Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Round-Headed Club

Published 'Stygian Articles' 1997

She was a mother and a half. Padgett Weggs saw her as the rock in the stormy seas of his life. Admittedly, a rock slippery with seaweed and decidedly craggy in places.

He remembers her most sitting in bed. It was her place, her refuge from the TV downstairs, a TV that was ever staring blankly at his father. Indeed, she held court from bed, propped up on several pillows, with books and crossword puzzles scattered around like a rogue patchwork quilt. True, she had a penchant for romance novels, which she completely denied half the time, but, even if it were true, it was nothing of which to be ashamed, she said. It was not as if she dreamt of her handsome prince depositing himself by her side in this her throne-room. And, even if he did, she would not succumb to his advances.

Padgett Weggs recalls taking his boyhood problems to her. Hours of bedside chat over maths problems and general topics still haunt him even today - including a bizarre ambition to be a professional writer despite his excruciating inability to write English in a proper manner. His mother even received visits from his father for, in those times, the TV programmes had intervals for the potter's wheel or a kitten playing with the dangling wool, and his father used these opportunities to cat nap beside her, upon the very bed that was the domain and core of her femininity. She was not fooled, though; she knew this was not her handsome prince returned from the crusades, but only the man with gappy flies and eyes like blunt squares, who would doubtless die soon from mouldering bone decay.

Four blokes formed the Round-Headed Club; perhaps, it were indeed their heads, like full moons, but no doubt it was for some other reason.

One among them was clean-shaven with short-cropped brown hair: he smiled infrequently and looked uncomfortable in his green Harris Tweed jacket. His pint-pot three-quarters empty beside him, he seemed querulous as to the source of its replenishment, but the others were too busy in their chatting to remark upon his pained expression. The flat-skinned face bore a scar snaking horizontally across the forehead, well beyond the ears. With the requisite nose and mouth somewhat abandoned on the wide expanse of flesh and the foxing of encroaching old age fanning from below the heavy-lidded eye-sockets, his visage was like a cracked chamberpot reflecting the garish pub lights. The owner of such features was indeed the very Padgett Weggs who was daydreaming earlier about his mother.

Another spoke: "When I was a small boy, unconscionable years ago, I viewed the clouds as being in a race across the sky. One day, when this image first struck me - (I'll get you another drinky-poo in a mo, Weggs) - it had been a stormy day, and the clouds skimmed fast above. I'd been playing up the bullace tree, pretending to sword-fight flying dragons and, in a moment of respite, I had my wondrous vision. Ha! Ha! Ha! I was a bit of a loner, thenabouts..."

Blasphemy Fitzworth (Feemy for short) was the one talking about clouds. He, too, possessed a large round head, but generously bearded and sown with humourous wrinkles. Slightly balding (halted, he maintained, by a premature vasectomy), the hair remaining to him had been rat-tailed by many ill-applied shampoos, depositing "salt-and-sugar" on his buffered boots. His belly was a pudding-bowl (some said from consuming too many cat's meat curries) and, as he settled deep into the ingle-side, his flies gaped a little wider to reveal a shameful hint of knobble. Oblivious to this, Feemy continued his own brand of long-winded pub-talk:-

"Well, that day, I dubbed those first particular clouds as the leaders in the race. It was the start of an everlasting dash and any subsequent clouds I saw (however slow or large) were laggards - even to say, only a few weeks afterwards, when I thought of the race again, I could not imagine how that day's clouds could bear to be so behindhand in their endeavours. But, many years later, today even, I still glance up and Tut-Tut to see yet bigger laggard clouds. The earlier clouds, all those yonks ago, were, by comparison, right in the leading pack, right up with the chase. Think of it, the clouds I see today, they're not doing so badly aginst those yet to come. Makes you think. (A pint of the very best, is it, then, Weggs?)"

"And a packet of pork scratchings."

Whilst Feemy rose for a foray at the bar counter, another participant, Tokkmaster Clerke, still wearing his kettle-hat, spoke of maggot-pies and other such names that he had for common birds. He was proud of his green-bone suit (although he had seen better days in it), so much so that his eyes of holy-fire darted from corner to corner of his widening face in alert attention for the rogue splatters from careless tankards, so rife in pubs he frequented. The hardest man in the Round-Headed Club, Tokkmaster was reputed to lose himself in jokes, not see their points and create his own punch-lines in a very physical manner.

"I'm not saying the Mount is a-flock with many different sorts, but - you talk of clouds, Feemy..." (Feemy Fitzworth had by now returned with freshened drinks.) "Well, behind each and every cloud are whole families of what-shall-I-call-them. Birds is good a word as any. Wing folded behind wing. Joined tail to tail. In clumps, with rhubarby legs. It's a mercy that your cloud racing don't ever end, Feemy - because they'd have nowhere to make their nest behind. (Mine's a gin and tonic, not this muck, Feemy, give me breath, you've known that for years, your head's deeper in the clouds than you think!)"

The fourth and last member of the Round-Headed Club, who was known on most nights as Nial Hopper, was much younger and still nurtured ambitions to make somebody of himself. His face was a dinner-plate of open-hearted flesh, across which his emotions floated like Feemy's clouds. He was somewhat attentive to his dress, bearing an imputrescible rose in his lapel and a thin dark tie dripping into the top of his trousers from a sea-gull collar. He fancied himself, no doubt as a result of his dealings with the knobs and twiddles in his flat on the Mount, as a self-styled TV chat-show host. He drank a lac-lake cocktail that Feemy had almost forgotten to include in his round, mainly because he was embarrassed at requesting it across the feculent surfaces of the Jackass Penguin bar. Nial sucked gently upon a straw which emerged coyly from brolly clusters and gaudy fruit-ferns at the tumbler's rim, as if he were a barrage-balloon being inflated from a monsoony jungle. Nial Hopper spoke next, it seemed:- "Nuncle Tokkmaster, it's all well and good talking about these things you dream about up behind the clouds, but furnish me proof, yes, show me photographs. Let's get some journalistic reality into this discussion."

"Is this boy a joke-smith? I'll throttle you with your fancy-talk," blurted Tokkmaster, his arm abruptly passing round Nial's neck and squeezing him into the corner. "Before you breathe again, young snap-whip, I'll push you so hard into this very ingle-cheek wall, until you explode into sparks up its chimney-flue! They're up there, take my word for it, Great Rounded-Heads with Holy Beaks, all a-mustering, ready for the great big push. I watch them with my big telescopes on the Mount."

Padgett Weggs, quiet until now, strained to speak, to such an extent that his long scar reddened at the edges. He would stand no truck from the likes of Tokkmaster Clerke. "They're not birds, Clerke. They're older than that, stranger than that, so strange that human eyes like yours cannot even see them!"

"You think they're up there, even so, eh, Padgett?" queried Feemy.

"Yes, if there's not at least something somewhere, how can you possibly explain what is going on in this world? None of it would make any sense, would it, otherwise? Think of it - metal boxes shooting up and down the fast lanes, women masquerading as men in men's jobs, film star presidents, TV chat shows, squawking-head music, neighbours ignoring neighbours. Look around you, all is nonsense, a global punch-and-judy show, great big churning accidents, bakelite boxes full of violence and nasty body-bits - even, old Tokkmaster, here, making mashlum out of poor Nial. Yep, they're up there, OK, likely unseen, even unsuspected. We're all going mad, mad, mad because of their evil influences." Padgett took a swig and relaxed from speaking.

But Tokkmaster was not assuaged. "I'll get my great rutted file to your skull, Weggs, for the talk you shit. Those up there, ARE HERE TO CLEAR UP THIS GODAWFUL MESS - NOT TO MAKE IT!"

"I think Padgett and Tokkmaster are in basic agreement," tendered Feemy, "but from opposite ends of the argument. Or so it seems to me."

"And with that," chimed Nial, "I say good night, stay bright!"

As they staggered from the Jackass Penguin, a litle the worse for wear, all four mooned up into the starless sky. Padgett Weggs shivered, as he employed one of Nial Hopper's cocktail brollies to probe bits of chicken-claw from his teeth. Blasphemy Fitzworth (Feemy for short) felt the sharp frost infiltrating even to his vital parts. Tokkmaster Clerke stood like a holly-oak beside a goodman's-croft, as he whistled shrilly for those he knew would one day perch and brood upon his own upper-stiffening branches. Nial Hopper, always one to drag out conversations long after everyone else was bored shitless, spoke of the white feathers that had just begun to snow from the otherwise empty sky.

As a child, Padgett Weggs concocted stories about a character whom he invented called Thomas Hopper. At first, Padgett thought he was a Victorian draughtsman with an obsessive desire to redesign the whole of London without roofs before it was too late and these roofs had become roosted by space creatures. Ol' Tom Hopper, as he became, was a ticklish fellow (straight from the more earthy pages of the Bard) whom his peers called Nuncle, Spunkle or, despite his history of temperance, Drunkle. He became a boatman on an imaginary canal system which stemmed from a wider version of the Thames, fanning down into Surrey, Sussex and Kent like the very maps of the very brain vessels in Padgett's own head.

Ol' Tom Hopper took his Narrow Boats down these canals, exploring their surprising junctions and winding-holes. Such boats toted crates of live human heads, just with feet and nought else, and perhaps the odd squawk of complaint at their cramped freighting quarters. The space creatures that now perched on the monuments and ancient churches of London town had instructed him to take his cargo as near to the coast as possible, for they were planning to install a Garden Port near Canterbury for disembarkation of these crates. The heads were to be billetted there, since their tender brains were later to be carefully extracted like crabmeat and turned by some secretive process into a porridgy food for the tenant farmers who would otherwise die of boredom in front of their ever-blinking TV sets.

These farmers would then lift themselves from their own backsides, grub about for outdoor clothes, proceed to the chicken coops and pluck as many feathers as they could muster; then daub them in multicoloured oils (manufactured from the more secretive glands of the walking human heads) and fix glorious trailing feather head-dresses to their noddles.

Jollity would be the farmers' only raison d'etre, for the creatures from the skies wanted to fit out our green and pleasant land with the rainbow alliance of Morris Dancing and Hippy Folksinging.

Keep sucking hard on your brain breakfasts, lads and lasses, and the world will be a Catherine Wheel of delights again. The TV sets were thrown to the wind as if gravity knew no tomorrows.

With Padgett Weggs dead or, at worst, dying from a brain tumour, Tokkmaster, Nial and Feemy were mooning over sparkly beers in the Jackass Penguin. They could see brown faces bubbling up at them.

Feemy, the caring, sharing one among them, grimaced as the snow billowed into the pub from the outside every time the door was opened by other tipplers. Nial, well, Nial cared and shared as much as Feemy, but he was easily led into selfish ways and was at this very moment timing his drinking to match the others, presumably to synchronise visits to the necessarium - which was all important in view of absences being positive encouragement for the others to talk behind the absent one’s back, their necks twirling like tap water. Tokkmaster had no such foibles. He was the breed you found in low dives surrounded by ugly brain-damaged non-swimmers.

"It's all very well us sitting here, enjoying the evening whilst others outside are dossing in the snow," said Feemy, touching the knot of an imaginary tie.

"There's no point in worrying," Tokkmaster replied. "Everybody started life as babies and if they haven't taken advantage of life's chances, that's their problem." Tokkmaster's nose was so big, it almost looked as if he were sucking up the drink through his syphonic nostrils.

"But Feemy's right, Tokkmaster," ventured Nial. "Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Those poor blighters out there were losers from the start. What chance did they even have half of?"

"You have to make your own chances in life," resumed Tokkmaster. "I don't know about you but I'm getting mighty boned off with clambering across that human offal outside, just to get in here."

"Tokkmaster, Tokkmaster" insisted Feemy, "that human offal, as you see fit to call them, are your fellow human beings, all nature's creatures who fuck and fart as readily as the best of us."

"Feemy, you've worked hard all your life, haven't you?" asked Tokkmaster rhetorically. "You've turned your hand to almost anything, just to earn a honest crust. Those bleeders out there think work is just another four letter word."

"Tokkmaster's got a point there, Feemy," mumbled Nial as he took a mean sip from the top of his drink.

"Let me tell you a true story, you two," said Feemy. "When I was still young, I met a down-and-out. His name sounded like Yog Sothoth but that's not important. Well, he told me why he was a dosser ... because it was far more worthy to be that than anything else."

"I can understand that," said Nial, surreptitiously spitting into his own drink, watching the phlegmy wad float down to be hidden by the lees.

"Yes, Nial. Plain as you see me, I can see him now. And his words have stuck with me through thick and thin: 'I don't give a toss for what others think of me,' he said, 'because I am my own man.'"

"Just what Nial and I were saying ... piss lazy - and with a name like Yog Sothoth, a foreigner to boot!" sneered Tokkmaster.

"No, listen you two. He also said that he'd met his God eye to eye." Feemy paused for effect. "And his God walks this world of ours, making such a walking God even more believable than the airy-fairy Christian one."

Feemy had spoken as if he were the dosser himself.

With a deep-felt sigh, Nial slipped off to the necessarium, and Tokkmaster took the opportunity to freshen up his and Feemy's glasses. Meantime, Feemy maintained a monologue, ignoring the blasts of cold air which a bloke called Blake and his flurry of cronies caused when coming into the Jackass Penguin pub.

"Yes," muttered Feemy, "I have indeed worked my bollocks off, all my life, ever since I could stand on my own two pins. I've been caretaker, factotum, nightwatchman, daycleaner, stud butler, ghost hunter, wine waiter, insurance salesman, firelighter, cat's meat man, time traveller ... you name it, I've done it. But I look back at that fateful meeting with the proud dosser and I realise he taught me more than all the scholars and priests and two-bit johnnies the world over. And I almost felt that I myself was his God, the way he looked at me..."

"Hiya, Feemy, how yer diddlin'?" asked a voice from his beer. "You talk about God? Well I first met the likes of God on Lemon House Lane - he looked like a lamplighter until he got closer, his head a black balloon with bits of a human-like body trailing from it at peculiar angles. You could hear the stretched skin expanding with his breath. Cooing Cthulhus with each expended breath."

Feemy recognised Padgett Weggs as the face speaking from his drink and Feemy hid his mouth with his mittens, either to staunch a yawn or disguise a laugh, or perhaps neither. Possibly a sob.

"Are you laughing at me, Feemy old boy?" continued the face in his beer. "Well laugh away. It's better than crying."

"I'm not laughing, merely not saying anything. But how did you know it was God you met and not the Devil?"

"Because he had the most beautiful heavy-duty crucifix hanging around his neck and tattoos of the Virgin Mary."

"That's no proof."

"Fire's lighter than air, you know."

"So why do flames stay tied to the logs like flags?"

The Weggsian face in the beer ceased in a spray of burst speech-bubbles, leaving only laughter in its place and the repercussions of a real life that had seemed to Feemy like a dream. Fire's laughter flickered in Feemy's brain.

Meanwhile, Tokkmaster had returned with the drinks, closely followed by Nial who had left the necessarium ahead of schedule for once.

"Hey, Feemy, going to the match tomorrow?"

"More than likely."

"That new manager got them working more like a team. Whatever their talent, he's given them the will to win."

"Can't see them winning, though."

"I could score with that loose-limbed lovely!"

It was a pity that the beautiful floosie in question was attached to the bloke called Blake.

Later, Nial Hopper ventured off to buy a round. Feemy Fitzworth had a purple patch staining his lapel, overlapping on to the neck, where his drink had probably spilled. They did not spot the slew of despond seeping under the pub door. Diced dosser stew, having been kept piping hot on the back burner of the soup kitchen nearby, had evidently boiled over and was drooling big toes and undonorable kidneys across the carpet towards the necessarium. Bits of God, thought Nial with more meaning than he would ever give himself credit for. Yet, like most pubs, the Jackass Penguin was no cleaner nor dirtier than any other, the bar of which had been held up, as it were, by Nial Hopper's father Tom whose elbow was ever bent like a piece of sculptural architecture his mother had first carved within her womb. Thus, with all the other detritus, the unholy mess burping through the pub door was barely noticeable - and the small talk and pub chitchat and booze banter continued till well past closing time - amid the holy broken wind coo-looing from the direction of the necessarium.

Padgett Weggs wonders if his mother was pleased on hearing word that the English county of Surrey had fallen. On the other hand, Sussex was still hand to hand fighting with the jolly space creatures but with no greater hope than just temporary resistance. Whilst, in Kent, the creatures could freely fly the skies above the ungridlocked Hopper waterways in search of the rare roofs to roost, trailing bright banners and delightfully tasteless gesticulations with their various body parts.

Padgett had left home to join up with the vanguard of folk-singers in Ramsgate; they opened a harbour in jointure to a glorious delta of canal systems and welcomed in the garlanded harlequinade of boats bearing the creatures' wingless cousins from France. The harbour walls, indeed, were not dissimilar from some of the more imaginative skull cavities of that wondrous architect, Thomas Hopper.

Padgett's Dad? He sat stock still in front of the TV which had ceased broadcasting when the creatures covered the sky with a canopy of light, more fulsome, more permeating than that of the sun itself. There was no roof for the TV aerial, in any event.

Finally, Padgett begs your pardon if you fail to grasp the intricacies of his life, for his English is still excruciatingly second-rate ... but his mother knew that if a creature were brought to her bed for seeding, she would have to first kick out her handsome prince. She didn't realise that it was not a prince at all, but a mound of her own excreta that she had forgetfully moulded and shaped into her better half. Or a better one than Padgett's Dad, in any event. But, by then, Padgett was good as gone and couldn't pursue the thought.

Later, from the distance, she was bound to hear the faint jingling and clacking of the Morris Dancers approaching ... and Padgett knows she would smile, even if he were not there to see it. Whatever the case, with the canal systems of his head now curded over with all manner of holy and unholy tumours, he can no longer have time for sad songs. He haunts bars now or, rather, beers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Published 'Black Tears' 1995

The worrying thing about the area was that, despite being positioned in the same hemisphere as Feldspar's homeland, each night seemed to blend into the next one, with only a fleeting hint of dawn-dusk round about the time that his luminous watch indicated it to be midnight. In contrast, his homeland was roughly in line with the 20/20 day shift, where seasons only created a small adjustment in the ratio between light and dark. For the record, elsewhere, seasons were harder taskmasters and created wilder fluctuations from the norm. Such concerns should not have affected Feldspar - but, as the events still unfolded around him, he could not guarantee that irrelevancies would not become relevant and vice versa.

He was currently on a job for the Suspended Belief Conglomerate. Its head office was in the outskirts of his homeland, so that, when a child, he could see its tall buildings along the horizon like teeth of a comb. His parents said it was their ambition that he should become an employee of the Conglomerate, as soon as he was able to leave the house on his own two legs. Very good fluctuating emoluments and perks could be taken for granted. So, his awe, and even consternation, was overwhelming as he knelt by the bed and gazed at the distant pillars of his destiny gradually becoming snagged with the strands of night.

Later, of course, Feldspar was far more confident of his own identity. He had been with the Conglomerate for some years, and he was entrusted with their most important missions. His parents were still alive; but the outbuildings of the Conglomerate's original head office had encroached nearer to their house, threatening compulsory purchase in the near future. There was no stopping progress.

He was now located outside his homeland, surveying the lie of the land for a proposed site of another head office, with the eventual aim of moving all the staff from one to the other. Cheaper than renovation of the original head office, the architect had advised. He had already called back on the walkie talkie that the only drawback he could establish was the constant darkness: but, since the air conditioning of the new head office would control light/dark as well as heat/cold, he could see no problem: as long as the staff had all facilities under one roof and the relocation expenses were sufficient.

Despite having been steeped in the Conglomerate's self-effacement programme for three decades of his existence, he still had a soft spot for his parents. He believed the more he held back on criticism of this worrying area, the more it was likely that his parents would be left in peace. However, he could hardly recall what they looked like or what they may have turned into, and one of the vital ingredients of love, they told him, was visual communication between the parties. But that took no account of blind people - or, for that matter, people living, for lengths of time on end, in constant darkness: only at midnight, perhaps, could love flourish. He had conducted himself always in accordance with the Conglomerate's motto:

"Suspended Belief is your one great virtue;

For Dreams will never even start to hurt you."

As he sat shivering between the dark masses of land and sky, he could not guess if his watch told the right time. Then, with the suddenness of a single brushstroke of luminous paint across the sky, he saw the first distant skeleton of an office tower in the process of construction - and disciplined Indian Files of hooded figures trudging towards it. Obviously, the Conglomerate had taken his walkie talkie messages more seriously than he intended. And even more abruptly, it was night shift again, for the short storm of dusk-dawn passed on around the world. He fell asleep like a child at the interface of two nowheres. He called out: his parents did not come. They never had a walkie talkie (except Feldspar as a toddler, of course!). There was no stopping regress. He fell fitfully for sleep's enticing.

The night so far had been quiet, far too quiet. I cursed, for whatever happened, I wouldn't be able to sleep. If our baby started whining, then there was no hope even for a fitful doze. But the utter silence was worse. I sat up in the bed, brow glistening, ears pricking, worried that our baby would rediscover the squalls in its lungs at the slightest suspicion of its father sleeping. My wife snored beside me, although I seldom had the cruelty to describe her night habits, come the daylight.

Soon, despite my posture, I did drift off into some dream interruptions - about a cathedral with a dome and a woman I |oved more than my wife. I then paced what I can only describe as an alien landscape. The sun, if it ever had a sun, was not yet up, but a strange living fluid filled the air with an inhalable light. I noted that I breathed through gills in the sides of my neck and that I possessed a tail which dragged a trough behind my legs in the loamy grey sand. Someone had hung decorations from the sky and I heard the distant thuds of an impending storm. Before much longer, I came in sight of an estate house, like those often found when hiking in parts of Great Britain. Its windows were lit brighter than the pervasive glow, so I walked spritely to a lower bay window. Groups of people stood about in a large drawing-room, barely moving and talking no more than in desultory mumbles. I somehow knew they were mumbles, rather than words, despite the intervening window-pane. One woman had a bundle in her arms at which, from time to time, she cooed and purred. Whatever constituted the bundle, it was alive, moving of its own volition.

I was abruptly awoken by a squawking. It was my turn to see to it. Considering that my wife was still snorting like a beached whale, I withdrew my body from the bed, pulled on my stringy dressing-gown and approached the nursery along the dark corridor. Sometimes, I wished its mother had taken up breast-feeding. That would have enabled me to stay in bed whilst she went off to feed herself to the brat. But then, on second thoughts, I cringed at the thought of the milk mountains.

The night-light was still flickering in its jamjar; the curtains seeming to move, as a result. The cot cover budged up and down, as I went over to the tallboy, upon which we had left the creature's comforts. Eventually, when I lowered the teat, I found the opening straightaway and listened to the suck-suck while the clear liquid filtered down. Gradually, its short sharp breaths lengthened, and the guzzling became more of a ritual than a struggle for life and death. I knew the next thing would be the shit, but we could live better with stench than screech.

I replaced the still unwieldy udder on the tallboy, blew on the night-light to tease out its life for the rest of the dark hours, tucked in the cot covers around the gentle rise and fall of the mound - and, unaccountably, tested the strength of the side-bars, knowing babies couldn't fly. I laughed at my own dozy thoughts. Then it spoke. Not with a babyish gurgle, but a shrill voice. It actually negotiated its tiny tongue around real words. Words I understood. Could find in the dictionary, if need be. Write down. I listened unintently, since surely this must also be dream - surely I had drowsed off whilst giving it a nibble of my engorged masculine tit.

"Can you hear me?" it whined, amid a streamer of black phlegm.

"Yes," I found myself answering.

"Dreams," it continued, "within the mother's womb are commonplace, many experts say."

"Are they?"

"Within the watery world of tubes and black hanging things, listening to the mountainous thunderflesh, a dream can form like weather."

There was no chance to note my dream's undreamlike quality, since a storm abruptly struck with the breaking of red-flecked waters and an irresistible thrust upon a tiny body. The G forces were so powerful, the body turned wrinkly and unsightly, its mind fogged with fear, beshitted with memories gone bad...

The Elizabethans had a fixation about Death. And that's how most of them ended up. But one travelled ways so straitened, so full of blind alleys, that he ended up in corners of a London where time did not seem to matter, let alone pass. His name was Fieldspear, but today he's Feldspar and he roams City churches, like a noon-time shadow, a black aura huddled up to the church wall as if tapping its spiritual power for a further go on the dodgem of life. I first made his acquaintanceship when I was courting Freda. She was to be my girl and I wooed her even to the point of obsession. Other men often accosted me, by the scruff of my lapels, saying she was in no way my girl. But I preferred to believe in myself, not them. They were liars, in any event. You could see it in their eyes. Freda's eyes, on the other hand, were wide open and she said I could see to the bottom of her soul, and I believed her. I understood her. I was secure in her simplicity. But, then, of course, I had not accounted for Feldspar.

Freda and I, when walking out, often sat in the grounds of City churches, fresh from business lunches with the Exchange Brokers. Our favourite was St Paul's Cathedral, not least, on my part, because its dome looked like a woman's breast. Freda was full of ideas about her future career (as long as she could obtain the right contacts). Often, she expounded about the making of money and what she described as filling the space that a man inhabits with the irregular shape of a woman. But I knew Freda better than Freda knew Freda. She was all up front but, deep within, without outward admission, she saw Feldspar as well. Only Sensitives, I believed, could follow such fleeting hair-pieces which often darted up and down church walls like apprentice angels' dusters. People steeped in Stocks and Shares need not apply. Don't call us...

On the occasion we first encountered Feldspar, Freda was sitting on the gravestone of a City businessman who had founded a Coffee House which later transmogrified into an Insurance Company Conglomerate. She was holding forth in her mock-serious manner to which I had grown accustomed. "If we could demolish St Paul's," she said, "that would leave room for a few more Futures Exchanges or Eurobond Dealing Houses - it's about time this City shrugged off the loose appendages of the past. There are not enough Computer Mainframes for the Unit Trust or Put Option mega-yields to be accommodated - it's a scandal - nobody will miss St Paul's..." She rambled on in her attractive satirical fashion, and I laughed in spirit with her words. It all sounded too much like a speech to be true. I loved her, you see. She was a poet at heart - like me. That was why I brought her to the churches. I wanted to cuddle her, too. I needed someone as sensitive as myself to cradle my head to her soft bosom.

Suddenly, I saw him, creeping like my image of an Elizabethan. The only one left. Freda was at first unaware of his presence, with her back resting against the gravestone. His open mouth seemed full of black ice-cream which he sicked up all over Freda's power dress. He acted like an evil kid. A non-Sensitive would have said it was simply the night coming in sooner than the dusk. But we both knew that we had met Feldspar, a representative from another age. She could not admit it, of course - she pretended nothing at all had happened. And, even when I challenged her with it, she merely shrugged and said it was only to be expected.

We encountered Feldspar on several other occasions. He dug at the graves, black elastic hose stretching back to the church wall like thick kite strings. He followed us along Bishopsgate and Fen Church Street, loping between the shuttered foreign banks in the guise of an urban scarecrow. He swung from lamp standards in the vein of monkey-spiders, his eyes floating in the dark sorbets of Winter. Yet Freda was, from the very first encounter with Feldspar, quickly promoted, not staying in any one job long enough to be discovered as a true Sensitive, as I knew (and still know) was her real condition. She became Stockbroker General and instigated a whole chain reaction of fiscal meltdowns - but, as during an earlier war, St Paul's managed to withstand the decimation around it.

Freda has now begun to live with Feldspar and she does not have much time for me any more. It's like losing a mother, rather than a sweetheart. I still wander the wedges between leaning computer complexes, where churches used to squat. I feel that Feldspar is good for Freda no doubt, because he once lived in the Alchemical Age of Queen Elizabeth the Second where fifties met nineties. The true Elizabethan. One who followed Dickens. And even Churchill. A contemporary of Thatcher. The real McCoy of an Elizabethan. That era of history has much to teach us, since women were in control and there's still nothing like their soft touch.

The last time I saw Freda, I asked her if she remained my girl, since I still had a crush on her. Freda's mouth yawned wide to answer and black treacle stretched like split innards from tooth to tooth. Something moved inside her blouse. Evidently, she and Feldspar are more than simply good friends. But it's no good crying over spilt milk. I merely hope that they will find time, amid all their other civic duties, to visit St Paul's to disentangle it from the barbed wire with which the City Guild has seen fit to surround it. On the other hand, perhaps such fencing is to keep the Sensitives inside the Cathedral, safe from the outside world. And, albeit a man, I'm the only one left outside with the soft touch.

Meantime, either side of the dream, the baby blows kisses of black spittle, for me to suck.

Feldspar dreamed he had a new occupation back in the old days before real life itself became so dream-like - which was buffing up the drearinesses that seemed to build up when nice bright mornings drifted into the degeneration of late afternoons. He was on guard duty from 3.0 p.m., at which time darkness began to have the potential to wheedle its way into the daylight. So he grabbed his mop and bucket of sunlight liquid from the cupboard under the stairs and, by lunchtime, he had hung his uniform by the front door, with battery-lit buttons and luminous carnation in the button-hole. He placed his false ding-dong of a nose, bright red and bulbous, on the door-knob, to remind him to take it with him. But his mind wasn't in the right gear, somehow. He felt a trifle under the weather, despite the morning's sunniness. He looked from the window and saw a rocketship crossing the blue sky. It didn't look at all convincing. He looked down at himself and, come to think of it, and not to put too fine a point on it, he was not the fine figure of the man he thought he was. Who ever heard of putting the brightness back into twilight, anyway? He might as well go back to bed, he thought, because no doubt it's all part of a bad dream. But, too late, the rocketship suddenly slipped a gear, spluttered and finally stalled, crashing towards the house in which Feldspar stood and stared, now believing how convincing it was. Luckily it was indeed a dream (or else he did die and was subsequently dreaming whilst dead).

He looked at the vase of flowers on the mantelpiece (which his parents had arranged that very morning before light) wondering whether anything of such relative insignificance could be persuaded to take on a character larger than life. Tomorrow, his parents had been told, was to be his very first interview with the Conglomerate. He kept looking up and looking down, and each time he looked up, he felt sick and sicker. As if the motion of his head up and down was a flight of nausea on a tilting sea of air. Finally, he decided, too late, that he was, literally, going to spew. No time to reach the fire-closet. So he used the vase of flowers. Later, he switched on the TV set, but could not focus its flickering. He was not used to reading between the lines and a sense of nausea revisited the alimentary canal around which he was built. He sometimes felt as if he had vomit running through his veins, instead of blood. He failed his first interview, but passed a second one much later in life because the original failure became a valuable qualification, there having been a change of management. His parents would have been proud of him.

Indeed, I must have been dead, because I dreamed I was not Feldspar nor even myself. I was them. I was us. One thing was certain, I was older. But not wiser. The street was quiet except for the occasional tube train below. The lamps joined up worms of light in the darkness. Yes, the street was quiet, the distant drone of a rocketship several skies away. The lamps were finally doused in the early hours: all that could be seen was the sole glow of a first floor window in a ramshackle joint - and it was in that room where the Conglomerate's business resided. The "we" that "I" had become climbed on to each other's shoulder's to view a middle-aged man at a word processor. He was so intent on his task, that he did not hear the sash-window slip its lead, nor our ingress to the room. It was not surprising, for we were quieter than the spluttering of his veins. Outside, the street was quiet. Inside, the room held for a split second a shop-soiled tableau of our frozen dummies. He must have been deafer than a china vase for he did not hear one of us tripping over the lumps in the carpet. We would have to be more careful next time, for any slip like that could have caused a havoc and a half. What a man! He kept up the nimble fingerwork on the keys, oblivious of us. One of us eventually looked over his shoulder and read what he was writing. It was in English, so we could not understand it. Outside, the street was still there, but we had completely forgotten it. Inside, we ranged wide, rummaging beneath the bed for valuables amongst his night soil, rifling his cupboards for any noon meat that was still sufficiently undecayed to be handled, cleaning out his pockets for mind drugs amid the fluff. Not that we were common or garden burglars. He must have been dumb, as well as deaf for, on seeing us, all he could do was point at his mouth. One of us laughed at him and the other laughed too. It was difficult to tell whether his tears indicated laughter or not. Funny that! Outside, the street had imperceptibly broken its bounds into morning - with everything, except daylight, which morning entailed. Inside, we had killed the man, for we could not bear his incessant silent laughter. It was so disconcerting. He must have been round the bend. His eyes were luminous. One of us (probably me) did the job well, cut his throat with his own scissors, took the adam's apple between the two blades and snipped. His death sicked all over the red screen. Illegible in life, illegible in death. Like the noises from the street outside, all leading hard and fast towards noon; people, cars, trains, kids, sirens merging into an inchoate groan. The rocketships had been grounded, of course, till it was official night time again. Inside the room, we finished searching his bits and pieces. Now, what should we do? Listen, who did you think I was? I talked to myself, you know. Dispose of the body, before it's an incrimination. Speak up, won't you, I can't hear, for the noise in the street outside, it's so deafening: like the spluttering in my veins, the blood of my proud parents.

The sash window slid back of its own accord, yet I ignored it. I put the finishing touches to the words on the screen, English being a language with no hard and fast rules, merely taste and instinct and fear of the schoolmaster's cane. Better than flower-arranging. I was perhaps the only one awake in the whole silent Conglomerate of the worrying world; so busy, I was sure to miss the lightning flash that was both sunrise and sunset. A diptych of dawn and dusk.

Friday, July 04, 2008


(published 'Hadrosaur Tales' 1997)

Rachel Mildeyes had been writing for a living since she could remember. A bit like sleeping.

Her first novel, Love In The Sick Ward, had been a successful feminist horror novel. She never cared to read it, however, simply because she could not understand it any more. Her mind was too convoluted and twisted for a straightforward narration. A beginning, middle and end (in that order) was not at all what the shrink ordered. She was confident that she had something growing inside her head, something sharp and incisive, but which could only best come out bent and skewed.

Thus, after a series of gradually compounding fiction sequences under various outlandish pen-names, at the age of thirty-seven, she embarked on what she considered in advance to be her tour de force and raison d’être. Not that it was written in French. The working title was The Miscreant And The Moons ream. She tried out a number of her old pen-names, but none seemed to sit well on the title page. Eventually, she resorted to her own name, believing this to be as good as any — though, of course, nobody could credit that Mildeyes was her real surname at all, but merely an invention of a miscegenate heritage. She finished up calling the book, Miscreant Moon.

The last paragraph came first, leaving the rest until later. She did not own a word processor, only a wireless, continuously tuned into the Home Service, as it used to be called. She particularly enjoyed medical programmes, but that was before the National Health had grown sicker than its patients. So, without a processor, she couldn’t juggle paragraphs willy-nilly like the more modern moveable feasts with which creative writing seemed to have become endowed. What she committed to the old-fashioned typewriter stuck fast.

Miscreant Moon was not a horror work, despite her reputation having been built up, over the years, on plots with macabre incidents and bizarre cruelties. Some critics had called her pieces sick. Simply that. Sick. No mistaking that word, with its decided lack of innuendo; no double entendre nor finer feeling, there. No dodging responsibility under cover of ambiguity or deep symbolism. Indeed, Miscreant Moon was a romance, with any horror simply playing second horn in the wind band. It would doubtlessly be a disappointment to the fervent fans who were used to finding her works amid the latest splatterfests.

Her publisher clucked meaningfully as he listened to Rachers plans for Miscreant Moon. He had a businessman’s head, but pretended his heart knew something about literature.

“I’m afraid a cheap romance will not do, Rachel. You’ve got a duty to the ghastlier, gorier side of human nature.”

She stared at his domed head, sown with tussocks of grey hair. She found herself thinking of a sub-plot where a huge rhinoceros horn suddenly burst through the top of his skull, scattering shards of bone shrapnel across the boardroom table and splintering the oil painting faces of the publisher’s past directors. Thus, she failed to pay attention to what her current editor had to say. She did infer, however, that Miscreant Moon was to be relegated to the back burner of her fevered muse, until she had enough loot in the bank to finance it herself. But life was too short for earning money.

As she wound down the car window, the policeman looked puzzled. She was not the lay-by queen, after all. It was a complete stranger behind the wheel, with something missing. But what was missing, he couldn’t quite fathom. She asked him whether he needed to wear the tall domed helmet to hide his horn. It sounded to him as if she were speaking some form of French. He shrugged, patted her boot and waved her on. No clashing antlers with the likes of Rachel Mildeyes.

The night was so shallow, its dark wreaths were not much more than head height. Above this, as far as the eye could see, were apparent layers of a grimy sea of light. Salt-green shapes, at the same time like and unlike old-time aeroplanes, floated wirelessly through this luminous murk, lights flashing to warn off others. She wrapped her scarf tighter ‘round her neck, because the darkness through which she waded was cold to the skin’s touch. Red-flecked mist sprayed from her mouth as she breathed. Her feet were numb with cold, since they were deeper in the mire of the sunken night. Her head was feverish, but the fever derived more from the dreams therein than the relatively warmer light to which the head was closer. Her bones cracked with the same sound that often drifted from inside butcher’s shops at the dead of night.

She had awakened in a strange bed. The curtains were undrawn, allowing the milky sun to stream through upon her head. She could see seven hundred and fifty-five thousand six hundred and twenty-two dust particles riding in the slanted beams. Amazed at her perspicacity, she began to count the floaters in her eyes, the single petals on the wallpaper, the constituents of the bedsheets, the pores in the palm of her hand and the split seconds that passed in so doing. It was a pity she didn’t know how old she was. Or, it may have been a boon.

The door opened and a young girl, dressed in a uniform, entered with a trayful of breakfast. She called the one in the bed by the name, Rachel. Head lowering towards the tray, Rachel counted out the breakfast’s constituents: Gently coddled duck eggs fluted with the re-constituted ducks that had laid them; rare back bacon rashers interleaved with a sauce that was so strong that integrity of the bacon was in question; freshly squeezed citrus fruit laced with honey wine; doorstops of toast topped with whole kidneys and anchovies; a steaming urn with a medley of infusions from far off Erotica; and cherry tomatoes interspersed like iritic eyeballs.

Leaving the tray beside Rachel’s bed, the girl quickly turned tail, allowing a glimpse of the cut of her behind. The shape of her bosom had been concealed by her uniform, but Rachel had noticed it was over-large, no doubt, when unclothed, plum-tipped, and graspable.

Every speck of food Rachel counted down as she consumed it. Much harder eventually to count them out, she thought. She wondered if the young girl’s own juices had been squeezed over the food to season it. She recalled the dream of the half-hearted night, which, at the time, she had felt was so cold. The blankets now were warmth itself, between which she had been mbedded since she could remember. She was sick. Simply sick.

Having breakfasted heartily, she felt heavy with child, for the food seemed to take on a life of its own in her belly, squirming, kicking and, even, she was sure, squealing. Her bodily innards were strange creatures that passed in the night – a night of blood. When the slurry waters finally broke, several hours later, she feared for the integrity of the bed-clothes. Her headache was like an ingrowing horn.

She drowsed off during the late afternoon. She had given up hope of the girl returning to give her a blanket bath. Rachel was evidently sicker than she had originally thought and the girl, who was probably a National Health nurse, was far too busy to tend to a dream. The dead may die, whilst the rest live only by the words they exchange.

Rachel returned to the earlier dream, where night had fully taken back its own. She could no longer see the floating salt-green shapes nor even the cut of her own body. Impossible now, even to fish herself out from more than one dream away. No clashing hooks with Rachel in the moonstream.

The word count of Miscreant Moon turned out to be a thousand odd short, so she appended an epilogue as makeweight.