The High Road

Amy’s head swam.  The scene visible to her through the windscreen, ever-evolving as she drove steadily through the busy shopping precinct of Dorset Road, appeared to play out in super slow motion. On the pavements framing her view at either side, pedestrians moved lethargically to-and-fro with leaden steps, as if submerged to the knee in glue. Beside them, cyclists rolled by at such lugubrious pace as to cause her to wonder how they were managing to stay upright. A passing flock of migratory birds dappled the pale blue winter sky above, passing across it with an eerie sluggishness. With the perception of having more time in which to absorb their messages, the text on billboards and road signs stood out in vivid relief against the otherwise sedate visual backdrop. Quite against her will, Amy began to obsessively rearrange the words and letters into component anagrams as she encountered them.

Cost Saver: Overcasts, Car stoves. Extended Warranty: Try annexed dew rat; An exerted dawn try. Tourist Information Centre: True confrontations mire It; Riot fermentations cut iron.

The most torturous aspect of this strangely altered sense of time was the age that seemed to stretch between the first appearance of each article of oncoming traffic on the distant horizon and its passing out of her vision through the window to her right. During each such yawning expanse of time, Amy found herself obsessing about them too. As each new vehicle came into her view, she was unable to prevent herself from noting the make and model, taking mental record of the physical appearance of each occupant within, and then imagining with brutal, visceral detail meeting them in a succession of abrupt and catastrophic head-on collisions.

Time and time again in Amy’s mind’s eye, cars, trucks, and buses veered from their sedate path along the opposite carriageway and careered toward her. Drawn in with magnetic attraction, each vehicle slammed into the front of the little hatchback that she was piloting in angry clouds of broken glass, twisted steel, and fire. Despite the violence, serene silence reigned, because the radio was broken and because the recurring carnival of metal-on-metal carnage existed only in the realm of woozy daydream, inspired by nothing more tangible than nervous anxiety and the memory of a thousand action movie car chases and a hundred road safety campaign ads.

Stirred from the succession of dark fantasies, Amy suddenly became acutely aware of the way her sweaty palms were slipping on the steering wheel; of how her imperfect, organic clamminess was failing against the cool and stolid precision-engineered rubber. She tightened her grip until it hurt, her elbows locked at right angles and her hands fixed steadfastly in the textbook-approved positions of ten and two o’clock. Through subtle yet deliberate shifting of her shoulders, she made what adjustments were necessary to maintain her trajectory along the straight road with the grim determination of a sailor at the helm of a storm-swept galleon.

‘Only a fool breaks the two second rule,’ Amy said in a low whisper as she eased off the accelerator in response to the slowing traffic ahead of her, the tension in her voice would have been obvious were its volume not so slight. Forming the words seemed an alien process. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt enormous. She detected movement to her left and with it, the stark sudden realisation of her predicament drew an involuntary snigger. She bit her apparently massive tongue to suppress the full-bodied laugh that threatened to grow from this rapidly dawned and hysterical new sense of her predicament. There was no doubt about it now. Amy was spectacularly, hopelessly, completely-and-utterly stoned.

‘At the traffic lights, make a left-hand turn please,’ said the examiner.

With the end in sight, Nathan had inspected the fruits of his considerable effort, stubbed out his joint, and, exhaling, beamed with pride and anticipation. Spread out across every available horizontal plane in the kitchen were open packets, wrappers, and boxes representing the veritable smorgasbord of sugary confections which had been blended in imprecise, fist-sized, proportions into a large Pyrex mixing bowl that he then set about licking clean.

Nathan had surmised that the secret of a good pot brownie was to ensure that the principle active ingredient was sufficiently masked as for the flavour to give no hint toward the psychotropic delights in store for the consumer.

Some twenty years of experience as a consumer (both of cannabis and of internet documentaries of varying degrees of scientific veracity) had instilled a sense within Nathan that eating his beloved weed was an entirely different kettle of fish to smoking it. If he was remembering the biology correctly, this was due the different metabolic processes that played out in the liver as compared to the lungs. That’s why he had been extra careful with the dose.

Careful that is, until he forgot adding that dose to the mixture at all, and so measured, and added, a second of precisely the same size.

Nathan was in the kitchen once again when Amy came home the following afternoon. It was around four, which meant he was newly awake and going through his morning ritual: sitting in his underpants on his stool at the counter, reading last night’s Evening Standard, and eating a giant portion of cereal from the same mixing bowl that he had used in the previous evening’s bake.

From atop the fridge the radio blared, the volume so loud as to distort the voices of both the talk show DJ and the angry cockney gentleman with whom he was arguing for reasons that were not clear. Amy turned it off and, throwing her handbag and keys down beside it, confronted her boyfriend.

‘Nathan, why am I stoned?’

‘Pardon?’ he replied, buying himself time to process the information overload presented by this sudden question which he had not fully understood. He recognised all the words it contained – some of them were very dear to him in fact – yet the angry tone and the context of Amy using it to announce her presence to him were too much for his sleepy brain to decode right away.

‘You heard me. Why am I stoned?’

The time-buying tactic had worked its magic. Not only did Nathan now understand the question, he was also confident that he knew answer to it. Those brownies, the crowning achievement of his week, had been at the forefront of his mind since they came out of the oven.

‘You ate the brownies!’ said Nathan. The excitement in his voice the result both of solving the riddle at the first time of asking, and of learning that the undoubted pleasures of his culinary masterpiece had reached an audience beyond his own plate.

‘Yes, I ate the brownies. Why wouldn’t I? There’s a sign saying “Eat me.” stuck to the box!’

Amy, her face reddening in, gestured toward the counter where the Tupperware containing the offending snacks still sat. The note to which she referred was made in handwriting they both knew to be Nathan’s, and was exactly as clear and succinct as she was suggesting. The two short words, rendered in block capital letters, were even accompanied by competent, if somewhat childlike, drawing of a face, smiling invitingly.

‘My question is, how was I meant to guess that eating the brownies was going to send me into outer space?’

Nathan slowly and sheepishly stood up, wiping milk from around his mouth. The stool emitted a low groan as it slid back against the tiled floor, as if trying to disassociate itself from him.

‘It’s… “Eat me.” it’s a reference to Alice in Wonderland,’ he offered meekly. ‘You know – the part where she eats the cake and grows. Or does she shrink? I don’t remember exactly, but the point was supposed to be that-‘

Alice in Wonderland?’ Amy interjected. ‘Of course! Please excuse me for not picking up on your literary reference Stephen Fry!’ She adjusted her arm – until that moment still pointing at the box of brownies. Nathan followed her gesture with his gaze, all the way to wall calendar hanging by the door. The one handwritten mark it bore was circled and underlined in red. She didn’t have to speak.

‘Your driving test,’ he said solemnly, the full repercussions of his carelessness becoming clear to him.

‘That’s right,’ she said, curtly. She grew redder still and her forehead furrowed. It appeared to Nathan that she was holding back an intense inner rage. All the same, he had to know for sure.

‘So… how did you do?’ he asked.

With that, the levy broke, and from Amy burst forth the fit of untameable, uproarious, primal laughter that she had somehow managed to supress ever since that left-hand turn on Dorset Road.

A363: Advanced Creative Writing

Seven years after commencing my studies, I am due to graduate with a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature from the Open University next summer.

As well as a short course science module (Galaxies, stars and planets: S177), my final work toward my degree will be  A363: Advanced Creative Writing. It’s recommended that students start a blog to record some of the work they produce in the course, and this was a large part of the motivation for

The module opened on a discussion of genre, and the first short piece of writing I produced was in response to the instruction to write in continuation of the following (provided) paragraph of prose:

The church clock strikes eight, so those villagers who are awake know without checking that it is six. A cock crows. A body lies across the doorstep of a church, a line of crumb-carrying ants marches across the fedora covering his face. There is a serene, momentary quiet after the chimes cease. A figure glides past the church wall, before the silence is cracked by a baby crying.

A list of suggested titles was presented and students were asked to write with the genre suggested by the title they chose in mind. I wrote the following under the title:

The Life History of Guillermo Brown

Then the scene before me shifts and I’m viewing the sky from below. Shock at the instantaneous change in perspective makes me gasp and there’s silence once more. A high-sided grey canyon encloses my vision from all sides. The same bright expanse I looked down from within before now appears above it, searing white. All around is warm.

Suddenly a shadow descends as an enormous dark shape fills my view from above. Instinctively my hand moves to shield my eyes from the light so as to perceive some identifying detail in the massive black expanse.

That’s when I notice my injuries. Both of my arms are heavy with swelling. My hands are pudgy pink bulbs and my sausage-like fingers sprout from them at uncomfortable angles, each one concealing a tiny bright fingernail at the end of their pillowy length, like a brass tack in a freshly upholstered sofa.


That’s when I notice my injuries…

In shock and fear of my grotesque appearance I vocalise a tiny, reedy warble that seems to instantly dry and constrict my throat. I make to clear it, but my cough too is muted to the same type of thin, wispy half-noise.  I shift slightly in the hope of stretching out the kink in my windpipe, or larynx, or diaphragm or whatever it may be. Moving my torso provides a deeply unpleasant yet strangely familiar sensation and with it the unwelcome knowledge that I’m wearing a soiled nappy.

The next moment sends a chill of fear to the core of my being as three things dawn on me;

I am a baby.

I am lying inside a pram lined with grey corduroy.

The enormous shape above me is my father’s face.

First blog post indeed

A wannabe writer on the precipice.

Spat out of the humdrum fiscal safe house of a customer service call centre with a nagging resentment of free-market capitalism and a vitamin D deficiency.

Six months away from graduating with a degree 15 years overdue.

Awake to the sense of cataclysm in the air.

This will bloody well have to be it.