Fiction: Selections from Alex Sinclair
I make my way down the tiled throat of the tunnel, toward the escalator.
Already I can hear voices babbling madly from the platform below, in between the harsh crash and rattle of arriving and departing trains.
The nails on a blackboard screech of runners kicking up sparks on the live, crackling rail.
A demented carnival of runny human effluvium, that’s what the night tube is.
Out and out slags and boilers staggering about in packs with all the graze of baby deer scattered onto sheet ice.
I should’ve smoked more horse before I left the house to face this.
Although still fuzzy, I fear that soon the itchy tar coating my body and rendering me as indifferent to my surroundings as a bug trapped in tree sap will soon wear off and I’ll be exposed to all this poison.
I don’t need smack; I need a radiation suit for this.
As I go down the escalator I get blasted with a gust of sooty wind as a train departs.
A stupid mammalian tosspot tries to slide down the steel partition separating the escalators but doesn’t account for the cruel tank trap of a no smoking sign.
I’m glad to watch him crash against it and pirouette through the air, forming a linguine limbed meat pretzel on the tiles.
Mates of his further up the escalator jeer as he writhes.
I do my best to pay no attention to any of it.
I hold onto the black tongue of the conveyor belt and examine the soot it's left on my fingertips.
People on the opposite ascending escalator are slumped, leaning on the conveyor belt or draped over one another, utterly skullfucked.
They look dead, like zombies too tired to bother with an apocalypse.
I’m descending, going down.
I’m always going down.
The platform is the end of things.
A man walks past me unicorned by a smashed beer bottle sticking out of the front of his head.
Blood has stiffened his shirt into a dirty brown rigid piece of cardboard, and congealing globules of it creep down his face like honey to meet his stupefied, sedated mental patient smile.
“You’ve got a bottle poking out of your naan bread mate,” I say, and he nods, allowing some blood to spill out of the end.
The cunt’s a human tap.
I shake my head.
I skid on a patch of sick, narrowly avoid treading in a turd half wrapped in a sheet of the Guardian and notice a girl in a lime green dress down the other end of the platform squatting with her knickers in one hand and her phone in the other, pissing like a cow.
The cloudy piss stands in stark relief against the faded off white tiles, and it runs straight off the edge of the platform in a cascade that sends sooty little vermin scattering away from their impromptu water sports section.
The noise is warped and distorted, lost souls shouting at one another from opposite ends of a giant drain.
A freezing wind cuts through the platform, an antic phantom gleefully slashing at every patch of goose pimpled flesh he sees with a straight razor made from ice.
Everyone shudders and flinches, regardless of drunkenness, and the frigid gust blows various scraps of newspapers past me.
I get a quick read of them as they ride the breeze, shaking my head at the moronic exploits of my species; Gordon Ramsay Lookalike Dwarf Porno Star Mauled by Badgers; Bummed Senseless: Hapless Burglars Buggered For Five Days After Burgling Rapist’s Home; Total Lack of WESTPECT; Pensioner Loses It After Being Mistaken For Mass Sex Killer Fred West.
The irony is the paper has made the same mistake itself, by including a photo of Fred West along with the caption, not the pensioner.
A cosmic portaloo.
I pass a fat cunt doing his best to eat a Big Mac but somehow the grey patty shoots out of the wet minge of the bun, which I can see some minimum wage donkey has overly lubricated with the sickly-sweet special sauce.
The mess goes all over the varnished brilliance of his shoes, a pair of spit shined brogues, which are in stark contrast to his creased suit, loosened too colourful tie hanging in a clown’s hangman's noose.
As I make my way toward the cab of the train waiting for me, the driver I’m swapping shifts with, Andy I think, is making his way towards me, shaking his big, stabbed to fuck ham hock of a head.
He got attacked by a gang of goons a few years back, out on the graveyard shift of the most desolate stretch of the Northern line.
“It’s a fucking disgrace this,” he says.
“A fucking disgrace.”
I ignore him in agreement and lament my lack of smack.
I climb into the stale vestibule of the cab, after first pushing away some pissy old jakey with one shoe on and an upturned can of special brew in a gouty hand.
He keeps trying to push his way into the cab, saying I’m in his flat.
I push him gently, but he’s so fragile he tumbles into a large advertisement of the new Batman film, his delicate pipe cleaner arms thinly painted with liver spotted pre-cancerous flesh that judging by their tree branch crookedness have been broken on a regular basis thanks to falls and fights.
Once inside the cab, the rag tag legions barricaded outside, locked in with my thoughts and the aroma of Andy's sandwiches (a particularly smelly cheese and onion) I look up through the glass to face the sweet abyss of the train tunnel in front of me.
I savour the darkness to come.
The blast of foetid air.
The hurtling critical mass of the train and the tremendous power and responsibility at my fingertips.
The roar of metal grinding.
With one wrong move, I could end it for the box of genetic jokes on the other side of the door behind me.
I wonder if they’d even notice.
Each of them farting and belching, meat jackets more or less, mindlessly swiping left and right on their gadgets of choice, swiping away their lives to find another drone that comes second best to the daydream, to exchange tepid fluids and create a replicated version of themselves, a replica containing nothing but their worst traits.
Each of us are fuck trophies, homunculi, and our parents, the failed alchemists.
As I make my way through the tunnel, which happens to be the longest stretch between stations on the whole line, something deep beneath the train begins to rumble.
I get a sense of something indescribably vast shifting its weight underneath me, underneath us all, and the carriage starts to shake.
I feel this rumbling come up through the earth and vibrate my body with its awesome, unfathomable power.
It's like something is awakening, something that is best left asleep.
A timeless primordial groan, a roar, a roar that begins to open up and reverberate through the ground and I feel it inside my head, as if it’s always been there, as if it’s crawled up and into my body and is trying to find a way out of my head by chewing through my eye sockets.
The lights along the tunnel flicker, blinking on and off, and then it's all over.
The growling from the void below has ceased, and there is only the tunnel in front of me and the rhythmic rattle of the carriage with its pissed-up passengers.
Da dum da dum. Da dum da dum.
Power surge I tell myself, just old, rusted pipes on the turn, ready to burst.
But the dull ache in my head and the tingling in my legs say differently.
I get home in the early morning, just missing the milkman, the night receding to reveal the grey blandness looming over us all.
I blank the neighbour, a sad fifty something who I shagged once just after her husband died.
He had that disease where you curl up, twisted as a tree root, and she wheeled him into the cupboard as I did bumps of pub grub coke off her saggy tits and pumped away at her mechanically.
Now he's dead she’s always sniffing after me, wearing some new horror of a dress, or sporting some new hairstyle, as if her fucking Barnet will attract me.
Anyway, I dodge her like a bullet and make my way up the stairs to my flat, pausing momentarily to read a line of terribly misspelt graffiti; Lyfe feels lick shit, some philosophical genius has scrawled, in crayon no less.
Probably that Bob Randall sad case, a few doors down. No wonder he’s used crayons. The cunt probably eats them.
When I get in, I pour a glass of Jim Beam, right to the brim, and when it's gone I flop out on the bed and zonk out in my work clothes.
I dream of the apocalypse and Armageddon, of a giant dark thing so terrible it would drive you insane to look at it rising out of the caverns below London.
It stomps around, swathed in shadow, razing the city into lonely ruins.
The sky burns.
Everything burns and this thing stomps around the world destroying it as I watch, and I notice I am on my knees, my nose pressed into the ash, tears of joy rolling down my face.
I am worshipping it and I have gone completely insane.
The next night I get a jumper, my first in a few months.
As I reach the platform and pull back on the dead man's handle to slow the train down I see her, standing on the platform's edge.
Our eyes meet, and in that tiny nanosecond that seems to stretch on for miles, I know what she is going to do because it's there announcing itself.
She’s beautiful and out of place among the dregs around her but something sad has been tossed in her face, something corrosive like acid, that's been eating her up on the inside, something painful that she can endure no longer.
She steps in front of me and I drag hard on the dead man's handle but of course it's too late.
She’s momentarily a sad, doomed angel illuminated by the stark glare of my headlights, her mouth an o, her eyes closed against the enormity of her impending death in what looks like an expression of rapturous relief.
The train registers her end as a wet slap, and angel wings of blood spread open across my window screen.
As I exit the cab, I see her there, an angel no longer.
A torn doll.
The impact has spun her through the air, across the platform.
At least she has avoided the meat grinder of the tracks.
Usually, they get sucked underneath the train and pureed into human jam.
Then again maybe this is worse. She’s not just unrecognisable meat, she is a person, and everything about her tells the story of her life, a rare life lived with sentience.
I can see she is different to the onlookers gaping at her in a dirty mix of horrored curiosity.
Her handbag and its contents sprayed out across the platform, her nice shoes, her hair.
She wasn’t just flesh waiting around for its expiry date.
She was alive, and now she’s not.
She's laying there on the tiles, rich blood running between the squares in streams.
She’s contorted, arms and legs twisted, but there's an improbable ballerina's grace to her, as if she’s been posed by an artist.
Grace I think. Her name was Grace. Is Grace.
Her top is torn, exposing one pale, blue veined breast, the nipple sharply erect, the colour of faded flowers.
It's perfect, and it hangs pendulous, ripe as fruit.
A bone juts from one leg.
One half of her face is minced, but the top half, the half lit up by the dull soot coated bulbs above it is beautiful and serene, the sightless and undamaged eye lushly lashed and staring up.
Her lips are parted, smeared with the bright scarlet of her own blood, blood that stains her teeth.
I bend down, fighting the urge to place my lips on hers, and place my jacket over her body, covering up her naked death.
I turn and face the onlookers.
One gormless looking bloke has bent down and picked up a dog-eared book from her bag which he is frowning at.
“Selected poems,” he says.
“Put that back you fucking wankstain. There's a woman lying dead here.”
He just shrugs and drops the book to the floor.
I pick it up.
Another fraggle comes over and asks me when the next train will be.
“I can’t possibly be inconvenienced in such a way,” he says, with a mouth full of plums, checking a slick looking watch on his wrist, whilst holding a briefcase in the other.
“I have a meeting you see.”
“A meeting,” I say.
“There's a woman lying dead, you insensitive cunt.”
He snorts, outraged, and says something about making a formal complaint.
I let him waffle on, working himself up into a right froth, and then I pop him in the nose with a nice solid right hander.
It crunches and he drops his briefcase.
I’m satisfied to watch droplets of blood dribble out between his fingers, but dismayed when they spill into Grace's blood, tainting it with his farm animal filth.
Eventually other staff and police and the rest of it all arrive, and I am sent home after being cautioned by the police.
Twat-face doesn’t want to press charges but makes a big show of being the victim.
“There's a woman lying dead here,” I shout again, but no one listens.
I get a few days off, and spend them drunk, in my pants, reading some of the poems from Grace’s book.
They are way over my head, but I like the way the book feels in my hand.
I like the way it smells, perfume, fags.
I cry a bit, which is strange because I haven’t cried in years.
I haven’t cared about anything for as long as I can remember.
I eat beans cold out of the tin and pass out.
I dream of the monstrosity beneath London again, rising up to smash humanity to bits.
I watch it do it, this god, hand in hand with Grace, who smiles at me, her eyes a faded blue, her front tooth chipped.
She is naked, and so am I, and we walk hand in hand into the flaming end of things, the sunrise at the end of the world, the sunrise from hell.
I’m in the control room, chewing on a sandwich.
It's the graveyard shift, just me and old Ted, a transport for London lifer.
He’s a dinosaur old Ted, positively ancient, but he’s a nice bloke as long as you can put up with his litany of stories.
But I don’t mind. We all talk bollocks.
Only tonight he’s been strangely quiet, and I keep catching him giving me these weird smiles out of the corner of my eye, like he’s waiting for me to get the punchline of a joke that was played on me a long time ago.
Finally, he swivels on his chair to face me and says: “You can feel him can’t you?”
I wash down the last bite of my tasteless sarnie with a mouthful of flat coke.
“Feel who Ted? I don’t understand,” I say, but Ted ignores me.
He smiles and points with an arthritic finger downward.
“You can feel him Derek, I know you can. But he can feel you too Derek. He can feel all of us.”
I turn away, confident that Ted has finally lost the plot.
I get up to put my rubbish in the bin, and Ted is up with blinding speed for an old boy. He grips my wrist.
“It's a suffering funnel, that's all this is. It's all for him. How many suicides each year eh? How many murders and rapes? All of them, their essence, they bleed down to him. They trickle down. It's like his food, you see. It's what keeps him happy. It's what keeps him asleep. They knew what they were doing when they built this place. It's an intricate system of energy vampirism. Amazing really.”
“Fuck off Ted,” I snort, but he won’t let me go. His grip is like a vice.
“The fire of London, the Blitz. The Black Plague, Christ, think of all of that hate seeping into the soil, all that death and destruction. He’s been well fed for centuries.”
I finally snatch my hand away.
“Who and what are you fucking talking about Ted? Who the fuck is under the ground sucking up our collective psychic shit up eh Ted? Tell me mate, I really want to know.”
His smile drops and he fidgets with his hands nervously.
“Keith,” he says. “Old Keith.”
I burst out laughing, and then the ground beneath us begins to rumble.
That hellish groaning whale song rises out of the ground again, so deep I feel my eyeballs vibrate.
I steady myself against the wall with a hand.
“Let me show you.”
By torchlight, Ted leads me deep into the system of tunnels that lie beneath London, the lamplight casting our shadows into demons against the brickwork.
Down the tracks we go, rats and mice squeaking like unoiled bicycle wheels.
“To speak his full name would be to go mad Derek. The men who dug these tunnels, they named him Keith.”
Ted stops at a service hatch and unlocks it.
We make our way down a tight passage so short I have to hunch forward.
Deeper and deeper the passage goes.
I have no idea where I am.
“Where are we fucking going Ted?”
“He’s been asleep for millennia, and as long as he’s well fed, there's no reason for him to arise. Mind you those strikes couldn’t have made him very happy. No death, no nothing. Just empty tunnels.”
We come to another door, another passage, and then we descend some very old steps.
The off-white paint is flaking off in chips, and cobwebs coat everything.
A singular bare bulb splutters out sickly light the colour of a kidney failure patient's skin.
“The dead are lonely down here Derek. Lonely and mad.”
We approach a heavy oak door, with a huge iron knocker set into its middle.
It sits beneath a carved stone arch.
Chiselled into the stone is a myriad of primitive designs and reams of what looks like some kind of ancient language.
Bizarre hieroglyphs and odd symbols, completely indecipherable.
“What the fuck is this place Ted?”
He turns to me.
“Shhh. Be quiet now Derek. We are here.”
He takes an old heavy key from his pocket and slips it into the lock.
He turns off the torch, coating us in darkness.
“Hold onto my coat Derek. It will be dark,” he whispers.
I do as he says, grabbing a fistful of his uniform.
He turns the key and it crunches.
With a push, the door opens with a groan of tired hinges.
We shuffle blindly through the doorway, and Ted pulls it ajar behind us.
We are in a vast chamber, an impossible, canyon sized cathedral of a place, and the whole void is filled with a thick blackness that the word darkness doesn’t do justice.
It stinks of mould and centuries old dust.
It is freezing and as my eyes adjust I can see my breath billowing out in front of me in a grey mist.
Ted leads me down some small stone steps and we stop.
“Listen,” he urges.
I hear nothing.
I look down past the last step and see nothingness.
We are suspended in nothingness.
The sense of space is crushing.
I feel dizzy, and then I hear it. I feel its breath on me.
Gigantic gusts of foul breath, in and out in an icy blast.
Ted's cap blows off his head and falls away into the abyss beneath.
I’m rigid, stiff with fear.
Something titanic is here with us, filling this awful place.
I squint hard into the darkness in front of me, trying my best to make sense of dimensions that are impossible, insane.
And then one by one, like a field of flowers blooming all at once, circular orbs of light begin to open up on the endless canvas in front of me, a hundred or more, each one burning with the fierce neon blue of lightning bolts and electric shocks, burning with the brightness of a thousand suns.
It has opened its eyes, and I feel my skin blister under its gaze.
“Oh my god,” Ted gasps. “He is awake. My god!”
I hear piss trickle.
Chthonic, and older than time, its presence is awesome, a sentient mountain with the power to eat gods.
It roars and I feel all that I was shatter into pieces, my senses dissolving under a toxic psychic rain.
Ted throws himself from the last step, disappearing into the hungry mouth of emptiness below us.
Keith roars again and I hear stone split and metal bend.
“Keith,” I say numbly.
I think of Grace and smile, and then it all goes black.
Furtive paranoid peek outside, parting the curtain with a trembling finger; the sun has bleached the sky with despair, and Phnom Penh is a war wound.
Across the street sits S21, Tuol Sleng, and for a second, I’m in there among the dead, walking those lonely tea stain-coloured corridors as ghosts stare out at me from the glossy polaroid’s that trap them. Birds won’t even fly over the place.
Tuk-tuks scuttle past.
Kids tug at sleeves. Emaciated cows chew dumbly on plastic bags and nappies.
Entrail shaped clouds threaten rain with growls.
Every rainy season, the monsoons summon skeletons to the surfaces of paddy fields.
Armageddon has been and gone. School kids carry unexploded shells home to show off to their parents.
The bad karma is free flowing.
I can’t take it.
I peel back the curtain.
Time to ride the ice train.
Someone hands me a plate of jagged crystalline shards arranged into a rough grid of lines.
The only winter that Cambodia will ever know, a freezing wind that turns men and women into jabbering maniacs that writhe in the rubbish and fuck like monkeys.
I snort the ice, the shards carving the gentle tissue of my nasal passage.
Blood pitter patters the sofa and my jeans, and my synapses ignite like monks drenched in kerosene.
A biker hands me a crumpled sheet of foil and a straw and I chase a chocolatey beetle of black tar heroin as he tickles the underside of the foil with the flame from a lighter.
I suck at the tentacles of acrid smoke, and the ice train careens off the tracks into a swamp.
Time begins to stretch and ooze, the minutes and seconds unwilling to fall away into history and die with any dignity.
Head, disembodied, feels ready to float around the room.
Fingers of cobalt coloured smoke claw at the ceiling.
I look around and everyone is poised and awaiting their turn, eyes fixed, posture tense.
A waiting room of the damned, dripping with the sour residue
of sleeplessness and substance abuse.
There is a woman.
Hair a cascade of shimmering black silk.
Strung out, thin, bones too sharp for her skin.
She hugs at her knees, her girlish innocence wilting like a flower under the burning glare of evil gazes.
Her eye sockets are tired train tunnels, and her eyes are searchlights that sweep around the room looking for something that she can hug instead of her own knees.
When she realises the search is futile her eyes fix on the pipe that is making its way around the room toward her, pass the parcel style.
Spider legs of mascara crawl across wet cheeks, courtesy of lung shredding huffs and multiple blowjobs.
I nod in and out of bad dreams and worse memories, the bathroom rug of my tongue hairy with anxiety and dehydration, my absent skin alive with prickles.
An itch that goes so deep I fear I may have to peel myself and pick parasites out of my own flayed hide.
Delouse the suit of my own bleeding epidermis, make the nosey ghosts of long dead war criminals proud.
I peek out the curtain again.
Night has drowned the city in oil.
Spoon bottom scorch mark black.
Kitchen and apartment in disarray, discarded syringes everywhere, an explosion at a vaccination centre.
The mayor has been using them as darts; they protrude from the door and the wall.
One dude lies comatose on the floor in a pair of boxer shorts muraled with gaudy skid marks.
The mayor screws a cigarette out the man's cheek, a testament to the strength of a sleeping pill dude dropped to come down.
A snow of cigarette ash, shreds of foil, glass blown pipes and kilo slabs of uncut drugs decorate a coffee table meant for better things; books on Swedish architecture and an ornate vase.
Guns, axes and knives arranged with pre-op neatness on a kitchen counter.
Life sentence in Prey Sar Prison awaits us if discovery looms, or if we are lucky a death sentence.
Fifty men to a windowless cell and cockroaches for breakfast.
Men fighting with shanks dipped in shit.
Migraine inducing frequencies designed to jam cell phones.
But the blood eagles don’t care.
These boys have been moving industrial quantities of this stuff, working with the local gangs for a shit ton of money.
Bikers in greasy vests, smiling from behind matted beards and face tats.
Leather in this heat?
Blood Eagles MC a jacket proclaims.
Flock of eagles smeared in gore trying in vain to flap away from their worn leather prisons.
Exiled psychopathic losers, fleeing the advances of various law enforcement agencies and congregating here, like scum crowding around a drain.
Tattoos leer out at me; demons, devils, and a faded King Kong etched so crudely it resembles a badger on a pasta colander.
I met their Sarge at Arms, the curly headed fruitcake who calls himself the mayor, in a bar down the riverside a few nights ago.
Made the mistake of being friendly, of assuming our mutually pale skin and shared language indicated some kind of expat alliance that transcended normal social barriers.
Told him I was a writer, travelling the world, looking to skinny dip in the sewers of life.
“I want to look horror in the face and document it without blinking,” I told him proudly.
And now I’m here, too scared to stay, too wrecked to leave, trying to chase reality away with an arsenal of narcotics.
A nude woman severing her own head stands screaming on the mayor's belly.
“Took fourteen hours.
A Kru Thmup did it. You know what that is? A Khmer black magician. Can’t even walk past a statue of Buddha. She was inked with charcoal, monk blood and powdered vulture shit.”
Neurosis is hitting its peak in my brain, psychosis looming.
I don’t want to be here.
A Chinese made pistol is being passed around along with another plate, this one piled high with urine-coloured pebbles of crack cocaine.
“Powdered coke turns into pasty gloop in this heat,” the mayor explains.
“Better to wash it up and smoke it,” he says with a dead shark's grin.
One biker demonstrates; empties clip, slides chamber back, inserts rock, sucks on the barrel and sucks as he burns.
He exhales a plume of greenish smoke, hacking up a lung with a tubercular cough.
The girl takes the gun and it's too large and heavy in her childlike hands.
She fumbles, unsure of how to slide the chamber back, or where to place the rock.
Barang lop-lop she keeps saying.
Foreigners are crazy.
She wraps her lips around the barrel and then it goes bang.
The noise sucks at my ears and stillbirths me into the room.
The sickly-sweet smell of heroin and the plastic bag reek of crack has been usurped by a new king and queen of stench; burnt hair, scorched flesh.
Girl lies slumped back, legs as rigid and pale as candlesticks, piss trickling like tree sap, her thoughts Jackson pollocked across the wall behind her.
I stare at this Rorschach test, forming faces from the spatters.
Metal wasp of the bullet lays dormant, burrowed in the wall after erupting elegantly from her skull.
Eyes dull milky pools, soul percolating out of her cracked lips.
A spiteful crown of mosquitoes’ halo around her head.
Its closing time and the flying malaria seeds want one last drink before the blood goes bad.
I can see that she is an angel, a torn saint martyred in the gutter of her own existence.
The mayor is laughing.
“Must’ve been one in the chamber. She pulled the trigger.”
I try to stand on rubbery legs made boneless by three days of pipe worship, and a hand pushes me back.
I peer into the black hole of a larger gun barrel aimed at my face.
I’m just a tourist I say, just another dumb Barang looking for a precipice to peer over.
“I know, you said. Look horror in the eye. Well, here it is,” The mayor says, pointing to his own flying saucer pupils.
The mayor pushes his face into mine, spitting like oil in a frying pan.
“Grab her arms. We are dumping her in the river and you are helping. And if you even think that you have any kind of choice, then you are going in with her.”
It's a long way down the stairwell to the street.
Hands slick with sweat, the girl's arms slippery and uncooperative in death, a rigid mannequin.
I must be hallucinating.
Whenever I look down at her she seems to be smiling the sly knowing smirk of the newly dead.
Eyes alive with death, with contempt, and they stare into me and say why didn’t you do anything.
Brainless head hits the concrete steps in wet hollow thuds, a slug trail of blood in our wake.
The river is black, and it swallows her with barely a splash.
I look over the edge and see no trace of her.
Turn to face the mayor, the blood eagles gathered by his side.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he says, and then I see the guns and knives.
I hear a young girl laugh.
Alex Sinclair is an English teacher originally from London who has avoided his responsibilities as a man by hiding in Cambodia and Vietnam for eight years. Recently he has relocated to Mexico. He also enjoys horror in its various forms and can hold his breath for almost two minutes. He has read two books in his lifetime, one during secondary school and another one on a caravanning holiday to Weymouth. He counts Harry Crews and Seth Morgan as his favourite writers by default and he has an author page which you can find at Literally Stories by typing his name into the search bar.