posted Wednesday, 16 July 2008
Published 'Ammonite' 1997
One man dreamed that he had been many people - without the aid of reincarnation. And as his greatest love was music, he wondered if it were not that very music which collected and delivered him upon its ebb and flow of sound. Yet how could it? How could he be other than who he was? His friends and relations did not need to wonder with the same degree of perturbation, since they were entirely oblivious of the need to wonder. He was the person they knew as Susie and they would have considered any doubts as they would have done dreams. Their unshakeable certainty helped to give certainty to the Susie about whom they were so certain, but there was a certain something that nagged at the back of his mind, urging him towards an equal certainty regarding his own uncertainty: a fiction of a person who lived in the mind and, at a push, in the music: a ghost who only failed to haunt people by haunting them. But did it matter? Certainty might have meant something different, give or take an odd dip in the uncertain tides of certainty. Even the man’s name could be changed as easily as he could change for dinner, names simply being convenient coastal barriers against the waves of confusion. Names indeed, were merely words by another name: bricks in the sea-wall: the sound-bites of muzzled reality: music’s muskets against the Void’s own cacophonous snipers gradually sniping away at him.
So, although he harboured doubts that doubt gave him the right to exist, he thankfully retained the need to wonder - and Wonder, he knew without wondering, was not doubt, nor certainty. Nor something in between. Nor even was it dream.
Even if fire were fantasy, a dragon would sniff at it. And the nameless hunter knew there was no smoke without a dragon or one of its smouldering cousin dinosaurs being in the proximity along with its clouded breath. He had climbed through the stacks all day, in search of arrow-bait for the narrow belly-quivers of his wig-wammed kinfolk who lived back a valley or two ... beyond the spreading swamp that resembled an age-curdled Sargasso Sea back-paddling between each bristled stack. Now, he could discern the smoke that puffed fitfully as from a tribal fire, rising beyond the roughest-hewn stack he had ever seen: as tall as was the tenable without teetering upon the brink of toppling: buzzful of spindly-legged creep-creatures and crawling with insect-wings. The pests were known to thrive on the horny backs of dragons - so here, he thought, was likely to be the toughest hide for his arrows to pierce. Slightly-lighter-than-air arrows were the only ammunition for his crossbow purposes: feather driven by birdsoul once the initial thrust had gone.
He aimed at the tell-tale smuts of smoke. And rescuing his feet from the sucking terrain so as to give more purchase for his stance, he tugged at the hair-trigger, with a minimal force to create the tantalising music of his own taut gut. The shimmering arc of aura was more piecemeal than direct in its path towards the smoking stack.
He smiled. The twanging music was sweet. And his purchase was beyond a belief that even God bought. He whistled as he witnessed the huge beast lumbering from behind the stack. Its pesky parasites were invisible to the naked eye, bar the faint sounds that stung the air with flecks that fought the floaters upon the hunter’s retina. Such irritants, however, were as nothing to the faster-than-light venom that had spurred the beast into view. Its bray was blessed with the horsepower of a hundred thousand ancient engines. The fire gushed from between the hinged saw-jaws of ribbed gristle - and floated more ferociously than the flick of its wide whip tail which, in its frenzy, inadvertently demolished the towering stack with the fulminations of buzzings turned to volcanic roar.
Never was seen a dragon like it. The remains of its death would probably feed the hunter’s broompole-boned kin back home for centuries of feasts - and floor over sections of the swamp with flesh harder than sheets of living human bone. The dragon’s nostrils burned on high octane snot. The danger was that the beast had been budged at all - and it would take a hundred thousand ancient Indians to put it out of its misery, give or take a few finger-yodelling braves who loved warpaint more than war.
Nor had the dragon literally ever seen a man. So the man was left only to hunt out his own hallucination of himself, one that had been induced by puffing pipes of peace in some distant past of flowers, bees, fish and birds: before the world was swamped and saddled with a spare second slippery chance to start. And if he were not nameless, Susie would have known a lot more about himself.
Susie could hear the waves surge, even from the forest clearing which the expensive map told her was still a mile from the lake. She was holidaying in such nettly terrain, in an attempt to remove the unsightly stains of a messy love affair from her otherwise clean canvas of existence. The cherry-trees men had secreted about their person were over-rated, in any event, she thought.
It was relatively smooth underfoot, as she pressed fir-cones into the ground with her trainers. Unaccountably, she thought about the truffles the cones would meet in the pig-proof paradises below. She wished she had a companion on this hike. A talkative partner of her own sex would at least make the story easier to tell later. Who would otherwise believe the Wild Lake? Solely with her say-so, it would become a fictitious expanse of white water. She did not ever talk to herself. Her speech was all inside. The trees would not have benefit of her backchat. The world was one without dialogue. Hence, the lonely holidays, the spinsterly flat back home, the lover who possibly never existed - even if she did recall his telephone number.
There is a great delight treading upon poison berries that have fallen to town pavements, with each generous squelch of sole on the separate scatterings of swollen red seeds. In the country, the berries are more often hidden within the soft mulch of the track. But, today, as she neared Wild Lake, berries were inches deep, literally belching underfoot.
As she stumbled through the trees towards the shifting lake’s edge, she saw a dragon-powered craft which was to take her to the opposite bank, without the necessity of clambering through the margins of overgrowth. There was a figure already on the other side, no more than the size of a doll. She waved in unison with this figure. At last - a sounding-board.
Having launched the craft upon the heaving face of silvery dusk’s reflection, she paddled sluggishly across. The figure appeared to have far too much lipstick smeared over its face, as if it had pigged itself upon Hell’s currant harvest. And a bulb-ended object which syphoned the steaming menses...
The lake was echo-chamber for silent music. Little need to wonder. Reincarnation has no body with which to clothe the soul. A hunter of names. A circle of uncertainties enclosing the only certainty. Emptiness. A pipe dream.