Hope Mountain by Rhys Jones

There was a man stood by the stile at Hope Mountain. My mood must have been plastered all over my face because he said, “Cheer up, it might never happen.” 

I walked on, ignoring him. You see it had happened. I’d got into heavy debt, I lost everything, my business, my house and my marriage.

I came to a waymark sign and followed its direction up a path. I reached into my rucksack and gripped the rope inside. I heard footsteps, there was somebody walking towards me coming from the opposite direction, it was the stranger from the stile, he'd somehow got in front of me. I quickly moved off into the trees.

My noose swung in the wind. I’d chosen a tree next to a ruined wall, I sat on it as I prepared myself to do the deed.  That's when I saw the stranger approaching me. He looked from the noose to me and then casually picked up a rock.  I watched him but didn’t say a thing. 

“This is just a rock, on its own it's nothing,” he said, “but, together with all the other rocks it makes up this mountain. Every mountain starts with just one rock. Hope is the same, get one piece and then another, eventually you’ll have a mountain.” 

He handed me the rock, then walked away. 

I pondered his words as I put the noose around my neck and stepped off the wall. My feet dangled freely, the pain was immense and I instantly regretted what I'd done. I suddenly realised I wasn’t done yet, deep down I still had hope for the future, for myself. As I struggled to free myself I saw the stranger standing in front of me, he asked me if I wanted to be let down. I desperately wanted to say yes but the rope dug so deep into my neck, crushing my wind pipe, that I was unable to speak. All I could do was attempt a nod. I wasn’t sure he understood because my body had gone into violent spasms. This was the last thing I remember.

I must have passed out, but I woke up on the ground. My body, especially my neck, was in agony. The rock the stranger had given me was in my pocket. I wanted to thank him but I've never seen him again. I've kept the rock as a reminder, though. 

A reminder that there is always hope, even if it's just a small amount and it’s hard to see. Look for it and you’ll find it. Every rock is needed to make a mountain. Every piece of hope builds up towards a reason to live. So if you’re ever feeling low and find yourself in the area, take a walk up the mountain and come back down with your own piece of hope. And if you happen to see the stranger be sure to thank him for me.

Cartoon by Rhys Jones

Richard had bought himself a carton dog. It was very colourful and just the sight of it made him laugh. But it was also a nightmare to live with. The dog was called Tex, and Tex was a Cartoon Cowboy Dog. It wore a Stetson and carried around two comically large guns and was always chewing Tabaco and spitting everywhere. Richard suspected he’d made a mistake buying the dog almost as soon as he had got it home. 

At night Tex would keep Richard awake with the sound of spurs jingling and jangling and intermittent shouting of yeehaw. But it wasn’t until Tex stared to shoot up the house Richard knew for sure he’d made a mistake. A big one.  

“What the hell are you doing?” Richard cried.  

“I thought I spied me a varmint,” Tex said, then added, “help me track it down, I need you to be my deputy.” 

Richard rolled his eyes, “I’m trying to sleep. You can’t shoot my house up! Stop it or you’re going right back to the shop.”    

Tex holstered his guns, he spat out Tobacco coloured spit and eyeballed Richard, “Why you yellow bellied gutless turd. I’m not the one leaving, you are.”  

This wasn’t what Richard had expected when he’d got himself a Cartoon Cowboy Dog. He’d thought it would be good, funny even, a great icebreaker at parties and something to show off to his friends.  

Tex was a quick draw. It was over in a flash.  

Two gun shots blared and Richard was blown off his feet.  

He lay there in a pool of his own blood, as the life ebbed out his body he had just enough to time to think one last thing.  

Should have researched buying this dog a bit better.  

Walk by Robin Bell

Headaches, pulses in his leg, pain in his chest, a middle aged spread which was beginning to spread further, an escalating list of allergies, acid reflux and being generally unwell. 

That's what preoccupied, Alex, day upon day, and if he followed these thoughts to their bitter conclusion it always resulted in death. 

He'd decided to walk, to try to keep fit. Exercise didn't agree with him, it made him ache, he was sure that was the point but it wasn't for him. Dieting was a no go area too, he loved his food too much. 

So he walked, as much as he could, around his village. 

He crossed the road outside his house, onto a field which was overlooked by two mountains, the peaks of which were covered in snow. The grass was a bit muddy underfoot but he carefully kept his footing across it to a small pathway, covered by trees either side. The trees were bare, with no leaves, they looked dead, and Alex thought about how long they had been there, how long their roots delved underground.  

Alex came out from the narrow pathway and walked uphill and around the corner. A gang of children walked past, swearing and kicking a football.  

He walked on past the post office and around another corner to a small road. He had to step into the side a few times to let cars past, and he stopped at the bridge to overlook the train tracks. He smiled when he saw a train approaching in the distance and laughed as it tooted it's horn as it went under the bridge. 

Alex ran across the road to watch it ebb away into the distance on the other side. 

Alex then walked on. He liked walking, it made him forget about all his worries.

Mud by Rhys Jones

I eat mud.

There, I’ve put it out into the world, my secret. Not really sure when or why I started eating mud, I think I’ve been doing it most of my life. But I eat it.

In the morning I have a bowl of mud, lunch is a mud butty and then for tea I have mud and three veg. I mix that up now and then, like I might have mud and chips or beans on mud. In the summer I make and freeze mud on a stick. Mud is a large part of my diet.

You might be thinking that you can’t live on mud and you’re right you can’t. My love of mud is killing me, but I just can’t stop eating it. I love eating mud, the gritty feeling, the sloppy texture and how it makes me feel like a bad boy for doing something so wrong. Mud is great.

Society frowns on us mud eaters but I don’t care anymore. I eat mud and I don’t care what people think. Surly how I choose to live my life isn’t anything to do with you? So what if you think it’s weird, you’ll just have to accept that I eat mud.

It’s killing me, eating mud. But that’s my choice. I would rather die of doing something that I love with all my heart than live without it in my life, because to me that isn’t a life at all. That might sound stupid to you, and maybe you’re right, but what is the point of a life if it’s devoid of the things we love?

While you sit and ponder that, I’m going to go and have myself a massive plate of mud, and believe me when I say I will love every mouthful of it.

Shopping by Robin Bell

The world had been purchased twice over. Every item had been bought, there was nothing new. Ideas were obsolete. There was nothing else to be purchased. Food budget came straight out of wages, as did rent, taxes, bills so you only ended up with piddly shit amount of money anyway.

But that money did add up, and there was nothing to purchase. There were no shops anymore. No need. Everything had been packaged into monthly payments that came straight of your wages.

What could you do with your excess income? It was a real problem for the rich. What to do now shopping didn't exist.

Then, from out of nowhere, an entrepeneur thought of something that would actually sell. Something that people would be willing to buy back themselves.

Advertising started to appear 'Buy back the things you've lost. Particles of your life that drift away from you, the things you regret, that have been left behind can be bought back.'

People loved it, they spent every penny, whatever they had on purchasing their past, which in the end was just mounds of dust. Particles of human existence which had been left behind.

We'd do anything to consume, because we have nothing else. Even if it meant buying dust, we'd be there forming a queue, lapping it up.

Happy that the future is sold and the past can now be bought.