Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Review: Black Rabbit Summer, Kevin Brooks

Review: Black Rabbit Summer, Kevin Brooks

Having recently read Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary, I was directed towards more of his work, and particularly Black Rabbit Summer. Altogether more conventional that The Bunker Diary, this novel is a murder-mystery that becomes a character-drama, not something I would normally read. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Brooks’ style and manner of writing, so carried on regardless.  

In it’s opening, Black Rabbit Summer is deceptively simple. The premise of 5 teenagers, about to go their separate ways, is not anything particularly groundbreaking, or indeed anything that intriguing. One night at a funfair, and everything has gone wrong- two missing teens and one dead rabbit. On the while, fairly unremarkable given the genre. And yet, this book draws you in. Regardless of my expectations before approaching this novel (which were not high after being sickened by The Bunker Diary), I cannot deny that Brooks is an exceptionally talented writer. Rather than the plot, which is at first a little unremarkable, it is the strength of character that make this novel work.

There is no real sympathetic character in this novel, and every member of the cast is layered and flawed, some displaying tolerable foibles, others more extreme shortcomings. There are drug users, liars, manipulators, thieves and violent aggressors. As a narrator, Pete is incredibly unstable and unreliable, his clearly-illustrated thought processes constantly in flux. Repeated questionings by the police allow this constantly altering perspective to become apparent, emphasising the change that characterises this novel.

As in The Bunker Diary, Brooks seems unwilling to condemn any of the crimes or immoralities in his characters. There is no questioning that Pete is increasingly aware of the layers to his fellows (this in fact becomes the focus of the plot, overshadowing the crime-drama aspect) but he rarely admonishes them, instead leaving that to the parents and police. Pete’s own parents would be seen as particularly overbearing and judgemental, if it were not for the fact that they have been rendered just as human and fallible as the teenage cast. Pete is not afraid to question them, almost undermining their authority, and proving them to be just as accessible as characters as his peers. Similarly, the reader is unable to really come to hate any character- they are simply too ‘real’ to easily categorise. There is no good or bad, right or wrong, only shades of humanness.

The plot itself is perhaps the most mediocre aspect of the book, and certainly takes a back seat to the ever-evolving presentation of characters. Through Pete, the reader is never supplied with all the facts, but at the same time, enough hints are dropped for one to begin to put two and two together, and sometimes arrive at the right conclusion. There is never enough to make it boring and obvious, but also enough to reward the reader for actively thinking. However, it is a little inconsequential in the end; while some twists are entirely unforeseen and some brutally shocking, one almost gets the feeling they don’t matter. As much as it might pretend to be, this is not a crime drama, and the only place where the plot really seems important is when it’s directly changing Pete’s views of his fellow characters. Without giving anything away, every member of the ensemble are viewed entirely differently at the start and end of the novel, as old wounds are opened, new ones develop and entirely unforeseen events change Pete’s worldview in a major way.

One character I’ve omitted to mention until this point is Raymond, the apparent ‘fifth wheel’ of the initial group. The one who talks to his rabbit. The one who thinks the rabbit talks back. If anything, he is the most sympathetic character, and certainly the most innocent and scrupulous. Despite this, he is the first one to go, vanishing without a trace and ignored for a large part of the novel by a police force commenting on another, higher-profile disappearance. The reader really doesn’t get to know Raymond that well while he is present, and it is only in the response from the other members of the cast that his nature becomes clear. To some, he’s a threat, to some, an outcast, and only to Pete is he a friend. As much as he dominates Pete’s thoughts throughout the novel, though, he very quickly fades out of focus, particularly in the last third to quarter of the novel. A metaphor for his outcast nature? Perhaps, or possibly just another aspect of reality- not everyone can be the Most Important Thing.

Where I feel this novel perhaps flounders is in its presentation of the supernatural and the almost-real. Brooks’ grasp on creating a very vivid and real world is almost undermined by an element of the unreal that is never truly explained. Some elements are simply drug-induced hallucinations, but other aspects remain unanswered. Does Raymond really hear his rabbit speak? Does Pete then hear this same voice? If so, how? Although these points are obviously deliberately unresolved, I can’t help but feel they didn’t add to that much to either plot or character, and are simply a distraction to more important matters.

Overall, then, this novel gets a thumbs up, simply on the basis that it paints a vivid, vibrant picture of modern life, and while some aspects are more extreme than we’ve encountered, there’s something here that everyone can identify with. The characters are living and breathing on the page, the setting is everywhere, and while there is no real message or judgement, this is a novel where the process of change in environment, in interactions and in mindsets is genuinely interesting. Not a crime drama, but a drama based around crimes, this is a solid book that, while not completely inspiring, is very well-written and constructed.

Writing: 8/10
Plot: 6.5/10
Character: 8/10

Average: 7.5/10 

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Bunker Diary: What is it All About?

Three days from finishing it, and Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary still has me perplexed. While I cannot honestly encourage anyone to read it, I am equally unable to dismiss it as the pointless or powerless novel it initially seemed. Or maybe I am. For the last three days I have been almost constantly contemplating what, if anything, Brooks is trying to convey through the novel. Perhaps I was right in my initial assessment that the message of the book was ultimately nothing, but I can’t stop myself trying to find a meaning to it; the harrowing content needs to be justified in some way for the unsatisfactory ending to be at all worthwhile. Be aware, if you are wanting to read this, that there are several large spoilers below; this is very much a retrospective analysis that requires reference to the text itself. Some of the theories I presented in my previous review, but they are examined in more depth here, others are new and very much a work-in-progress.

  The most obvious of the potential overtones to the novel is its nihilist perspective on life. Regardless of meaning, one has to accept that the Bunker itself is a microcosm for the ‘real world’, with the diversity of the characters representing snapshot of a larger society. In the final third of the novel, the mysterious kidnapper, who until this point controls every aspect of the prisoners’ lives, disappears. Whether he dies, or simply grows tired of his imprisoned playthings remains unknown, but what is obvious is how, from this point on, life for the protagonists becomes entirely futile. There is no way out of the bunker, even when it is unguarded, and as the lights go out and the supplies dwindle, survival becomes increasingly impossible. For the three characters alive at this point, it is only a matter of time, and every entry in the diary is only a sign that the inevitable is delayed a day longer. Death can be the only end for the novel, and going back to the idea of the Bunker as a microcosm, it is clear to see the nihilist perspective here; life is ultimately pointless. There can be no escape and nothing matters. The conclusion is inevitable, a happy ending is impossible.

The nihilist overtones are also evident in the way Brooks handles what could otherwise be relevant social issues. While he does present drug abuse, alcoholism, homosexuality and terminal illness, these themes are not at all developed, becoming little more than plot points and character traits. It may well be that Brooks simply chose not to expand upon these themes, but given the context and the above theory, it is perhaps another element of the nihilism. The lack of development relegates these themes to insignificance, suggesting once again the ultimate worthlessness of life.

Finally on that point, the fact that no motive is presented for the kidnappings also implies a degree of nihilism. Arguably, the reason doesn’t matter, only the events, but no conclusion is ever reached regarding precisely why the victims are imprisoned. While it may not matter to them in the end, the reader is left wondering, and never answered. Death is, in the end, the only concern for the protagonists, but for the reader, the need to know why and the lack of an answer again highlights the sheer pointlessness of the events for those of us on the outside as well as those on the inside.  Perhaps there was no reason, simply the old Shakespearean statement that ‘as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport.’

Which leads me nicely to the next point: the atheist overtones of the novel. There are some very obvious allusions to unnamed kidnapper as a kind of deity (or false deity). The lift provides a channel of communication through which his will is done, the notes taken back up are akin to prayer. He becomes omniscient in this microcosm, able to see, hear and know everything about the inmates. They come to depend on him for their very survival. Linus refers to Him (always capitalised) as an omnipotent being, sometimes even the direct reader of the Diary, and at one point suggest that only the perception and not the reality of the kidnapper/god matters. He is very much a deified persona.

So how is this seemingly obvious godlike being representative of an atheist undertone? Because he is, in reality only a man, his power entirely manufactured (perhaps allegorical to religious control?). Because when, in the last section, they are abandoned by this godlike figure, the prisoners’ experience becomes far more dangerous but far more real than before; survival is the only instinct and only driving force, and ultimately the most powerful.

Another theory that crossed my mind was that the novel was an attack on voyeurism. The microcosm supplied in the Bunker is in many ways similar to any number of television shows that give insight into very real events from a perspective so detached that misfortune becomes entertainment. Through the diary, the reader is drawn into watching as, one-by-one, the protagonists fall slowly into insanity and destruction, and by the point things turn exceedingly nasty, one is already too invested to easily look away. By making his characters so real and layered prior to the true trauma, the reader feels almost guilty when they keep reading. I think this could easily suggest that Brooks is attacking the society in which schadenfreude is the norm; we look at the televised misfortune of unknown strangers and laugh, but when we ‘know’ the characters in the same (albeit more extreme) situation, we are appalled.

Another suggestion, similar to the above, is that the manufactured world in which the protagonists exist in is potentially a mocking of our own. Time is controlled by the kidnapper, sped up and slowed down on a whim. They are entirely dependent on him to provide their food and to keep conditions at a point at which they can keep a grip on sanity. They are mercilessly punished for every transgression. Is Brooks trying to warn us against the dangers of a controlled society? Or is he suggesting that control is imperative for modern life, as the characters descend into madness as soon as the control is lifted?

The real question is, am I just clutching at straws? The answer is undoubtedly yes. I’ve spent the last few days desperately trying to derive some kind of meaning or explanation from this harrowing novel, simply because to read through such a level of insanity and hopelessness without some kind of reasoning or statement to be taken from it is, to me, just plain wrong. I imagine every answer I’ve attempted to come up with is simply a wild theory to justify the novel I was appalled by. That said, I hope you found this interesting. 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

A Review: The Bunker Diary, Kevin Brooks

Unfortunately, the first review on this blog is for a book I cannot possibly recommend. If you are looking for suggestions on something to read, then this is not the review you're looking for. Instead, it's a hybrid of analysis and a warning. For one who does want to read the book, be aware that this review will contain some potential spoilers.

The basic premise of The Bunker Diary involves the kidnapping of 6 characters, who are placed in a blank, white-walled building with no way in or out. Every day, a lift delivers food, and their every movement observed by their unseen kidnapper. The novel is presented as a diary for the most part, although in places switches to brief script, and some poetry.

The warning I referred to is this: The Bunker Diary is simply too traumatic, harrowing and utterly bleak for anyone to enjoy reading. It charts nothing more than a descent into madness and depravity, offering no hope, redemption or consolation. The content is not at all enjoyable or pleasant for any reader, let alone for a book that is marketed as suitable for children, given its inclusion in the CILIP Carnegie shortlist for this year. Expect more on this particular matter over the next couple of days.

Undoubtedly, there are elements of this book that are good, if not great. The writing is of a high standard, and the voice of the narrator, Linus, comes across very strongly. Similarly, the presentation of his fellow prisoners is equally effective. Each of them are incredibly idiosyncratic without really being stereotyped, with character as strong as Linus's. For the first half of the novel, the plot is intriguing, and moves along at a good pace. Interactions between the characters is exceptionally natural and believable.

Where The Bunker Diary falls down is that it includes huge levels of traumatic, even sickening content (especially in the final third of the novel). While this is not unusual or even a fault in itself, other novels that include similar content generally have some kind of point to prove, debate to encourage, or event to highlight. As examples, Ruta Septys' Between Shades of Grey, which details the life of a victim of Stalin's horrific labour camps, or Jason Wallace's Out Of Shadows, which relates a story racism and intolerance in Zimbabwe both contain similarly violent content, but do so with the intent of raising awareness of those very real events. Brooks, on the other hand, offers no such agenda, making this tale at best pointless and at worst sadistic, serving only to present a harrowing tale of utter futility.

So, what is it all about then? This book was described to me as 'Atheist Nihilist.', and that does seem to be an accurate assessment. The ever-unnamed kidnapper, who observes the life of the prisoners, taking direct control over their lives, appears to occupy a position close to godliness. He supplies their quite literal 'daily bread' through the lift, the notes sent via the lift to him, demanding various food and commodities, are akin to prayers, and he responds only to a kind of reverence from the prisoners. Linus at one point refers to how the real nature of the kidnapper doesn't matter, only his perception, again a potentially allusion to his godlike nature.

This would seem to contradict the notion that it's an atheist nature behind this text. However, as, in the final parts of the novel (the most traumatic and impacting), this omnipotent being vanishes, his motives and nature remaining a mystery. The protagonists exist in abject terror of their kidnapper, only to have him cease to exist, leaving them literally in the dark, without hope or purpose. the god-character, if he ever existed, abandons the protagonists in the their microcosm, a godless setting. As such, it's no great leap to assume that there are distinct atheist undertones here.

The nihilism comes in slowly throughout the novel, with several layers leading to the impression of the ultimate futility and hopelessness of life. Apart from the completely bleak ending (if one can call it that), another element that adds to this feel is the characters themselves. Brooks proves he is willing to present some very real issues in this surreal tale, such as alcoholism, drugs, homosexuality and mental illness, but at the same time, these are merely character traits. They are not so much confronted as discarded in the face of the hopeless and futile plot, to the point at which they become insignificant. By the time the conclusion is reached, the nature, flaws and  issues present in the characters become largely irrelevant. Nothing and no one matters in the plot as it draws to a close.

Furthermore, there is no motive presented for the kidnapping. Every death becomes pointless, as does the imprisonment itself. There is no kind of resolution to the plot, no close, and no point. It simply leaves too many questions unanswered to be a satisfying conclusion, and unlike some other novels with similarly unresolved endings (Patrick Ness's More Than This springs to mind), The Bunker Diary is brutally clear in its ending. You know it's coming, and it is a foregone conclusion. Death, worthless and pointless, is the only end possible to this story.

There can be no denying that this novel prompted a very strong response on reading it, but unfortunately, that response was neither insightful nor enjoyable. It left me feeling physically sick at the sheer depravity of the last few entries into the Diary, and at points I had to actually leave the book for a while, too appalled to continue. Unless you want a similar experience, I really recommend avoiding this novel.

To conclude, I won't say don't read this book, but do not expect to a) enjoy it or b) take anything meaningful from it. It is unsatisfying, horrifying, appalling and traumatic. While aspects might be intriguing, and the real trauma doesn't set in until the final third, I wouldn't say it's worth reading at all. There are better books that deal with similar themes, and will leave you less shaken at the end. It's impossible to rate or score, as there is such a dissonance between the quality of the writing and the unpleasant content. I am almost considering reading more of Brooks' work, as his style and skill are obvious, but this particular novel is one of the few books that I genuinely regret reading. There is simply nothing to take from it but utter hopelessness.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A Poem: Words

Unfortunately I've been too busy this week to work on any of my various writing projects, but I have just about found time to throw together a poem. As always, notes are below, and here's the poem:


I send out words, mercurial messengers
Into the silence on paper wings
To tell you so many things.

I hear your words, leaves on the breeze,
Blowing to places new,
Memories of you.

I send out words, an army ‘gainst the world
To the field of battle; a page so white
Arrayed and ready to fight.

I see their words, a wall of derision,
Blank and faceless, unquestioning glares,
Accusing strangers’ stares.

I send out words, a ship to the stars,
To travel a world away
And say what I can’t say.

The words come back, a dream to far,
Echoes from across the dark
Too cold to hold a spark.

I send out words, a part of myself
To show you what I cannot be,
A lying portrait of me.

Words to a mirror
Words to a wall
Words for my own world
And words for us all. 


Poet's Notes: 
- There's not an awful lot to say about this one; only that the stanza structure is something a little unusual for me, being far shorter than I'm usually happy with. However, I think it works, especially with the first 6 stanzas essentially functions as pairs, a call-and-answer of words spoken and returned. 

As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to comment. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


For the first time in a while, I've written something without any kind of brief, as I'm still hooked into the story of Corporal Smith's journey across the Western front to the Somme. To my mind, this chapter pre-dates the other World War One work I've written, all of which can be found here. I think it speaks for itself, so I'll leave the introduction here and get to the story. As always, notes below:


The cell was a cold grey, the evening light casting long shadows of the bars that stood between the condemned and their final sunset. Too high to reach or see out of, all one could do was stare at that fading glimmer. The floor of the cell was a hard concrete, the grey stained by all manner of horrors. In the far corner, there was a puddle of still-drying blood, the stench of which filled the room; a final reminder of why he was here.

Smith’s shoes made a sharp click-clack, click-clack, shattering the silence and making every step a gunshot, echoing off the white walls, a never-ending cascade of noise. From somewhere nearby, he heard a voice raised in pitiful cries. The screeching and clicking folded together, the entirety of this place summed up in a few simple sounds. Madness, suddenness, silence. Even when Smith stood still, the noise circled round and round in his head.

Searching for something, anything to take his mind off the cacophony, he found his gaze irresistibly drawn to the deranged scrawlings that littered the wall. Some were indecipherable, some other language real or imagined, some were purely illegible, the tortured minds that produced them unable to remain sane long enough to form words. But a few were all too real, a name here, a prayer there, a date and a place and another date and here; the only testament these men would have, their own eulogy spilled across the walls, written in chipped plaster or red blood.

“Ah, you’ve arrived early, Smith.” Smith whirled, the voice that knifed through the silent echo chilling him to the bone, the upbeat tone at odds with the severity of its surrounding. Smith regained his composure without missing a beat, saluting crisply. “Well then, let’s not waste any time. I’m afraid we’re a little short of staff here, so you’ll be guarding the prisoner tonight, if you wouldn’t mind. No chance of escape, of course, but they tend to go a bit mad on the last night. Understandable, I suppose.”

Smith let the sergeant continue the monologue, feeling his fists clench and something in his stomach squirm. Everything about this man was jarring with this place; he was smartly dressed amidst the untidy scribbling, he stood straight where so many were broken, his voice rose crisply over the screaming from the other cells. After some time, the speech ended, and Smith was shown to the door of the cell, where he began the long, slow wait. 


It was midnight where the sobbing started. The walls muffled the sounds just enough that Smith could still hear them, each wracking moan and wordless cry came to him, as if from far away. Occasionally, he could decipher whole words. Home. Mother. Die. Why. Names broke through to him, meaning nothing, only echoes of people he never knew.

After an hour or maybe two, in which there had been no peace, the noise finally stopped, the silence just as haunting. There was a dim shuffling from inside the cell, and Smith knew it was coming closer. He felt the inevitable knock on the wall behind him, and moments later, the voice.

“Come on. I know ye’re there. Wouldn’t leave me wit’out a guard, would they? Just talk to me. Just talk.”

Smith was paralysed, unable even to breath. If he remained still, silent, then perhaps the prisoner would give up. Perhaps he would forget who he was calling out to, or slink back into the silence, and Smith could go back to pretending he didn’t know why he was here.

“Just talk.” Came the voice again, hollow and cutting, reaching down to the very fibre of Smith’s being. How could he ignore a dying man’s wish? Was he that inhuman? He knew it was stupid; in six hours he would be killing this man. But somehow, he just couldn’t ignore him. He couldn’t speak, either.

“D’ya know why I’m in ‘ere?” the walls whispered to him. He gave no answer, but the prisoner somehow knew he was curious. “Disobeyed orders, didn’t I? Mad ‘McLellan, not doin’ as ‘e’s told. Mad, mad McLellan.” The voice gave way to a high-pitched laugh, which seemed to tear out Smith’s insides and rearrange them in a grim parody of a human. Every word, every syllable, and both of them became closer to being animals.

“Told ‘em their war was bloody stupid, din’t I? Wouldn’t go over, would I? And they called me a coward. Hahhahahaha! Me, a bloody coward! And yet ‘ere I am, facin’ death with no way out. So when you’re out there, tomorrow mornin’, linen’ up yer shot, just ask yerself: Who’s the bloody coward now? Who, eh? Who?”

The last word was screamed out, shattering whatever was left of Smith’s resolve. The madman knew his piece was done, and slunk back to the silence, his scream becoming a mutter as the night wore on. Mad McLellan’s words went marching through his head for hours, and eventually, only one thought remained.

Mad, mad McLellan, the man who wouldn’t fight, was the only sane man he’d seen since London.


The morning light was cold and harsh, the rain becoming ice and making the footing treacherous. Smith picked up the rifle and marched into the courtyard, where McLellan stood upright, tied to the wooden pole in front of the stained grey walls. Smith didn’t need to see through the bag to know he’d be grinning, knowing that he had the last laugh over his executioners, who now formed a line and stood ready. Smith noted with some sickness that, apart from his own, no hand trembled on the rifle. These men were executioners, cold and ruthless.

“Firing squad. Ready.”

Rifles came to shoulders, Smith moving as one with the rest of the men, doing his best to do anything but think. It was no good.


The air was silent, their breaths wisps of cloud taken on the wind, the gentle breeze ruffling the king’s flag that Smith could not take his eyes off. The seasoned executioners adjusted their aim, turning this brutal business to an art form. Smith’s own weapon wavered, pulled left and right by the burning desire to miss. McLellan stood a little straighter, defiance incarnate.

Who’s the coward now?


Author's notes: 
- This piece is based on a very real place and setting; on my visits to Belgium I've seen a prison cell and execution range very similar to the ones described here, and it was genuinely a chilling experience. If the description of this setting is at all like I think it is, I hope there is a real sense of that in this piece. 

- One idea I was playing with when writing this was that Smith took on this role of executioner to 'save' Robson from it. In the narrative I'm developing here, there's an interesting dynamic between those two characters, with Smith doing what he can to protect Robson's innocence in the hell of war, while Robson is constantly trying to achieve the 'glory' he signed up for. I'll leave that there, as it's something I want to play with in another piece coming up soon. 

That's all for today. As always, thanks for reading and feel free to comment. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Who Art In Heaven?

I've completed another writing exercise, based around a character who finds themselves entirely loveless and alone.

Who Art In Heaven?

He awoke in total darkness, something cold in his hand, something heavy across his face, something sharp at his throat. Unable to move, he simply waited for enough of the feeling to return, aware only of the soft drip, drip, drip of the rain at the window and the howling of the wind through the bell tower’s open windows. Somewhere, a clock struck midnight.

Midnight. It had been no later than eight when he had relented, had conceded the sermon unwritable and reached all-too-eagerly for the bottle that now weighed his hand to the floor, and whose contents rendered him unable to think. The sin, so small, had been so easy.

Slowly, in time measured only by the raindrops, he regained feeling through his body and was able to reach up and paw desperately at the thing that lay across his face. His free hand reached it, clawed at it, felt the leather cover and instantly muttering a prayer for forgiveness, irreverently shoving the Bible’s dry pages from his face before his tears could wet them.

His hand then went down, seemingly of its own accord, and seized at the cold, sharp metal on his throat. The four limbs of the crucifix all seemed to spear him, each a reminder of a vice too distant to recall. He had wronged, and this was all he knew.

Climbing slowly to his feet, leaning to the oak desk for support, he allowed the chilled midnight air to blow through him, awakening, energising, bracing. All the while, prayers flew from his lips, prayers of forgiveness and protection and confession. Words uttered silently and carried away on that same wind that blasted through the church.

After he had recovered enough to walk, or rather stumble, he found himself drawn to the wooden door that opened to the tower, and then on and on up the narrow winding stairs that looped upwards for what seemed like for ever. He stumbled on the seventy-fifth step as he remembered doing before, steadying himself on the stone wall for a minute before going on.

The steps slowly became steeper and eventually spilled him out onto the belfry, into the full force of the midnight storm. Through a break in the clouds a narrow band of stars peered through, but it was a pebble against the tide, and all-too-soon swallowed up. Below him, the town lights were a sparkling vista; the soft yellows of muffled houselights, the orange glow of streetlamps, even the blue flash of a siren tearing the night apart was strangely captivating.

He looked out over this view, and only after an age did it become apparent why he stood there, soaked to the bone, storm-tossed and unthinking. This was what he had dedicated his life to. His eyes traced the path of the siren, as it chased down one street and through the next, before coming to halt at the scene of an unseen but ear-shatteringly loud altercation.

Closer still, he could see two late-night partygoers, staggering back home, faces beneath hoods illuminated and fading in the cigarette glow. A car swerved dangerously towards them, the icy road taking control, and a withering fusillade of abuse was returned. The driver merely dimmed his lights and continued, but not before countering with a curse of his own. He recognised the voice from the Sunday congregation, he would sit on the front left of the hall, his lips barely parted in song.

These people, who could stand before him and say their prayers and beg forgiveness leniently granted, were godless. Every time he looked deeper, he became more convinced. The two walkers passed a man begging change on the street corner, and only a still-burning butt was casually thrown his way. The voices near the siren raised, and again he knew them, their words transplanted into hymns in the back of his mind.

And if they were so lost, what purpose did he serve? To grant them the true forgiveness they would squander daily? No, that was The Lord’s role. To provide a channel for them to be heard? No, their voices raised, whether in prayer or blasphemy, would accomplish that. To turn a blind eye that their sins might be forgotten? No, for God saw all.

All he could do was give them what they begged and wasted, for there was no other way. He had no choice but to forgive them that they might one day repent; he had no choice but to hear their lies, pretend they were sincere, and bless them in the name of a God that would surely not. He turned his face up at the storm, and began to call out, louder than the wind and rain, that he would be heard above it.

“Oh Father, have I not been your faithful servant? Have I not loved as you taught, and taught to love as you did?” He paused for breath, the wind snatching the air from him, and resumed. “Oh Father, have I not forgiven those who ask it, though they repeat their sins? Have I not prayed forgiveness myself that my sins may be absolved? Am I not your true servant?”

There was no answer, only the wind rushing through the belfry that threatened to take him, hurl him from the edge and down and down to the ground so far below. Rain became tears that fell in droves, and without thinking, his hand reached for the crucifix, the points digging deep into his palm and drawing blood. A second later he had torn it away and flung it from the edge, out into oblivion.

The silence, he concluded, was answer enough, and in that second, the terrible truth became apparent. It was him, not them, that had chosen the wrong path, and if God would not answer now, everything he taught and had been taught was a lie. And after that, there was no point to any of it. No God, no Heaven, no Hell.

For some reason, the thought was comforting. Because it meant what he was about to do was no sin, what he had done was not either, and that the only certainty was annihilation and an eternity of nothingness. With that thought etched into his mind like the Commandments on the tablets, he placed first one foot then the other on the edge, and waited that long wait for the whistling wind to whisk him away…

Author's notes: 
- The first thing to be said about this piece, that also applies to everything I write, is that there is no agenda to it beyond telling a compelling story. I do not mean to criticise the concept of religion nor argue against it, simply to capture this scene in writing. 

- The brief with this one was to create a character who is without love, despite being loving themselves. While at first glance this appears to be the priest, I suppose it could also refer to God depending on which way you take the ending. Quite a lot of this piece, including the title, is deliberately ambiguous, so I will avoid explaining it too much; I'd rather you draw your own conclusions. 

As always, thanks for reading.and feel free to leave a comment.