Ok. Currently I’m still ploughing my way through Midnight’s Children and I haven’t been to the cinema for a while nor done anything else other than work. So there’s not much to report.
However I do have a story – Wide Open Space – that seems to have lucked out but that I quite like and so I decided I’d share it here. I hope you enjoy:
Wide Open Space
By Neil J. Beynon
It was a Thursday when I first noticed it. I cannot remember what week it was or what
month, nor what the weather was like or why I even checked. It wasn’t the itching.
That came later.
I was bleary eyed and in serious need of a coffee but I’d skipped a shower for the last
two days, the cold being too much for my system at that time in the morning. Any
longer and I’d be escorted from my place of work for crimes against humanity. The
icy lances of water shot adrenalin straight into me firing my brain up faster than the
water could warm.
The water did eventually get hotter until it wrapped me in a steamy, moist hug and I
stood under the shower’s soft embrace for a few moments, a moment’s indulgence
before stepping on the treadmill for another day. I could hear Mary moving around in
the bedroom, already dressed from the sound of things, and so I stepped from the
The towel was coarse over my skin, I reflected that I really should get a new one but
the towel was like an old friend, we’d been through a lot together and so I had hung
onto it. The thing was so rough now that I nearly missed it, put the discomfort down
to having dried to vigorously, but it wasn’t just the pain.
There was a lump.
On the back of my right calf, a lump, a big fuck-off lump about half way up. It had
not been there the day before, of that I was sure. I would have noticed having cycled
every day for the last few years you get accustomed to any change in your legs. I
called out for Mary.
I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was terrified.
She entered the bathroom brushing her blonde hair down one side of her shoulder, the
sunlight catching it just so. When I remember her I like to picture her that way, head
tilted over to the side, her face warmly lit and her green eyes glinting with a ghost of a
smile. Not as I saw her last.
“What’s up?” she said. I pointed at my calf. “Yes they’re very impressive but did you
really need to call me, I’m in a rush.”
“There’s a lump,” I said. She caught my eye and saw I wasn’t joking, the lump not
some cheesy line – I was renowned for them.
She placed her brush down on the sink and leant over, her warm hand skimming the
skin of my leg until she found the cause of my fright; frankly it was hard to miss. She
made a low noise like she was audibly frowning; she knelt down and took a closer
look, her fingers pressing down on the would-be tumour. I let out a little sigh of pain.
“God it’s hard,” she said. “Almost like bone.” I would have sniggered at this
normally, that I didn’t gives you an idea of how freaked out I was.
“What do you reckon it is?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’m no Doctor. Is there one on your other leg? You
may have just done it cycling.”
She ran her hand down the other calf and sure enough found a lump of similar size to
that on my right.
“You haven’t been drinking those stupid protein shakes again have you?” she asked.
“No,” I lied.
“Well I think you’ve probably overdone it a bit and your muscle is reacting,” she said.
“Maybe you ought to leave the cycling today.”
“I’ve never had a reaction like this,” I protested.
“Leave the bike, get the tube, you’re late anyway,” she said turning her back.
And that was it. At least it should have been.
The lights flashed and went dark as the train clattered through the tunnel. I closed my
eyes as it lurched from left to right, my stomach in my mouth, my hand gripped
tightly to the vertical handrail even though I had a seat.
As a child I loved the tube. A trip on the mechanical snake was a rare delight and
signalled exotic treats such as the Zoo, Planetarium or if I was lucky a Museum. As
an adult traversing their sweaty cabins twice daily I had lasted around nine months
before I had picked up my bike and braved the slow but tempestuous beast of London
That day, forced back on by my “leg injury”, was even worse than normal. It was hot,
I remember that, and the carriage was full of smelly, ugly odours that jarred like
shades of neon green, yellow and pink. The people, oily, meaty, packed in close
together, my skin crawling. There are laws against transporting animals like that. No
one in London seemed to be aware of this.
I lasted as far as Holborn before it got too much. My chest felt bad, as if some one
was tightening a band around it, my heart felt like it was drilling for oil in my spine. I
clambered out of the carriage as quickly as I could; I may have knocked some one
over. I remember a lot of shouting as I left the carriage. Someone wasn’t happy.
On the platform my palms were itchy- I wondered if I’d picked something up off the
handrail on the tube. I don’t think you can get it that way though. Not now I know
what it is.
As I moved my chest still felt as if a heavy weight had been laid on it and I think I
must have been pale as a ghost because someone actually stopped to see if I was
alright. In London! Amazing!
I pushed my way into that hideous conga of people that, during rush hour, stretches
from the platform below to the small ugly opening at street level.
The polished tiles in the tunnel reflected the glare of the lights burning my eyes as the
escalator carried me up to the street, to space, to fresh air. By the time I got there I
was rubbing my eyes as if they were burning holes in my head. However the air was
not fresh but acrid with the smell of a thousand flavours of fuel emissions, the smell
of rush hour.
I hung onto the dirty iron railing on the edge of The Strand. The breeze on my sweat-
soaked shirt was like an icy hand running up my back; I fought back an urge to rip the
garment from my shoulders. The steady bustle of people knocking against me seemed
to be in synchronous rhythm with the pounding in my head.
I needed to get out of the crush. I needed it more than I needed oxygen.
How I managed to get to the office without killing anyone I do not know and though I
have since done questionable things I am still proud that I did not do so that day. My
early morning scare had put pay to any thoughts of getting in on time but I still
seemed to have misjudged the commute because surely there was more traffic on the
street than I remembered?
I stopped trying to dodge people after the sixth person barged me, the crowd in turn
began to part before me after I had knocked the eighth person on his arse for
deliberately walking into me. Had I realised it earlier I probably would have been
rougher from the start. Hindsight and all that.
On reaching the office, I thought I’d be safe. The small line of smokers outside;
huddled and suckling at their smoke filled teats, stared at me as I made my way self-
consciously into the office. I must have been quite a sight: my wild-at-the-best-of-
times hair was doing some crazy reach-for-the-skies-thing and my shirt was half un-
tucked in its sweat-tangled state.
I made my way quickly up the stairs slamming the door of the toilet shut before
sliding down the cubicle wall, safe at last. Now all I had to do was calm down.
No big deal. Right?
There was the briefest of pauses as the coffee soaked through my shirt and sent fire
across my chest then I was swearing. A lot. The unfortunate bearer of the coffee
stared on in mortified silence as I launched into a tirade of abuse before my line
manager led me gently away to his office.
He handed me a towel.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Just a bad day,” I said. “Just when I think I’ve ridden it out something else goes
“I know how you feel,” he said. “But I can’t have you going off at people like that. It
was an accident.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. “I lost my temper, I have a lot on my mind.”
“Not good enough,” he said. “You know if you weren’t so valuable I’d have to let you
go for that. You need to apologise and then you need to go home. Chill out for a few
days. You’re no good to me like this.”
“Like what?” I rankled.
“You’re burned out,” he said. “Can’t you see that?”
I stared at the carpet. My coffee-soaked shirt no longer felt hot just cold, and wet. The
floor lurched; I held onto the edges of the chair so hard my knuckles turned white and
then I looked up. He didn’t seem to have noticed the building move. Maybe I was
“You’re suspending me or sending me on sick leave?”
“Sick leave if you agree,” he said. “If not…”
“Ok,” I said. “Listen I don’t feel so good, do you mind calling me a cab?”
“No problem,” he said. “You do look a bit grey. You’re doing the right thing.”
He went out to talk to his secretary, she would call the cab, coming back to the office
he was caught by someone and I could see him expanding on some point as I left the
office. I didn’t know where I was going save that I needed to get out of the office
where the walls moved, coffee was thrown at you and you weren’t allowed to lose
That night I slept fitfully, kicking Mary in my sleep so many times she eventually
decamped to the spare bed leaving me alone lashed to the bed by wild, mad, blood
drenched dreams. I dreamt of mountains, not the cold rocky mountains of Snowdonia
that I’d loved as a child but the thick-forested curves of the black mountains. I could
feel grass under foot, the breeze overhead carried the smell of fresh leaves and I
moved swiftly into the forest.
When I awoke properly, the morning sun was already high in the sky. I was not in the
mountains but in a small box of a room which contained a bed and not much more.
The sunlight broke through a crack in the curtains onto the faded yellow wall. The air
was so thick you could cut it with a knife then eat it like a cake if you so wished.
I rolled over to the other side of the bed, stood and opened a window; there was no
breeze – it only served to let the noise and smoke in.
I padded into the kitchen where a small note from Mary sat stuck to the fridge asking
me to clean the dishes as I was off. I cast my gaze across the room to the small tower
of hastily piled dishes sitting in the sink, the fetid odour from the water that had been
left to stand mixed with the scraps of food punched me in the gut.
I threw up.
I stumbled from the kitchen flipping the door against the smell and flopped
unceremoniously onto the sofa. My skin crawled where I imagined the pervasive
perfume of the kitchen had touched it.
My hair seemed even wilder that day and it felt coarse as I ran my hands through it,
my arms feeling longer, clumsier, alien in fact. Still I fumbled my way through
brushing my teeth, wincing as I ran the brush over a couple of abscesses. My boss
was right I was run down. I needed to take better care of myself.
I checked the lumps – they seemed more pronounced in spite of the two days off the
bike. I went on the Internet. I looked at as many medical sites as I could find but none
of the tumours I saw bore any resemblance to my lumps.
I went downstairs and threw the protein mix out just to be sure, noticing as I did that
the sun was so bright it hurt, the smoky air more moisture-laden than the day before.
My T-shirt stuck to me in sticky wet kisses that invited a violent tearing off, somehow
My stomach rumbled; it was empty now of course. The kitchen door stared back at
me as I stood in the hall, I didn’t know how long I’d been standing there but I was
suddenly conscious that this was not normal behaviour.
I entered the kitchen. Cleaning it up took a good couple of hours during which time I
bleached the whole room within an inch of its life. Say what you like about the smell
of ammonia but at least you know it’s clean.
I covered my nose, mouth and hands. I had everything open – back door, windows,
skylight and a fan blowing all the smell out of the room. On reflection this too was
not normal behaviour.
When I finished my hands were shaking with hunger and I opened the fridge with
something approaching religious fervour. I liked my food. Still do. The fridge was
empty save a lump of hardened and greening cheese.
The supermarket stank nearly as badly as the kitchen. I found the light oppressive, it
crossed my mind that maybe I had meningitis but I decided I was being melodramatic,
still I stared at the floor; a dirty lino flecked with colour. The people in the
supermarket were worse than any I’d run into in the city, unwashed and unclean, the
dregs of society with nothing better to do than hang around a supermarket all day.
My skin seemed thick with grease by the time I left, my bright red, bloody, pre-
packed slaughtered meat clutched in my hands. My ribs felt bony and painful as I
walked slowly back to the house. My head was spinning now, the road seeming to
stretch on into eternity.
Everywhere I looked there was concrete, too much bloody concrete. My throat was
parched. I longed for a draught of water run down fresh from the top of some
mountain such as I had seen in my childhood rather than trapped inside a plastic
prison. I stepped on an empty crisp packet, tripped and dropped my bag. A tramp
laughed. I swore as I picked up my goods and continued on my way.
The sun seemed to take on the neon glow of the supermarket strip-lights, I felt very
exposed as a helicopter beat its way through the air above, a small ape in a concrete
maze. I wanted to run and hide. Visions of me sliding into the cool dark of an
alleyway fleeted through my mind, I pushed them away. I was sicker than I’d thought.
I slammed the door behind me. The house was cool. It wasn’t dark but it would do.
Overhead I could hear the helicopter still but it seemed muted, distant, my heartbeat
I doubled over in agony. My ribs felt like they’d been beaten with a meat mallet, the
pain was bright, psychedelic fire that sent purple splotches through my eyes. When
the spasms stopped I pulled myself sweating up the wall and saw in the gold leafed
mirror that I’d ruptured all of the blood vessels in my eyes.
The pain subsided and I was once again ravenous, I hadn’t eaten since yesterday. It
was all I could do not to rip the steak packet open and eat the thing raw but that
thought made my stomach turn over again. I managed to flash fry it briefly on either
side before chewing it down. The meat was, in my haste, burnt on the outside but
inside it was juicy, sweet and so fucking good I very nearly wept.
When I was done I wiped my chin and sat on the floor with my back pressed to the
I’m having a breakdown, I thought staring at my reflection in the oven door, I’m
cracking up. I was remarkably calm about it, as if naming it diffused the panic, made
it more palatable. Then it sank in: I was losing my mind.
I cried into hands that felt longer, gaunter, than they should. Exhausted and spent, the
sun low in the sky, I fell into sleep.
The door slammed with a crack that woke me from dreams where I wandered through
forest, the smells fragrant and lush as I moved. My head felt foggy as I sat up. Mary
stared at me from the hall; she reached to place her keys on the small wooden table by
the door. She missed.
“What on earth are you doing on the kitchen floor?” she asked.
I looked around at myself confused. I didn’t understand why I was there anymore than
she did and frankly I was more disturbed than she was.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I had something to eat and then I felt tired.
She stared at the bloody remains of a barely cooked steak and then looked over at the
juice stains on my shirt.
“You look like shit,” she said striding over to me.
“I don’t feel so good,” I said as she knelt down in front of me.
She stared at me trying to see I don’t know what but when she stood she went straight
to the phone and called someone. I felt I should be concerned at this but another part
of me pushed this thought away as unhelpful.
It was dark outside. I liked the dark.
I pulled open the kitchen door and stepped out onto the patio, there was a small square
of grass – my only condition to moving in. I stepped onto it, barefoot, the feel of the
grass underfoot sending delicious tendrils of electricity through my body.
The wide open space visible in the night sky stretched out above me. The stars were
partially obscured by the streetlights but we could not hide the beauty of the dark in
its entirety. We’re not that efficient yet.
The thin, intermittent covering of cloud slid back from the moon. The goddess stared
down on me with cold, pale eyes. Unlike the burning gaze of the sun the moon’s rays
were cool, soothing, like the water of the mountain stream I longed for. It was as if
the moon spoke to me as a doctor would a patient saying: rest easy this will only hurt
for a bit. And like a doctor it was a lie.
When the pain came I felt detached from it, like it was someone else, at least for a few
moments; then I was screaming.
My ribs broke. I felt them go; popping one by one, and Mary heard them, I think,
from the steps. She swore uncertainly but did not come closer, I was lying on the
grass, convulsing in agony. My limbs stretched and contorted.
When my knees inverted the fire in my joints was like bombs exploding in my
extremities, tearing, scorching and reshaping my limbs according to some unknown
Yet part of me enjoyed it. Part of me understood what was happening. I felt a
loosening in my chest that was like being set free even as my rib cage was cracking
apart before changing. Then my skull slid forward and words left me.
When the purple flower of pain receded once more I was on all fours on the grass. My
neck felt weird. I couldn’t look down at the ground easily, I couldn’t get my legs to
move correctly and my fingers wouldn’t move at all. I looked down at them with
difficulty and saw only fur.
It did not concern me so I turned my gaze to the patio where I could smell fear and
hear something that made strange, wet, snuffling noises.
Mary was on her knees staring at me; her wide eyes full of tears, her breath coming in
big frightened gasps. I thought I should go to her. I walked forward. I tried to put my
hand in hers but my paw simply slid off her knee.
I tried to kiss her and instead found myself licking her face. My tongue some long
alien appendage that moved of its own accord. She tasty salty, coppery and sweet;
something rumbled in my torso. I turned away confused.
She let out another small cry.
A door slammed somewhere. I could hear sirens in the distance and the roar of
engines on the wind. The manufactured rock of the city seemed to loom down on me,
a giant wolf of stone ready to devour me whole. In my mind’s eye I could see the road
leading from the city, the wide expanse of the farmlands lining the way out to the
mountains, I needed to go.
I turned to look at Mary.
I couldn’t leave her behind. That would be wrong. She looked so frightened, so weak,
I was disgusted and I was hungry.
I padded out of the city, my belly full. Uneasy with the close proximity of the traffic
but my chest easing with each step, my shoulders lowering with each breath of
gradually lighter air. When the sun rose I found a small dark hole behind someone’s
shed and when the sun set, as it must do everyday, I ate again before travelling once
I stare down at the valley below from a small ridge. The moon – the goddess -gazes
down at me with her soft, soothing light and I am content. It is a long time since I hid
in a shed or had to dine on monkey meat to feed my belly.
The mountains are good. The forest is better. There are deer here. People come here
sometimes but if I keep myself to myself I’m left alone. Occasionally one strays into
my land, they don’t twice and you’ll never find what’s left of them.
And sometime I’m not sure if I was a man who dreamt I was a wolf or a wolf who
dreamt I was a man but these days I can feel the wind on my back, feel the grass
under my feet. Occasionally I think I can hear it, the grey wolf, stalking ever nearer
but it seems so unimportant now, so unreal.
And when I howl it is through woods my cries echo, no concrete in sight.
And life, like fresh meat, is sweet.