Music Mash-Up – Galvanize the Empire

September 24, 2007 at 11:49 am (Music, Film and Television) ()

Another splendiferous music mash-up, from the same guy who did the Snow Police mix (Party Ben, you are a talent to be reckoned with!), this time giving us the most unlikely of combinations – Star Wars and the Chemical Brothers (so, should this be known as Star Brothers or Chemical Wars?). I present, for your musical enjoyment, Galvanise the Empire:


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Music Mash-up – Snow Police – Every Car You Chase

September 23, 2007 at 3:19 pm (Music, Film and Television) ()

Every now and then, I come across a piece of music that is so sublimely mixed that I’m amazed nobody did it sooner. Today’s case is an excellent mix between Every Breath You Take by The Police and Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. Now, I was already a fan of The Police, but Snow Patrol have never really been “my thing” – I’m not a fan of their music; it does nothing for me at all, although I know many people think them The Biz.

Anyway, take a look at this lovely bit of mixing and judge for yourself whether or not this actually makes the Snow Patrol track far better – I think it does. It’s been stuck in my head all day and I just know I would love to perform this live…

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Spreading the Joy

September 11, 2007 at 9:15 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Spreading the Joy

Spreading the Joy

What do you do when you don’t have a lot of funds available to feed your book habit? Or if you do have the funds, but don’t have the space to house all your new acquisitions?

The answer is simple – you swap. You take stock of what you’ve got, you take out the books you don’t read any more (tastes change, after all!), you clear them off the shelf, leaving space for new books to take their place and … then what?

Now you have several piles of books heaped around you and you don’t know how to get started. Where do you turn?

Well, here’s a handy idea straight off the bat – you could always join The Book Club Forum and list your books there for other members to see (membership is free and you get to chat to fellow bookworms who may well introduce you to new authors and genres). Quite a few of our members have swap lists as long as your arm, just waiting for someone to snap them up, and in the case of swapping, all you’re paying is the postage on the book you send in return!

There are also sites dedicated entirely to swapping books with other people. One particularly reputable one is Read it, Swap it. This particular site only caters for residents of the UK, but if you live abroad and have buddies in Blighty, I’m sure you could sweet-talk them into helping you out if there’s something particular that you’re after. They have thousands of books listed by bookworms up and down the country, and again, the only cost is 2nd class postage, which can be as little as 58p (depending on the weight of the package). I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a bargain for any book!

If you live outside the UK, you might like to try Book Mooch – another swap site that works on a points-based system: You don’t have to choose a book in return for any you send out – instead, you can save up your points and choose the books you want, when you want them.

Another neat idea is to start a book swap circle. Get together with all your bookish buddies and organise a Swap Meet. You all gather for a coffee (or something stronger) and take your swapping books along with you. Then you can make recommendations to your pals and have a rake through their books too, leaving you all happily headed home with some great new reading material.

And if you like the idea of keeping tabs on where your swapped-out books get to, you could always try registering them on the Book Crossing, which has been running since 2001 and keeps track of many thousands of books that are now out exploring the world. Each book is allocated a unique ID number and a sticker is popped inside the front cover to let the next person know where to make a note when they receive the book.

All these things add up to one thing – you get a bit more room for some new books AND you get new books to fill up the space. Who could resist that? And the best bit is; when you’re done with those books, you can start the whole cycle over again…

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)

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Writing Reviews

September 11, 2007 at 9:10 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Writing reviews

Writing Reviews

Writing a book review can seem like a difficult task, but it needn’t be. It can, in fact, be a lot of fun and not only can it garner interest from other readers, but it can really get you thinking about the book you’ve just read in a different way than you normally would, which can actually increase your enjoyment of it!

There doesn’t have to be any set style, but there are a few things that really should be included every time – the title and the author – otherwise how is anyone going to know what you’re reviewing? A few other pieces of information that can be useful are the publisher, the publication date and the ISBN number (a unique identifier code, usually located next to the bar code) as this can make finding the book easier for those who would like to read it. Sometimes including a little background information on the author can make it all the more interesting too.

OK, now you’ve got the basic information, where do you go from there?

To give an idea of the content, it’s often a good idea to include a brief synopsis. You can either summarise the story (being careful not to give away major plot points) in a few paragraphs, or you could use the ”blurb” from the back of the book (or inside the dust jacket) which is a ready-made hook – after all, it’s probably what drew you to the book in the first place!

Next, you might like to consider the main theme of book. What is the author trying to say? Is there a specific message there? Is it of a specific genre and if so, does anything make it stand out from other similar books, or is it stereotypical?

Two major points to include here are characters and plot. Are the characters realistically portrayed and how well do they sit within the storyline? This is where you get to tell the reader exactly what it is about this book that you loved or hated. Think about whether the plot was commonplace or whether there were plenty of twists in the tale that kept you guessing right up to the end. You might also want to mention the tense (past or present) and the writing style (written in first or third person, comedic, dark, or suspenseful).

By the time you get to your conclusion, you should have some idea of what kind of person might enjoy this – you may choose to compare it with another writer’s style and recommend it to fans of that author to try. It can also be helpful to rate the book, to give an idea of how good (or bad) you, personally, thought it was. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, even if they differ from the ideas of the author; it makes the review more enjoyable and useful to other potential readers.

Of course, after writing a few reviews, you’ll begin developing your own style (nothing is set in stone – there are no hard-and-fast rules) and it will get easier every time – you might even find you enjoy it so much you look forward to the review almost as much as the book itself!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©

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Kelley Armstrong – An Author with Bite!

September 10, 2007 at 9:27 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )


Kelley’s official website

Kelley Armstrong – An Author with Bite!

If ever there was an author forging a new path in fiction, it’s Kelley Armstrong; bringing a whole host of incredibly strong female characters to the fore in her Women of the Otherworld series. It’s rare to see such well-defined characters in books that really do span across several genres to create something entirely new and completely gripping.

Never one to follow the herd, Armstrong is more a wolf than a sheep, and, indeed, the first instalment WOTOW series focuses on wolves. Well, werewolves actually, but don’t let that put you off! Whether or not you’re a fan of horror, Bitten has far more to offer than a bit of a thrill, so you shouldn’t take it at face value – there’s a wonderful twist right there at the start in that the lead character is a woman. Not only that, but she’s unique – the only female werewolf in the entire world.

Then we get out of the horror genre and kick into a bit of chick-lit. This is a woman desperately trying to fit in. All she wants is to be normal; find someone who loves her and settle down. In short, she wants a family.

From there, we get into all kinds of other genres – murder and mayhem, and then, with Stolen, you get a bit of espionage thrown into the mix, along with a bit of myth and magic and the introduction of other “creatures of the night” (vampires and witches and demons, oh my!).

As the series progresses, the focus shifts, in Dime Store Magic, to the Magical community – that of Witches and Sorcerers, but we still have a strong, if flawed, female character in the hot-seat. This trend continues in Industrial Magic, where we get a tantalising glimpse of corporate politics and a mafia-style family (is there anything this writer cannot do?).

Haunted moves again and takes us into the afterlife, to a realm which isn’t all angels on clouds with harps, nor is it little devils with pitchforks. There are most definitely demons, but they’re firmly fixed in the world of the living and wreaking havoc.

Broken, is a welcome return to the werewolf Pack as they try to unravel the mystery surrounding the From Hell letter, supposedly written by the notorious Jack the Ripper, which just may have a supernatural aspect to it…

The most recent WotOW installment, No Humans Involved, stars necromancer Jaime Vegas – a glamourous, show-biz medium who really can talk to the dead. While shooting a spooky reality TV show, she gets involved in far more than she expected and needs help from a half demon and the werewolf Pack Alpha, Jeremey to put things right.

Of course, the Supernatural world isn’t the only string to Armstrong’s bow – Exit Strategy is set very firmly in the real world and features Nadia Stafford, a contract killer for a Mafia family, who is on the hunt for a serial killer with all the earmarks of a hitman who is killing innocent people. She has to head a band of ruthless hitmen and work with her mentor, Jack, in order to take on the murderer.

Whether or not any of this has piqued your interest, you should seriously consider taking a look at Kelley Armstrong’s official website as not only can you read info on the books (complete with character details and prologues), but you can also read the short stories she’d been writing in the meantime, which slot in between the various books and give even deeper insight into the backgrounds of the characters (it’s worth mentioning here that Armstrong takes the ideas of her fans into consideration on these!). There’s also an active discussion board and a journal to keep everyone up to date on her progress.

So, go along, have a look, and find yourself drawn into the Otherworld; a place populated by feisty women who know what they want and how to get it. It’s also worth signing up for the e-newsletter to keep you fully informed!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)


The next installment of Kelley Armstrong’s WOTOW series, Personal Demon, is due to be published in Spring 2008 and is set to star Hope Adams, the half-demon introduced in No Humans Involved.

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Christopher Brookmyre – Write on the Edge

September 10, 2007 at 9:13 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )


Christopher’s official website

Christopher Brookmyre – Write on the Edge

Christopher Brookmyre is Scottish through and through; his sense of humour is pitch-black and wicked; his writing, edgy and his characters, gritty: All this results in a unique blend of crime and comedy the likes of which is hard to best; most often in a Scottish setting, where the weather is dreich; the inhabitants dreary; and normal life is incredibly dull – but not if you live between the pages of a Brookmyre book!

More often than not, his slightly-built anti-hero, Jack Parlabane, journalist extraordinaire, is pitted against those in power and throwing witty quips and insults at the bad guys that will have even the most discerning reader in stitches and gasping for breath.

If you want to read the stories featuring Jack Parlabane, you should read them in this order:

Quite Ugly One Morning begins with a corpse in a Glasgow flat and Parlabane, newly returned from America, just can’t resist poking his nose in where it’s bound to cause trouble and the dark underbelly of the medical profession is tickled to great effect.

In Country of the Blind a media mogul has been murdered and a couple of ne’er-do-wells have been fingered for the crime, but Jack’s not so sure they’ve got the right guys. Enter a young Edinburgh solicitor who claims she can prove their innocence, but someone powerful doesn’t want to truth to come to light…

Boiling a Frog sees Parlabane taking a break at Her Majesty’s Pleasure as well as taking on the might of the Catholic Church of Scotland and making enemies of pretty much everyone he meets.

Be My Enemy (or F*ck This for a Game of Soldiers) pokes fun at those Team Building Adventure Weekends that every corporate middle-manager dreads and gives ample reason why those weekends should cause apprehension and abject terror, as the visitors face death at every turn.

The others are all on-offs, but a couple of them feature recurring characters, so you should probably read them in this order:

In Not the End of the World, a Glaswegian photographer, an LA cop and a Porn Starlet go up against a media-savvy televangelist who has predicted a disaster that promises to wash the sinners of the Adult Movie business off the face of the planet. With terrorists causing bother and an oceanic research vessel going missing, the unlikely trio is going to have a lot on their plate!

If a school reunion is your idea of a nightmare-in-the-making, then One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night will be your idea of reading heaven! For twenty-four hours, the classmates are gathered together on an oil rig that’s been converted into a luxury resort, but is currently sitting in the Firth of Forth, awaiting departure to more exotic climes. In the meantime, there’s nowhere to run when the bullets start flying. It’s a chance for those who were voted Least Likely To Succeed to show exactly what they can do under pressure!

Can a secondary school English teacher best a notorious terrorist? In A Big Boy Did it & Ran Away, Raymond Ash gets a little more real life than he can handle when he stumbles onto the plans of The Black Spirit. With nothing but a background in computer games and an inability to get through to unruly teenagers, how can he possibly expect to get out of this alive?

My personal favourite to date is The Sacred Art of Stealing, which has quite possibly the best bank robbery ever committed to the page. The boundary between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys is cleverly blurred till you’re not sure who you should be rooting for, but you don’t care, because you know exactly who you want to win anyway!

Intrigue; espionage; advanced technology; clinical violence; hoovering: All Fun & Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye has all this and more. For every mother who’s wished they could have led a more exciting life; for every mum who would lay down their life for their kids – your representative is forty-six year old Jane Fleming, whose life is about to get a whole lot more exciting than she ever would have believed when her granddaughter is kidnapped.

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil was immediately dubbed by Time Out Magazine, “The kind of thing that Agatha Christie might have written if she’d been off her tits on manky crack”. It lives up to the promise to be the type of edgy, seat-of-the-pants stuff we’ve come to expect from Mr. Brookmyre. Seriously – get hold of it – you won’t regret it! (Of course, you might want to read the others first, but that won’t be a chore either!)

If you love action, wise-cracking heroes, intelligent villains and more laughs than a pack of very-happy hyenas, Brookmyre delivers on every level; his writing is intelligent, never condescends and is consistently of the highest caliber. If you haven’t already picked up one of his books from the shelf, get your butt moving – you don’t know what you’re missing!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)


Christopher Brookmyre’s latest book, Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks is also now available in hardback.

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Terry Pratchett – In a Discworld of His Own

September 10, 2007 at 9:07 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Terry Pratchett

Terry’s official website.

Terry Pratchett – In a (Disc) World of His Own

Terry Pratchett is unbeatable when it comes to fantasy/alternate reality: The Discworld series now runs to more than thirty books and every one of them has something to recommend it, from clever plots to witty comparisons to our own “round” world, to the expertly drawn characters who inhabit the now-famous Disc that hurtles through space, balanced on the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of the star turtle Great A’Tuin.

Not only is Mr Pratchett frighteningly intelligent, gut-wrenchingly funny and incredibly wry, but also incredibly versatile, turning his hand to cranking out novels at a rate of knots that appeal to readers from 8 to 80 (and beyond in both directions!). There are several Discworld novels aimed at younger readers, but they’ve proven just as popular with the grown-ups – his latest offering, Wintersmith, features young Witch-in-training, Tiffany Aching and those blue scallywags, the Nac Mac Feegle…

If you really want to get into the Discworld, pick up one of the omnibus editions – there are several to choose from including the Death series, the Witches series and the City Watch series (which just keeps on growing and getting better and better!).

There are plenty of stand-alone books in there too – try Going Postal for a giggle at the expense of the Postal Service; Moving Pictures for a crack at the film industry; or Pyramids for an escapade in a land not unlike ancient Egypt and some fun with an unwilling assassin…

And if the Discworld’s not for you, consider giving Good Omens a try – Pratchett wrote it with Neil Gaimen and it’s apocalyptically funny.

Another one outside of the Discworld is The Carpet People – originally written when Pratchett was just 17 years old and re-written when he was in his 40’s (in a sense, he collaborated with himself on this one!) to produce a fantastic bit of reading material. This was my introduction to Pratchett back in 1992 and I was instantly hooked on his work – not bad for a book about miniscule folks living between the hairs of your carpet!

Of course, Terry (or Pterry, as he is often called by fans) is also the author of the well-loved Johnny series (Johnny and the Bomb was made into a children’s TV series a while back), so there’s plenty to get your teeth into, whatever your age.

And if that’s not enough to convince you to take him off the shelf, how about this little anecdote:

A bookshop was broken into one night. The tills were, of course, already empty and the thief couldn’t open the safe. All that was missing were TWO of each of Pratchett’s books.

I rest my case!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©


If you’d like to try the Discworld novels but aren’t sure where to start, you’ll find a handy guide here.

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Working Girl (a short story by Kell Smurthwaite)

September 9, 2007 at 10:02 am (Short Stories) (, )

Working Girl

Working Girl

It’s about more than just the money – there are a million ways of making a quick buck that would be easier, more pleasant, but they don’t all let you work unusual hours. Anyway, just so you know, it isn’t just the money – it’s more about being in control of my own life. When you need time to study and attend classes but don’t come from a home where Daddy can afford to pay your rent, your bills and your tuition fees, you find a job that fits in with your new world.

I get funny looks when people find out what I do. Their features crumple into incredulity as they ask, “How can you do that? Don’t you find it a bit disgusting?” As it happens, yes, sometimes I do find it a bit distasteful, but that comes with the job. I know they think it strange and that many of them could never bring themselves to work in such a place. You need a good sense of humour too – if you don’t know how to laugh, you’d soon learn how to cry, but you just can’t let it get to you. You carry on and you deal with it. Eventually, people come round and mostly they end up looking at me with a certain degree of respect. I get a kick out of knowing not everyone could do this job – it takes a special kind of person; a special talent, and that’s something I have.

Nakedness has never bothered me; it’s the occasional leering face and the cold, clammy hands that get to me most often, but not the nakedness. I mean, it’s not like they can hurt me in any way, but sometimes it gives me the creeps when I look into their staring eyes. What is it about naked flesh that bothers people anyway? It’s the body in its natural state. All right, not everyone can have a beautiful body; one that’s pleasing to the eye, but we all end up the same way.

In this business, measurements are all-important: Everything examined in close-up, nothing missed and nothing skimped over. Each and every inch of the body is on display, there are no secrets here – all is revealed. I suppose that makes many feel vulnerable, but you get used to it very quickly. You have to, or you won’t last long.

Of course, the pay is pretty good too. You get used to being able to afford little luxuries like a roof over your head and groceries in your cupboard and it’s hard to resign yourself to something that doesn’t pay so much, even if it does mean you won’t have to walk into that big, open room and do your thing. Like I say, it’s not about the money and it’s not even about enjoying the job, but I do get a sense of satisfaction at the end of the night.

In case you’re wondering, I have no plans to give this up any time soon. It’ll get me through college and then keep me going until I find a job that suits my qualifications, although I know that it’s going to be tough to do that, but at least I have something to tide me over until that happens.

And of course, it’s the source of some pretty interesting stories – after all, it’s amazing what you get to see working the night shift at the morgue.

Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©

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Going Up (a short story by Kell Smurthwaite)

September 9, 2007 at 9:58 am (Short Stories) (, )

Going Up

Going Up

The sun reflected sharply against the windows of the office high-rise and Jay Driscoll pulled his designer aviator shades out of his briefcase and slipped them onto the bridge of his nose before stepping out of the black sedan. He unfolded himself to his full height of six feet four, and smoothed the front of his exquisitely tailored suit jacket and trousers as the car pulled away from the curb with a slow swoosh. A discrete chirrup alerted him to an incoming call and he reached into his breast pocket for his ultra-slim mobile phone – it was the very latest style and so small that not even a vague outline had shown through the pocket lining to mar the perfect lines of his grey pinstriped suit.

“Driscoll,” he barked as he flipped it open and held it to his ear. A brief pause, then, “Yes, I’m right outside. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” He ended the call without the pleasantry of a “goodbye” and just as he was returning it to his pocket, it gave a shrill peep.

Flipping it open once more, he squinted over the top of his sunglasses and frowned. The battery was almost completely dead. Jay was sure he’d recharged it overnight, but he must have neglected to flip the switch on the socket, so that it instead ran itself flat. With a low growl, he switched it off to conserve what little power remained and prevent it beeping during his business meeting. Returning it to his pocket, he strode purposefully towards the glass and brass of the revolving door.

Inside the foyer was cool, courtesy of the state-of-the-art air conditioning system that constantly churned the air, removing any hint of the clammy heat that seemed permanently resident in the city streets. A perky receptionist with peroxide blonde hair pulled back and piled on top of her head glanced up to greet this new arrival. Coyly, she brushed a stray strand from her forehead and artfully tucked it behind her left ear as she flashed him a brilliant white, toothpaste-commercial smile.

“Good morning, and welcome to Palmer, Hunter and Smythe. How may I help you?” she trilled.

Jay casually removed his shades with one practiced smooth movement and looked her straight in the eye, causing her to catch her breath, glance down towards her desk and blush beautifully before returning her gaze, her rosy lips slightly parted and pouting. He had this effect on a certain type of woman without even trying, and with a little effort, he could extend that to most of the rest of the female population, as well as some of the men.

With a sinful half-smile, he drawled, “Driscoll. I’m here to see Pete Palmer. My colleague, Alan Ingram, is already here.”

Still captured by his chocolate-dark eyes, she started slightly as she replied, “Oh, yes, Mr Ingram went up just a few minutes ago. I’ll let Mr Palmer know you’ve arrived.”

She turned her attention to the telephone and tapped an extension number, her manicured talons quietly clicking on the keys. Pressing the receiver to her ear, she risked glancing back at Jay and he rakishly winked at her, almost causing her to drop the phone and fluff her line as her call was answered.

“Oh, um, yes, Mr Palmer, sir. There’s a Mr Driscoll in reception to see you… Yes, sir… Right away, sir.”

She cradled the receiver and bravely lifted her pointed chin till her eyes met Driscoll’s once more and almost whispered, “You can go right up to the thirteenth floor, Mr Driscoll. Mr Palmer is ready for you in the conference suite.”

“Thank you…” He left the sentence hanging, waiting for her to speak.

“Oh, Polly… It’s Polly,” she breathed.

“Polly,” he repeated, rolling the name round his mouth as though tasting it. “Thank you, Polly.”

Jay turned towards the elevators and then smiled to himself as he heard Polly’s almost-silent sigh float after him. He thought of those pale blue eyes fixed on his retreating form, taking in his broad shoulders, long legs and confident gait. Extending a single finger, he punched it into the call button, and glanced to the display above the mirrored doors to see that the elevator was only one floor above him and would arrive in seconds. Checking his reflection, he noticed that Polly still watched from her perch behind the panelled oak reception desk and as the doors slid open, he turned and graced her with another of his trademark half-smiles while giving a small wave which she returned, her face flushing again at being caught watching him. He continued holding her captive in his sights as the doors slowly moved together till only a narrow strip remained with her at the centre, then nothing.

Immediately after the doors closed, Jay almost lost his cool composure as the highly polished interior reflected him into infinity; his mirror images were split at waist height by a metal bar, dissecting him as effectively as a magician might a scantily clad assistant. Huffing out his breath, he pressed the silver button ornately marked with a 13, lighting it from behind with a golden glow, and then adjusted his slate grey silk tie, tautening his jaw as he manoeuvred it from side to side till the knot was perfectly central.

The smooth movement of the elevator was barely perceptible as it climbed, the digital screen above the doors displaying the floors as they were passed. Jay grimaced and checked his teeth between floors, turning his face slightly to the left, then the right, ensuring his pearly whites were, as expected, pearly white. Running his tongue along the outer edge of his upper teeth, he felt the only tiny imperfection, where the childhood retainer hadn’t quite brought his left canine into alignment; it was barely noticeable, but this tiny flaw always irked him.

By the time he was gliding past the eighth floor, Jay had moved onto his hair. The mirrors gave him a panoramic view and he took advantage of it by worrying at a few stray strands of sable hair at the nape of his neck that were just brushing his collar – at least he wasn’t thinning on top, no, his hair was thick and lustrous soft without looking feminine – then smoothed his eyebrows into place before moving onto his tidily trimmed goatee.

Ten, eleven, twelve; he took a few deep breaths and brushed an imaginary piece of lint from the lapel of his jacket, then almost stumbled as the elevator juddered to a halt. After such a smooth ride, the jolt was unexpected – was there something wrong with the braking gear? He made a mental note to mention to someone that they should really have the machinery checked, then moved expectantly towards the doors.

They failed to open.

Jay glanced up at the display. It was blank.

Pressing the door hold button, he glared at the doors, willing them to part, but there was no response. He was caught between the twelfth floor and unlucky thirteen.


Repeated jabbing at the button for the thirteenth floor resulted in no movement.


He pulled his cell phone from his breast pocket and pressed the power button. It gave a quiet jingling tone, then abruptly gave a piercing beep and shut itself off again. The battery was completely dead.


Jay now turned his attention to the columned buttons, looking for a handset to connect him to reception so that he could alert Polly at reception of his predicament. Next to them was the fine, rectangular outline of an almost invisible panel with no handle evident. Gingerly, he pressed his fingertips to an edge, leaving opaque prints on the glossy surface, then, as it popped open, realised he’d been holding his breath in anticipation. He eased open the small door and heaved a small sigh of relief when his eyes alighted on the smooth black handset within. A smile spread across his handsome face as he reached for it.

There were no buttons in evidence, so he assumed it must automatically connect, but there was no tone, no slight hissing buzz to indicate any kind of connection.

“Hello?” he ventured. No reply.

“Hello? Is there anyone there? The lift appears to be stuck.”

Still, he was greeted by silence.

Jay was suddenly aware that his mouth was feeling dry and he flicked his tongue momentarily over his lips, and then tried to produce some saliva to wet his throat. No need to panic, there would always be the alarm button…

Beneath the dual columns of numbered buttons was one bearing a bell icon and he prodded it firmly. He couldn’t hear anything, so he jammed his finger onto it again; once, twice, three times. Still no sound. Perhaps it sounded in reception and Polly would be picking up the phone that would allow her to speak to him in his glass prison. He reached for the handset once more and joyfully spoke into it.

“Hello? Polly?”

There was still no sound.

Jay replaced it in its nook and set his brief case down on the black marble floor that was polished to a sheen almost as reflective as the mirrors all around him. Now his palms were feeling slightly clammy and he flicked open his case to retrieve a handkerchief from one of the inner pockets and dry them off.

He was being silly, he knew. There was no reason to loose his cool.

But still, only a few minutes into his captivity, he was beginning to feel fingers of fear stretching around him, beginning their slow squeeze. He gulped again, this time to rid his mouth of the excess saliva that was suddenly flowing.

He’d never liked enclosed places. It was his secret phobia. Mostly he had it under control, but he hated the feeling of being compressed into a confined, finite space with little room for movement and in particular he had always loathed lifts. They were a necessary and unavoidable evil in his life – many of his meetings were conducted in penthouse offices, making it impossible for him to use the stairs, and so he’d learned to distract himself either with his own appearance, or by observing those who joined him temporarily in his journey up or down.

Now, Jay was alone; the lift had not made a single stop and now he wished some other poor soul was with him to distract him from his mounting terror. No, he wished someone else were here instead of him – he didn’t want to be here at all!

His stomach was beginning to churn and already he could detect the beginnings of dampness under his arms and an invisible band tightening around his head, making him feel dizzy and slightly nauseous. He swept his hand up over his furrowed brow and backwards through his hair, raking his scalp with his fingers. Think, think, think; there must be something he could do? Surely?

Eyes clamped shut in an attempt to clear his blurring vision, Jay’s head fell back, and when his eyes opened, he found himself peering at a perfect square in the ceiling of the box imprisoning him between floors, between worlds – the real world out there and this cramped, ever-decreasing world, this personal hell, in the elevator.

For a few seconds, he did nothing but stare at the fine, dark outline of the hatch. Could it really be so simple? Could he really escape his confinement by clambering through this small door into the other world, like Alice in Wonderland? It was worth a try.

Bracing his brogue-clad foot against the metal railing, Jay’s knee was forced right up to his chest as he reached over to the smooth rail at ninety degrees and balanced precariously, both feet on this narrow ledge, like a circus contortionist, facing his twin, while countless other versions of himself disappeared into the distance behind him. He noted, with some slight annoyance, that his skin now had a waxy sheen where perspiration had readily sprung to the surface only minutes before. Holding his position a brief second to find his equilibrium, he then slowly edged his feet closer together, and his left hand along the pane of glass before him, without relinquishing his grasp on the polished steel gripped in his right. Squeezing his shoulder through the gap between body and wall, his left hand joined its partner, and he switched his feet over so that now his darkened reflection peered up at him from the floor. Bending double as he brought his feet closer to the corner, Jay let got of the railing and positioned his hands directly on the mirrored surface, smearing it with sweat that made his hands stick slightly to it as he walked them up the wall.

Straightening up, Jay now had a foot on either edge of the right angled railing and was spread-eagled in the corner, jamming his shoulders against the walls to keep from tipping forward before he felt more sure of his balance.

A few deep, steadying breaths before moving and he reached out to the edge of the ceiling hatch. There was no handle evident, so obviously he just needed to push it up and it would swing outwards, providing an escape route he now desperately needed – if he could get on top of the lift, he could easily reach the doors leading to the floor above and perhaps force them open so he could pull himself out. His height would be an advantage there, he knew.

Jay gently pushed at the hatch’s corner, but it didn’t move. Shoving it harder produced no movement either. Repeated hammering on its surface did absolutely no good. There must be a handle on the outside, but there was no way out from in here.

He was trapped.

His increasingly violent blows to the hatch unbalanced him and his foot slipped from its precarious perch, sending him sprawling down on the hard floor, winding him as he landed with an audible smack. Now panic was setting in and his breath grew short – panting gasps that caused his mind to reel as he scooted into the corner and hugged his knees to his chest. The walls seemed to close in, inching closer to him with every breath. Jay was sure that while his eye was on one wall, another was edging its way in, squeezing the air out of the shrinking metal box.

He felt chilled; goose bumps standing up on his flesh, yet he was sweating; his shirt now clinging to his sides and back where before it had only skimmed his skin. This dampness was intolerable to him and suddenly he felt much too hot, it was like a sauna, leaving him sticky and uncomfortable as he ripped off his jacket – one button pinging free to skitter and clatter across the floor, coming to rest kissing its own reflection at the opposite corner. His tie was next; torn from his throat where Jay felt it had been restricting his laboured breath. Then the top two buttons of his shirt were wrenched free and he lowered his head onto his knees, scrunching his eyes closed to shut out the myriad mocking versions of himself as he let out a quiet whimper.

Jay knew he’d lost all control over himself – some small part of him, deep inside, was peering out, trying to reassure this outer shell that there was nothing to worry about, but the irrational fear had already taken over and reason had abandoned him to its clutches. He was trapped inside his own body as surely as in this small suspended space. Sliding his back further down the wall, he keeled over to one side and curled up into a tiny ball, trying to make the space around him seem larger by comparison.

Still the mirrored walls seems to slide ever closer to his body as he dulled the floor with the misty huff of his breath, and now his skull seemed to be pressing in on his brain; an organic version of his man-made prison, crushing his thoughts to one, sharp pinpoint. Only one word repeatedly flashed itself through his mind – ESCAPE. ESCAPE. ESCAPE.

Suddenly he was no longer in the elevator; he was in the coal cellar and mother was yelling that this time she’d never let him out, that he was a disgusting, dirty boy who deserved to be punished, shouldn’t play with girls, shouldn’t get in fights, shouldn’t bunk off from Sunday School, shouldn’t this, that or the other. Jay’s ears rang with her tormenting tirade and he squeezed his eyes shut once more, whispering over and over again, “I’ll be a good boy, I’ll be a good boy, I promise.” A mantra to the monster within.

The mechanic whir barely registered. Jay felt his body pressed slightly to the floor as the elevator resumed its ascent, but he could not move. In his corner, he remained wrapped up in himself, arms hugging chest, reaching round to shoulder, knees bent into cramped angles with his heels digging into the back of his thighs. It could not possibly be that this box was moving, that he might possibly be taken from this hell and returned to life. He could not dare to hope, lest it be dashed and send him hurtling deeper into a madness from which he could never escape.

A gentle jolt signalled the end of this journey and the slow, sibilant swish of the doors revealed the tangled wreck of Jay Driscoll. Three figures, looking almost angelic, backlit by a picture window that bathed them in golden white, stood before the open door.

“Oh, my God! Jay! Are you alright?”

The voice seemed distant, echoing, ethereal. Jay blinked and took a deep breath, blinked again, then whispered, “The lift was stuck.”

Alan Ingram stepped into the lift and stopped to his friend’s side. Gently touching Jay’s shoulder, he said, “It was only twenty minutes – I hoped you could hold on till then. We got the technician onto it right away. Come on, Jay. Time to get up. I’ll help you.”

Jay allowed himself to be supported by Alan, the shorter man showing surprising strength, and at last, Jay found himself in a wide, spacious hallway, looking out on a brightly-lit vista of office high-rises and, far below, the bustling city streets. Suddenly he could breath again and the adrenalin drained out of his system as quickly as it had pumped into it. Here, in an open space, he could begin to feel like himself again.

Embarrassed by his loss of composure, he glanced around sheepishly and caught sight of the two other witnesses to his state – one a short, wiry lad in a generic navy suit and blue shirt, both slightly too large for his frame, with tousled hair and grease under his fingernails; the other a stately, white-haired man in a refined, soft-grey double-breasted jacket, with a polished air of professionalism. This must be Pete Palmer, senior partner of the company and legend of the business world.

“I must apologise, Mr Palmer,” Jay stammered. “Small spaces… lifts… I’m sorry…”

“Not at all, Mr. Driscoll,” he replied with kindly smiling eyes. “Alan explained everything to me, but I completely understand. It’s spiders for me – can’t stand them. I get jelly-kneed if I spy one on the wall, large or small. We all have our weaknesses. It’s what makes us human.”

A few minutes later, Jay emerged from the bathroom, almost completely calm and collected, and joined his partner in the luxurious conference suite. Palmer greeted him warmly and shook him by the hand.

“I’ve been looking forward to this meeting, Mr Driscoll. I think that the staff of Palmer, Hunter and Smythe could benefit greatly from your services. Your series of lectures and seminars on performance management and positive thinking have been spoken of as groundbreaking and innovative – that’s just what we need here.”

As Palmer continued, Driscoll found he was slipping back into normality and all thoughts of his brief imprisonment were fading fast. Relieved that his predicament perhaps hadn’t cost Alan and himself this appointment.

“… I’m particularly interested in the ‘Overcoming Fears and Obstacles’ talk…”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Palmer,” interjected Jay, “That particular section is currently under review, but we’d be happy to work out a complete programme particularly tailored to the needs of your company.”

Palmer nodded and smiled.

“That’s absolutely fine. I’ll look forward to it immensely.”

Yes, the “Overcoming Fears and Obstacles” seminar would need more work, Jay thought to himself. As would his ability to put it into practice. In the meantime, he’d be using the stairs.

Kell Smurthwaite, 2007 ©

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End of the Line (a short story by Kell Smurthwaite)

September 9, 2007 at 9:39 am (Short Stories) (, )

End of the Line

End of the Line

The woman had been wittering into her cell phone the entire journey, complaining of her lover’s neglect of her to some long-suffering friend on the end of the line. It was obvious he’d never leave his wife for her – how could any man stand such whining, nasal tones? And such sharp features – her knife-blade nose bisected her face with an unpleasant ridge that was crowded on either side by her close-set eyes.

Tiny flecks of spittal gathered at the corners of her wide, lipsticked mouth as she continued her tirade and Sukie wondered what it was the woman had to keep this man. Was it the thought of something forbidden? Something slightly out of reach? If he were free, would he still want her?

The train was pulling into the station – last stop – end of the line. Edging out of her seat, Sukie took her place behind the whining woman and waited for the doors to open. Following her into the car park, she waited till the telephone was returned to the oversized handbag and French manicured fingers searched for keys.

Now was her chance.

Steeling herself, Sukie tapped the other woman’s shoulder and glared into the heavily made-up eyes.

The woman turned and looked down the full length of her hideous nose at Sukie.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to leave Mike alone. He’ll never leave me – not for you.”

Panic on her face, a smile on Sukie’s. Mike would never leave.

End of the line.

Kell Smurthwaite, 2007 ©

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