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WEIRDMONGER
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Dead Eyes

 

 
(published 'Dementia 13' 1993)

Wednesday was her day for muddling out the week. It would be washtub, hoover-out, dust-off, polishrub, bedamake, stew-and-bake, from the head of the morning to the bottom of the evening. To her mind, she topped and tailed the whole world.

The flanks of the week, she merely sat back upon the laurels of her handiwork, gently sipping upon fine bone-china and mindlessly tearing strips from celery-sticks with her long fingernails.

I approached the front door, wondering about her reaction, for I was convinced she was used to meeting next to nobody. I was hoping that they’d be at least a half chance she’d a room to lodge out. The holding looked big enough, literally bulging all over with bay windows. The various extraneous lumps in the roof indicated a healthy supply of assorted attics. I would be willing to shake down literally anywhere. I knew she lived alone, because the milkman told me he only left one half pint per day. The postman, whom I had consulted earlier, said the letters were far and few between (none of them bills), mostly written in a feminine hand postmarked Kidderminster.

I gave the front door a modest knocking. Slowly, it opened almost immediately upon a chain-lock.

‘Yes?’

I could just see a face of designed darkness, speaking with a hole laddering up and down in its knitted flesh.

‘Have you a room to spare for a poor unfortunate?’

I’d had my speech prepared, but she’d phased me somehow.

‘Come in, Mr Cobb, do.’

I was taken by surprise, as she unzipped the lock.

My name was not Mr Cobb, but something far more unusual.

She showed me a room without an outside window, where a bed was already made up, its lip of sheet mathematically straight.

As I limped behind, I seemed to echo her own gait.

The oil paintings on the walls were pretty pointless, as the light from the meagre fittings did not seep that far.

I suppose it was tantamount to an interview. Me following like a shadow. Her leading. Talking about the room, as I did, she could see I was not blind. Resorting to the parlour, she offered me tea and celery. Telling me about her empty life. By nodding at the appropriate points in her monologue, I proved I was no deaf man either. She gave me the job. I was to be the corpse that would decorate the room I’d just been shown round. Apparently, she gathered corpses to her, much like other old maids collected ornaments for their marble mantelpieces. I pictured to myself all the rooms in the holding: dead eyes gleaming in the darkness as they sat propped up in the armchairs, antimacassars liberally peppered over to prevent green stains forming on the expensive fitted covers below.

I heard the letterbox rattle down the hall. The dull clink of a milk bottle from the porch. I tried to cry out, as she tore strips from my manhood. Indeed, I could not disprove my dumbness.

Nor my immortality.

Come Wednesdays, I feel the tickle of her duster behind the ears.


Posted by augusthog at 4:44 PM EDT
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Friday, 2 May 2008
The Bullace Tree

 

 --published 'Peace & Freedom' 1988--

The little girl had spent years looking from her bedroom window towards the bottom of the garden where the bullace tree had stood and grown since many years before.

It had been a lifetime to her, as long as it takes from the first memory to the last, and it always seemed to be early evening, to such an extent that mornings and afternoons were forgotten completely under the growing shades of dusk; and night, for her, did not exist at all, dreamful sleep being the natural outcome of twilight.

#

The stars shone bright over the garden, awaiting the moon's arrival with the expectation of excited children early on Christmas day. The tree caught these silver fruit in its branches, and shapes crept up the trunk in yearning quest for their juice.

The compost - formless heap behind the water butt - bore its own fruit: blooming with each heave of its new found life. And more shapes of rapes, turnips and other rooters on route for the tree, lingered at the manure's edge, like unto cars at a petrol station, and moved on, silently, steadfastly...

#

I am a tree. You can only see the rough bark but, when I place my hands to my body, I feel the sown cruelties and chasms that woman can only bear and, higher, the unripe breasts that need nipples as well as soft flesh.

Up my only leg creep and crawl the rapes and rooters, with whips as long as their arms; and, between the hard strands of my wild head, others munch, mumble, come close to teasing my ears open with foulness.

I have the girl's soul with me, someone's posthumous gift to an ex-lover, an embossed trinket with etched words that mean less than nothing, especially as the affair had slipped into an unattainable past. The words? I LOVE YOU. But useless saying them for my ears are clogged up with grunting brassica.

#

As dawn enters its first phase, which many mistake for darkest night, I know that Christmas will never come. The gift of soul is rudely snatched from beneath my sagging, blackening dugs: and I can think to speak no longer...

#

The end was final, until the next; and of root and branch nothing more can be said. The girl, if one she be, did not wake with the dawn, could not wake until her soul grew again and nourished out its containing vessels. If, as one will say, a soul a day keeps the nicker-nacker away: then, the bullace tree will fast agree.

I look up at the bedroom window and her dear little face, like a bill poster, is ever there, day or night, unblinking, unflinching. She looks at me, I look at her, but it is only at certain rare times that we truly see; and then we yearn desperately, for each other's arms to ease the cruelties. But by that time the rooters swarm between us, not very understanding of our plight. And not understanding, there we must leave it.



Posted by augusthog at 4:42 PM EDT
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Hierarchies
a collaboration with Margaret B Simon


There were too many houses in Matilda's road.

The line of terraced two-up-two downs curved out of sight as her eyes negotiated the parlour's net-choked window for what she had determined would be the final count. One extra today. One less yesterday. Who knows how many extra tomorrow?

She was a maidenly creature who wished she had been given the chance to audition God before allowing herself to be born. The nearest she'd been to sex was surprisingly in the recent Autumn of her years when a Peeping Tom had watched her through the net curtains - without Matilda's least inkling. But even this most vicariously tenuous experience had its subliminal effect, since she had spent the rest of that day preening her face in the mirror and pampering her scrawny body with strange lotions, much to her own retrospective disgust.

She received weekly visits from a brother called Tom who had even more reason than Matilda to bear a grudge against God for palming off a willy-nilly existence on him. Yet he humiliated himself in worship of that very God each Sunday.

Bill often fetched a small pet thing in a ventilated hatbox, one that scratched amid the purse-lipped conversations and the tinkly teacups. And squeeked. And snorted. With gentle noises-in-waiting. In the meantime, Bill and Matilda were in staccato communion with trivialities and useless truths, pointedly ignoring the tell-tale shuffly gurgly sounds from this box and the even more tell-tale silences...

And then, of course, beyond the reach of Tom's fraternal prying, there were portions of Matilda's life which were, for her, tantalising insertions of time for letting down her hair. An extra whole day now and again, was filleted forth from between say, Thursday and Friday: a period during which any experience could be as easily forgotten as something that had never been a memory in the first place.

So went Matilda's rather uneventful life, neither active nor entirely passive, for she did withhold a few secrets from her brother. One involved a nightly dose of cream sherry. Exactly one fourth liter, not an ounce more nor less. She would sip it slowly, looking out through the net curtains until the lights of the houses dimmed and blinked out, one by one.

Matilda's other secret involved what was in Tom's hatbox. She knew what it was. She had one of her own upstairs but she never took it shopping or to visit a neighbor. At some point during Thursdays and Fridays, she would take it out and talk to it. And it would sing to her in its strange way while she lay prone upon the coverlet, eyes half-closed - as if drugged.

Only during those hours did Matilda lift outwards from her mortal body, soaring into fantasies of other worlds and times, of romance and passion. There were many handsome men, all with black hair and hairy chests, who would press her tender body to their sweaty loins and croon loving things into her delicate ears. But when Friday evening came, she would awake and place the creature back in its vented shoebox. Before so doing, of course, she would make sure it was well fed. This task, in fact, was at last what caused her prying brother to discover her secret. Yet secrets were in hierarchies of secrecy, each secret being a gin-trap or, at least, decoy for the unwary Peeping Tom.

Secrets between siblings, even secrets surreptitiously discovered, were merely secret diversions. Truth and lie were not even considerations. Indeed, some secrets lived a secret autonomous life and were at such a deep level they kept secrets from eath other in a variety of conspiratorial games...

Bill was unaware of these clandestine undercurrents. Today was Thursday and he breathed the frosty air as he trudged past row upon row of terraced housing en route to his sister's...clutching the faintly throbbing hatbox to his chest. He was plying a different path, owing to the underground station where he usually alighted being subject to a security alert. His walk seemed so interminable, he almost believed he met himself several times coming in the opposite direction. Almost...until he did. He could only think to wave. The other one was equally unimaginative. And each walked on. What would Matilda think? Bill's conduit into some sort of reality as a bachelor was often via this question. What would Matilda say about it?

"Just because you were dressed alike, Bill, doesn't mean you were alike, other than the normal limbs and so forth we all have to bear..." She looked towards the hatbox which he was trying to balance on his lap amid various manoeuvres with a tea-cup and a plateful of cucumber sandwiches. "...and don't forget, many men are nondescript. By the way, Bill, they're knocking down No. 17 - you know the one, nearly opposite here - next week, because they say it's infested from floor to roof. The way some people live!"

At these last words, the hatbox began a most unusually agitated activity, as if its guest within had a definite inkling of what she was talking about. Its usual squeeks and snorts grew in volume to match the shaking of the hatbox until it fell from Bill's lap and rolled across Matilda's Persian rug, coming to a halt at the doorstop.

Matilda gave it a cursory frown of disapproval. While Bill was hastening to retrieve the box before the lid was jarred open, she continued. "We are fortunate, Bill. Decent law abiding people who were raised with proper family values - why, I don't understand what the world is coming to! Much less, this neighborhood--"

Here, she cut short her sentence as Bill was obviously having problems with the contents of the hatbox. He was attempting to solace the thing within, without much success. It continued to clamor and squeel, its sounds drowning out any possibility of further conversation.

At last, Matilda rose, giving an exasperated snort of her own. She went into the kitchen, shutting the door behind her. To her surprise, her hands were trembling uncontrollably. Underneath the sink, the bottle of cream sherry - half full, yes. Just the ticket. She poured herself a full snifter and downed it all, stifling a choking sensation. Turning then, arms braced against the sink, her eyes lifted upward to the ceiling where, above, her bedroom floor was beginning to shake. She could hear a keening noise coming from the cracks in the plaster.

Partly because of her abrupt and most unseemly response to the problem Bill was having with his hatbox companion, and partly because of the effects of the alcohol so rapidly consumed, Matilda's confused mind centered on one thought: possibly she had forgotten to feed it! Surely, it had never called to her in this manner before ... surely she might have forgotten, for last week's dreams were the very best enchantments she had known to date.

How had the secrets escaped? She had heard, yet shrugged off, Bill's statement that there was a security alert at the underground station he customarily used when visiting her. Now, it returned to her with a force quite inconsistent with its relative importance. She looked back down toward the sink, where she had decided to remain in case of an onset of being sick ... and saw an old potato she had earlier been scrubbing, in preparation for cooking something vis a vis Bill's tea. Even that assumed a significance quite beyond its intrinsic ability merely to waste space. Everything in her vicinity closed in ... sharpening corners, widening cracks, swollen windows, engorged plumbing, as if there were no longer any triviality in life. No relativities.

"Matilda!"

She heard Bill's shout from another room, but it sounded further away than being in the same house should permit. Perhaps, the days of the week were only part of the answer. She shrugged, not to shrug off as she had done before, but to remind herself that she was the only trivial thing left in the whole universe. The only unsecret obviousness.

The noise of dozers broke her dazed ruminations. Bulldozers? Yes, they must've started work on the demolishment of number 17. So it must be next week already. She knew her stairs to the bedrooms would soon be too steep to climb - all terraced houses thought that their working-class inhabitants would always be fit enough to climb their foot hierarchies, howsoever old age encroached the limbs.

Perhaps Matilta was too late. She rushed, sick or not, toward the stairwell ... fearing that her bedroom floor might be smothered in all those secret secrets secreting in and out of the skirting-boards. Worse than bugs. Worse than humpbacked slugs. All trying to reach her shoebox.

"Matilda!!!" Bill's voice resounded more urgently than the first time, yet more distant, as if feather-pillowed and further distant.

She forced her disagreeing legs into haste, whacking the sides of her hips sharply on corners she'd forgotton existed. Into the living room, half tripping over a mound of something on the floor which grappled with the toe of her shoe, late afternoon shadows kissing the curtained windows, windows now leaning at dangerous slants toward one another. Fully panicked now, she shook off the shoe with thing now firmly attached and without a backward glance, lumbered even less gracefully on in the direction of the stairwell.

"Ma-tillll-daaaa....."

Heart pumping, body grieving with every exertion, she fell to her knees halfway up the stairs when everything suddenly tilted sideways. The dozers thrummparation for snoring herself into an unforgiving slumber...or into the only child who needed more than Snakes & Ladders...and Stairwells...and Spuds...and Siblings...and Secrets to expunge the Solitude.

Posted by augusthog at 4:38 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Shaving The Dream

published 'Drift' 1998
 

I dreamed of dropping into sleep whence it was impossible to wake. However, a boy, whom for a split second I recognised, demonstrated the path back through the wood, but not without warning me about the sheep that nibbled grass in the clearing at the wood’s heart. Their coats of wool were morling-, not shorling-, shaved.

I took my ancient life upon my shoulders and, after shaking hands with the stranger who had sought to assist me, I entered upon the various darknesses that embraced the trees. When I awoke, I was just as disappointed as relieved.


Once I must have been a boy, I suppose, being a young man now, but the boy I had been I never really knew as myself. So, I was delighted, several benighted dreams later, to become the same old man from the previous dream who then met a boy halfway into that same wood. I recognised him from my waking album of dream photographs, those images decked in sepia memory. He squatted in the crook of a Bend-Over.

“Hi!” he said as if he had been waiting more than one generation for this meeting. I approached and pinched his arm to see if he was real. “Ouch!” he squawled.

“Are you really me as I once was?” I asked.

“I don’t know about that, old man, but I sure know I’m the tender of baa-lambs round this neck of the woods.”


I awoke before the dream was complete. This time I tried to force myself back to sleep, eager for its ending. But daytime worries interposed, as they often did, along with the new array of mounted memories.

In the future, probably sooner than I then thought, I shall be an old man in real life, being a young one now. So, when I paid my last visit to that dream (or vice versa, it to me), I began to feel no longer a protagonist within such dream...

The old man has become quite autonomous of myself and accompanies the shepherd boy in the heartwood, both counting the number of times a white ball of wool is thrown back and forth, without either of them dropping it. The boy’s so intent on the game, I wonder what can have happened to his bo-peepery.

Middle-aged eyes squint from behind some Sting-Backs, intrigued to see which of them falters first. Indeed, there’s no way to pull the wool over my eyes nor tug my optic fuse from its bed of sinew, although the curve of sight is skewed by the filtering lens of dream, as well as by the tangled morling¬wool on the nettly Sting-Backs’ stickiness.

Beyond waking’s shore, I eternally count asleep sheep, until the old man drops the ball.


Posted by augusthog at 3:49 AM EDT
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Cross Vertigo

 

 (published 'Peace & Freedom' 1989)

It was cool on the front. The sluggish tides of the weed-choked sea slid greyly to and fro upon the litter strewn beach. The morning had dawned brightly enough but now, by mid-afternoon, threatening clouds had built up and the Big Wheel, turning slowly at the end of the f ore-shortened pier, was almost lost to the encroaching mist.

A few late departures of the deckchair brigade, their silly hats and striped canvas windbreaks, now looking decidedly lacklustre with fish and chip grease smarming their bodies like sun oil and kiss me quick sandcastle flags in their beehive hairstyles, clambered up the shingle to the promenade, with only a few words between them.

Suddenly, there was a loud ?Halloo!? from one of the beach huts. A shaven yob splattered out, limbs flailing like a wild pair of tenantless stocking suspenders. He slobbered at those who had just evacuated the beach, pointed out at the sea and shouted so loudly his half-kraken croaks seemed to comee in off the waves like a series of echoes.

He ranted on of an enemy fleet that even now was slipping through the mist, its looming dark hulks of landing craft creeping in...

Those on the big wheel could no doubt see them already, hence the screams. The yob ran off towards the town, where he would try to spread further panic and ....... but nobody would pay any attention, if he did not look sensible.

Altin was one of those on the big wheel. He did not know why he had decided to have a ride upon the baskets, for great heights to him were like great depths to Flat-Earthers. Every time someone got on or off at the bottom of the Wheel, it seemed that it was Altin who was left exposed, right at the top, to the soaking underdrag of the towering clouds.

And, then, during one of those inexplicably long stationary periods when he was thus aloft, he spotted the school of whales coming in, with jaws opening and shutting in rhythm to the waves. One was suddenly snorting as it beached itself on the shingle. Another beached itself upon the first one. The pier shook, as yet another lodged itself between the corroded pillars. Altin closed his eyes in disbelief.

Altin was one of those whales, by several reincarnations removed. Except they weren?t whales at all. They were the sea-bed come to life, chunks of it separating from Mother Earth as in some caricature of evolution.

The comedy came to a close, as the pier collapsed with all upon it. It was a happy ending, for the slobbering yobs and deckchair dickheads had at last been pre-empted by, although a much deeper entropy, a far finer evolution.

The whale-like creatures roamed the thinning, flattening, drying, big wheel discus of Earth Comestible... The version that was Altin smiled with jaws that were not meant to smile, for he was as low as junkies get high.


Posted by augusthog at 3:48 AM EDT
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Friday, 25 April 2008
The Welcome Mat
with Chris Pelletiere



Having failed to make contact with the co-author, Weirdmonger has also failed to gain formal permission from him to re-publish this story. However, he feels happy that the co-author would approve - but if he should object at some stage in the future, it will immediately be removed from this website.


First published 'Freudian Variant' 1998




When Alan arrived at the big house he was welcomed by a mat.

A doormat. One with stiff scrubbing-brush bristles for the feet to scrape themselves off on. However, it had patchy sprigs, too - what, on closer scrutiny, looked like synthetic hair amid the bristles (or he certainly hoped they were synthetic), sprigs that spelt out a word that was not even remotely welcome. In fact he had to will his wobbly legs to hold himself up. He looked down at the doormat again. The few beers he’d had before coming hadn’t helped. His mouth had gone dry. A memory was coming up at him as if from the mat. The mouth?...

When he was a baby, his Mother had washed him in his Grandmother’s sink. Two witches washing. Something about his feet coming into contact with the hole in the sink, of his bare toes going into the drain itself made him sick.

Surely they must have washed up the dishes first. They wouldn’t have sat him down near the dirty sink-hole, would they? That’s what these synthetic strands in the otherwise bristly mat strangely became to resemble ... bamboo-shoots, roughage and spaghetti spoiled and leftover in a sewer-mouth.

The old memory (perhaps the oldest) ended and, today, his toes curled and clawed within the airless shoe-leather. Cringing was not even a starter. Squirming came in last place. There was no possible word to describe his growing disgust at the “welcome” mat. Except perhaps the word itself that the sprigs spelt out, a word that was a potential toe-nail sketch of the emotion the word’s actual medium of communication induced.

Alan shook his head. He wasn’t mad enough to dwell on such madness for long. The door that gave the doormat part of its name had by now opened in response to the banging which he had forgotten - in his momentary disgust at the hairy word - ever having made by swinging the knocker.

“Yes?”

There stood a woman on the doorstep, noticeably beautiful despite the half-undone curlers in her auburn hair. She was untidily made up. And she had a voice like the one Alan thought her Pekinese dog would make if it could speak. The latter had indeed crawled between the woman’s legs and stared blankly at the visitor.

“I’m a purveyor of tantalising brushes and mops, dear lady,” Alan answered.

His mother (many years before she died from food poisoning) had given him his original supply of such goods from her own under-stairs broom-cupboard. His door-to-door business had progressed from that small beginning.

NOMICON BRIGHT-EASIES was the sign on his suit-case, a suit-case which he had by now positioned on the mat to hide the sight as well as the meaning of the word ill-planted amid the healthier bristles. Words, after all, had shape as well as innuendo.



The woman seemed to swing inside the house with one smooth motion, the little dog still between her legs, as if they both were attached to the door. He was reminded of a little wooden German house that hung on the wall in his Grandmother’s ancient abode, one that forecast the weather. The children would swing out through one door with the sun or the witch through the door alongside with the rain.

Well, the woman had entered and so must he. And, taking a step inside, he felt as if his feet were pushing through jungle growth, so thick was the doormat. As his eyes became adjusted to the darkness, he actually believed that the jungle existed around him. The hallway was humid. The carpet seemed an extension of the mat outside and, upon gazing down upon it, the pattern seemed to twine in tangled vines. He felt that, with simply one more step, he would drop into it and need to cut swathes through new-grown straw with a machete.

His eyes quickly plucked themselves from the carpet as a bird’s cry sounded somewhere in the hallway accompanied by smell of spicy fruit gums. Indeed, there was a bowl of such gums - which he firstly took to be tropical fish - on a circular table in the centre of a living-space, the latter being a room which he was gradually discerning around himself.

At least he’d managed to inveigle entry into this house but, as normal, it was always hard at first for him to pitch his product - and he sought reassurance in his case of bright-easies at his feet ... but the woman (and her yappy dog) had vanished.

He surveyed the room and decided to station himself on the long sofa. But where was the prospect? He was beginning to feel himself to be a stick of furniture, the longer he waited. Or a piece in some strange game that had just kicked in - and, whatever the next move, he felt he was in place for it.

What he assumed was the sound of tinkling wind chimes in air began to settle like the rattle of chains or ring of keys upon the sofa’s territorial share of carpet. His clammy hand in his lap reminded him that he was fighting down panic. The crackling noise of dried-out vines betokened the prospect’s re-approach, clutching, as she did, a cup of tea and a plate of one biscuit, items which she fetched as a reminder that the mat outside was not the only welcomer hereabouts. The slit-eyed pup was nowhere to be seen.

“It’s got its own saucer,” the woman said (with an inaudible slimy aside to the floating fruit gums). She evidently had read Alan’s mind.

He heard a squeaky slurping from the nearby kitchenette.

“As I said, before, Madam,” he said, as he simultaneously thumbed open the suitcase’s catch and balanced the provender she had offered him on his knee, “I am the proud purveyor of these Nomicons of Newness. Just with one touch of this feather-duster the whatever-it-is becomes not only clean but as good as new...”

He brandished a stick that he had extracted with some care from an elastic holder within the lid of the suitcase. There were at least two stiff quills as one end.

“That’ll scratch more than it’ll burnish,” she complained, taking the implement from Alan’s outstretched arm-signal of welcome-and-try.

Ignoring her comment, he tugged from his item of soft luggage a steel rod which had what looked like a jaw of teeth at one end.

“This plunger’ll eat germs as good as any sink can incubate...”

The woman pointed at the ceiling to where the darkness had settled and asked: “Have you got anything that can hoover that away?”

Alan smiled. At last! A bite of his best available cherry. Surely, if nothing else, Nomicon Bright-Easies were suckers for God’s darknesses and for gloomy corners that any amount of unnatural light couldn’t budge.

Squinting up at the dark ceiling, he tried to judge which attachment to use and how long an extension needed to suck down whatever was up there. To impress the woman he decided to deploy the Nomicon Bright-Easy Power Head. Meanwhile, all the plastic attachments were now out of his case and spread all over the carpet.

He felt like an artist choosing the right brush. Now that he was in the pitch, actually demonstratinf what he’d come to do, he was no longer anxious. He was in control. Should he part her window drapes himself or ask her to do it? It certainly would be easier to see where to aim that way. She seemed to guess what he was thinking because she crossed the room, took hold of the drapes and pulled them aside. There was a brittle breaking sound as she did this. There would be something to clean up now, by God he thought, a little uneasily but, instead of thinking too long what this might be, he thought instead of what attachment would do the trick.

“What?” Alan said to the woman who was trying to tell him something over the noise the vacuum was making. “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me,” he thought, turning off the machine and facing towards the woman. Why did he think that? She wasn’t calling him names... She was telling him that it was dark outside now and, even with the drapes pulled aside, the one lamp in the room couldn’t illuminate the ceiling.

It was true. There was no use squinting up into the darkening ceiling which seemed to mirror the shadowy current in the carpet below. The pattern in the carpet appeared to move as if in a stream. Whether Alan looked up at the ceiling or down at the carpet, the whole room began to flow together. He felt he were standing on a horizon line of sea and sky and that line had suddenly vanished leaving him merged and teetering in between.

He felt dizzy and backed up for the safety of the sofa. The carpet was on the move again and out to trip him up. It wasn’t the vines this time but the wires of the Nomicon Bright-Easy machine that made him stumble.

The woman’s arm shot out in one quick darting movement like the tongue of a lizard to catch a lazy fly, drunk in the hot sun. The hand that held him from falling was hard, like bound sticks and missing, it seemed, some of its fingers. Was this the hand that drew the drapes aside with a snapping sound? He felt her other hand grip him and heard the dry rustling sound of Easter palms as she lowered him to the sofa. She smiled down at him and said “Welcome” with the voice of a mother soothing a son. Then she smoothed his brow and stroked his hands leaving behind a stigmata of tiny splinters.

“What is your name, Madam?” Words he managed to slide out through his chapped lips. Names will never hurt me.

“My name is Mrs Poppy. Zena Poppy.” Except these words did.

The one embedded in the doormat came flooding back to him. But he did not remember the word itself, not its shape, not its form, not its sculptural phonemes, but merely its essential meaning, a sense and tone that hung about like druggy, vine-like fish-creatures. Indeed, the flooding back was constituted of dry waves, like upon the surface of a sea on the moon. And this creature was an inhabitant of such a sea, scraping its parchment scales along a scabrous bed.

All mixed in with other names. His mother’s, his grandmother’s, and the German heritage in his family: the paintings of murderers that lined the walls of his childhood home. The tiny weather house. Mingling in with the doormat word that could not be shaken off...

But he did shake it off.

“You must have fainted,” said the woman.

Alan sat with his head in his head.

“It’s Ok, Mrs Poppy. I don’t know what came over me.”

“It’s the weather, I’d say. So unseasonable.”

Unreasonable, too, thought Alan. Would the drought never end? It was as if global warming had taken the earth in a grip so tight, all the water was being squeezed down some cosmic sinkhole, never to be seen again.

Wormholes, black holes, wormcasts...

He still felt faint. He’d forgotten, till now, how hot the day had been. No wonder he was getting hallucinations. Tramping around town with his case. Too dry even to sweat properly. He was stirred into permanent recovery from malaise by the yapping of the slit-eyed pug, who was snaffling around with the Power Head’s wires, as if it thought it were fighting a monster of some kind. Alan couldn’t help laughing.

“Wilbur! Wilbur! Leave the gentleman’s things alone!”
“Don’t worry, Mrs Poppy. There’s nothing he can really harm.”

The single lamp was now struggling with the full-bodied onset of night and Alan decided to switch on the full-beam of his Power Head vacuum, a facility he had actually forgotten, till now, it possessed. Taking an apologetic glance at Zena Poppy’s face - and she now looked decidedly attractive despite the dis-spiriting gloom (or perhaps because of it) - he threw the large trigger and a shaft of light, constituted of several intertwining beams, cannoned through the darkness towards the ceiling proper. He could now discern several cobwebs and thicker clusters of fibres amid the porphyry of the upper surface’s ornamentation, wherein, as the shaft cut deeper swathes into the various consistencies, were seen flickers and shadowy shifting things that actually must have lived and breathed up there. Darkness made dust. No other way to describe it.

“Oops!” said Mrs Poppy, with evident embarrassment at the hidden corners where her house-pride hadn’t reached.

“Don’t worry, Mrs Poppy. Some of the best housewives in the world have been shocked at what my Power Head can find!”

#

Things are looking up thought Alan as he swept the darkened room with the Power Head illuminating orange slices of it in strobes ... and things are looking down, too, he noted, watching slit-eyed Wilbur's frantic attempts to catch whatever was dropping from the ceiling. Indeed, the mutt's eyes were opened now to the size of saucers -flying ones, it would seem, judging from the way he was running around and barking berserkly. Alan, of course, could see nothing. Wasn't this always the way with animals?

The beam of light from the Power Head was like that from a movie projector and Alan imagined a World War Two documentary unreeling before his eyes. The powerful searchlight scanned the night sky as the Power Head gave the signal, with air raid sirens beginning to wail. Wilbur was beside himself on the floor, now scuttling in foaming circles. The fine line between land and sky was once again vanishing for Alan, as he saw, in his mind's eye, Luftwaffe Condor legions overhead.
His mission - to look up and Hoover down Hitler's huge Henkel bombers. His dilemma - that he himself (with his German blood, scars and decorations) was looking down from one of the cockpits.

He was abruptly brought down to earth by Wilbur who, having caught something from the ceiling, was busy worrying it to death in the carpet's tangled pile.

"Wilbur! Wilbur!" screeched Mrs Poppy, in wild remonstration.

The word in the Welcome Mat came back, with its full force of meaning, if not its actual configuration as a word, while Alan became faced with the goriest, yet most cosmically nirvanic, scene to which it had ever been mankind's misfortune to bear witness. Even the wisest writers of literature and philosophy would have been at a loss for words, real words, words that possessed textual substance as well as semantic evocation. The few beers Alan had supped before coming hadn't helped. Memories mixed with meanings, two witches at the sink, a suitcase that contained more than its size, a Pekinese mongrel with abject carpet-manners, fruit congealed like gum mastic, frog-throated alcoves masquerading as empty ceiling-corners, Nomicons of Nothingness where age was older even than the need to clean things (primeval sludge being a devil to budge from prehistoric drains), amphibious aircraft threading the cobweb-runners (how else could they fly when heavier than air?), murky monsters with extraneous tentacles, feeler-fairies in dark-skinned tights, opiate blooms enlacing the hardened tendrils extruded by spider-gaunts ...

Opiate brooms. Alan was confused slightly by the misspelling. He quickly fastened his suitcase, after re-stowing the Power Head therein. Took one last glimpse at the grue-strutter that called itself Zena Poppy. Gave an irritable kick towards the miniature manky man-chewer called Wilbur. And dashed from the house into the welcome freshness of a cloud-burst.

Either the cheeks were rain-strewn or they were real tears, as Alan dwelled upon the memories which he hoped were the only real memories: his Mother's hands as she bathed him and his Grandmother's affectionate liking for clean plumbing. But then he looked. This time, he looked not up nor down. He looked back. No, not back, but black. On the Welcome Mat stood a likeness of Alan himself, evidently stuck - through his own shoe-leather - to the bristly word he couldn't ever forget amongst even the stickiest sicknesses that could possibly be conveyed by mere meaning: the blade-straight lines, deadly slope and enticingly deceptive scimitar-curve which Wilbur's jaws had been tussling into shape.

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Monday, 21 April 2008
BLUE MURDER
a collaboration with my father, Gordon Lewis (1922-2007)




Throughout my life I have been led into some bizarre situations — but none so bizarre as the one I recently experienced… not led this time, but into an extraordinary situation that seemed to materialise all on its very own.

It all began with a dream, a nightmarish dream from which I wakened, sweating so profusely, one could have supposed I had actually been running my heart out to get away from an angry mob that were yelling blue murder as they chased after me.

But why ‘blue murder’? There seemed some key to the mystery in these words. There was once a horse I had a flutter on — called Blue Murder — a horse which had, in the end, been destroyed, after breaking a leg during the very race in question. I won’t go into details, I’d spare you at least that.

Funny, it was only recently I realised Red Rum spelt ‘murder’ backwards. Did you know that? Anyway this is not getting us very far, is it?

The ‘bizarre experience’ syndrome did not really start with my dream. I’ve had some peculiar dreams, on and off, for most of my life (as we all do)... waking events closely following (by a short head) such dreams with uncanny logic... until I took it, more or less for granted that certain coincidences were inevitable. So, why had this recent dream of a pursuing angry crowd affected me so unduly?

I suppose I’d better start at the beginning. I struck up a relationship with Rachel Mildeyes. (Well, you’re right, that wasn’t her real name, but I guess it suited her). My name, you ask? Well, it is John Bello... and I shall make no secret of it, I am one of those blokes who mix and match various jobs, most of which are unmentionable, because Clink would beckon otherwise. Often barely on the wrong side of the law, I have to watch my back. You never know who you are talking to. And you may be someone I can trust. But maybe not.

Rachel Mildeyes, though, I trusted one hundred per cent. She was the first one to tell me of the recurring dream — one of an angry crowd. She had suffered it from childhood, in various guises. I wonder whether I’d been infected by knowing about it first. I shall never know.

It was not really a pursuit. More a race. I was not fleeing the crowd but rather competing with it. The race never seemed to finish — but was continuous from dream to dream.

There are those who make a hobby of interpreting dreams, even a profession writing reference books and forecasting the future. I thought about visiting the local library to check up on my dreams. But were they really my dreams? I suppose they had been imprinted on my sub-conscious mind by the oft repeated tales of Rachel’s own recurrent dreams. It should be her that ought to consult books about dreams and their meanings. But they didn’t seem to bother her overmuch, so why should I be bothered? In my dreams I had become one of her pursuers... and Rachel was certainly worth pursuing!

I shook off my meandering thoughts, and, on checking the time, I busied myself in getting ready for the day ahead. It happened to be the day for viewing the articles for auction (in the local auctioneers) that would be disposed of the next day. It was more than a hobby of mine, being the source of most of my income, selling my purchases on. I had become quite expert at spotting a bargain, even if some were not genuine antiques. They could be made to look genuine enough to sel1 on to the unwary.

Later in the day I had to pay a visit to the reference library to check up on a particular item I had become interested in. Whilst there I thought again about the pursuing dreams of Rachel. There was a section on running away and being chased. Being pursued was explained as the dreamer being unsure of oneself, running away from reality. But there was some comfort for Rachel... it went on to say: ‘if pursued without being caught, it meant quite the opposite.’

Rachel and I worked as a team at the auction rooms and we were quite successful in our collaboration which seemed to prove she was very sure of herself. We often posed as man and wife when we travelled around the area on the look out for profitable deals, not averse to cheating the uninformed, and making large profits on numerous occasions.

You would not have guessed that Rachel — with her sweet doe eyes — could even attempt to deceive another party. No doubt that was her strength. Nobody did manage to catch her. She would show her pretty little heels — and then gone! On to the next victim...

I was never her victim, though. In fact, I rather think she had great respect for me... saw that I was one of her kind. Fed at the same trough. Inscrutable. Undemanding people with latent powers. She pursued me … until she got me. And here we were again in yet another auction room, chasing that elusive cut price treasure which would eventually bring us our fortune. We were partners in ‘crime’. Never more than that… although I did harbour a deeper attachment… a hare I had sprung to tempt the sleek greyhounds of romance. But that, sadly was all in my head. As they say, the chase is far more pleasurable than the actual kill.

The most recent Auction we both attended was in Essex. It was run by someone who used to hold point-to-point meetings in Marks Tey but now, down on his luck, he needed to resort to the fast and loose games of quick bucks in seedy back rooms where literally everything was up for grabs. You of all people, must get the scene.

Rachel, despite her slight feminine form — lugged in our boxes of ill-gotten goods. As for myself, I ambled free-handed, with Rachel in my wake: I acted as her shield and spokesman. That was my excuse, anyway. So now let me introduce you to Bert — the erstwhile point-to-pointer — a man who spoke with a gruffness only those schooled in the hard knocks could muster.

“Hey I Let me see what all this is!”

I offered to lift the lid of one of the boxes — but Rachel only had to bat her eyelids and mew a plaintive couplet for Bert to become putty in her hands.

“Ok, Ok, Ok,! he muttered, the point-to-pointer indeed pointing towards the platform where various henges of bric-a-brac had been left. “Put ‘em up there with that little lot — I’ll give them the hammer when the best stuff has gone.”

Well, needless to say , Rachel and I made a mint from Bert’s gavel, that day. Followed by a chaser or two at an inn down Eld Lane. But, slowly, it dawned on me that Bert’s face seemed familiar — one I’d picked out from the recurring dream’s pursuing crowd; I then began to wonder if all the faces in that dream were people I knew, or more incredibly, people I was yet to meet.





I always called in to the ‘Half Moon Inn’ down Eld lane, a 17th century building that had some modernisation in the Lounge and Smoke room bars. But the owners had had the sense to leave the, public bar as near as possible to what it was years before. I felt that I was stepping back in time whenever I entered the old world atmosphere enhanced by the log fire in the ingle-nook. There was some particulary good grub there too, my favourite being their steak and kidney pies with brown gravy. Another reason for my choice of pub was the type of person that frequented the old inn. They were the salt of the earth, providing local colour with their North Essex accents mixed with a bit of the Suffolk dialect, we being but a mile or so from that county’s border.

It was a new experience for Rachel who normally frequented the better class of hotel, but she was much taken by the quaintness of the Half Moon’s public bar. We sat on a bar stool for our first drink and ordered the food. When it turned up we sat at a small corner table for two. There was an old fellow seated in the opposite corner with an inch or so of beer in a pint glass, which he seemed reluctant to finish. Thinking he might have been short of the money for his next pint, I looked at him and smiled — not that I was feeling benevolent, but in my trade it was sometimes beneficial to make friends with the very old who had some antiques just sitting at home waiting for the likes of me to buy at ‘ridiculous prices. But my purpose that day was the ‘Albert’ chain and medallion sitting on his waistcoated fat stomach. Usually there would be an old watch on one end of the chain that could prove to be something he might sell if he lived in straightened circumstances.

“Same again old chap? Have the next beer with us,” I said with one of my best smiles.

“Thank ‘ee Zur,” he replied in a really thick accent. “Don.t mind if I do... Half and half be my drink, if you be so kind, Georgie at the bar knows as how I likes it.”

I ordered his drink and carried it to the old boy, who said another ‘thank ee Zur.’ Wishing us good health, he took a long draught of his beer, smacking his lips, as though he hadn’t had a drink for days.

Our food was waiting, so Rachel and I tucked into our pies with relish. By the time we finished the old man was once again sitting there with just an inch or so of his beer in front of him, but this time he refused the offer of another drink.

“That be me ration for today, got to get home for a bite to eat, or me Missus will have me guts for garters.”

We chatted a little and looking at my watch I asked our new acquaintance what time it was, having lied about my watch being stopped.

With that he withdrew a ‘turnip’ of a watch from his waistcoat pocket.

I restrained myself from gasping with surprise as I looked at the watch. I thought I recognised what looked like a very valuable old chronometer he held in his gnarled hand.

“It be a quarter after one o’clock,” he said, and before he had time to re-pocket the watch, I asked if I could just hold it for a moment.

“Twas my old granddad’s watch, it must be a hunnered years old, I reckons.”

My heart skipped a beat as I thought about the value of the watch; it must fetch thousands of pounds at the right kind of auction sales. Returning it to his pocket, he swallowed the last of his beer. Bidding us goodbye with another thank you, he waved farewell to George the barman, who answered by saying: “Cheerio Matthew, see you tomorrow.”

“If God be willing,” said the old chap as he left the bar.

I hustled Rachel saying we needed to be off, and, thanking the friendly barman, I paid the bill.

“That old man seemed a bit of a character... Matthew you called him? I seemed to have seen him before, do you know what his surname is?”

“His full name is Matthew Oxley, Sir, always comes in here early and gone long before this time, perhaps you might have seen him here before, he lives, just a couple of streets away.”

We left the pub hurriedly and I just caught sight of the shambling figure of Matthew Oxley as he neared the end of the road. I told Rachel I would meet her at the car park as I hared away to see where the old chap lived. Who knows? Perhaps he had some other antiquities in his home, but it was that watch I was after; anything else would be a bonus.

Abruptly, I stopped in the middle of Priory Street — my thoughts turning

turtle — Matthew Oxley? The name meant nothing. The name meant everything. It was if I had known the owner of that name all my life, without realising it. Races were timed by timepeices, weren’t they? In the old days, with the punch of a finger on a stop-watch were races determined. Now by the computer — exact to the microsecond — as necks craned forward to cross some frontier first. Matthew Oxley’s watch was the one that had me stopped — heart in mouth — and I gazed at the remains of a Roman wall (near the car—park where I was due to reunite with Rachel). I could imagine faces in the cracks and crevices of the ancient stonework, some staring out with a quirk of light and shadow, others more difficult to fix as I tried to fathom form from chaos.

Rachel, herself, suddenly emerged from these very shifting patterns and, before I was able to establish her identity, she grabbed my hand. Cold fingers clutching others that were mine.

We struggled through the rain-sodden dusk, passing turnings before inevitably, reaching East Hill.

“It probably wasn’t worth much,” she announced with no preamble.

I assumed she meant Matthew’s watch.

“I only wish he had not given me the slip.” I yawned, as I spoke. I looked at her face — the eyes so dim they sank back beyond her very soul. I shrugged. There was nothing… nobody.

I woke, panting for breath. Sleep is usually an ever engine of snores — but here I was literally hyperventilating. Gradually, my chest eased with diminishing traumas. I recalled a new crowd, a new chasing pack, Rachel among them. Dreams within dreams. Or was I suffering dreams that had no dreamer to dream them? Thankfully she was beside me in the bed, I turned to kiss her...

Once shaved, shaken, fed and watered, I listened to Rachel telling me that dreams were indeed chasing us both. Bert’s auction, the Eld lane pub, Matthew Oxley’s watch were all examples of some intrepid force that was trying to suck us back into a pursuing nightmare, a vast mouth with tablets of stone as teeth upon which were etched ancient faces, faces that had outgrown even time itself.

Today, though, she told me, we would find the all important watch in some shop or emporium or mart. Its fragile balanced jewelled movement... a delicate key or clue towards defeating those who chased us. Or something that acted as their magnet….?

“How about the pawnbrokers?” I asked. That’s an obvious place for some to have rid themselves of such a curse.”

She nodded in agreement. And I followed.

As we were walking away from our car, we retraced our footsteps until we could see the three gold balls of the pawnbrokers office. However, for security reasons, one had to ring a door bell for access to the broker’s department. As we had nothing to pawn, we had to go into an adjoining shop that disposed of unredeemed articles. First we looked in the windows of the shop to see if there were any watches for sale. There were none and I supposed there would not be one as rare as Matthew’s watch in the shop either. Entering the retailer’s I was immediately approached by an assistant — obviously not the pawnbroker but a rather threatening lady who asked if she could help.

“I am interested in old watches,” I replied, “particulary gold or silver Hunters or even the rarest chronometers.”

“All we have at present is a Silver half Hunter, and I have never seen a chronometer, they are very rare indeed, not things that are pawned for they would fetch many thousands ot pounds in up-market auctioneers such as the world best, Christies of London for instance. I doubt if you would ever. see one at the local auctioneers. She spoke as if she had learned this spiel by rote. Her eyes were semi-glazed, looking as if she was dreaming about me.

Pretending to be interested in the watch she produced, I said...

“It looks an interesting piece but not one that I would like to buy. Thank you for showing it to me.” I handed it back and thanked her once more, and made to leave the shop. Then, as if I had a sudden thought, I asked if she was local, to which she replied in the affirmative.

“Do you know an old gentleman by the name of Matthew Oxley? I did have his address which I have mislaid, all I know is that he lived very near the car park and actually, he told me his home was near a pawnbrokers shop. He seemed to me he was some kind of local character.”

“I have heard the name before,” she replied. “I don’t know where he lives but I think I know a man who does, I’ll go and ask the manager.”

She returned quite soon, and with a smile she said: “He lives in James street, the road that runs parallel with this one, but Mr Grimes doesn’t know the number, but if you knock at any door in that street they will be bound to know where Mr Oxley lives.” Her eyes by now, had returned to some semblance of normality.

I thanked the lady again and, as we closed the shop door behind us, Rachel was the first to speak, saying exactly what I expected her to say.

“I thought you were on a wild goose chase, and anyway, you’ll never buy such an expensive watch from a legitimate source, you’re more likely to cheat someone who doesn’t know the real value of such antiquIties.”

I frowned. Why was she bringing our dubious deeds to the fore? Was she getting cold feet about our ventures together? Of course she was right and we both eventually agreed that old Matthew’s watch was something we ought to try and wheedle out of the old chap. Perhaps we would meet him again in the ‘Half Moon’ pub… or perhaps there was another way of relieving him of his treasure if we tried to find the house he lived in.

It was only gradually that events took on a pace that reminded me of a race, a human race... a rat race! It was not really that I believed in the whole of life being a dream — only to be woken at some godforsaken hour to face another existence (for better or worse). No, it was none of this. The unspoken love that John Bello and Rachel Mildeyes had for each other was all-important. You (of all people) must have realised that there was more to our wayward relationship than simply ripping off people in two-bit car boot sales or auctions.

In any event, you will understand when I tell you that the day we met up with Matthew Oxley again was an even rainier one than that memorable occasion round and about the Roman wall. We were nearer the Old Heath Road part of town where a huge expanse of grass — strangely — a ‘Recreation’ ground gave well-needed scope for exercising young town-bound limbs…

Why we had ventured there remains a mystery but Matthew led us down Port Lane towards Scarletts, pointing out the peculiar carved faces on some of the roofs thereabouts. (I’m sure if we returned there another day, they’d be merely the years that the house had been built etched as numbers in stone plaques). But, then, that dark day it was a veritable rite of passage which both Rachel and I would remember for the rest of our time on this spinning planet. And the kindness in Matthew’s eyes as he donated to us (gratuitously, it seemed) the priceless chronometer... Well, what can I say?

We waved farewell as the increasing rain sent us speeding for the nearest shelter. The lugubrious Recreation ground seemed simply an empty space where nothing (not even dreams) could vender. Needless to say, we did not sell the chronometer. We kept it as a… memento?… symbol?… anchor...? We did have it valued, however, at the pawnbrokers who said it was worth far less than we imagined. The lady (the one, I guess, we’d met there before) had eyes, though, that were agog: I suspect she really knew its true worth... at least to Rachel and I.

* * *

We still often sup in the Half Moon, but the Oxley chap never turns up. Bert, now and again, pops in with a tip for the gee-gees. Indeed, Rachel and I nigh made a small fortune on a ‘Fourfold Accumulator’ as a result of — not a tip, as such — but more of an instinct. The four horses that galloped in for us (streets ahead of the field in each of their races at extremely good odds) were called Blue Murder, Bric-a-Brac, Brown Gravy and Lover’s Hare. This spot of luck compensated for our — what shall I call it? — new¬found honesty. Any dreams we had, we could merely side step — allowing them to career off into some empty space neither of us intended to follow. You will understand.







Posted by augusthog at 5:13 PM EDT
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Friday, 4 April 2008
SPINAL LURCH

Published 'Sivullinen' 1995

 

 

 

The streets were blurred with rain.  Sebastian Kite was wandering the backwaters of a town he thought he knew like the palm of his hand.  But, as the forthcoming night brought the skies closer to ground-level, he found himself in quarters impenetrable - which, in warmer, less foggy days, were speedy with the hard-limned faces of the Undergones.

 

            He had been employed as agent provocateur by forces unfathomable.

 

            "Go and find those who need sympathies to latch on to."

 

            "I'm not the sort to have followers."

 

            "Just smile, Sebastian, because we've replasticked your image into a likeness they're bound to have drooled over in the walkin-walkouts."

 

            Sebastian looked askance.  He could not recall his own childhood, as if he had always been a VR junkie, with no home or mother to speak of.  His brain turned over with tolerances and margins-of-error that had been built into the flesh-corroded metal of his skull - whilst the resultant tunnel-vision cranked hard to keep pace with moving targets.  He was not perfect, but if he had been, he'd've been even less so.

 

            Heavy drizzle was easy.  Though when the shoreless slanting skies opened up later, Sebastian closed his eyes and took heed of the gyre-needle within his shell hat.  They had said that if all else failed, he could try that particular reality-gizmo, tipped towards winning within its loose-oiled gambleworks.  The needle, indeed, would be necessary when beyond the end-scenarios of the city in vicinages that neo-teens and sub-fogeys roamed in whatever weathers.

 

            Sebastian had been told that grown-ups, in the old sense, had realised that it had gone on all along, but, in rebellion against the inevitable bid-and-offer gaps of the various generations, they had constructed histories which only they could control ... until, too late, they died out, leaving exactly nobody in control.  Their youngsters had discarded all feasible histories, even the false ones.  Mutant gangs of these ill-grafted souls ranged the now leafless suburbs.  Mind-spinning less than their forebears for fear of religious rust, holding on to their identities along with their dreams, thus the trouser-head culture was spurned.  Sebastian found one such, crouching in the gutter's flow.  He then prised the microbone from the dry area of his ribcage and thrust it under the nose of his first target.

 

            "Those at home will be interested to know what made you come here?"

 

            "Where's thy spunkin' camera?"

 

            Sebastian pointed to the helicopteroid the churning blades of which raised the spray.  He then thrust a finger up his left nostril to take control as the huge hosepipe that had lurched from his spinal column thrashed to and fro as it docked with the pulsing belly of the helicopteroid.  It was a live programme of which Sebastian Kite was the celebrity of ceremonies.  His mind had once belonged to a craze-crossed youth, so he knew, or thought he knew, what made their innards tick.  That was why the adult breed had employed him: they needed someone who straddled the cultures.  Sebastian had taken on the job, for he wanted to be in the mainstream of the media, to strut his stuff under timechecks, quickflash captions and transverse-screen news-futures.

 

            Sometimes, the interviewees failed to behave, as they would have done in real time recordings.  Today was one such occasion.  Sebastian was only a little older that those who stalked for the benefit of the armchair brigade - those couch potatoes and sofa sausages that had square souls.  But nothing seemed to tongue up this particular guttersnipe.

 

            "Hey moosh, git that spunkin' makeen outta the air, clattrin and splattrin like a spider biggus a nigger's igloo."

 

            "Hold on, hold on, there are millions watching from that thing up there, wanting to know, to understand the culture you represent.  You see, you are a derelict, an underclass, and they want to learn about you before Sunday Dinner."

 

            "Underclass?  Undieclass.  Spinning-glass.  Yep, I'm a grunthead, but more flesh and bone than ever the likes of you, Kite-shite.  The rain fogs me bones, but rather that than be like you, O TV Man!"

 

            Sebastian carried the gaze of millions upon his back, which he now tried to shake off like a dog fresh from dunking.  He watched the young refusenik crawling away along the gutter and he signalled desultorily for the helispider to hang lower.  He took the mouthpiece between his gritted teeth and tried to sound off between the ratchetting of the carapace rotors, as if he were commenting live upon the needle match of his own existence.   Meat versus metal.  The rain clouded his face like interference on an old recording.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Posted by augusthog at 7:58 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 4 April 2008 7:59 AM EDT
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Sunday, 23 March 2008
Time to Shrug and Go

TIME TO SHRUG AND GO

 

Published 'Eulogy' 1995

 

time to shrug and go

 

 

 

A packet of pain.  That seemed to be the most understated description possible for what was delivered to me that otherwise sunny day last June. 

            "Hello, Mr Gardner." 

            I stared at the mailwoman's spriggy face, guessed she must be a holiday stand-in for postman Dan and I accepted the sticky-taped wad that she proffered with a sweet surreptitious smile.  I unaccountably resented it, because Dan was the regular feeder of my letter-box with all manner of orange envelopes containing rejections or contracts, jiffy-bagged packages with returned manuscripts or contributor's copies of magazines, adverts, fan mail , bills and, more infrequently, billets-doux from potential sweethearts.

            "Thank you," I said, wondering how she knew my real name—until I looked at the label on the missive's bubbly wrapping.  Gardner wasn't my  pseudonym.  Yet nobody in the publishing world could possibly have known I was called Gardner, especially as I hadn't called myself that for many years: a closely guarded secret, between self and a certain certificate I kept in a casket along with other private papers—simply waiting for the bio-riflers at some indeterminate point in the future.  Although death was the most certain thing about life, it also remained the most uncertain.        

Yet why was she loitering on my doorstep following the delivery of that snap-pod packet, too big for the door-slit?  She seemed to await a reply for taking back to whomsoever had instigated the parcel's path through the mail maze.  Her peaked cap suited her complexion, however—as did the bristly uniform, navy blue pleated skirt above even bluer stockings and shiny high-heels.  Must have been a sore job tramping the post round in those patent leather teeters.  The hair was as colourless as human hair possibly could be, and in endearing clumps.  The mouth kissable but, in the context that day, decidedly unwelcoming, despite the half-smile.

            I started to shut my door.  A thank-you was the most she was getting from me.  I hardly passed the time of day with postman Dan, at the best of times.  So, she'd had her ration of pleasantries already, especially for a new face in the neighbourhood.  I was eager to open the packet, in any event: to see who had the nous and, yes, effrontery, to address it to a Mr Gardner: felt like a book inside, a paperback.  My work had never appeared in a pukka book: mostly magazines to date, albeit, in some case, posh ones. 

So, I was quite excited to see my work printed in something that somebody might pick up at an airport and read on a journey ... which was not usually the case with the magazines I had previously frequented: frequented like an unshakeable demon.

            I was intensely angered when the young miss had the bare-faced cheek to lodge one of her high-heels in such a position that the door jammed open, upon my trying to slam it shut.  I felt the woodframe judder up my bad arm—the one with twinges of tennis-elbow—a snagging that made my teeth on edge, as if the heavy-duty doormat had sufficiently swollen to jar the hinges loose.  I was crazy enough to look down to check it out—to see if my beaver-hair welcome mat was engorged with something other than boot-muck or, even, to gauge its capacity to incubate a bristly soul.  No, the effect was purely due to the positioning of the post-lady's left ankle-joint, heel-drumming, impatiently sole-scraping.

            "Would you mind..." I began.

            This time the smile was broad—in the open.  She doffed her cap, in a moment of mock politeness.  The mouth's kissability was tangible, tasteable in sheer anticipation.  The eyes spoke volumes or, rather, simple stories of fate and fatality.  Here was stirring stuff to startle the most seasoned fiction writer.  The words almost spoke for themselves.  A bestseller before I'd bought off the worst.  I had never been in a story in real life before.  Everything, to date, had been from the inner workings of imagination, if thinly sown with nuggets of experience.  And, like history, there was no arguing with it.

            Mesmerised by her actual ability to exist outside the story which I was about to write, I invited her into my sanctuary with the merest tilt of the head.  Since I had no better judgment left, I could not even act against it.  She knew how to behave; after all, I was the one making her do what she did.  I only had myself to blame.  I wished postman Dan wasn't on holiday.  I would've chinwagged with Dan for ages, simply to keep Dan on duty.  All was forgiven, Dan.  Come in for a cup of coffee, Dan.  Have a freshly baked scone, Dan.  How's Dan's wife?  We should have a chat like this more often, Dan. 

            Nobody had been in my parlour since ... when?  I could hardly remember.  I saw my word-processor on the desk, just waiting for the imprint of my fingers: keyed up for the words to be delivered in description of the events now being physically reflected upon its black screen.  Me and the thickly tweeded mail-woman.  Dan's stand-in.  Coming closer.  Tongue speaking to tongue with spittly gutturals.  My mouth wedged wide with a thicker, tougher wad than a simple human tongue.  The front-door could go hang.  I imagined the missive's bubbly prophylactic wrapping popping as the pods ruptured against the teeth.  Tantalising the soft palate with snapped air-pockets.

            I felt my mind's words slime down the gullet full of so much meaning they would burst that mind soon as they got back there.  Slither words.  Burst blood-blister words.  Sex words.  Reaching to the very backscreen of the brain, by-passing the eyes and, even, all the other senses.  Yet I knew I was the perpetrator of the evil done to that poor lady who was postman Dan's substitute for someone else.  Now her front door was to be lodged open by the porkiest pink parcel she'd ever likely to receive... 

            But, instead, the engorged gland bent back into his own rear-end, impregnating his tiny unsphinctered precinct to the point of lateral blow-out: bearing a sticky-label addressed to a man too mean to be me.

===     

When postman Dan arrived with the same day's delivery, he discovered corpse fingertips straining through the letter-box, as if trying to escape the house.  The fingers led to a man dressed in a navy-blue skirt and peaked cap, as if he had been playing at something to do with trains or airports, perhaps role-playing for real.  A toy post-office set was discovered on the kitchen table, its rubber date-stamp dated with a date past the death-by date.  Also sheaves of scrawl, evidently in some act of self-perpetuation or was it map-making?  All gobbledy-gook.  The man often received a lot of post—in really tiny pink perfumey envelopes from a strange woman (or so Dan naturally inferred, judging by the recipient).  But, as Dan gradually became to suspect, they were all self-addressed and sealed with a loving kiss.  Dan shrugged and went home to his wife who was interested to hear what had happened.  Dan kept the grisly details secret from her and, in time, even from himself.  Certainly a suicide, or as certain as one could be without the corroboration of a primary source.  Suicides were, in any event, more unmemorable than murders: fewer participants.  

            And Mr Gardner had always been out of his arse, even at the best of times, hadn't he?  Time to shrug and go. 

 

 


Posted by augusthog at 8:45 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 24 March 2008 7:31 AM EDT
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Sunday, 9 March 2008
Bottom Line

Published 'Glimpses' 1994 

 

Matthew occupied the garden, accompanied by a half empty bottle of Muscadet on the white table.  He had the world's horrors on his shoulders knowing deep down that if he didn't visualise the downside, somebody far more evil would take up the mantle and dole out even nastier helpings from the dregs of man's barrel.  Matthew's duty was almost like setting the bottom line.  So, his thoughts had pain and sorrow as their marker.  Furthermore, the monstrous hauntings that filled his mind had all the gore left in - mulchy corpses lying in wait with few shreds of flesh in place, then the mincing, the putrifying, living cadaver-swamps.

 

            He was just visualising such a fate for his wife Amelia.  Yet, she looks with a wan face into the garden, her dress picked out by an artist's palette, greens, blues and gorgeous reds.  She stands at the kitchen door, empty wine glass aloft, as if intent on her share from Matthew's bottle.  He tries to ignore her.  Real people had this knack of creeping up on one and masquerading as ghosts.  He'll have no truck with it.

 

            She walks towards him, forcing a smile against his efforts.

 

            He cringes.  A small item has fallen from the sky into his wine, one with insect legs.  He fishes it out but does not throw away the mouthful he is about to take.  No such insignificant member of God's creatures will make Matthew lose out on any wine.  Amelia pours herself a glassful and sits down in the other folding garden chair.

 

            "There are dark places that I dare not clean," Amelia said.

 

            Was she the woman Matthew had hired to keep house for him?  Not a wife, but an employee?  He could not be sure.

 

            "I know the landing is dark, Amelia.  I understand your fears."  He does not understand his own, however.

 

            "Not only the landing, the broom cupboard, too.  And the main bedroom at the front of the house."

 

            He seethed.  He had told her not to venture into the master bedroom.  There was nothing that could be cleaned properly in there, after all  -  and she might see the thing in the bed with which he slept.

 

            Tom now stood at the kitchen door, another empty wine glass aloft.  All Matthew's visualisations had now reverted to type.  Tom used to be Matthew's son, before he grew too old to have him as a father and left home to be a teacher.  Amelia beckoned Tom to join them in the garden.  The grass needed cutting (still does), but Matthew had ensured that nowhere was there available anything that could cut it: to be on the safe side of the bottom line. 

 

            Tom helped himself to the wine and sat in another garden chair which had unfolded like a yawning stick insect before their very eyes.  Tom's long legs took stretch and splay as if they yearned to escape the body they were tired of toting.

 

            "Hiya, Dad, lounging around again, thinking up those thoughts of yours?"

 

            "My thoughts, son, are more real than you'll ever be!"

 

            Amelia, by now, had taken stock of the grass and urged someone, preferably not her, to cut it.

 

The people had returned to the house, leaving Matthew to think away to his heart's content.  Where was his daughter?  She was probably visiting one of those dark places from where no children ever returned.  Better than watching soaps on TV.  She had yearned to marry a fruit-stoner, but Matthew had said that a tinker, tailor, teacher or suchlike were beneath her.  But she'd gone off to find the beggarman or thief, no doubt, to fulfil ideas she kept like ants' eggs in her head.

 

            For all Matthew knew, his real thoughts are even now being acted out inside the house, whilst their alibi sits out here.

 

            He puts the wine to his lips and is slightly amazed to find it treacly red, ripe for a midnight feast at noon. 

 

            He'd soon discover that the bottom line had been snatched away.

 


Posted by augusthog at 10:58 AM EST
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