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‘Yes I do mind!  I mind very much!’  Wings on hips.  Immutable.  A river of stank fish filling every corner of the mind’s pie crust.  ‘You think you can stay out all night with your fancy woman and swan back here whenever you like. She’s welcome to you.  I wash my hands of you.’

   ‘For crying out loud!  I have been in the thick of it defending the likes of you from what the likes of two hundred horny men would do to you given half a chance.’

   ‘I should be so lucky.’

   ‘What’s that mother of yours been saying?  Stirring the pot with her broomstick I shouldn’t wonder.’

   ‘You leave my mother out of this.  I don’t know why you can’t be man enough to let me have it straight.  You’ve stashed a floozie in a sticky hole.  A strumpet you picked up in some backstreet dive.  Well she’s welcome to you.’

   ‘Struth!  I don’t know why I bother.’

   ‘The only person you bother about is yourself.’

   ‘Don’t you ever give it a rest?  The only time you’re happy is when you’re having a go at me.  I am not your whipping boy.  Find some other mug.’

   ‘Mug?’ hurrumphs the Beast, breakdancing the battle-scarred carpet, puffball cheeks boiling beetroot.  ‘I’m the mug for putting up with the likes of you.  I should have listened to my mother.  She said you were no good.’

   He has to get out <—> Can’t breathe <—> So very hot and stuffy he will have sworn the ovens in Hell have been stoked solely for his private salvation <—> To cook the cockles of his heart and toast his blackened toes <—> A red devil rakes the ashes of his stomach with a five-prong trident <—> Peptic ulcer joins the cacophony roaring <—> In pain and anguish soul

gyrates <—> The raw agony of pumping poison <—> Rancid rivers run rotten from limpet brows <—> He has to get out <—> Can’t breathe <—>

   ‘If you can’t even be bothered to ring your poor wife to tell her you’re not face down in the gutter then that proves it.  My best haddock pie wasted ...’

   News frankly he is not dying to hear.

   ‘... The cat sent yours to the dog ...’

   The hellish spectre of haddock pie haunts the senses, sweeping a storm-tide of nausea to swell the stomach and flush the pipes and organs of the carcass <—>

   <—> Flailing arms and sweat, knees pumping the Ziegfeld Follies, Archie breaks for freedom across the shag-pile rug, bull-charging the Beast and into the passageway, parading a show, a sorry spectacle, but onward he stumbles tongue dangling, reaching and clutching the knob, shifting a rack of bones with surprising speed, and the rising tide of bile and bits and bad humours surging with piston power and oh mercy mercy penetraling the bathroom, slamming the door, bending over the hole and heaving by a whisker for the wave of vomit to flush with force round the rim of the sink <—>

   Blurghch!  Blur!  Ho-boy!

   Bug-eye Archie opens to a watery pink <—> hssnnssh! <—> Clears those tubes that tend to get clogged <—> Studies the Hughie Green bespattering the porcelain, picking the webbing of mucus that clings to the fingers as thick as frogspawn <—>

   Sweet is the water that falls from the tap and so is soothed Archie’s soul — even as Life reflects flecks of false hope in the sink of Hell.

   Never again will he slew so low, never again dredge the depths, never again parade a soul for the delight of the sporting gods.

   Oh how singly the promises pledged with our own souls are pulled as slight as faeries’ wings — too easily they windward fly.

   To the lip of the apron of the mind plays a vision.  Dangled by a string from Heaven.  Proof of a living God.  A golden bottle of whisky stashed in the wash-basket but the night before.

   With tender loving care.

   Oh how wonderful the world!  Oh how radiant the sun that shines!  Oh joy illimited!

    Yellow nettled hands trawl for the treasure inside.

    Is this some kind of a sick joke?  My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Mock-empty.  Not a bloody drop.  Damnations.  Thank you very much.

   Archie hangs a head intent on wallowing a pool of self-pity.

   Sunken to a dose of hard labour this cruel cruel world!  A private prison reserved for those of God’s children doubly wicked from a past Life. Abandoned without a friend.  A curse of Hell.  A dummy for the sport of the gods.

   For when sorrows come they come not single spits

   But bucketfuls!

 

                                                                                               ***

 

Let’s say tomorrow your day turns to deviled prunes.  Before you lurch to lunch you’re nobbled for a crime you didn’t commit, whipped into court and before you can say boo to a jolly goose the crusty old duffer of a judge has flushed you down the bog for fifteen years.  A wrinkly Screw in a fetching uniform of blue invites you into the bowels of the Earth, and you feel for the first time <—> if penal virgin you vie <—> the vesicant lick of steel on your wrists <—> Ears numb from the rain of curses, hunger, fear <—> such pressing matters are grist compared to the tornado of sickness that tumbles swelling from the mill of your stomach <—>

   All-consuming sickness corrodes your guts with the force of sulphuric acid <—> Contaminates the cells <—> A foul and pestilent conflagration of vapours invades the vaults of the mind <—> Down step by step a rogue and peasant slave <—>

   Your soul now the epicentre of your universe threatens spontaneous combustion yet will smoulder for weeks on end <—> Your soul entombed in the pit of your stomach (explaining the foetid, foetal feeling of schizophrenia you carry) corroded, expunged from existence, but you can proffer no succour <—>

   We know no cure for a sick sick soul who bleeds <—>

   A brilliant facet of our carbon lifeform for while enduring a flambé of the soul we clasp crystal clear to the world in focus and store like diamonds the sounds and sensations that a-face us on all sides to be recalled long after with flawless and sparkling clarity.

   A key jangling in a metal lock is a terrible Whitney on the ears and sets the nerves on edge <—> The white brick walls of this echo chamber rebound every discordant sound <—> Your heart beats as fast as doh-ray-me <—> Throat as dry as a vulture’s private parts <—> Welcome to the heady London aroma of human pooh <—> Working glands pump their potent potions into your bloodstream <—> Handcuffed to a high-minded companion you sniff and mole the tunnels of this legal labyrinth to a low-slung hole <—> Not of a design for prime-time screening but well sound-proofed and set to keep out those tricky winter chills <—>

   Walls four.  Table one.  Bench one.

    The hammer to your house as the thick metal door closes for the first time <—> SHOOOMB! <—> horrors to the bone <—> You are alone.  In a box-room of brick and stone and past tenants have with foresight emblazoned the walls in a freeflowing style to welcome you.

   You flop and read the writing on the wall.

   The roll-up roll-up new boy is assured a windfall of bona-fide offers of kinky sex.  To claim jackpot, simply ring number left by artist of modern bent: drawing a bonanza of flexible bits.

   Prospects as peachy as Hamlet’s <—> Civil war of chemicals clot the course-ways of cold blood <—> Red viscous waves engulf the drop-locks of your neck <—> and violate the caverns of your skull <—> An arsenal of glands jump to the jack of your heart <—> injecting juice into the jam-thick soup <—> to join the jamboree <—> whirlpools of madness coughed from Hell <—> bob and surface the flotsam of a thousand shipwrecked thoughts <—> and from the burning well of your soul sweeps a flood-tide of sickness along the sluiceways and alleyways of your body <—>

   Faintly from as far as Denmark attacks the ears a rumble <—> Aha! <—> You stamp upon it underground <—> Harrowed with fright and wonder, sulphurous and tormenting flames licking your soul, you feel the invasion via your sole something more than fantasy <—> when boding some strange eruption to your state, a bubble of sanity blows your troubled mind <—> Below these stone floors and battlements, why man, this is the cannon of a

London Underground train — a wee honest merry mole under London.

   A laxative to the heart as one gunning to meet a ghost <—> Get a grip for you wax desperate with imagination <—>

   Another rumble <—> Your heart leaps in fear and wonder at a scrunching of boots outside your door and what must be a legion of soldiers is coming: aspect of a blowfly from the spyhole: you catch a blue face: big black protracting bully sticks — Lunch is served!

   Off with another poor English lamb to the slaughter <—> Dish of the Day: rump of condemned prisoner carved rare with gentleman’s relish <—>

   Sit you down.  Ha ha.  You have much to learn, oh pretty young green thing.  Yesterday.  All your troubles seemed so far away.  Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.

   Twist and shout.  Smuggle a note in a bottle and blow your whistle to the gutter-rag-red-tops — very likely the victim of the vilest conspiracy.

   A cold porridge of truth stirs the stomach for no-one gives a flying pot about prisoners’ rights.  Not in these enlightened days of capitalist cat eat frog.  A few hours back and you were one of those people.  You will pen a sizzling novel of complaint pepped with the corruption you hope to discover.  Or a ledger in the style of Samuel Pipsqueak.  How loud this angry mouse roars!  We turn to the old-country rake Horace,

 

                                    Jesting decides great things

                                    Stonglier and better oft than earnest can

 

But who in their right minds writes about penal rubbish these days!

   The slow slog down the cobbled lanes of London accords like a trip on the Styx.  Stick around!  A guest of Her Majesty at her bog-standardest hotel: HMP Springwood.  The meat-wagon as it poodles the puddled streets of London proffers a surprisingly good view of the grey dogged people.  But the blackened windows deny these poor people a good view of you.

   Your escort (but not of a kind that may be booked through shady London agencies) barks too close for comfort.  Eight ’umble and downcast orphans linked by steel umbilical cords to guardians.  No Mary Poppins will ride to the rescue.  So abandon hope.  Enter!  Welcome to the Underworld.  A shared room awaits at no extra charge.

   (Think of the YMCA only better.)

   Smoke lowering from the chimney pots of Lower Springwood’s nuclear-rubbish-incineration-plant, making a soft black drizzle with flakes of soot in it as big as worming pills — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.  Gone into mourning for Springwood’s favourite son, Charlie-boy Dickens, after whom this imposing landmark is named.  A man reputed to have stayed within the confines of this backward London borough for a full twenty minutes.  A man revered in his day for having done so much for the Victorian London tourist industry.

   London.  A land plagued with scandal.  ’Tis the sport to pick over the best of British sex disseminated in the soiled sheets of the press.  Littering and brightening the 1960s no end, scandal of a sexual tack makes a welcome comeback in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

   Smog everywhere.  Smog up the river where it rolls among canny mutant fish; smog down the river where it rolls defiled among the up-turned shopping trolleys and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Smog on Hackney Marshes, smog on Edmonton Green.  Smog creeping into the cabins of barges on the Lee, smog lying out in breakers’ yards.  Smog lingering in the bells and riggings of great ships.  Smog in the lungs and throats of London prisoners withering from lack of sun.  Smog (and puff) in the stem and bowl of the first afternoon pipe of Professor Jason Knees tucked snug in a prison cell.

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