Digital Ischemia



Filed under: Glen Tosied — Teepwriter @ 15:48

“The Goats Gruff?”  Blink ventures.
“Billy Goats Gruff,” Sticks corrects him reflexively, resenting having to be with this hopeless and peculiar man.  She wishes Venom would come back.  Blink is totally occupied in deconstructing another bit of received wisdom.
“What’s Billy?  The family name?”
She moves a clench around her face in disappointment at the continuing lack of entertainment.
“Say it prop—“
Blink shushes Sticks.
“Stop trying to change—“
He shushes her again.  Her wide eyes blaze with outrage that she can’t make verbal, not for any respect for his assumed authority but because her rage shuts off her linguistic faculty.  A faint, female voice penetrates the musty silence.  Sticks finds a cathartic voice and cheers for the return of Venom.  Blink remains alert: why is Venom speaking?  Are there two female voices?  Sticks bounds to open the door that he was shamefully unable to budge yesterday.

Venom bursts in, all… cheery.  Blink mentally holds a Geiger counter to her, at the end of a fully-extended telescopic pole.
“This is Merrill,” Venom announces, ushering in a smudged, desperate version of the opinionated wench.  Merrill tries to keep a lid of gratitude on her dissatisfaction and fear.  What weirdo family is this?  The lady was kind to give her water but isn’t that how badness starts?  What’s she saying now?  Oh, introductions.  Merrill waves a feeble hello to the dad and the kid; she can work out their names later.  An archetypal nuclear family.  Nuclear.  Merrill breaks down.  She’s just tired.

Sticks leaps toward Merrill and sincerely, awkwardly pats the new arrival on the shoulder.  Blink approaches slowly; not sympathetic, just curious, preoccupied as he is with limited space and resources, particularly sleeping quarters.  Venom reckons Merrill is ashamed of her upset; she recognises the defence and chooses the stoic tack.
“Merrill was driving home yesterday,” she glances at Blink, “but the road was blocked by… so she diverted via the forestry track,” she gestures the opposite direction to that from which Blink reached the hut, “but her car got mired in the mud.”
Blink courteously takes the cue.
“You were at Finnerbeg?”
Merrill nods, gratefully regaining a grip on her superiority.
“I was trying to turn round but I just got stuck.  It got dark.”
Sticks is smug: you don’t set off anywhere when it’s going to get dark.  Venom smiles sympathetically while thinking: naïve, driving up there in a Lego car.  How will she fit?  As if answering Venom’s unspoken question, Merrill breaks the silence, simply trying to retain her fragile mental integrity with baseless self-assurance.
“Derg’s coming for me.”
“Oh, good,” murmurs Venom, “for you.”  An addendum.  Sounds worse now.  Move on.  “You weren’t the only one using the track for a detour; it’s well churned up, although the other vehicles seem to have been more robust and made it through.”
Merrill doesn’t appreciate the bumpkin’s implication that she was ill-prepared.  Habitually she feels in a pocket for her mobile phone and slips it out: blank; totally powerless.  Sticks gazes at Merrill, excited to have a new companion, especially female and feminine.  Venom corrals all their wandering agendas.
“Anyway, let’s eat.”
Each of them welcomes their individual perception of imminent food.  Blink is absolutely accompanying Venom downstairs.

“This is the manifestation of your harbingering of doom?”  Blink has Venom to himself at last, and a pinpoint focus, as they descend the hut’s steps.
“It was going to happen sooner or later; you’re all just pretending it hasn’t.  One should make an effort,” she retorts, surprising herself at still only being able to refer obliquely to the cataclysm and its gradual effect on them.  He explodes into unrealistic laughter.
“Should ‘one’?”
He continues to convulse.  In the gathering gloom she regards him with a façade of irritation over her self-consciousness.
“Saved your life actually,” she spits, instantly regretting the pretension, and anxious for his reaction.  He splutters back into calm control.
“I’m only starting to comprehend the ways in which you are my salvation.”



Filed under: Glen Tosied — Teepwriter @ 17:24

Blink becomes conscious with a groan.  He assesses himself, finding he’s slumped almost horizontal over the crude mattress.  Three feathers are attached to the bottom of his already filthy trouser-leg by likely chicken shit.  He overreacts, briefly shaking his leg with ill-advised vigour, then succumbs to the vertiginous head fug of the recently awoken.  In the gloom smothering the rest of the hut he detects movement.  He grumbles.
“Was I drunk?”
A groggy edition of Venom’s voice issues.
“On what?”
A jerk of his arm disturbs a slew of worn playing cards.  They cascade elegantly into the most laborious distribution among leaves, feathers, curious grime.  He abdicates responsibility and instead enjoys remembering a simple evening’s entertainment.  He tilts himself to sitting, pressing his hand over his head to flatten his hair rather than hold his skull together.
“What’s it like out there?”
“Still storm,” Venom replies.
“More or less?”  Blink quizzes.
“Nearer, but it won’t reach us today.”
The timescale implied by her assessment makes him feel further trapped.
“One night is already something to deal with unexpectedly,” he bleats.  “I only went for a fucking walk!”
“You’re welcome,” she retorts, then moves into offense.  “How does that line up with being a world-class journalist?”
Blink regards Venom with suspicion: her question encompasses a compliment.

Blink takes the cue and gathers himself into familiar professional territory.
“How much food do you have?”
“Meaning ‘how much extra load am I putting on your supplies?’”  Venom interprets.  “It’s not a finite resource.”
Two minutes he’s been conscious when the urge to bicker fully overwhelms him.
“You can’t be growing crops; it’s all contaminated!”  He melodramatically gestures beyond a wall then reins himself back to semblance of decorum.
“Today’s assumptions are: food must be grown and this must happen outside?”
“No.  Why the ants?”  She relishes every bit of withholding.
“Not some warped compassion?”
“Not.  Some ants can develop a commensalistic relationship with fungus.  They collect it and maintain favourable conditions for it to grow.  The caves below are ideal and it’s easy to encourage the ants to populate them,” she explains.  He absorbs the dismal prospect of eating nothing but mushrooms forever.
“Domesticated ants.  Why are they so massive?”
“This population is bit irradiated,” She rattles past his delicate neurosis, “but they’re too small to harbour enough particles to threaten us and they’re a good indicator of conditions outside.”
She smirks.  Blink surprises himself with a further cognitive churn, unprecedented at this giddily early stage of the day.
“I suppose I’ll see where you get your water too?”
Venom tilts her head cryptically, but doesn’t decline his self-invitation.

“When I get back,” Venom dictates, calmly wrapping her head in a fabric of brown vegetation.  Blink slow-shakes his head, frowning with incredulity.  His lips curl with forming scorn but he’s diverted by Sticks materialising from the floor.  He pre-emptively blanks her and returns his attention to the havering hag.  Venom greets Sticks with a gentle hug.
“Will you keep Nicky company?”
Sticks is jolted twice: once for being with the man, again for being without Venom.  Blink wonders if the focus of Venom’s outdoor madness is something fearful.  Sticks chooses the lesser evil.
“Can I come with you?”
Venom purses her lips with regret and demurs.  Blink has no desire to offer to accompany her.



Filed under: Glen Tosied — Teepwriter @ 17:33

Blink snaps back from fantasy basement to grounded reality: the silent world around them.
“Where’s the storm?”
Venom doesn’t even make eye contact.
“Not that kind of storm.”
Blink’s petulance erupts.
“What kind of storm?”
“The kind you were trying to lose,” Venom soothes.
Sticks’ face appears frightened by a fairy tale, in the way that she was so completely not frightened by Blink’s distorted fairy tale.  She floor-skates toward the makeshift window: soundless waves of sky-sized, orange and purple fireworks radiate from the horizon.  He stares from pallid skin as layer one of his denial shreds.

Sticks resolutely pulls a block across the window and returns to Venom’s side.  Venom takes the opportunity to pierce Blink’s failing paradigm.
“What was it?”
He purses his lips, caught.
“I honestly don’t know whether it happened or I dreamt it.”
Sticks’ curiosity flares.
“Dreamt what?”
Venom slides a calming arm around Sticks, patiently awaiting Blink’s sequel, which falteringly, self-deprecatingly matures.
“I thought I was writing about a nerd joke, a group paranoia: the ‘Equinox Virus’!  New radiation, particles pervading everything,” Blink hurtles, “all the trinkets of electronic civilisation, building up in the atmosphere, distortion, decay, fucking Technicolor Tuesday, and the actual, total collapse of society.”
“What kind of radiation?”  Venom murmurs, recalling so clearly why she meant to save him: his words.
“eta, small ‘E’,” he confirms, feigning cheesiness but the innocent word, like the substance it represents, deconstructs his cells, unravelling his rules to mush.
“That’s right; the cataclysm we’ve all been denying for decades.  What’s next?”  Blink stares at Venom, wordless.  “That’s why you’re here,” she ventures with comforting certainty.
“You seemed to know what was going on and how to survive it,” Blink acknowledges.  “I waited for you.”  He doesn’t care about sounding pathetic this time.  Venom darts a glance to Sticks.  She imagines he understands he was trumped.
“You knew which direction to head,” she coaches him.
“Aye, away from the fucking world frazzling.”
Sticks reaches to pat Blink’s shoulder with a robotic, heartfelt movement.  Somehow that tips him over.  He gulps to keep a lid on it.
“I remember you as more eloquent.”  Venom offers him a way out.  Blink smiles wanly.

Blink chooses to occupy himself by getting familiar with the hut.  It doesn’t take long: it’s one room.  A back corner is demarcated by being free from insect highways and having an upgraded version of the sofa, seemingly a small mattress.  All this to house the chickens too.  He spends two moments contemplating an insect highway while more fundamental cognition occurs beyond his consciousness.  An effective façade.
Venom pre-empts any questions.
“You can sleep there.”
Blink raises his eyebrows, ungrateful and unwilling to be patronised.
“And you?”
Venom snorts at the distance from romance.  He guffaws.



Filed under: Glen Tosied — Teepwriter @ 17:20

Blink snaps out of his visitation coma.
“Well, I’m going.”
“You’re not,” states Venom, wearied by the impending explanation.  Blink puzzles since this can’t be hospitality.  She avoids his core-draining stare by gazing at the patch of grey among the mosaic of brown, serving as a window.  That’ll get dimmer and we’ll have to get used to it.  Sticks seizes the opportunity to demonstrate her superiority.
“You can get to the road, but you’ll still be on it when it gets dark.”  She loses conviction as she adds, “you’ll have to stay.”

Blink stiffens then sags as he comprehends the exquisite simplicity of his predicament and his shocking failure to foresee it.
Venom is an uninvolved bystander as her mouth breaks rank.
“Would you like some water?”
“You have water now?”  Blink flashes back to the fishing rejoinder.
“A storm’s coming,” Sticks announces spontaneously.
“Sit there,” Venom instructs Blink, adding for Sticks’ benefit, “and choose a story.”
Blink follows the line of Venom’s indication, seeking anything meeting the definition of a seat.  Quelle surprise: a layering of cardboard and dry leaves, like the arse-end of a school pantomime set.  Sticks draws closer, resolute in her animosity.  He counsels himself: I won’t be here for long, certainly not long enough for that to decompose.  He sinks into the unexpectedly comfortable layers, relieved not to disturb anything in feathers, delightedly empathising with a hedgehog finding a hibernaculum.

Blink drags his eyes to Sticks and attempts a sincere grin.
“The tale of Red Hood.”
Sticks frowns and spits back.
“Red Riding Hood?”
He calmly elaborates.
“No, just Red Hood.  I don’t know where ‘riding’ comes into it.  You don’t ride a big, bad snake.”  A wave of innuendo anxiety rushes over him.  He mitigates: she won’t get that; too young; she’ll still be sniggering at profanity.  She’s still frowning at me.
“It’s a wolf!”
Right enough.  Where did the snake come from?  But still, maybe I can score off it.
“This one’s a snake.  Do you know something about snake’s eyes?  They have a bit of skin that closes over them, like our eyelids, but see-through.  It’s called a nictitating membrane.”
I didn’t have to bury myself in the fucking fairy tale, but job done.  Is she thinking or bored?
“Like blinking?”
“That’s right: blink, nictitate.”
“Nicky Tate,” Sticks parrots.
“Smart cookie.”  Oh god, I’m Uncle Awkward.  Not that I’m doing anything with…

Blink’s incongruity alarm goes off again: from his new vantage point he can see all six faces of the hut and nowhere in his sightline is Venom.  He tenses forward to a perching crouch.  Where did she go?  He flicks his head to face Sticks.  She stares vacantly back, waiting for him to muck up the story.  He springs up.
“Right!  I’m not playing hide and fucking seek with you again!”
Sticks sniggers at the swear word, an excuse to enjoy the man’s fright.  Blink misses his pay-off and instead flings himself at the door and commences clichéd futile rattling.  She watches, slightly amused, slightly scared.

“Didn’t we already do ‘you’re not leaving’?” taunts Venom, innocently gliding behind Blink.  He lunges at her; she recoils.  “I was below, not outside: I have a basement.”  She gestures at the dark gap behind one of the boxes, wishing she’d had the nerve to withhold that a bit longer.  He strides to the box, lowers a foot intrepidly into the black then retracts it.
“Chicken,” she disparages him.  He mimics the nearest example, rotating and twitching his head to scrutinise her side-on.  She giggles.  Score two.


Character Recognition

Filed under: Glen Tosied — Teepwriter @ 16:53

Blink regards the gloomy interior of Venom’s hut with no trace of courtesy.  Ahead the patter of Sticks’ skips halts.  The foreground emerges: neat stacks of wooden boxes apparently serving as furniture, trails of rustic toilet paper forming bridges and ladders for columns of large ants or small spiders.  Chickens.  Of course there would be chickens.  And dry leaves.  Inside.

Venom regards Blink, adjusting her eyebrows to stifle her conceit.  Her 40-ish form is entirely androgenised by oversized, waterproof canvas apparel.  He revolves, milling premature thought-ore into shining ball bearings: a fishing hut, incongruity, no water, excepting the ubiquitous squish of bog.
“I assume you need water for fish?”
“Don’t assume,” she retorts.
“The hut’s been here since the last glacier melted?”
“Still stuck on fishing?”
“It’s a purposeless hut?”
“The things that don’t fit within your so limited worldview, Blink.”  With calculated pleasure Venom notes his horror and guilt as she pronounces his pseudonym, “’Nicky Tate’; please!”
Blink scrabbles to regroup, skittering into a trusty back-swipe.
“And you’re going by ‘Aunty Venom’?!”
“It’s ‘Vennan’ but I prefer her version.”
Sticks veers into Blink’s blurring vision, incensed by his most fundamental, most offensive lie: the very first thing he said.

The trio remain, awkwardly scattered among the filthy clutter.  Some time may have passed.
“How’ve you been?”  Venom masks genuine concern with cliché.
“Much as you left me.  Except you didn’t; you weren’t there, were you?”  He hopes his assessment doesn’t sound pathetic.
“I didn’t even know where I wanted to be,” she gives a little back. 
“Do you now?”
“The frame of the question has changed.”  Venom finally vents her smouldering question, How did you get here?”
“I went a walk to try to lose something.  I kept crossing your road.  It seems to come at me from any direction,” Blink fails to cover his tracks.
“It does that,” Venom goads, relishing her several steps ahead.
“So I followed it,” Blink expires.  “How did you get here?”
“The fatuous turd Mr Vennan gave me an ultimatum.  He lost.”  Venom tenses to maintain her cool, not because that personal chapter holds any power, but because she feels curiously impelled to misdirect her visitor thus.

In pretending not to care about personal chapters, Blink welcomes another focal point.  Legs astride, hands lightly elevated, as if in the middle of a tap dance, Sticks vibrates her head so slightly but with face-blurring intensity.
“Seven,” she commentates.
Blink’s eyes begin a systematic search of the field.  Presently they alight: there indeed, upon an unnecessarily vast platter, is a convoy of seven blueberries.  Sticks’ dainty paw homes in on the end berry and precisely plucks it as if the slightest false move could cause an explosion.  The precious cargo is planted in her mouth.  Her lips clamp before she has fully extracted her fingers and the frisson begins again, from her mouth, spreading over her whole head.
Blink wonders if this is rapture or revulsion.
“Six,” he pronounces, absorbing her dismay as he disposes of his need for the distraction.

Blink launches his deflection before his attention has fully returned to Venom.
“I noticed an odd thing along that road: a dilapidated cottage with crumbling walls, a vase of dead flowers in the window but no curtains, just weeds, cracked paving stones.  But the remarkable thing was that on all three sides visible from the road, in the windows, were poorly written signs: ‘CCTV in operation.  You are being watched’ and indeed there was a convincing if battered CCTV camera mounted on one wall.  It made me all the more curious.”

Venom packs away her observation of his tactic for later analysis.
“Riddle’s.  He only uses it in the winter.  He stays in one of those hideous, parochial towns with clusters of begonias plastered over a seething mass of idiots breeding.  I think he comes up here to mope.”  Venom relishes her tart interpretation, adding a final gob of sarcasm, “I should put a sign on my window: ‘you are not being watched; nobody cares… In fact, if you found us, well done.’”
“Surely the unfortunate who fetches up here should be offered compensation not congratulation?”
Venom emits a tiny gulp of a chuckle.  Blink had forgotten how much he needed that.

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