Sunday, 17 April 2011

Chapter 2

"Please, if you are going to read this diary, read the entries in the opposite order. You have to understand how reversed my life was. This is what the note that's stuck to the first page says. Do you want me to translate it in the order it was written, or in the order that she wants it to be read?"

Justine thought about this question for a moment before replying, "In the order she wants it to be read."

"Good, I've taken the liberty of emailing the first - or should I say last? - entry to you. Check it when you get home."

"But how did you know I was going to make that decision?"

Jacob smiled. "I know you too well."

Justine took a step back. "You're a bit of a creep, you know."

"At least I'm not the one who goes round stealing dead people's diaries."

"Touché. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you so much for doing this for me, I didn't realise it would take months to translate."

"It's my pleasure; honestly, it's really interesting. Some of the words aren't translatable though. I'm gonna have to see if they crop up again to try and understand what they mean."

"Is there anything I can do? I feel bad for not being able to help."

"You could try and find out more about her. Personal background, you know, friends and family. Don't you have her medical history?"

"I told you, she wasn't even on the hospital's database. But I'll try my best. Thank you."

"Please, thank me when I'm done! Will you be staying for dinner? I could cook something up, or we could order something in..."

"No thanks, I better be going." She edged towards the door.

"Going home to sleep?"

Justine frowned.

"I know you too well."


Today I awoke with an invigorating start to my new body. Sure, my skin's still the same, and except for the slight bags under my eyes and the inkling of a beard that has crept onto my face, I look identical to what I looked like yesterday. But this is definitely a new body, a new me, with new blood pumping through my veins, and beating in my chest is the dark, delicious heart of a murderer.

My body uncoils out of bed and slinks over to the curtains. The dirty light of dusk is now my morning sun, and although my awakening has taken almost an entire night and day, I feel completely attuned to my surroundings. My memories of yesterday are muted, murky and foggy, but I know who I am and who I am meant to be.

My epiphany didn't last long. However, settling back into reality did not bring the waves of guilt that I had expected to crash down on me, you know, considering I killed a person. In fact, I felt no remorse whatsoever, just refreshed and revitalised, as if I was prepared to run a marathon, which was probably a good thing since I had become a fugitive. I had to make a plan of my next steps, of what I would do next. Leaving would be easy; I had done it before in my past life, I could do it again. It was money that was the problem, or my lack of. How will I live a life on the run if I'm totally skint?

And then it struck me. By committing the ultimate crime I had given birth to the ultimate liberty, because whatever I would do from then on would add little to my ultimate consequence, the penalty for murder. Anything I need, I can steal, and if I'm caught, then so be it. Hell's where I'm heading anyway.

Sat in my mouldy, smoggy flat, I basked in that thought. I was so content with my life at that moment in time that I found myself sitting by the window gazing out until well into the night. I watched the cars drift around the corner with their muddy lights occasionally flashing through the Smog, and the grey, worn out people scurry along the streets in their bug-eye gas masks and Smog-coloured clothes. We're quite antisocial creatures was one of the passing conclusions I made from those grimy panes. I was only stimulated to move from that spot when the Smog had obscured my view entirely, and I realised I was looking out into dunes of nothingness.

By nine o'clock (or around that time, I had stopped bothering with watches), I decided to go out and get some shopping for my journey ahead. I put on my coat, instinctively checking my inner chest pocket which felt quite exposed, and for my mobile that I had crushed earlier, the remains of which were lying in the bin. Despite my pact, it would be pointless to steal when I had a few pounds left to buy my last supplies; just because I had a cool demeanour about my killing didn't mean I was going to be deliberately reckless and carefree.

I've seen what the police can do. Once (in my former life, of course) I was sat in a cafe watching this peculiar man with curly hair. "Curly hair's a sign of the Devil!" my mother used to say, as if she was a saint herself. It was true that you didn't see many people with curly hair - maybe it was one of the effects of the Smog, who knows. Anyway, this man was chatting with the waitress in a tone that was slightly louder than the socially acceptable level, but there were too many people talking for me to really hear what he was saying. I only caught the word "cigarette". At the moment, a bald man with a tan leather jacket put down his newspaper, strolled across the room, grabbed the man with the curly hair by his hair and dragged him outside the shop, without so much as uttering a word. The odd thing was that the hubbub of the day-to-day chatter continued right through this event, as if it was completely normal. My guess was that everyone kept talking out of fear of becoming singled out. It was all nervous chatter, chatter about nothing, just words to fill the silence. No one questioned whether the bald man was part of the police in the first place.

I came back from the shops probably around ten, and I was ready to leave the flat about half an hour later. A glint of sadness flickered within me when I was standing ready to shut the front door for the last time; it was a hellhole, but it had been my hellhole. Still, I smiled as I embraced my new life, or as much as one can smile in a gas mask.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Chapter 1 - part two

The man’s eyes creaked open. A second after awakening, pain surged through his body, becoming so intense that it almost dragged him back into unconsciousness, but he held through. In the corner of his eye, he could just about see the figure of his wife dozing on a chair. Better not disturb her.

He lay there in agony.


Justine got home at dawn, whenever that was (she was too tired to check the time). As per usual, she was shattered and looked as if she had been through hell and back. But as per usual, rather than going to bed she turned on her laptop as she came in, making a cup of coffee while the computer booted up. She had three new emails:

One was spam - delete
One was a newsletter from some obscure shopping website - in other words, spam - delete
One was an email from a man called Jacob:

From: Jacob Kexer
Subject: Diamonds are forever
To: Justine Alphonse


Just letting you know that I’ve started translating it. Drop by mine this evening, need to talk.


Jacob was a journalist, and Justine would have been one too had she not switched to medicine. She had asked a favour of him, which she didn’t want to admit to since it wasn’t strictly legal. The events that lead up to asking this favour had begun a few months back, when Justine was assigned to a patient who no one really knew anything about. The patient was mute, but psychologically so, and the tests that the doctors took seemed to suggest that she had been trained not to speak. But apart from this odd attribute, she didn’t really have a medical reason to be staying at the hospital, and what made matters more confusing was that Justine was told by someone on the director’s board to treat this woman with absolute respect, and that she had to have a room to herself (of course this wasn’t possible, although the nurses did manage to squeeze her into one of the very few semiprivate suites). Now normally Justine would have assumed that this woman was wealthy enough to buy her way into the hospital - she didn’t doubt for one second that the hospital seized every chance to earn some more money - but heck, they didn’t even know her first name! Her presence was a continual mystery.

After she died, Justine became so intrigued into who this woman was that she just had to find out more about her. She noticed that the patient often wrote in a journal, so when they cleaned out her room, Justine succumbed to the temptation of taking it. She could have lost her job if anyone had seen her, but Justine eased her conscience slightly by reminding herself that she wasn’t technically stealing it (even though legally she was).

It was then that Justine found out she couldn’t read the diary because it was all in shorthand. She could recognise one or two words from each page as a result of her journalism course, but the rest was indecipherable to her. Fortunately, she still kept in contact with some of the people that were on the same course, and many of them had quite high positions in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them knew shorthand well enough to translate a book. It was through a friend of a friend that she met Jacob, which eventually lead to asking Jacob for this favour.

The first major problem that they ran into when Jacob opened the first page was that the shorthand was personalised. This meant it would take a long time for him to decode the diary, assuming if he was able to at all.

However, this email renewed Justine’s confidence in seeing this project through to the end. She texted Jacob to let him know that she would be over later. Then she collapsed onto her bed, falling asleep in a matter of seconds.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Chapter 1 - part one

Time doesn’t bode well with you, thought Justine, massaging her fingers into her forehead. It was 1 am, just after rush hour, and the nurse had a headache. She was slouched on the staff room’s sofa with the lights turned off, and her coffee cup for company. Saying that the evening had been stressful was an understatement, yet everyday was stressful on the Emergency Ward, and it didn’t help Justine that the hospital was severely lacking in staff.

Today she had the usual bingers and drunkards, as well as an assortment of slips, bumps and car accidents, but what had made her job hell this evening was a stabbing, because with a stabbing comes the police, and with the police comes chaos. Patients are under no obligation to say whether they’re smokers or not, and there’s nothing the medical staff can do to put patients under jurisdiction, but if the police suspects a patient has been smoking, they are fully in their rights to arrest that patient. Frankly, the whole system was shit. The main reason why smoking tobacco had become illegal was to relieve healthcare services from patients affected by the Smog, but every time the police becomes involved with a case, the entire hospital turns upside down as the smokers scramble to make themselves scarce. The poor buggers with lung cancer but not from their own doing don’t stand a chance. Police tactics were becoming more and more brutalised, however Justine didn’t blame them, it was the Government who allowed their society to deteriorate, even in Dorset, of all places! The yearly healthcare budget cuts worsen the wounds, Justine thought. Not only do the hospitals not have enough money to improve their services, but who’d want to work in one now? Nurses are paid a pittance. Fucking Government.

Justine rubbed her eyes. Although she detested it, what her grandpa had said was true; a war really would benefit the country. Certainly not immediately, what with the economic situation the country was in, yet in the long term it would be beneficial to the people. Why? Because at the moment the country was floundering, trying to fight to survive, but not knowing who to fight against or why. If the enemy was more physical than a faceless entity, it would give everyone a focus, and a reason to appreciate and, dare it be said, enjoy life again. Regardless of this rather appealing idea however, Justine hated the thought of the suffering that a war would bring, and hated herself more for thinking about it.

And of course, a war would put even more pressure on her job. Her head throbbed in discontent.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


I used to know this old lady. Real nice, grandma material. Had that kind of smile. Her name: I didn’t know her first name, not then when I knew her. Ms. Diamond, that’s what the nurses called her, and the name she used to get on the occasional Get Well Soon card. She shared a room with my mother at St. Nicholas Hospital, who herself was suffering lung cancer. I hated my mother. She brought this upon herself, smoking all her life. Could have been shot in some parts of the country. I hear the police’ll do that now, no hesitation. But what I hate most about my mother was that she couldn’t just die quietly and suffer her own punishment. She had to lie, because she didn’t a fancy room in a hospital to share with only one other person by chance or luck, not in this day and age.

The only reason I visited my mother on her deathbed was so I could meet Ms. Diamond. She was brilliant. She kept a diary which she let me look at, but it was all in shorthand, a art of writing that even some journalists don’t use, what with all the computers and laptops and mobile phones doing the same things but faster. I’ve always wanted to learn shorthand. There’s some childlike fascination inside of me with being able to write incredibly fast with paper and ink, like the good old days without spellcheck, and not having other people being able to decipher what you’ve just written. Such sophistication, but so secretive! Sometimes I was compelled just to watch Ms. Diamond write her diary for hours on end. I loved the way the ink blotted the paper even though the nib of her pen barely etched the surface… it was therapeutic.

There was something else unique that I found interesting about Ms. Diamond. She was mute. It was hardly surprising, so many people are these days, but what was odd was that her condition was psychological, not physical. She had the ability to talk, she just chose not to. Doctors tested her reactions to prove this, seeing if shock or pain would cause her to shout out by instinct, but she didn’t. It was like she was she was trained not to speak, not to utter a single word.

It didn’t matter to her though, nor anyone else who met her. She was peaceful, soothing to be around, and even my mother, my bitter and cold-hearted mother, was perkier in her final months by just sitting next to her. She communicated to other people via a small whiteboard she hung over her neck, or with Post-It notes when the words needed to be more permanent. The way she formed words was beautiful, her handwriting was calligraphic. She was an artist.

It was sad that no one ever seemed to appreciate her for the wonderful person she was, because, bar me, she never got any visitors. Yes she got the occasional card or letter, like I mentioned, but they were always addressed formally rather than personally. My mother got visitors from time to time, but Ms. Diamond was a lonely woman, and she didn’t deserve to be.

She passed away in her sleep. Mother called me and told me the bad news, I didn’t take it very well at all. I had spoken to her the day before, or more appropriately (and rather disturbingly), she had spoken to me. She was writing on her whiteboard that she knew she was going to die very soon, and that she welcomed the idea, because she had lived a long and happy life, although I know for certain that her last few months couldn’t have been happy, being in the same room as my mother all day and night. She pulled me close to her, kissed me on the forehead like she was my aunt or something, then whispered that single syllable that still haunts me in my dreams: “Run.”

When the doctors asked me what she said before she died (I assumed a relative probably wanted to know, or something), I told them the truth, just missing out that monumental detail. It shook me to my core, I didn’t know why but I knew that I had to do as she instructed. I left my mother to die, and I left my flat, I left my friends, my job with the bank; I just packed up and left. I didn’t know where to go, so for a while I travelled around the UK, never staying in the same place for more than a week or two, using up the pitiful family funds that my father had left behind after he died when I was still a kid.

But my journeys came to a hasty end when my ancient Fiesta finally packed up. Car insurance is a luxury that most people can’t afford since the Smog; the Government said it was one of the ways we could pay back after the recession, but I’m guessing that most of the extra money from projects like car insurance went straight into the politician’s pockets for their next trip to Barbados, or along the like. I’ll probably get some form of lung or throat disease when I’m older since my car is so old that the windows aren’t even sealed, and you can still wind them down when you’re feeling adventurous. I did hope that one day I’d be able to take my car abroad to somewhere like Sweden where the Smog’s not so bad, and you don’t get arrested for cruising down motorways with the windows down and feeling the wind in your hair, but I guessed that it was never going to happen. It would have been too expensive anyway.

When I could no longer drive, I took the train back to my hometown, Poole. Dorset was the last county to be affected by the Smog, the extra precautions that the communities took against it to make the county a cleaner and greener place only delayed the inevitable.

To be honest, I felt stupid when I came back. Why the hell did I do all that travelling? What was it for? I spent all my money and lost almost everything just because I followed a supposedly mute woman’s last word. Fortunately, the landlord wasn’t able to rent out the hellhole of my flat to anyone, so he offered it back to me again at a reduced rate. I got a job at the local pub, and got in contact with my friends again, who were all pretty much the same people living the same lives from when I left.

My mother had passed away while I was gone. I knew this. The doctors told me. I didn’t go to her funeral. I spent what was left of my money on a gravestone, not for Mother, but for Ms. Diamond; I regretted for not going to her funeral.

So, after all that, I fell back into my old life again.

Except that I was being followed.

Every night. On the way home from work, or the shops, or my friends. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I could feel eyes latched on to me, and when I would turn around there would be no one there. The Government advises people to not walk when they can get other transport, particularly at night, when the Smog is worse. I don’t mind walking, and usually on the streets of Poole I felt safe, but during those few weeks of returning home I felt paranoid that at any moment someone was going to jump out from the dark and mug me, or stab me, or both.

I carried a knife with me at all times. For protection. It was an heirloom my father left for me when he died of lung cancer, just like my mother years later. It was an essential, like my mobile phone or wallet or gas mask. I always kept it in the inside chest pocket of my jacket, so when I walked I would feel the object rubbing against me to remind me that I was safe, that I had something to defend myself, just in case.

I never thought I would actually use it though. I knew that I was being overly cautious to satisfy my worries, but I never thought that I was actually being followed every night. I wish I knew. I wish I followed Ms. Diamond’s last word. I wish I had listened to her.

If I did, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in now.

I wouldn’t be lying in the pool of another man’s blood.

I stabbed someone. I’m not guilty, I know I’m not, I was just defending myself, probably, but the authorities would arrest me anyway if they saw this. They don’t care. They’d say that I knew the risks of walking every night. And it doesn’t help that I’m a 24 year-old man who carries a knife with him in his jacket pocket every night, something that I’d end up admitting.

I just have to remain calm… and clean this up…

I just have to remain calm and clean this up…

Oh god, what the fuck have I done? I can’t even remember…

I just have to remain calm and clean this up.

Tomorrow will be a new day, and I won’t remember this, it’ll all be a bad dream, and the heirloom that my father left behind was never a knife, it was just an ornament of some kind, and Ms. Diamond never said anything to me because she was mute so she couldn’t, and the reason why I travelled around the UK was because I wanted to see the UK and I was never being followed, not now, not ever. And I never killed a man, and I never owned a car with windows you could wind down either, because I never did and never will do anything illegal. I’m a good man, you see, I’m a good person, I do good things like visiting old people in hospital to ask them about their day. I have a degree in Philosophy, and I never murdered anyone. I swear.

I leave the abandoned shed where I left it and I carry on walking home.

Was that man stalking me? Or was he just a man walking by? Was he a man with a wife and kids who’ll be in tears tomorrow when they find out-

I carry on walking home. My hands are cold, that’s why they’re shaking. I unlock the first door to the flats with the key that’s digging into my thigh, and I then shut it so the place is sealed. I open the second door, walk up two flights of stairs and open my flat door with another key. I shut the door, hang up my gas mark and coat and… I forgot the knife. I left the knife in the shed. It’s covered in my fingerprints.
I have a shower and the blood and the man with the blood and the knife that’s in the shed wash down the drain with the water. I dry myself and get changed and go to bed. I close my eyes and let the darkness wash over me even though I left the lights on. I’m afraid that if I turn them off the eyes will latch onto me again and will start watching me again and oh God I murdered a man.

I murdered a man.

But tomorrow will be different, I reassure myself of this.

Because tomorrow there will be no man and all will be good again. I’ll have breakfast, and I’ll see my friends whose names I can’t remember right at the moment. But that’s okay, I just need to sleep.

I just need sleep.