About the author

Penny Dreadful was born 1971 in Madagascar, and immigrated with her parents to the UK in 1984. In the early nineties she became an underground legend as an urban traceuse, and rose to iconic status with the explosion in popularity of parkour at the end of the decade. She approaches Le Parkour as a sport, as a philosophy and as an artform. When Dreadful began writing with intent at the age of 21, she continued to apply the philosophy of parkour to her writing practice, as she applies it to her everyday life.

For to practise parkour is to seek fear on a daily basis, to confront it head-on, to face it naked and alone. In parkour, you are stripped to your essence.

— Châu Belle-Dinh

Episode 1
[woman : first person : bird of paradise]

So there’s a stinking bird of paradise preening its dead self on my kitchen table.
Fuck, I wish Sam would stop giving me shitty goddamn flowers.

When I walk in the door with sore feet and my eyes feeling like they’re bleeding from the cold, a cadaver of love is the first thing I see. Dying in its stagnant water, brown and gelatinous around the edges, there’s a dense sweet smell of rot if I lean in close enough.

The head is dried stiff but vaguely curled in on itself, like a duck ducking her head beneath a wing. Droop. Her colours are rust, burgundy and bruise purple.

I dump my bag next to it and go straight to the bathroom. One of these days I’ll find out toxic shock syndrome is actually real. I’m pissing and counting on my fingers the number of hours since I last stuffed a tampax up there. With a wad of toilet paper I grope around for the string, pull and drop the saturated cotton bullet into the toilet bowl.

There’s a banging at the front door and I’m pushing up another tampax, pulling up my pants, rinsing my hands, flushing, checking my mottled chicken-like face in the mirror…

Episode 2
[female : eczema : hand job]

– Well jesus, don’t try to keep it alive or anything will you? A little water wouldn’t have gone astray. She’s already sat herself down at the kitchen table.

– Sam, I just don’t do flowers alright? Same way I don’t do dogs. Or cats. Or pet fish. What are you doing here anyway?

She shrugs at me. – Wanna get dinner?
– I have plans already.
– What about a cup of tea at least?
– Fine.

I go to the cupboard, nothing clean, everything piled as usual in the sink. I’m running the water too hot and scratching the scum from the bottoms of two coffee mugs with my fingernail. I hear Sam getting up from the table and then she’s rubbing up behind me, her hands on my shoulders, her stomach pressing into the small of my back. Hair is pulled back and away from my neck and then her lips and tongue are there…

– Y’know that’s what I like about you. She’s growling in my ear, her tongue and breath sausagey. – You just go ahead and let the flowers die.

Her hands move down my arms and make the simultaneous and stealthy leap onto my stomach, heading south and sneaking beneath the waistband of my grandma briefs.

– Get off. I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. No hand jobs.

She sighs, backs away and sits back down at the table. Silence.

I twist my head and she’s scratching away at the raw flesh that crawls from her inner elbow up into her armpit. I don’t understand her eczema. Sometimes it’s non-existent. Then there are random patches seemingly unrelated to diet, stress or weather. Other times her body seems to take on an entire new skin, rough and red, and then proceeds to shed it slowly. Like a lizard.

I turn around fully to face her and ask. – What?
– Got to tell ya something.

And she tells me to give her a cup of tea first. I do.– What?
– I’m pregnant.

Episode 3
[physical fight/alien involvement: supermarket : food for foreplay]

Sam’s in pursuit but she was delayed by me locking her in my apartment and piling garbage cans in front of the main door.

What do I need for this evening? Eggplant. A couple of tender steaks. Brussel sprouts. Wine. Fuck, she’s got me all confused. Can you eat eggplant with steak?

I leap swiftly from street to sidewalk, I’m a full block ahead of her not slowing down. A sharp right into the supermarket. I’m two aisles in, still breathing heavily, when I hear my name. – Look, can we at least talk about this?

I run at her with my trolley and with a heavy thud ram her right in the stomach.

– Fuck! she yells, bending over. She grabs a can of refried beans and hefts it at me. I duck and reverse my trolley for another run-up. She’s turned away from me, still doubled over, trying to make her escape.

I break into a run again and catch her in the ass and hook the back of an ankle. She falls to the ground and I swing myself past and launch onto her. I grab at her hair, lift her head and smack it into the cool pale floor.

– You fucking bitch!!! She’s kicking up her legs and one catches me in the spine, the other wraps around my calf and twists. We roll and she’s on top of me but all the better and I throw a punch into her face, scramble up and make a run for it. She catches up to me in the frozen produce aisle. I chuck a bag of chicken thighs at her, she’s throwing herself at my waist like a goddamn rugby player and we’re on the floor again.

She’s trying to stuff a bag of peas into my mouth. I swing an arm and catch her in the ear with a bottle of iced tea, all the while thrashing like an eel on a riverbank.

All of a sudden she’s stopped moving and is looking up and straight ahead. I twist my neck, letting the peas fall out of my mouth. There’s a tall slender blue green creature standing over us. He has long fingers just like ET and a horned spine that stretches into a twitching tail. His eyes are hollow black pools, eyelid-less. He reaches a hand out towards us, the fingers groping expectantly.

– That child will be mine. It’s a sweet voice he has, and something like a little old man.

His hand is on Sam, she’s sitting astride me, mouth open and eyes closed. His hand crawls down her trousers and Sam murmurs but remains still. I see her stomach bulge and roll like the skin of an ocean and the creature is withdrawing his arm then hand that gently clutches a small wet red something. He bows and turns away.

I’m back at my apartment, four hours later, with a 2-year ban from my local supermarket, short $180 for damaged goods and steaks and potatoes from another supermarket ten blocks further away. Sam’s nose has stopped bleeding but is red and her mouth and right eye are swollen. I approach her with one of the cold raw steaks and press it gently against her mouth.

I move the steak to her eye and kiss her mouth gently. – I’m sorry Sam.

Her hand has moved to the pot holding the freshly mashed potatoes, she grabs a fistful and ripping open my shirt she rubs them over my breasts. – You should be.

Episode 4
[palm reader : basic subtraction : knickers off in the back of a cab]

She’s attractive in a gypsy folk type way. Her dark curls are barely restrained by her scarf. Her skin glows chocolate-rich and her eyes are sombre pits of serpents waiting to be awakened.

The sleeping serpents look at me. – You’ve misplaced a foetus.

– Yes! Sam shrieks from behind me. I whip around in my chair.
– Ssshhh!! It’s not your flippin’ turn!

– You need to get it back. Her tone is severe. – You will become pregnant seven times. However, three of your pregnancies will not make it to full term. So… seven minus three…equals four. You will have four children.

– It was Sam who had her foetus stolen by the alien, I interject.

– I know that! Don’t you know that I know that? The serpents in her eyes writhe. – Now, your time is up so let me summarize the situation for you as it stands at this moment. It is in your best interests to retrieve the foetus. The battle against the aliens will not be without blood and suffering. Your life will be of average length, about that expected of a Caucasian female residing in the Western world. And the four children. That’ll be $25.

Later on after a steak dinner, I’m alone in a cab. At the lights I see a familiar figure on the sidewalk. I roll down my window and yell. – Harold!

He’s in the back of the cab and I throw my arms around him, kissing him like I want to tear his tonsils from his throat. His hands are under my clothes, pulling at my flesh, pulling at my knickers and I bend my legs one by one to flick them off. While I struggle with his belt with one hand I scour the floor with my other, attempting to locate my knickers so I can store them safely in a pocket.

The taxi comes to a semi-abrupt stop with squeaking brakes. We both roll and fall into the space between front and back seats. The taxi driver is craning his neck to find his passengers. – That’ll be fifteen dollars thanking you.

Episode 5
[geese : the smell of urine: bath time]

Harold is Sam’s twin brother. Identical twin. He breeds geese right here in the city and sells them to the city council, private parks, landowners, and the occasional English teahouse specializing in goose liver pate. Goose was traditionally the Christmas bird, he tells me. I met him and some of his geese in Prospect Park years ago. Geese are vicious. The top gander of the gaggle ripped a chunk of flesh from behind my knee when I ventured too close to one of his bitches. Harold was very sympathetic and skilled in tending to my wound. It wasn’t long before I met Sam. The three of us have been pretty tight ever since.

Lying in bed at 8 am I’m considering whether or not to fill him in on the whole alien theft of foetus business. Harold’s not really too good with danger though. Once in the park he was almost run down by a cyclist on a recumbent. He wet his pants.

I roll over to look at him. – That was some filthy sex last night Harold. You’re a very dirty boy you are. Filthy filthy boy. Who needs a bath? Is Harold a filthy animal? Is Harold a dirty dirty little boy? C’mon, it’s bath time honey.

I run the tub deep and hot and get clean towels from the airing cupboard. Harold has immersed his pale and freckled flesh in the water. I kneel beside the bath with a washcloth and gently squeeze water over his neck and shoulders. I circle his back and scoop in under his arms and then around over his nipples. Bathing Harold is one of my favourite leisurely activities. I move the washcloth low across his belly and feel his penis bobbing in the water, soft and weightless. He’s lying back, his head resting and his eyes closed. I cup his balls in my hand and see his mouth move in an almost smile.

Suddenly there’s a dark yellow cloud in the bath water and a stench rising with the steam that fills my nostrils. Hot morning man piss.

I whip my hand out of the water. – Harold!

Harold doesn’t even open his eyes, but smiles sweetly.

Episode 6
[battle against the aliens : Sam must die : toe fetish]

It’s a short trip to Gliese 581 which me and Sam have staked out the last few nights. Gliese’s is a bar slash lounge with optional spa and karaoke facilities and is regularly frequented by aliens.

11:37pm we leave behind a moon sliver and descend into the steamy depths.

Within minutes, drinks in hand, we advance on the table in the far corner, occupied by eight sweaty half-naked and glistening-blue muscular beings of outer space. Our culprit is squeezed into the round booth, shiny, simpering and the black pools of his eyes larger than ever.

– We’ve come for the unborn child,I declare. And no one replies. Self-appointed security aliens get to their feet, their whipping tails crackle through the tension. – We’re willing to negotiate, I continue. – We have access to other foetuses for you, special foetuses.

But our alien is giggling sweetly, wriggling sweetly in his seat. And something thumps the underside of the table. I duck my head and glimpse a girl. Human in all appearances, but for the wet yellow tongue that lopes out from between her teeth and encircles our alien’s long blue toes. As she looks at me she tugs on one of his toes with her mouth, then releases it with a wet pop.

I grimace. Still no alien has spoken. – Righto, and I pull the meat cleaver out of my pants and wield it fly swat style.

The battle that ensues is fast and furious.

Hissing blue, black engulfing holes, shape shifting snaking bodies. Their flesh is like rubber beneath my cleaver. Human gasps, hog-like squeals and blood splatters scarlet, the room motionless around us. The juice that seeps from peeled alien skin is merely a paler shade of blue. Pain in my neck, clothing rips, the slickness of skin on skin.

Silence. Sam lies bloody and sucked still at my feet. Aliens slip from the room and the echo of a killing remains.

Episode 7
[Christianity : green tea : religious influences]

The service is enough to turn me off all and any organised religion for another ten years. The weepers, the wailers and the stalwart wallowers. The dusky smell that pervades the pews and the solemnly perused hymnals, the smoke that clogs and cloys its way around and over Sam’s coffin.

Her family, with the exception of Harold’s clammy hands, dismisses me. There is a single bird of paradise near the head of the coffin.

The after party bores me and the food is abysmal. But one of the minor priestly types interests me. I follow him upstairs to the bathroom. He tries to shut the door after himself but I’m blocking it with my foot.

I miss Sam. But I imagine her watching me. And snickering. I have his pants down around his ankles and his robes shucked up around his waist. His penis is long and we haven’t made eye contact since we were downstairs.

I’m almost enjoying myself when he squeaks, gasps and grasps my shoulders.
– Stop. His voice is injured. – Please.

Apparently drinking seven to eight cups of green tea per day over a considerable number of months can lead to a persistent urinary tract infection.

I leave him sitting on the edge of the tub and make my way downstairs and out the front door without saying goodbye to anybody.

Episode 8
[will not see Harold again : motorbike : good old fashioned fisting]

I’m lying in bed smelling stale and sad, and I think I’ve been lying here for three days.

Sam and me were like the same person born into two different bodies. I knew her like I know myself. Hated her sometimes like I hate myself. We shared each other and ourselves with the rest of the world, always knowing we’d come back to one another.

I slap myself half-heartedly. – Stop being such a fucken pussy! It wasn’t like that at all! Sam’s voice won’t leave my apartment.

I roll over and mash my face into the pillow. It smells like unwashed body and stale breath. I want another toasted cheese sandwich. I contemplate which side to join in the battle to save the world from Evil: the vampires or the werewolves. What is, who is, the ultimate evil? And what positions do the aliens take? Bloody aliens. There’s now over six thousand different species present on earth.

There’s a statistic I like: “In one year, 4,380 Americans are killed by illegal aliens.” That was back in the early 2000’s. I think they were talking about Mexicans. Or Cubans. They had no idea of the real alien situation in store for them.

I haven’t had sex in over a week. I can’t bring myself to open the door or answer my phone. Mostly it’s been Harold I think but I don’t want to see him. I’ve run out of Jack Daniels. I want to be astride a motorbike on a rough open road somewhere in Bolivia. I want hot rumbling metal between my legs, I want to be drunk and high and fucked like an animal.

I can hear Sam sighing.

I had this girlfriend when I was seventeen. She was thirty one. She had four fingers inside me already, her thumb heavy on my clit, her mouth on my stomach. I’m trying to make eye contact with her as her hand turns and curls in on itself and suddenly I feel the ridges of her fingers against the walls of my vagina, and bumping up against the entrance to my cervix. My eyes have to close and my mouth has to open and the intensity of swallowing up this woman’s hand, her wrist, her forearm, has me groaning guttural.

Another factor defying why men are not yet extinct. The personality of this woman’s arm, the intimacy of her fingers, has never been and could never be matched by a cock.

My face is still in my pillow. It still stinks. I still want a toasted cheese sandwich. I’m still all out of Jack and I’m going to be here at least another three days.

And Sam is gone.

Episode 9
[Irishman : Transylvania : mile high club]

He has thick white gone-to-flab upper arms. I can’t bring myself to look down at his thighs. He tastes like bourbon and has trouble getting it up.

My ass is balanced over the tiny sink, one leg propped up on the closed toilet and the other grappling his waist. I’m trying to avoid kissing him and also trying to shut out his mutterings. – Fuck me whore, he could be saying, but I’m having trouble understanding his strong Cork accent.

I had spotted him four rows in front of me. The man with the deep gouges running the full length of both cheekbones. It looked as if someone had taken a chisel and mallet to his face. He wore filthy jeans that stopped too short above the ankle and a black denim jacket.

Oh well. Sam’s been dead almost six weeks. I quit my job at the music store, calculated my savings and final pay, sublet my apartment and decided to take an extended trip to Cluj-Napoca. The tickets were cheap and strangely enough I have friends living there. They own and operate a factory, designing and manufacturing gothic rock clothing.

The landing is slightly turbulent. We exchange email addresses.

And now I am a single fuckable tourist on the look out for vampires in Transylvania.

Episode 10
[hammer : cemetery : vampire sex]

I have been in Transylvania for six days, have visited six castles, six cemeteries, six churches.

Today, for cemetery number seven, I borrow Gabriella’s motorbike. Get a small bag of weed, half a sandwich and a book, all buried in pockets.

The day is gloomy, all greys and greens, with clouds that scud and crows that caw.

I am lying on the tombstone of a man who is not dearly beloved or remembered or father of, husband of, son of…

What would it mean to die alone? Peace and quiet I would like to think, gentle and without pressure or expectation of last words, last glances, last requests. But really, ultimately, it is probably lonely, desperate, horrifying. Am I scared fuckless of dying by myself? Yes.

The most beautiful being is suddenly lying beside me, cold like the marble and smooth, the palest creature on this earth today but with a mouth that is blood filled, lips swollen and eyes alive and green glistening, a smile of teeth that reaches my stomach with a bite and has me hopeful.

The arms around me are cool-blooded heavy cobra limbs. In this embrace I am returning home, to this wild animal in human form, with the voice of an ever-gentle but bloodthirsty demon. Tiger teeth bury themselves in my neck and I find myself smiling, feel the fledgling wings stir within my shoulder blades.

Riding home I have to swerve to avoid running over an oversized bloody and gristle-covered hammer lying in the middle of the road. Looking back as I slow slightly, I see the owner, wielder, climbing out of the ditch, his face a fury that has me swerving again, the blood on his clothes, his hands two giant rumps of lamb. He stoops to retrieve his hammer, I turn the throttle and don’t look back again.

Later that night in the warehouse homespace above the factory, we see on the news the Hammer Killer, on the run from police, taking out his victims by embedding his hammer in their heads multiple times. Apparently he is hunting vampires and leaves messages proclaiming god is requesting the killings.

Episode 11
[forget : children : rape]

I was with my vampire for sixteen years but I had to leave him. Rather I should say he had already left my heart.

Have you ever fallen in love?

Fallen as in you come up for breath with a busted nose and three broken teeth. You didn’t even see what rose up and caught your foot.

And then just as suddenly you are alone and bleeding, if you’re lucky maybe with some good friends and family who tell you the bruising is not that bad and in six months to a year you might have saved enough money to get your teeth fixed.

Fuck love. Not for me, no more. And fuck forgiveness as well. I’d rather just forget.

People always leave. There is no point trying to hold on to them. Like a child being dragged away from the beach by an angry parent, looking back, searching out the seashell with the secret world within it, discarded, dropped accidentally, crushed underfoot, forgotten, and there is no time, not now, come on, not ever, there is never going to be any going back.

We named our four daughters Claudette, Margerita, Zora and Banana. I banished television, computers and digital technology from within their grasp for as long as I could. They grew up beautiful, observant, intelligent and literary, albeit with a slightly socially retarded way of moving within the world.

My vampire bit Claudette and Margerita before they had even turned sixteen. Said he could not help himself and that they had taunted him with their virgin necks, seduced him even. Where was I?

How come Sam dies? And why is it my vampire love will decide to rape our own children? How come people shoot each other point blank to make them dead and to ensure they never ever breathe another breath. Why does one prevent another from ever seeing the ocean or feeling the wind on the stomach as it sneaks beneath their shirt?

The werewolves and vampires continue battling, the Hammer Killer has not yet been captured, we are running short of air and water and the Aliens land and they land and they land.

Episode 12
[suicide : alone]

I hear sirens, little woman rummaging through recycling put out on the street, door bangs closed, drunken voice then a sound high pitched that continues on and on with sporadic pauses.

Could it be a cat on heat, tail a-frisk, prance in step, bottom pursed and alert on the look out for love?

Or possibly the cries of a baby who has been yelled at to shut the fuck up seven times already and is abandoned behind another slam of door and a TV. turned up a little louder.

I am exhausted by the endless energy expenditure of love for any person. My daughters have left home, taking their pain and blame with them, and I live alone again.

Yesterday I passed a bodega with flowers spilling onto the sidewalk and I bought myself a bird of paradise and this time I put it in water.

While looking for a vase I also found the rope under the kitchen sink, yellow, frayed and funny smelling. There was nothing in my bedroom to attach it to, or in the living room. So in the kitchen I moved the table up against one wall, re-balanced the bird of paradise, made sure the dishes were all done and put away in their right places. Standing on a stool I threaded the rope through one of those rings on the end of a fat screw, one of three in a beam running across the ceiling, all there, I supposed, just for this very reason.

In my books I have written the names of my daughters, dividing them up as fairly as possible. Everything else they can fight out amongst themselves. Except for my dresser, which was my grandmother’s. I want Harold to have that.

So it is night time, my windows are open, the air is slow moving and balmy, I have told you that my present thoughts are with the cat on heat or the neglected baby. I know when people hang themselves they usually piss their pants, I guess shit them too, so I lay a thick quilt down on the floor under the stool and the rope.

I fashion two simple and sturdy running knots at both ends of the rope, running one tail end through the other to secure it tight to the screw, letting the other running knot dangle for now. I consider a final glass of Jack and a smoke by the window.

I haven’t written any note, all I have to say to anybody is I’m exhausted, I have no regrets and everyone seems to get by fine without me. For those sensitive about suicide I would tell them not to worry and that I am totally okay.

And maybe I would also remind you again that people always leave.