The House of Extra-Mural Studies had darksome towers rearing at each corner and Hyacinth Manning had promised to have me initiated there by its top Faculty. She picked me up at the gondola derrick, but she seemed different by night from what I remembered by day - for she was now literally dripping in her late husband's jewellery and sporting a waxen moustache she evidently (but mistakenly) considered to be fashionable.
We strolled, hand in hand, along the sidewalks, kicking dents into the kerb-paddlers who floated near enough to warrant such treatment, their exhausts really zoning us out, but we suddenly found ourselves amid the terracings of a night market, where some demonsters were demonstrating their wares to us few curfew-hoppers who were still about.
Hyacinth felt the thickness of one demonster's ornamented billy-bob.
"Try it!" she was invoked by the demonster and, if I had seen him by day, I'd've thought that the world'd gone crazy. Yet now, by night, he seemed to fit in better, since he wore a moon-mask and preened himself in black cockerel tights. To my growing horror, Hyacinth took the whole billy-bob into her mouth and gulped deeper than a simple swallow, whilst the demonster became grinnier than a round smile.
"Quicker than fast food," she scoffed - and we trended towards what we thought was the Main Street, following an esoteric streetwise slope of the land, eventually ending up, via several unaccountable ley-lines, in sight of the House of Extra-Mural Studies, the four topmost turrets of which vanished into the dark-choked sky. Yet the intrinsic body of the building was barricaded against us by wide canals and by the still inhabited two-up-two-down terraced back-to-back houses which belched chimneyfuls of smog from several silhouetted sets of stairway smokestacks.
"Well, we know where it is, but how to untangle these blind-alleys, rat-runs and back-doubles to get there?" I pondered.
Hyacinth shrugged and forged on, with me in her wake.
The grinny demonster hopped from zone to zone, dropping the more unsavoury parts of its body into the sidelines: but as soon as one part went the way of its predecessor, another grew for chucking.
By the time of which I speak, the citizens had grown accustomed to such busy busy busy critters riddling the streets with turnippy tumours as well as more dicky-dory appendages. Yet they welcomed this offure for their gardens: for, once planted, such demonster discards zip-sprouted as interlocking cauliflower-trees bearing, within days, great big dollops of putrid fruit.
"Enough to keep us going in these hard times," would say my old Ma, as she harvested the over-rich ruptures and melonheads from the meshed and mushy vines of her own particular zone. And, indeed, only the demonsters could straddle the zones. One zone was was as distant from any other zone by time rather than space - and, naturally, it was the commodity Time of of which the citizens such as Hyancinth and I (and my old Ma) had scant supply. "Give me just one hour extra before I do die," continued my old Ma, "and I'll use it to do good for others - but things being like they are, I've got no time even for myself." She was no doubt announcing this to her neighbour as they both tried to lean over the zone fence to gossip from opposite directions.
"Times are hard here, too," came back the usual response from a woman who patted her hair-style in an attempt to prove the existence of something or other. The demonsters took such conversations from zone to zone, zip-betweens toting message pads like there were no tomorrows.
One day, the demonster that Hyacinth had made more grinny than a circular Cheshire cheese entered burn-up on a specially energetic gambol between two tight interfaces. Thus, in transit, it dropped its scorched beer-belly into a field that was close by where my old Ma was pegging up my old Pa's pants on the washing-line, despite him having, in one zone, already died whilst, in another, he wasn't yet born.
The sight of something falling thus from the sky stirred my old Ma into saying something to at least somebody. "Blimey, another flipping flying saucer!" she told my old Pa's ghost which was probably just the wind ballooning out the pants into some figment of shape. A fresh wind, at that, for a change, she thought - with a grin.
The zones nudged each other in the night, like an audience at a saucy film. And from the tightening ancient furrow between the erosion of two chafing histories, there bloomed a bloatful of blood atop a mighty tree-stalk of mottled knotted flesh - one which threatened to encroach on another universe altogether. Infant demonsters clambered it like a school of zip-spiders, apparently zoned out and seeking a more likely reality. Their arcane cries of "Oo-Fo! Oo-Fo!" echoed endlessly down the corridors, betokening a game they used to play only in jungles.
Hyacinth and I, needful to say, never reached the House of Extra-Mural Studies or, to be more precise, we are still looking for it. It's day by now, of course, and everything around us takes on the customary tawdry welter of last night's meals brought back on a tide of nausea. The back-to-backs huddle looser and, eventually, we can see a possible way through a yardful of step-ladders - to the rear of the House of Extra-Mural Studies.
Yes, the sun's spiked on one of its towers like a lump of orange phlegm. Hyacinth's moustache runs down her chin like a Bogarde of Bogies in a blind Venetian beach-alley. This gives her the appearance of a child in fear of its parents, having gobbled up all their chocolate. Her jewels are now seen for what they are, simply slave-chains. Her tongue slips the prison of her mouth and scuttles along the kerb-gutter like a demonster's sickest afterbirth. Naturally, this prevents her speaking and, entirely dislocated, she dashes herself against the wall of the House of Extra-Mural Studies - without avail.
A prison always keeps its walls firmly shut to prisoners. Even a Zone Manager, as Hyacinth was training to become, can end up spider-whipped against the bricked-up bars, if a forced entry is attempted. Yet Hyacinth is more grinny than a demonster. I'm quite grinny, too. Stoics to the last. Being the person she is, Hyacinth's destiny is to be entrapped on the outside - among all the mixed-up kids and unredeeming lunacy that being on the outside inevitably entails. As for myself, if I weren't so grinny as an oval oo-fo, I'd be weepy, thinking of my old Ma who wanted me to become a better person than my old Pa - and, really, being a good person actually means being one. Equally, death can only follow life.
(published 'Hallow*Zine' 1996)