his shinobi gear.

Even now, after many nights of seeing Hideo dressed up for war, Yukie felt an involuntary shiver run through her body, at the sight of a myth came sharply into the focus lens of reality.

From head to toe, Hideo was a shade of dark navy blue, with only his large bow creating a contrasting colour of amber-gold bands that ran across the dark cherry red lacquered wood and the white feathers of his arrows. His short sword was also another splash of colour, the wakizashi’s scabbard a similar cherry red wood to the bow, with a bright red fabric used to create the handle’s signature diamond knit.

It was tied on the left side of his body, whilst resting just above it, was the kusarigama, tucked securely into a thick fabric belt that also hid several throwing stars and knives. On his right, was a thin reed that served as his blowpipe and dangling on a strong knot was a pair of thin axes with loops that would help Hideo climb walls.

Placing his mask aside, Hideo sat down, side by side with Yukie, breaking the normal traditions. Blushing slightly, Yukie sidled closer to Hideo so that their arms were touching. Sipping the broth appreciately, Hideo gave a happy sigh.

Thank you. It’s delicious as always.

Yukie felt her hands tremble slightly. For Hideo to compliment her food, was uncharacteristic of the stoic persona he always held.

He’s nervous realised Yukie with a degree of shock. She felt an urge to ask him about how he felt, what he was thinking about … whether he was afraid. But she knew that such questions were not the way.

Instead Yukie simply replied Thank you. It means so much to me that you like my cooking.

Hideo reached over and tenderly squeezed her hand reassuringly. They continued to eat their dinner in silent companionship, with Hideo finishing first and looking at the still whole slice of chashu. Knowing that Yukie had bought this specially for him, despite their poor lifestyle, Hideo split the slice in half with his chopstick, and placed the precious, expensive cut into Yukie’s bowl.

Yukie looked up at him in shock but the protests died quickly, as Hideo wrapped his arms around her and held her tight against him.

Yukie returned the hug, tears beginning to form from the dread they both shared. But she kept them to herself, they had to be strong. Without her support, she knew that Hideo would not be able to find his focus at the most crucial of times.

So, calling upon her own spirit, she stayed strong for Hideo and returned the hug, without fear or dread, but with love and respect. Yukie closed her eyes in Hideo’s chest … her tears would come later, at a time of her own choosing, but not around him.

After a long solemn hug, communicating everything they ever wanted and couldn’t say, Hideo lifted her chin and kissed her goodbye.

The click of the sliding door closing shut, as Hideo disappeared into the darkness of the night echoed louder than it ever had, and Yukie finally allowed herself to weep for her husband.

~

Earlier that day, near the end of his shift, Hideo was summoned by one of the samurai retainers to see their lord. As Hideo bowed in greeting, the lord looked down upon his most prolific assassin and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Guiding Hideo to the balcony which overlooked the lord’s vast estate, the noble elder samurai pointed at the stables and whispered something courteous, before handing Hideo a pair of scrolls before dismissing him.

Hideo noted that only one of them had the lord’s official seal. Tucking the other one away in his robes, Hideo walked down to the stables and handed the official scroll to the stable-master who nodded and walked inside. Moments later, Hideo was riding one of the fastest and darkest stallions in Japan, a dark chestnut coloured horse that featured a plain saddle with no markings on it.

It’s name was Kaze. Wind.

Loyal and steadfast, Kaze was fond of Hideo, despite being one of the lord’s favourite steeds. They had been through several missions now and every time, Kaze bought Hideo home without fail, in the darkness of dusk and galloped back loyally to the lord’s stables.

As Kaze galloped along the road to the rival clan’s castle, Hideo kept his body flat along the dark horse’s torso, only looking up occasionally to see the castle of the Ashikaga clan slowly loom larger and larger in the horizon, until it was all he could see.

Why his lord, from a minor clan was tasked with the assassination of one of the top Ashikaga’s samurais, a man known only as Tadayoshi, was none of Hideo’s concern. All his focus was on feeding his beloved and ensuring their future would be easier than the present.

Touching a tiny jade pendant that Yukie had made for him on the night of their marriage, Hideo felt strengthened by her love and resilience, despite being kilometres away from her.

Slowing Kaze down, Hideo slowly cantered his way towards the camp, before stopping altogether, nearly 1 kilometre away and tying Kaze’s reins to a tree that was part of a large forest that surrounded the base of the Ashikaga castle.

As Ashikaga castles came, this particular one was spacious and well maintained. Situated on a hill that dominated the flat landscape around it, it rose above the tree lines of the curated forest that surrounded it and from the west end, it was easy to spot, as the forest had been cleared to make room for a large training and barracks area that employed the services of 30 samurai retainers.

Adorning the east face of the castle, was a large banner with the simple Ashikaga clan symbol, a black circle with two thick white lines running horizontally across it. The banner hung from the Ashikaga warlord Tadayoshi’s balcony, and was tightened on a lower balcony about halfway up the tall 5 storied building.

An attractive, if atypical castle, Tadayoshi’s personal residence to his small army of samurai retainers and his family was coloured in the typical style of the day, black accented roofs and white walls. A deep moat surrounded the castle, with 2 red drawbridges on the north and south end.

Tadayoshi’s wife, a renowned noblewoman from Kyoto, had done her best to soften the harsh military aesthetic, by hanging hundreds of lanterns that ran across the moat. At night, on special occasions, they were a spectacular light show that allowed many visitors to see the white bodies of wild carp that patrolled the moat.

From the moat, a straight footpath lead into the living areas of the samurai, which featured several long wooden cabins with square windows on the left side of the compound and a large stable with an ample courtyard for the horses to graze and wander.

Opposite the living quarters, was the training area, where bows, swords and spears were neatly lying in wait on racks and several dummies were propped up, awaiting abuse.

Towards the main gate, which was southwards, there was a large empty space with an Ashikaga vertical banner planted in the ground, no doubt, the staging area where Tadayoshi would give his men a speech and briefing before going on their sorties.

Hideo studied everything for a solid two hours, perched atop the tallest tree in the dark forest, trying to make out as much detail as possible.

The full moon that shone over the surroundings, helped enormously with his vision, a big reason why Hideo chose this night. It would also have an added bonus of drawing Tadayoshi out of his castle, as he was famous for creating haikus in honour of the moon, when it was a particularly auspicious occasion.

Using his thin axes to climb down again, Hideo set off towards his target, moving silently between trees. It was midnight now, and the night was going to be the darkest it would ever be.

~

The sole samurai that guarded the main gate would later swear before the Ashikaga’s head daimyo that he saw nothing, before committing ritual suicide for his failure.

This was the truth, because Hideo was never near the main gate. His long observation of the castle had revealed an even better route. On the eastern side of the castle compound, close to the living quarters of the samurai retainers, was where the forest was most dense. Indeed, upon closer inspection, Hideo actually found the secret door that Tadayoshi and his family would use in an emergency.

This door, was cleverly disguised to be a part of the wall, but for a small seam that denoted its status. Pushing it in, Hideo was astonished to see that it swung open and was just big enough for him to crawl through.

Lying flat against the grassy ground, Hideo noted that he was at the back of the living quarters, which thankfully featured no windows. Controlling his breathing, he silently shut the trapdoor and reached into one of his pouches, where he pulled out a bag of caltrops. Careful to not scatter them directly in front to the trapdoor, Hideo gave a solid metre gap before placing 5 of them down carefully.

Sneaking away, Hideo peered round the corner, noting two samurais who were talking softly to each other. Muttering quietly to himself, he looked up and noted the height of the roof above him.

Taking a couple of steps back, Hideo gave himself a running start and charged the wall, where with a silent press off his foot, he launched himself up, and grabbed the roof, hoisting himself up.

Choosing each step with care, Hideo crouched along the roof, staying as low as possible and waiting until the samurai had their backs turned to him.

Without hesitating, he launched himself from the roof and landed on the next adjoining roof, his feet scrabbling slightly for purchase on the sloped roof.

He froze, uncertain whether he made a lot of noise.

Nothing happened.

Sighing quietly in relief, he kept making his way along the rooftop, this time on a belly crawl. He was getting deeper and deeper into the compound, so the chances of him being spotted was exponentially growing.

Every couple of minutes, Hideo would pause and listen, smell or look for any sign of alarm. Fortunately and unfortunately for him, tonight was one of celebration, so Tadayoshi’s wife had requested every lantern and light in the compound to be lit up, for a gay and festive atmosphere.

It was beneficial, because up high, his silhouette would be darker and harder to spot against the roof, owning to how bright the lights were.

It also would make his ascent to the castle extremely difficult. Knocking lanterns into the moat along the way would immediately alert everyone.

But there was no other way.

To get to the line that strung all the lanterns up to the balcony of the castle, meant that Hideo had to risk a quick dash across 50 metres of open ground to the 4 metre tall wooden pole.

Patiently waiting and noting the routes of the guards, whose movements were relaxed and ambling, Hideo swore silently when he noted that one particular guard was constantly stopping by the pole to take breaks in his patrol.

With time running out, Hideo knew he had to make decision soon.

Reluctantly, he reached into his belt and pulled out the thin bamboo reed.

With gloved fingers, he took out one of his blow darts, whilst simultaneously pulling out a tiny bottle.

Dipping the tip into the bottle, he carefully placed it into the reed and aimed the blowpipe at the guard’s neck.

With barely a sound, the tiny dart flew out of the reed and pierced the nape of the guard who was making his way towards Hideo’s hiding spot on the roof.

Snatching at his neck with his hand, which inadvertently jabbed the dart in further, the guard look up with a look of horror as he saw a shadow move above him.

He tried to draw his sword, but the poison had already entered his bloodstream and was playing havoc with his nervous system.

Hideo jumped down noiselessly in front of the guard, his kusarigama drawn and without hesitation, flicked the chain over the man’s neck and began to tighten it, whilst dragging the struggling guard back towards the pole, where there were bushes nearby.

The guard’s struggles soon began to fade and Hideo loosened the knot, and checked the guard’s face, which was contorted grotesquely, his tongue a strange shade of grey, his eyes bloodshot and drool coming out of his mouth.

Careful to layer the bushes over the guard, Hideo paused for a second to check his surroundings, before taking out his thin axes and leaping onto the pole. Like a giant bug, Hideo slowly ascended the pole, before tucking the axes in his belt and reaching out for the wire that held all the lanterns.

Testing the strength, Hideo was relieved when it barely budged under his furiously yanking.

Crawling along the lantern wire was an exhausting task. His legs were wrapped right around the wire, whilst his hands slowly shimmied his torso along. Whenever he came across a lantern, he would relax his legs, looping his ankles and using his fingertips, allow the hot lantern to pass over his head, through the loops on his arms and legs.

It was a precarious climb, one that only got harder as the wire got higher and higher.

But Hideo made it. It took longer than he anticipated, but he was now hanging directly above the viewing balcony.

Inside, he could hear the sounds of music, the gay sounds of laughter. It sounded like Tadayoshi was hosting a moon party to celebrate the beauty of its full nature.

He waited patiently. Stealth was a waiting game. The process was not meant to be rushed.

Hearing or sensing nothing below him, Hideo loosened his grip and dropped to the balcony, noiselessly.

He immediately slid to the side of the door, staying crouched and peering through the open door.

The design of the Ashikaga Castle was striking. It was vertically oriented, with the 5 floors getting smaller and smaller as they neared the top. Staircases connected each floor, the “ground” itself, slabs of wood that were polished to a high sheen.

Banners, kimonos and swords adorned many of the walls, the colours of the Ashikaga clan prevalent amongst all the upholstery. The first two floors were actually the dining area, with an upper recess for private conversations, which was where the viewing balcony was.

The third floor was the training area, which was lined with hard reed mats, whilst above that was the private study of Tadayoshi, with scrolls neatly spaced on shelves and an ornate calligraphy table for his haikus.

The final space was the living quarters. Tatami mats lined the area luxuriously and there was a small window that opened out to the roof to allow natural light through.

Hideo crept out from the balcony, staying low. He peered over the lip of the recess and looked down at the party.

Around 25 people were in attendance. Most were samurai retainers with Tadayoshi’s wife entourage in tow, chatting amongst themselves. The men were seated cross-legged on tatami mats, bent at the waist, hunched over their small writing tables, doing their best to write haikus, espousing the beauty of the moon and how it shone on the castle.

As the men furiously wrote on their scrolls, the women would soothingly pour tea, before retreating and chatting quietly amongst themselves.

Tadayoshi’s wife, a classic city beauty, with ultra-pale skin and dark hair, lorded over the proceedings, her scarlet kimono shimmering under the lamp light. She teased the men who were struggling, whilst providing subtle encouragement, as she moved amongst the tables, judging the progress of the haikus.

So where is Tadayoshi then? thought Hideo.

Then he heard the the subtle sound of a brush being dropped above him.

Hideo felt his chest tighten in excitement.

This was too good to be true. Tadayoshi, alone, in his study, away from everyone, eager to create the best haiku out of all his retainers.

Silently making his way up the stairs, Hideo peered and breathed a sigh of relief at the empty space, the training room devoid of any movement or sound.

Placing each foot carefully in front of each other, Hideo crossed the open space and looked upwards, to see light shimmering through the cracks of the floor.

Tadayoshi was there. Hideo could see the Ashikaga’s warlord sitting at his ornate calligraphy desk, struggling over his haiku, his fierce face stretched into a scowl of intense concentration.

Only a solitary guard stood at the top of the staircase, waiting his lord with respectful admiration.

Looking behind him, Hideo winced slightly and crept back to the staircase he had climbed and placed the remainder of his caltrops on the steps and top of the stairs. He wasn’t taking any chances.

Taking a deep breath, Hideo walked towards the staircase that would bring him close to his target.

~

The samurai guard never heard Hideo climb up the stairs. Blinding pain wrapped itself around his throat and flung him down the stairs, where Hideo used the Kusarigama’s sickle to cut his throat.

Hideo charged up the stairs, and was just in time to see Tadayoshi look up in shock, his handsome featured contorted into a war-like scowl.

Hideo dodged to the side, as Tadayoshi flicked his calligraphy brush towards him. The brush whistled past and Hideo glared at Tadayoshi who now stood tall, his hands gripping his large katana.

Silence descended on the pair. Hideo unsheathed his smaller wakazashi short sword and moved towards the centre of the room.

The two men sized each other up.

Then their attention was broken by a plaintive call.

The loyal retainer was somehow still alive. His gurgling was now almost a yell.

Help … our lord! gasped the retainer to the party below, as he threw his sword down.

The loud crash the sword made as it clattered down the stairs and then into the haiku party shocked everyone.

Suddenly everyone blazed into action.

The men roared into action, their hands gripping their swords, upturning tables and charging up the stairs. Their war cries reverberated through the castle. Tadayoshi smiled smugly.

Hideo seized his chance. He leapt forwards and was immediately met with the steely defence of Tadayoshi. They danced around the private study, the floor barely enough for the two combatants.

Hideo would lunge, his wakazashi held high and sweeping down. Tadayoshi, knowing his men were coming, would defend, moving his legs away, an amused look on his face. For he had an distinct advantage, his longer katana ensuring Hideo had to commit further to his attacks, thus revealing his moves earlier.

They were barely 30 seconds into the fight, but Hideo felt desperation and tiredness start to creep into his arms. Then he made a mistake, he over-committed to an overhead cut. Tadayoshi smelled his opportunity and took it.

Without hesitating, Hideo leapt backwards as he saw Tadayoshi’s riposte come straight for his head. As the warlord’s blade came sweeping down, past his hips, Hideo grabbed one of his throwing knives, and with a flick of his wrist, slammed the kunai into the exposed warlord’s foot.

The warlord fell for his feint.

The big samurai roared in pain. Reversing his grip, he swung upwards with his katana, nearly taking Hideo’s head off, as he anxiously looked behind him at the staircase where heavy footfalls were increasing in intensity.

Gritting his teeth, as he turned his attention back at the warlord, Hideo slammed his wakazashi back into his scabbard, and simultaneously drew his kusarigama. Tadayoshi was too skilled a swordsman to keep this fight going.

He had to finish this now.

Hideo spun the kusarigama in a blur of steel, before flinging the curved sickle towards Tadayoshi. The warlord scowled, as he caught the vicious blade and chain combination with his sword.

The sickle wrapped itself around the blade, and Hideo made a vicious downward motion, causing Tadayoshi to loosen his grip on his katana.

For a second, the Ashikage warlord was exposed.

It was enough.

Hideo grabbed all of his throwing stars with a smooth practised motion off his belt, and with his left hand flicked them all.

Schwick, schwick, schwick!

The 7 bladed stars made a sickening sound as they embedded themselves into the warlord’s chest and face. 3 of them alone found his face, the fearsome, handsome scowl, disappearing under the onslaught of stars.

Blood splattered outwards, and Tadayoshi took his final breath as he toppled onto his back, the poison on the stars causing immediate asphyxiation. As the Ashikage’s warlord body dropped to the floor, the first screams of pain from the charging army of retainers echoed loudly as their feet were viciously cut open by Hideo’s caltrops.

Hideo, scanned his surroundings furiously and decided the only way out was up. He dashed up the stairs to Tadayoshi’s private room and just as he reached the top, the first overeager samurai came running, his crazed expressions, baying for blood.

Hideo, didn’t hesitate and threw a kunai right at the man, who stumbled backwards, stunned as the knife buried itself 3 inches into his forehead, causing the 4 men behind him to trip over as well.

Sprinting for the tiny window that allowed moonlight to spill into the private quarters, Hideo slammed his thin axes into the wood and climbed his way up to the open window and crawled through, barely fitting through.

Ignoring the frenzied cries of rage inside, Hideo was momentarily stunned to be standing atop the Ashikage castle. The view was spectacular, with the moon shining brightly on the lush green forest and the brightly lit lanterns.

Shaking off his awe, Hideo leapt down to the next parapet of the castle and kept repeating the motion, until he came to the bottom floor. Seeing the drawbridges had been drawn up, and that the lanterns were now too obvious an escape route, Hideo looked down at the moat.

Water swirled gently as Hideo could see huge carp moving the black depths.

But the walls of the moat could be scaled with his axes.

Taking a deep breath, Hideo braced himself and dove into the murky depths.

Immediately the shock of the cold water, nearly drove all the air out of his lungs, but Hideo steadied himself and kept diving before surfacing, making his way for the other side of the moat.

He stifled a scream of surprise, as a carp rubbed itself along his leg, its cold heavy body knocking him off his intended course.

Swimming faster now, Hideo reached into his belt and slammed his thin axes into the gaps of the stone moat wall, and fished himself out of the water, shivering and relieved to get away.

Taking a breather, Hideo climbed out of the moat, and peered over the edge.

The entire castle was now on high alert. Samurais were stationed everywhere, and there was a sense of rage and urgency suffusing the once festive atmosphere.

But there was no-one directly looking at Hideo, and the empty space between him and the emergency escape route.

Seizing his chance, Hideo rushed across the empty space, ignoring the wet footprints he left behind and stealthily avoiding the caltrops he left at the secret exit, he opened the door, clicked it shut before rushing through the forest.

He had gotten away.

~

The ride onboard Kaze was slow but uneventful. Hideo found himself hunched close to Kaze for warmth, as he tried to dry himself as quickly as possible after the cold waters of the moat.

Exhausted, Hideo whispered to Kaze encouragingly, but soon was asleep.

Hours later, Hideo awoke to vigorous shaking.

Opening his eyes, he was astonished to see Yukie staring at him, her brown eyes and pale face, haggard after a night of little sleep.

A soft blanket covered his bare chest, and he could feel the warmth of the fire nearby, restoring strength to his tired body.

Yukie? asked Hideo as he sat up. How …

The question died, as Yukie, unable to contain herself, hugged him tightly, tears of relief streaming down her cheeks.

Hideo felt a strange calm as he held Yukie tightly to his chest, and closed his eyes.

They would survive for another moment.

Hideo and Yukie stayed that way for the rest of the night, their silent relief slowly giving way to love by the fire.

Author’s note:

This story took me forever to finalise, simply because I had no real idea where I was going with it.

In addition, I was stuck on a very simple question: How do you write stealth in an exciting way that is tense and engaging?

As you can probably tell, I more or less gave up and ventured back into familiar “action” territory at the end. I also came to the conclusion that a fight between the target and main protagonist was much more fun to read than a silent kill.

No wonder there aren’t many stealth books out there …

Anyway, I’m glad to have put the finishing touches to this story and move onto the next one!

Until then!

~ Damocles.

Smallville (IMPACT Series)

Smallville (2001-2011)

Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come. 

Somebody save me …

Let your warm hands break right through it

Somebody save me …

I don’t how you do it. Just stay, stay

C’mon I’ve been waiting for you …

The Backdrop.

The early 2000s were an intriguing time for me. Growing up, I was banned from watching television, due to my over-enthusiasm for copying the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers fight choreography.

My mum, rightly or wrongly, didn’t allow me to watch any TV ever since.

So you can imagine my initial shock at discovering TV shows and how dramatic they could.

Smallville was exactly that.

Dramatic. Fun. Relatable … and crucially … filled with ridiculously good looking people.

It was also the perfect show to watch for a guy who was going through puberty and high school at the same time as Clark Kent was.

I can’t stress that enough. To say that Smallville had a significant impact on me growing up, is to severely underestimate how much of my teenage years were spent watching the show, growing obsessed with the idea of being a superhero and saving my high school crush.

The show is probably the sole reason why I’m such a disgusting Boy Scout when it comes to my moral compass.

It is also the reason why I have such fond memories of early 2000s rock music.

I can’t look at this farm, without feeling nostalgic

The Impact.

Smallville formed a lot of my values through my teenage years.

I shake my head now, but the episodes where Clark undergoes an edgy transformation due to “Red K” were some of my absolute favourites as the series went on. I wanted to be the darker, more unhinged version of Clark, who just didn’t care about revealing his powers or being a boy scout.

But I knew deep down that I was a lot more like normal Clark.

Shy around the girl he liked, eager to do some good and trying to keep his head above water.

I wasn’t bullied at school, nor was I the most popular guy on campus. I was just another guy.

Which is why I clung onto the idea of idolising Clark. Because he was a pretty ordinary guy, with some extraordinary powers. His dream was to be the popular kid, the guy cool enough to get Lana Lang’s attention and score the winning touchdown at his home game.

I could relate to that. I myself, was hideously shy around the girl I liked, and to my eternal regret, I never confessed my feelings to her for the entirety of high school.

Which is why I vicariously lived through Clark and his now iconic formula of Freak of the Week in which he would engage a new “freak” who was affected by the meteor shower from Krypton, do some amateur sleuthing and save the girl.

All whilst balancing school, friendship drama and trying to hide his secret identity and discover more about his true alien nature.

I remember keenly tuning in every week to watch a episode and experiencing my first real agony over a cliffhanger in which Lana is trapped in her car, with a tornado about to sweep her up and Clark super-speeding over, just in time to see her get tossed into the air.

I couldn’t believe that I had to wait months before I could see what would happen next. I remember being immensely upset and praying there would be a season two.

But I idolised the show. I wanted to be Superman, and have all of his powers. In fact, if I had to pick one from this powerhouse of a hero, it would definitely be his super-speed and for the time, the effects looked great.

In all honestly, looking back, I can’t help but be impressed by the style and production design. Metropolis was all hues of blue and grey, with an emphasis on glass and steel creating a unique look to the city. The Talon, a cinema/cafe complex where a lot of the characters met and worked was surprisingly lived in for what it was.

Then there was the Kent Farm itself, which was an incredible set, that really showed the love and care the Kent family poured into their adoptive son, and was the perfect way to show how All-American Clark really was. I loved the barn’s loft in particular, a prelude to what would be Clark’s occasional need to find solitude.

Hell, I even liked the cheesy look of the Fortress of Solitude and especially the way how the show paid homage to Christoper Reeve in his turn as Superman.

The show had just the right balance of action, romance, adventure and quickly deftly wove all the complex issues that Clark was facing over a season really well.

This show was so formative to me, that I had dreams of being a star quarterback … despite the sport not existing over here in Australia.

The Enrichment.

I won’t lie. Smallville was what started my admiration for America. I don’t think I wanted to move over to America as much as I did whilst watching the show.

I mean Smallville High looked so cool. People my age could dress however they wanted, drive cars to school and do fun stuff like run a student magazine and play girdiron. Then there was the summer break, where you could hang out with your crush, skinny dip in a lake and if you’re lucky you might even get this ridiculously attractive teacher who would hit on you, with her Kryptonian pheromones.

But I want to delve into the more important elements that I got out of the show.

A. American Football

Seeing Clark Kent armour up for his football never failed to get me amped. Especially when the iconic Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. For some reason, I loved the football scenes in the series, because they showcase the moments when Clark is happy, but also restrained, fighting his natural superhuman strength and speed to be normal. All he ever wanted was to be accepted and not feel like a freak and sport gave him that outlet.

In a lot of ways, I echo that. Whether I’m running, playing tennis, go-karting or practising quick-draws, I get that sense of power. I can feel my inner showman come out, and show the world how athletic I am, how coordinated I can be. I get that powerful surge of energy that lets me know, yes everything is working right.

Would I have signed up for the football team if NFL existed down here in Australia? Maybe. I’ve always seen myself as a wide receiver, until recently, when I forgot how much those balls hurt your hands if you catch them the wrong way.

But that was the dream … and it’s more suited to me, because I know damn well, I can’t throw the perfect spiral.

I mimed the hell out of those scenes when I was young and I’m glad I got to taste a little bit of it, when my younger brother bought a football and we got to spend a couple of hours together throwing the pigskin around.

B. American Values

Whilst Clark Kent’s fashion choices aren’t exactly the most forward or dramatic, I did oddly grow an obsession with wearing similar colours.

The iconic Red/Blue combination has stuck with me ever since, with a lot of my gym wear being based around that All American standard. Whilst I know it was an obvious reference to his superhero costume, I liked how casual it looked around Tom Welling’s big frame.

In fact, I can honestly say that almost all the colour in my wardrobe are either bright blues or red, my subconscious still channeling Superman, even when I don’t realise it.

Beyond dressing like an All-American in a town that value black on black and on more black, I took away a lot of Americanisms from the show.

There is something to be said about wholesome American shows that espouses strong morals and deal with such strong American icons. Even the first Captain America film, affected me greatly after watching it. They have this charm and old-fashioned element to them that I appreciate.

I think it is that old-school vibe that I adore. Perhaps one of the worst and best part of me, is that old generation outlook to moral and life. I believe in hard work, doing the right thing and honouring your duty to society.

I harnessed that part of my personality through shows like Smallville and Bones, where all my favourite male characters were that stoic, boy scout character, whose toughness hide a surprising vulnerability.

Call it a cliche, but it was these shows that really taught me how to be my own man and accept the consequences of my own actions.

Perhaps the greatest lesson one can learn from American values is that when you are called upon to do something, you should do it because it’s just the right thing to do.

C. Female Friendships

In the show, Clark Kent is quite the ladies man, the opposite of me in reality, whose luck with women have resulted only in two positive scores.

But what I learned from Clark’s many escapades is the ability to treat a person who you previously had feelings for, with respect and even maintain a friendship.

I struggle a lot with my feelings for the opposite sex. Whilst I’ll explore that in depth later, I will say that for a long time, I’ve always found it difficult to separate infatuation to genuine love and depth of feeling. That struggle has actually lead to a lot of random confessions to friends, which strangely allowed me to move on without regret and still maintain my friendships with my girl-friends.

In a bizarre twist, I would say they even deepened our bond.

What I appreciated about Smallville was the show’s focus on Clark and Chloe’s friendship. There was a lot of reciprocated love between the characters, but it didn’t stop them from being friends. They learned to put aside their feelings, and move on without any malice or regrets.

Whilst this can’t be said for Clark and Lana, whose relationship honestly plagued the show for far too long, I really loved the natural progression of Clark and Lois, whose initial friendship is spiced up with competition and then eventually love.

Seeing how Clark dealt with all three women, and even the fleetingly sweet but dangerous Alicia, taught me a lot about how I wanted to view my own relationships and what I got out of them.

With Chloe, it was a friendship, tested by extraordinary circumstances.

With Lana it was a love story that was far too insecure and plagued with betrayal, deceit and obsession.

But with Lois, there was a friendship first, that blossomed in mutual feelings, something that I understood to be natural, far more trusting and romantic.

I’m thankful to say that my current girlfriend is definitely a Lois type.

The Barn Loft was something I always wanted. It gave Clark his breathing space and was incredibly romantic at certain twilight hours with all his love interests.

The Culmination.

Smallville had an undeniably big impact on my teenage years. I grew up alongside Superman as odd as that sounds. Whenever I think back to any big high school moments, I can almost picture the show and how it parallels with mine, only in Smallville, Clark got the girl at the end of prom, whilst I didn’t.

Through a young Clark Kent, I was taught how to not to behave and give in to darker desires, be a honourable man and ultimately grow up and be respectful to everyone around me.

Smallville taught me that you don’t need a dark, tragic past to be a good person. You can just be a good man because it’s the right thing to do.

Clark Kent grew up with the most supportive parents who taught him how to harness his powers for good. He had amazing friends who kept his secret and an incredible woman who understood him for all his flaws and strengths.

I suppose its’ why I always gravitate to these overly goody-two-shoes characters because my life is just like that. I don’t a tragic past and I’m not sure I ever really tried to pretend I ever did.

I’m the sum of a guy who had love and support every step of the way, along with a whole lot of luck and … in all honesty, with all respect to the people around me, I turned out pretty damn well.

Love and support.

Arguably, that is the best superpower to have.

IMPACT

~ Damocles

No matter what anyone says, to me, Tom Welling and Erica Durance’s chemistry remains to date the best Clark and Lois on screen.

The Miami Tango.

Top Gun’s silhouette sex scene is still burned into my brain, as a young 7 year old.

It was a hot night, and I was thirsty.

Beckoning the bartender, I leaned in flirtatiously and ordered two mojitos with lime.

She smiled at my generosity, and I watched her dance with the cocktail shaker, her hips and arms shaking temptingly, her sky blue nails flashing under the neon lights of the club.

What’s your name, baby? I half yell over the remixed sounds of 90s pop.

Rita she says, as she leans in and toasts me with her mojito glass.

Rita … I’m Danny. Where’re you from? I ask, whilst sipping from my drink.

Cuba.

I grin at her. Qué poco azul llevas… para el cielo que eres .

Rita laughs, tossing her hair back and flashes me her long fingers.

I got a little bit of blue on. Enough for you baby. So what brings you here? asks Rita, as she tilts her glass at me, raising an eyebrow.

Miami? I query with a smile. Well Rita … I came here to relax, watch the Dolphins and meet gorgeous girls. We just won so … here I am, spending money I shouldn’t and doing my best to flirt with you.

So, Rita, baby .. how am I doing?

Rita smiles back at me and cocks her head sideways. It’s hard to break eye contact with Rita, because her eyes are the exact reason why I, and three unsuccessful drunker guys went up to chat to her. They’re an incredible light brown that almost look golden under the flashing lights of the club.

Well Danny, you bought me a drink first. So that’s a tick. I will also say, you’ve been nothing but honest to me so far too, so that’s another tick.

Although …

Your Spanish is absolutely shocking.

I grin mischievously at her. I haven’t had many teachers. Would love to learn more though, from a native speaker.

Rita tilts her head again at me. Danny, baby … I could give you 200 lessons and it won’t get rid of that horrible accent you’ve developed.

I only need 1 lesson to get better. I raise my glass and we both toast each other. To Spanish lessons. Salud!

OK Danny. What’s the real reason you came over here. You must have saw the guy I blew off before. Besides, I’m meant to be working.

To answer your second question first, I’ll ask … what time do you finish?

Too early to sleep with you, too late to wake up next to you either.

I laugh. Rita had a way with words. I liked that. I fatalistically shrug.

I was hoping we’d do more than just sleep, but that’s OK.

To answer the first part … I’m pretty sure I’m the same as every guy here … I came over to see your eyes up close.

And how are they? asks Rita, as she turns up the luminosity of her golden eyes to another level. I’m entranced.

Even better than I imagined I answer truthfully.

Rita casts her incredible eyes downward in a blush. She toys with her drink before looking up again with a wry look on her gorgeous face.

So what now Danny?

I’ll ask for your number and we’ll hit it up sometime? I’m old school. Wine and dine. Movies. Baseball. Hell, even a Dolphin game if you’re down/.

How long are you here for? asks Rita cautiously.

For you Rita? I’m here until the sun is up and the party is over. Then I’m back to being Daniel, the travelling salesman with a boring 4 hour plane ride to nowhere.

Rita laughs. Not that long huh?

The grind never stops. I retort with an easy-going sarcasm. But I did stop it for you.

Rita bites her lips. How much money you’re gonna spend tonight?

I shrug and pull out a roll of cash. It’s an easy two thousands in 50 bills. Until this band can’t stay tight any more. Here.

I slide her a 50 dollar tip and Rita nods at me. She leans over to her boss who nods approvingly.

Ripping off her apron, Rita exposes her white shirt, which is cinched tight around her midriff, exposing the taunt, fit stomach. I shake my head in admiration and hold out my hand to her as she steps out of the bar.

Let’s go. she whispers in my ear as the DJ slows down the beat and I savour the huskiness of her voice.

~

Yo taxi! Over here!

Rita and I climb in a bright yellow taxi, greeted by a laid-back cab driver who smiles at how much we’re unable to keep our hands off each other.

You want dinner, baby? I ask Rita.

I’m good thanks.

Hokay then, driver … take us to the Savoy Hotel.

You got it, pal said the cab driver sardonically as he pulls out onto the street.

Rita nestles in close to me and I can smell the perfume on her neck. It’s a familiar scent, because I used to pitch for Le Labo.

Noir 29.

Rita looks at me, puzzled for a second, before she catches on.

Oh my god. How did you know?

I’m in sales baby. I used to pitch for Le Labo back in the day, before they got big.

You were serious then? When you said you were a salesman?

I try not to lie to women I’ve just met. I laugh. I wasn’t joking when I said I was here on vacation.

How long you here for? asks Rita

Long enough for a good time, but nothing permanent. I wasn’t joking when I said that I got a flight in the morning tomorrow.

I feel Rita’s hands loosen slightly around my arm. She turns her golden eyes outside at the lights of Miami flickering past the cab.

I look across at her and sense a strange sadness.

Hey I say, as I reach across and cup her chin gently for the first time.

Rita looks over at me. I can tell she’s having second thoughts. Her eyes aren’t meeting mine.

If you don’t want to do this, it’s okay. I’ll pay for the cab ride home. No hard feelings, I promise.

Rita looks up and suddenly smile.

Thanks Danny. I don’t really know what came over me. But thank you for being a gentleman. Give me a bit of space until we get to your place OK?

Sure. I reply as Rita undoes her belt. She shuffles across to the other side of the cab, and stares out the window, crossing her arms. I do the same, feeling the sting of rejection, but not feeling bitter about it. It’s just one of those nights. You can’t have it all.

Moments later, the taxi pulls up to the Savoy, my temporary home away from home. Rita looks over at me and shakes her head.

I smile reassuringly. It’s okay Rita. It was lovely to meet you tonight. Thanks for having a drink with me.

Walking up, I rap on the cab driver’s window and he rolls it down, with a sympathetic look on his face.

Bro, you mind taking her home? Here’s my card, just send the bill to this hotel. Room 404.

No worries pal. I gotcha. Sorry you struck out man.

All good bro. Have a good night. Here’s a tip.

Bro … 30 bucks? That’s the price of the ride man … I can’t take this.

Yeah you can. Get yourself a square meal on me. Thanks again.

The cab driver raises his fist out to bump and I duly do so with a warm smile, before walking into the hotel.

~

It didn’t take me all that long to get over Rita. Whilst I was a little bit cut that I couldn’t spend the night with a beautiful, golden eyed Cuban Latina flame, I was still living life pretty comfortably.

Face it pal, the only sensory pleasure you’re going to get today, is seeing the Dolphins trash the 49ers. That’s enough.

Changing into my nightrobe, the silk feeling luxurious on my bare skin, I pick up the phone and decide to have a final drink to celebrate, before retiring to bed.

Hey, is this room service? Awesome. Can you send up a bottle of Dom Perignon, two glasses and your … errr …. dessert platter? Yeah, those fruits are all okay, just add some dark chocolate in as well. Thanks pal, have a good night … What’s that? 10 minutes? Awesome. Thanks again.

I lie down on the bed, my arms around my head, closing my eyes to reflect on my day.

I must have dozed off, because I’m shocked out of my nap by persistent knocks on my door.

Shaking my head, I tighten the nightrobe around me and blearily open the door.

Hey, sorry I was taking a …

Rita is standing there, a blazer over her bartender uniform, but with a pair of red heels on, holding my champagne and dessert platter. Her white shirt is undone just enough, for me to see the bright neon yellow lingerie that taunts me against her tanned skin.

I’m frozen in surprise. So Rita makes the decision for me, and brushes past me, where she sets down the bucket of sparkling wine and the food on the bedside table, before pulling me in close.

I can taste the lingering aftertaste of the mojito we shared on her lips and I encircle her hips with my arms, bringing her in even closer.

There is a strange desperation to our kiss, as if we have a time limit, which was true technically. Rita is hungry, and insistent, tossing her light brown hair to and fro, as she frantically starts to pull at my nightrobe.

When we finally come up for air, Rita has me pinned against the wall, and her gorgeous chest is heaving for breath.

I don’t want to say it, but I have to.

Rita, are you sure about this?

Yes breathed Rita, before going in again. I hold her still by the shoulders for a second. I’m beginning to lose control, but I have to be absolutely certain.

Why?

Rita looks at me seriously, transfixing me with her golden eyes.

Because I want you to come back to Miami one day.

I look at her seriously. She holds my gaze equally.

Deal I hear myself breathe out.

Before Rita can crush me, I spin her around and pin her against the wall. She furiously loosens the knot that ties my night-robe together and soon, I’m standing naked before her. Pushing me back, Rita almost drinks me with her golden eyes, and I almost feel self-conscious, her gaze is that intense.

I pride myself on my lean figure, not too much muscle, but just enough for everything to be taunt, wiry and firm. A lot of core exercises, light arm work and far too much cardio.

Something inside Rita clicks, because she pushes me down on the bed and takes a step back.

I stare, astonished, as she slowly slips off her blazer, swaying her hips to an invisible rhythm. Rita’s long blue nails clasp over her white shirt, as I feel my breathe quicken with her every movement. The slow unbuttoning is agonisingly slow, but every inch of her tan skin that gets revealed only hype me more.

Soon, Rita is standing there, shirt around her wrists, her upper chest bared forward, her dark brown hair tossed behind her and her chin defiantly tilted, as if daring me to question whether she was not the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

In that moment, I was stunned and in agreement.

Then the shirt came off in a whirlwind of movement and her long legs wriggled back and forth, as she slid her dark pants down.

Rita paused for a second, allowing me to sear the image of her lithe body in neon lingerie and red heels into my memory. I can still see her head tilted back, her golden eyes staring into mine, her brown hair tumbling over her shoulder and her arms up over her head like a nude muse out of a painting.

I can’t take the tease anymore, so I launch myself off the bed and wrap my arms around her, savouring her soft skin, loving the way how her stomach presses against mine, luxuriating in the rise and fall of her breasts against my heartbeat.

My hands are around her back, undoing her lingerie’s clasp that will free her breasts. The moment the intricate bra is off her shoulders, I break away from her soft lips and slowly run my tongue down her body.

A soft giggle comes from Rita, as I bury my mouth into her clavicle, still giving her a warm full body massage with my hands.

Her breasts under my lips are soft, full and beautifully bouncy. She moans under my ministrations and slips out of her heels, pushing me away when it becomes too much and jumping up into my arms.

As I hold her, my hands splayed wide grabbing her bare ass, Rita wraps her legs around my hips and begin to grind, as she comes in and out of kisses and breath.

I groan, as she hits a particularly tender sweet spot and I bounce her up, to reposition her better.

Rita is now biting my neck, her soft moans becoming louder in intensity as she can feel me rubbing along her most sensitive parts.

I pin her against the wall, cradling her head and as she reflexively put a foot down, whilst keeping the other up, I angle myself and go all the way.

Rita and I groan in ecstasy. She feels incredibly soft and warm, as we stay there for a moment, our eyes closed in relief and pleasure.

She starts to move ever so slightly, and I snap my eyes open, to look at her, her back pressed firmly against the wall, riding me energetically, whilst transfixing me with those golden eyes.

Her moans are now starting to sound like soft pants and half-screams, and I begin to match her, grunting with every thrust, every movement, every sound and every wave of pleasure that washes over me.

I keep rocking back and forth, unable to stop this ride, as Rita matches me in intensity and focus, her brown hair whipping my chest back and forth, as she tosses her head back and forth in gratification.

Danny! More! More! she breathes out. Don’t stop. Oh please, don’t stop.

I’m in my own world now, all my attention is focused on making her feel good. Nothing exists except my body giving her all the feel-good vibes it can.

That’s it, baby. I encourage her as I can sense her starting to peak. I’m only here for you.

Yes! Yes! You’re all mine baby. she screams as she increases her grip around me.

We both unleash a primal scream, as she climaxes along with the rest of me.

It’s so powerful, that we’re frozen like that, for a full minute, before we both collapse on the floor, exhausted, sweat beading everywhere on our skin, my manhood still trapped inside of her.

She wraps her arms my neck and I breathe in her perfume deeply, and the scent of her hair.

Don’t let me go Danny. Not yet. she whispers in my ear. It’s a promise disguised behind a plea.

I’m right here Rita. I whisper back. I’m not going anywhere … I promise.

Author’s Note.

Originally writing this, I had huge writer’s block.

This is one of those drafts that has stayed a draft for a very long time.

My inner conservative side literally wasn’t sure how to proceed, until I finally found a scene that reminded me why I wanted to write this.

Top Gun’s sexy silhouette sequence (my first ever sex scene I saw on screen) and Miami Vice (2006)’s flirtatious scene between Sunny and …. Rita, a bartender in a club at the very beginning of the film.

Yes, I stole the name and the idea of buying a bartender a drink as well from that movie.

After that, it was literally a matter of getting over the idea that my friends who will read this, will judge me for writing such poor erotica (or maybe it was good, I don’t know) and bada-bing, bada-boom, the story turned out great and I could write a proper sex scene without fear.

One more final aside … I hate the word “penis” and “vagina”. There is just something unpleasant about how they sound, so you’ll note I didn’t use either terms in the scene.

Keeps it more … sexy I think? I’m still a novice at this stuff.

But if I’m to write a book one day, I got to keep practising.

Thanks for reading smut as always, until the next one.

~ Damocles.

Professional.

Collateral (2004)

What does professionalism look like to me?

Beyond basic competency in your job, professionalism is an attitude that I think is lacking in a lot of people.

It is something that you need to train and work continuously to maintain.

Just having a job, doesn’t make you a professional in my eyes. Everyone can get a job. It doesn’t matter what background you have or what field you chose.

A consummate professional, in my eyes, is someone who espouses getting the job done, above everything else.

There is a certain ruthlessness that comes with being a professional. It’s not about being an arsehole all the time, or kiss-arsing everyone you deem above you.

It is about checking your ego at the door, acknowledging problems for what they are and being pragmatic in how you find and apply solutions. Some solutions require you to bring out your inner arsehole. Other answers may be found from stroking the egos of people above you.

Professionalism means that you don’t let emotions cloud your judgement or criticisms and apply them fairly without being malicious. It means that when you are confronted with an uncomfortable co-worker or even a friend, you can disassociate your personal feelings to your professional duties.

So much of being a professional is swallowing your ego and ideals for the sake of the job.

No matter how much you might hate the rules, your boss or even your co-workers, you need to put it aside for the objective.

Complete your mission, no matter the cost.

Which is where I want to touch on the personal cost of being a professional.

No matter the job, no matter how much you might enjoy or hate the environment, there are going to be people you don’t get along with. Ideologies, morals and personalities clash all the time. I know that in my current retail role, I don’t have an ounce of respect for any of my bosses. They’re hopelessly out of touch with the situation on the ground, incredibly overbearing and controlling and I suspect, they don’t take very kindly to my maverick attitude to authority.

That said, I know that I am professional about my role. I recognise the one major benefit of this job … that I can write on this blog during dull hours of work and that I’ve somehow managed to carve a small niche, in where I am actually getting paid to write and do retail work.

This small solace, amidst all the terrible mismanagement, is what keeps me from snapping. I can tolerate a lot, as long as I can write.

Which is why, despite personal cost, I can keep a professional demeanor at work and towards my bosses. This one benefit, trumps all the negative aspect of work.

I think that is the key to being professional. You have to view everything as objectively as possible and consider what are your limits.

Knowing your limits … that leads me into something that I think all professionals should have … high emotional intelligence.

Any idiot can be a professional. It’s not hard to learn skills, once you are getting paid to do so or forced to learn them. A monkey can use a hammer, just like a university graduate with no life experience can be taught how to calculate the trajectory of a rocket re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and it’s most likely impact point.

What is often not taught, is how to communicate effectively with people you dislike, how not to be the arsehole at work and what are your personal limits.

Some people don’t have any concept of work-life balance. Which is incredibly detrimental to their professional life. Balance in all aspects of life is crucial to success and mental health. You enjoy work more when you spend the money you earned on things that matter to you … fine dining, sports, art galleries, concerts, racing or in my case, guns and books.

Understand and explore what your limits are. Don’t be the person that clock offs from work and immediately go home every night of the week. Expend a little bit more energy into living after work. Flirt with people, interact with your bartender, dance the night away …. have good conversation or just exercise with your dog.

When you discover that you actually have a lot more energy than you think, that work isn’t everything to your life, you’re going to find out more about yourself. And when you know yourself better, your emotional intelligence is going to rise, because you’ll see everyone around you, suffering from the same difficult acts and tribulations that come with work, life and play.

When you are a true professional, you’ll find it easier to manage your work-load and can even help others out.

I’m a firm believer in the concept that everyone is born with a “backpack” on their shoulders.

In this backpack, you are going to fill everything in it. Work. Relationships with strangers. Good memories. Bad experiences. Friendships. Lovers.

Often, without realising it, we fill this backpack with stuff that we don’t mean to take on.

Our bosses’ angry tirade at us. Our lover’s trauma. Parental expectations. False ideas about who we are.

Sometimes we forget to lighten this load and it creates a huge burden on our shoulders. I like to think that everyone can carry their backpack at 80% capacity comfortably. But too often we over-extend and end up shouldering 90%, or even 110%.

If you have a reasonably high emotional intelligence, you’ll know exactly when you are exceeding the weight limit in your backpack and you’ll start dumping things that you shouldn’t be carrying in the first place. It could be as innocuous as taking a bit of time off work. Or it could be as drastic as having a conversation with your partner, about how they need to learn to shoulder their 80% better, because goddamnit, you’re already loaded down, you don’t need to be carrying their arse along as well.

This is what I mean by exploring your limits as a professional. Your personal affects your professional life as well. By being pro-active at managing your limits, you can do your job better. Less things annoy you, work becomes a bit easier to handle and you can instinctively know when you can take a little bit more than 80% on your shoulders and when you shouldn’t.

More importantly though, you possessing a high emotional intelligence means you can manage people around you better, no matter their personalities and be more flexible in how you cope with difficult situations. You will find it easier to tap into your sides of your personalities and be more pragmatic in how you approach problems.

That ability to adapt, improvise and overcame any obstacles, regardless of personal strife or ideology is what makes you a professional in my eyes.

It is such a pity that more people aren’t taught the importance of balancing all aspects of their lives. Too many people experience the same pitfall of working becoming their existence, without realising that they can exist as individuals outside of the business grind.

If you are going to work hard for your whole life, do something that makes you happy. But more importantly, don’t make that happiness only be tied to work.

Explore yourself and you’ll find that being a professional can also apply to yourself.

You can be a pro at being yourself.

~ Damocles.

The Silent Tram

The tram rattled it way through the darkness of Melbourne suburbia.

The iconic whir and grind of the tram lulled everyone onboard into a strange stupor, of boredom and listlessness. For Jordan Bordeaux, this daily purgatory was his only way home, after a long stint at the office.

An unassuming man in every way, Jordan was boring and single. A man in his early 30s, he had no future aspirations or career options. He was the classic loner, happy to work in a dull accounting firm, and then head home to his humble abode and play video games for the rest of the night.

Tonight though, he had an important task.

Even now, as he stared out at the dark suburban landscape of Melbourne, the houses blurring by under weak, amber lights, and cars racing by underneath him, Jordan was still grappling with the unexpected task that has been thrust upon him by his boss.

Jordan, it’s very important to me that this briefcase be delivered to this client. He will meet you at the Burwood One Shopping Centre. Don’t worry about meeting this client, he’ll see you.

When you meet him, just hand it over and go home right away. I would do it myself, but I have to tie up a few things here at the office. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure this is part of your overtime pay. I really appreciate this mate.

Jordan, knowing deep down, he couldn’t refuse, had meekly responded and after work, had hopped onboard the 75 Vermont South Tram that would take him to the shopping centre.

Ever since that incident, his boss had been a bit colder. Today though, he seemed a bit warmer. Perhaps forgiveness was coming. Jordan was eager to keep the peace, so he decided to run this errand.

Having never possessed a car, let alone venture outside of his Richmond area, Jordan was nervous. He was used to the tram itself, as it took him home, but he had never been this far along the line.

As it was, Jordan was sitting in his usual spot, at the rear of the tram, the brown briefcase on his lap, his laptop bag underneath. The briefcase was oddly heavy, but Jordan didn’t dare open it, for fear of losing his job.

From his spot, Jordan had a door in front of him that he could exit out of, and see the whole length of the carriage.

Few souls were on this tram this late, most of them staring emptily out the window, waiting for their ride to end.

Near the middle of the tram, was an old couple muttering about a film they had just seen, the husband acting out scenes to his wife’s amusement. Their interaction filled Jordan with a envy he had not felt in a long time.

Only 2 booths in front of him was an attractive hipster girl, her classy white dress offset with black booties. Jordan found himself invariably drawn to her. Her head rested on the window, and there was something beautiful about how the light played across her face.

On the other end of the carriage, near the driver’s cabin, sat Jordan’s twin, another quiet, bored businessman in a suit, his fingers dancing his phone screen as he communicated with a flurry of friends in a group chat.

The last two occupants in the large tram, were young. A nursing student in her blue slacks was watching K-drama on her phone, her headphones blocking any sounds from the outside world.

Across from her, on one of the standing seats, was a bored teenager, his skateboard in one hand, his other supporting his schoolbag. The teen did nothing but look out the window and occasionally tap his board against his leg.

Jordan felt himself lurch forward, as the tram decelerated to a stop.

The doors slammed open, and no one got off.

Instead, a hooded man step onboard.

Decked out completely in black, the hooded figure had a balaclava that covered the bottom half of his face, sunglasses that obscured his eyes and a military styled backpack slung on his shoulder.

Scanning the length of the tram, the blacked out man silenced the tram with his presence. The old couple stopped talking and the husband defensively held his wife’s hand in reassurance. The hipster girl moved her bag across her stomach, wary and unsettled. The teen looked down, and avoided eye-contact. Only Jordan’s twin and the nursing student ignored the newcomer, unaware he was onboard.

With a blank stare at Jordan, the hooded man moved away and without hesitation, sat down with the old couple, looking at them silently.

Expectantly.

The old man swallowed, whilst his wife moved into the corner. Reaching up deliberately, the hooded man pulled the string that signalled for the tram to stop at the next station.

The old man nodded in acquiescence and minutes later, the old couple was disembarking, holding their belongings close. The skateboarding teen, seeing what was going on, also immediately jumped off, the sounds of his board skittering across the concrete pavement, a distant echo of panic.

Without any sound, the hooded man moved towards the attractive girl, and stood in the centre of her seat booth.

She looked up at him in abject fear, shaking slightly.

The blacked out man raised a single finger up to where his mouth would have been and nodded mockingly.

The girl grabbed her shoulders in fear, as the man leaned over and put his face close to hers.

Jordan watched in horror, straining to hear anything as the girl, tears streaming down her face, nodded obediently to the man’s quiet commands. Then in a burst of fear, she ducked out from under him and ran away through the carriage, frantically pressing the button for the next stop.

The hooded man didn’t move, instead he sat down in her place and placed his gloved hand over the still warm seat, as the tram shuddered to a stop and the girl ran outside into the darkness of a strange neighbourhood, nearly getting hit by a careless driver.

Jordan looked on in abject horror as the masked man ran his hand over the seat, lingering and savouring where the girl had just sat.

Run! screamed his mind. But what about the briefcase? inputted his logical side.

The indecision froze Jordan in place. He didn’t know what to do. He was an accountant for god’s sake. Sweat pooled underneath his arms, and across his forehead.

Once the seat cooled, the masked man stood up unerringly and made his way to the nursing student, her back to him. He moved smoothly and silently, his dark presence only amplified by the lack of sound coming from him.

In a freak coincidence, the tram rumbled over a piece of debris, causing the electricity to short out for a second, casting the carriage into darkness.

In that second, the masked man placed a gloved hand over the student’s mouth and slammed her head into the window of the tram.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

Blood slowly trickled down the glass and temple of the poor girl, as she lolled listlessly with the movement of the tram.

It happened so swiftly, so viciously and violently, that Jordan’s twin barely had any time to do anything before he was pounced upon by the masked man.

No! No! Urk! ….. Pleaseeee ….

The masked man was coldly efficient. Using the man’s tie against him, he wrapped it around the man, and as he twisted and choked the man, the dark figure bought his knee up and slammed it repeatedly into the twin’s head.

As the man slumped to the floor, the masked man, in a strange frantic state, scrabbled through the man’s pockets, and bag and briefcase.

Jordan, his mouth agape, began to furiously pull the string for the next stop. He couldn’t peel his eyes off the man, who was kneeling astride his twin, his hands rummaging and pulling all sorts of things out from every pocket.

What the fuck is in this briefcase?! screamed Jordan internally.

It was at that moment, the masked man took of one of his gloves. Jordan eyes widened as he beheld a blackened, claw of a hand, with viciously long fingernails and open sores. He clamped his hand over his mouth, stifling the scream that died before it come out, into a whimper.

The tram kept moving. A ghostly vehicle, amongst quiet suburbs and homes.

The masked man, ran his hand along the unconscious man’s cheek, stroking it, in a perversion of care, as his nails drew a line of blood.

Why isn’t this working!? thought Jordan as the plaintive peal for a stop kept being ignored by the driver.

Then he froze.

The masked man was now looking directly at him.

Rising to his full height, the masked man stared at the terrified Jordan, clutching the brown briefcase tightly to his chest.

Recognition of the prize, shone in the masked man’s eyes.

There was nowhere to go. The tram was not stopping. Jordan didn’t know how to fight.

End of the road.

The masked man walked slowly over to Jordan, his pace measured and agonisingly slow.

The lack of noise was terrifying. It was like seeing a shadow come towards him. It was impossible not to stare at the claw of a hand.

The masked man stood before Jordan, who was now quivering in apoplectic fear.

He stretched out his hand towards the briefcase.

Jordan, bravely or stupidly, held on.

The cut that appeared on Jordan’s right cheek was so fast that he didn’t even have time to register it, before the next one appeared on his left.

Blood oozed out from the pair of cuts and Jordan felt, rather than heard, a scream of pain erupt out of his lungs.

He sank to his knees, dropping the briefcase, which never hit the ground, because the man caught it in an blink of an eye.

Jordan Bordeaux wet himself in fear, before his eyes lolled into the back of his head, in a stupor of anxiety.

Just before darkness completely engulfed him, he could have sworn he felt something pierced his neck …

~

The masked man ripped open the briefcase and exposed the contents within to the world.

Under the flickering lights of the tram, the briefcase yawned open and the masked man pulled out what he really wanted the whole time.

3 blood bags, with a needle and catheter.

Behind him, the nursing student rose up on her haunches as did the business man clone of Jordan.

Their movement were worthy of a contortionist. From the floor, the female student stood with her legs first, before lifting her upper torso into the correct position. It was like seeing a yoga pose in reverse, and all the more unnatural because of it.

As for the clone, he merely just crawled forwards. The lower half of his body was left behind. The bizarre image of only half a man, without his legs, just using his arms to propel himself forward eagerly was something that would only be normal amongst the three of them.

The pair of them gathering around the masked man, their mouths open, teeth bared in anticipation.

The masked man stroked Jordan’s cheek in a bizarre parody of care and tenderness, sensing the strong heartbeat underneath. He scooped a drop of his blood on a long fingernail and lifting his mask, savoured the metallic taste.

Nodding approvingly, he stepped aside to let the student work, who immediately started searching for a vein to insert the needle and start the process. The Jordan clone flexed his muscular arms and began to massage Jordan’s arm intensely.

The first blood bag was filled in 15 minutes.

The second, was over in 10.

The final one, was in a record 8 minutes.

The masked man, nodded approvingly at his associates and they nodded back, their teeth still bared in anticipation for the final order.

But he shook his head and gestured to the front of the tram.

Disappointed, the pair of them retracted their fangs and sullenly returned to their seat, to pack their items, each of them clutching a precious blood bag.

The masked man looked over at Jordan, his pale features, now a sickly shade of marble.

There was just enough in there.

Leaving behind the briefcase, the masked man looked at the note written hastily, with a nervous hand.

Jordan Bordeaux // AB+ // Sentence: Voyeurism on his employer and mistress.

Snarling with amusement, the masked man pulled the string.

Minutes later, all three creatures had disappeared into the night, into the surreal suburban landscape of Melbourne.

The tram rattled on, this time quicker, as it neared a junction.

Pressing a button, the tram’s yellow text flashed red momentarily, triggering a switch in the rail.

Diverging off its normal course, the tram made its way through a darkened alleyway, where it was immediately swallowed up by a shed that opened its door when the tram came close.

Red light flooded the interior of the shed, and the tram driver stepped out from his cabin, to stare at his prize.

Like the other creatures, the tram driver had a disfigurement that needed blood to prolong his life.

The nurse needed blood to stand properly without slumping over. The clone needed blood to continue to use his legs. The masked man needed blood to cure his skin.

But the tram driver needed blood to keep his eyes.

They were incredibly bloodless. So much so, that they were nearly rendering him blind. He drove the tram almost by feel, recognising every bump, every jostle on the road.

The tram driver walked through the tram, blind and his teeth bared.

Jordan was now barely alive. But he was conscious enough to know that it was over. His boss had sent him on this tram ride to hell, to get rid of him, for being an innocent bystander.

All because one night, he forgot his keys and had to tram back to get them.

That one night, was when his boss was having his secretary from behind and they were caught mid-peak when Jordan walked in.

As the tram driver bit into his neck and began to draw the last of his blood out, Jordan didn’t even have the energy to scream, all he could do was despair silently, as he knew no one would miss him.

In a strange way, he felt a sense of relief that his lonely existence was over.

The tram driver could see again. His eyes pulsed furiously, as blood rushed around his pupils and his eyesight was restored to a familiar red tinge.

Grabbing the bloodless corpse, the tram driver opened the door to the iconic public transport vehicle and began to start up the incinerator.

The ashes would be spread in his garden later, and when the opportunity was right, the boss would be charged a significant fee for their services.

The vampiric tram driver got back into the seat of his tram, licking his lips, and wondering when the next victim would come aboard. Flicking the tram line text from red to yellow, the tram driver settled back into his role, sated and happy he could see properly again.

Within minutes of the schedule, the tram was clattering along the streets of Melbourne, none of her citizens the wiser about the dark exchange that had happened on their network.

Author’s Note:

While this didn’t quite turn out as well as I wanted, I always liked the idea of a terrifying public transport option, where things go wrong very quickly and you’re trapped aboard, but none of the outside world notices.

I was actually semi-inspired for the ending by my recent blood donation and thought I would incorporate it in.

See you at the next one!

~ Damocles.

Nip & Tuck

My girlfriend is pretty much perfect.

She’s smart, funny, has the cutest laugh and the type of body that will make any guy stop and stare.

It’s how she got me in the first place. I was just nursing a drink in the bar, when she came in, perfectly svelte in a Chanel evening dress, and my jaw dropped on the floor.

Everyone else seemed intimidated by her. I wasn’t. I can read people pretty well and I knew that she came to this bar for some fun.

So I walked up to her, offered to buy her a drink in exchange for a conversation and that soon became 4 drinks later, and then a bedroom conversation.

I didn’t think she could be any more perfect up close, but I was dead wrong. She has these incredible green eyes that shimmer during the golden hours and tiny freckles across her straight nose that I found incredibly cute. Her lips were sensually thick and I wanted to kiss them forever.

Her voice was husky and sensual, she always sounded like she was half whispering something to you, and I always felt like I had to strain to catch every nuance in her words.

But my God, her body was to die for. She was pale, with dark raven hair hair that flowed down her sculpted back. She had full, firm breasts with a flat stomach and these incredibly supple thighs that I caressed constantly. I remember seeing on her back, a birthmark shaped like a diamond. It was the tiniest blemish that was hidden from the world, just behind her right shoulder, a fact that she hid with a bra strap constantly. Even her imperfections were difficult to find.

I loved her. She was my world from that night, and for the next 2 years. When she was away from me, my dreams would populate every sleep with all my memories I had of her. I would wake up, painfully erect and desperate to see her.

I craved her like a drug.

That night, as we laid entwined naked on my small bedroom apartment, she told me her name was Ava.

Which is why I was fucking confused when I was sitting across my friend, at a trendy brunch place and I saw Ava, sitting at another table, with another guy in front of her.

But this Ava had blonde hair, tanned skin, and the loud, infectious and sunny accent of a valley girl.

My friend, her fork, halfway up towards her mouth, with a load of avocado bread, winced as my hand grabbed hers. She dropped the avo back on her plate in pain and slapped me angrily.

Daniel, what the hell?

Summer, look at her. Isn’t that Ava?

Summer turns around and looks at the blonde Ava. She doesn’t believe me.

Ahhh come on Daniel. I know you love Ava, but you’re seeing her everywhere. It’s not healthy bro.

But she looks EXACTLY like her though. Look at her nose! It even got the freckles. I would recognise that nose anywhere.

Summer waves her fork dismissively after spooning a successful mouth of avo this time.

Daniel. Ava is like … marble white. That chick? She’s your super tanned, super hot, beach bunny. Last I checked? Ava had dark hair not blonde wavy locks?

I slump back, defeated, in my chair. I am certain it’s Ava. But so much of her has changed. So, I could be wrong. Maybe it isn’t her.

Besides Daniel, look at the hunk she’s hanging out with. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re cute, but he’s … h.o.t.

Summer spells out the word, with each letter another nail in my jealous coffin.

He’s like you, but only a bit more muscly and he’s got a better jawline.

I glare at Summer. She shrugs and pouts teasingly at me.

Oh come on, I’m just teasing. He’s doesn’t have a better jawline. But he is hotter though.

I’m getting mad now. Desperate even.

I’m going to talk to her. I get up halfway to leave. I’m going to solve this mystery.

Summer grabs my hand and pull me down.

What are you, crazy? They’re on a date stupid! You can’t just barge in there like that and interrupt them! If you really want to know if that chick is your precious Ava …. why don’t you just text or call her dumbass? If that hot beach babe really is her in some crazy blond wig, then you’ll know for sure!

I blink in surprise. Summer’s idea makes a lot more sense than me barging over. I pull out my phone and text Ava, praying that the hot blonde beach babe isn’t her in some elaborate disguise.

Hi baby, just checking up on you, where about are you right now? Wanna meet up?

The moment I hit “send”, I look over at the blonde Ava clone. I’m certain that she will reach for her phone on the table, mid conversation and look at the text I sent her.

Each second that passes feels like agony for my heart. I want to be right but I also desperately want to be wrong.

The blonde Ava doesn’t do anything except continue her conversation with the hunky guy, and she reaches for another spoonful of the Poke bowl she ordered.

My phone buzzes.

I look down in shock.

Hi baby, I’m at Emporium’s Uniqlo, shopping. I thought you were out with Summer?

Summer laughs at my confusion and continues to eat. She waves her fork knowingly.

Oh, Daniel. I told you it’s not her. I mean look at that chick … she’s a total babe. Ava wouldn’t dress like that.

I nod silently, as I text Ava back.

Yeah I’m out with Summer atm, but we can meet up after?

Putting my phone down in frustration, I look over at the blonde I had confused for my girlfriend and note how different she dressed to Ava.

Whilst Ava preferred French clothes, all chic and gamine, this blonde version was decked out in American retro denim. Her tanned skin was perfectly off-set by the short jeans she was wearing, with a white crop-top that showed off her toned stomach. Her ankles were adorned with bracelets and her shoes were simple lace sandals.

The whole thing screamed beach bunny.

She was as different to Ava, as one person could be.

But she had the same body, damn it.

The same nose, the same sensual mouth, the same beautiful breasts.

Her stomach was even the same, with the hint of familiar abs showing on her lower ribcage and the long legs that threatened to overwhelm any sane man with their supple nature.

As I got up to the counter to pay, I couldn’t help but stare at her shoulder. There’s no way she can disguise her birthmark right?

But this blonde had no such distinguishing marks. There was no diamond birthmark just tucked away. I snap a quick photo of her anyway. I feel strange doing it, but I manage to capture her profile. It’s uncanny how much she looks like Ava.

Summer and I left the brunch restaurant, Summer bemused by my frustration.

Come on Daniel, be happy! It’s not Ava. She’s not cheating on you. Chin up. Anyway, I got to go work now. Be seeing you soon?

Yeah, see you soon Summer. I say distractedly as she leaves me behind to my drama.

~

It is nearly 2 hours later, when I met up with Ava. The moment I see her, I’m instantly reassured. The blonde version of her looks nothing alike the woman standing before me.

Ava is all class and mystery. She’s in a business suit today, with a black blazer that cinches her tiny waist and a white turtleneck. Monochrome is her normal style, but with enough cuts and adjustments to make her stern looks, vaguely sexual. There is an exciting severity to her looks that make you want to tear her clothes off.

In her hands are large shopping bags from various stores.

Daniel! she says huskily.

I wrap my arms around her. It feels good to hug her, and she is surprised.

What’s wrong? Your text message sounded strange.

Oh well … it’s kinda hard to explain, but I could have sworn I saw a blonde version of you. You don’t have a sister you’re hiding from me are you? I ask jokingly.

Ava looks confused, and she draws away from me. She shoots back No I don’t. But wait, I don’t get it, what do you mean a blonde version of me?

Well, Summer and I were having brunch together, just before she had to go to work and just across from us was this couple. I could have sworn the girl looked exactly like you, but she was wearing clothes that didn’t suit your style at all. She was in these beachy clothes and was super tanned. I guess I might have mistaken her for you, because you guys have the exact body type.

Ava frowns at me. Did you take a picture of her? I’m curious now.

Yeah I did. Have a look!

I show her a photo of the blonde clone and Ava is visibly shaken.

Oh my God. She looks just like me. You’re right.

I nod vigorously. See? I told you.

I look across at her and notice how pale she’s gotten. Ava, are you OK?

Let’s go home Daniel. Come to mine.

I do a double-take. Ava has never invited me to her place before. In all the two years we’ve dated, she has never shown me her home. I’ve dropped her off many times before, but have never been invited in. I’ve never really questioned it, because I was just happy to have her in my arms at my place.

Umm, OK Ava. Let’s go.

I lead her to my car and drive to hers. Luckily it’s only 5 minutes away from the city. As we pull up, I always forget how big her house is. A handsome two storey house, with your classic white picket fence, wooden veranda and glass stained door. The windows were covered with luxuriously thick velvet curtains that seem perpetually pulled down.

We walk up to the house and Ava looks back at me with a mixture of sadness and reluctance as she opens the door.

I look at her beautiful features, twisted in an expression of regret as I walk past and look around for the first time at her home.

It’s threadbare, plastic sheets cover everything from the floor to the lounge chairs. Everything is incredibly clean and oddly “unlived” in. It doesn’t look like anyone lives here.

Ava, what the hell is this?

I turn around at my girlfriend, only to see her holding a golf club. She must have left it by the door. Suddenly, I understand why everything is covered in plastic sheets. My heart starts beating faster, terror, not love, coursing through my entire system.

Ava must have been blonde. I saw another version of her at the cafe.

I start backtracking, my hands in front of me.

Please, Ava. Let’s talk about this. Don’t you love me?

Ava’s beautiful features have twisted into a savage caricature of herself. Her scowl is now terrifying me.

Ava, please.

Ava swings and I duck it, only to feel my feet go up against the wall. I’m trapped.

Ava no!

Her first swing knocks away my hands, so now I’m completely exposed.

The last thing I see before the golf club slam into my head, is Ava’s cold beauty, now devoid of any warmth.

Dark, traitorous blackness swallows me whole.

My last thought is Why Ava? I thought you loved me.

~

Ava looked down at Daniel, the blood slowly trickling out from the huge dent in his head. She shook her head and calmly walked into the kitchen with the golf club.

Running the tap on the highest heat, she slowly scrubbed the golf club clean with a scourer, bone, hair and blood trickling down the white sink. Placing it aside to dry, Ava walked back over to the unconscious Daniel, and took out a specialised trolley that was hidden underneath the staircase.

A strange device, it is a trolley that can be laid flat on the floor, with flanges running on the sides and multiple straps hanging loosely from its frame.

Lying the trolley flat on the floor, Ava slowly rolled Daniel’s body onto the trolley, before doing up the flanges and using a pneumatic hydraulic jack built into the trolley, lifted the trolley up, so that it was more akin to a stretcher. Strapping him in with the black fabric on the frame, Ava wheeled Daniel into the back of the house, where she pressed a button on a bookcase that moved it on its hinges to reveal a dark tunnel that descended into the basement of the house.

Lights flickered on, as Ava moved through the tunnel, before flickering off behind her, their “on” duration, movement sensitive.

It was a simple way to disorient any of her captives, should they get free.

Ava navigated her own maze unerringly, and finally came to her unique prison.

Four barely alive men greeted her, suspended in bizarre prone cruxific style frames, their tongues removed and eyes permanently blinded by lasers.

Where they once struggled mightily against the black straps that held them, they were now resigned and defeated, their bodies wasting away slowly as they awaited death from starvation.

Ribs, sunken skin and numerous needle marks were etched across their bodies.

This was what Ava needed to maintain her beauty.

Bone Marrow.

Blood.

Fat.

Skin.

Stem Cells.

Each of these men, had been chosen by her for their desirable qualities. They had all fallen under her spell, had compatible blood types and were attractive enough to sleep with, but not so much that they ruined their precious bodies with artificial means like steroids.

Ava placed Daniel in the centre of the room, and activated a machine. The soft whir of the machine, stirred one of the men nearby and he began to anxiously break out into a sweat. He knew what was going to happen. But he couldn’t talk, scream or see. Disturbing shakes from the man’s anxiety rattled the metal crucifix cage.

Ava undid the straps from Daniel’s torso that binded him to the stretched and watched as the machine manouvered itself from the dark corner of the room. It was nothing more than a pneumatic circular hollow magnet, that was capable of lifting heavy weights, but affixed to end of it, was a high powered laser, that Ava could control. The machine lifted one of the spare crucifix frames and hovered it above Daniel’s unconscious body.

Daniel was face down on the mock stretcher, and without remorse or compassion, Ava strapped his limbs to the frame, before allowing the machine to flip the crucifix frame to give Ava access to Daniel’s face.

Looking at him, Ava mercilessly opened Daniel’s mouth and pulled out his tongue, and in a shockingly fast motion, severed the entire appendage out from his mouth with a small electric doctor saw, before jamming the high powered laser and cauterised the bloody wound inside his mouth.

Daniel’s eyes opened wide in shock and pain, his first instinct to scream, but no real noise could emit from his open mouth, but a high pitched whine.

In a well-practised move, Ava removed the laser from Daniel’s mouth and swiftly burned his open eyes blind.

His

Stepping back, Ava allowed the machine to flip the crucifix again, so that Daniel was looking down at the floor, as blood rushed out of his mouth and into a drainage pipe that led to a blood collection tank nearby.

She would leave him like this, until his mouth was drained, a slow process that would take 3 hours.

Ava looked down at her watch and sighed. She was going to be late for her brunch date, who had asked her out for dinner.

Leaving Daniel behind to suffer with her other victims in darkness and pain, Ava walked back into her house and closed the bookcase.

She walked upstairs into her bedroom, where there were exquisite clothes arranged on racks everywhere, as well as numerous realistic wigs, and make-up stands.

Stripping naked, Ava placed her black business suit and white turtleneck on the dirty rack, to be cleaned surreptitiously later. Looking at herself in an antique full length mirror, she examined every inch of her body for any marks or signs of ageing.

She frowned when she saw a tiny crease near her eyes.

She would require an injection tonight to remove that stain.

But everything else was flawless. She had designed this perfect look for herself and she was damned if she was going to have anything ruin it for her.

For now, it was time to become the girl Daniel had saw at the brunch place and the new man, Sam, had fallen for.

Her green contacts came out. Ava’s eyes were actually naturally blue.

The dark hair that Daniel loved to caress was real, but actually much shorter. She removed the hair extensions that were pinned to her dark hair and took up the blonde wig. It was made from genuine hair and had cost her in the thousands to obtain. She clipped it to her short dark hair and was pleased when she looked at herself in the mirror.

She was halfway to transforming into the stunning blonde.

Reaching behind her, she removed the skin-like birthmark sticker that Daniel had identified her with, placing it carefully aside in a small container. In reality, there was no way she would allow any such blemish on her flawless body, but it served a purpose in confusing the multiple victims she courted at the same time.

Getting out a specialised tan liquid, she ran a bath, where she poured the liquid in. By taking a long soak, Ava would ensure that her pores would absorb as much of the tan as possible and thus give a convincing illusion that she spent a lot of her time in the sun.

Within the hour, as Ava padded naked and wet back into her room, she picked out the same style retro denim that was associated with beach-loving women all over the world. She even included a small stud in her belly button, and had tossed her blonde wig into the slightly frizzy, wavy mess that could only come from salt water exposure.

Ava was now Eve.

Smiling at herself in the mirror, Eve was now decked out in a cute denim overall, with a bikini underneath that emphasised her perfect full breasts, and cut-off legs that showed off her tanned ankles and white Vans.

With a practised sunny smile, Eve walked out for her dinner date with Sam, the memories with Daniel already forgotten.

He was now just Donor number 5.

Sam pulled up outside her house and Eve hopped in and kissed him on the cheek, as he hungrily looked her up and down.

Eve merely smiled confidently back at him. She was relieved that her beauty would last a while longer with a new donor.

Perhaps she might even play around with Sam a bit longer. He was very cute.

But like all of her previous partners, he would soon be reduced to bone marrow, stem cells, blood, fat and skin.

All the nutrients she needed to stay youthful forever.

~

Author’s Note

I came across this idea when I was sitting with my girlfriend at a dessert bar and someone at a table across from me looked like the spitting image of one of my girlfriend’s best friends.

It was a Eureka moment for me, because I soon wanted to write a horror story where a guy confused another girl for his partner, only to discover later that he was right. She was just a radically crazy person who would create disguises for herself to court other men and pretend to be multiple people.

I wanted to also touch on how she had designed herself to be this perfect aesthetic for womanhood through various surgeries performed on herself and that is what doomed so many men to fall for her spell. They would ignore red flags, because they were just grateful to have sex with her.

I had a fair amount of fun creating Ava’s surgery/extraction chamber and I hope it was suitably gruesome in your minds! I honestly made all of it up on the fly, without referencing anything so I’m quite pleased having come up with the original idea.

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.