Scud Presley has a tooth missing where it just never came through in the top right hand corner of his smile, and he tongues the hole wh...

   Scud Presley has a tooth missing where it just never came through in the top right hand corner of his smile, and he tongues the hole where it should be as he struts from his black imported Mustang to the door of the greasy spoon café just off the M1. His car bleeps twice as he presses the button on his key fob without looking back, and he grins as he strides through the door into the humidity of the café because today has been a good day. Every day is a good day for Scud Presley, and when you look at his pockmarked face with its smug grin and its frame of slicked back hair, you know it without having to be told.

   The door closes itself slowly behind Scud, jingling for a second time on its journey back towards its frame, and Scud takes a seat at a table by the window. He doesn’t realise that this isn’t the kind of place that does table service, or he just doesn’t care, as he slouches in the seat and engrosses himself in a newspaper that lies on the table. With his eyes glued to the page, he lifts his left hand above his head and clicks his fingers loudly.

   The young girl behind the counter, Sandra Batten, chewing gum, remains behind the counter. She raises an eyebrow at Scud Presley that is not heeded.

   At least a minute passes, and Sandra begins to inspect her nails once more, as she stands with her hip leaning against the counter in the café that is empty but for one man reading a newspaper in a lumberjack’s shirt open to the belly button and jeans so tight that the outline of his penis would be visible a hundred metres away. Noticing that he has no tea, coffee or food in front of him, the man clicks his fingers again, this time lifting his eyes from the page to meet Sandra Batten’s, grinning his holey grin.

   ‘Any chance of some service, love?’ He asks, ‘Or are you too… busy?’ He gestures sarcastically toward the other empty tables in the restaurant.

   Huffing loudly, Sandra pushes herself away from the counter and drags her feet around the work surface and across the linoleum of the restaurant floor to reach the airspace beside Scud Presley’s table. She stands filing her nails and not looking down at the man, who even from this distance reeks of supermarket-bought cologne. Despite being desperate to order ten seconds ago, Scud seems not to be so hungry now, chewing his gum noisily and staring at the page of his newspaper like it holds the answers to all his problems.

   ‘Look, do you want to order anythi–’

   ‘Would you look at this?’ He holds the page up so she can see the picture. ‘This kid is fourteen years old, and he’s broken the hundred metre world record. Do you know what the hundred metre record is? Well, it’s about nine seconds. But this kid does it in eight seconds. Eight seconds. They’ve had Guinness in and everything; he really does it.’

   Sandra just watches his face, popping her gum. He grins up at her.

   ‘I like your lipstick. What is that, Blood Red? Midnight Maroon?’

   Sandra Batten raises an eyebrow.

   Scud’s smile doesn’t drop. 

   ‘Would you like to see a card trick?’ Scud Presley lifts one buttock from the hard seat of the café booth to fish in his back pocket for his pack of cards. ‘Sit down.’

   Rolling her eyes and sighing loudly for just about the millionth time, Sandra takes a seat opposite Scud in the booth. As she sits down, the apron she wears folds unflatteringly so that her chest looks flat and her stomach appears to bulge, but Scud has already seen that even in her standard-issue dinner lady scrubs and paper apron, her body is shapely and has curves in all but some of the right places. Smiling his smile at her and tonguing his gum, he splays the pack of cards between them.

   ‘What’s your name? Do you have a name?’

   Sandra masticates a little more, then pops her gum.


   Scud’s hands open up like a bowl between the two, begging to be filled with more information. ‘Sandra what?’

   Sandra’s eyes narrow, and she chews some more before replying, ‘Sandra Batten.’

   ‘Look at me, I’m Sandra B…’

   Sandra B rolls her eyes and allows them to fall on an indeterminate spot outside of the window.

   ‘My name’s Scud Presley,’ he continues, displacing and replacing the cigarette behind his ear, ‘and I’m very pleased to meet you, Sandra Batten. Pick a card.’

   Sandra takes a card and shields it from Scud’s view. The card is the five of diamonds.

   ‘Do you have a pen?’ Asks Scud, tapping the edges of the rest of the cards in the pack and leaning across the table as if part of him wants to peek at Sandra’s card or look down her top or something. Sandra just stares at him with one eyebrow raised, as she reaches into the pocket of her uniform and pulls out an eyeliner pencil. ‘Right,’ continues Scud, ‘I want you to write something on that card. Your favourite line of poetry, your address, your bra size, something like that. But don’t let me see it.’

   For the first time, Sandra smiles a toothy smile at Scud, and doesn’t take her eyes off him as she jots something down on the face of the playing card.

   ‘Now fold it up, so I have no way of telling what you’ve written. Fold it right up.’

   He rolls up the sleeve of his right arm.

   ‘Like this?’

   ‘Exactly. Hand it back to me.’

   Fishing his lighter from the same pocket as the cards, he lights up his cigarette before taking the folded card back from Sandra and pressing it to the inside of his right wrist.

   ‘You can’t smoke in here,’ Sandra drones, ‘it’s against the law.’

   He holds his finger up at her, and she falls quiet. With the folded playing card still resting on the soft skin of his wrist, he takes the cigarette from his mouth. Grinning at Sandra, he drives the hot end of the cigarette through the playing card and into his wrist, where it hisses and streams grey smoke up in ribbons around their faces. Sandra winces, watching him burn the paper and his wrist skin.

   When the fire on the card and the cigarette has died, he rubs the card with its burnt hole in the centre up and down his wrist, so that his skin is blackened by the ash. Sandra’s face is contorted into a shocked grimace, unsure of whether she wants to spend any more time sat opposite this obvious psychopath.

   After eating the burnt playing card and the cigarette in one gulp, Scud blows the excess ash from his charcoal wrist, revealing words written in deep black across his skin. The words read FUCK YOU, in a womanly scrawl.

   ‘Is that what you wrote on the card?’ Scud asks.

   Sandra nods, her eyes wide but her mouth back to the same old cow-chew rotation.

   ‘And your card,’ says Presley, stroking his chin and tonguing the hole where his tooth should be as if trying to taste the identity of her card, ‘was the nine of clubs.’


   ‘Oh. The six of hearts?’

   ‘No, it was the –’

   ‘Don’t tell me. I’ll get it.’

   While he tongues his hole and feigns deep thought, Sandra’s amazement wanes, along with her interest. 

   ‘Look, mate, do you want any food or what? I’m gonna go and sit back over there now.’

   ‘I’ll have a fry up. The works. Everything you’ve got. Oh, and a tea – strong and dark, like me.’ Scud winks, and then grins. 

   Sandra shakes her head and chuckles to herself as she walks back to the till, and Scud can’t be sure if she’s laughing at him or with his astounding trick, and he doesn’t care either way. All publicity is good publicity.

   ‘Oh, I’ve got it,’ he shouts, clapping his hands together, as she reaches the counter.

   She doesn’t need to hear his guess – she has already spotted the playing card on the work surface. Unfolded but still wearing its creases, intact but still sporting four holes with charred, black edges, it sits there staring at her from the counter.

   ‘It was the five of diamonds, wasn’t it.’

   Sandra nods, not taking her eyes from the burnt up five of diamonds.

   ‘God, you’ve got a nice arse. I mean, even in that ugly outfit. I just want to pound it.’

   ‘What?’ Sandra’s eyes dart from the five of diamonds to the king of sleaze in an instant.



   Sandra B places the all-day breakfast plate in front of Scud with a clink, and sets his tea down next to it. He grins up at her, but she doesn’t pay him even the tiniest morsel of attention. She stares out of the window that he has his back to, watching the cars speed past on the motorway a couple of hundred metres away. After she has delivered his meal, she lights up a cigarette and stands at the window looking out, her left arm across her stomach and her right leaning on her left, holding the cigarette. For a while, the two people coexist in silence, their soundtrack the hiss of the piping hot chip fat in the kitchen behind the counter and the scrape of Scud Presley’s cutlery against his plate.

   ‘I thought you weren’t allowed to smoke in here?’ He finally says, his mouth full of fried food. ‘I thought it was against the law?’

   Sandra’s eyes mope from the window to Scud’s pupils as she sticks the fag into her mouth and sucks on it hard, illuminating the end and sending a stream of grey, sweet-smelling smoke into the air around her head.

   ‘It is.’

   Her gaze returns to middle distance beyond the café’s glass façade.

   ‘Is that your car?’ Sandra asks, blowing smoke through her nose and pointing at the black Mustang parked outside. Scud turns in his seat to look at the car she’s pointing at, knowing fully well that the car park would be empty were it not for his car.

   ‘Yeah. She’s a beauty, isn’t she?’

   ‘It’s a she?’

   ‘Aren’t all cars? Isn’t everything? Who run the world? Girls.’

   Sandra smiles at Scud – a false, empty smile – and crosses the floor to stub out her cigarette on the side of his plate.

   ‘Are you finished?’

   He grins at her while still chewing the last of his food, relishing the game they’re playing with each other. Once again for Scud Presley, this has been a cinch – at the click of his fingers, they’d be doing the no pants dance. ‘Yeah,’ he replies, wiping his hands with the one-ply napkins that the box on his table provides, ‘thanks.’

   As she walks back toward the counter, Sandra speaks to Scud at a barely audible mumble, as if he were a voice in her head. ‘So how could you afford a car like that?’

   ‘I have rich parents. They gave me money for university, so I spent it on the car. Then they gave me money for university again, and I spent it on insurance for my new car, and clothes. Next time they give me money for university, I might go to university.’ Scud has rolled up the napkins he used to wipe his hands into a tight ball, and he bounces it on the table in front of him as he leans forward to project his voice across the café.

   ‘Hm,’ Sandra chuckles, short and sharp, as she emerges from the kitchen where she has dumped the dirty plate into the dishwasher. She returns to her stool and continues to file her nails. ‘So you’re university age, are you? Like, eighteen, nineteen?’

   ‘I’m twenty-five.’

   ‘Wow.’ Sandra’s intonation says wow like this news has impressed or surprised her, but her eyes widening and rolling around in their sockets before returning to her nails tell a very different story.

   Silence descends upon the room.

   ‘Oi, Sandra?’


   ‘Do you want to fuck?’

   Sandra’s jaw drops, and her eyes fix on Scud’s. ‘Excuse me?’

   ‘I said: do… you want… to fuck?’



   ‘Okay, let’s do it here,’ Sandra says, still chewing her stale old chewing gum and pointing at the edge of the deep fat fryer.

   ‘Won’t you get burned?’ Asks Scud, undoing his belt and still grinning his brainless grin.

   ‘I’m sure I’ll be fine. I have the shelves to lean on, anyway.’

   The deep fat fryer is basically a big metal sink with a thick rim and scalding hot contents, incessantly fizzing and crackling like how one would imagine one’s face cooking in a forest fire. There are three shelves above it, bare but for a few metal mugs, a colander, three ladles and a box of rat poison pellets. Standing in front of it, Sandra drops her panties to the ground without revealing even a square inch of buttock below her skirt, and spreads her legs a little as she bends forwards slightly to lean on a shelf. 

   ‘Yeah, this’ll work,’ she says, without turning her head back to Scud.

   A television on the counter that Scud hadn’t even noticed before this precise moment begins to play a song about frigidity from the musical Grease. He grins at the box and grabs his member with his tattooed hand, feeling its weight and thickness and remaining very impressed with himself, as he steps forward and lines himself up with the gap between Sandra Batten’s legs. 

   ‘Oh, wait a second,’ Sandra sighs, as if ruing her forgetfulness, just as Scud’s tip makes first contact with her soft, warm flesh.

   Scud grins, assuming Sandra wants to remove her clothes or hitch up her skirt further or open herself up wider for his girth. Women.

   Sandra, however, takes a metal cup from the shelf that her fingers have been gripping, and dips it into the molten chip fat. Her cup full of hissing, popping heat, she turns to Scud, and grins back at him. She winks, kisses the air between them, and pours the searing fat all over his erection.

   As Scud screams in pain and writhes on the floor of the kitchen, unable even to climb back onto his knees, Sandra pulls on her knickers, returns to her position behind the counter, tosses a new chewing gum into her mouth, and continues to file her nails.

    As you may or may not be aware, I sometimes write stories that are so long that I have to split them up into smaller, more manageable s...

   As you may or may not be aware, I sometimes write stories that are so long that I have to split them up into smaller, more manageable sections called "chapters". I call these long stories "novels". Anyway, once I've written these really long stories, if I think they're good enough then I submit them to literary agents to be rejected. 
   Often, literary agents send back a photocopied letter that they send to everyone in their slush pile that day, saying:
Dear loser,
I didn't read your submission, I barely even read the synopsis you enclosed with it; but what I got from thinking about it is that it's shit and should never be published. So, thanks for submitting, but never do it again, kay? Know your place (it's on Twitter and Blogspot, with the rest of those self-published fools).
Agent X.
   And understandably so. Literary agents receive on average two thousand submissions a year, most of which are unreadable bullshit; so if they read every one, took interest in it, and wrote back suggesting the improvements necessary to make it publishable, they'd never actually have any time left to represent the authors already on their books.
   So imagine my surprise when I received the following rather kind rejection letter from a publisher to whom I submitted my work a few months ago. It seems that not only did they read the synopsis, but they read a few pages as well; and then they wrote a thoughtful response just for me. How lovely. Obviously, it could still be a form letter that they've photocopied, but if you're an author who's received a similar reply, I'd appreciate it if you kept it to yourself, thankyouverymuch.
   I've censored the publisher's name because some people are funny about having their words put on the Internet without being asked aren't they. Again, understandably so.
   So, let this be encouragement to any authors seeking representation and getting nothing but photocopied rejection letters. Your work is read, and some people will like it, even if everyone else hates it...

Click image for full size.

    People are always banging on about superheroes, or sporting heroes, or heroes of the arts, or the heroes that keep our streets safe and...

   People are always banging on about superheroes, or sporting heroes, or heroes of the arts, or the heroes that keep our streets safe and treat us when we’re sick. Except for the fictional among that list, I think we’d all agree that all of those people are heroes. Of course they are. But they’re not my heroes. I have a whole different set of heroes. I’d like to tell you my friend’s story, so that you’ll see who I mean.
   Two years ago, my friend was a completely normal, confident, carefree young man. He had issues with commitment because he took a break-up disproportionately badly a year before that, and probably various other small issues too; but as I’ve often discussed, too often all that makes each of us unique is the different emotional baggage we carry around, and how we choose to deal with it. What I’m trying to say is that I felt like my friend was a fairly well-rounded individual, albeit damaged to the same degree as anyone you’d give a polite smile to as you passed them in the street.
   But then, something snapped. Up in his head, something short-circuited, and everything started to grow gradually darker. At first, it just felt like a niggling worry about driving. Was I caught speeding on that journey? He’d start to wonder as he parked up. Did I tap the wing mirror of one of those parked cars I passed? Small worries with small consequences, I’m sure you’ll agree. But as the weeks went on, he noticed that these worries were starting to mingle with his lively imagination, creating new concerns that any ordinary driver never even considers. I passed a motorcyclist on the way here – is there a chance that I could have hit him, and not realised?
   I remember a woman crossing the road with a buggy as I passed. I hope I didn’t hit that buggy. I don’t want to be responsible for killing a baby.
   These thoughts would play on my friend’s mind until he managed to fall asleep, or he revisited the scene of the imagined crime to check that there was no blood on the road. This happened on numerous occasions; he even sometimes had to take strange, convoluted routes when driving me and others places, just so that he could pass a particular location that had played host to one of these events. It ended up that most of the time when he was not driving his car, he spent fearing the next time he had to drive his car or fearing the imaginary consequences of the last time he drove it. Something was starting to take hold of him, but it was only just beginning.
   He thought he could control it alone then. He Googled it, and found terms like OCD and Anxiety Disorder and Intrusive Thoughts so widespread that it seemed to him that half the world felt the same way, although simultaneously he felt like he knew that he was completely alone. He felt like by knowing what it was, he had it under control. He knew what his mind was up to, so it couldn’t get past him anymore.
   But soon enough, this gradual darkening spread from his driving to other areas of his life. He started to fear strangers who looked at him in peculiar ways. Why, if they were complete strangers, were they looking at him as if they knew him? Or as if he had done something wrong? Were they following him? Had they been following him for a while? How on earth could he escape their pursuit of him? These all sound like ridiculous questions, but my friend would have conversations exactly like this one with himself in his head on an almost daily basis. He would even regularly change the routes he took when walking to destinations regularly visited, for the sake of throwing off those who were out to spy on him. He refused to keep a steady routine, out of fear that it would be learned and mimicked by those conspiring against him.
   Then he started to question why he thought people would be after him, and his only answer was that he was somehow evil, and deserved to be punished. His paranoia was so intense, so real to him, that the only logical conclusion was that he deserved it. He knew that it was all in his head, this conspiracy of the world’s against his mental state, but it had wormed its way so deep that he thought it must be based on some mistakes he had made in his past that he can never take back. So he began to turn on himself.
   It must have been something he did on the Internet, he concluded. So he forbade himself from visiting the Web. When he couldn’t use social media, it must have been something he said via text message, or something he said in a phone call. So suddenly, he wasn’t allowed to use those either. In fact, messages received from either of these media would arouse suspicion in my friend almost immediately. Who just sent him a text? Why would they want him? Are they out to get him? Why can’t they just leave him alone?
   His friends couldn’t be trusted. At some point in his years of knowing them, he had wronged each one to some degree, just as we all have; and in his head, they had coordinated their revenge so that they would all strike at once. As for contact from people who weren’t even his friends anymore because of some disagreement long ago, contact from them would cause him to lock himself in his bedroom with a turned-off phone and covers over his head for a whole day.
   He wasn’t safe anywhere, was his warped conclusion; and the most punishing part for him was that he knew just how warped it was. The old him still existed, trapped inside of his mind, whispering to him that this was all ridiculous, and that these fears that had grown out of nowhere were without basis and shouldn’t be taking so much of his time. There was a battle raging in his mind every minute of the day, a crippling battle that his rational side would never win alone. At the point when he couldn’t confidently leave his house without feeling scared of being murdered, just after the stage where he began to fear that people he made eye contact with could read his thoughts and would see the darkness in his soul and hate him for it… that’s when he decided to take action.
   And now, just twenty months after all this started, my friend is very nearly back to his old self. He can drive long distances, and leave the car with only a niggling worry nibbling at his mind. An hour later, it’s out of his mind. He can make eye contact with strangers, even smile at them, without even giving it a second thought. He is changed in subtle, irreversible ways; but he is stronger than he has been in over a year, and the only way is up. He still can’t keep a girlfriend (they become too close for comfort), and he still has to check seats or patches of floor where has recently been sitting or standing before he leaves them, to ensure that he hasn’t dropped anything with his address on for his future murderers to pick up; but these things will bow to him once more. He has a long way to go, but the way he has already come was much longer, so he knows now that he can make the journey.
   So who are my friend’s heroes? Who are my heroes? They’re the people who were there for my friend. They’re my friend’s family. My friend’s network of nearest and dearest (even those that he feared to be working with the enemy, in those darkest days). His counsellor, that impartial ear that was just there to listen, to provide perspective, to help whenever it was needed; to her, he owes a great deal. But most of all, my biggest hero is my friend himself. He found the strength to face that demon, and although he still has some way to go to beat it, he knows he can do it, and I know he will.
   If you ever needed proof that these things can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, then my friend is that proof. But he’s also proof that with support, love and strength, it can be overcome.

   World Mental Health Day is every October 10; but that doesn’t mean we should forget mental health issues the rest of the year. It’s time for all of us to educate ourselves and support those who are suffering.