We hope you enjoy the first full publication of one of our commissioned writers. Alex took his inspiration from the “Hell’s waiting room” headline. His published short stories are available now from Amazon. This story is for over 16’s.
Bending the Long Spoon
“I’m gonna spuuuurgh.”
The cabbie slammed on the breaks. My head thumped into the glass behind him. My two lower front teeth sliced deeply into my bottom lip. The angry driver exploded onto the pavement, flung open the left-hand side passenger door, grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and ripped me out of his cab. I crashed to the ground. My right cheekbone thudded into the concrete.
“Prick,” he snarled. “That’s me done for the night.”
He stepped over my crumpled body and reached into my inside jacket pocket. My wallet had at least a couple of hundred quid in it. I had two ton for the Charlie that Matt’s dealer was meant to deliver. Arsehole never showed up. That’s why I was so hammered. I can drink forever when I’m charged. It was Matt’s fault I puked.
The cabbie took all my cash. And my iPhone for good measure. Next thing I knew there was a huge black guy towering above me like an African Colossus of Rhodes. Poking me with his toe. ‘That’s it,’ I thought, ‘I’m fucked.’
He scooped me up like I was a just-run-over cat, carried me into a dodgy estate, headed up piss-scented concrete steps, marched into a brightly lit flat and strode down the central corridor into a bedroom. ‘He’s gonna rape or kill me,’ I imagined. I woke a few hours later on a mattress on the floor with an empty bucket next to me. I was neither dead nor violated. I got up, shuffled out of the room and followed my nose to the kitchen.
“Here’s a towel,” said the matronly woman at the kitchen table. “Have a shower. I’ll make you breakfast. Sean’s left you a top in the bathroom.”
I returned clean – in a plain grey sweatshirt that was way too big at the shoulders.
“Know where you are?” the mature woman asked. I shook my head. “Kept mumbling Hell’s waiting room to Sean last night.” She paused dramatically. “Are you waiting to go to Hell?” she joked, chuckling in her throat as she spoke.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“Workin’” she stated matter-of-factly. “Breakfast?”
I replied with pitiful silence and an almost imperceptible nod. Then squeaked a, “Please.”
She placed a hot mug of tea in front of me. Milk and sugar. Quite milky. I don’t take sugar and only have a dash of milk. But it was perfect. God it tasted good.
“Toast OK?” she checked.
“You don’t need to,” I stated, hoping she would insist. “I can get something on the way to work.”
“There’s very few things we need to do,” she said. “But you’re welcome if you’d like some.”
I nodded more keenly.
She placed toast spread with not-butter and purple jam in front of me. My first bite was heavenly. Damson jam. It tasted like ten thousand tons of fruit had been squashed into each spoonful. The flavour diluted my pupils more than any line of white I’ve ever had. Light flooded in. She looked at me as if she knew how alert I’d become.
“You didn’t answer my question about hell,” she chuckled.
“Committed atheist,” I replied, tucking into the toast.
“Hell is a state of mind,” she said, leaning towards me – big, brown eyes staring into the soul I’m damned sure I haven’t got. “You do bible study at school?”
“Remember how Satan tried to tempt Jesus?”
I closed my eyes. Time-shifted my way back to junior school. Remembered Miss Jones – our plump, unmarried deputy head. Assembly. Parables. Hymns. Bible readings.
“Promised Jesus the world, didn’t he?” I answered, quizzically. Still eating.
“Not bad,” my host responded, “enjoy your breakfast. I’ll explain perdition.”
This woman’s son had scooped my bloodied, puke-encrusted body off the nighttime pavement. They’d provided shelter. I was tucking into one of the simplest but most invigorating breakfasts ever. She deserved my attention. So I listened.
Satan, according to my host, tried tempting Jesus with food to sate his hunger; then appealed to his ego with an invitation to display divine power; and finally offered him everything he could see from a mountaintop.
“And how do you appropriate what you see from high towers?” she challenged, mid sermon.
“Worship the devil?” I replied, foolishly.
“Worship Beezlebub… and you’ll get nothing more than a Halloween costume for perverted prayer meetings,” she jibed. “Search inside yourself. How do you appropriate property?”
The solution was simple. And relevant. Resonant. “Money.”
My answer reverberated inside my head as I made my way from her home to the TM Lewin in Jubilee Place. ‘Money’ is one of my favourite words. But after breakfast with the living embodiment of earthly wisdom, it had a whole new meaning. Her insight, you might say, was a revelation.
I was the one waiting for hell. I was waiting for the January bonus that would keep me in my riverside flat and fine dining and first class flights and exclusive parties and drunken skiing holidays and cocaine and private lap dancers.
There are plenty of people waiting for hell in Canary Wharf. Shortly after arriving there late for work, I was sat at my desk in my new shirt and trousers, staring at Roger.
“Heavy night?” He asked. Leadingly.
“Matt looks like Death,” he sneered, cocking his head sideways at the ghost of Matt sat at Matt’s desk. His skin was paler than a button mushroom.
My mind kept returning to my free B&B host’s part religious, part life-coach lecture. She had the wisdom of ages. Of generations. Wisdom is abhorred in my business. Wisdom says act responsibly. The market says do whatever’s necessary to turn a profit. We follow to the market.
“There are no playthings for the devil in an empty warehouse,” she’d pointed out. She was right. Where’s the diabolical entertainment in influencing disadvantaged people? They do what’s necessary. If desperate people acting desperately is anyone’s fault, its god’s for allowing inequality. Privileged people doing greedy things however – that requires transgression. That’s where the Lord of Misrule comes in.
I focused more intensely on Matt. He wasn’t a ghost. He was the living dead. He was present in body, clicking away at his mouse and keyboard. But he was vacant. Empty. Gaping like a zombie. He didn’t know what he was trading in. Or care. Areas of human endeavour are numbers to us. Matt was playing those numbers like a maestro at the piano. A soulless, hollow-eyed maestro.
With my newly opened mind, it was an ugly thing to witness.
I turned back to Roger. He was more animated than Matt. If Matt was playing a mournful sonata, Roger was a jazz pianist. With no heart. He grabbed the phone to talk numbers with another numbers man.
Roger has a ridiculous quiff. I’d not thought about it much before. That morning I realised how stupid it is. It’s an elevated ex-public schoolboy fringe that replaces the cap he wore at prep school. Both cap and hairstyle are equally ridiculous items of uniform. Of uniformity. Haircuts like his are ten to the dozen on my floor. They’re as standard as pinky rings, dark suits and flamboyant cufflinks. My attention was drawn to his quiff. There was something unnatural about it. Something paranormal. It didn’t move as much as it should have. Was there something holding it in place? Did he have hair scaffolding hidden within his gravity-defying locks?
Then, as he leant forward to slam the phone down in a display of celebration at the deal he’d just done, I noticed it. There was a lump under his mop of hair. A pointed, shiny lump. A horn.
I shat myself. Literally. (My guts were a mess from the previous night’s Château Mouton Rothschild and Louis XIII cognac.) I was so terrified at seeing a man with what appeared to be a demon’s cranial appendage, that my hungover sphincter temporarily opened with fear. A small amount of liquid excrement drizzled out.
I bolted to the toilet.
Locked inside a cubicle, I began wiping up the spillage in my underpants. As I reached around, I caught the underside of my hand on something sharp. It dug a gouge as if I’d dragged my palm along razor wire.
“Fuck!” I yelped. Then turned hunted-rabbit quiet. I didn’t want to attract attention.
Had that woman or her son fed me shards of glass in the night? What the hell was sticking out of my arse? I gingerly reached round to locate the protuberance. It wasn’t a poking from my anus. It was above it. And it was very sharp.
My next thought was that I’d fallen on something when the cab driver threw me onto the pavement. A gigantic metal splinter was jutting from my lower back. I needed some way of seeing exactly what and where it was. A photo using my iPhone would have been perfect. But that was probably on a glass coffee table in South Woodford amongst other cabbie plunder. So I pulled up my trousers and entered the main toilet area.
It was empty. I grabbed a metal refuse bin and rammed it into the mirror above the washbasins. A credit card-sized piece snapped off. I picked it up and returned to the cubicle. It was there, door locked, trousers round my ankles, that I discovered I was growing a demonic tail. I’d cut my hand on the arrowhead-like point at the end of my spinal appendage. Demon’s tails don’t look that sharp in paintings. I’d always imagined them soft like lizard’s tails.
My monstrous tail has been growing ever since. It’s two and a half feet long now. I strap it to my leg using electrical tape and wear extra baggy trousers to hide it. It’s the physical manifestation of my faith – my idolisation of money. I’ve done a deal with the devil. I’ve bent the long spoon into a U-shape and I’m gorging on caviar.
I’m in Hell’s waiting room. It’s not a place, it’s a lifestyle. I work there, play there, revel there. Don’t believe media stories about estates being breeding grounds for the immoral. It’s ridiculous to suggest deviance is determined by where you live. In fact, the furthest I’ve been from hell in many years was a warm, chintzy flat on the Aylesbury Estate.