Not Safe For Work
When I started my blog, I laid a few unwritten ground rules for myself.
Rule #3 didn’t apply for short stories. If my characters want to use bad language, I am not going to stop them. If I did, the result would be, for want of a better word, dishonest. When you read something, and the tough gangster refers to the local police chief as a “doo-doo face”, for some readers, the piece might be lacking a certain authenticity.
Okay so short stories have swearing. But when I was writing about other stuff that wasn’t a short story, I wanted to avoid cuss-words. There was however a sliiiight problem. You see, when I talk, I use cuss-words. A lot. And I don’t subscribe to this opinion that using bad language indicates a weak vocabulary. Au contraire, mon frère (which is Djiboutian for “no-way, Jose”. Or something). One time, I did one of those Facebook quizzes and they said my vocab was, like, well good.
Thing is, when I wrote my last post, I was dissatisfied with the end product. Not because of the content; I fact-checked that thing within an inch of its life. Because of the language. It felt weak. It felt dishonest. It felt wrong. Wrong because I was holding myself back in refraining from the use of naughty words. Holding myself back like I was driving with the handbrake on. Like I was fighting a six-year-old. Like I was watching internet porn without wearing my crotchless-leather-gimpsuit-onesie.
In trying to watch my mouth, I broke a rule way more important that the self-imposed guidelines set for myself at the outset of my blogging journey. I wasn’t telling the truth. The writing was like soup without a pinch of salt. It was like a Guns ‘n’ Roses song without a nine-minute guitar odyssey from my main man Slash. It was like a ride in a lift without awful, stilted, pointless conversation. It was just wrong.
And so, dear reader, from this point forward, the gloves are off.
*spoiler alert – here comes the NSFW part*
Uggghhh. That’s better.
I come from a long line of swearers. My late great grandmother on my dad’s side didn’t change her middle name to “A. Trooper” for nothing! Hell no! In fact she didn’t do that at all. Wait, what was I talking about? Swearing. Yes.
Now this doesn’t mean that everything you read here will be littered with four-letter profanity. Fuck no. (Okay, now I’m just playing *winks playfully into camera*). It also doesn’t mean that every fourth word will be ****, ****, or dare I say it… willy. And I promise never ever to drop the c-bomb, because that is completely unnecessary.
What it does mean is that from now on I promise to drive with the handbrake firmly off, and the crotchless gimp suit firmly on.
It also means I need new rules. Hmmm…
Yes. That’s right. No pandas. You want to know why? Because fuck pandas.
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If you are a panda who was offended by this blog post, email me via the usual contact channels and I’ll apologise in person*.
The Study of Placebos/Noceboes
Pla-ce-bo (noun) “A medicine or procedure prescribed for the psychological benefit to the patient rather than for any physiological effect.”
The name placebo comes from the Latin ‘I shall please' and placebos have been used in medicine since the early 1800s. Nowadays, placebos are used in clinical drug trials to measure the expectation of efficacy against the actual efficacy of a new drug. The trial uses groups of patients: Group A take the actual medicine; Group B think they are taking the medicine. The subjects are informed of the potential benefits of the drug and in some cases in the placebo group, the mind bridges the gap between the expectation and reality. Only if Group A’s results are significantly better than Group B’s will the drug reach the market.
Of course, drugs have side effects. The participants in the study also have to be warned of any potential harm they may face. Can the mind do the same for the side effects as the treatment?
In my short story ‘Death Clock’, Daniel Cross says “The mind is a very powerful thing; if you believe something will happen strongly enough, you can work yourself into such a frenzy that the prophesy becomes self-fulfilling.”
Guess what: He’s right. (Smart chap, that Daniel Cross.) During drug trials, some patients report suffering from the side effects. Thing is, they’re taking the placebo.
This madness is called ‘the Nocebo effect’. Nocebo comes from the Latin ‘I shall harm’, and just like its positive brother, it too can be a potent force.
Here's where it gets weird...
One story tells of a patient who was suffering from a bout of depression so overwhelming that he decided to take his own life. His preferred method was to take an overdose of his clinical trial medicine. His blood pressure dropped through the floor - then came hyperventilation; generally, things were looking pretty bad.
Doctors pumped his stomach and ran a series of blood tests which revealed… absolutely nothing. The patient had ‘overdosed’ on sugar pills. He was informed of this and promptly recovered.
Could this have killed him? Professor Fabrizio Benedetti at the University of Turin Medical School believes so. During his study of noceboes, he's measured the effects on the human brain and the results are to say the least, surprising. As subjects undergo nocebo suggestions, a chemical reaction is triggered in the hypothalamus, and the pituitary and adrenal glands. For those of us who slept through biology classes, these are the areas of the brain which deal with extreme threats to our body. In short, if the fear and belief you imagined were ‘real’ enough, the resulting hormone stew may be a fatal one.
Hopefully now, your Monday morning won't seem that bad. And beware! The next time you complain that your hangover is so spectacular it could kill you… you might be right! ;)
UPDATE!!! I wasn't 100% happy with how this post turned out. Find out why here.
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A Spooky Short Story
The Death Clock
From the casebook of Dr Daniel Cross
Jack Talbot sat in Daniel Cross’s bizarre front room, nicely buzzed from the Wild Turkey, which had been a little too rich in its supply. Surrounded as he was by a cornucopia of the outlandish, and in the midst of the singular case of Laszlo Breyer: the Wolf-Man of Welwyn, it was natural that his mind didn’t stray too far from the supernatural.
His host was sitting in the armchair opposite, bathed in the warm glow of lamplight, only rousing himself from the crossword to gaze vacantly at the fire as he mulled the latest clue: the lamplight and relentless rain-driven patter on the windows adding to the eerie atmosphere. In the relative silence, the ornate carriage clock struck midnight. Cross lowered the puzzle with a defeated sigh. Jack took his opportunity.
‘How come you think it was a werewolf?’ Cross looked across at his friend. ‘I mean, you’ve been convinced right from the beginning.’
Cross shrugged, ‘Gut feeling, I suppose.’
Jack barked a laugh, ‘Bollocks!’
‘What?’ said Cross, feigning innocence.
Jack just stared, expressionless. Cross stared back, but eventually broke into that warm smile of his.
‘If you’d seen some of the things I have—’
He trailed off, toying with Jack as much as Jack had been leading him.
A fresh smattering of rain splashed the windows and Jack observed Cross scouring his memory, trying to dredge up a story worthy of this atmospheric evening.
‘Ever heard of the “Deep Web”?’
Jack shook his head, the corners of his mouth dropping into an inverted U confirming that, no, he’d never heard of it.
‘OK, so you’ve got the World Wide Web, and then you’ve got the Deep Web. The Internet is like an iceberg. A small part, the regular web, above the surface, the much larger part, the Deep Web, below. To access the Deep Web, you need specialist knowledge, which somewhat ironically is available on the net. You can’t get in with regular browsers.’
‘So what’s so special about this Deep Web?’
‘It’s on the Deep Web where the really nasty stuff is. Snuff films, child pornography, hitmen for hire. That kind of nasty.’
‘So how do you know about it?’
And so it was that Daniel Cross went into the story of the Death Clock.
Andy Barclay was a sixteen-year-old kid like any other. He liked sports, he liked girls, he was a computer whizz, he liked his big brother (though Daryl could sometimes be a dick), and he thought anything his parents were into was lame. He also had an interest in the macabre.
His grandmother was in the hospital, and it was touch and go whether she’d ever come out. That’s why, when one of his friends posted details to a site known as Death Clock Andy’s interest was piqued. He and his friend had been playing around with the Deep Web for a couple of weeks, and this was exactly the kind of thing they’d been looking for. He moved the pointer over the link, and paused. Despite the bright sunlight trying to force its way through the heavy curtains, he had to stifle a shiver. He clicked and the page opened.
He’d seen a death calculator before on the web. It was a slick design with detailed questions about lifestyle and habits. This was disappointing. The page was red text on a black background, the name Death Clock in white CAPS at the top; a human skull filling the centre of the screen. Andy stared. A simple questionnaire with three fields. NAME, DATE OF BIRTH and RESULT.
Disappointing as it was, his heart beat a little faster and the computer mouse was slick with sweat as he slid the pointer across to the first question and clicked.
NAME: Andrew Will--
He stopped typing and erased the information as quickly as possible. He thought for a brief moment and started to type again.
NAME: Rose Barclay
He pressed the tab button and the cursor jumped into the next field – DOB:
He tried to remember his grandmother’s birthday. The date was easy, a week before mum’s, which was a week before his. It was the year, then he remembered his dad saying that he hoped she’d live to see her 75th birthday. Now it was 2005 so... He typed.
Slowly, he moved the cursor to the big red button at the bottom of the screen. It flashed through his mind that this could all be a big joke, that when he hit Calculate Death, a screaming eyeless face would appear on screen and hasten his own shuffling from this mortal coil. He was tempted to double-check who’d sent the details of the site when he accidentally clicked the button. A small scream escaped which he stifled with a swiftly placed hand.
The screen changed.
Those were the two words now on the screen, and they seemed to be there forever. If time was going on around Andy, he didn’t notice it. He sat in awful silence staring at the white on black text until it was there when his eyes were closed. What if this Deep Web knew something the normal Web didn’t? I mean, it looks shit, but what if? He reached for the volume knob on his speakers, certain a loud noise would accompany the result to scare the living daylights out of him. Before he could lower the volume the sound of a large door slamming in a large empty room rang out. He jumped and knocked the glass of coke which he’d perched on the edge of the desk onto the floor. It landed with a dull thud on the carpet splashing a dark stain into the cream pile.
His mum. Shouting from downstairs.
‘What are you doing?’
His brow covered in a thin film of sweat as he picked up the glass, heart trip-hammering in his chest.
‘Nothing, Mum.’ He lied, smooshing the stain in deeper with a sock.
He glanced back at the monitor.
His eyes fixed on the date glowing back at him from the screen.
TIME OF DEATH: 24/12/2014 10:39PM
Christmas Eve? The turkey dinner that year is going to be fun.
Before he could take it in, the information disappeared, the page returning to the questionnaire, cursor blinking in the NAME field. He quickly typed his information into the system. It was less than twenty seconds before all fields were filled and the cursor was hanging over the CALCULATE DEATH button. Again he paused, staring into the monitor until it went out of focus. He didn’t remember pressing the button, and would have sworn that he never did. Either way, the two words Calculating Death appeared. He hit the ESCAPE button like a madman tuning the high C on a piano. Nothing changed. He stared again at the glowing white words on the screen until they demerged into a blur.
In the reflection of the monitor, over his shoulder, he saw the rapid movement of a shadow.
He screamed, again knocking the empty glass over. Before it fell, he caught it and set it on the desk before spinning round. The messy bedroom behind him was empty. The house phone rang. He thought his heart would beat out of his chest. An uncontrollable shiver ran from the base of his skull down his back like icy fingers. He jumped to his feet.
He looked at the unchanged monitor and flicked it off, before going out onto the landing. Mum was waiting at the foot of the stairs, hand over the receiver.
‘What have you been doing? You look like death warmed up.’
‘Nothing, Mum. What’s up?’
‘It’s Glenn on the phone, wants your final answer on the trip. He’s booking the flight now.’
He’d forgotten all about the trip. To the Scottish Highlands. Hiking. In November. It sounded a bit boring, and the weather was probably going to be really shitty, but Glenn’s son was his best friend and the idea of going away with him appealed, even if he didn’t like flying. He’d have to pay for it himself, which he also didn’t mind. His older brother had said he’d go, but only if Andy was going. Daryl was always jealous.
‘Well?’ mum shouted, ‘he’s waiting.’
‘Get your bank card then, sloppy chops.’
He dashed into the bedroom and heard his mum commentating on what was going on to Glenn. He reached across the edge of the desk for his bank card and felt something. The monitor. It was on. Andy went cold. He leaned round to look at the screen and saw the words--
TIME OF DEATH: 11/11/2005 3:15PM, for a split second; then they disappeared.
The eleventh of November? That was next week. He stumbled back onto the landing. Daryl was standing there, he must have heard it was Glenn on the phone.
‘When is it?’ he mumbled.
His mum stopped her chat with Glenn. ‘What?’
‘The flight. When is it?’ he asked again, forcing himself to raise his voice.
‘I don’t know,’ she sighed and spoke into the handset, relaying the question. She looked upstairs. ‘Next Saturday afternoon. The eleventh.’
Shit. There was no way he was getting on that plane. He’d do anything to not get on the plane. Should he tell Glenn? Tell him what? That the internet said he was going to die, so thanks but no thanks, I’ll see you when you get back. It sounded ridiculous. Of course the plane would be fine. But again there came the nagging fear; what if the Deep Web knows something the ordinary web doesn’t? No. It couldn’t be. Perhaps, but there was no way he was getting on that plane.
‘What’s up, cocknose?’ Daryl had appeared out of nowhere like a bad smell. He was smiling. He always was when he called Andy that.
Andy tried to turn the monitor off, but it was too late, big brother had seen it.
‘Is THAT why you’re not going? Oh my God. It is, isn’t it? You fanny.’
‘Get bent, Daryl. It said I’d die on Saturday. That’s’ when the flight is. 3:15PM.’
‘You do it then.’
Daryl’s laughter subsided to a chuckle. ‘You what?’
‘You do it. Have a go, if you think it’s all bollocks.’
Daryl crossed his arms over his chest, stuffing his hands into his armpits.
‘It doesn’t mean anything, Andy. Don’t worry about it. It’s a bit of fun, that’s all.’
Andy rose. ‘If it doesn’t matter,’ he paused, to give the words extra weight, ‘have a go.’
Daryl wasn’t laughing now. ‘OK.’
He dropped into the chair and rubbed his hands along his jeans. He paused, removing sweat with his bottom lip from the top one. He glanced at Andy, his eyes glassy.
‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ he said, reassuring himself.
Andy said nothing. Daryl typed his name and date of birth quickly into the fields and hit enter. He went pale. The screen went black. It seemed to be black for longer this time.
He was reaching for the ESCAPE key when the first screen came back. The word RESULT flashed.
His heart sank. Daryl laughed a high-pitched squeal at him. Andy fumed. His brother always laughing that girlish giggle at him.
‘It’s fucked you idiot! And you cancelled your trip, you twat.’
Andy felt embarrassed.
‘What a retard!’
He scowled at Daryl, ‘What if it’s not?’
Daryl stopped pacing and barked another laugh, ‘Eh?’
‘What if it’s not? Not fucked. Test it. Do mum.’
‘Shut up, Andy, you gimp.’
‘Fine.’ Andy sat in the chair and typed his mum’s info into the system.
‘What’s this going to prove?’ Mocking now.
‘If it’s a different date, it means it’s not fucked,’ he said, hitting enter and watching the screen go black. Moments later.
Daryl rolled around on the floor. He literally rolled around on the floor laughing. Andy stood, the chair flew backwards. Daryl leapt up and into the chair.
‘Who else can we do?’
‘Shut up, idiot.’
‘Let’s do dad.’
‘How about Grandma?’
‘She’s in the hospital, you idiot.’ Andy shouted, though he was really angry with himself for doing the same thing fifteen minutes earlier.
Daryl said, ‘It’ll be the same as the others,’ and laughed. He hit enter. As before, the screen went black; then the result came.
Christmas Eve. Daryl stopped laughing. His face was the last thing he saw before Andy fainted.
Jack was staring at Cross, intrigued. His friend’s normally friendly face was darkened and the voice flat. It was only now he realised that the gentle alcoholic fuzziness around the edges of his words was gone. Another burst of rain sprayed against the window; the death throes of winter. Cross jumped with a start. Jack broke the silence.
‘You’ve got to say, Daniel, it’s all a bit far-fetched.’
‘What you have to understand, Jack, is that these two boys came to me absolutely convinced something was going to happen. They had me convinced, and back then I wasn’t so open to such possibilities. I’d studied the paranormal for years and up to this point, most of my cases were misinterpretation. About five per cent were genuinely unexplained. Nothing was clear-cut. This was the case that made me a believer. After this, I had to review all of my previous work.’
Jack had taken his glass in both hands and was now holding tightly. ‘So what happened?’ realising that his own fuzziness was gone too.
‘Daryl told me that after doing tests on more friends and relatives data, and rerunning their own through the system, he had no doubt that something awful would befall them on the eleventh. They both looked haggard, like they hadn’t slept for a couple of days between doing the test and finding my details on the internet.
‘I had to deal with this very carefully, Jack. It’s my firm belief that Voodoo functions in exactly this way. The mind is a very powerful thing; if you believe something will happen strongly enough, you can work yourself into such a frenzy that the prophesy becomes self-fulfilling.'
He stood and strode over to the drinks cabinet, offering the bottle to Jack, who nodded. He came back from the drinks cabinet choking the bottle and set his tumbler beside Jack’s with a thud, and continued his bizarre tale.
‘This is where the story gets really strange.’
Andy and Daryl sat in Daniel Cross’s studio apartment, and when one was answering questions, the other was eying the odd collection of artefacts Cross had assembled.
‘Have you told your parents about this?’
Daryl’s eyes had drifted to the jar with a two-headed calf suspended in formaldehyde, he leaned away as if to avoid the farmyard freak; Andy was gawping at the stuffed birds, wingtips scraping the ceiling, as if he expected them to swoop from where they were perched and visit death from above.
‘Daryl?’ Cross nudged.
He snapped back to life, ‘No. No. We wanted to speak to you first.’
Cross was nodding. ‘Good.’
He wanted to limit the influence of the idea to as few people as possible. He also wanted to play safe and keep both parties separate on the weekend in question. No sense tempting fate. He asked if it was an option. This time Andy answered.
‘Yeah. That should be fine. Me and Daryl can go to the football, pictures, stuff like that, and leave them doing whatever.’
Daryl nodded his agreement, ‘They like to go walking and stuff.’
‘Good. The way these things work is by sowing a seed. If you believe that that seed will grow and flourish, it does. If your parents know nothing of this, it won’t work on them, meaning the prophesy can’t be realised, so tomorrow will pass without incident.’
The brothers were both now focussed on him.
‘There is just one more thing—,’ the brothers waited, motionless. ‘I’d like to hypnotise you.’
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa...’ Jack sat farther forward in his seat, now perched precariously on the edge. Cross stopped pacing the room. ‘You didn’t tell me you could hypnotise people.’
‘You never asked.’ Cross replied, with not a drop of humour.
Cross set his drink on the table a little too heavily; Jack flinched. Cross clutched his hands behind his back and started to pace again. He continued.
‘So I sent them on their way, I told them to come back and visit me on the thirteenth, and they seemed to be a little more relaxed. Under hypnosis I urged them to think of the day as routine, that the date was ordinary, and to mention nothing of it to their parents. And I gave them one more instruction—’
The brothers kept their word and went to the football the following day. They were weaving through the crowds, on their way to the turnstiles. Both noticed the date on the tickets and thought nothing of it, a tingling sensation somewhere in the dark corners of their psyche, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched, the only suggestion that anything was wrong. Just as they reached the turnstile, it was about to become clear. Daryl’s mobile phone rang. He grabbed Andy’s shoulder and span his brother around as he answered.
‘Hello Mum... What? It’s really loud, I can’t hear you.’
His face dropped. Andy’s too. The nagging worry about the date resurfaced. A murmuring voice spoke, the words unclear.
‘OK, we’re on the way.’ He ended the call. ‘It’s Grandma.’
Fifteen minutes later they were in the car, speeding towards the hospital. Daryl’s eyes darted, seeking out gaps in the traffic; ways to shorten the journey time. In the car, stony silence reigned. They hit the dual carriageway, Daryl’s foot to the floor, defying the speed limit every inch of the way.
‘They’ve moved her. She’s in Jimmy’s now.’ He was referring to St James’s hospital. The biggest in the area. His eyes were darting again, he flicked the indicator and overtook a car on the inside, which raised a blaring of the horn from the offended driver. Daryl raised an apologetic hand towards the back window. ‘She’s got worse. This is not good. You OK, bruv?’
Andy was staring at his ticket.
‘There’ll be other games, mate.’
Andy shook his head, eyes still on the ticket. Namely the date. ‘It’s not that.’ He paused, not wanting to raise a triviality.
‘It’s the twelfth today, right?’
Daryl glanced at his brother, ‘Yeah. Why?’
That’s when it happened. Just when it appeared that their luck was turning. The road had just opened up in front of them, when out of the sky, right in front of the car, fell a huge burning wheel. It bounced, billowing thick black smoke into the air. Daryl yanked the steering wheel to avoid it, but there was only one place he could go. As more, smaller pieces of fiery debris rained from above, Daryl pointed the car across the central reservation and into the oncoming traffic.
The result was inevitable.
Cross was rifling through a file, which contained several newspaper clippings. He fished out the item he was searching and crossed the room, handing it to Jack, who was still perched on the edge of his chair. The article read:
Tragedy Strikes Skies Over Leeds.
An investigation is underway after 270 perished as a 737 travelling from Robin Hood airport bound for Scotland broke up in mid-air. The 266 passengers and crew on board died instantly, and four on the ground perished as a result of debris falling to the A61 dual carriageway below. The four on the ground were travelling in two separate vehicles, and, in a bizarre twist, were members of the same family.
Jack looked up, agog.
Cross was pale at the thought of the story. ‘Read on,’ he instructed.
Daryl (18) and Andrew (16) Barclay were forced to divert into oncoming traffic, whilst their parents, Allan and Gina (both 44) were crushed instantly when the tail section fell directly onto their car. The family members were rushing to visit Allan’s sick mother at St. James’s hospital, Leeds. Doctors described her condition as ‘stable’.
Cross nodded, then paused before adding, ‘Look at the date.’
Jack eyed the top of the page and frowned. The twelfth. He shuddered. The Death Clock was out by one day. The idea that something could be so accurate was deeply disturbing and unsettled him somewhere until now, he hadn’t known existed. Then he thought again and felt his brow draw together.
‘The twelfth? If the boys were at the match on the twelfth, how did this get in the papers so quickly? Is this an evening paper?’
Cross shook his head.
‘My final instruction under hypnosis. I told them that the date of the eleventh was insignificant, but I had to put in a safeguard in the event that the information didn’t hold. If they remembered that the date was significant, I told them that the day they visited me was the eleventh. In reality it was the tenth; I added a day. If they remembered that the eleventh was significant, they would have thought that it had already passed without incident, and simply got on with their lives. So the Death Clock was—’
‘The Death Clock was right.’ Jack shook his head in disbelief.
‘That’s not all,’ said Cross again rifling through his files. ‘Every year, in December, I checked the local obituaries, just as a point of interest. I found this.’ He again handed a clipping to Jack.
Rose Barclay. Dear Grandmother and beloved aunt. Died peacefully in her sleep, and joins Allan, Gina, Daryl and Andy in the Lord’s sweet embrace.
Christmas Eve, 2014.
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Thank You For Visiting My Blog!
The official launch will be this coming Friday, the 18th of November. A dark tale of premonition and prediction – The Death Clock. Follow on social media now for a reminder!
In this blog I'll be bringing to you short tales of things that go bump in the night, true stories of weird and unexplained events, and the real-life news of all things odd and macabre, and entertain you along the way.