By Adam Byfield
Key Themes: short stories, depression, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, fiction
'Nine Stop Trip' is Adam Byfield's collection of nine short stories which he has cleverly spun into a single, cohesive piece of work describing his journey through depression and recovery. As you'd expect 'Nine Stop Trip' contains nine excellently written and imaginative short stories: Some of the highlights:
Beauty - A suicide note relates a story that is both dark and strange while critically echoing popular culture's attitude towards beauty.
Time To Reflect - A secret diary gives the reader a snatched glance into the world of a madman.
In The Picture In The House - After receiving a bizarre photograph in the post a photographer is compelled to hunt down the picture's setting, no matter how much it may cost.
Deepdowngone - An individual struggling in their own life escapes more and more into their hobby, the 'cut-up/fold-in' style of literature made famous by William Burroughs, but the pastime quickly becomes a crutch as emotional expression gets harder and harder.
About the Author
Adam Byfield is 28, currently works for the Leeds City Council's Refugee & Asylum Service and is Vice Chair of Amnesty International Leeds. He also holds a masters degree in physics and astrophysics but writing is his real passion. Adam has experienced clinical depression since his early childhood but this was not officially recognised until a couple of years ago when a GP diagnosed him as having a 'chemical imbalance' in his brain. Having always refused medication (and the side effects that accompany the pills) Adam has instead received counselling from both voluntary community organisations and the NHS. Adam feels that this counselling, and his writing, has made real difference.
The familiar soft sound of post slapping onto the mat drifted down the dusty hall and up the sleeping stairs where it found its listener. Lying warm and almost unbearably comfortable amid sheets and pillows the one man audience opened blurry eyes and stared at the ceiling, pondering what may now await him on the floor below.
A list of wonderful possibilities arose through his slowly broadening consciousness. As reality slowly drew him further away from sleep, however, common sense began to revise and edit this list. Sighing he had initially thought of what should be downstairs on the mat, namely opportunity, luck and/or fortune. Then, with a stretch, a minor chilled grabbed at his naked stomach and prompted thoughts of what could be; demands, bad news, forgotten problems.
Swinging his legs out of horizontal warmth and into the cool morning vertical his now fully awake mind rested on what he knew was really down the stairs and along the hall. Nothing but veiled tricks, unwanted information and various other wastes of paper. Carrying this grey view he ambled through his morning routine which culminated, some thirteen minutes later, in breakfast with the ever hopeful examination of post.
Five pieces hung from his right hand, awaiting the justification of being read while he poured the riskily matured milk over his cereal. The first two were dismissed unopened as their envelopes showed them to contain credit card application forms. A pile for the attention of the kitchen bin was created beside the empty milk bottle.
The third piece was a brown envelope with a window and so instantly went onto its own, ‘later’ pile. The fourth was plain white, a slightly different shape to the others and strangely smooth. Leaving his spoon to its milky bath he eagerly tore into this possible opportunity, luck and/or fortune. As soon as the corner of the enclosed letter became visible, however, he knew that this piece too was destined to lay with vegetable peelings and egg shells. Annoyed at having his hopes raised and feeling a little stupid for allowing them to be, he tore rashly into the final envelope.
So rash was he, in fact, that the contents leapt spitefully from the brown paper only to float gracefully beneath the kitchen table. After a string of grumbled expletives and the groan of his chair as he pushed it back a hand appeared under the table. Minimal groping time later and his fingers happened upon what had fallen from the envelope. Frowning, he sat back into his chair and unfolded what appeared to be a piece of shiny white card. It had been bent roughly in two so as to fit into the envelope.
Flattening it out he realised that it was in fact a large colour photograph. Glancing around and examining the remains of the brown envelope he could find no accompanying note or caption. His milk and cereal forgotten, left to form a new single mass within the bowl, he felt the thrill of something different captivated him as he studied the photograph. The scene was indoors and slightly disturbing in its apparent journalistic style. A middle aged woman wearing an apron was charging towards the camera wielding an axe, two handed, over her head. Below the axe her light brown hair stood in frozen swirls suggesting that the unkempt bun atop her head was about to fall.
Her mouth and eyes were wide and it was the reality of her expression that made the observer uncomfortable. The light that reflected up from the gloss surface of the photo seemed to carry with it an echo of pure hatred and unrestrained malice. The photo itself almost seemed to vibrate slightly with the sheer force of the violence captured in that moment.
The woman was framed by an open doorway through which she had obvious arrived at some speed. It was possible to make out enough of the room beyond to note that the décor seemed to be in keeping with that of the foreground. Dark wooden panelling and antique furniture suggested that the house was rich in both age and material wealth. In fact, minus the crazed axe woman, the house appeared to be a sleepy stately home.
Having stared into the manic face and examined its surroundings he realised that he was enjoying the discomfort the photograph stirred within him. The subtle unpleasantness and creeping dread that seemed to give it unnatural weight thrilled him. A vague sense of danger quickened his breath and suddenly he felt he was actually living his life, instead of just watching it, for the first time in a long time.
His newfound connection with his environment was quickly broken however as he glanced over at the clock. Each movement of the second hand was as the crack of a whip now that the minute hand had moved beyond the hour and he was late for work. Quickly arranging the photograph and most of its envelope in a pile of their own he left the kitchen and then the house.
Over the next two weeks he returned to the photograph several times, studying it anew and trying to familiarise himself with every detail and nuance. The power of the scene had lessened very little since that fateful morning, and that first glimpse had planted a seed of desire that had cut through the boredom that swamped his mind. This once instant held so much passion and energy that he longed to know of the moments fore and aft. So many blank labels hung from the image demanding names, motives and consequences.
He had placed the photograph and envelope into a larger envelope to keep them safe and together. Within this envelope they lay quietly next to a single sheet of paper that bore a list of names.
Each time he removed this piece of paper from the envelope he felt a little ridiculous. The day after he had received the photograph he had examined the post mark on the envelope and then, using his road atlas, made a list of the stately homes within that area. It was only upon completing the list after a very satisfying hour of work, that it occurred that the photo of the house had not necessarily been posted anywhere near the actual house.
Still he was compelled to interrogate his life’s most interesting parcel for clues as to the incident caught so graphically, and apparently for his benefit, on film. Frustration, however, at his inability to make further progress began to interfere with the experience of viewing the photograph itself. It was at the end of these two weeks that he put his project in a drawer and left to visit his family for the festive season, determined not to think of it again.
He proceeded as planned until the latter half of Christmas day when he found himself sat around the extended table with his extended family. Wearing a paper crown he extracted the rest of what his cracker had to offer. A small plastic elephant and a folded piece of paper presumably carrying a joke were his prizes. Arching his arm over his bright green crown he scratched his head in a rather simian fashion and drank the rest of the wine in his glass.
After a precarious refill operation he turned his attention back to his joke. His fingers seemed too big and thick to open the small folds of paper and once he had the revealed writing was blurred. A moments concentration brought the letters into some semblance of focus.
Q. “What do call a dead photographer?”
A. “Anything you like, he can’t hear you!”
He dropped the slip as if it were red hot. A single gasp of air seemed to wash any stupor instantly from his system, leaving him cold and still. The joke had fallen face down onto the even whiter tablecloth and he couldn’t bring himself to touch it again to confirm what he was sure he had seen.
After a moment he looked around quickly, wondering if any of his relatives had noticed his reaction. Everyone seemed to be quite merry in their own conversations and/or consumptions with exception of his young nephew. Sitting directly to his right, his nephew had only recently started attending school and was looking at him with two great question marks for eyes.
“What was in your then?” he asked the boy, motioning towards his cracker. Still considering his uncle with suspicion he began to empty his own cracker remnant. After the discovery of a hat, followed by the trading of hats, the boy seemed to have forgotten his uncle’s strange reaction and was eager to enlist his help with the reading of the joke.
After a moments hesitation he was pleased to discover that his nephew’s joke was perfectly normal, very old and not at all funny. With relief he watched the young boy retrieve his final prize, a small plastic magnifying glass. He made some comment about not starting any fires which his nephew ignored, now engrossed as he was in viewing the world through the small plastic lens.
Turning back to his own place setting he expected to again be confronted by the rear of the offending joke however it was not there. The remnant of the cracker was also conspicuously absent however the plastic elephant still sat patiently, now alone on the plain of white cotton, hopeful of some attention.
His family members had cleared some of the debris from the table to make way for yet another course. A spark ignited at the back of his mind and suddenly the fear inspired by the weird joke didn’t feel entirely bad. He glanced to his right and watched the light reflect off the lens of his nephews new toy. A plastic elephant wasn’t going to be enough…
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