A Pyromaniac in the Woodshed

1

 

 

“Daniel Love! If you don’t get out of that manhole this instant I will phone your mother!” she was standing three feet above me on the wet pavement holding mine and the Doc’s bags.

“Ha! You’ve gotta come down here its awesome!” I yelled up through the darkness with Doc at my side sporting a Cheshire grin.

She was becoming irate, stood in the rain above ground while we ran up and down a dimly lit tunnel vaulting wires and gas lines in the murky darkness.

It was beyond my control, the Doc and I had ventured out into the city again with the intention of a drink, a few drinks, a big fat load of drinks that always end up in some ridiculous charade of drunken tomfoolery, whether I was getting into fights on the tube with people who did not deserve it, or throwing unwanted bagels into bushes hoping there was a vagrant tramp in there starving who might just be amazed at the miraculous flying bagel from heaven, I was starting to lose control.

Time had come to stop it.  Stop the drinking with no money, the late nights and bad hangovers were beginning to hurt.

“It’ll get worse the closer to thirty you get,” a thirty year old friend used to say.

“Ha! No way brother, I’m made of steel, throw drinks at me, I’ll consume them with my mind!” a stupid kid indeed, because now I was verging on thirty the drinks were really starting to give me one hell of a beating.

My soul parched and dry from chain smoking cigarettes in the unforgiving city I decided it was time to get out, there had to be something I could do to relieve the unrelenting boredom that had me sitting around power drinking cups of tea and reading old beat novels. I wanted to call myself a writer, but surrounded by influence and many a story I was doing nothing constructive with my time, so I decided it was time to leave the stinking armpit of London they call Wood Green and escape to the mother land.

The Doc was heading back to the states, I was losing my drinking buddy, it was a shame, but also something my poor weather beaten mind needed.

The doc and I had met over a bottle of Sambuca in a nasty student dwelling I was calling home. Songs and discussion of our favourite authors over a bottle of liquor annoyed the immediate tenants.

Having no money I was forever drinking on the Doc’s buck, he was American, Pittsburgh or Buffalo, only a short stay in the UK before heading back to Pittsburgh or El Paso, who knows, I don’t think even he had much of an idea about where he was headed.

We started an evening in Belushi’s, a nice little corporate rock bar in Covent Garden with iconic posters of cigarette smoking rock stars on the walls – all plastered over each other like an angry teenager’s bedroom.  We were caressing a couple of beers when a drunk black girl leant in the Doc’s direction and fired a question at him with a healthy wino slur.

“You’re American aren’t you,” she attempted to say under swimming eyes.

“Yes Ma’am,” he replied.

“We’re out tonight because my cousin, the girl that just went to the toilet, is horny, and you know what? She likes it in the anus.”

She reclined, almost too far on the weakening legs of her chair, only saved by the hanging basket of pink and blue pansies that made her realise she was about to fall backwards.  She was waiting for a response when her train of non-thought was interrupted by the return of her ‘cousin’.

“So, apparently,” said the Doc, with malevolence in his eyes, “You like it in the anus. Your ‘cousin’ here was just telling us how you like dick in the ass.”

The comment was met with a humorous look, a cocked eyebrow and a response.

“NO! Actually, she’s the one who likes it in the anus!”

This was followed by giggling and glass clinking.  The arrival of a heavily inebriated androgynous Korean girl chain smoking Marlboro Lights, sitting on the hood of a gun metal grey Peugeot 406 dancing with her toes and bopping her head to the music sliding through the windows past the pansies swaying in baskets made me think,

 

“Another drink I think.”

 

 

The doc fell in love thirty or forty times a day, depending on time of day or number of drinks consumed.  He was a good looking guy, 22, looked like he’d fallen out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue and caught all the girls leering at him in the process.

The ‘anus’ girl was no exception, long brown legs hung beneath a short beige skirt, a pretty face and a nice smell. I caught the Doc’s eyes lingering on her leg’s sheen quite often, drinks getting the better of his better judgement.

The drunker of the two girls sent a girlfriend plug my way. I told her about my lovely girlfriend who was at work that evening – her head snapped round and lolled like it was attached to an invisible fishing lure being tugged at by an over-zealous angler.

“You silly Billy!” she shouted.

“Don’t you know that black girls are freaks, they’ll do anything – and you know what they say?”

“No, what’s that,” I replied.

“Once you’ve had black…” the rest was too cliché to describe.

I replied with laughter, “Shame I’ll never find out then, ay!”

The Doc was attempting to discuss literature with miss anus while throwing back some copper tasting bitter from a small green bottle. Inevitable slurs and unnoticed misogynistic comments he had me secretly laughing into my Guinness.

The Doc invited the girls to a bar he liked to frequent in East London.    Although showing initial enthusiasm they soon faded into the night to join all the other soles treading on the intelligent pavements that know all our secrets.

Our drink-compass led us east to sit outside another bar, where ‘propa’ Londoners laughed enthusiastically and danced with forty-something divorcees  out on the town, drowning away their sorrows with the fast-feet and hot blood of the younger male generation – all too eager to oblige for that ‘milf’ notch on their lonely bedposts.

As it had come time for the Doc’s inevitable departure back to the land of the free we had an unceremonious goodbye outside Homebase in Manor House, I couldn’t make it further than buying his Mom some garden netting for her giant sunflowers. I had a bad hangover so we shook hands and promised to keep in touch via the dependable British postal system – all I wanted was to crawl on broken limbs into my delicious soft bed.

 

Another Irish plane journey saw me stepping foot onto the familiar Norwegian ground with its cool air, clean water and hyper-expensive – everything. No matter though, I had enough Norwegian Kroner to get the bus I needed that would take me to Drammen through the mountainous darkness to where Mamma would be waiting to collect me.

 

Her familiar smile and loving embrace always make me contemplate leaving the city behind and moving there for the duration, to drop all the negativity of the heartless bus drivers and irate hobos and dwell in the fauna with the Elk and bears for company.

 

A good four hours of stretching mountain roads with the trolls nipping at the tyres like old farm dogs with all their unabashed ferocity gave Mamma and I ample time to catch up, usual mother and son talk about girls and school – 28 years old and still talking about girls and school.  We got to mamma’s house and I found my way to my comfortable bed in my home away from hobos.  Its Mamma’s bed, the one she slept in when we all still lived together in our dysfunctional home in Ascot, back in the days of arguments and parties and bad memories and good memories too, some great memories in that old place where now another family is growing up, among the bad wiring and subsidence.

 

I had recently become a stepson to a great Norwegian military Colonel with excellent posture and a heart of gold. I enjoyed his company, he was like me, and only spoke when he felt like something was worth saying, not just speaking for the sake of speaking.  He told funny stories about non-pc generals who would make fun of the Air force if he was in a room full of Army soldiers and vice versa. I liked him a lot.

The previous Christmas my brother, Mamma, the Colonel and I had stayed at the very same cabin I was headed to and had drank excessively, there’s something about altitude that can make a man twice as drunk as he should be, and then die twice as tragically when he opens his peepers come morning to face last night’s revelry.

 

“God Morn,” I said in my pathetic Norwegian to the Colonel after finally peeling myself from under Mamma’s soft warm bed.

“Morn Morn,” he replied “Did you sleep well?”(His English was spotless)

“Exceptionally well.”

“Excellent, so are you looking forward to going up to the cabin today?”

“It’s all I’ve been able to think about for the past two weeks.”

 

The Colonel’s Land Rover snaked its way upwards to the old hunters lodge past giant rocks probably thrown from the heavens in one of Thor’s mighty rages.  The day was clear, no rain, warm and cold and exciting.  It wasn’t my first visit, but it was the first time I was going to spend any time up there alone.

 

 

2

 

 

The morning was cloaked in grey fog licking the trees with moist emotion, pot-holed roads filled with muddy brown water, grey and green moss covered the blue rocks like old mouldy smoking jackets.

I was shown around the familiar log palace with its simple pleasures like no running water – the water was brought up from town in clear plastic 10 gallon canisters, filled from Mamma’s taps.

 

“Well, I have to get off to a meeting.” The Colonel was involved in politics.

“No problem at all.” I replied as I watched the Land Rover reverse down the rocky path and disappear among the landscape.

 

I threw logs into the old wood burning stove to sit in front of the amber feathers dancing on the charred meat of old trees. No screaming girls worrying about what outfit would go best with a certain shade of makeup they were contemplating wearing, no whirling sirens with their blue spinning peacock lights sitting on fluorescent cars, no muggers or robberies, stabbings or tramps.  I guessed the bears wouldn’t try to sell me a piss-soaked copy of the big issue.

My travel card had been rendered useless, my feet now in heavy walking boots were my only means of transportation from one pine tree to another silver birch over broken blades of trodden grass, swampy under foot smelling of rich, fresh, clean, unpolluted air.

 

The silence rang in my ears, deafening and complete, for months I had sat in boredom, surrounded by technology and televisions and Greek people with their ugly foreign tongues all nonsense and confusion, but alone now, with none of the pit-falls of modern society, just books paper and pen, painful views of giant beauty, warmth from a fire I had made and no female companionship.

As  a boy I was always told to leave the fire alone, to let it be and burn of its own accord, but now, alone, the fire belongs to me, like my ancestors before me I was the master of the universe, a woodsman, a lumberjack, a red-blooded mans-man with nothing but the wilderness to prove my masculinity.

 

I wondered around the woods, childlike among the lofty trees in my swish-swish wet weather gear singing Roy Orbison songs slomping through marshy puddles.  The woods would close in around me, caressing me with wet pine kisses and little ‘Mygg’ bugs chomped on my pale skin with miniature jaws and striped bottoms under tiny wings.

A water-clogged boat sat lazily in the water by a wooden pyramid, it was bobbing in the cold lake, dancing to the songs being sung from my jolly throat. The boat and I danced by the shoreline in the spongy grass as the albino moths waltzed around my drenched boots.

As darkness fell abolishing all colour and turning everything to black the fear crept in through the windows, its filthy fingers leaving dirty marks on the window-sills.

Stars began to fight in the sky, winking malicious threats to each other under the watchful eye of the evil moon plotting and planning the destruction of the soul sitting on the old wooden bench in front of a hand-stitched floral table cloth, green like the sweets from his childhood.

Faces would appear at windows that didn’t exist, except for the space in thoughts where old trolls dwell, curtains would come alive under soft breezes.

The silence became the sound of terror, with every growing creak and moan of drying walls my heart would stop still and sit in its own silence ready to jump back into life with a rushing red adrenaline burst of flight. The landscape changed into black cloaks and hidden monsters, what once was a tree now lived and breathed in heaving fiery breaths biting its sharpened teeth at the night with lips ripped back over bleeding gums, snarling its strength with mute but magnificent power. There was no escape from the terrors that lurked out in the pitch perfect darkness, only the hope of sleep.  There was no way I was going out there to have a cigarette.

 

3

 

 

Chop-chop-chop. Wood splitting with a satisfying ‘crack’, a mountain of wood to be fashioned into fuel for the coming winter, swinging the 25 pound axe through the air, its giant form slicing raindrops in half, splitting wood into pieces to the tune of, “Hi ho – hi ho, I’m chopping wood you know.”

I shouted and sang at the top of my lungs because there were no angry commuters to throw briefcases at me full of ledgers and important accountancy papers.

My hands sore and bruised from a morning of lumberjack fun I departed from the day on a journey with Cormac McCarthy smoking liquorice cigarettes with menthol filters wrapped around pungent Norwegian tobacco, the type smoked by hairy-faced sailors and farmers with frozen digits.

My tranquillity was broken by the arrival of relatives, new relatives, the Colonel’s daughter and a new niece for me who was all smiles and curiosity crawling around the floor picking up everything her little sausage fingers could pick up.  Great meat was cooked to perfection on the swinging barbecue all sizzled to perfection and dripping blood.

 

 

4

 

 

Mamma had asked me to embark on a mushroom hunting project with my feet and a camera.

“Just go around the woods taking as many photos of mushrooms you can find.” She said.

“Any particular kind of mushrooms or just a bunch of different mushrooms?” I replied with a wry grin.

“There’re mushrooms everywhere out there, they’re growing on everything.”

“Any particular reason you want me to walk around in the woods getting wet taking photographs of mushrooms?”

“It’s for a photography project I’m doing.  Last year it was flowers, this year its mushrooms.”

 

Mamma was right, there were mushrooms everywhere, hidden beneath the rotting carcasses of silver birch trees lying dead on the ground. I got to thinking about how fungus grows out there in the wild, but also on athlete’s feet and the dirty beggars who live in public conveniences in the city.  Especially one particular hobo that dwells in the men’s toilet in Leicester Square with his worldly goods gathered about his person overflowing from stuffed plastic grocery bags.  His long yellow beard hangs from his sad and wrinkled face.  How at home he would look out there in the wise old woods propped up on one elbow with moss growing on his face instead of his nicotine stained beard. I should wrap him up in cotton wool and ship him out to the woods to be at peace – a dirty bearded elf at home in the forest.

 

 

5

 

 

Trying to peel myself away from the first of Goldilocks’ three beds – it was way too soft, I could just about manage to spin my feet out from under the nasty green bed covers, all itchy and heavy like an elderly lady’s top lip.

I hopped and skipped all jolly and playful through to the kitchen to put water on to boil over the butane gas canister strapped down with old leather buckles, an insane lunatic in a Victorian asylum for pyromaniacs.  I had the coffee pot that time forgot with dented sides and battle scars that I imagined had served time in the armed forces with the Colonel, I bet that old coffee pot had stories to tell of bravery and human compassion that no city dwelling alcoholic could ever dream of.

Old Randy Travis songs played on the radio while I brushed my teeth in the red plastic tub, all smiling choppers looking at my new beard in the mirror.

 

A poor young sapling I had chopped down was now being fashioned into an intricately designed walking stick with my razor sharp hunting knife that lives at the cabin. Inevitably I almost sliced half my finger off while playing carpenter, blood ran down my finger jumping onto the floor by the wood shed, splashing in little puddles and mingling with the rain. The Colonel ran a tight ship so I was certain there had to be a first aid box around somewhere, I found a whole drawer full of ancient plasters devoid of any adhesive so I had to use gauze, only the scissors weren’t sharp enough to cut off a decent amount so I had to use the sadistic knife that had just tried to de-digit me. I stood in the kitchen dripping blood onto Mamma’s cloths, laughing out loud to myself with deep and real happiness. I cleaned myself up and shared my lunch with the flying kings and queens of the forest, swooping in and out from their giant granite plateau snapping at the stale bread I had laid out for them.

 

Wood from floor to ceiling, faded hunting tools and troll memorabilia decorate the walls, a thick wooden dining table creased with eyes speaking of hundreds of shared meals and many that weren’t, a battered and worn knit-ware throw lays over it showing off its intricate patterns stitched together by the capable fingers of a long lost grandmother, the kind of granny, like mine, that could cook up a batch of Sma Mat that could rival any camera-happy celebrity chef. Gommo’s dinners were always ‘home’ tasting, you know you’re in the company of family when Sma Mat is spooned into your bowl, steam rising into your hungry nostrils.

 

From the table I could see clear across the vast expanse of wilderness, the view changed from minute to minute as the clouds slid across the mountains, sometimes allowing the shy sun to spread its wings and light up patches of trees, changing the shade of green to a dirty yellow.

A small town can be seen in the distance, miles away, but only when the lid of cloud is lifted from its tree tops, allowing a short peek at those who live in the perpetual autumn mist, those who long for the winter when the snow falls, freezing the ground, letting the blue sky glow with the courageous sun.

 

 

6

 

 

I walk tracks trodden over six decades of hungry fishermen, slomping through the marshes en-route to the fishing lake. My fishing rod swings east to west with each soggy stride getting caught in the lichen hanging from the trees enticing the hungry reindeer.

Four or five ponds sit inside huge reed beds where berries grow wild ready for eager fingers. I throw out a few casts into the deep cold water – no fish.

 

 

7

 

 

Sat 1000 metres above sea level I was faced with two options – go fishing, or take the bike out of the shed and ride down the mountain to get a waffle. I opted for the bike – I needed a waffle.

The path from the cabin had been churned into a liquid brown sludge. Like chocolate ice-cream melting beside the grass.  The wheels of the bike would slip and slide above the confectionary road, puddles gathering in little groups in their wake.

  More ups and downs than a broken rollercoaster, I’m unfit, been smoking for too many years and my lungs started to burn at the very first incline, even though I had the bike in its lowest gear the lactic acid burnt in my thighs like writhing fiery maggots.

After hundreds of metres of power-pedalling through agonising leg pain the road finally hit the long downhill decent, the mud turned to gravel spreading an ugly boyish grin across my face, tears streamed past my temples from the wind whipping against the balls of my eyes. Round corner after corner, hill after hill after hill through hairpins past farms with barking elkhounds shouting their greetings at me,

“Hello old friends!” I yell – remembering my father’s elk hound ‘Boss’, always trying to escape or showing the shiny pink lipstick between his legs, a horny little vagrant always embarrassing visitors and tunnelling under fences.

As I descended the tiny town of Aal came into view like a distant Duplo town hidden beside a giant cliff face, nestled in the valley alongside a flowing river.

 

After a much needed waffle drowning in creamy strawberry goodness, a hot black coffee and a potent cigarette I contemplated calling the Colonel to drive me back up the mountain, but decided to man up and take on the giant, back to solitude, back to being able to sing ridiculous songs while walking under the silver and green branches with their hairy fingers.

Instantly I was put in my place, the decent was easy for the majority, but after ten seconds of ascending the monster I had to resign myself to the fact that this was no mountain to be ridden UP, and I would have to walk it – WALK IT – a journey that takes 20 minutes uphill in a Land Rover!

 

I hadn’t walked more than a hundred feet past a couple of blood-red gingerbread-esque cottages when the sound of tiny running feet made me stop and turn to see a puppy heading toward me.

A tiny black Schnauzer terrier with a bad eighties jerry-curl and fire cracker energy jumped into my arms as I knelt down to greet him. He slobbered his excitement all over me, kicking, pawing, panting and smiling that familiar dog smile. I checked for a name tag but found nothing of significance, just a thin red collar adorned with little bones. There was nothing to tell me where the little man had come from so I shrugged my shoulders and carried on with my trek towards the moon.

 

“You can’t follow me Goober – I’m climbing into the sky.” I said to the little hound but he satat my feet with a cocked head and an inquisitive look, his flapping little ears folding over his brow.

“Fair enough,” I said with a smile as he ran on ahead sniffing his way along the side of the road.

We passed by a farm, guarded by the ugly killer-chickens but little Goober showed no fear, standing in a perfect ‘pointer’ gun-dog stance any Crufts judge would be proud of, growling under his breath, staring down the beasts.

“You can stand there and look at bloody chickens all day for all I care – I’m off!” I said after getting tired of waiting for him.

I found myself shouting “Not my dog not my problem” whenever the little black prince barked at farmers or poultry.

Despite the unwanted responsibility, Goober made the journey back to the top more entertaining, following every step I made or running at full pelt whenever I jumped back on the bike to take advantage of the down-hills at the top of the mountain.

When I finally made it back to the cabin, after three hours of panting and sweating out my will to live, I stomped around in circles outside my wooden dwelling shouting: “I am the king of the world! The master of mountains, the slayer of slopes!”

Goober just looked at me – the insane mountain hermit.

 

I was now faced with my original dilemma, albeit with a dog instead of a bike.

“Mamma” I said down the phone, “I’ve got a visitor at the cabin”

“What?” Mamma inquired

“I found a dog”

“What?”

“He followed me all the way up the mountain, all the way from the train station.”

“What?”

“This little dog, a black dog, he followed me up the mountain, I’ve got him here with me at the cabin.”

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know I’ve been calling him Goober.”

“Goober?”

“Yeah, Goober – Look, Mamma, I want to go fishing, but I don’t know what to do about this bloody dog. I gave him a Weiner but he’s just biting the skin off.

“Doesn’t he like Weiners?”

“Not from the looks of it, he’s pretty keen on the skin though.”

“OK,” says Mamma, “I’ll call the police and see if anyone has reported him missing – what was his name again? Goober?

“NO, I don’t know his name”

“I thought you said his name was Goober?” I could hear the grin on her face.

Two minutes passed, the phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Someone has reported Goober missing, they’re on their way to get him.”

“Brilliant.” I replied with genuine pleasure, “Now I can go fishing.”

 

 

8

 

 

I slomp-slomped and swish-swished my way through the rugged and soggy terrain, slipping on a giant rock shaped like a banana skin that sent me crashing down in sticky mud. I brushed myself down and carried on slomping, another mad grin appeared.

Slippery under-foot, Wellington boots getting caught in marsh and sucking their way out again, wet grassland littered with boulders of doom that sprouted like bushes garnished with wild blueberries and cranberries and one wandering Lovenberry. A signpost stuck out of a black puddle waving a wooden fish at its end pointing in the direction I needed to go. Ant hills – enormous monstrosities buzzing with activity, all to-ing and fro-ing making their own motorways through the cold ground and carrying gifts to their demanding queen. I knelt down for a closer gander and was faced with an ant stood on his hind legs with his dukes raised in readiness for a fist fight – no fear in the name of the insect monarchy. I wasn’t ready for a throw down to the death with the little warrior so I hurried away, looking over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t following me, swish-swish, slomp-slomp, suck slip swish slomp.

 

“Where are all the fish?” I inquired to a plant sat beside me that was pointing in a westerly direction with one of its leaf-limbs.

“Ha!” I exclaimed, “I’m not taking advice from a leaf, you must think me mad, I’d sooner ask directions from a sheep – say, there’s one now. Excuse me squire.”

“Blaaaahh.”

“Why, thank you good man, some decent advice for a change. Take advice from a plant? Ha!”

 

Four hours I sat beside the lake, cushioned on its surroundings by encroaching grasses. I sat in the pouring rain, heavy like percussion on my jacket, I drank strong black coffee from my neon orange canteen, washing down current buns with cinnamon spices reading Jack Kerouac’s ‘Satori in Paris.’ Even alone in the wild it felt as if I had someone with me. A squadron of ducks flew in all kamikaze brave landing on the water in an elegant display of aquatic acrobatics.

No fish, but who cares.

 

 

 

9

 

Hot socks from the fire slipped on to cold feet are perfect bliss.

10

 

“We’ve decided,” declared Mamma.

“OK, what’s the plan,” I replied with my feet in walking boots with no socks on.

“We’re going for a hike up the mountain in Levdal, it’s the mountain you can see from the veranda at the cabin.”

“Oh, you mean where I sit in my underpants.”

“What?”

“Never mind, I’m ready,” I replied with my sans-socked feet and morning breath sans-toothpaste and hungry belly sans-food.

“I’m ready too,” said the Captain standing in the kitchen in his dressing gown and leather slippers, his ankles crossed with a smile on his face like a cheeky tap-dancing movie mogul.

 

 

11

 

To skewer a worm onto a fishing hook is an ugly business, the worm, sensing impending danger, wriggles and worms in your fingers releasing a pungent yellow liquid like banana puss. Once you have the worm firmly punctured you now must manoeuvre him, or her, who knows with a worm, around to cover the entire hook lest a wise fish becomes wise to your evil plan of a trout dinner.

It took me days to half-master the technique of wormery – slowly getting used to the smell and the sense that the worm is actually writhing around in perfect agony unable to express his pain through sound, only wriggling. The problem lies in the smell, which you will inadvertently taste or smell when you wipe something from your nose or mouth. This I managed with great abundance, first my entire lower lip and then right inside my left nostril to see to an itch.

Along the entire hike back to the cabin through the darkness with a head-torch (like miners use, not minors – miners) my fear was over-taken by the fact I was trying my darndest not to lick my lips or swallow – I didn’t want to taste or eat any worm guts.

 

God damned worm guts everywhere, in my mind, my eyes, my ears, my follicles, my finger nails, my pores I couldn’t remove the putrid stench of worm death from my fingers.

Repent in the face of the worm god, plead forgiveness, release me from this devil’s pong. Get me off this insane mountain.

 

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