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Looking Up

by loz 

Posted: 14 June 2003
Word Count: 2832
Summary: Any comments welcome. Be honest, i won't be offended.

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

It is early morning, sunrise and Carl Flook, a 40-year-old redundant bachelor from Hemel Hempstead lies on his left arm squinting at the strands of light that flick through the blinds. Without moving he shifts his gaze urgently towards the alarm clock on his bedside table. In undisputable red digital font the clock reads 4.29 with a single red dot to indicate that it is a.m. rather than p.m. His mental and physical abilities sluggishly reassign themselves to the prospect of being awake and he starts to recall fragments of an idea he had the night before.
Carl kicks the plump duvet off his legs and sits slumped with tired eyes on the edge of the bed, waiting for the feeling to return to his hand. The sunlight finding him, he rocks himself up into an awkward, somewhat uncomfortable stance and is soon on his way to the landing at the top of the stairs. Flicking the light by the banister he decides to have a cup of tea before engaging in his usual morning cleanse. Staggering down the stairs his full memory returns to him and a smile of genuine warmth spreads across the tired man's face. Feeling mildly rejuvenated by this unusually jovial start to the day his steps down the stairs move from a sluggish drag to a cheery bounce.
Carl has no shoes on this morning as he descends the staircase, and the carpet flows softly under the flats of his feet; warm and giving, not quite new but fresh and almost as untouched. It is the kind of carpet that you find in houses where you are politely asked to remove your shoes in the hallway before entering. And Carl for that matter is that type of person too.
In the kitchen he makes tea swiftly and with little regard for either cleanliness or hygiene. He carries it to the adjoining living area where he lounges on a heavy looking leather sofa. Picking up the remote control he idly flicks on the television. A top of the range Panasonic complete with a vast twenty-two-inch screen and Dolby-surround-sound bursts to life immediately. Programmes that Carl does not recognise replace the morning's atmosphere, each one pouring forth from the box only to be rapidly replaced by each another as he absentmindedly taps away at the remote control. His thoughts are elsewhere this morning, on more significant matters, more immediate concerns, on his ingenious plan to be precise.
The plan is everything in Carl's eyes; it is outrageous, spectacular, wonderful and perfect in every way. He will not, under any circumstance be dissuaded or suffer any change of heart on the matter; it is already, he thinks to himself, a predetermined course of action that will be executed within the next few hours; and he is sure of this.
A sudden realization grabs him; an integral part of the plan has come to mind; the bag! He must locate the bag; without it the plan is nothing. Mania is now urging him to confirm these essential tools for the event he has planned and he scrambles from the sofa to the kitchen to find them. Ducking down into the cupboard under the sink he retrieves a rustling carrier bag and, back at the sofa, its contents are pulled out and placed carefully across a dwarfed coffee table. They stand there gleaming with pregnant utility; three aerosol cans of spray paint, one blue, one red, one yellow and neatly laid in front, underlining them is a four-foot length of deep brown leather, one inch in width. All items on display are perfect for the job intended, each one an integral part of the plan that is to be executed this very morning.


The day before Carl had been walking through town, caught up in the incessant amble of the shoppers around him. There appeared to him to be more and more people coming into town these days. Gangs of prepubescent thugs and thugesses moped through the shopping arcades, sprawling vulgar families barked ferociously at each other outside supermarkets and worst of all casual thirty-something cliques ambled nonchalantly in and out of cafe bars, chuckling into miniscule mobile phones, without care or regard for anyone in close proximity to them. And still the unrelenting surge of the crowd continued, engulfing Carl with his thoughts and urging him on into the core of the town, and deeper into the addictive depths of this ugly consumer world.
What troubled him the most about the scenario was not the sense of mania the crowd brought with it, but its own self-assuring right to occupy the town in this way. These shoppers were everywhere, clogging every crevice and extremity of the high street, some even clawed at the contributory roads that flowed from the heart of the town.

If I look up, he thought to himself, maybe things will lessen slightly; I am after all entitled as a human being to stop and look up once in a while.

Without hesitation Carl looked up, and there, directly above him was the bold eye trapping Marks and Spencer shop front, a sign that triggered little Marks and Spencer ideals in the minds of shoppers; still further up, and the rest of the building came into view. No signs, no invitations or demands of him, just the rest of the building, strangely hidden from the passing crowd and somehow unassuming as it slipped away, up into the greying sky. This level of the town was apparently not a part of the consumer society and so businesses saw no point leaving messages there; after all, people who were stopping to look up were obviously not actually shopping, now were they?

"Watch it mate!" rudely broke these musings and Carl realised that he must have been standing still, daydreaming in the middle of the pavement for some time. A fat, furrow faced man had bumped shoulders with him and was now drifting off into the anonymity of the crowd. Slowly, his senses floated up to the surface of things as the dreary drone of the shoppers surged painfully back into his ears.

I need to get out of here, he thought, I just need to get away from the High street, anywhere will do. Someplace away from this crowd, somewhere I can grab a moment's peace, that's all I need, a moment's peace.


Now, the aerosol cans are lined up like three small pillars on the frosted glass of the coffee table, and Carl is hunched over them deep in thought. Eventually he snaps himself reluctantly out of this daydream and carefully replaces each item on the table back into the red and white shopping bag from B & Q. Leaving the bag on the sofa, he makes his way upstairs to the bedroom, jams his legs into some jeans, and squeezes his torso into a dirty old t-shirt from the linen basket. He then wanders into the bathroom and limply brushes his teeth half-heartedly, his mind now focused solely on the plan.

This is probably going to be the single most important thing I'll ever do, he thinks. I will be remembered for this, people will know about me for sure; newspapers, television, maybe even a book or a film, who knows? Not the normal, boring old Carl Flook anymore though; not the hey-how's-it-going-but-I-can't-remember-your-name Carl Flook; no, this is the real, unforgettable, 'spectacular' Carl Flook with something 'important' to say for a change, the person I always hoped... no dreamed was there, but never quite managed to be before now. This is me. This is the real me.
Shit! What's the time? Christ it's 5.15, I've gotta go. Come on, come on, come on, come on. Right, grab some shoes... No, not the work shoes you idiot, the trainers. Right, okay then, back downstairs... Coat, Wallet, Keys... and off we go. Lights off, put the door on the latch and... Shit! The bag! I forgot the fucking bag, what an idiot.
Okay, got the bag, let's try again shall we; Right then lights out, lock the door and off we go. Thank fuck for that.


Carl had escaped the pressing crowd yesterday by ducking into a dinghy looking alleyway that ran alongside the Woolworth's store. He had waited there for some time, contemplating the lunacy of the passing shoppers. Standing there alone he felt like some sort of disfigured fairy tale beast; lurking in the shadows, cowering from the humans that danced moronically in the sunlight.

Okay calm down, come on now Carl, calm down and think for a minute... Okay, what now then, back to the high street? No, I can't handle that again, how about a quiet little wander through the back streets then? Yeah, that sounds good, take a wander, mooch about a bit wait till I calm down. Okay, Right, where are we then? Ah yes, the alleyway hmmm... I wonder where it leads though? Now, let's see; Albion street is at the back of Woollies, sooo... I should come out somewhere near the Blockbuster car park right? Hang on though, why am I trying to work it out? Surely the idea was to take an aimless walk around, I don't need to know where I am or where I'm going, surely that would defeat the object. After all, nobody will know what I'm doing, so they won't question why I'm there, right? Right! It'll be okay then, not a problem, just wander about a bit, see what happens, have a little think about things perhaps. Yes that's it; just mooch about thinking about stuff.
Okay, good now what shall I think about then?... Nothing. I can't think of anything. What about the graffiti on that wall there, that looks interesting? Yeah that's good, I saw a programme on telly about graffiti the other day; something about Street Artists I think it was. Yes, that's it Street Artists, they call themselves Street Artists; I can't help picturing a bunch of skin-heads in baggy jeans and hooded tops scrawling obscenities on the wall though. Just a stereotype I guess, but still, there you go.
That squiggle there, what's that all about then? Street Language I think they called it. Could mean anything I suppose; could mean "LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR", could be "GO FUCK YOURSELF", I wouldn't have a clue.
When do they do it though? I mean, do they just venture out in the middle of the night armed with a spray can and a Maglite? No, there'd be too many people about drinking and what not. They must do it in the early hours of the morning then, sunrise perhaps. Sounds nice that does - Sunrise. Just think, walking around these streets with no people, no noise, just the cold fresh snap of the morning in the air. It'd be lovely. I'd love to do that I would. And why not? Why couldn't I? I mean there's no law that states you have to be young and streetwise to be a graffiti artist. You don't necessarily have to be in a gang or posse or whatever they are. No, I could quite easily buy a can of spray paint from B &Q, set the alarm for... let's say four-thirty tomorrow morning, make my way back up here and... and what? What would I write, what message would I leave on that wall for all the world to see? It'd have to be something clever, something poignant even, but what?
I'll have a think tonight, come up with something that'll really make them think. Something that stands out, stops people in their tracks, makes them say, "Wow, look at that! Look at what he's done there."


The whirr and clatter of a milk truck dislodges the still air of the morning to such an extent that it serves oddly to heighten the silence of the town centre. The place is like a film set, absurd in its hyper-realness, devoid of people and electricity. It is as if it can only exist to be inhabited by the living. The high street is not so much dead without people but merely futile; a pointless folly. It needs interaction to complete its purpose, without which it is as good as dead; well designed and functional but dead none the less.
Carl has reached the entrance to the alleyway down which he began his detour the previous day; where he saw the graffiti that spawned the plan that now pervades his conscious. It is the reason he stands here now, clutching his bag and stepping precariously into the shadows.
Soon he is stood facing the wall. It is unchanged but made strangely ominous by his presence and the weight of his intentions. His line of vision swims from place to place across the brickwork fishing for the remembered patch devoid of graffiti and with just enough room for him to write his message.
He places the bag down calmly on the path, too calmly in fact; so calmly that if seen by anyone happening to pass by, Carl would appear anything but calm and relaxed.

Right then, deep breath and here we go. Select a can first, Red? Green? Blue?... Christ! I can't seem to stop shaking. My hand is slightly out of control. How stupid this must look. Come on Carl, pick a can, any one will do, just grab a can from the bag, man! Right then, got one. Which one is it? Red! Great, I thought it would be red for some reason. Anyway up to the wall now, come on, let's do it... Shit! What if someone sees me from up there? Up there in those flats and all those windows. There's fucking loads of windows up there! I didn't see them up there yesterday. Can't see anyone up there at the moment though. Just looks black behind each one. I suppose you'd be able to see someone if they were standing up there looking out though, wouldn't you? Yeah, it's too early, I'm just being paranoid, that's all. I'm sure there's no one there. Might as well get on with it anyhow. Right, let's just get the lid off this one and... Okay here we go then...
Fucking hell! What's wrong with it? Why's it not working properly? Try again, Carl...No, nothing. Fuck all. Just a big red cloud of paint coming out, hardly a mark on the wall. Am I doing this right? Holding it the wrong way or something? I know I'll check the instructions. Yeah that's it, Carl, check the instructions. Right then, here we are: "Francais", "Deutsch"... Ah-hah! "English", right then... Blah, blah, blah, blah, blaaahhh... "SHAKE THE CAN THOROUGHLY BEFORE USE."
Of course, what an idiot. Right then, let's try again then shall we?


Within approximately eight or nine minutes Carl's message is complete. The words "LOOK UP" are scrawled across the brickwork in dribbling red paint and a long blue arrow shakily sweeps over them before pointing up towards the top of the wall. Although not to the same polished standard as some of the other graffiti surrounding it, Carl is happy with his attempt, and after a short while spent admiring it, he collects the cans in the carrier bag and deposits them in a nearby bin.
Clutching the leather strap in one hand, he now proceeds to climb the wall, finding foot holds in the gaps left by missing or damaged bricks and using an adjacent lamppost to steady himself. The wall, some fifteen to twenty feet high, takes a considerable amount of time to climb, and once at the top, Carl has to sit for a minute or so to recover from the exertion.
The top of the wall is one brick wide and there is a slight lip of tiling running along the length of it two or three bricks down from the top. Just below this lip, at equal intervals of approximately three or four feet, there are black metal hooks protruding along the length of the wall, probably once used to secure cable of some kind or another. He carefully unravels the length of leather and ties one end of it tightly to one of these hooks. Testing its strength, he yanks down hard on it five or six times and then, sitting astride the hook, he proceeds to tie an intricate knot that forms a loop of some kind in the other end.
Checking one last time for onlookers, Carl gently places the loop over his head and pulls the knot, thus tightening it around his neck. He then shuffles on his buttocks a little way along the wall to his left, and pushes himself carefully off the edge. His body now hangs there, swinging slightly by the length of leather tied tightly to the hook in the wall; his feet and hands are limp with death, and his eyes, opened wide, hold neither vision nor thought.

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Comments by other Members

Armitag3 at 11:33 on 19 June 2003  Report this post
Mmmmm...."His body now hangs there, swinging slightly by the length of leather tied tightly to the hook in the wall; his feet and hands are limp with death, and his eyes, opened wide, hold neither vision nor thought."

Generaly i like it!!! just joke'n it's great!!
i had to comment the ending! i love it!!
to be honest this is what i want....i want to be able to write a strong story like yours!!

i have found new life in your story to try and finish mine!! and to make a perfect ending!! (i know it's not possible but i can still try!!)

well got to go!!
~_~ Armitag3

Becca at 07:45 on 21 June 2003  Report this post
Hi Loz. I loved the sentiment behind the story a lot and phrases like 'dwarfed coffee table' and 'Thugesses.' there's a lot happening here, but my feeling is it needs to be honed down a lot, edited I mean. It seemed to me there were lots of possible beginnings like 'This is probably going to be the single most....' Or 'Carl escaped the pressing crowd.'To be very ruthless I'd get shot of everything above 'The day before Carl had been walking through town..' It's very slow to start, you give us a lot of detail about him getting up etc which doesn't add to the story. I think there's a trust thing here, I think you need to trust your readers a bit more, know that they will get the picture just in a few sentences. We know early on he's an alienated man who is up to something. As a short story it needs to be snappier and leaner. You have some beautiful turns of phrase that get a bit hidden. If writing around a poingnant phrase is very simple it tends to highlight the beautiful bits, allows them to breath. This, I think, is something to do with pace, I feel you need to think about the rhythm beneath it all. Your man is going to kill himself; I don't sense that you are inside his head yet. There are details that don't serve the story, like what make of TV he has. There you are, that's quite a brutal crit, but I think it's worth really trying to get it right.
There could be a typo at: 'only to be rapidly replaced by each another...'

stephanieE at 16:51 on 23 June 2003  Report this post
Some really gorgeous writing here, with some gems of description to admire - you're obviously a writer that thoroughly enjoys words. I particularly liked the aerosol cans gleaming 'with pregnant utility' and the wall made ominous 'with the weight of his intentions'. Mmmm - great stuff.

However, (you knew there was going to be a however, didn't you?) I tend to agree with Becca that it's a tad over-written. For example, he 'limply cleans his teeth half-heartedly' definitely has one too many adverbs. (I'd keep the limply - it's more unusual). And yes, don't tell the reader - let them infer it for themselves. For example, your opening "Carl Flook, a 40-year-old redundant bachelor from Hemel Hempstead" sounds like a news report rather than a piece of creative fiction. More gripping for the reader if they pick up clues and - perhaps - arrive at the end of the piece with an image of Carl that matches your own.

So, if you can be sufficiently objective about your piece, and trim it down to say 1800-2000 words, I think you have a really strong story.

Good luck

loz at 21:57 on 23 June 2003  Report this post
Thanks for the advice guys, you have both highlighted areas i was concerned about myself in this piece. It's invaluable not only to have these concerns confirmed, but also to have suggestive alternatives to consider.

I'm not sure that this piece is important enough for me to employ some of your advice to in an edit but i will definitely take your critism on board with regards to future writing endeavours.



PS I know it's not contructive critism but, i'd just like to say how much i enjoyed 'Poisoned Chalice', Stephanie; it's superb!

Ralph at 08:40 on 26 June 2003  Report this post
If you're not considering editing this one I can't wait to see what else you have lined up. I thought this was superb, and I loved the way you juxtaposed the surreal elements of the less noticable aspects of a town centre with Carl's feelings of alienation. I really clicked in to some of your descriptions (the incessant amble of the shoppers, and the idea of the film set particularly). Simplified, this could be a very effective and moving piece.



loz at 09:20 on 03 July 2003  Report this post

Thanks for the compliments and yes, i do have some other things but they need radical re-working. Once i've dished out the money to join properly i'll be posting some more.

Out of interest, Ralph, what authors do you enjoy the most?


Ralph at 13:09 on 03 July 2003  Report this post
Hey Loz,
Glad to hear you're keeping at it. I'm looking forward to seeing some more.
If we're talking desert island books I'd have to go with Armistead Maupin and Jeanette Winterson. Maybe if I got a bigger suitcase Sarah Schulman and Jonathan Coe too. How about you???

loz at 10:52 on 04 July 2003  Report this post

Desert Island book, huh? Probably have to be Raymond Carver, Ian McEwan and Will Self. (And if room - "The Idiot's Guide to Survival on a Desert Island Armed only with a couple of Paperbacks")


Nell at 20:28 on 12 July 2003  Report this post
Hi loz,

Won't repeat the other comments, but I think this is worth editing, not only to see how good you can make it but to really hone your writing skills.

Some excelllent lines - '...made strangely ominous by his presence and the weight of his intentions.'stood out.

Keep writing and posting, best, Nell.

old friend at 21:43 on 20 September 2003  Report this post
Hello Loz,

I am not overfond of starting a story with the narrative setting the characters, the background, the pace and all this in the present tense. It can work and work well but there is the risk that you lose the reader very early on. It has a better chance if this narrative is short rather than long.

However far more important is to capture the reader in the first sentence, the first phrase or at least the first couple of lines.

I also had some difficulty with some phrases...'...of his feet; warm and giving, not quite new but fresh and almost as untouched.' Apart from deleting 'quite' I think you need to rethink this for the semi-colon stopped me, I wondered what 'warm and giving' referred to (feet or carpet?)also 'as untouched'. There were other parts that I am sure you could revise.

However I think that judicial editing - you becoming your most avid critic - will be of tremendous help for there are excellent parts and the idea is well developed with some first-class writing.

old friend, Len

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