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Tuesday, 26 August 2008
A Disorderly Imagination

Previous unpublished (written a number of years ago)­



Whether it was with some I-can't-posssibly-continue-living stab of pain or some I-don't-believe-this-can-be-happening-to-me rictus of rage, David listened to the news he was in the silent process of receiving from the telephone.  He'd vouch for ghosts having backbones rather than accept this incredulity.


            The house was silent, too, knowing, perhaps, that Melanie would never be returning to the protection of its walls.  Even the television had switched itself off.  The heating-pump was in an unaccustomed mode of thermostatic rest, depite the freezing weather.  The children had finished squabbling, in the bedrooms upstairs.  The traffic - as if it realised that it were somehow implicated in Melanie's death - was no longer conducting its rush hour trundle past the house, keeping, as it did, a tactful distance from David's consciousness as he replaced the handset in its cradle.


            To receive such news  from a bodiless voice almost persuaded David that he was dreaming.  Surely, with a tragic event like the sudden death of a loved one, the Authorities - police or whatever - had a duty to arrive in person and break the tidings.


            But everything seemed to fit somehow.


            David had always suffered from a disorderly imagination.




His three children huddled together, their disagreement abruptly forgotten under the weight of silence.  One of them had turned off the light, even though the other two were not yet ready for bed.  Their names were irrelevant in the darkness for, without faces - without, indeed, any physical shape - their need to define identity had vanished.


            Their disembodied voices were, absent, too, more by inertia than intention, ever since they had heard their father answering the call of the telephone.


            Now, they heard steady treads - their father ascending the stairs to start the tucking-in process, a nightly routine about this time.




Downstairs, the television screen bore a silent snow.  Evidently, the transmitter had cut out at source and the receiver had a device which automatically muted the ugly noise of no signal.




David climbed the stairs, his memory having short-circuited in its own autonomous effort to cut out - or, at least, blunt - the dreadful news that the telephone had brought to its owner.  Indeed, he recalled the happy days when he first met Melanie...




He was one of many Mods on motor-scooters - a nineteen sixties cult of sharp-dressed mohair-suited youths with molls in mini-skirts and stylish blouses - who visited the seaside resort of Hastings in 1963 despite a potential showdown with the black-leathery Rockers on huge snarling motorbikes: the latter raging through the town like supersonic beetles.


            One could sit on West Hill looking down at the beach covered in resting Mods - apparently conducting a pow-wow before the expected onset of Rockers. 


            The sea was out; so was the sun. 


            Blue faced blue, a rarity for England in those monochrome years of newsprint and black & white TV.  Suddenly, completely unpremeditated, the Mods, rose as one, lurched, swarmed and milled about haphazardly - radiating in more directions than those any normal circle could encompass.


            Which figure was David, it was impossible to judge from the top of West Hill.  Which Melanie.  Which anybody.  Perhaps it didn't matter.




Today, it doesn't matter; David continues to climb the never-ending stairs towards a memory of children who, if Melanie had not been killed, would have been born to fulfil a promise of bodies and bones for ghosts.  In fact, Melanie had been run down all those years ago in Hastings by a Rocker's rubber-snatching front wheel, practising drag-racing with her body as friction fodder.  So, the telephone saying it was an incident of road rage today, in 1988, rather than then, in 1963, derived from a modern dose of obscene anonymity.  1988 was an odd year.  It made the sixties seem almost sensible.




But who had it been watching the flailing, fleeing, flowing figures upon a distant descent of angle from West Hill?  David had spotted the black speck up there from the beach and he had guessed it was, in turn, solely intent on spotting him and the mini-skirted girl whose soft hand he'd happened to grab in the suddemn random scattering by the Mods over the yellow sands (sands which later looked so terribly grey on the television and in the Daily Express).  The girl, of course, turned into Melanie, just before her fatal brush with a Rocker's cutting-ridge rimful of spokes.




Hafley Clapp, as Fate would have it, was the Rocker who killed the girl with his roaring metal underswag.  The girl David would have married, given half the chance.


            The peculiarity was that Hafley Clapp returned into David's life in 1988 (the heyday of Margaret Thatcher).  By that time, the erstwhile stubble-cheeked, beer-bellied, bike-thrusting Rocker had transmuted into a respectable spine-doctor who David hired (through private insurance, rather than National Health) to wield osteopathic skills upon his slipped disc.  If that was not a coincidence, the fact that anyone was in a position to exercise Free Will seemed under considerable doubt.




David reached the landing at last - set to tuck in his three children, biting his tongue as he remembered the telephone's call.




David vaguely remembered seeing the Mr. H. Clapp nameplate on the spine-doctor's door.  Only doctors of senior rank could use Mr as opposed to Dr as their handle - a fact which seemed an odd tradition to David.


            "Come in," roared the deep voice of Hafley Clapp.


            Being a privare patient, there was no waiting-room.  Consultations were immediate, the secretary at her desk merely nodding him through with a knowing smile.


            David was indeed intrigued by Clapp's resemblance to somebody from the past, but he soon shrugged it off - blaming his own disorderly imagination.




If David had pursued the meanderings of his mind, he would have been able later to rehearse the likely conversation in the leisure of his own home...


            "Don't I know you from somewhere?"


            "I don't think so," said Mr Clapp as he placed his fingers firmly upon the almost fin-like ridge of David's spine.


            "Many years ago ... when the Beatles were never off the top of the Hit Parade..."


            The conversation was far too stilted to be a real one.


            "Well, that far too long ago for me to go back!" laughed Mr Clapp.


            "Yes ... I remember ... in Hastings ... weren't you riding a motorbike?"


            Clapp visibly blanched - as anyone could have attested given the vantage point - his fingers freezing upon David's rubbery skin.


            "I've never been to Hastings in my life."


            "I met a girl there called Melanie ... who you killed."


            This time the retrospectively rehearsed conversation short-circuited as if David's probing had hit a raw nerve too near the bone.  Hafley Clapp was no longer co-operating within the confines of David's memory-conduit - two memories inside the other like Russian Dolls, that of Hastings in 1963 and that of the spine-doctor's consultation room earlier in the day, that day, today, in 1988.




David had by now reached the first bedroom door, his hand outstretched to twist the knob.  His children were being remarkably quiet; they usually screeched and screamed as they flung rag dolls from wall to wall.


            David's back suddenly seized up, the way it often did.  Age had many concomitants.


            He couldn't move - neither towards his original shape nor to a new one with which he had intended to open the bedroom door.  Neither into the past, nor the future.  Stuck permanently in the present, with the ugly noise of no signal as sole accompaniment.


            But then the phone rang.







Posted by augusthog at 12:13 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 26 August 2008 12:19 PM EDT
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Thursday, 7 August 2008
Weirdmonger (2003) Book Bibliography




>The Abacus

Whispers From The Dark #14 (1995)


>Always in Dim Shadow

Exuberance #3 (1991)

Frisson Vol 1 No 2 (1996)

Sackcloth & Ashes #6 (1999)


>Angel Of The Agony

Necropolis #18 (1994)

Nasty Snips (MT Book) (1999)


>Apple Turnover

Dead of Night #9 (1994)


>Back Doubles

Black Tears #2 (1993)

Black Moon #4 (1995)



Gothic Light #7 (1993)

New Dawn Fades #14 (1995)

Hadrosaur Tales #8 (2000)


>Big Ship, Little Ship and Brown

Substance #2 (1995)

Stygian Articles #6 (1996)

At'mos faer (Kadath) (1997)



Deathrealm #13 (1991)

Best of DF Lewis (Tal Publications) (1993)



Dementia 13 #10 (1993)

Elder Signs #1 (1997)

Dark Legacy Vol 3, i (2001)


>A Brief Visit to Bonnyville

The Third Alternative #7 (1995)



Atsatrohn vol 3 no 6 (1993)

Contortions #1 (1996)

Nasty Piece of Work #11 (1999)


>The Chaise Longue

Gravity’s Angels (The T Party) (1998)


>The Christmas Angel

Grotesque #6 (1995)

Parasol Post #18 (2000)


>Dark They Were and Empty-Eyed

Nyx-Obscura #1 (1995)

Visionary Tongue #3 (1996)

At’mos faer (Kadath) (1997)


>The Dead

Elegia vol 2 no 3 (1995)


>Dear Mum

Dream #26 (1990)

Parlour Papers #1 (1993)


>Digory Smalls

Dagon #24 (1989)

Twisted #1 (1996)



Flicker ‘n’ Frames #12 (1991)

Best of DF Lewis (Tal Publications) (1993)

Earwig Flesh Factory #3/4 (2000)



Palace Corbie (1995)



Scheherazade #8 (1993)

Palace Corbie (1997)


>Encounters with Terror

Weirdbook #29 (1995)

Dark Horizons #34 (1993)


>Find Mine

The Vampire’s Crypt #14 (1998)

Peeping Tom #29 (1998)


>First Sight

Dark Regions Vol 3 No 1 (1995)

Lathered In Crimson #4/5 (1998)



Heliocentric Net vol 2 No 1 (1993)

Psychotrope #3 (1995)


>The Hungerers

Imelod #17 (2000)


>The II King

Ocular #18 (1998)


>In Unison

Stygian Articles #3 (1995)

Black Rose #2 (1998)


>The Jack-in-the-Box

Exuberance #3 (1992)

Best of DF Lewis  (Tal Publns) (1993)


>The Last Prize

Albedo One #5 (1994)


>The Merest Tilt

Mystic Fiction Vol 2 No 4 (1994)

Beyond The Brink #9 (1995)


>Migrations of the Heart

Dreams and Nightmares #39 (1993)


>A Mind's Kidney

Severin' #4 (1993)

Footsteps #2 (1996)


>Padgett Weggs

Tales After Dark #2 (1986)

Fantasy Macabre #15 (1993)


>Queuing Behind Crazy People

Night Dreams #7 (1997)



Eldritch Tales #26 (1992)

Roadworks #6 (1999)



Alternaties #13 (1993)

Year’s Best Horror Stories (Daw) (1994)


>Scaredy & White Mouth

Chills #8 (1994)


>The Scar Museum

Palace Corbie (1996)

Strix #17 (1999)


>Season of Lost Will

Hobgoblin #2 (1991)

Dark Horizons #33 (1992)


>Second Best

Vicious Circle #2 (1993)

Eclipse #6 (1998)


>A Selfish Strain

Scar Tissue #13 (1998)

Drift #96 (1998)


>The Sun Setting

Never printed before


>Shades of Emptiness

Never printed before


>The Shiftlings

The White Rose #16 (1990)

Dreams & Nightmares #37  (1992)


>Small Fry

Never printed before


>Small Talk

Alternaties #16 (1994)


>The Spigot & The SpeechMark

Deathrealm #28 (1996)


>Sponge and China Tea

Dagon #26 (DF Lewis Special) (1989)

Year’s Best Horror Stories XVIII (1990)


>The Stories of Murkales: Twelve Zodiacal Tales

Dagon #20 & #21 (1987, 1988)


>Stricken with Glee

After Hours #16 (1992)

End Of The Millennium #11 (1999)


>The Swing

Visionary Tongue #9 (1997)

Dread #4 (1998)


>The Tallest King

Cerebretron #6 (1988)

Sierra Heaven #1 (1995)


>Tentacles Across the Atlantic (The Story)

Stygian Articles #7 (1996)


>The Terror of the Tomb

Heart Attack #2 (1992)


>Todger's Town

Cthulhu Cultus #15 (1999)


>Tom Rose

‘Signals’ anthology from 'London Magazine' (Constable Books) (1991)


>Top of an Angel's Head

Barfly #2 (1996)

The Fractal #6 (1997)


>Uncle Absolutely

Foolscap #12 (1992)

Visionary Tongue #11 (1998)



Gateways #6 (1993)


>The Walking Mat

Sugar Sleep (Barrington) (1993)

After (2000)


>Wall Pack

Dagon#26 (DF Lewis Special) (1989)



Oasis #62;63 (1993)


>Watch the Whiskers Sprout

Cthulhu’s Heirs (Chaosium) (1994)


>The Weirdmonger

Back Brain Recluse #11 (1988)

The Dream Zone #8 (2001)


>Welsh Pepper

Vandeloecht's Fiction Magazine #5 (1992)

Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI (1993)


>Wild Honey

The Stylus #1 (1993)



Dagon #26 (DF Lewis Special) (1989)


Posted by augusthog at 5:39 AM EDT
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Saturday, 12 July 2008
The Dream I Was

(published 'Masque' 1994)


When Mirren first met me, I was just recovering from a bad do, suicide being not too strong a word. However, Mirren, china-doll's face with crushed aspirin make-up, was due to become my saint and saviour. To say I hoped that she would save me from myself may be trite, but how else can I tell the truth? By telling lies?

Mirren could speak for herself, in any event.

"I love you for yourself. Nothing else."

"What else is there?" I asked.

Her eyes milked over and I knew she meant the money.

Despite my selfless misgivings, I was rich. Really rich. If you bacon-sliced me, a watermark could be seen running right through. No counterfeit money, me.

Mirren was beyond all that. I could tell from the sincerity in her face. Hard to hide that behind make-up, however thickly applied.

Then there was that day, when I sensed another do coming on me. Depression was like that - crept up when least expected.

In the throes of foreplay, nothing but moving shapes in the heavy drizzle; the red pulsing light of the electronic advertisement-sign making our skin have episodic wounds. St Paul's Cathedral loomed silently through the air's patina - with lighting-effects beyond even those a night-demon once used in my special never-to-be-repeated and often, thankfully, never remembered childhood dream.

Sleeping rough, of course, had its drawbacks. There must have been a general power-cut in the city, since we suddenly discovered ourselves in pitch darkness. The black sky had descended like a sopping wet funeral blanket.

"Bugger!" Mirren was heard to enunciate with some conviction.

Another street-lady moved nearer to her, crushing corrugated cardboard between body and pavement. "Don't fret, Mirren, that bloke's just a dream, cos I had him, too ... once."

And no amount of money in the world could bring me back.

I wandered a Great Britain that I did not recognise. I gathered I must indeed be a dream, rather than actually dreaming myself. I had hiked from London's cardboard city to the Scottish Highlands in less than a day, faster than the railways, in fact. I had negotiated previously untrodden paths, intermittently coming across towns named after Scottish football teams. But snatches of sleep disfigured the dream I was with unconscious darkness.

Eventually, I found myself resting upon a steep slope of heather, gazing down upon a lagoon. I could just discern the forms of children diving and splashing in its inviting pink waters. Their distant cries of joy punctuated the living silence. I was a stranger on the shore and the first to spot me were the older ones. Shame-faced, they continued to careen through the bubbles: evidently a healing process, since the younger ones had long sores along their sides, opening and shutting like mouths: waiting for the white lips to close up permanently. The older ones cared for those younger, keeping them from sinking in the water and encouraging them to move sinuously like sea-snakes. As soon as I became too obvious to ignore wholly, the older ones helped those younger to make as much progress as possible to the centre of the lagoon, where natural frothing geysers concealed them from me.

"Who is he, Meadowbank?"

The one who was addressed was the oldest and his only answer was to teach them how to continue treading water since, there at the lagoon's furthest reaches, no steady footing was even remotely near; the insecurity of that fact could very well lead to panic. The children had paired off - and were embracing in combined attempts to remain afloat, each set of four legs pumping away at the nothing below them.

Meadowbank took hold of his peer, Heart of Midlothian, and pressed himself against her buds and uprearing limbs; she, in turn, pressed back against his scissoring, sapling form. But such frenzied, spinning motions only served to re-open their wounds which, until then, had begun to knit together in the soothing mountain waters. Redness dyed the springs around them. Fearing that the legendary monster had got them, I forged on towards what I thought was a northerly direction.

During the next bout of self-awareness, I had arrived at a black city among the towering mountains. I first saw it from afar as I broke new summits. Its many gothic cathedrals were like the Redoubts of another dream ... dark places of sanctuary and spurts of intermittent foundry fire breaking between the clustered buildings where I could see the wandering populace flinching at each fresh outburst.

As the slopes neared the highly wrought affair of the city gate, I saw the inner watery courtyards where craft with purple sails dodged from quay to quay. Soon, I was below the looming gates and could no longer see within; the ripping cries continued to increase in volume as if it were market day in Hell. I was a tiny dot at the foot of the sky-high city walls, knowing instinctively that it would take more than a day for the heavy workings of the groaning gates to be set in motion. But here, at last, was sanctuary from the dream I happened to be.

The guardian of the gate appeared as if from nowhere, covered from tip to toe in an armour of cardboard pound notes, accusing me of being a carrier of plague dreams and thus not welcome to shelter in the city of Partick Thistle.

I strode on, holding my shut-eyed head high and ignoring the tolling alarums of the cathedrals' behemoth-bells that now reverberated throughout the mighty valley ... seeking the sanctuary of Saints Mirren or Johnstone further north.

"There were no preambles to the conversation," she said.

"What, no introductions?" I queried, not quite believing her version of events.

"None at all. Just two voices emerging out of nowhere, as it were." She tilted her wide-brimmed hat so that the shadow was lifted from her face. The rest of her clothes seemed to big for her, as if appearances were not her prime motive. I recognised her but could not put my finger on where and when. She appeared irritated, as if I were speaking my thoughts aloud. "Of course you recognise me," she resumed, "you were my lover many years ago."

"Ah yes," I said, by and large unconvinced.

"You're not sure then?"

"Yes, of course I am." I was afraid to admit otherwise.

"Well, I was telling you about the conversation, wasn't I?" She knew I was afraid of her, and I merely nodded as she continued. "The two of them started talking as if they'd known each other for years. One minute the room was empty. The next they were nattering twenty-four to the dozen. It was as if reality had started up from scratch, with all memories already complete but not actually experienced. Real memories, by comparison, are built up piecemeal from the sheer survival of existence. Their memories had been born as if from nothingness."

I nodded again, humouring her. How had I become embroiled with such a weird creature? How could I disentangle myself? I looked at the window. It was completely black outside. The door was shut, but with nothing to suppose it was locked. Perhaps I could make my excuses...

"Look here!" she snapped with a scowl. "There's no way I'm going to let you go. It's been ages since I had anybody with which to keep company and you having been my lover in the past, you can damn well stay put and reciprocate."

At that moment, the door swung wide on shrieking hinges. A man of middle years stood in its frame, staring at the pair of us. He was older, or perhaps younger, than he looked, in view of the baggy clothes he had chosen to wear.

"Hello, Meadowbank," she said as if on a reflex to the newcomer.

"Heart of Midlothian!" The one called Meadowbank addressed the woman with the loose tongue who claimed to be my long lost lover from a past so foreign she seemed like a complete stranger with an incomplete grasp of the present. They acted like people who had been lost-presumed-dead in an endless war. But presumptions were what they indeed were: they slid out of sight within each other's gaping wounds which I now realised had been previously bandaged beneath their ill-fitting clothes. Not even the slightest bubbling or gurgling remained, as the dream I was finally expired - like a period return on the railways.

The bells of St Paul's Cathedral tolled loudly, as Mirren settled with a smile into the sticky warmth of my own recently vacated body. It was better than a cardboard box any day. A body-bag of riches for an undressed doshless dosser of a dreamer.

"Bugger!" A misplaced rib stuck awkwardly in her back.

Posted by augusthog at 10:39 AM EDT
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Sunday, 22 June 2008
ODALISQUE by PF Jeffery (Chapter 1)

The author of ODALISQUE has been kind enough to send me a CD of the whole novel. He started writing this novel in the nineteen-eighties.  Recently completed (June 2008).

I hope to read this novel chapter by chapter on a weekly basis - and record some thoughts below.  There are 50 chapters plus epilogue.


The author is happy for me to send to you a word-document of each chapter at any time, at your request.  My address is

I am a long-term epistolary friend of the author (handwritten letters from 1967 on a rough weekly basis).

I believe in ODALISQUE as a great fantasy/horror novel (spiritual, grotesque and humorous), but I am still in the personal throes of grappling with its strangely powerful (for me, almost alien) ethos -- greatly assisted by its beautifully silky style of expression.


My previous chapter comments (up to chapter 28) on an earlier version of ODALISQUE (namely OF BONDLINGS & BLESH) may also be of interest here:  These should give a good flavour of the actual plot of the novel's first half.

Recommended additional reading: PFJ's GOLDEN GODDESS AND BLOODY TIMES:




Being the memoirs of Tuerqui
The Founder’s Concubine
Usurper’s Daughter from the Blood Victoria

Transcribed by P F Jeffery

Edited with reference to the original manuscripts and annotated by Jennifer Petrie, senior archivist at the University of Pain

Is the existence of a rock preferable to that of a candle flame? My feeling is that truly living is better than merely existing – however brief its span. Rather a single night as my mistress’ odalisque than a long life free from trouble.
– from a memorandum book in Tuerqui’s hand

Chapter 1

Well this is the business. It really flows sweetly about sexual, grotesque, spiritual and dynastic matters - as if it were meant to be!

Please ask for attachment of this one chapter if you want to check it out. And then see if you can resist the rest!

“I’ve heard people mention it, mummy, and know that Surrey folk do very bad things.”

“The Third Battle of Lundin was bloody hundreds of years ago,” Jenna remarked. "If the ghosts haven’t got over it by now, they need to get a life… Or get a death!”

and we we’d be carried off as slaves.



Posted by augusthog at 8:05 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 22 June 2008 9:29 AM EDT
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Sunday, 25 May 2008
Wake In The Morling

Published 'Eco-Runes' 1996

I dreamed of dropping asleep, where it was so difficult to wake.

Yet a young man, 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 its heart. Their wool was morling, not shoring, 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 woke, deep down somewhere, 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 me. So, I was delighted, several benighted dreams later, to become the same old man from this previous dream who then met a boy halfway into that same wood. I recognised him from the yellowing photographs in my waking album of 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 am the tender of baa-lambs round this neck of this 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 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, I began to feel no longer a protagonist in it. The now autonomous old man and the shepherd boy are in the heartwood counting the number of times a white ball of wool is thrown back and forth, without dropping it. The boy’s so intent on the game, I wonder what can have happened to his bo-peepery. I squint at them from behind some Sting-Backs, intrigued to see which of them falters first. I simply know the old man will drop the ball. There’s no way to pull the wool over a young man’s eyes, even if the curve of his sight’s skewed by the filtering lens of dream. They ever count a sheep, asleep.


Posted by augusthog at 4:39 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 25 May 2008 4:42 PM EDT
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Monday, 12 May 2008
Misbegotten Love


(published 'Exuberance' 1990)

He came into the room expecting to find his fiancee. Imagine his surprise when he saw me sitting in the armchair,by the log fire, where she usually sat.

“I’m sorry, Bill, she’s not here, she’s upstairs, and would like you to go without any fuss and bother,” I said.

“But, why?” He was crestfallen. “She’s not in love with you any more. Not since,you know...well, I’m told she’s very disappointed with what you tried to do to her last night, to be blunt.”

“You mean...well, whatever it is why couldn’t she have told me herself? I could clear up any misunderstanding.”

As if automatically, he went to the window and drew the curtains across, as the street lamp just outside had just been belatedly lit by a man on tiptoes. He stood there for a few seconds, as if gathering his thoughts, staring at the floral pattern in the curtains that he’d man-handled, no doubt seeking some inspiration in the weave. He then turned, expressionless, having regained his composure and said:-

“It’s you,isn’t it? You’ve turned her against me. I’ve always seen it in your eyes, now I know it’s true...”

Any outside observer would have described my face as turning white as a sheet. I could not even bring myself to believe I heard what I heard him implying. Then the door to the room opened and in she came, tears streaming down her uncannily young face.

“Bill, just go! Make it as easy as possible. We can’t go on, and that’s that,” she sobbed.

“What did I do?”

I had ceased to be party to the gathering; I slipped into the shadows and just watched.

“Fancy saying you could pretend to be a doctor and that you would give me an internal examination!”

“But it was a game! You agreed, darling.”

“But you didn’t do it right, Bill.You only used your finger!”

Hearing a smart knocking at the window, I went over and undrew the curtains. It was now completely dark outside, but one could see that there was the lamp-lighter with his face squashed up to the glass, flecks of drool rhythmically bubbling at his nostrils.

He shouted something like:

“Doctor,come quick, there be an accident down the road...”

I immediately grabbed my coat and ran out to help, leaving my daughter to deal with her ex-fiance herself.

Posted by augusthog at 4:09 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 12 May 2008 4:11 AM EDT
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Wild Jokers and Square Balls


(published ‘The New Truth’ 1988) 

As a freak of fate, those who were already there when Antonian arrived in the lamp room, were discussing the dice-throwing set who used to frequent the commercial markets all over the world. Antonian had once considered himself to be part of that scene, but not for some years. It all came flooding back to him when someone shouted out: “Hey! Antonian, thrown a clutch of sixes lately?”

He scowled at the unseen perpetrator of this cruel jollity.

The gas lamps were so aligned with the wall mirrors, they cast shadows over the faces on the settees, but made the ceiling brighter than a sunny sky in mid-June.

He went to the hatch in the wall where pootch was being served at a guinea a schooner. The young lady serving, in contrast to the customers, was in full view, not even a shadow down her cleavage.

“Six schooners,” he ordered.

She poured them from a cask with a brass tap.

“Can you top them up - there’s at least half an inch of head.”

She stared back.

“Oi, Mistah, you may be a right oo-de-lah in your mummy’s eyes, but here you get what yer given. That’ll be six guineas and, if you want me to say please, thàt’ll be another guinea on top!”

Antonian fidgetted his feet. The lamps flickered as a nearby underground train shook the whole building. Like ghosts, the faces of the other drinkers were partially revealed by the tapering, leaning and bluing of the gas jets. He recognized at least one of his fellow shakers from the old days, one who owed him more than vice versa.

“Hey, Jack,” he called, “Give this here lady a guinea and she says she’ll say please.”

“Yes,” she laughed, “I’ll say please for a guinea and give me yet another, I’ll give you a sweet thank you too!”U

“How sweet, Brenda?”

“You’ll see.”

He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a wad of tight change. He threw it into her cleavage and heard the splash several seconds later.

“Is that enough, Brenda?”

She smiled innocently and fished down her front to retrieve the payment.

Meanwhile, he who had been addressed as Jack had stepped up to the hatch. If anyone had a misaligned smile he did - either that or his head had been put on at the wrong angle.

“Yes, I thought it was you Jack - come to rub along again with your old Uncle Antonian, eh? We were muckers once, so let’s call it quits. Give me a wad, and I’ll let this young lady have another one for her chest of drawers ... and maybe she’ll entertain us both together, later.”

“And maybe I won’t”, she said, as she topped up the six schooners.

“Thanks, Brenda, have one for yourself.”

Antonian wrapped the six glasses in his fist as if he were a born waiter and, without warning, smashed them all to the floor, splinters of glass and flecks of pootch flying in all directions … save one, where Antonian himself stood with Jack.

The rest of the company were not so lucky. They had their women picking shards out of their cheeks for weeks after.

But that was the last six Antonian ever threw. He left the lamp-room that night - smiling from ear to ear and, for the benefit of those who pry, he was carried out in a state of apparent drunkenness. Well, what do you think, after downing six schooners of pootch?

Brenda (if that was her real name), when dressing later that night, told Jack that she’d enjoyed it more than ever, his new pouch being far more chunky.... But it had been strangely dark in the lamp-room and, in this day and age, what matters is who trumped her - names were wild, bodies shuffled and tricks far too easy to take - and who cares whose deal it was anyway.

Posted by augusthog at 4:04 AM EDT
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Sunday, 11 May 2008
A Collaboration with Anthea Holland

At a point in the distance the trees merged with the horizon, a dark rim on the pan of the world. The bowl of hope was empty, the dish of dreams devoid of anything but the dregs of a nightmare.

The flatness of the landscape reminded him of the desert. Not that the desert had been flat, far from it; the sand scalloped into shapes beyond the imaginings of the finest sculptor. But it had been arid - like that flatness that lay before him in the future. The trees that he could no longer discern were nothing but a hiccup in the digestive system of existence.

He turned and looked over his shoulder whence he had come. Nothing much there, either. A few streams perhaps, but he had passed them without noticing them, so they counted for nothing. Once or twice a flower had bloomed, only to be flattened by his size 10's. The wildlife along the way had scurried into holes and burrows to avoid his deadly gaze.

Even wildlife with roots had scurried! Or so it seemed. There was one particular form of orchid that managed to move from place to place of its own volition. Dragging its roots behind, in hope of a new seedbed to mulch it. A rare plant. A rare disease, too, imagining that such a plant could exist. Yet indeed it was no fever of his brain that told him he was following one such specimen between the now featureless horizons. Duneless and dour.

Of course, a rare orchid would never be able to survive in the dry terrains he now crossed. It was wishful thinking or just sheer bravery on the plant’s part to act as his guide. Only desiccation could be its ultimate fate. Sacrificing its life for his. Still, rare orchids only lasted a blink of an eyelid in the scheme of things, at the best of times. He shrugged. It wasn’t sacrificing that much, was it? Rare beauty was ephemeral to the nth degree.

Like Catherine’s rare beauty. She had not been a lover of exotic blooms. She simply relished the act of pressing ordinary wild flowers into scrapbooks. Wild flowers were all very well in their place - in fact he thought they should be protected and nurtured; nothing was improved by removing it from its natural habitat, he thought, including man. Take him, for example - and he wished somebody would, now that Catherine had relinquished her claim - he was not improved by being in this desiccated landscape. No, he should be in his rightful place; armchair by a log fire, a book in his hands, a glass of beer at his side and preferably with Catherine at his feet. Or, better still, with the same log fire but on the rug in front of it - with Catherine, naturally.

A sound made him look down to catch the tail end of a rat scurrying beneath a rock. A rock that surely hadn't been there a moment before. But then he was used to rocks cropping up unexpectedly in his life - all designed to trip him up, he was sure. It was only the sound the rat had made that had saved him from tripping over this one.

Rats. They kept appearing in his life as well. Always when he least expected it; when he believed his cup of happiness was full to overflowing, some nasty rat would come and drink the contents of his vessel while his back was turned.

One half was dream. The other was real. A hybrid of waking and sleeping. The free-wheeling orchid and memories of Catherine by the log fire were in the dream. The rats were real. The desert was real. Desert rats. Still, he’d seen rats in his local park back home – and during his seaside holidays in North Essex, too. That had only been too real.

He decided to allow the dream to take sway. It seemed preferable; the dream took place in a desert, a different desert. But Catherine, a different Catherine, not the dream one, was in a deckchair, sun-bathing, or rather, sun-burning. It was like looking at chicken roast. She was quite naked, her voice emerging from above curvier dunes than the desert could ever boast.

“It’s nice here by the sea,” she said. The sea was so far away. The whole universe was global-burning. She pretended to be on a pier in a cool sea breeze. She watched, she said, children playing on the beach. Scurrying around like rats in a panic.

He resumed his walk towards the nearest horizon, intent on a quest, the purpose of which was lost in the dream he wasn’t now dreaming.

The him that was a dream had a spring in his step; the tree-lined horizon now taking shape so that he could see the moving forms beneath them. Catherine was there, he knew - not the sun-scorched version, but the languid on the rug one. His heart-beat quickened as he increased his pace until he was running - and yet the horizon seemed to be no nearer; the forms beneath it no better defined.

The real him was also moving forward, but slower. For him, too, the horizon was becoming clearer and the trees more defined. Beneath them the shapes that moved were less friendly than Catherine - although the solar-cooked version might be there, he supposed. But it wasn't a sight he really wanted to see - except for the small part of him that sought revenge.

Revenge is sweet, they say, and so were the fruit gums that he dug around for in his pocket. He was sure there was a couple left. Eventually he located one trapped in the seam and covered with fluff and other detritus that defied definition. Aware (because his mother had told him) that you had to eat a speck of dirt before you died, he put the whole thing in his mouth, hoping that the speck of dirt might speed him to a death that he had been seeking. It seemed a preferable way to go than facing what lurked beneath the trees - which he seemed to be approaching remarkably quickly considering the slow movements of his feet.

It was a doll. The china cheeks mottled by the browning of history. The rubbery-looking limbs mapped all over with an unfathomable geography, peppered as it was with cack-handed archipelagos. There was a pustule or bubble on the doll’s china neck as if the sun was beginning to frazzle it. The toy gums were caked with gooey colours. The bone china teeth or dentures were browner than the staining on the cheeks. The eyes jaundiced. The face pointed like a rodent’s.

Dead orchids were crumpled in the vicinity and he sniffed the residue of some ritualistic mass suicide on their part. Their tiny roots like centipede legs wilted and flickered in the breezeless air. These had once been the trees that had seemed to merge with the horizon, given the perspective of contourless distance and its misalignment of terrain. Also given his own inchworm proportions. He threaded the eyes. Riddled the dark sands. A rare specimen. A squirming speck of size 10 dirt.

Catherine, having woken, lazed back in a log-chair on a log-pier above a log-fire. The deck swayed. But that was a different dream. And only perspective in dream was a measure for how real waking was. Embarking on a voyage to ancient China or far-off Cathay.

Posted by augusthog at 5:38 AM EDT
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A collaboration with Anthea Holland

Going away; going away; going away;
Coming back home; coming back home; coming back home.

Stanley couldn't decide which of the two phrases the rhythm of the train wheels were saying. Still, it didn't really make any difference to him - he wasn't going anywhere. Not home - where was home, anyway? Not away - not in the sense of the word that most people used it.

He sat back, listening to the rhythm as it lulled him - not to sleep - no! Never that! But to some kind of inner peace where the demons that had been driving him for so long could be pushed to the back of his mind.

In his eschatological journey there were few things more designed to upset Stanley than the thought of the demons, even more so than death itself.

Trains used to be the safest form of transport, someone in the future claimed. Only young people had any future, maundered Stanley. He was old – old enough to sense the creeping onset of extinction. What use the future for the likes of him?

He raised his sights, just at the moment a veil was lifted from the face of the passenger opposite. Stanley and this now beautiful gifted individual had both snatched the window seats at the terminus, leaving the other more run-of-the-mill commuters like us to make do, elsewhere in the carriage, with the mended moveables that one could claw out of the seatbacks on which to place the arms. Even the crested headrests had been darned.

Stanley smiled at his vision of manifest female splendour.

Even from within the idle talk of co-travellers, words were sometimes too complicated actually to speak. Talk too small even to mention. Glances were the simplest handles to hold.

She nodded at him. Returning to her gold-tooled book, her young face resumed its caul of anonymity and plainness.

Stanley, in some panic, turned to the rest of us hoping against hope that one of us would have words simple enough to speak. Yet large enough to create diversions from death. He needed lifting from his own doom.

“Home is where you never arrive,” one of us wheedled, with a snort and a sniffle.

"No, no, no!" a lady with a walking stick exclaimed, "Home is where the heart is."

"Not at all," a portly, balding gentleman claimed, "Home is on the range."

"That would be the aga, I suppose?" I asked, trying to insert a hint of humour where none reigned.

I was met with a group of withering looks and felt my roots tremble.

"Home is sweet," the child seated next to me whispered without looking up from the gory paper-back novel he was reading. In fact the words were uttered so quietly that I wondered if they had actually been granted to the air. I looked more closely at the child and saw that it was not, in fact, a child as I had thought but an under-sized man of indeterminable age. Unwashed, hair awry, rings the size of knuckle-dusters and - now I concentrated - emanating a rather strong smell of the sewers. How could the word "sweet" have come from his cracked lips?

Home is sweet … like treacle? Like fly-rotten pudding?

Home, sweet home. I tried to imagine Stanley’s home. A twouptwodown with chintzy fittings. Ill-trimmed flock wallpaper. Ruffled curtains in a flowery mode. Yes, sweet, curdled and claustrophobic. No wonder he wandered the world on a Rail Rover ticket, going nowhere, hoping never to return.

I then looked askance at the ‘child’ with the over-sweet aroma: evidently one of the demons who followed every track of Stanley’s footsteps, even shunting into the darkest sidings or making the briefest stops at tenantless halts. If the truth were known, I am, also, one of Stanley’s demons.

Less of me. I have my pointy ears pricked for any conversation that grows beyond the stunted pleasantries of mere co-travellers, even homing in upon the slightest sweet nothings.

“Coming home?” asked the beautiful lady opposite Stanley, her husky tones making me think of the way cats would talk if they had human articulation. She did not turn her eyes towards Stanley, but stared at the fleeting plains of rape seed oil and an even yellower town that nestled in a distant valley. She wrinkled her mouth without pursing.

“No, going away,” replied Stanley, as he fingered his train ticket, examining it for blemishes.

Was he just being perverse, I wondered? Having previously thought that he was neither going away nor coming home, I now realised that he was, in fact doing both - going away from one well-known place to another, less familiar, home.

So why had he disagreed with the vision of beauty that he so obviously wanted to impress? He could have answered quite correctly, "Yes."

Aye, and there's the rub. A simple agreement would have stopped the conversation dead, whereas a disagreement left the conversation open.

I watched the face of the girl reflected back from the window. Her green eyes never flickered yet the longer I watched the more convinced I was that one of them closed ever so slowly in a kind of conspiritorial wink.

Another of Stanley's demons, I wondered?

If so, she was from a different dimension to me; there were no such beautiful felines where I came from.

She lifted her hand and stroked her face from lip to ear, much as a cat would clean its whiskers.

"Coming home?" she asked, as if the previous question had not been asked.

Stanley frowned. "No, going away," he said - this time with a little more conviction.

He and the girl abruptly left the carriage at the same halt, one where its rattling speed merely slowed down to a walking pace, no doubt to ensure catching something in the guard’s outstretched parcel-net.

The two of them leaped upon the sliding platform, their legs pumping against the residual motion to regain their balance. I looked askance at my co-demons. The couple had pulled the wool over our eyes good and proper. Stanley and the girl, we were now convinced, had known each other all along. They were an item merely masquerading as corner-seat grabbing rivals. She probably darned his socks at home. Or licked the puddle of milk from his belly-button.

As to us … well we eternally travel the now commercially dislocated network of British Rail - furthering curtailments, enticing delays and derailments, evoking squabbles with ticket collectors, collecting the turgid souls of you mindless folk who merely stare into the distance or bury yourself in pot-boilers … as A turns to B, towards the XYZ of death’s ultimate halt. Journeys are merely excuses for not living. Home is where the action is.

We have your best interests at heart…

I was suddenly interrupted by the guard’s face at the carriage door. He waved an object which he was intent on delivering. It looked like a dead cat, flat as cardboard meat.

I waved him away; we could not be bothered with such imponderables. The lady with the stick smiled in evident agreement. The sweet child looked desperately around for its mummy and daddy. The portly balding gentleman took out a notebook and started scribbling words that had just sprung to mind. Every passenger has his or her own fascinating story to tell, they say. Something inscrutable behind the eyes. It’s just impossible to tell. Home is not where you lay your cat, I guess, but it is that fire at the seat of the brain. I shrugged and got back to my knitting.

Posted by augusthog at 5:35 AM EDT
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Friday, 9 May 2008
Scales and Balances
Through the mists of time and the relatively clearer gaps between them, there swooped the Beasts upon detachable wings of silver and steel scales. The rhythmic clanking and clanging could be heard from one universe to the next, even permeating the otherwise dead silence of those untenable realities which lay endlessly beyond the edge of the tenable ones. Each Beast was itself larger than a good-sized star and their wing-spans spread like heavenly shafts of white light through the depleted blacknesses of deepest space. Suddenly (and in the time-scale of which I speak, ‘suddenly’ lasted longer than a tandem of eternities in your own scale), the biggest Beast with by far the biggest wings with an ego bigger than the rest put together collided head-on with an even bigger Black Hole. Gradually, the eventual consequences of such a shunt became clear, but even God (whom I once was) wasn’t around to weigh the repercussions in His own silver and steel balances.

Published 'Crossings' 1993

Posted by augusthog at 4:38 AM EDT
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