Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Deathless In Venice

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)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Both Sides Of Midnight

There must have been a full moon the day I was born. If it were not for the screaming, the doctors would have heard themselves tell each other that it couldn't be judged where my body ended and my mother's began. Her extraordinarily fulsome pubes and my fur, at the best of times, were difficult to distinguish apart, even by stroking, let alone at eye's length. And, growing up, you see, dear soul, meant my memory became longer and longer, its starting-point disappearing, as it did, beyond the womb itself - like a limitless umbilical of dead-end thought: dead at both ends.

Some people are so moribund towards the middle of their life, they may as well have died properly in some otherwise unplanned schoolyard playtime accident in their youth. But those, like me, who live life to the full, do not have sufficient time to worry about such concerns. I always knew, without even trying, exactly what sort of creature I was. Life, you see, was not only constituted of waking hours but also sleeping ones. I lived existence to the full, not merely life. I gritted my teeth and stared God full in the eye and expected Him to pray to me, whilst at my school, they taught us that praying should actually be the other way round. I laughed. Yes, I laughed - not out loud, but behind my praying hands, as lessons came to the end for the day, and we were told to perch our tiny chairs upside down on the desks - ready for the school caretaker's broom. My chair, however, I always balanced legs down on the sloping desk, the way God meant it to sit - more precarious, true, dear soul, but much more thrilling to see whether it toppled before Miss Crossbrow saw my wicked prank.

I had a special school friend whom I tutored in my ways. Harry was his name. There was often a pinafore-frocked girl tagging along with him and she was called Tara. Neither of them, of course, possessed the nature of the thing that I'd been born as. Neither of them, come to that, suspected anything untoward from their point of view with regard to myself - nor that on some days I slept even less than simply not sleeping.

Yes, on nights when dreams became real, instead of placing my palms flat together in mock prayer to God, I coiled them into conch shapes and horned through them - a baying, a howl, a wail, a roar, a siren screech: or all of these things at once. But now I'm older, wiser and fully aware that, if I am to go on living an existence worthy of you, dear soul, I need to make human dreams as real as mine: so that their dreams can later flesh out my own dreams when the need comes - since it is true, you see, that without such sustenance, I must eventually release hold of the umbilical universe, having by then only brittle claws to cling on with.

Harry married Tara. I sometimes wonder if it was my doing thay they fell in love in the first place. With my presence making them second best to each other, this factor became common ground between them.

Later, I grew to need their protection as a couple. When the three of us were still ten, I whispered secrets in their ears, first to Harry, then to Tara, secrets which inevitably became their own secrets from each other, dire secrets, deadly secrets, secrets that bound them inextricably to you, dear soul. Thus, I should not have been surprised when they invited me to live with them as their lodger, after the marriage. But they had, by then, forgotten the childishness of secrets transferred at playtime in the schoolyard. Humans always devalue their past that way. Only special creatures like you, dear soul, can remain endebted to your circle of durations: pasts, presents, futures, all wheeling around the moment that is none of these things, the continuous moment of fear and sorrow, the core moment which the evil of joy cannot possibly besmirch.

Yes, Harry and Tara became my step-parents, in all but name - and their own eventual children were my siblings despite these siblings calling me Uncle. It was as if Harry and Tara instinctively felt some responsibility to the lost soul that had once befriended them when they needed it most amid the dream-ringed islands of childhood.

If Harry and Tara remain mere names for cardboard cut-outs, I shall not be able to cast them into the roles I have in store for them. Even actors need the underpinning of their own personalities to bring to their parts. They require strengths and weaknesses: the latter to prove them real, the former to stiffen the vessels they will provide for my dreams, dreams that might otherwise burst like bubbles. So, yes, dear soul, we must spend some little time fleshing out Harry and Tara.

Meanwhile, I escape into the monthly punctuations of my endless night. But you have no need, dear soul, to be put through such ordeals. You simply watch, for your own benefit, seeing the creamy-pink skin choking and sprouting wiry fluff, as if the pores are lakes of sea and the flesh an intertissue of connected islands ... and the monsters bristle their backs: a hirsute archipelago of antipodal angst. Yet you feel my teeth with your finger-ends, fast finding my fangs with your claws. Swabs of tangled hide corrode your throat, worse than gagging on cotton-balls. Pubes forest out into bouquets of undead passion-flowers. You hear the Devil bending your ear: not praying to you, as God sometimes did, but urging, exhorting, whipping you up into a frenzy of fur...

Harry and Tara, inside the house, hear you howling from the other side of the parlour window. They shrug. They believe all their children are tucked up safely together in the nursery upstairs. Like most people nowadays, they stay home at night, for the simple fear of going out. The television keeps them indoors, not only through the sheer delight of its entertainment but also with its frightening depiction of the so-called evil that lives outside both sides of midnight.

The beast they hear every month within the precinct of their garden is, they believe, just another case in point: probably one of the many unemployed on a drug gig. Tara shrugs. She has shrugged so often, her shoulders are level with her once beautiful eyes. She turns up the volume of the mind-snatching television and then, as if in challenge, tries to speak above it:

"There's never anything on."

Self-evidently, there is at least something on. What she means is that there's nothing on she wants to watch, but watch it she does, nevertheless. Harold nods in agreement. He has nodded so often, his nose is in his lap.

He says nothing: Shall I try another channel?

And without waiting even for a silent reply, Harold remotely zaps out, eyes glazed, mind in suspended animation ... finger pumping uselessly upon the numbered pads of the remote control. The scratching on the parlour window goes unnoticed. The rising shrieks from the nursery, too. A nightmare of rough schoolyard play. Followed by a dream of Father Christmas coming down the vestigial chimney like Red Riding Hood in drag. The Soot Queen.

I could no longer foist myself on Harry and Tara - nor blame them for the strange twists of reality dressed up as imagination. They'd never be able to be vessels for anything but themselves. I wanted to smash through the couple's double-glazed windows and somehow prove I wasn't snug as a bug in a rug with the rest of their children upstairs - although, dear soul, you were up there, weren't you, aren't you? Nuzzling those very children: disguised as a pet puppy dog with praying paws - a chip off my old furry block. You were to be a Christmas present from Santa Claws. And, with a smile of near compassion, I snuck away into another part of the benighted suburbs to find stronger story characters than Harry and Tara.

The Lady of Night: your real mother of death: she opens her largest valve and draws in the umbilical blood-vessel upon which you've been threaded since that terrible day in the schoolyard when your neck snapped beyond redemption of either pretend play or priest. The Lady of Night pushes your huge bristly outer innard so that it is now within you: whilst snatching out the previous contents of your body, dear soul, to make room for it - those human contents that made a simple kind wolf into a person-tainted monster.

Meanwhile, having found more human creatures to flesh out elsewhere, I wonder whose soul you wield now, dear zombie.

(published ‘Enter The Realm’ 1994)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Backseat Dreamer

Many of the vehicles had been abandoned with no regard for the white lines that marked out the allotted spaces in the carpark. The snow that had covered the area had subsequently melted, thus giving an excuse for careless parking.

A shapely woman in a scanty frock approached the barrier, whereupon the ticket-dispenser machine thought she was a thing on wheels and handed her a reminder of the date and time printed on a stiff hard-to-lose card. She forthwith flicked it away into the darkness, as if participating in one of those ancient school-playground cigarette-card games—the blind-man's buff version.

She remembered that she sought a car (one with its headlights switched on) and a registration-plate matching the letters and numbers tattooed on her left breast—a combination she'd meticulously memorised the night before. If she ever turned into a nameless corpse, her compatriots would be in no doubt that it was her. The whereabouts of such a corpse would indicate the successful outcome of her mission—or not.

Yet none of the cars were alight. They simply squatted there like extinct baby-pods of prehistoric monster berserkers. She wandered in and out, unworried as to the floweriness of her own thoughts' language. She had been brainwashed only to take the illogical for granted. Amid the haywire aisles of scattered metal, she peered through the windows to ascertain the nature of any occupants and, if there were any, whether they were still alive and communicado. Not that she really wanted anything but an empty car. But the confusion derived from her training to seek that for which she did not seek, in the hope that such obliquity would lead her—by accident—to the thing she actually sought without knowing she sought it.

The sky had just started to activate sprinkler-systems of disabled snow, which seeped as sleet into her skimpy clothes, making her shiver...

The headlights came on suddenly. Not merely one or, even, two. All the cars broke their vows of silence and erupted into a life which, if the very beginning of the world had been witnessed, this would appear to be its obverse at the very end of time. An abrupt awakening as a prelude to death. She was caught in the cross-glares, eyes blinking, heart thumping, her mind full with memories of those shafts of twirling lateral light stirring the war-stricken night of her youth.

Having used confusion as a subterfuge for clarity, she could hardly recall how she had clambered into one of the cars and driven it from the car park. Even without the all-important card, the barrier had lifted of its own accord, knowing that, if it had not, it would have been smashed to smithereens. Even stones did bleed in certain phases of the cold blue moon.

She steered quickly through the slanting icicles of rain, her high-heeled feet playing the engine like a bass organ. She knew the bomb in the boot may also have had a life of its own, its short fuse matched to her own feminine one.

The streets through which she drove were completely unfamiliar but, at the same time, she knew exactly when to take certain turnings. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she thought she could discern the dark shape of someone sitting in the backseat. Yet, darkness, when it saw fit, could take whatever fumbling form it wanted.

Ah, there was a bridge: a mock-gothic affair which the street lighting moulded from almost nothing, so as to allow the river (or was it a railway track?) to be traversed as the crow (a very special crow) would drive. Was she mad? She felt an embodiment of someone else's dream. She felt calm, as she was certain that she had been warned about the encroachment of such madness. Madness was what made the job so dangerous. She would need to compare notes.

Driving to a halt at the brink of the bridge, she turned to see who may have been backseat-driving. But nobody there, only a pile of what appeared to be unwanted rubble from a building site.

She left the car and walked round to the rear where she could see tyre-tracks in the snow leading up to the back-wheels. The sleet had in fact resumed its snow disguise after settling. The marks were more akin to skids, as if she'd screeched to a halt and, on returning to the front, she saw why: the inky cut was just out of sight beyond the gaze of the headlights. The bridge was a cartilaginously cantilevered mass of pulsing flesh, ribbed further with engorged veins, parts fluted with perfectly linear tumours, other areas haphazardly sown with knobbly cancers beyond even the manufacture of crazy modern sculptors in clay or any other medium, and the pinions and stanchions upholstered with scarlet haunches of clumsily sawn meat—all being wrapped by snow and, conversely, dyeing it.

Tentatively, she first-footed upon the near edge of slimy gristle. It moved under her, as if hurt by her stilletoes. She shuffled forward, testing all the time, because the snow made nonsense of the structure's hidden strengths—like walking on a hammock, but with underlays of breathing, if not burping, animal-fat.

Halfway across, she looked back at the car, which immediately doused its lights as it trundled engineless in her wake. She was thus left invisible to anybody keeping watch. They could only guess whether she had reached the other side, before the boot blew...

Morning brought communal waking, with news of yet another car-bomb outrage. "Carnage leads nowhere," said the Prime Minsiter on the wireless. Nobody, however, appreciated the kindness of the terrorists in arranging for the mayhem to pre-date the bombblast. It lent a certain inevitability, if not an excuse.

Beneath the snow, there was a conical piece of rip-edged flesh with a coded message (D679 BBY) branded upon it. It was never discovered, so nobody would have to face such mystery; nobody would need to explain how a dream could leave bits of itself in the real world. Whatever the case, no party admitted responsibility.

(published 'Rictus' 1994)