Mahmoud, The Human Bomb



Mahmoud, The Human Bomb

The humble headache. An ailment that for most can be remedied with a couple of pills or a few moments of quiet solitude. For some, however, a headache is the cumulative effect of life's wearying ways. For others, it's a familial malady, an unwelcome genetic heirloom. And for a very select few, a seemingly unassuming headache can grow into something altogether more sinister in its outcome.

For one such man, a headache was the beginning of a series of events that would test his mind, body and soul, until the very day he died.




Since the age of six, Mahmoud Ortuk had experienced a series of unusual neurological episodes. They began as photo-sensitive migraines that affected his visual cortex, manifesting themselves as subtle pulsating geometric haloes that enveloped his parents, school friends, animals at the zoo, trees, all vehicles and his beloved cat, Bobby.


For better or worse, young Mahmoud did not understand what was happening to him. Outwardly, he did not appear to be too perturbed by all the fuss and vague talk of his 'condition'. However, his subconscious was working very hard to make sense of it all.




One day, during a heavy downpour, a rainbow appeared over the city marshes near his home. Mahmoud, who was seven at the time, told his parents that he would use his 'super rainbow vision to locate the rainbow's end and bring home all the gold he could find there. He would then sell it to Monsieur Selles, a local pawnbroker, and use the money to pay for his grandfather to leave Lebanon and live with him in Paris.




By the age of 13, the intensity of these light anomalies grew much worse, causing his perception of the world to become a bright blur of rainbow colours. One day, the haloes overpowered him and he went blind. The diagnosis claimed psychologically repressed trauma when as a child, he had witnessed the brutal murder of his biological parents during a time of civil war in his home country.


"There's nothing physically wrong with young Mahmoud's eyes, Mr Ortuk. We believe...he is choosing not to see."


After such a traumatic event, Mahmoud and his family prepared themselves for a life of darkness.




Many months later, during a busy Saturday morning shopping trip in his local food market, he was struck down with an unusually severe migraine, collapsing from the strain of it. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. Upon arrival, he suddenly regained consciousness. After a brief examination, the doctors were astonished to find that he had somehow, miraculously regained his eyesight.


Neither medical specialist, Mullah nor relative could fathom what caused this astonishing reversal in his circumstances.


He later described the moment as a “brilliant coronal implosion”.




In retrospect, it would be fair to say that Mahmoud was as unlucky in his youth as he was becoming a man. His foster parents were exceptionally superstitious people, believing wholeheartedly, that he was born on the wrong day, in the wrong month, under the wrong star sign at the wrong end of the street - in that order.


Sadly, for Mahmoud, his adoptive parents did not believe that his troubles were over.




13 years later

St. Dennis, 9th arrondissement. Rue Madeleine.


A lack of sleep opens up parts of a person's mind not normally accessible.


“Paris no longer feels like home. It has become unfamiliar and unpredictable. A place where scattered dreams and nightmares co-exist like bad-tempered bedfellows.


I haven't slept properly for weeks. I feel so desperately tired, my extremities feel numb. Even my breathing has become coarse and laboured. Perhaps Paris is the reason for my malaise. Perhaps I can't sleep because I live in a cheap studio apartment in the red-light district, where the prostitutes and drug-users are unusually loud and raucous at all hours of the day.

Even if I could sleep, my delirium prevents it. I'm afraid to close my eyes, in case the nightmares come barging in. I can hear them, in the shadows and the walls...they snort the air in a disgusted manner whenever I pass by. At night, I can hear the coil of their wet writhing muscles, tainting the air with a raw and pungent smell.




“It's getting late, my stomach is aching with hunger cramps. Hunger makes me anxious because it means I have to go ‘outside.’ And the very act of moving through a busy crowd feels akin to wading through treacle.

Where should I go?! What miserable wonders await me?!


I tire of the predictability of my anxious thoughts. Of how I have become a slave to my fears and self-imposed routines. Of how I have become good at making myself as small and unnoticeable as possible. And it is because of these things, that I just quit yet another low-paid job this week. I've been through countless others, knowing each “Welcome onboard!” handshake won't last long because of what I am.


When I do eventually leave, it's never a difficult decision when fear drives your every action. It is, however, always under the cover of darkness and without explanation that I make my getaway. No one would understand or believe my reasons why. And, as the money starts to run out, I quietly vacate whatever rented accommodation I'm in, leaving bills and belongings behind under a false name.

 This is my wretched existence. I feel so, so low. I am worth no more than the shit on my shoe.


In this life, I have learnt things without asking for them. Beggars don't just ask for money to fill their bellies or veins, they want a normal life, just like yours. Religious salesmen aren't trying to get you to buy into their idea of salvation, they're only saving themselves. Long-term friends learn to fear you, then hate you.


I add these experiences to my Collection.“




8:35 pm


His slight physique wheezed its way out of the front door of his small apartment, sweating cheap vodka along the way. He flicked his spent cigarette into the gaping mouth of the stairwell and watched the firefly-like embers dance in the updraft. Then, without warning, everything went pitch-black as the hallway lightbulb went out.

Disoriented and fearful, he swayed violently in the sudden absence of light, lurching towards the nearby banister that seemed determined to evade his sweaty grasp. The sudden darkness was not due to a fault with the electrics, it was the shadows doing - thrown into a state of delirium whenever he was nearby, they overpowered the wiring causing the fuse box to trip.

They would then roam the dark hallways and stairs all night, avoiding the light spilling out from under people's doors, waiting for Mahmoud, for a way into his very special brain.


Pulling himself together, he waved his arms around, trying to dispel the buzzing horrors congregating about his head.


He flicked his Zippo on to find his way and staggered downstairs, angry and disorientated, holding onto the banister for dear life.


Once outside, he strained against the heavy outer door until it closed, and he heard the lock click into place. Feeling weak and decidedly fragile, he shut his eyes and covered his ears, preparing himself for the sensory onslaught just beyond his eyelids.


His stomach rumbled urgently, demanding he open his eyes and get a move on.


A million lights, noises, and smells invaded his aching brain. Cold air rushed into his wheezing lungs. Hot sweaty skin tingled at the touch of the outside world. Lightheaded, he staggered backward, steadying himself against the inner wall of the entrance.


Fighting the urge to retch, he closed his eyes and waited for his heart to calm down before launching himself into a tangled web of streets, thick with people cutting a path through the hazy neon gloom.


Staggering past steam-canvassed shopfronts and the filth of the streets, the overpowering smell of shishah smoke, cinnamon-infused pastries, grilled meats and sweating dates assaulted his nose, turning his stomach.


Cursing his poor memory, he stopped to look at the crumpled map in his hand, blinking repeatedly at the uncooperative lines and words that danced in front of his eyes. Bathed in the light of a pancake moon, he looked up for a street sign. He was standing at the beginning of Rue De Ville - not far to go now.


Sleep exhaustion suddenly tugged at him, causing his head to jerk back angrily, his waking mind fought hard to keep him awake as he staggered backwards into the road trying to steady himself. The screeching roar of a nearby tram, bloated with weary passengers, rumbled past, its bell ringing urgently to warn him of its approach as he jumped out of its way. Momentarily shaken, he paused, steadying himself against a lamppost before setting off again, head down, pushing through the jostling crowds.


After a seeming eternity, he arrived at the corner of Rue de Villes and Carmen's cul-de-sac. of the cul-de-sac's end was Café Tiquetonne, his destination - a softly lit haven in the evening gloom. Not wanting his disheveled

appearance to attract attention, he wiped the sweat from his brow and fixed his wet hair. Reaching for his inhaler, he sprayed its acrid powder into his dry mouth as he studied the silhouettes behind the cafe's white net curtains. People were busy chatting and nodding politely, enjoying their dinner and their lives.


He reminded himself that he was not here to test his resolve nor prove anything, he was here to simply eat. 


Above him, someone was hanging out of a window, smoking a joint, flicking ash into the inky blackness of the alley. He'd been here before to simply watch people. Watch them hang their washing up, listen to their babies crying, TV shows playing, conversations and arguments in a dozen flavours echo down to his listening post. He had to do this sometimes, to remind himself of what normal life looked like.


Café Tiquetonne's clientele was, as expected in this area, ethnically mixed and, in his considered opinion, of low-to-medium financial standing. The first time he came here, he was disturbed to discover that the police

often frequented the place. He soon realised they only came for the food and time away from work, rather than to spy on him.


The kitchen here seemed more than passable for this area. Even the waste bins didn't smell that bad. He concluded, therefore, that this place was not only safe to eat in, but it was also somewhere where he could feel relatively normal for an hour or two.


He pushed the door open, cringing at the sound of the little bell as it announced his arrival and waited, as quietly as possible. The air was scented with garlic, grilled fish, and someone's rum-scented cigar. He focused on the well-trodden black and white tiles at his feet, hoping that food and wine would arrive soon.


When the waitress finally came to show him to a table, he pointed to his usual place in the far corner. As he sat down, he was surprised to hear the chair creak beneath his slight frame.


He picked up the menu and looked at it out of habit, knowing full well that he was going to have the Bolognese with penne pasta. He suspected the staff laughed behind his back for ordering the same meal every time.


“I blame the cold and heavy thing that sits on my chest. It threatens to take away what little I have left.

Sometimes when the haloes are especially bright, I can see wet slithering tentacles edge across the walls at night. They seem desperate to touch me, only stopping at the light's edge. I don't know what I have done to deserve the life I have. Until that something leaves me, I am no good to myself nor anyone else. God knows I've tried to end it; God knows I've tried.“


Rubbing his aching temples with one hand, he lifted the other to get the waiter's attention. In that instant, a searing pain shot through his head as a weight, like a heavy shutter, came crashing down. And in that briefest of moments, the entire room blurred and spun wildly.

Neural circuitry fused, his mind split open, releasing a fractal prism of light and energy that ripped through the air thick with cooking and voices, rendering furniture, meals, bottles, and glasses, staff and patrons alike, unrecognisable under a magnifying glass. The cafe's windows swelled outwards, defying everyday physics, before popping like a bubble, sending debris in all directions. And from a space in-between, black giggling shadows bled across the temporary chasm, flitting excitedly over windows and walls in the alley outside, causing plant pots to come crashing down and washing lines to snap and flap in their wake.


As the dust settled, Mahmoud was lying unconscious amongst the rubble and dust, a broken man without a scratch on him.


After some time, a giant hand reached out and picked him up by the scruff of his neck, dragging him away to an unmarked van in the alley outside. In that instant and with incident number thirteen, everything had changed, once again.




When he finally regained consciousness, his head was hurting so badly, he mistakenly assumed he'd had a fall and had split his skull open or had drunk too much and fallen down a flight of stairs. The pain in his head was a familiar one, made worse by the temporary amnesia that always followed these blackouts.


He was sitting at a small metal table in a dark room, blinking hard at the blurry silhouette in front of him.

Looking down at the table, he saw a pair of giant outstretched hands, resting in a small pool of light. A worker's hands, swollen fingers, hardened from outdoor physical labour. To Mahmoud, they looked like sleeping beasts of burden.


He felt a sudden pang of fear as he realised that he had no idea where he was nor how he’d arrived here. The giant hands slowly clenched, as if in preparation of a deluge of anger. Mahmoud blinked repeatedly as he started to shake, his eyes filling up with tears.


"I've done it again, haven't I?"



Nenad Kojic


Nenad Kojic is a 50-year old web designer by day, living in London with his wife and two children. By night, he writes short stories that merge a number of genres; fantasy, sci-fi, and drama. He is influenced by French and Russian cinema and literature – and likes to expose life in all its unexpected, gritty, beautiful and ugly moments. He has been published by Ariel Chart and the Academy of the Heart and Mind. 

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