Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A.J. Humpage - oh, the human horror. February Femme Fatale

February Femmes Fatales - 
February 23rd

A.J. Humpage's skill is in laying bare the bones of human discord, revealing the extreme horror that man - and woman - is capable of. She tackles taboo events of war and abuse, targeting the evil that lies in the hearts of the guilty, exploring too the excuses that are used to defend such behaviour by the individuals themselves but just as frighteningly, by their protectors and governments.

A mistress of sensory description Ally weaves though taste and smells, and also captures the unsubstantiated sense of intuition. Here, in Push the theatre of drug addiction is splattered with filth; the scenario is vile, the victims - tragic. I've already mentioned in a previous Friday Prediction my phobia of heroin addiction due to somewhere I worked for many years where I met both the unfortunate, and some wicked, wicked shites.

Ally's description of the pimp and his victims is spot on. I was always told heroin can't be smelled on users - but I beg to differ. It's a sweet, heady, sickly scent that sticks in your throat like malignant honey. I used to know before an addict even walked in the room that he/she was on their way. I can still sniff out them in the street.

Push is brilliant. It is disturbing, horrifying - a nightmare. Be prepared. I will have to tell myself over and over again not to dream about this tonight.

Push by A J Humpage

The walls gleamed with a strange kind of mucus; a sticky leftover stew gilded by the foul air. Dark, fetid handprints led a path down the silent hallway. The piss-tainted stench, caught by the breeze that rattled through broken windows, lifted from the cold floor and wafted through darkened, rat-infested passageways. Bits of paper and rubbish scuttled against the cool air, settled again.

Distorted reflections shimmered from corners.

A line of dangling light bulbs flickered in tandem. Bare concrete, cold like ice sheets, sucked the dim light from the narrow corridor as Danny parted the darkness and hunched forward, each footstep an empty echo that reverberated long after his presence had drifted into the shifting umbra. He turned a corner, focused on the thin shaft of light at the end of the hallway. The light wavered momentarily; a shadow moved.

He poked a sullen grey face around the broken doorframe. The muted glow from dozens of candles freckled his expression and highlighted every line, every blemish, every droop and every dark, shrunken vein.

A soiled, stale odour of unwashed skin and greasy hair found its way up his nose as he walked through the cans, bottles and cardboard boxes that littered the floor. His young prostitute, Tiffany, sat beneath the broken window while the dusk pressed against the jagged remnants. She swigged from a cider bottle, seemed at ease with his invasive presence, though he suspected that had more to do with her need for a fix.

He dropped onto the stained mattress opposite her, lit a cigarette. The candle flames invoked lithe shadows that flitted across her face, lightened the contours of her sunken cheekbones with irascible definition. Her eyes, just visible beneath the dishevelled fringe, looked like two ball bearings rolling around in an empty skull.

He reached into his coat, pulled out a small foil parcel and dropped it on the floor in front of her. ‘I want paying, so you better get out on the street tomorrow.’

She stared at the silver packet, mesmerised by the way it glimmered beneath the light, the way it seemed to draw her in beyond the gleam, beyond the superficial nature of it. It plunged her headlong into the darkness of want.

‘You had everything yesterday,’ she said, throaty, absent. ‘I’m sore...’

Movement in the corner caught his eye. ‘Tough. You better get me my money, Tiff, or I’ll sling the kid off the balcony.’

Tiff’s four-year-old daughter stood tiptoe in the shit-stained cot, blue eyes bright through a grime-riddled face. She cried out for her mother.

Tiff unfolded the silver parcel and emptied some onto a dessert spoon. She picked up a nearby hypodermic needle, drew up some water from a cup, released some over the powder.

Danny eyed the child, the result of the first time he’d forced Tiffany.

Tiff placed a lighter beneath the spoon, watched the mixture bubble. After a short while, she picked up the syringe and drew the liquid.

Danny looked at Tiff. ‘Suck it up, bitch. That’s good shit.’

The colour of night painted her skin as she turned from him; it withered against the quiet corridors in her mind as insipid eyes rolled back in her head.

He picked up the syringe, drew some of the discoloured liquid.

Tiff crawled forward, shuffled to the cot and picked up the girl. She returned and sat next to the window, scratched around the floor. She found a stale piece of pizza and handed it to the child.

Danny grabbed the needle, pushed it into his bruised flesh, leaving a small amount left in the syringe.

The child fingered the mouldy pizza, watched him.

He sat back, patiently waited for the illusions to creep in to spin their webs.

Time slithered around the room.

After a while, tall thin silhouettes oozed into Tiff’s imaginings, iced her dark eyes like a blackened glacier. She slumped back onto the mattress, but in her mind, she was dropping like an imaginary stone into an abyss.

The child looked up.

Sounds minced inside Danny’s head; how they swirled, spinning like a drunken, nauseous haze and setting him adrift from the darkness of reality. His head suddenly lolled and vomit spilled from his mouth in a thick watery stream. He gurgled and slumped onto the cold floor, embraced by the empty cans, newspapers and bile. His voice broke into a long laugh.

The little girl peered at the strange shapes across the walls. She pointed, spoke into the coiling darkness, her child speak lost to the motionless shapes on the floor. She slowly got to her feet. The tattered curtain above her billowed against the breeze from the window and cast a cold haze across her mother’s skeletal, fading features.

The child turned to Danny, watched his cold breath coiling from the bilious crust forming around his mouth.

She picked up the syringe.

An engorged silence pressed against her as though urging. The needle glinted in the light. The liquid inside moved about, fascinated her.

She crouched beside Danny. Remembering how her mother and Danny had done it, she placed her thumbs against the plunger. Her mother referred to it as medicine, to make people feel better.

She pushed the needle into the soft skin between Danny’s knuckles, pressed down on the plunger and watched the liquid disappear from the tiny tube.

It would make him better, she thought. The medicine. After a nice sleep.

She patted his arm, left the needle sticking out of his hand and went back over to her mother. She sat down and pressed a button on her toy and listened as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star played into the silence that crept through the corridors, the hallways, the open doors, the wretched abandoned rooms, the blackened staircases and the empty floors of the lonely, crumbling tenement block.


She watched as Danny’s skin slowly began to change colour - turning blue, then deathly grey - before eventually falling asleep in her mother’s stiff, cold arms.

A J Humpage has stories published in many anthologies like 6 Sentences, Pill Hill Press, Static Movement and many e-zines. She also writes articles and dispenses writing advice at She has completed her first novel and some of her stories and poetry can be found at


  1. Being the first to comment, I find myself without words coming from mind to fingers. My ex's brother was a heroin ;victim', this cuts so close to the bone it is almost an amputation. AJ, I stand back in awe at the depth of emotion you bring here and the cold heartlessness of your characters, which I know all to well are real.

  2. I went through such a range of emotion as I read this. Sorrow, frustration, anger, even relief (as awful as it sounds, the child has more of a chance now).

    Fantastic writing and some gorgeous descriptive lines (even if the subject matter is hideous). You've quite a talent AJ. I'll be rolling this over in my head for awhile.


  3. Oh so dark, and so detailed that I almost feel like I need to take a shower to wash away the grime. Well told.

  4. There wasn't a line in this story that didn't either move us along, enrich the setting or tell us more about these characters.

    Yes it's a dark subject to write about and too often people either cosy it, glamourise it or make it so nasty it stands out as being false. This was none of those things. It felt brutally honest.

    Even now writing this I can still see that child in the arms of death. The discordant nursery rhyme tinkling over a tight string note echoing down the tenement hallways is playing in my mind. I probably won't be able to shake the sound or the images today.

    It's a enviable talent to be able to effect another person through your words in such a powerful way. It's a talent you so obviously possess.

  5. Like Susan, I experienced a range of emotions. After years of watching "Intervention," I understand that it's a disease, but it's frustrating to watch, horrifying, disappointing. Then you took the "typical" addict fare and twisted it, added on layers of beautiful prose, and there it is. A dark, hideous gem. Well done.

  6. Thank you for the amazing comments. Wow, it seems to have had a profound effect on readers, which is always good. I know I've done my job when fiction invokes emotions.

    Tony, your comments have made my day.

  7. I found this piece both facinating and yet horrifying. It wasn't over-done or glamourised, but this is, I expect, the tragic reality that some people have to live (and die?) through day after day.

    It is a powerful account, well done AJ.

  8. I can't but echo what I've read above other than to highlight the one moment of ultimate tension that I felt as the child picked up the syringe. I was so freaking worried that the girl was going to take the "medicine", that it was almost a relief when she sent Danny over the edge.

    What a roller coaster. Awesome writing. Simply awesome.

  9. Fantastic, AJ! Loved it - heartwrenching, raw, the tension, and that beautiful finish. The best part of this is not the great plot, the acute realism of it, but the way you described it all, from how the drug bubbled to the filthy place they dwelled at to the somber reactions of the girl. Excellent work.

  10. I have to echo Chris, it felt like I was on a roller coaster of differing emotions. Dark and enthralling, and the description used was outstanding. I loved it.

  11. Read this the day it was published but only just been able to comment.

    A heartbreaking story, Ally. It was so well written it seemed longer because of the descriptive writing. It was intense and I found myself saying "NO" out loud when the little girl picked up the syringe. Very well done indeed.

  12. Awful and fascinating! And, oh, I´m sorry to say so but it feels so true. Such a nice, dark twist with the little innocent angel of death!


Lily Childs is a writer of horror, esoteric, mystery and chilling fiction.

If you see her dancing outside in a thunder storm - don't try to bring her in. She's safe.