Saturday, 30 January 2010
Nodding out, like all the other stoners. Bloody weekend hippy. Looks too well off for that lark. Probably spends every ha'penny on designer flares and Habitat rugs for his flat in Maida Vale. Wanker.
Viv Hensleigh grunted, sitting up, wondering where the voice had come from. He glanced in the rear view mirror to see if it was his fare but the wanker was still drifting in the back seat. Gripping the steering wheel tighter, he wondered if he'd pulled one all-night shift too many this week. It's that or I'm going bloody doolally.
Slowing to let a couple of pedestrians pass at a pelican crossing, he spotted a lovely young dolly bird in a miniskirt and platform heels struggling to cross without flashing her bum. He waited until she was right in front of the cab, then leant heavily on the horn. She jumped, startled, rewarding him with a flash of white cotton panties that would do him a treat next time the missus went to sleep and left him to fend for himself.
What a perv! The dirty old sod's old enough to be me dad! Me grandad even! Feller in the back look's half decent, but he's not even looked my way. Probably too embarrassed. I'm sure I've seen him on the telly; looks really familiar.
Vivien Hensleigh stood in front of the cab, peering at the man in the back seat, until the driver beeped his horn again and slowly nosed towards her. Shaken from her thoughts, she tottered off to the other side of the road and watched the cab glide past, the passenger still fixated on the shiny silver object in his hand. Transfixed, she turned to keep it in sight for as long as she could, until it disappeared into the underpass at the end of the street.
As the cab momentarily darkened, Vivian Hensleigh sat up in the back seat and shook himself, questions cascading through his chaotic thoughts. Was I really in their minds? Why were they all just like me? Why did we all have the same name?
But the questions would never be answered, as the cab came back out into the blinding sunlight and the polished lighter exploded like a silver star in his hand. The light seemed more intense than the sun, brighter than the white hot heart of the big bang but colder than the depths of the Arctic Ocean. Every glint and gleam was caught and refracted, reflected through the mini-nova he held in his petrified fingers. The flesh was stripped from his bones, every fibre of muscle and sinew scorched away by the light of the silver star, peeling back every layer of his physical form, paring away the days and decades of accumulated existence. At the same time, a sweet, delicate fragrance filled the cab, something Eastern and exotic, like the smells from the curry house on the high street but less fearsome, and he felt his head swimming as if he'd gone through the whole pack of joints in a single session. The radio was playing My Sweet Lord, just for him, and from somewhere close at hand, three soft voices sang in his ear.
With a sickening lurch, the cab left the road and ploughed through the railings surrounding a small park, destroying a stand of young trees. A flock of birds erupted into sky, screeching in alarm.
The driver fell back in his seat, his eyes wide, staring but unseeing, his consciousness a raging void.
"Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha..."
Passersby and pedestrians ran to their aid, but as the radius of his burgeoning consciousness expanded to encompass the park and the roads around it, they too were overtaken by the spreading mind of the new-born Godhead. Limbs and minds slackening, they fell to the ground, the lucky few resting against one another, dropping like flies. A car mounted the kerb and crashed through a television rental shop window, its tyres leaving a black rubber exclamation mark on the pavement. A moment later, the driver slipped out of his seat, crawled as far as the shop doorway, then dropped alongside all the other sleeping vessels.
"Gurur Saakshat Para Brahma..."
As the light of the silver star burned away His shadow, the being once known as Vivian Hensleigh cast His mind out across the face of creation, a searing white hot flame of thought which flickered and roared in the lantern skulls of all the little humans He found.
"Tasmai Sree Gurave Namaha..."
They were all like Him. More; they all were Him. Extensions and reflections of His own self, like a soul in a hall of mirrors. He felt Himself being subsumed into the greater mind of the universe, a single drop of water in a limitless ocean, and it terrified Him. From a hundred million mouths, He screamed.
"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna..."
His scream was the birth cry of a new universe, and as it sent ripples through the neighbouring realms, He felt the fear it generated, and in an instant, a paradigm shift of cosmic proportions occurred. No longer dissipating into the overmind, the new God felt Himself infect it at every level, a viral deity spreading like cancer through the healthy flesh of existence.
The souls He touched were His, to raise up and smite down as He saw fit, to animate with life or to consign to the tomb world once and for all. Looking down upon the vacant form of the cab driver, He felt the urge to raze the whole of creation and begin anew, with a strict exclusion policy for oiks like that. But what then of the man in the back seat, or the girl at the side of the road? They were all aspects of Himself; all He could do was fight to preserve them, one and all, for all eternity. What use is a dying God?
With a wistful sigh, the divine being returned to His cage of flesh and blood, slowly withdrawing His controlling influence from the tiny souls surrounding Him, turning back the wheel of time to return them to their original states; Glass reformed, charred embers blazed briefly into flame, then died away to leave perfect forms beneath, broken bones knitted and healed in the blink of His cosmic eye. Life seeped back in to the scattered shells and the spark of sentience flashed anew in countless eyes. He had taken His people to the brink of destruction and returned them whole and unharmed; His was a benevolent, loving reign, and it would last until the final star was plucked from the firmament by His majestic hand and doused at His decree.
Settling back into the ill-fitting form of Vivian Hensleigh, He thought of the life He had known and understood how poorly it would suit Him now. Like The Redeemer, He would walk amongst them instead, taking on their sins, relieving them of their burdens, bringing them back to His loving arms one soul at a time.
As the radio faded out, Hensleigh became aware of movement and noise nearby. Opening his eyes, he found that he was still in the back of the cab and that they seemed to have been in an accident; There was a cast iron fence pole poking through the shattered window and a number of firemen were inspecting it and shouting at him. He couldn't hear what they were saying as they appeared to be at the bottom of an almost endless well, peering up at him with faces frozen in masks of concern and despair. Leaning forwards to peer more closely at them, he felt a tearing sensation at his shoulder and realised that the fence post came much further in than he had at first surmised; at least three inches of it was embedded in the seat behind him, having passed right through his shoulder on its short journey. He howled, then wondered why the universe hadn't recoiled in terror at the sound. As the world rushed back in to surround him, he realised that he had been dreaming, an instant of excruciating pain and shock tipping his mind from the rails, sending it screeching through the stranger realms of hallucination and insanity. Despite his pain, despite the creeping numbness which affected his right arm and the certain knowledge that it would never work again, Hensleigh giggled. The fireman leaning in through the window with a ferocious set of oversized bolt cutters to trim his iron pinion paused and shouted at him.
"Are you alright sir?"
Hensleigh grinned, "I think I met God."
The fireman smiled back as he prepared to cut through the fence post, "Really? Well, I'm sure he'll get you through this. What did he have to say for himself?"
The fireman tried to move the post as little as possible, but it was impossible not to and the cold iron ground against the ruins of his shoulder, crushing and twisting the bones and snapping more tendons and nerves. Hensleigh gritted his teeth in a rictus grin.
"He said, doolang doolang doolang!"
Then the post snapped, the end springing upright and severing the last sinuous threads which gave him control over his arm, the pain lancing through his mind like a red hot javelin. He screamed until his lungs ached and his voice went, cracking two fillings as he ground his teeth together. The sudden spurt of blood which sprayed the seat in front of him was the final straw and the new constellation it created, ruby stars on the black leather sky, was the last thing he saw as the darkness overtook him and he fell into merciful unconsciousness.
Perhaps the world went away, with no guiding light to shepherd it. Perhaps the souls simply winked out of existence with no deity to look upon them. Perhaps the universe held its breath, waiting for the new God to return from the darkness and to bestow life upon it once more. Perhaps all this and more occurred when Hensleigh went away, but if no-one exists except in the light of the Lord's gaze, then who can say what happened while He slept?
Saturday, 2 January 2010
Are people inherently evil?
The thought drifted unbidden into Felicity Makeshift's mind as she crouched on the ledge, 15 storeys above the flaming bus she had crashed through the Hospital doors just half an hour earlier.
Can an evil man ever truly do good?
And if a good man does evil, is he still good?
Springing upwards and out she hurled herself into the void, still pondering the unknowable matter of the soul.
Are we just our deeds, or does intent still count?
Throwing out her arms, Fliss released the nano-filament webbing which stretched from her wrists to the waistband of her skintight black leather flight suit and braced herself for the impact.
The explosion took out the top three floors of the hospital, the shockwave billowing the flight membranes and throwing Fliss high above the skyline. She rode the thermal updraft and executed a graceful loop. At apogee she took a moment to admire the view, hanging in the air like a black-clad angel, looking out across the smoking ruins of Westminster and the burning thread of the Thames, well into its sixth year of perpetual flame. Then she dropped into a swooping, sweeping dive and landed on the roof of the British Museum, touching down on one exquisitely formed foot with all the effort of an 18th Century noblewoman alighting from a carriage at the Palace Ball.
Applauding softly, Stanford stepped from the shadows as Fliss tapped the palm control to retract the flight membranes and gave a curtsey.
"Why thank you kind sir. But what brings our favourite American to this Gods-forsaken hole?"
"The Dandelion Brigade got word of your action here and I thought I'd swing by and say hello."
Fliss smoothed a wrinkle from the sleeve of her catsuit, frowning.
"You came all this way just to see me?"
"I've gone much further than that in the past."
Looking thoughtful, Fliss unzipped her suit down to her ample cleavage, slipped one slender hand inside and withdrew a silver cigarette case. She lit up, then offered the case to Stanford. He shook his head, raising the twin M15 pistols he held as an explanation. Understanding, Fliss slipped the case away once more.
"Of course you have," she said, "but that was all such a long time ago. Before."
Stanford smiled sadly.
"Before. Is that how we're referring to it now? I guess it was quite a watershed moment. Everything divides quite nicely into before my two-timing lesbo bitch girlfriend shot me in the head, and after. It really rearranges things, you know?"
Felicity exhaled a smoky protective sigil and tapped out a complex rhythm with her left boot heel, sending an emergency evac request to Monk Blue's antique 1933 Mickey Mouse watch. Inserting the mechanism had involved ripping out the original clockwork innards, but as the watch was actually an early German fake, Monk hadn't worried too much about it. It no longer kept any sort of time, Mickey's hands forever frozen at 11:25 in a perfect Nazi salute, a coincidence not lost on Fliss, Monk, or the horologist who finally deciphered the coded inscription on the back of the case and identified it as the same Disney knock-off Hitler had worn when he gave the order to invade Poland. Now the priceless artifact had been disembowelled and rebuilt with the ability to rouse Monk from even the deepest narcotized slumbers.
As it sounded he raised his head from the sticky bar, wiped stale crisps from his face and took a look around to try and work out who was doing all the screaming. The pub was closed, the jukebox a smouldering wreck in the corner, the barman was still out cold under the pool table and he vaguely recalled releasing the landlord's parrot in the small hours of the morning in the woefully mistaken belief that he knew how to catch, kill, skin and eat it. He'd chased it into the gents, trying to entice it into a salad-filled pitta bread, but the wily beast had avoided becoming a kebab by trapping him in a cubicle and flying out of the window. So, not the parrot, not the barman, not an avant garde punk track, no other customers...
"Am I screaming?" he wondered aloud. "No; Speaking. Can't scream and speak at the same time. Or can I?"
He gripped the bar with both hands and gave it his best shot, screaming like a Francis Bacon Pope and offering himself a nice cup of tea at the same time. He strained his throat and bit his tongue, but it was a valiant effort all the same. He thought that with more practise, suitable lubrication for the vocal chords and a more vowel heavy sentence, he might just manage it.
"I'll pour myself a couple of pints," he decided, "then give it another go."
He pulled himself up onto the bar, rolled over and dropped onto his back on the other side. The carpet was sodden with flat beer, soapy dishwater and brawler's blood and studded with countless tiny shards of broken glass.
Screaming once more, Monk flailed around in surprise, lashing out wildly at the evil goblins who he knew had to be holding the dozens of tiny spears which were suddenly embedded in his back and buttocks. With one random kick he managed to bring the drip tray down upon his head and the sudden deluge finally brought him to his senses.
"The goblins can wait," he thought, scrambling to his feet but remaining crouched behind the bar. "Must find out who's screaming."
He listened, but it was hard to concentrate on the screams as the strap of his Nazi Mickey watch was causing a sharp pain in his wrist. At regular beats, a hot, stabbing sensation made the fingers of his left hand spasm and close. Annoyingly, the bursts of fiery pain and the brain-clenching howls had somehow synchronized, so that he couldn't focus on one without the other intruding. Still, at least he knew where the pain was coming from; Perhaps he could deal with that first. He peered intently at the watch, the rodent's red eyes blinking demonically in time with the rhythmic jolts. Activating a nanoscopic recording chip embedded in his left ear lobe, he began his investigation.
"Time is, ah, 11:25 precisely. Most likely AM. Location unknown. Room appears to consist of a single rectangular space three metres long by two deep by one metre high, populated by invisible goblins, number unknown. At the far end of the room is a large white metal bird cage, the bars bent outwards as though something much larger than the average parrot has climbed inside the cage and attempted to flap its wings; Possible goblin involvement here as well. Will investigate further once I solve the case at hand, to wit, why is my signal watch making all that noise? ...Oh..."
Reaching up with his thumb and forefinger, Monk silently squeezed his earlobe, purging the recorder. Better if no-one else heard that. Pulling himself upright, he reached out and slipped a pint glass under the vodka optic, made a mental note to come back and deal with the goblins at the earliest opportunity then knocked back half a pint of neat Russian breakfast. Then he sent a sub-lightspeed coded info-pellet to the central hub, asking for four point triangulation on Fliss and an immediate exfiltration. The request traversed the almost infinite distance between Monk and the hub in the mis-firing of an opiate damaged synapse, burrowing through successive layers of reality like a hungry tick in a fat dog's flesh.
Monk imagined the universe to resemble a jellyfish, with a thick, gelatinous core where most of the conscious thought occurred and hundreds of thousands of thick, ropy stinging tendrils hanging down from the outer edge. The multiverse was a stack of jellyfish as high as time and as wide as existence, the stingers overlapping and completely covering the softer flesh, so that the overall structure resembled an endless column of soft, luminous matter wrapped entirely in intertwining strands. This outer skin prevented anything from inside escaping - and vice versa - but it also allowed for restricted movement between universes. This transuniversal travel involved a searing pain of such intensity that only the astrally adept or terminally insane dared risk it, and it rarely worked with any degree of success. In fact, it was this bone-deep agony that inspired Monk's jellyverse, as it was akin to climbing up the stinger of a massive Portuguese Man O' War wearing only a pair of speedos. Of course, the Man O' War isn't really a jellyfish, any more than the multiverse is shaped like an infinite stack of invertebrates, and Monk knew it, but he never liked to let hard facts get in the way of his beliefs. He just gave silent thanks to the patron saint of wasted metaphysicists and sat back to wait for the good word to come down from the hub.
Existing in all universes simultaneously, in a different form in each one and accessible from just about any point in the space-time continuum, the hub was Monk's name for the base from which all of their operations were launched. As with the jellyverse, he had created his own explanation for the hub's existence, a deeply held personal belief that framed the hub as the central repository for all archetypal thought-forms, dreams and visions, with a slow puncture which allowed consciousness to leak out into the various universes like so much excess gas. And as with the jellyverse, Monk's interpretation was far from the truth, but there was no-one to tell him any different. The only details anyone could confirm for certain about it was that it was bigger on the outside than it was on the inside, by a factor somewhere close to infinity, it had a tendency to drift a little to the left when stationary, which made calculating re-entry a bitch, and the upper floor was currently on fire.
This was a relatively recent development. Inside the hub, the third floor had been aflame for less than ten minutes. Outside, the renaissance had ended just as the first sparks caught the curtains and Oppenheimer had stood in the Mojave desert and wept at around the same time Arihaily's Bowie posters had turned to ash.
Dragging her bed away from the wall, beating at the singed edges of her Strawberry Shortcake duvet cover, Ari tried to understand what was happening. Was it an attack? Was the world ending? Had she fallen asleep with a lit cigarette again? The answer came almost instantly as a small flaming orb screeched past her and out onto the landing. Running out after it, Ari leant over the railing at the top of the stairs to call for backup.
"Midge! MIDGE! It's back again!"
Doubling back on itself, the orb slipped back up the stairs, hidden by a thick cloud of black smoke. While Arihaily was busy raising the alarm, the orb set light to the balusters. With a sudden crack, the bannister gave way and Ari toppled forwards, landing head first on the smouldering stairs. Tumbling down to the next landing, she sat up and gripped her head with both hands until it stopped spinning. Her nose was bloodied and she had a nasty bump on her left temple, but apart from this she was remarkably healthy and ready to fight back. Looking up to locate her quarry, she was just in time to see the newel post crashing down upon her.
Recovery took a moment longer after this impact, during which time the orb set light to her shirt, then headed for the occupied areas of the floor. Tearing away the lit half of her shirt and slapping at her singed underthings, Ari took off after the orb, following the trail of flame and destruction towards the kitchen.
Like the malevolent spirit of a Chuck Jones cartoon given spherical chrome-plated form, the orb waited just inside for her, the tip of its flame licking gently at the multicoloured plastic ribbon curtain which hung in the doorway. As Ari moved to sweep the curtain aside, it went up in a flash, blackening her porcelain skin and singeing her eyebrows. Grinding her teeth and clenching her fists, she moved into the kitchen and began to run the water into the sink.
Behind her, the orb hovered just out of reach, as if watching her every move. As she filled the largest jug she could find, it drew back into the shadows, dimming its fires and sinking into the darkness. By the time she turned back it had disappeared altogether.
"Midge godsdammit! Where are you?"
Turning in a slow, wary circle, Ari called again for her missing comrade, looking at the same time for the fiery interloper. Seizing it's opportunity, the orb silently slipped out from its hiding place, rolled along the floor and drifted up until it hovered directly beneath the water-filled jug. A single flame appeared at its apex, surreptitiously melting through the base.
At the moment when she screamed the loudest, the base of the jug gave way and a steady stream of icy water jetted out and soaked the crotch and legs of her jeans. With a faint popping, the orb relit and shot off towards the door.
Singed, smokey, half naked and soaked to the bone from the waist down, Ari screeched furiously and hurled herself after it once more. Losing her footing on the stairs she gave up on gravity altogether and soared aloft, racing the orb up and down the corridors and stairwells, rattling along the gleaming white expanse of Felicity's quarters and scattering the haphazard piles of comics littering Monk's rooms, exploding through the pressurised doors of the central chamber and warping fifty years of vinyl LPs along the way. Scooping up all available missiles as she passed by, Ari launched books, ashtrays, stuffed rabbits and hunting caps at the fleeing orb, fouling its trajectory and causing it to ricochet off walls and doorframes. The orb retaliated by increasing its core temperature to the point where every impact caused another fire to instantly erupt, so that Ari found herself flying through archways of flame, dodging blazing lampshades and skimming over scorched carpet and superheated laminate flooring that bubbled and burst, spattering her with molten plastic and splinters of fake wood.
Circling around the central chamber for what felt like the fiftieth time, with short circuits buzzing and fitzing around her head, lights flashing and sirens wailing, Ari finally understood how to deal with the orb. On her next swoop past, she stuck out an arm and slammed the door shut, jamming it into the frame so tightly that little less than a full frontal attack from outside would open it again. They were trapped in a closed loop now, going ever faster but getting nowhere. The orb was leaving a trail of flames in the air as it whizzed around the chamber, a glowing circle of heat. As the speed increased, it began to run over the end of its own trail, setting fire to the flames it had left behind it. Screaming with the effort, Ari struggled to keep up, reaching out to try and grasp the orb, her fingertips brushing the molten chrome surface, her fingernails blackening and crackling, curling up in the intense heat. The orb knew how close she was and put on a final burst of speed, zooming along in its mad flight like an insane miniature comet trying to devour its own tail.
Panting heavily, Ari came to a dead stop, watching for a moment as the orb whipped past her face a dozen times. Fixated on it's forward motion, the orb failed to register that it was no longer being pursued. Trapped in the cycle, it whipped round the room in a steady, predictable flightpath.
Working rapidly, Arihaily crouched at the base of a monitoring station and used her bare fingers to unscrew an inspection plate. Half a metre square, the solid steel panel was designed to withstand all manner of missile attacks, protecting the delicate circuitry within the monitor. Gripping it tightly at the top and bottom, Ari held it parallel with the flaming trail, waited for the orb to whip past, then held it out across the return path.
Unable to steer itself out of the way, the orb collided with the panel at something approaching the speed of sound. The panel shattered, the shards melting into globs of blazing ore even as they flew through the air, splattering the walls, floor and ceiling with smoky silver dots. Ari's arms snapped to one side, yanking her from her feet and sending her spinning into the monitor, smashing the screens and dials into a flurry of twinkling glass snowflakes. The noise of the collision blew out her eardrums and left her unable to hear anything but her own hysterical giggling.
At the last instant, seeing the imminent impact, the orb had tried to stop in mid-flight, but momentum had overtaken it, bending and warping it over and onward, so that for a final, fleeting instant it appeared to hang motionless in the air, watching the panel rush towards it. In that moment, the orb surrendered to the inevitability of destruction and dimmed its flames, marshaling its energy reserves for one last mighty burst. Hitting the panel dispersed those reserves in an apocalyptically explosive manner. The flame disc erupted outwards at a perfect horizontal, cutting a black band into the walls, bursting all of the monitor screens and blowing the door back out, sending it hurtling down the corridor. Flying like a silver surfboard down the short distance between the central chamber and the restroom, it sailed through the bathroom door with sledgehammer force, slamming into the wall to hang suspended above the toilet where Midge sat. Clutching her book so tightly that it split down the spine into two separate pieces, looking up at the door, she tried to make some sort of witty comment but no words would appear. Instead she let rip with the kind of fart which can only be produced when a nice, relaxed bowel movement is interrupted by an unexpected near death experience. Still deafened by the blast, Ari couldn't hear the parp, but there was little doubt what had happened when the methane hit the flickering flames of the chamber door and a burning nimbus haloed out around her colleague's head. Laughing wildly, she pulled herself upright, leaving several tufts of smouldering hair caught on the wrecked monitor. Patting the flames out, she brushed aside a lump of charred circuitboard and spotted the blinking red light of an emergency beacon.
Pounding at the half-dead monitoring station, she managed to patch the signal through to her wrist receiver. Flipping back the cover, she projected the incoming message onto the smoky air, fearing the worst. Still pulling her trousers up, Midge stepped up beside her, reading the request.
"There's no way we can get a whereabouts report with the hub so fucked up," she said calmly. "There's only one way we can help now."
"There's no way... Oh forget it. Here, do like me."
Placing her hands on the deafened Arihaily's shoulders, Midge pushed her down to her knees amidst the burning wreckage, then joined her, holding her hands up with the palms exposed. Understanding, Ari pressed her own palms against her friend's, feeling the cool skin against her own hot flesh. As Midge began to chant, the coolness seemed to spread up her arms and shoulders and across her chest. Her breath came in short, hitching gasps as the air froze in her lungs. Before her, Midge's words appeared in the air between them as her exhalations turned to mist. The flames surrounding them died away as the temperature continued to drop. The lights dimmed, the walls receded as the space between universes trickled in to fill the void they had created. This was as close as they had ever dared go before, far closer than they ever chose to go voluntarily. If there hadn't been agents in immediate danger they would never have attempted it. As the room descended into total darkness and the simple movement of blood through icily constricted cells began to cause unimaginable pain, as they wavered on the edge of hypothermic death in the limitless wastes of non-space, they saw their goal.
Hanging between them like an unspoken secret was a silver sliver of potential, the barest glimpse of the underpinnings of creation. It was the heart of it all and no more than a single facet of the endless majesty. It was Heaven and Hell, the beginning and the end and the birth and the death of all things. It was the appearance in that time and place of the petrified star, and the people who lived there were doing the twist.
Deep in the frigid heart of the silver star, the burning figures were dancing. It made them happy to dance, and they chose their music on a whim, a stately waltz one moment, a pogoing punk howl the next. But they never missed a call. Unlike Monk, who heard but didn't understand, or Ari, who didn't hear at all, the charred souls recognized each signal for what it was. They saw the reasons behind and beyond its intrusion into their sanctum sanctorum and they saw also the chain of potential futures trailing out ahead of them, an endlessly bifurcating stream of yes/no equations. Of course, that meant that they already knew when the next call would come through, but they still liked to pretend that they didn't know which way they would go in any situation. As Chubby Checker came to a close, the two youngest beings entwined their hands and sang together in a croaking, lilting melody, dancing in a merry, skipping circle as they went.
"Do we answer?"
"Yes or no?"
"Not to answer?"
"Yes or no?"
"Wants an answer?"
"Yes or no?
"Gets an answer?"
"Yes or no?"
The elder essence of the beloved took a step away from the spinning figures and used a charcoal finger to trace the line of flames from the hospital roof, through the smouldering jukebox, on to the damaged hub and finally to their own realm of frozen fire. Seeing the hidden patterns swirling in the ashes, the elder smiled, releasing a wisp of merry smoke. It was good. Reaching out with one scorched hand, the essence selected a single 45 from the stack beneath the flaming bed and lowered it reverently onto the spindle of the little record player, lovingly caressing its red leatherette case. At the first crackle, the first faint hiss of the stylus in the groove, the spinning children disentangled themselves; They had an answer.
As the song throbs into life, as the guitars drive out a rhythm as primal as the tide and as deep as the moon, they dance again, all three aspects of the essence, the whole family unit of flame in their home in the heart of the stillborn sun.
And Norman Greenbaum Sings...
Drifting back into consciousness, shivering against the cold which had crept into their bones, Ari and Midge helped each other to stand, huddled together for warmth. Caressing her comrade's bare shoulders, Midge felt an overwhelming urge to weep, and she saw it reflected in Ari's eyes in the instant before they kissed. The essence of the beloved touched their world and drew them together in a joyful expression of unity and love, and they expressed it as a physical equation, you plus me equals us. Deeply, passionately, they kissed and caressed and held each other tightly, their wandering hands entwining and trailing across unknown landscapes of soft yielding flesh. Catching her fingers on the strap of Ari's wrist receiver, Midge absently keyed in the co-ordinates for Felicity's safe retrieval, then loosened the strap and tossed it aside as her other hand worked on the infinitely more interesting catch on Ari's bra.
Working on his second pint, Monk also felt the movement of a warm breeze through the branches of his mind. He understood what had happened before the signal came through, and he gave silent thanks to the beloved for their intercession on his behalf. Monk was not just a name, and in his core he knew that he belonged to them, had failed them, but still they came to his aid. Forever and ever amen.
"Amen," he belched, then drew out a simple 5D map in spilled beer on the bar. Longitude, latitude, height in relation to sea level. X Y and Z. Drawing the line out and away from the bar, he factored in the U axis, the precise point within the multitude of stacked universes where Felicity had once, was now or would eventually be standing. The fifth axis he drew into the bar, tracking back to it's inception as a small green shoot in the rich loamy soil and forward to its end when the bar, the pub and the whole city would be engulfed in the ever rising waters and the slow process of rot and decay would strip it down to its component atoms. This was the T axis, time. Now he knew where, when and in which universe Fliss was about to die, getting there was the easy part. Drawing up the loose edges of reality, he shook it like a quilt and propelled himself onwards and upwards, moving through the jellyverse like a sentient pineapple chunk.
"... before my two-timing lesbo bitch girlfriend shot me in the head, and after. It really rearranges things, you know?"
"I'm sure it does," Fliss said calmly, "but you have to accept that it wasn't exactly an unprovoked attack. Remember?"
Stanford shook his head violently.
"Don't even try to say that I asked for it. You slept with her in our bed, and when I tried to talk to you about it, you shot me in the head."
Reaching up, he tore off his toupee and revealed the mottled, artificial skin which covered the unpleasant concavity in his skull.
"In the head Fliss! I need that for thinking and shit!"
"You're a soldier. You get told when to shit."
Raising his guns, Stanford marched towards her, his eyes blazing. The veins at his temples were throbbing rapidly, and the dented, hairless area above them seemed to raise and fall slightly as they did. He was one good shout away from an embolism, but Fliss couldn't take the chance that he would pop off before he did something nasty to her.
"So now you want to get your own back and shoot me in the head? Darling, think about it - That wouldn't achieve anything. One bang and it's all over, like our wedding night. Wouldn't you much rather use me as some sort of depraved sex slave for a while? You can mistreat me all you want then, for as long as you like."
Stanford looked uncertain, his guns drooping to his sides.
"Come on Sergeant, think about it. You could make me beg. You could humiliate me."
She took a last drag of her cigarette, then held the glowing butt out to him, at the same time unzipping her catsuit to expose her soft white skin.
"Please don't hurt me," she whimpered, ducking her head to avoid his eyes. "Don't make me cry again."
Dropping one of his guns, Stanford took the cigarette and examined it, waiting for his damaged brain to make the connection. To speed things along, Fliss stepped closer, into the crook of his shoulder, so that he looked down and saw both the burning ember and her exposed cleavage at once. Reaching up she gripped his wrist tightly and tried to hold the cigarette away from her skin but also twisting the lit end towards herself, planting ideas and playing the unwilling victim at the same time. Her leather-clad leg rubbed almost accidentally against his, and she was gratified to notice that even if his brains were slow, the rest of him was responding according to plan. Keeping her head down, she forced out the weakest, most pitiful voice she could muster.
That did it. Desparate to see the pain on her face as he burnt her, Stanford dropped the other gun and grabbed her ponytail, yanking her head back. As he saw the look of triumph in her eyes he staggered backwards a halfstep, but it was too late. She turned his hand back at the wrist so that the smouldering cigarette found its way to his own flesh, then pushed him one step further to the side. As he howled with pain. Monk's bullet tore through the back of his head, shattering his poorly repaired skull and spraying the remains of his brains all over Makeshift's face and shoulders. As he fell to his knees and crumpled to the ground between them, Monk stepped forwards and pulled Fliss into his arms. Kissing her gore-streaked face, he smiled broadly, amazed as ever that she would allow him to do this. Letting his eyes wander down to her unzipped suit he picked a tooth with a trailing lump of gristle from her cleavage and flicked it off the rooftop.
"Damn, you're hot."
"I've got bits of my ex all over me."
"I don't care. I don't even know what I've got all over me."
Fliss smiled, then moved slightly to stand beside him, looking out over the city. In the distance there was a flash of light and the sound of tearing metal as the sagging supports on the London Eye finally gave way and tipped the wheel down onto the cardboard city at its base. Closer to them, the blaze in the hospital had spread to the lower floors and a couple of neighbouring buildings had also caught fire.
"Monk, do you ever wonder why we do what we do? Is it right or wrong, good or evil, all that nonsense?"
"You mean, am I a bad person for saving your life - Again - and killing the psychopathic sex monster? What's to wonder about?"
"Point taken. Just promise me you'll keep doing it."
"Just call me and I'll be here, okay? Whenever you need me. I mean, what could go wrong?"
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Die dunklen Soldaten geben Sie durch das Wurmloch und ficken und zu plündern, ihren Weg durch die brennende Dorf.
Heute haben wir einen Stand machen. Heute Abend werden wir still werden und junge Elliott wird der König von shit.
Die Fürsten im Spiel sind. Die Fotze ist reif, und die Welt ist ein feuchter Hure, in die wir säen, werden.
Mutter, Vater, Tochter. Die Familie ist der Samen von Stalingrad und der Sozialistischen Sowjetrepubliken bereuen im Feuer der Gommorah geboren
Saturday, 14 November 2009
It was Blue's third tour. In eighteen months as a snapper for the Melbourne Daily News, he'd probably amassed more time in the bush than the whole platoon he was shadowing combined, and at seventeen, he was probably older than most of them too. It was eleven years since the US had finally declared war on the North, and all that had really changed since the Tet offensive was the death tolls and the steadily shrinking South. The Cong were dug in as deeply as ever, the Brits were still refusing to get involved and the latest rumours had Nixon kissing up to the Cambodians in the hope that they would finally let him send troops in to shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail before the whole NLF rolled straight through Saigon. In the meantime, they were packing off younger and younger kids to war, in the hope that the sheer weight of numbers might finally begin to win through. It hadn't worked so far, but at least they were wise to the fact that it was a waste of time and money training and equipping the cannon fodder. The US now saved millions of bomb dollars every year by sending them out into the bush with little more than an ROTC lecture and a hand-me-down rifle.
Hitting a small clearing, the L.T. called a smoke break and the weary boys dropped their packs and settled against the trees to rest. After a moment, when it became apparent that no-one else was volunteering to take a watch and the fresh-faced lieutenant had no intention of ordering it, Blue took himself into the trees, found a decent vantage point and set himself up to wait for the perfect shots to appear. He didn't know quite what was going to happen, just that something was coming, soon, and afterwards the world would be nine souls lighter.
Down in the clearing, one of the grunts took out a pocket radio and tuned it through the dial until he found one of the punk rock stations coming out of London and the sound of the suburbs ripped through the jungle. No-one objected or even suggested that broadcasting their location was a bad idea, and a couple even sang along in their best nasal whine. To Blue, the question wasn't how did he know they were about to die, just how had they lasted this long? Before he could even begin to think about an answer, he felt the familiar tension across his chest as the lattice of thin welts tightened. There was an itch behind his eyes, the sensation of his third eye opening to take in the spectacle, then a sudden heat in the pit of his stomach as the morning's overpriced PX hamburger began the climb back up to the sunlight. He gulped back acid and raised one of the cameras which hung around his neck.
The telephoto lens brought him almost unbearably close to the unsuspecting soldiers, revealing every tick and twitch, every tremble of fear and exhaustion. The boy with the radio wailing along with the Talking Heads had a shaving cut on his chin but had somehow managed to miss three thick black hairs which sprouted around it. The L.T. had a stringy shred of tobacco stuck to his lower lip from a poorly roached joint. The joint maker himself was stretched out with his head on his pack, mumbling quietly to himself, either singing a different song from everyone else or perhaps just saying his prayers. The zoom placed him right in the centre of the clearing with them, made them look more than ever like children playing dressing up games, but the layers of ground glass held him separate from them, a distant, dispassionate observer. Whenever he looked through the viewfinder time slowed to a barely visible progression of still frames and he used the power now to give the boys what little extra time he could. Feeling like God's own missile guidance system, he focussed on a bead of sweat trickling down one grunt's sunburned neck and sighed. If they didn't even have the sense to wrap a towel round their necks, what chance would they ever have stood?
He pressed down hard on the button and the shutter flickered and clicked as rapidly as the AK-47 rounds which suddenly strafed the clearing. The first bullet to claim a human target sizzled as the hot metal passed through that same bead of sweat and tore into the preponderously vulnerable spine behind it. The soldier with the sunburned neck dropped like a stone, mercifully spared any further pain as the slug disconnected his nervous system and left him lying in the undergrowth, waiting for his heart to finish its heavy labours.
The L.T. died screaming. The first of three bullets to hit him went through his left cheek, ricocheting off his lower jaw and filling his mouth with hot fragments of tooth and bone. The next found his raised hand and tore off three fingers and a thumb, turning the sensitive, dextrous digits into a fine red mist and so many lumps of gristle. The kill shot came almost immediately after, but in the young lieutenant's mind, it might have been an eternity. He had time to look at the ruins of his hand and to set off a high, keening scream, the most expressive sound his shattered face could produce. Then the round with his name on it hit his chest with jackhammer force, twisting him around where he sat, forcing the final breath from his lungs in a reedy whistle.
From his secluded vantage point, Blue took shot after shot, matching the Cong beat for beat, one round, one photo. He saw the young men die, cut down where they lay drowsing in the oppressive afternoon heat, blown onto their backs as they scrambled to their feet, riddled with bullets which made a terrifyingly banal thud as they found their mark. Untouched, unmoved, Blue used up all the film in his four everyday cameras, then pulled his high speed Nikon from his pack and held it to his eye, waiting for the last breath. For a moment or two, the only sounds in the clearing were the soft drip of warm blood and the muffled radio, trapped beneath one of the corpses. Then the trees were hacked aside and three NLF soldiers in regulation black stepped into the clearing. While his comrades swept the perimeter with their Kalashnikovs at the ready, the third made a beeline for the source of the music. Tipping over the dead soldier with his boot, he retrieved the radio and held it close to his ear, shaking his head wildly and grinning witlessly, aping the last actions of the child at his feet. His comrades laughed at the impersonation, then set about stripping the other corpses. Between them, the three VC made short work of it, pocketing rations, smokes, small electricals and arms. They were quick, disciplined and methodical, working clockwise around the clearing with a set structure to their looting, taking turns at standing guard while the other two harvested the booty. It seemed that the communist ideal of equally redistributed wealth held true even when the wealth in question was prised from the still warm fingers of a murdered sixteen year old.
The eight privates had been robbed of all their valuables, leaving only the lieutenant unsullied. As they advanced on his still form, Blue felt his scarred chest twitch anew; this was it. He checked his focus and prepared to shoot as the lead man bent to roll the L.T. onto his back.
The blast was beautiful to behold. As the dead weight was released from the M61, the pin sprang into the air like an advance scout for the coming wave of white hot shrapnel. Glinting in the sunlight, the sliver of metal released in the young man's final moments seemed to hover like a silver dragonfly, floating at eye level before the startled Cong. Before they had time to react, in the instant when they understood what was happening, the grenade detonated, sending out a wide arc of shredded steel fragments which sliced through black cotton and soft flesh with ease. The razor sharp fragments tore through the men, spraying the jungle around them with gobbets of charred, torn meat. One man lost the arm which held his rifle, his death grip firing off a hail of rounds which shattered his own shins and struck one of his comrades in the eye, but both men were dead before the shooting even began. Only the third man lived beyond the initial blast, shielded as he was by the others. A single inch long shard of steel had pierced his left temple, leaving him sprawled across one of his victims, staring up at the deep blue sky, expressing his surprise in a stream of random syllables which he slurred and babbled uncontrollably until his final moment came and silenced his tongue forever.
Blue's finger squeezed the trigger and the shutter whirred, capturing the disintegration of the three men frame by frame as the deadly nova spread out across the clearing. The images were etched with perfect precision on the film's surface, preserving the instant when each man died, freezing their final breaths and trapping them like flies in amber. In the sharp staccato movement of the shutter he thought he caught a glimpse of the one he sought, the man who had brought him all the way to Asia, the being who had awoken the power within him all those years before, but in the next stuttering moment he was gone.
It had been less than a second since the grenade exploded and the corona of blazing shrapnel still expanded like the birth of a miniature universe. Up in his aerie, Blue was safe from any impact, but the tree itself was not so secure. As the shockwave hit, it bent and shook, tossing Blue back and forth. His added weight caused the tree to dip further and further, placing more and more tension on the narrow bole. Finally, with the trunk gouged by dozens of wire flechettes, the tree could support him no longer, and with a loud crack, it gave way and pitched him into the undergrowth.
Landing heavily on his back, Blue felt a wave of pain which spread from his skull and all the way down his legs. His head connected with a thick root and he was never sure afterwards whether he had blacked out. When he opened his eyes again, the sky above him swarmed with squadrons of mosquitos, attacking him like fighter planes. Every inch of him seemed to ache, a thousand cuts and bruises all screaming for relief at once, but when he tried to sit up it quickly became apparent where the worst injury was; for a moment, finding that he couldn't get up, he thought that he was paralysed. Then a pulse of pain spread from his right shoulder, radiating out like an internal frag grenade detonating at a point just below the shoulder blade. He raised his head to see what the problem was and found that he had managed to land on a two inch thick shaft of bamboo which had burst straight though his shoulder, extending a foot or more from the exit wound and pinning him to the ground like a butterfly in a collectors case.
Experimenting, he found that small, slow movements caused the shattered bones to grind together and sent rolling waves of pain down his arm and across his chest. Sudden, jerking motions simply brought a flash of white pain behind his eyes which left him breathless and biting deeply into his own tongue to hold back the mother of all screams. Either way, there was no chance of lifting himself off the post. His right hand was useless, and with his left he could neither pull the bamboo free from the earth nor reach his pack which lay just out of reach, taunting him with its cargo of painkillers, flares and smokes. Whichever way he looked at it, he was stuck until someone came along and found him and considering that he was 10 klicks across the Northern border, it was unlikely to be a friendly patrol that came to his aid.
Lying there on the jungle floor, he drifted in and out of consciousness until long after night fall, watching ragged, untidy clouds carrying the moon across his field of vision. At some point he realised that he had been speaking aloud, holding a conversation with someone nearby who had replied to all of his questions but refused to help him. At another, more lucid moment, he understood that the radio was still switched on somewhere in the clearing, and the only person speaking to him was a DJ in a glass booth somewhere on the far side of the Earth. Sometime after that he found that he was still continuing the conversation anyway.
Sliding along the edge of the blade between this world and the rest, Blue felt a sense of peace and contentment envelop him. It didn't matter which side he landed on come morning, he decided; it was enough that he had been here at all. All the men in all the photographs he had taken were witness to that. In gathering up their likenesses perhaps he had caught something of their souls as well, a fragment of the inner being which illuminated and motivated them. His photos were proof that they existed, that they were living, breathing creatures who loved and hated and won and lost. Now they would be proof that he too had once walked this Earth. Fumbling with the straps which looped and twisted around his neck, he found his Nikon and held it up to inspect it. The lens was still intact, the film safe in its housing, and while he couldn't check the internal mechanisms for impact damage, he somehow knew that there was one decent shot left in it. For several minutes he chewed on the strap until it broke and he was able to hold the camera at full arm's length, aiming back down at him. Waiting for as long as he could, holding the camera in a rock steady grip until his arm throbbed with the exertion, he tried to hold out for the final moment, but it was not to be. He could feel his consciousness ebbing away once more and the tendons in his arm trembled, shaking the camera. He could drop it at any moment, but the skein of jellyfish stings was silent. He had never been able to predict the moment of his own death, and even now, when it seemed so close, it remained tantalisingly out of reach. Instead, he did what all the best photojournalists did; he faked it. Fixing his stare on a distant star, he composed a deep, thoughtful expression, as if he was already gone and gazing into the worlds beyond. Thinking of all the dead men he had seen in the last three years he tried to fill his eyes with all the unanswered questions he had seen in theirs, along with the serenity and acceptance he had seen in far too few. He made a good corpse, he decided, then pressed the button one final time. The shutter clicked and whirred, then came to a dead stop as the camera fell from his hand, the portrait of the dead boy slowly bleaching out as light crept into the aperture for unknown hours.
When he came too this time it was daylight once again and the photograph was nothing more than a milky white frame of overexposed film. The sky was blue and clear, the radio was close by and playing some real music for a change, the plaintive wailing of Janis instead of the screaming anger of Rotten and his mates. The pain in his shoulder had been replaced by a warm, floating sensation which seemed to shimmer through his fingers and toes. Every leaf in the canopy above him seemed to sparkle and glisten with early morning dew, and the whole morning was heavy with the promise of goodness. It felt like Heaven, but for the bamboo stake which still grew from his shoulder.
Withdrawing the needle from his arm and pressing down on the tiny bubble of blood with an icy cold thumb, the man in black leant over Blue, peering into his eyes, looking for signs of awareness. He smiled a gap toothed grin, his ancient, wrinkled face splitting like an over-ripe peach, then held up the morphine ampoules he had retrieved from Blue's pack. Blue saw the sunlight sparkling off the glass, refracted through the clear, sweet liquid like a prism, splitting a single shaft of light into a rain of rainbows which fell across his face. He raised his left hand to grab at the colours but they were too fast for him, too nimble for his graceless, clumsy fingers. Instead, the old Vietnamese placed the ampoules and syringe in his hand, carefully folding his fingers around them to ensure he kept them close. Then he rocked back on his heels and took up a wide, scarred machete which looked like it had been hacking through the jungle since it had first sprouted from the Earth. Holding the top of the bamboo with his left hand, the man swung the machete with his right, slicing it clean through with a single stroke, so close to Blue's chest that it took two buttons from his shirt front at the same time.
The sky was suddenly split by the roar of B-52Ds heading for their daily bombing run above Xuan Loc. Carrying their payload of napalm and Agent Orange, the shiny tins of flying death were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, great flying fish swimming in the deep blue sky. He watched as the hazy vapour trails mingled and crossed, forming the sigil for inner peace in the ether, and he gurgled happily to himself.
Still grinning, the old man stood and moved away towards the thicker trees, his machete raised to clear the way. Before he left, he turned back and looked down at the happy boy, drifting in his morphine stupour, too stoned to realise that he was in the presence of the man responsible for his very existence.
"That's two, little monk. The next time we meet will be the last, so if I was you, I wouldn't chase it."
He raised the machete in a salute, then turned and disappeared into the jungle.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
The girl on the Netherly bus."
The poet closed his notepad and lowered his head like a priest leading prayers at a funeral for his own soul. Midge watched him for a moment as he basked in the polite applause of the coffee shop patrons, but she didn't join in. She pegged him to be a mid-thirties office drone, stuck in a job that killed him a little more every day, squandering a talent that never really got off the starting blocks and letting his dreams out once a week in the complimentary soft focus light of an open mic night. It seemed rude not to applaud his efforts, but encouraging him would be even worse.
The applause petered out and he left the stage quickly, his seat taken almost immediately by a Joni - Long blonde hair, floor length skirt, peasant blouse and an acoustic guitar - who launched into Big Yellow Taxi without a hint of irony. Midge shook her head sadly and turned away from the stage as Ari returned to the table.
"One grande skinny mocha latte with a shot of caramel, whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles pour moi, et pour madame, one straight black coffee."
Midge nodded her thanks, took the tiny white cup and sipped carefully at the scalding black liquid. Ari stirred three sachets of brown sugar into her own drink and ran her tongue along the length of the wooden stirrer, her eyes fixed on Midge's. She didn't get the response she was hoping for and sighed, then pointed the cleaned stick at the stage.
"Wailing witch alert."
Midge nodded, smiling in spite of herself.
"Open mic bingo; one fat stand up ripping off old Bill Hicks routines and we've got a full house."
Ari laughed, tossing her long red hair. To someone who didn't really know her it would sound warm and genuine.
"You're nervous," Midge said.
"It's been a while."
"That wasn't down to me."
Ari's face darkened but she held her temper and took a deep drink from her cup. She tipped it up just a little further than was necessary, gave herself a thick whipped cream moustache and grinned broadly at Midge.
Midge nodded, unsmiling.
"To the end. Is that why you wanted to see me?"
Ari lowered her gaze, wiped her mouth with a paper napkin and took another, tidier sip of her coffee.
"Do you want a muffin or something?"
The Joni finished her song but the scattered applause did little to cover the uncomfortable silence between them. As she launched into a passable rendition of One Day Like This, Midge drained her coffee and reached for her bag.
Midge paused, surprised by the note of desperation.
"Give me a reason to stay."
Ari's eyes brimmed with tears but she wiped them away with her fingertips and composed herself.
"It used to be enough that I'd ask."
Midge had to fight the urge to sweep her into her arms and make it all better, but in the end she went too far in the opposite direction.
"You were one of us then."
Ari laughed, tossing her long red hair, but no-one would mistake it for happiness.
"I was never one of you. Not really."
"What the hell does that mean? We did everything together. You lived at the house. We fought side by side then went home and slept in the same bed. How could we be any more of a team than that?"
Ari lifted her bag onto the table and pulled out a tattered paperback book.
"It's more than just acting like the rest of you. Do you remember this?"
She pushed the book across the table. Midge glanced down at the garish cover with its barely legal depiction of Minnie, Mickey, Adolf and Eva.
"Sure. Going Underground. I found it for you in Portmeirion after the thing with the Magister Templi. What happened to it."
"It got trashed when the orb went wild round the house. The last time. Remember?"
Midge blushed, looked away.
"I remember what we did afterwards... But I still don't see what that has to do with anything."
Ari turned the book over. The spine had been torn in two, so that half of the book was missing.
"Today, Artie Love is almost completely forgotten," she read, "a footnote in the brief history of English underground comics, but his greatest creation..."
She waved her hand in the air, indicating the missing words which floated out there somewhere, waiting to be captured and pinned to the page.
"That's all there is. I searched everywhere for the rest of that book. I even tried to find another copy but it's like it doesn't even exist. There's no record of the author or half the people he interviewed."
"So it came through a lesion. So what? None of us have histories here."
Ari pulled the rest of the book out of her bag and laid it on the table, her hand covering the next page so that Midge couldn't read it.
"How many times have you seen Fliss die?"
Midge shook her head as if brushing away an annoying fly.
"And how often has Monk OD'd on some god-awful concoction of smack and jellyfish brains and who knows what else?"
"You died in my arms Midge. You bled out while I held you in a stinking cellar in Prague. I had to close your eyes and leave you in the water and go home and burn my fucking clothes because they were that stiff with your blood that they would never come clean."
Her voice was rising and a couple of people at nearby tables began to watch in the hopes of a full scale meltdown, but Midge just laughed. For the first time since Ari's call she felt relaxed and in control once more.
"Is that it? You're worried about us getting hurt? Oh, you poor, sweet baby!"
She reached out and laid her hand over Ari's, turning it over to entwine her fingers. For a moment she felt the old tingle in her fingertips, the static charge that always seemed to flicker between them.
"We can't really die baby. We're not here. The silver star - "
Ari gripped her fingers tightly and turned her hand over. Midge's words died on her lips as she saw the long, puckered scar which ran the length of Ari's forearm.
"If I ask you, will you come with me? Leave this behind, start over in the real world?"
"Ari, I can't - "
"You mean you won't. Course you can leave. Just get up and walk. Say the word and you'll be free. Well?"
Midge looked at her across the table, remembering a time when they were closer than any two people can get, tears blurring the woman across the table into the girl she had once loved.
Ari nodded, released her hand and began to pull away, then paused with her fingers still covering the page.
"I didn't understand when he brought me the rest of the book. I didn't understand why it was him, or what the book meant. Now I do. Look."
Midge frowned, looking down at the book. Ari pulled her hand away with a flourish and read the remainder of the line aloud.
"Arihaily Ilya lives on."
Midge stared at the page, the words swimming before her like inky fish. She took a moment to digest their meaning, then looked up at the stranger sitting opposite as she covered the book once more.
Ari fired once, the bullet tearing straight through Midge's left eye. As the impact rocked her in her chair, she coughed up a sudden gout of blood that splashed across the back of Ari's hand, staining the pages between her fingers, leaving a perfect hand print of text and yellowed paper..
The Joni screamed and dropped her guitar as the other patrons struggled to back away, turning over tables and chairs in their terror. Ari stood and fired three shots into the wall behind the singer, barely even glancing at her.
The screaming faltered and died, leaving the sound of a barista hiding behind the coat rack whispering frantic directions to the emergency services operator. Ari swung the gun around and fired another shot into the mass of coats and scarves.
The barista stepped out, holding his phone up in his hand, then sat heavily on the floor.
Moving quickly now, Ari stepped around the table, placed her hand against Midge's soft neck and felt the warmth ebb away. She closed her eyes, blinking away a rogue tear, then looked up at the ceiling. As the final laboured pulse faded beneath her tender fingers, the smell of violets filled the room and a soft glow began to shine from every surface. Somewhere a choir began to sing, a song she recognised but could never quite recall. She fought the urge to fall to her knees and bow her head, to show obeisance and piety.
She raised the gun above her head, her arm shaking. The pressure behind her eyeballs grew until she had to cry out, but she gripped Midge's shoulder to steady herself and kept the gun trained on the spot directly above the corpse. The music became louder, shaking the room, rattling cups and glasses and sending them to shatter on the floor. The other customers began to moan in fear and awe as the light became blinding and cold as ice. Ari barely noticed as she turned to one side and vomited.
The gun in her hand felt like an anvil, Thor's hammer raised to the heavens. As the pure white light enveloped her the gun grew cold enough to burn the flesh from her palm. A thin skein of ice formed across her fist and down her arm, her breath clouding in the air before her. The choir became a shriek of feedback, a loop of distortion and glory that blew out the windows and began to peel back the roof like a sardine can. The light rained down like shards of frozen fire, pushing the coffee shop patrons to crawl in the debris like worms, barely able to breathe beneath its crushing weight. Only Ari remained standing, arm outstretched, leaning on her dead lover for support.
As the room shook like a miscued filmstrip,
As the singing reached its crescendo,
As the world opened up like a flower,
As the silver star descended,
As her lover's eyes fluttered open,
She fired a single bullet into god's heart and plunged them all back into darkness.
Midge slumped forwards and began to bleed across the cracked tabletop.
The Joni wept uncontrollably on the floor of the stage.
The barista huddled in the corner with his hands pressed to his eyes.
The poet clutched his broken spectacles and began to crawl towards the door.
Ari wondered if her hearing would ever return, flicked open her mobile and hit send on the message saved in her drafts box.
And somewhere in the darkness on the other side of the world, Elliott opened his mobile, read Ari's message and smiled.
Monday, 19 October 2009
The sacrificial trail begins,
The lists and scrolls adorned with names and monikers.
Bodies huddle together, naked.
Hands held open.
Mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters. The family eternal.
The heavens open engulfing the waiting party in acid rain,
Eating and biting into their exposed flesh.
Huge globs of tissue and fat splash onto the white tiles - sputtering, popping, fizzing.
The concrete stare of the sentries.
The sulphur stench of disembowelment.
The rotting, farting grotesquery’s of the death factory.
The seeping wounds of the sewer.
A convoy of flesh.
Bodies thrown into the salivating pit.
Bleeding hands dig into the expectant earth.
A complex network of ditches and bonfires protrude.
The fuel of humanity poured into the darkness,
Burned in the inferno and emitted into the hollow skies in ashen billows.
And then he takes us in his nihilistic grip and pisses into the flames,
The Steam rising, crystallizing in the icy atmosphere.
And she finally proclaims:
“Oh brother, seek me and ye shall reclaim the spent soil and we will feed these bonfires no more.”
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
The pilot informed us over the intercom system that Air Traffic still refused clearance for take off. Apparently, some big wig US Senator was over to gee up the troops with home-grown moralistic bullshit. We had to wait for his DC-10 to fuel up before we could even contemplate getting out of this shit hole. At least the three hour wait had given me chance to muse over the Intel Report that the MI5 advisor had given me.
This takes us back a few days, to another land, another frontier on the faux crusade for global democracy.
BASRA, IRAQ June 8th 2006
This guy was stronger than all of the others. It wasn’t until we ripped off his toe nails that he started to cry like a baby. He coughed and spluttered his confession to the translator who, in turn, gave me what I had wanted to hear; the whereabouts of the insurgents that had killed four of our boys at a roadside checkpoint. I informed the translator to thank the man and gestured to the Iraqi Service Agent to pull the rest of the remaining toe nails. They had to learn that us Westerners were not to be fucked with. I stepped outside as the tearing sound of nail parting flesh reverberated around the court yard. A gentleman in a lightweight business suit leaned against the outer doorway. “What a lovely sound.” he said as he handed me a manila envelope.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“There’s an itch that they want scratching.”
I handed him the envelope back. “Tell them to ask somebody else, I’m busy here.”
“I don’t think you understand, we need someone trained in the darker arts. She has been sighted in Afghanistan. We want you to bring her to us.” Sweat started to bead down his forehead, the MI5 laky was nervous. I snatched the envelope back out of his trembling hands and gripped his shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me this from the start? Is Blue with her?”
“We believe so. We have picked nothing up via the usual channels; NSA, GCHQ have drawn blanks. However, a Medic from the US Rangers made contact with them in Helmand. We’ve also had sightings on the Pakistani border.”
“What about remote viewing via PSYOPS?”
“We’ve tried that. Yet again, nothing from our friends across the pond.” He raised his eyebrows at me and plucked a cigarette from his shirt pocket.
“OK, I’ll need the Chaos Unit ready within 24hrs. Inform their Magister Templi that we need members with experience of the Abyss. She’s adept at dimensional intersectioneering. So, we need our best practitioners.” I looked down at the manila envelope. “Everything I need in here?” “Yes.” He replied
“Excellent. I’ll serve this bitch up on a silver platter.” I gave the MI5 advisor a toothy grin.
“That’s what we were hoping.” He concluded by shaking my hand and wishing me luck. Not that I needed it. I’d never failed before, why would I now?
HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN June 15th 2006
And back to today. The pilot has just informed us that we are clear for take off. I take a sip from my rum and coke and turn to my travelling companion. “The adventures just about to begin Elliot, excited?” I ask
“Fucking ecstatic Mr K.” He replies as the pilot pushes the throttle and the plane lurches forward and arcs up into the afternoon sky.