Sin… the glow in the attic…

The light in the attic was noticeably different – it had a strange pink hue.

I remember it even now. It glowed with a faint pulse and there was a low hum that accompanied the glimmering.

I think I was around 8 years old at the time. I was the worn-down brunt of my father’s jokes. The steady stream of strangers that came and went through the back door were often entertained by his playful banter at my expense and his rough’n’ready prodding. They never saw the bruises from the prodding – verbal or physical. They just laughed as they ruffled my hair. I tried to ignore it all, just as I tried to ignore the pricking at the corners of my eyes.

I’d never let my father see me cry. Only Joy, my sister, ever saw that. And she understood. She had it too, in her own way.

I was never allowed in the attic, though I never actually wanted to go up there. It was dark. It was dusty. Dad told me that monsters slept in the shadows and, if you put a step wrong, your foot would go through the ceiling and you’d be trapped. Then the monsters could feed on you as they wished. They’d chew on your fat and gnaw on your bones until all that remained was your eyes – they left them until last so you could watch them eat you.

I stayed away.

The odd creaks and muffled voiced that I heard from up there only served to confirm what Dad said.

At night I would listen to the sounds. I’d imagine the monsters staring at me from hidden holes, shuffling around with their stomachs growling, desperate to dine on 8 year old boy.

Then the light up there changed. It had always been yellowy-orange. Whenever Dad went into the attic with a bag of clothes or old toys – moaning that they should be taken to the tip rather than be shoved up there where they’ll be forgotten about until the next owners moved in – he’d pull the cord for the light. It would be ‘light’ coloured. The same way my bedside lamp was. The same way the bulb in the living room was.

But then it changed. It became pinkish. And the hum started. And the strangers visited.

On the day of my ninth birthday, Dad wasn’t there. Mum told us, my sister and I, that he’d been eaten by the monsters that hid in the shadows, and that we should listen to what Dad had said – NEVER go up there. Not that we would.

Dad wasn’t there for a long time. I cried, then. He always treated me like he hated me. He always acted as if I embarrassed him. But he was always, still, my dad. Then he came back.

He hadn’t been eaten by the monsters. That was just a joke my mother had said. He’d been staying in a hotel that was so safe they put bars on the windows.

The pink glow had gone. So had the monsters, Dad said. But we should still never go up in the attic.

Just in case they ever came back…

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Sin… sharp sand…

“Sharp sand.”

Two words that once meant nothing, but now instil fear into the hearts of the unwary.

Teri, whom everyone thought was a Terry due to the oversized everything she wore that hung on her small frame like a marquee on a flagpole, short cropped hair and voice that was low and, well, ambiguous. She wasn’t androgynous, and once you knew, you KNEW, but you weren’t sure… not to begin with. And, as she (not he) shied away from any contact, you couldn’t MAKE sure either.

At first, and for a long time, if you even walked past her, she would shrink back – becoming almost visibly smaller. Her clothing, way too big, was like her protective shield and she retreated into it in times of threat – which, to her, was almost constant. Because of this, it was impossible to get to know her. Impossible to get anything other than a shaky, guttural “Go away”, hissed through clenched teeth, from her.

She was teased. By orderlies and patients alike. They’d poke her, taunt her, walk just close enough to be on the edge of the personal space bubble without quite bursting it. The patients I could sort out. A quiet word here, a veiled threat there. They listened to me. I was either saner or crazier than most and I was, in most cases, a friend.

The orderlies were another matter. I could do nothing to stop them having their fun. I tried talking, they ignored me. I tried asking Jeremy to intervene, he did, they ignored him. I had nothing to threaten them with. Yes, I had my… talents… but they were uncontrolled and were liable to be the tornado from the butterfly wing. I was here to NOT use them. I was here to HIDE, to SUBDUE them. I wasn’t here to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of Sin, either metaphorically or metaphysically.

So Teri was kept, pretty much intentionally, terrified.

But what of? What had happened to her that made her so afraid?

Yes, there were those who didn’t tell. There were those who kept their stories close and quiet and only let them out to haunt at night. Those that preferred the pain, because then they could feel. Because it would remind them that it wasn’t – or it was – their fault. They were the ones with the distant eyes, who would speak to you but would look past you as if you, the wall, the institute and the world weren’t there and they were gazing into the dark past of their personal purgatory.

But they weren’t in the majority. And even they would give little hints – tasters of the delicacies that made their lives and their minds so sick.

Teri didn’t. I don’t think she even kept herself to herself. I think she gave that part of her she feared, loathed and everso slightly needed to someone else. Someone who didn’t exist anywhere but in Teri’s head, but someone who would hold onto that hateful piece and keep it hidden. Then Teri herself wouldn’t need to look at it. She wouldn’t need to bring it out at night, unwrap it from the blanket of guilt and play with it – turning it in her hands and her mind, building it into something more than it was originally until it took on a life of its own and devoured her.

Teri didn’t. She remained silent. She stayed afraid. Until one day.

I don’t know what changed. Her level of torment hadn’t altered. The other residents had eased off and it was now only people like Terrence, who would tease for the sake of it, in a pulling the legs of spiders kind of way, that still prodded the jangling nerves. The orderlies regularly had their fun. Well, they needed something to relieve the boredom, bless ’em.

Something did change, though. Perhaps it was the person inside the person – the keeper of the secret – that had decided to hand in their notice and go spend their days on a beach sipping cocktails and dipping non-existent toes in the deep blue consciousness. Perhaps Teri had decided to take out her little bundle of psychosis and let it romp around in her cell until it grew tired and irritable and had turned around and snapped at her ankles.

Whatever it was… I was sitting in a chair. You alternate the chairs you sit in daily. Some know exactly where they’ve plonked their behinds every day for the last month. I don’t. It doesn’t bother me that much. But I do tend to – not necessarily try to – sit somewhere I have for the past few days. It puts a ripple in the monotony.

Teri sat down beside me, the spider to my Miss Muffet.

It wasn’t much of a conversation. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Her self-imposed silence had diluted her communication skills to the point that you could tell each sentence was forced, pushed out from within with every word taking a supreme effort.

“Sharp sand.” Simple and succinct. Said as if the two words were laden with all the meaning necessary for me to understand their import.

I’m not simple. I’m fairly, I think, intelligent. But I didn’t get it.

“OK,” I said quietly.

The ensuing exchange was both meaningful and meaningless. She made random comments regarding the weather, the colour of the screws holding the chairs to the floor and the way an unseen assailant had forced sand into her throat when she refused to hand over her purse and mobile phone when she was walking home along a beach one summer holiday abroad. At one point I didn’t know if grey referred to the colour of the food or the colour of the attackers eyes. She jumped from subject to object with a coherence that wavered between cobweb and candyfloss. But I grasped the meat from the mire. I realised in the end.

After her attack, three other shadows had continued what the first had begun. But they didn’t want money or mobile. They only wanted her. They came as a group and left as a searing scar on her soul. And all the while she had choked on the sharp sand.

It was why she didn’t speak properly. Why I had so much trouble understanding. What was left of her throat and her vocal cords after the three had mimiced the one couldn’t properly form the words.

She told me she was going to show me. I said no, that was fine. She insisted so I told her ok.

She told me to open my mouth. When you’re a lunatic amongst the loonies, you tend to trust your own. So I did.

Where she managed to get the glass, I have no idea. How she managed to break it into such tiny pieces and hold them in her small hands without the blood from the cuts dripping on to the pure white floor and being noticed, I have no idea.

How long it was before I could speak again, before my throat had healed, before I could eat solids once more, I really have no idea.

I don’t know what happened to Teri after that. I didn’t see her again, and I didn’t really want to ask.

But I’ve gone off beaches for some reason.

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Sin… nothing…

Nothing comes from nothing.

Apparently.

If you don’t work hard you don’t get anything back. If you don’t pay the Reaper you wander in Limbo. If you don’t run for the bus, you walk into Cleethorpes for your night on the lash. Or ring a taxi, which is more expensive.

Hold on… Cleethorpes… Limbo… Damn…

In fact… Cleethorpes… Limbo… the asylum…

Would you recognise the Reaper if he came tapping on your shoulder, swinging his scythe, beckoning his long gnarly finger? Well, the long, black hooded cloak might give it away. As might the skeletal face with the hollow sockets where eyes should be. But what if he didn’t look like that? What if Grim had dropped his deathly duds in favour of a pair of combats, a nice fitted shirt, some hiking boots and a pocket knife? What if a touch of foundation and some shades disguised the fleshless face and eyeless eyes? What then?

If he tapped you on the shoulder and beckoned you then, you’d probably tell him where to go. And you probably wouldn’t be polite about it, especially as he’d likely be persistent.

I wonder if the Grim Reaper has ever been given an injunction to never set foot within a mile of someone. If that were the case, then I think MY Final Destination would be a nice beach somewhere. Maybe Bali. Or Skegness.

Anywhere other than here.

Anyway. “Nothing comes from Nothing.” That’s what Dad used to say. His sole inspirational. educational, motivational comment. His entry into the Dad of the Year award. What a guy. It was good to see him following his own advice. Not. It was good to see that he wasn’t a complete waste of space.

Well, no-one can be a COMPLETE waste of space… can they?

Of all the things Dad used to say (“Sin-Sin-siree, there’s no place for thee,” was my own personal favourite) that was about the only one that made any sense. I don’t know if it was because of that snippet of sense that I tried to be a decent guy, that I tried to work hard. It may have been because I wanted to be better than him. To be something instead of nothing.

But… Did he mean that he was Nothing? Did he mean that, coming from him, I was Nothing too?

What I’d taken as motivational could have been degradational. That’d suit him. Put himself down to have a go at me. Whatever the cost, don’t give his own son ANYTHING to feel good about or aspire to.

Well, Dad.

Shove it. OK? I may be in an asylum. I may be kept company by the cries of those that have died because of me. I may, at times, hate myself. But if someone comes to me, as they often do in here, I’ll offer a word, or a shoulder, or an arm. I’ll offer solace or humour, whichever befits the situation. Whether Benny is Bending or Mickey is swimming in his steady stream of mucous, I can’t help but be… whatever I need to be. And I DO need to be… whatever that is.

Friend? Yes. I need to be their friend. I need to bring smiles to placate the cries that nobody can hear but me. I need to raise a spirit for those I’ve laid waste. I need to be more than my father.

Nothing comes from nothing. Maybe that’s true. I’m no philosopher. There’s those in here that believe they are – one, in fact, who thinks he is Socrates himself. But not me. Nothing may well come from nothing, but I’m Something. I am.

I have to believe that.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Sin… read all about it…

They let us have the newspapers here – one week out of date and after they’ve cut out all the interesting bits. Have you tried reading a newspaper with big holes in it? It’s full of adverts for cars, holidays and pizza deliveries. You get a photo of a duck on a car roof, the television guide (wonderful since we can’t control the television) and something about a little old lady who ran around a boating lake with only her walking frame for support, all in aid of charity. The meaty stuff is hacked out with all the finesse of a tyrannosaur chowing down on Ugg the Neanderthal.

Yes, I know Rexy-boy and Mr Caveman 10,000 BC missed each other by a couple of million years or so, but you get my drift.

Some pages are barely held together by the thin strips of paper grimly hanging on to each other, not wanting to part company purely on the say so of some scissor happy orderly who is more closely related to Ugg than he really should be. Voids exist where news should be and often the only thing to actually read is your horoscope. And, trust me, Friday is not going to be my lucky day, and I will not fall in love in June. Or is it WITH June?

I forget.

The level of censorship wobbles between vindictive and spiteful. Why would we want to know that you can stay in a caravan in Great Yarmouth for only �10 a week if you collect a bunch of tokens when the only holiday we get is when we go to the toilet unsupervised? Why would we want to know that you can get two pieces of chicken, a large fries and a regular soft drink for only �1.99 when our diet consists of slop with a side dish of slop? And why would we want to know about the end of season sale at Next when our entire wardrobe consists of scraps of cloth that wish they were hospital scrubs and jackets that tie up the back?

It’s not news. Not really. It’s the leftovers. The vegetables and pie crusts that are forgotten about when the main meal of murders, celebrity splits and ASBO breaches have been digested.

What do they think we’ll do with the information? Are we going to riot at the thought of a how the latest teen pop sensation has come out as a homosexual? Or that her off the TV – the blond one who is on that morning show – is pregnant again? How about the news that the dictator of a country thousands of miles away is being pressured into stepping down? Are we going to tear the bolted chairs from the floors and throw them at the window, television or orderlies? Or even at each other? Will the asylum be filled with the woeful cries of patients, breaking down because their favourite singer was photographed in a blue top instead of a red one?

Well, in the case of Selina, that’s probably not far from the truth – she loves all things celebrity and can be extremely vocal at times on their dress sense and relationships. If any of them were ever in need of some advice (not necessarily GOOD advice, but advice nonetheless) they could always drop by for a chat with Selina. Granted, she’d probably hyper-ventilate herself into the morgue at the thought, but she’d have plenty to say whilst drawing those final gasps.

Otherwise, no-one would really care. We’d have something to talk about. We’d have something to think about.

Ah… I just answered my own question. That’s why they do it. Because we would THINK.

Animals in the pen are not supposed to think. They’re only meant to eat, sleep and defecate. And if they can’t do any of those? Well, there’s a very nice drug that’ll help with that.

Well.

Apparently you can order a Dominoes pizza online and pay for it with Paypal. Cool. Oh, and the solution to last week’s Missing Word competition was ‘Envelope’ and was won by…

Ah… Mr Rex has eaten that bit.

Oh well.

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Sin… innie or outie…

Is your belly button an innie or an outie? Do you, in fact, even have one. Was it Hitchcock who was reported to not have the dimple in the middle of his belly? How is that possible? It’s where the umbilical cord was attached during your time in the womb, and, as everyone served their sentence of Life in the womb, surely he must have had one.

Maybe Hitchcock was delivered by the stork or was downloaded as an attachment to an email. Nah, they didn’t have email in those days. Perhaps it was a telegram. Hey, what if he had his belly button on his foot?

Are you left handed or right? Or both? Ambidextrous sounds like a medicine for a Glucose deficiency. I’m right, but it’s not wrong to be left. Once upon a Daisy-Duke, you were thought to be in league with the devil if you were left handed. It was a sign that you were evil and should be condemned to death – or perpetual repeats of Eastenders. The result was the same. I’m sure that, at some point in time and place, it was probably thought that you boogied with Beelzebub if your belly button poked in, or poked out, or shook it all about! And if it WERE on your foot, you could dance with the devil until dawn.

I wonder if Hitler was left handed, or if he con-caved or vexed.

It doesn’t matter either way, does it? Not really. Whether you write right or not doesn’t automatically turn you into an agent of Satan, putting catalogues through letterboxes advertising holidays in the real Down Under if you only fancied being a LITTLE bit naughty.

Take me. People die around me. I hear their cries every second whether I’m awake or asleep or press my hands so tightly to my ears I could push them right through each other, my ears swapping sides like teams in a football match. I’m right handed, have an innie and can step inside a church without a bolt of lightning striking me down. I’m not evil. I’m, essentially, a nice guy.

Granted I bet Hitler, Ghengis and Bundy thought they were decent guys, following their cause, fighting the good fight. It depends on your point of view. But me – the deaths don’t make me bad. The horrors don’t mean I’m hateful. I’m just an Ordinary Joe, even though my name isn’t Joe – it’s Sin.

Sin by name, sin by action, but not so by nature. Is it possible to kill but not be a killer? I don’t know.

You. Are you an innie or an outie, a leftie or a rightie? It doesn’t matter, of course.

I just wondered.

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