Sunset Silliness by John S Alty

The sun was still three fingers above the horizon as Adam sat down on a bench on the hotel’s brick pathway which fringed the sand. He took a sip from the plastic cup of Budweiser draft, pleasantly cold, licked his top lip and stared towards the sea into which the sun was preparing to plunge. All around him people checked their cameras and smart-phones ready to record the moment the golden orb dipped below the horizon, hoping to catch that magical, fabled flash of green.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” she asked.

“No, not at all”, he scooted along a little and she sat beside him.

“Are you staying at the hotel?” She indicated behind her with a thumb.

“Yes, for a few days. You?”

“Just checked in. Conference starts tomorrow.”

Adam glanced sideways. She was blonde, attractive, casually dressed, iPhone at the ready.

“Can I get you a drink?” he said, indicating the tiki bar on the beach.

“Oh, yes, but won’t you miss the sunset? It’s nearly time, a few minutes more and it’ll be down.”

“Seen enough of them.” He said, rising. “What’ll it be?”

“A margarita would be great, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”

Adam returned with her drink and a fresh beer for himself. As he sat, he saw the sun had started to melt into the horizon like a scoop of ice-cream on a hot sidewalk. She was clicking away with the iPhone so Adam held onto her drink. When the sun finally sank beneath the sea and the soft oohs and sporadic applause had faded she turned and took the margarita.

“Green flash?” He asked.

“Nope, not this time.”

“What are you doing for dinner?”

“Well, I’m meeting up with a handsome fella who’s going to take me to a little Italian place we know down the beach and then we’re coming back here, where we might possibly have a night cap, and then we’re going to my room and who knows what delights will follow.” The smile crinkled the corners of her eyes and he couldn’t keep the grin off his own face.

“Ok. I guess I’ll just get a burger then.” He giggled.

“Stupid bugger” she said and punched him on the arm, laughing. “Come on, I’m bloody starving.”

Review of Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers

A teenage girl’s murder at the hands of a dangerously deranged man is the ring-pull on a festering can of worms. This is a story as bleak as winter in the North Yorkshire Dales which is where it’s set. As each layer of events is peeled away the reader is dragged ever further into a broth of sexual indulgence and depravity and murder.

There are no heroes here just the uneasy alliance between an obsessive detective from the big city with the usual raft of human failings and a journalist escaping a life of booze and drugs in Fleet Street to find himself and write his novel in the seclusion of this rural backwater. Together they prise from the tight-lipped community a grim tale of corruption and extreme pornography and a murderous cover-up.

Turning Blue is expertly written engrossing and satisfying. It’s also written without a single comma inverted or otherwise and that works too.

Fiction short story from John S Alty


The Captain

Without water and with no means to propel the liferaft he knew he was going to die.

It hadn’t been much of a ship. A converted fishing trawler carrying used oil-refinery spares from Colombia to Curacao. That wasn’t the only cargo; the more valuable cargo was going to the USA via a complex route of which this was just the first leg. Neither cargo was going to reach its destination. The refinery owner in Curacao would probably be less concerned than the desperate consumers on the streets of Miami who would have to pay a few dollars more for their oblivion, supply-and-demand being what it was.

The steel hull where it supported the propeller shaft had long ago lost its structural integrity to rust and finally disintegrated in the early hours of the morning. The sea flooded through the breach and the ship was doomed. Both crewmen had been below in their bunks at the time, the Captain alone on the bridge. The crew’s accommodation was submerged before the men knew what was happening. The Captain had stepped over the rail as the ship sank beneath him. Despite years of neglect, the liferaft automatically released itself from its mountings and inflated. Where once there had been a ship and a crew there remained only a rubber liferaft and the Captain.


He wasn’t a religious man but when he heard a voice calling and peered out of the canopy he was nearly converted. Gazing down at him with an expression of concern was a man with long hair and a beard. As his mind cleared and his salt-crusted eyes gained focus the Captain realised his raft was lying alongside a sail boat and the bearded man was offering a hand to help him climb the boarding ladder.

“My name is Nathan Jones and this vessel is Adriana,” the man said, “welcome aboard.”

The Captain, rehydrated and fed, was sufficiently recovered to chat with his saviour that evening. Michael Smith was his name but everyone called him Captain and he’d be obliged if Nathan did the same, he said. Over a glass of rum, Nathan explained how he’d come from San Diego and it was to San Diego that he was returning after three years cruising the Caribbean alone on his forty-foot ketch.

“Don’t you miss your family, being away so long?” said the Captain.

“I have no family. There’s just me now. My wife and son were killed five years ago. It’s why I took off, really. Perhaps I was hoping I might be lost along the way but I’ve come to terms with it all now and I’m going back to San Diego to try to start my life again. But what about you? How did you come to be hereabouts, you’re American aren’t you?”

“Yes, from Houston originally. Ten years ago, I took off on my sail boat seeking adventure on the high seas. Long story short, after a couple of misadventures I ended up selling my sail boat and acquiring an old trawler. I based myself in Colombia, hauling crap from one end of the Caribbean Sea to the other, scraping a living. She was all I owned, shit-bucket that she was.”

“Well, at least you were spared. You can replace a boat, you can’t replace people.”

“Damn right. I’ll always owe you for saving my skin, Nathan.”

“Look, do you want me to head into Colombia, we’d be at Cartagena in two or three days? No problem for me, there’s no fixed date for my Panama Canal transit.”

“Hell, no. Nothing for me now in Colombia. I’ll go with you to Panama and check in with the US embassy – I lost all my money and documents in the sinking. Besides, you really don’t want to be too close to the Colombian coast. Nice sailboat like this would be just what the drug guys are looking for.”

“Well, OK then, Captain, Panama it is.”


The Captain was a competent sailor and an engaging companion – the first to be expected, the latter a pleasant surprise for Nathan. During the day, as Adriana made steady progress towards Panama the two men talked about nautical matters and navigation. Each evening they would chat about other things. The Captain realised Nathan was relishing this unexpected opportunity to voice his feelings, rediscover the art of conversation; he showed no hesitation in sharing his personal affairs. This pleased the Captain.

“You know, after the accident I couldn’t bear to live in our house so I sold up and bought a condo in San Diego. I’ve never lived in it – just stuck the best of the furniture in it and locked the door” said Nathan.

“Didn’t you want to rent it out or, maybe, allow a friend to use it?”

“No. I guess I didn’t want any reason to return. I put my affairs in order. Everything I am is in a plastic pouch in the chart table – passport, boat papers, deeds, bank account details, the lot.”

The Captain nodded his understanding and Nathan continued.

“As for friends, well, we lived in a suburb way north of the city, and they were her friends, never really mine. After the funeral, I hardly saw anyone for months and that’s when I decided to set off on my boat.”

“And now you’re going back. A fresh start, a new life.”

“Damn right” said Nathan, “and I’m looking forward to it.”

Two days later Adriana made landfall.


At last it was his turn at the counter in the Immigration Office in the Port of Colon, Panama, and he addressed the immigration official behind the glass partition:

“My name is Nathan Jones of the sailing vessel Adriana bound for San Diego, here is my passport. I have no crew, I’m single-handed” said the Captain.




Venus of the Rags

This odd piece of, er, art is by Michaelangelo Pistoletto and it’s called Venus of the Rags. I photographed it on a visit to the Tate in Liverpool.

I think it depicts a lady looking for her cleanest pair of knickers and thinking it might be time to do the laundry. I may be wrong.

There is some wonderful stuff at the Tate Modern at the Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool, by the way. I recently saw a Roy Lichtenstein exhibition and before that a terrific Jackson Pollack display.

Hey, Venus, that pair of pink ones on the left looks OK.

Tea in Peshawar

I was nineteen when I was sent to Peshawar to supervise the start-up of a new flour mill in this city on Pakistan’s northwest frontier, thirty miles from the Khyber Pass. My boss hoped my youthful enthusiasm and enterprise would overcome my lack of experience for there was no one else to send, the order book was bulging. The tale of this three month assignment occupies a couple of chapters in my memoir, The Runner Stone, but here’s a small taste:

The client allocated to me a sort of batman, Rafik, who would take care of my laundry and bring my breakfast and evening meal. For lunch, I would join the office staff in the mill lobby, seated on the floor around a feast of spicy curries and chapattis which we ate with our fingers. Twice each day I’d be interrupted by Rafik delivering tea in a china tea service on a silver tray. He did this at ten o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon wherever I was on the site and no matter in what activity I was engaged.

The mill had been built in an undeveloped area beside a river to the east of the city. One day in June a hoard of people and animals arrived on the far bank and erected a temporary encampment of rough wooden poles, patched tarpaulins and sheets of plastic. I was told these were Shia Muslims assembling to celebrate Muharram. The highest point on the six-story mill building was the stairwell roof and I climbed to it on a rickety wooden ladder left over from the building works, hauling with me an old rattan chair I’d liberated from the office. From this precarious perch I had a splendid view of the activities in the sprawling camp. Several fanatics were engaged in flagellation, enthusiastically whipping their own backs with chain flails. Blood flowed freely from their torn flesh while the crowd wailed and clapped; I found it fascinating if gruesome entertainment.

I became aware of some activity behind me and turned to see the ladder moving.  A china tea service appeared over the parapet followed by a black woolen Jinnah cap and then the sweat-bathed, grimly-grinning face of Rafik. It was three o’clock.


The Ecstasy of Betrayal – Laure Van Rensburg

Here’s an edgy piece from the talented writer Laure Van Rensburg. It was entered in a Writer’s Workshop competition last year.

Maybe it happened because we’d fought, or because I’d run out of reasons not to, or because it was a Tuesday, and what a shitty day that is, or maybe your anger had reminded me of my father. It didn’t matter anymore; all that mattered now was the flame licking the spoon. When it was ready, I dropped the piece of filter in and it swelled up like my heart anticipating the rush to come. Rolled-up sleeve, discarded morals, and a recycled hairband tied around my arm, I speared the soaked fibres like I ‘d done so many times before until you’d convinced me I didn’t need it, but the quiver of my skin reminded me I did.

The solution rising in the barrel stirred up a familiar tightness in my groin I thought forgotten. Lying on my back night after night I had lied to us both—you inside of me would never satisfy me as much as the warmth of heroin inside of me did. You would never compare or be big enough to fill the hollowness that needed to be filled. Your love for me was a windmill, a losing battle. What I was about to do to you saddened me but I took comfort in the thought that soon you would be like Tuesday—you wouldn’t matter.

The constellation of old scars mapping the veins running below the skin showed me the way. I tilted the needle before its tip tore the flesh. Skipping a breath, I waited until a cloud of blood uncurled in the syringe and the visceral excitement of hitting the vein uncurled in my stomach. Licking my lips, I pushed the plunger and every promise I made to you, myself and the people in N.A. dissolved in a chemically-induced ecstasy.

A flaming sun rose in my abdomen, its tangled rays creeping up my spine, firing upwards until they exploded in my mind, a tantalising wave of warmth drowning me. The radiating light bleached the memory of your face into oblivion. I let go of you. Untethered, my body collapsed back into bed and into the embrace of my old lover. I’d been so stupid for ever wanting to give it up, but it forgave me for my indiscretion. I should take the needle out and flush the blood from the syringe. I should. I should…

Days clean: zero