Digital Ischemia

24/09/2017

Night on the Tiles

I blundered into the dimly lit washroom, thoughtless in my sleepy haze. As I automatically reached over the sink for my toothbrush, a dark mass behind the tap startled me. I was used to spiders and other housemates—woodlice, vine weevils, mites, and other dots—scurrying across surfaces but more often living out of sight. I’d even been bitten by a spider. That surprised me, and left me with a tiny red V-shaped cut in my wrist as evidence. That spider had chosen my cardigan sleeve for refuge and reasonably considered my thrusting arm to be an attack. Apparently biting spiders are common in Britain; fortunately they’re harmless.

I knew August was the mating season for ‘house’ spiders, driving them to roam widely and overtly in search of partners, and hence being seen more often. This one surprised me not only by her location but her size: a good ten centimetres diameter. I dislike surprises, especially late at night, and the ensuing tension. I think it comes down to a fear of insects unintentionally jumping on to me and disappearing up a sleeve or into my ear or somewhere I can’t get them. And then what? I supposed they might bite or tickle or lay eggs or commit some other grievous offence. More irrational conditioning.

I went on with teeth-brushing, casting frequent glances to check she was still there. Perhaps the light had halted her exploration, even though it was dark orange – at least neither of us should suffer melatonin cycle disturbances. Do spiders have melatonin? Perhaps my noise or movement vibrations disturbed her. Still indulging this mental blether, I turned off the light and went to bed. The next morning she was gone.

The second night I had entirely forgotten her existence and so was startled again by her presence on the tiles beside the sink. I was more relaxed, though, and observant. After a couple of minutes she rotated to face the wall and compressed herself against the grout. This seemed like avoidance behaviour. I was sorry cause her discomfort. I have no illusions about this being ‘my’ space. The wilderness may have been long since concreted over, but nature is mobile and constantly recolonising.

The following morning she had stopped just over the edge of the tiled unit, where the panel descends to the floor. She remained immobile during my intermittent visits through the day. I wondered if her exploration had tired her, or she had bivouacked there to extend her range the coming night, or she was awaiting prey… or a mate.

The third night the tiles were unoccupied. No movement, no stasis, no presence. I was somewhat relieved, but also concerned by the not knowing – pure selfishness: once you know something is present, not seeing it becomes unsettling. As the toothpaste foam built up, I wondered about the content of her life of which I was mostly ignorant. I trundled back and forth, brushing, pondering.

Crunch. My right foot felt a momentary resistance. My head leaped to the fateful conclusion. I bent my knee and raised my foot behind me: even in the artificial twilight the sole showed a telltale wet patch. The floor covering was too dark to identify the victim.

Wrong time to choose to freeze on the floor! Wrong place! Why did she not sense my noise or vibrations or the light tonight? Why not flee? Evolutionarily unsound!

My defensive denials fizzled out. Was she starving? Not dehydrated in a washroom, surely. Was she fuddled by sleep disturbance? But I wasn’t there that often. Was she just trying to get from A to B, and like the poor hedgehog, when faced with large, looming movement, made a poor choice. Freezing in the path of a heavy creature means death.

Daylight confirmed my conclusion. She’s still there: a fading husk of legs, pressed on the floor. I’ve slid her aside so I don’t repeat the offence, but haven’t appeased my regret yet. I didn’t mean to, sure, but I can’t say I couldn’t have foreseen that risk. Apologies tumble out as pathetically inadequate recompense for not considering consequences. Why do my needs or arbitrary habits supersede my housemates’? What might I have learned from sharing time and space with her? What have I learned?

Advertisements

27/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 3

begins at Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 1

As Fossoway Flora, the fragile frond, recovers equilibrium, Tantalum the nixie summarises their position in discussing pacifist extremism.
“Whether or not we can hear plants cry in pain, they react to harm. They experience something unpleasant. We shouldn’t need to hear a scream to tell us harm is not good.”

Tin is agitated. The nixie equivalent of a nerve has been nipped. He emits a rapid series of encyclopaedic squeaks.
“Plants are way more sensitive than to just pain. Pine and elm trees can identify which species of insect is chewing them from the insect’s saliva. They then release an appropriate deterrent chemical to the area under attack, or a specific airborne pheromone to attract the insect’s predators.* How clever is that? What else can we conclude but that plants have a sense of taste?”
Tantalum adds: “Just because we don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Tin squeaks on.
“The roots of tree and grain seedlings crackle at a frequency of 220Hz.”
Tungsten belligerently interrupts: “Could be just the sound of ’em growing or shifting about.”
Tin is delighted to respond.
“Indeed, or from their cell walls losing turgor with dehydration. However, the interesting observation is that seedling roots not only make a noise but they also respond to that frequency: they orient their tips in that direction.*”
Tungsten is still translating the technical terms. Tantalum is impressed. Tin squeaks on to a conclusion.
“Except cultivated plants: for example farmed grains are quite quiet*. Humans seem to have bred all the sense out of them, all their community communication and resilience.”
Flora feels faint.

Tungsten feels obliged to leaven the hysteria.
“So at some level they taste and hear. Next you’ll say they can see.”
Tin pipes back with a sneer.
“What is seeing but responding to light?”
Tungsten feels an invisible net is closing.
“And they do that?”
“Phototropism? And you may have heard of photosynthesis.”
“Ar, very clever.”

Tantalum detects Flora’s energy waning, despite the passionate debate, and attempts a summary.
“Usual human folly, then: just because you can doesn’t mean you should…in this case: impose yourselves on other lives.”
Tungsten wades back in with a late surge.
“Bacteria and other microbes are constantly being expunged from yer body, billions per second probably. Is that acceptable since your survival depends on it? Since you can’t see them? Is killing anything to survive acceptable?”
Flora’s twiggy mindlette explodes in a coruscation of anguish and anxiety. She becomes as limp as a twig can, probably in severe drought. Tin wavers nauseously. Sensitive souls.

Tantalum re-establishes pragmatism.
“Not every single seed gets to grow into an adult plant. There isn’t sufficient resource on the planet. ‘Nature is profligate,’ as Umbel says.”
Flora faintly tries to insert “although humans seems to have forgotten…” but Tungsten’s still surging.
“Yer right. Assuming the number of trees stays roughly the same, and, naturally, a tree lives for hundreds of years, and produces millions of seeds during that time, the chance of any one seed making it to reproductive adulthood is literally millions to one.”
Flora sighs in uneasy relief.

But Tungsten likes playing devil’s advocate.
“Of course that same profligate strategy only evolved because of the numerous hazards to be navigated. You can argue it any way you want.”
Flora sways. “Oh, please don’t.”
“I’m just saying, like, for humans, animal protein is easier to digest than plant protein. From that you could argue that human protein is the most easily digested so you should eat one another. Yer moral threshold is arbitrary.”

Flora is surprised to glimpse familiar territory – her starting point circles back toward her. At least they’re not hopelessly lost in a dark, thorny underbrush of debate. Not quite.

“Should we strive to evolve to a physiology where we can absorb all the basic nutrients we need from minerals—if we still consider those to be inanimate—and from them construct every chemical compound that we need?”
“Like us, ya mean?”
“Is that how you do it? Oh, brilliant!”
“Sun, sea, soil and, er, stratosphere?” Tantalum beams self-congratulation. Tungsten grimaces, the verbal initiative having been snatched while he was self-indulgently circumloquacialising around his argument. Best to plough on, push the rollercoaster right to its vertiginous finale.
“The fact that you have evolved to this point through the efforts of others is not in itself justification for continuing. Human evolution has not reached an endpoint. Yer not perfect; yer work in progress.”
Flora agrees with a faint flutter of leaf, despite a haze of impending doom.
“Our ‘success’ is predicated upon killing which is neither ideal nor sustainable. Certainly we have a way to go yet. Why not aspire to exist by absorbing pure energy?”

Tin has a final word.
“When universal aliens make themselves known on earth, will humans respond by assuming their usual superiority complex, regardless of the dazzling astrophysical evidence to the contrary?”
Flora despairs of her native species.
“I’m not so sure I want to be human again.”
“With all your trans-species experience?”
Tungsten can’t resist one last barb.
“Crying out for a superiority complex!”
“Not helpful, Tungsten. I was thinking you’d be uniquely placed to spread a little much needed empathy.”
Flora sighs.
“It’s academic anyway. Can’t even get back to the tree until Umbel resurfaces.”
Tantalum exclaims: “Why did you not say that was what you were after?”
Tungsten’s contributions remain brusque.
“Piece o’ piss.”
Tantalum continues solicitously.
“How close do you need to be to re-thingummy with the full tree?”
“Oh, you see, I think I’ve had enough of the tree, for now at least. I was hoping to extricate myself and resume human status.”
“Sure?”
“Is that an option?”
“As you may have noticed, we’re kinda in the business of evolutionary progression.”
Tin pipes up “You could be like us: Pacifist Extremists!”

As Flora digests this too perfect offer, a trumpet of a fart rips through the bunker.
Tantalum quips: “Action stations, chaps.”

Tin skitters along the bench to the wall. Between two wooden struts, he presses his tiny hand into a crack. There follows a thrilling clattering and clunking of cogs and cranks. An irregular door springs open revealing… nothing: a dark hole lined with vertical wood grain that fades to black as it recedes. Flora is fearfully fascinated by this hellish enslavement of her tree ancestors.

“What’s in there?”
Tantalum beams.
“The wood between walls.”
“Is that some dreadful parody of Narnia?”
“You’d rather ‘stick’ it out here in the trench with Mister Mustard Gas?”
A disappearing Tungsten adds: “who, by the way, can’t transmogrify a ginger biscuit without total digestive collapse.”

Tin and Tantalum don’t wait for the warm, toxic gust that inevitably follows the fanfare. They pitch Flora through the hatch by—or possibly to—her sticky end.

A few minutes later, as the fug clears, a heaving and a creaking brings forth Umbel.
“What-ho, chaps. A little inner work clearly required there. Fascinating.”
Here ‘inner work’ means a restorative doze; however, clothing remains decorated by crumbs and cocoa, and hair has been restyled by screwing against a heat-retentive pillow.
“Ah. Popped out for a spot of fresh air, I see.”

THE END

*Tree sense facts from Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate.

20/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 2

follows Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 1

“One for all, all for one!” This squeaky trio preludes three tiny leaps from the tin on to the bench, accompanied by aggressive shaking of tiny fists. Fossoway Flora, or twig thereof, is baffled.
“How can you win if it’s four-all?” Another bafflement arises. “What are you?”
“Nixies. What are you?”
“Oh, yes, I forgot; Fossoway Flora – got myself involved with a dear old beech tree. Lightning strike type thing.”
“Pretty small tree.”
“Ahaha. I’m travelling light. Flying, baggage allowance – you know.” Flora’s stoicism wavers.
“Not even slightly. Anyway, I’m Tantalum, and this is Tungsten and Tin.”

Flora acknowledges graciously, as best she can by a slight bend of stalk, and raises an invisible eyebrow to Umbel’s careless approximations. A staggering insight smacks her.
“You were in a tin!”
Tantalum sighs.
“Misappropriation of proprietary label. It’s actually an alloy.”
Flora catches Tin smirking.

Tungsten moves the discussion on before it becomes irretrievably bogged down in wordplay.
“What’s yer conflict?”
“Where to draw the line.”
“Always tricky. ‘specially when yer basically a line yerself.”

Tungsten performs a triumphant miniature jig at this wit. He aborts this on realising that he too has succumbed to wordwankery. Flora decides not to engage in an escalating series of barbs until she has ascertained if these ‘conflict demonerals’ can help her. But please let’s move on.

“That’s quite good. Well done.” Flora commences formal proceedings. “My question is: how do you eat without killing? How do you live without killing?”

Tin develops a beatific grin but remains silent. Tantalum raises his arm to claim an imaginary conversational baton.
“Ideologically?”
“Yes, I suppose. Is it possible? What is… Beyond Veganism? I mean, vegetarianism is not killing animals; veganism is not using—some would say abusing—animals at all; but each threshold is arbitrary. What’s the ultimate level? – total harmlessness.”
Tungsten beckons to Tin.
“Yer up, Tincyclopedia.”
Tin frowns but recites with ease and squeaks.

“Ahimsa, you mentioned?”
Flora casts her mind back to that pearl cast before Umbel cast his crumbs. Not really surprising that the wee nixies overheard that conversation, as they sat poised in their resona-tin. She twitches a leaf encouragingly. Tin resumes.
“Then it’s fruitarianism for you. Fruit, nuts, seeds, any reproductive part—zygote—that the plant produces and detaches for dispersal in order to propagate itself. Fruit in particular evolved to be attractive to animals as food for the very purpose of entering a trading partnership: the animal gets sustenance, the plant gets propagated with a handy dollop of fertiliser.”
“Oh, good. Can you live on those?”
Tantalum is horrified.
“We’re mineral sprites!”
“Oh, gosh, no, sorry. I mean: can I?”
Tungsten can’t help himself.
“Yer a tree.”
“Damn it.”

“Stop provoking the lass, Tungsten. Flossie, we’ll come back to transmogrification, so don’t fret. Follow the line!”
Flora appreciates Tantalum’s benevolence and pragmatism – sentiments always lacking from interactions with Umbel. Incidentally, that would-be puppeteer of this unlikely conversation remains off-screen, in a post-prandial stupor, emitting nonsensical murmurs. Flora succumbs to a rush of questions.

“How far can you take harvesting? Is it permissible to take some of a plant’s tubers if the plant can survive? That’s still a harm. I’ve felt it! Sodding Tiahmin, snapping my bits off. Is it acceptable if the plant is an annual and would die anyway after producing its offspring? Provided you leave some—how much? And isn’t that just sustainable horticulture?—for the next year? If you let a plant go to seed and collect that seed, is it then acceptable to eat its root, stem, leaves, or any or all of the rest of the plant? Are leaves permissible? A plant will likely survive the loss of a few leaves, but, again, that’s still harm – there’s still an injury and a detriment to potential…” Flora’s twiggy stomata gulp fishlike.

Tungsten peers at the gasping twig.
“Is it oxygen yer needing, or carbon dioxide? Nitrogen?”
Tin, more pragmatically, thrusts a rubber tube at her. He notes her increased alarm.
“Not from the swamp! Piped by fungal mycelia from—”
Flora clamps a vesicle around the tube and draws in fungal gas. More pleasant than it sounds. If yer a tree.

To be continued…

13/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists

Fossoway Flora quickly became tired of life at tree pace—or, more tactfully, she’d learned what she needed and it was time to move on. Prince Tiahmin was adorable, but also became tiresome every time his baddies threatometer lurched and he reached for a stick. Repeatedly she had to remind him that sticks had an original purpose before they became handy weapons. He was leaving her disfigured.

Such irritations all come to the same thing: Flora has learned the various ways we live and let live or let die. That old tree is a canny beech. The way it manipulates everything that enters its space, deciding who to encourage, who to repel. She feels the urge to visit Uncle Umbel. This could be problematic, given that her genome has merged with Fagus sylvaticus fossowaii, and currently exists in a firmly rooted way. However, she reasons, every cell carries the complete genome and her uncle is an open-minded sort.

Uncle Umbel has an allotment that appears to have been trampled by a navigationally-challenged herd of migrating aurochs, pulverised by glacial moraine, and finally kept at perfect conditions for putrefaction by the lukewarm outflow from a more-alcohol-less-taste whisky distiller. An extremely quaggy mire.

“Umbel? Umbel? I’m quite bored and if you don’t show yourself I’ll plant something with flowers on!” …calls a thrawn twig, swirling across the mire.

A three foot diameter octagon of mud opens via eight triangular petals, carefully draining slime outward, and reveals a spartan subterranean bunker. The clipped voice of one who aspires to have served in the RAF c.1940 dots and dashes forth.

“Wotcha. Get a move on, girl. Hatches to rebatten T minus three!”

The twig daintily pivots into position to surf a gust-stream and thereby dives between the gnashing metal petals.

“Cocoa?”
“Er, not really practical, thanks.”
“No. Hah! You’d get sticky! Hah! Sticky!”

Fortunately, a twig is also excused from having to disguise disrespectful facial expressions. Flora grabs for the conversational initiative to avert any further grocerial puns.

“Ahimsa, Umbel.”
“Gesundheit!”
“What is your understanding of it?”
“Your what-what?”
“Sanskrit: harmlessness. As in: toward self and other living beings.”

Flora gulps in horror at the contagious nature of the abbreviated style. She reassures herself that she is merely applying ‘mirroring’; a clever technique of neuro-linguistic programming. And she’s doing it unconsciously so she must be good. Still, she hopes producing puns won’t be necessary.

Umbel blinks repeatedly as distant, neglected circuitry is recommissioned. His amphibiously protruding eyes swivel and his ears twitch back an inch, stretching his forehead. On grocerial subjects you can get an interaction in real time, but anything even vaguely philosophical requires Umbel to shut down and dedicate all cognitive resources to the matter. His head lolls, lip slackens and cocoa teeters precariously on his chest.

Flora patiently scrutinises the bunker’s interior: piles and piles of dust-besmothered…shapes. She really can’t identify any of it, apart from the odd protrusion of wire or single sheet of paper, revealed only by apparent overwhelm, tilt and subsequent dustalanche.

A fragile connection sparks. Umbel’s cocoa hand twitches. Cocoa inevitably splashes on his shirt. Umbel powers back up.

“Ah. Just logged off pro tem, chaps. Buggeration.”

He blots himself with a towel placed at the ready for such regular eventualities, thereby scattering a portion of crumbs he carefully collected earlier.

“Clean on today, of course. Irretrievable. I shall have to disrobe forthwith.”
Umbel chuckles and lurches into unsteady motion. Flora’s patience was never good during pantomime. “Ahimsa?”
“No. Not a flicker.”
“Nothing?”
“Refer to the Conflict Chaps.”
“Who are..?”
“Thomson, Tim, and… and… Tarantula. You get the idea. Cheerio, folks.”

Flora is nowhere close to getting it, and rather thankful for the implied shreds of sanity. There are some peripheral gene puddles she’s keen not to paddle in. With Umbel retiring for a post-cogitatory nap—’cocoa’ is merely a vehicle for a substantial sugar and cream component—Flora is unattended in the elves’ factory. The fact of being trapped holds little concern as yet. Her leaf stalk flits investigatively along the bench, enticed by a curiously shuddering tin. A little probing releases a lid to reveal three blinking figures, of similar stature to herself in her current twig incarnation.

To be continued…

06/08/2017

My Neighbour’s Baby

The parents’ squabbling catches my attention. My quiet Sunday breakfast with a wildlife magazine shattered. Peer Gynt capers on in the Hall of the Mountain King. The squabblers slam from room to room, swatting and shrieking at each other. I lean to the window and pull back the gauze curtain, searching for explanation. One of their children sits on my front grass. Just sits, not playing, not eating, not moving, not seemingly hurt, but I don’t read children well. The parents barrel on. Another figure slinks by – another neighbour, inspecting the unattended child. My gut flips – some pre-verbal fear. In a reflex I knock the window. The neighbour starts and glances at me. I wave. Frustratingly her momentum carries her out of my sight. The parents separate, hurling only intermittent complaints. The child remains immobile.

I unlock the front door to look closer. Mostly I want to help, but I need more information: what happened? I seem to be too late. The neighbour is out of sight. The child sits on the grass, freckled and bewildered. I don’t want to approach in case this aggravates the situation. I don’t want to interfere. Or should I move her to a safer position? What would be safer? In my house is far too ambiguous. I have no relationship with this child. Her parents seem to be calming. I return indoors and glance out the window. The child still hasn’t moved. I can’t settle back to breakfast; I wander ineffectually about the front rooms, reviewing the incident, assessing my choices. I keep glancing out the window.

Suddenly the parents launch a fresh bout of shouting. I check the window: the child is gone – in a matter of seconds between my glances. I can’t see anybody, any movement. I open the front door and see the parents hopping and shrieking along the pavement. I can’t read their distress. Still no sign of the child. My eyes flit to another movement. Beneath the bordering hedge I see my neighbour’s legs saunter up the path and out of sight. The parents are hysterical. Why didn’t they do something for their child before? Why didn’t I? I peer again between the trunks of the hedge. I look very carefully to catch a glimpse as my neighbour’s path curves back into view. In a moment I see what I’m looking for: the shape of the child, carried away.

There was a moment when I could have acted. I chose not to. To let others’ choices play out. I may have delayed things by rapping the window, but that’s as likely to have increased the suffering as not. If I had the chance again, I’d lift that baby and bring it indoors. I’d suffer the guilt of upsetting the parents. My experiences lead me to believe that my neighbour simply wanted to play with the child. A distorted behaviour that has its roots in natural instinct but has become torture. I have some responsibility for that. I could do better.

If it had been my neighbour the sparrowhawk who found the young blackbird, I would be more comfortable with that. A reasonably quick death for food. A domestic cat I’m much less comfortable with. It doesn’t feel natural to me. Still, I have too little information. I had a moment and I only half-intervened. Bless her.

25/06/2017

Solstice Stillness

follows Night Ride and Sunrise

As the leading edge of the rising sunlight pours down past my hand I feel that warmth. And another: I feel another hand touch mine. I wind two fingers between these others. The animal warmth, the companionship is surreal. My fatigued legs underline my fragility as the nuclear explosion hits us. I’m not looking at the sun, but the dazzle across the wet sand is mesmerising. The pebbles laid to outline the orca blaze darkly. Eventually it becomes too bright; I have to turn.

This straggle of a man juts out of the sand like he’s been here years. His features seem especially coarse and creased as my eyes overcompensate the contrast. Envying experiences of which I’m ignorant would be nonsensical, but he seems rooted, settled.

He cranks his head around to face me, with huge effort to turn from the sun. He opens his eyes, then his mouth as I did only moments back. For him, the lack of arising words seems a surprise, a perplexing fault, rather than a second thought. I firm my grip on his hand.

Where did he come from? I twist to scan further around, behind us, to examine my entry point. I see the thin end of the curved edge of headland, the last stretch of silky grass that I glided over, the beginnings of the vertical rock face, loose rocks tumbling over the beach in geological time, no shelter. Where was he before that?

Finally, he rasps, “It wasn’t for you.”
“I know. It wasn’t for you either. It’s only meaningful from the crags.”
“Or from the air.”
“Your problem with me is that I didn’t arrive by helicopter?”
“My problem is that you showed up.”
My pique relishes this bickering. “Sorry to ruin your peace but other people are going to keep showing up. We’re like ants at jam.”

I release his hand. Mine feels damp. I step away then change direction to reach for the bike handle.
He spits out, “I won’t nick it.”
I flush, thinking: no, but you’d have my food and precious things in an instant, and that would hurt me more than I’m prepared for right now. The sublime sunrise moment has left me feeling vulnerable. Remember that thing? Surely it can’t be overshadowed already. I want peace and isolation to savour that experience, not someone else’s selfish, abrasive neurosis. Ha – I’m just like him. I shove the bike east, away from him, along the beach. I’m not leaving yet.

He emits another flurry of words, “I meant: once you’d showed up, I didn’t know what to do next. I don’t…”
I freeze, replaying his blurted confession. Is it? Is it enough to mollify my umbrage?

He lunges surprisingly nimbly and is suddenly in front of me, facing me, fixing my eyes. Bless him, he’s contrite enough not to touch me again. So he stands in my path. A couple times I feign to bypass him. A smirk breaks one side of his stare.

“I’ve been here a long time. You can stay with me or you can go. You can’t stay without me.”
I ask a little trade for my acquiescence, “Why an orca?”
“Intelligent, well evolved, decent creatures.”
“Is that who you want to communicate with?”
“No chimpanzees or elephants in Scotland.”
“Any progress?”
“More than I’ve had with humans.”
“Imagine how much more we could be if we could.”
“We can; we just haven’t worked out how yet.”
“I hope you do. Maybe if they want to as well. I wonder why they would, though. We’re choking them with plastic, poisoning them with chemicals leaching from landfilled electronics, removing their habitat, or simply killing them for body parts. And there’s taking them captive, ‘lethal’ sampling for ‘scientific research’, ship strikes…”
“I’m aware of the time pressure. It doesn’t help.”
“I only mean to despair of my species—my culture. We keep obliterating communities—native peoples as much as other species—then regretting it later when we realise what we’ve lost, whether that’s indigenous knowledge or ecosystem processes. We think we’re so successful, but the terms of that success are so short-sighted.” I seem to have a lot to say on this. So does he.
“It’s way more than our ‘loss’: they have their own right to life, their own life, not just for how they can help us.”
“You’re right, of course. I should go.” I seem to have flipped my stance.
“Why?”
“I’m bringing all the shit that you’re trying to get away from.”
“You’re not bringing anything apart from a decent-looking oilskin, and you’re not leaving.”
“Hostage for a tarp?”
“Something like that.”
“When did I change from resented intruder?”
“You said ‘who’. About the orca; you see it as a person, not a thing.”

He makes fire; he bakes bannocks. Not the hermit I’d assumed. Apparently he trades information and expertise with crofters and hikers for the staples he can’t forage. I’ve brought plenty, partly to share, partly for not knowing how long I’d stay. I wonder if he’d choose me or the supplies.

He’s a caveman, but again not as I’d assumed. The entrance is invisible without serious exploration: behind a downward-sloping four foot high shelf of rock, a horizontal slit the width of a human head. Reading my panic, he chuckles, “As long as you can fit your head through, the rest of your body will squish.” Hardly reassuring.

I glance about for distraction. Nestled in a rocky crevice, a solar-powered evaporator reassuringly drips desalinated water into an amphora. Anxiety makes me critical, “And if there’s no sun?”
“Cloud still lets some energy through. It’s slow but it’s enough.”
I continue digging, “And if it’s raining?”
He looks at me, patronising amusement twisting his face. I flush again. That idiocy just sealed my fate.

He slides on his back; for some reason I’m less uncomfortable on my belly. We squirm and side-wind like snakes into the cold hole. High rock shelves carry dry groceries and drying dulse, ceramic vessels and shell platters. The smell is oddly pleasant. A huge contoured sandbag seems to be universal furniture. I draw back from inspecting further; it feels intrusive.

Solo again in scavenging for driftwood, I find a cache of plastic flotsam. Things in the wrong place. I can’t help myself collecting it and removing it to the cove’s grassy entrance. Things to be returned to the rest of the world. That done, the polluted spot restored according to my idiosyncratic perspective, I make an offering to the sea of the dried flower I brought. An apology. A drop in the ocean.

We return to the fire and boil water for a drink of herbal something. It’s exquisite. The simplicity and the ingenuity delight me. My half pound bag of random nuts delights him; he’s had none for months. He tells me he didn’t intend to stay so long. He didn’t intend to be alone.

Some time after five AM the world leans its furthest. The moment of the solstice before the world’s tilt begins to recede. I feel for the turn, straining as if I might catch the crank and rattle of the universal machinery. I recall my hairpin journey, its far flung crook before I came back almost to my starting point.

He chose me, we shared, and I stayed.

beach pink shell

20/06/2017

Night Ride and Sunrise

Sandscape

Inspired by: Jean Sibelius – Öinen ratsastus ja auringonnousu (Night Ride and Sunrise) ~15min

A cold air balloon hits me in the face, startling me to gasp. I tread hard on the pedals before I can reconsider. I set out again, cycling through the night, but this time away from home – such that it is: that rough stone bothy furnished with old wood from so many places before. They’re barely familiar but they sing long songs of experiences, those sticks and stones. They even grudgingly comfort me, lost soul that I am. Only now I have an urgent reason to get somewhere.

I hope the wheels don’t come off, literally or figuratively. I had to liberate the bicycle from the lean-to, from cobwebs, carcasses, dust and rust; spent most of yesterday at it – or maybe it’s the day before now; must be by midnight. Thought I might need to go further. Never thought I’d need to go faster. I review my inventory: water, food, blanket, tarp… A torch seems inappropriate. Can’t think of anything else needed, but I never do, until it’s too late to turn back. I feel for the pannier behind the saddle; still secure. Can’t do that too often: the front wheel wobbles wildly on the rutted track.

This section of the way is newly familiar. Three weeks’ exploring has started this way every day. I wanted a remarkable place to see the solstice sunrise. Along this tiny stretch of north Scottish coast I’m spoilt for choice. Unusually for me I could simply let my intuition take over. Wherever I ended up would be fine, would be right. No obsessing. I was learning to relax, until I found the cove this evening—yesterday evening. Now I ride that old, familiar tension.

I drift away too easily. I should pay attention to this moment, this space, the immediate future, the path ahead. The undulations of the landscape seem concertinaed even at this modest speed. Wind gusts, breezes, blasts and swirls. I try to become accustomed to the uneven rhythms of the jolting and swaying, to not resist. A cloud of tiny creatures peppers my face; I blink until my eyes rinse them out.

My initial sprint—for warmth as much as from excitement—subsides to steadier pedalling and rhythmic squeaking. Glowing nocturnal eyes flash aside from the front wheel. How do I seem to them? How do I see? I’d forgotten the beauty of incomplete darkness this time of year: the northern horizon remains a rich, deep blue through the barely five hours from sunset to rise.

Through a strip of scrubby trees, the front wheel jinks off a twisted tree root. For a moment the bike and I are suspended at the edge of tipping over. A rut yanks the wheel and restores my balance. That was pure fortune; no skill of mine. I’m rattled enough to coast to a halt, to rest.

The pannier is still intact. I brought other things too—unnecessary things of sentimentality; I’m not ready to analyse that just yet—four pieces of music, a notebook, a dried, pressed wild orchid – romantic, thoughtful, planned, preserved, but only delaying the inevitable.

Avian pipings precede the dawn – other insomniacs unable to rest in the undying twilight. Colour and shape emerge from the blue, movement flickers, huddling to stretching to quivering, then dainty footsteps. I refocus on the path: the appointment is the summer solstice: sunrise, four AM. It really doesn’t matter where, but I’m suddenly very attached to that cove.

I ride my excitement, rattling and jiggling over the last of the rough moorland, then freewheeling down a smoother grassy slope. A slight warmth catches me, reminds me I’m racing the sun.

I so hope I’ve timed this right. I was so late spotting the cove, even later deciding what to do. I had reached the crags expecting to see only a sunset—an entire experience in itself—then sleep a bit before wandering out again for sunrise. The direct light slipped away, like every year for millennia, leaving the twilight to reveal an image.

The shape blew me away. I just gawped. Suddenly I was galvanised: it had to be, but could it? My brain struggled to engage with logistics, to calculate if I had time to cycle home for supplies then all the way west until the ground fell away so I could double back at land’s edge until it descended to sea level. I don’t know the distance but it would be well over an hour each length of the hairpin, maybe nearer two. I wasn’t sure I remembered the terrain. Now I’m sure. Committed, anyway.

The dawn chorus winds up – I can’t help myself labelling each arising signature: starling, oyster catcher, curlew, skylark, meadow pipit. Their calls cut the murmur of air pushing through the features of the land.

So smoothly the total glow becomes direct sunlight way above my head, brightening, warming, lifting the air. A puff of cloud has the temerity to dull then obscure the light. For one hypoxic moment I think that gives me more time. As if anything so ephemeral could slow universal mechanics.

Exultation bubbles over my anxiety. I haven’t dared wonder if I can even access the cove this way. It has to be. There’s no time for— I clatter around the last curve, in a rush of anticipating the sudden drag of sand, and the moment of sight.

The sand. The pebbles. Here on the tiny beach they are obviously arranged, but the shape is not apparent. From the crags the shape is a deliberate line drawing of an orca, swimming through a sea of sand and rocky spume. It’s a magnificent vision. It must have been created recently or the tide would have smudged it, erased it. It must be communication. Must it? I lean on to one foot and swing the other over the bike. As I rest the frame against a rock my legs wobble – exhaustion or nerves?

I stand at the orca’s pebble fluke facing north-east. I open my mouth to call out a greeting to…anyone, but perhaps being present is enough. The sun doesn’t need my awe verbalising. I let my eyes sweep the sharp, sandy cove, the shimmering sea, the jutting rocks, and back to the crags and my earlier vantage point. A few moments more rush past. My euphoria builds with the dazzle. Finally the sun’s rim ripples over the headland. I imagine I feel its leading edge scan down my body. Perfect.

The world turns. And someone stands beside me.

Wooden post in sand

18/06/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Midsummer Malcoordination

Ancient beech tree

Flora needs a dark night of the soul – her soul. She needs a dark wood to get entangled in and become thoroughly lost. The summer solstice beckons. This being the least dark point of the year is merely a minor hurdle to waylay the under-zealous.

Fossoway beech stands through its 421st year. It was planted by a fortunate gust of wind in September 1596 in a fortunate spot upon soft, moist loam. It has been fortunate enough to receive regular celestial watering and plentiful nourishment from myriad lifeforms crossing its space. This specific instance of Fagus sylvatica programming has been optimised to take advantage of such fortune: a perfect combination of natural forces, poised on the precarious tip of a tiny equilibrium. The moments of its eons slide by; each fully attended to, fully felt, as it stretches, reaches, in every direction of space and time.

Flora selects her most inappropriate clothing to ensure she trips over a protruding tree root, thereby twisting her ankle beyond any weight-bearing capacity, then gets soaked in a predictable rainstorm, thereby becoming dangerously chilled. For her lower half she chooses a flat sheet of double-layered cheesecloth with straps at two corners. She forgets the fancy name of the garment. It’s perfectly impossible in its rigidity: fastening it tightly enough to prevent it slipping down also prevents her legs from operating and restricts her breathing. A slight loosening to allow movement thus makes slippage and trippage deliciously inevitable. A shapeless blouse based on the elasticated cone construction method—a triumph of manufacturing economy over style and functionality—has sleeves not only too long but trumpeting wide around her fingers, thereby always in the way of any emergency grasp. The garment is finished by a ghastly fringe of inexplicable tassles and thirty-four redundant beaded fastenings, designed to fail within twenty minutes. She unbraids her hair with a lazy wrench, letting it flop where it will, expecting it to sway and flap and straggle across her eyes at every critical visual movement. Perfect.

Around its base, the beech has seven—most auspicious—impressively sturdy arms arranged at varying stages of being overwhelmed by their own weight, right down to lethargically resting upon the layered leaf litter. The crumbling remains of earlier exhausted limbs dissolve back into the woodland recycle. A radius of thirty metres around this Titan contains nothing but itself: it has completely papered over every sliver of sky, every grain of soil. A perfect dance-floor.

Music swirls within Flora’s head – random, powerful strains and skirls that direct her dance. Flora flings her arms and birls into a stagger. Fortunately every beech arm has some growth at Flora height of a characteristically sturdy nature, perfect for tactfully receiving dizzy dancers and reeling them back into orbit. A perfect moment.

Flora supplicates before the beech: heartfelt, overwrought thanks to her perfect dance partner.

Gzwzwzwzwrrt. Lightning strikes. Something had to.

Of Fossoway Flora there is no trace. Except… Perhaps when wind blows through the twigs you may hear her peculiar musical refrain. When a scientist bores and extracts a careful core from the tree to establish its precise age, some strange isotopes may be identified: cheap cotton from the unethical sweatshops of Bangladesh. When the midsummer heat lifts the air, an idiosyncratically beaded and tassled spider’s web catches far more than its fair share of drifting, airborne creatures. Each time, once again, tilting the precarious equilibrium of nature.

Prince Tiahmin came not upon this clearing. He’s in the right wood, on the appointed day, but in an artificial intelligence simulation or the wrong reality, deluding his senses and suspending his disbelief. He wouldn’t recognise a rain-slick, gusting beech leaf if it slapped him in the face. However it would give him a much needed interface refresh. Unfortunately Tiahmin believes his mission is to blam baddies. It never occurs to him to enquire to what end. Anyway, who wants to question such things? That requires the facing of that other, dull and uncomfortable reality. So long as baddies arise, he has a call to blamming. His superhero hairdo, ever tilting at enemies, underlines the point.

Come back again in another hundred years.

Or, actually, maybe just bide your time a wee moment…

Prince Tiahmin has gunned a stolen 1970s Massey Ferguson into a supposedly deserted industrial farm complex. He would be quicker walking, but convention requires assault by vehicle. His only available weapon is an anachronistic pitchfork. It may be effective on any zombie scarecrows that lurch into range, but would not be at all satisfying. He has absolutely no interest in collecting a cache of pre-regulatory agricultural chemicals; he has no interest in chemistry…of that sort.

Tiahmin’s sole motivation for indulging this unentertaining and badly animated diversion around an agricultural cul-de-sac is, of course, seedy. A gaming chum of dubious trustworthiness has boasted of a feisty, busty, rustic wench in the environs. With the requisite hack key she promises to become very obliging. Sometimes three minutes of low grade erotica has to be seen to be disbelieved.

After four underwhelming circuits of the farmyard buildings, in a rationale-free fit of frustration, Tiahmin revs the red diesel and chugs flat-out at five miles per hour up a pasture—large scale, livid green triangles adorned with unconvincing cuboid livestock—toward an enticingly dark smear of forest.

Tiahmin aims the unappreciated Fergie at the nearest brown column. Once the graphics stop vibrating in an uncoded eventuality loop, he dismounts, sans pitchfork, and trudges jerkily through primeval tree ferns—the serendipitous botanical design is wasted on him—until a beige clearing forces its way into his path. A low resolution character artefacts beside a hefty tree trunk. With a rapacious leer, he taps to text entry mode and pastes the prepared character string.

Bzhzhzheow. No power. Had to happen. The only sound is an invective suited to one of limited profanity.

Prince Tiahmin is awoken by a sopping leaf slapping him about the phizog – unnecessarily loudly and repeatedly. He would attribute this flagellation to a freak microclimate, except for the leaf still being attached to the looming limb of a tree. By a beaded stem. Well practised in the spotting and following of obvious clues, he hauls himself up by the obliging branch. He admires the astonishing improvement in graphic and tactile resolution – which is to say: he likes the look and feel of the place. And the heady scent. The soft whooshing of air is unsettling, but he assumes it’s meant to be atmospheric.

The moment Tiahmin completes his reconnoitre of the beech clearing—for of course it is that—music arrives, drifting by in wisps; discordant pibrochs and dizzying slurs. Cursory assessment of the tree reveals a curiously attractive arrangement of branches, ascending helically. He boldly climbs this staircase toward the crown and its tumult of drooping foliage, which appears to keep blowing rather coyly across two small cankers. And that’s quite enough of that.

Did the fair pair live happily ever after, entwined in arboreal bliss? Hardly. The poor girl has rematerialised in genomic combination with a tree – Fagus sapiens. The poor boy is ill-equipped to deal with a non-threatening surreality. But once Tiahmin gets to grips with Flora’s various cankers and galls, they have an interlude of what can only be described as heavy coppicing.

Ancient beech tree branch

05/03/2017

Episode 5: Winter

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

Rotting Leaves starts at Episode 1: Staging.

SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, TREES CREAK, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: The land of the midday moon.  An endless skyfull of cloud hurr—rushes at me like I’m flying into a frac—fractal.  Gusts creak a tree branch like a seagull’s cry.
MAX: It was a dark and stormy night…
FENELLA: It hardly matters that it’s awful, does it?  No-one will hear it.
MAX: So why say it?
FENELLA: To express it.
MAX: Must you?
FENELLA: It’s all so painfully beautifully—ful and it’s almost gone.  My soul…
MAX: And we ruined it?  Paint away.  I could use a wallow.

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Perthshire, Hill; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WIND HOWLS, DISTANT HELICOPTER ROTORS CHOP
FENELLA: Do you see?  There!  A helicopter!
MAX: Yes!  Run up to the top!
FENELLA: They have to see us.
MAX: It’s not that dark.
SOUND: FADE HELICOPTER ROTORS
FENELLA: Oh, are they…  No!  They can’t be passing!
MAX: Perhaps they can’t stop – you know, land.
FENELLA: Maybe they’ll come back.
MAX: Perhaps…  Perhaps – I’m sorry – perhaps they weren’t looking for us.
FENELLA: What do you mean?
MAX: Perhaps they were just assessing the extent of the damage?  There must be some military somewhere safe.  If it’s as big as we think, they can’t save us.  Nowhere to go.  I’m sorry.
FENELLA: You’re right, aren’t you?  Millions of people, inevitable contamination; where would we go?  How?  Oh, just…
MAX: What?
FENELLA: Just please tell me they’re sorry?  Please say they’re not just automatons carrying on with Plan Whatever and jettison the collateral?
MAX: I hope.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Garden Shed; 2017, Winter, Day
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS
FENELLA: The winter sun rolls along the horizon then slips below.  An air-root claws the edge of a stone: one bony digit raised to latch on.  Wind tantrums around every feature, testing every tether.  The moon blurs with each chased wisp of cloud.  Or perhaps with the condensation on this window.  Cold is near, ice is abroad and snow, ah, numinous snow, could overtake it all with silent, still, soft death.  How long’ve you been there?
MAX: A very long time.
FENELLA: I really don’t have the mental energy for your layers of meaning.
MAX: I did hear about that.  Tough.
FENELLA: Come to analyse or to sympathise?
MAX: Neither.  I need your help.
FENELLA: Impossible.
MAX: I really do.  It wasn’t even hard to say.
FENELLA: No, I mean you can’t have it; not right now.
MAX: Too busy?
FENELLA: Don’t be like that.  I will fall out with you if you push at me.
MAX: I thought you’d like your mind taken off…things.
FENELLA: ‘Things’?!  My partner apparently abducted in Madrid and now who knows where?  The constant gut-wrenching terror of wondering what he’s going through each moment?  Of wondering if he’s still alive or just…a body?
MAX: Yes, exactly.  Here to help.
FENELLA: Yourself?
MAX: I know you have insight into some of the strategies that the big corporates are using – the psychology their marketers are applying to counter the mass awakening of citizens from the clutches of consum—
FENELLA: Stop, stop.  I lost it…
MAX: I thought I was quite eloquent.
FENELLA: Corporate psychology; run it again.
MAX: You could just rewind that thing and play it yourself.  Oh, fine.  The psychology that companies are using to distort the narrative as—
FENELLA: Hang on.
MAX: Have you no focus at all?
FENELLA: Look.
MAX: What?  The valley?  The road?
FENELLA: On the road.
MAX: A van?
FENELLA: Coming here.
MAX: Possibly.
FENELLA: It’s news.
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
MAX: Lucky he turned up in one piece.
FENELLA: Hardly.
MAX: Not lucky?  Or not in one piece?
FENELLA: Definitely not one piece, but who lucky fo—for whom..?
MAX: Well, ultimately me, I suppose.
FENELLA: Inevitably, but how exalt—exactly?
MAX: You would’ve been destroyed otherwise.
FENELLA: And I’m not now?
MAX: Not just—quite.
FENELLA: Soon enough.  Comes to the same end…point anyway.
MAX: Perhaps.  But the journey…
FENELLA: Oh, please.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS
FENELLA: Tales should be spoken, not written, and definitely not typed.
MAX: Handy.
FENELLA: Native Australians tell a story as they walk the land, connecting the features as they pass, like a needle on a record.  Only sounds right at four miles an hour.  Look at all this ice, dust, shit.
MAX: Your record warped?
FENELLA: Someone put a pizza on my turntable.
MAX: Nasty.
FENELLA: Wrong format.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES, APPROACHING STUMBLING FOOTSTEPS
MAX: Where’ve you been?
FENELLA: Uphill— the hill.
MAX: That’s just wasting energy!
FENELLA: I know.  I had…
MAX: There’s nothing growing there; we’ve been and we’ve looked.
FENELLA: I know.  I just—  I saw the sun.  It was so clouded by smoke and dust, it looked like the moon; a midday moon.
MAX: And, like a true loon, you grav-it-ated towards it?
FENELLA: …to where I was…
MAX: The quake?
FENELLA: The second warning.
MAX: With him?
FENELLA: We were watching the sun, saying farewell to sunnier…  Summer.  I never thought how long it could be.  One of his better days.  In the middle of that rare, precious, precarious joy and laughter: a flash, shaking that seemed to be at the same time.  The ground you depend on.  Without that security…  Where were you?
MAX: Different hill.  I knew right then…  That was that.  Do you know…  Half of me stayed up that hill, watching, while the other half pelted back to the house for…  Nothing.  Denial.  My other life, as you said.
FENELLA: She was still there?
MAX: Just until that moment. Then she knew I hadn’t come back for her.

SCENE 7.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: CLICKS, FAST THROUGH DIALOGUE AUDIO FILES
FENELLA: Where’s the rest of it? Oh, come on.  It has to be here somewhere.
MAX: Why’s that one so important?
FENELLA: Not record! Play you idiot device!

SCENE 8.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: It’s not that we couldn’t keep up with the changing herbscape—
MAX: Herbscape!
FENELLA: —It’s that the herbs couldn’t keep up with the changing climatescape.  In plant time it was the blink of a…stomata?
MAX: We didn’t do so well, even seeing it coming.
FENELLA: Did it help – knowing?
MAX: It’s always better to know.
FENELLA: I don’t know; I mean: knowledge and belief are so easily distorted.
MAX: I know about that.
FENELLA: Is that what happened with your marriage?
MAX: My marriage is absolutely… not…
FENELLA: Nothing is sacrosanct any more.  Give it up.
MAX: It was the victim of external forces.
FENELLA: Which means what?
MAX: Subject closed.
FENELLA: Anything to do with the lack of materialising children?
MAX: Did you hear me say I’m not talking about it?
FENELLA: We’ve never respected that. Maybe it’s a blessing: you wouldn’t want children facing this with you.
MAX: Don’t try to tease something positive from stuff you know nothing about.
FENELLA: Boring.  How about I tell you mine, then you tell me yours.
MAX: Still no.
FENELLA: I found him in the gulley, plastered with muddy rain, quite cold.
MAX: I know; you don’t have to relive it.
FENELLA: I didn’t tell you, though: I’ll never know if he meant to…
MAX: Die?
FENELLA: I was beyond autopsies and enquiries.  I just buried him in silt and stones.
MAX: From what you’ve said his head was pretty much melted.
FENELLA: He never got over – never had chance to get over – the abduction.  It felt like all the nastiness of human desperation and fear focused to a pinpoint and stabbed into him.  Him of all people! So grossly unfair.
MAX: I’m still not telling you anything.
FENELLA: I don’t care any more.
MAX: Don’t try your reverse motivation crap.  Knowing more horrible experiences you went through doesn’t make me want to share mine.
FENELLA: It’s not a competition.
MAX: I’m not even playing!
FENELLA: Fine.  You’re right: not my business.  I made my choice a long time ago.

SCENE 9.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh, Office; 2013, Winter, Day
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS, TYPING
MAX: How do you feel about the continent of North America?
FENELLA: Ambivalent.
MAX: That was… underwhelming.  Would you like to try again?
FENELLA: No.  I’m not going.
MAX: Yes, you are.
FENELLA: No.  I’m resigning.
MAX: I don’t understand.
FENELLA: I’m sorry.  I need to stop.
MAX: But you’ve been stopped!  We’re about to restart.
FENELLA: I know.  It hasn’t been enough.  I need to do something else.
MAX: There isn’t anything else.
FENELLA: There must be.
MAX: Like what?
FENELLA: I don’t know either.  I feel like I’m letting down my entire gender by spending my professional life and much of my personal life running around after men.  Man.  You.
MAX: Really?
FENELLA: Something like that.
MAX: Well, that’s that, then.
FENELLA: They’ll have another assistant in place for you well before you set off.
MAX: There won’t be any setting off.  And you were never my assistant.
FENELLA: Yes, that’s exactly what I was.  And I don’t mean you made me feel in any way demeaned; I just need to be doing something myself.
MAX: I didn’t think this is how it would end.
FENELLA: It’s not ending!  I’m just stepping off.  The wagon train is still going with you at the helm.
MAX: Trains don’t have helms.
FENELLA: See?  You need a new assistant.
MAX: Not funny.
FENELLA: OK, I’m not dragging this out.  You know I’ve had the time of my life. I’ll see you… sometime.
MAX: Right, I’ll have to come back to you.  I need time to process.
SOUND: DISTANT DOOR THUMPS CLOSED

SCENE 10.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Winter, Night
SOUND: ICE CREAKS
MAX: Turns out hell isn’t an everlasting volcano; it’s penetrating, unremitting cold.  Total absence of energy.  All life smothered by a blanket of ash and darkness.  Just like when you leave me on my own.
FENELLA: Ouch.  Is that snow?
MAX: It’s the most pathetic snowfall I’ve ever seen.  It’s not even frizzle.
FENELLA: Frozen drizzle of what, though?
MAX: Who knows what poisons are floating about overhead?
FENELLA: Without our canary heron we’re in the dark.
MAX: In a shrinking oasis in the middle of a circle of death.  No-one’s coming in; we can’t get out. The doughnut of destiny.
FENELLA: I’m glad we saw it, though. I feel sorry for the folk who had no idea; the power, everything just stopped.  I guess they found out eventually.  Other countries must still be operating, but anyone too far away to see and too close to escape… It must be hell.
MAX: This is hell enough.
FENELLA: How did we end up…
MAX: Effectively the last two people alive?
FENELLA: It’s all dire chance and fateful fuck-up.
MAX: I beg your pardon: I came for you!
FENELLA: When there was no-one else left.
MAX: Why are you always trying to diminish us?
FENELLA: We had a good, really good, working relationship – fantastic rapport.
MAX: Fantastic reductionism, thank you.
FENELLA: Well, why muddle that with drama and over-stretched significance?
MAX: Because we’re the last two fucking people left alive!
FENELLA: One: your arse.  Two: it’s not like all the history of the planet has been leading up to this point.  And three: even if either of those were true, we don’t matter one bit.
MAX: When we’re all that’s left, we’re all that matters.
FENELLA: Only to your planet-sized ego.
MAX: Pax?
FENELLA: Pax. And, by the way, I think you were right about getting away from town.
MAX: Shame no-one else did. And not that it matters, but when I said ‘I came for you’ I meant the other time.
FENELLA: Which?
MAX: Both.
FENELLA: Evil overlord!
MAX: How?
FENELLA: Just as you think you have the heroic protagonist at check-mate, you feel an irresistible urge to relate your entire back-story, including, especially, admitting all your crimes and explaining exactly how you committed them.
MAX: We are rather at check-mate.
FENELLA: So, ‘fess up!
MAX: This is not the time for the ‘heroic protagonist’ to start using youth slang.
FENELLA: You came for me with Europe, and you came for me—
MAX: Yes, yes, the pouncing-on-the-recently-widowed inappropriacy award goes to: me.
FENELLA: What was it when he was just abducted?
MAX: That’s in poor taste.
FENELLA: I hardly think it matters; I don’t see many etiquette adjudicators.  Let’s get it all out!
MAX: That was testing the water.
FENELLA: Are you serious?
MAX: No, I’m not serious, you moss-encrusted melodramatist!  It’s much worse: I was testing myself, to see if I was capable of being…normal with you.
FENELLA: As opposed to?
MAX: Two fucking decades of torturous adolescent infatuation.  Well?  Say something.  Express your enumerated objections.  We actually don’t have all the time in the world.
FENELLA: Well, OK: one: I don’t believe you; two: you addle-minded narcissist; and three: you really think you’re going to seduce me before we either starve or freeze to death?
MAX: It’s not the worst idea.  Once again: not serious!  I haven’t the strength.

SCENE 11.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: You know, I did have a passion for you for about six minutes one time.
MAX: My ego isn’t that desperate for…
FENELLA: Your ability to…organise facts to suit the audience…
MAX: You’re teasing me with professional respect?
FENELLA: Is that enough or shall I carry on?
MAX: Please.
FENELLA: You know I love you, don’t you? In a strange, powerful way that defies…
MAX: I’ll take it.
FENELLA: Shall we digest the story so far?
MAX: Again?
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 12.
MAX: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
MAX: No, not again. End.
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 13.
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
MAX: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
MAX: Hey! I found more moss!  Don’t pretend you’re not excited.  I remembered one of the trees that was dead before the winter.  I climbed it and ta-dar!  Come on!  This deserves more than one of your unimpressed icy stares.
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 14.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
MAX: Stop wandering away.
FENELLA: It’s picking you up fine.
MAX: Do you really think this’ll work?
FENELLA: Bound to.  Layering the recordings might turn into a bit of a mishmash but who the hell cares?
MAX: It won’t explain anything.
FENELLA: It might.  Transformed like old parchment, like layers of rotting leaves.
MAX: The battery won’t last.
FENELLA: It might.
MAX: But, do we really want to invest our time in this?
FENELLA: What could go wrong?!  One of us pegs it and the other one’s left to perform live in sync with the recording?
MAX: I hadn’t thought of that.  How—
SOUND: CLICK

26/02/2017

Episode 4: Autumn

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

Rotting Leaves starts at Episode 1: Staging.

EPISODE 4: AUTUMN
SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND WHISTLES
FENELLA: A haunting gale rushes through the house, moving and sounding its greeting.
MAX: Ghosts.
FENELLA: What?
MAX: I wish I’d done more.
FENELLA: I don’t see, really, what else you could’ve done.
MAX: There must’ve been someone, somewhere, I could’ve persuaded; made the difference.
FENELLA: That’s the problem: people having free will.  It wasn’t any one person, like it wasn’t any one issue.
MAX: Gho—
FENELLA: Wasn’t goats either.
MAX: Ghosts?

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Fife, Garden; 2019, Autumn, Day
SOUND: VEHICLES RUMBLE DISTANTLY, BIRDS CHIRRUP
FENELLA: Jet aeroplanes roaring beyond clouds, lorries shaking over potholes sound to me like rumbling thunder.  Much as cognitively I enjoy the excitement of an approaching storm, emotionally, primitively, I fear it.  My mind creeps toward my gut, agreeing that there are all sorts of reasons to fear big transport engines.  The smell of kerosene is not at all like aviation fuel.  It pricks my throat, stings my eyes, strains my head, leaves my whole upper body toxic.  It is another real threat that my brain is catching up to my body. Hello.
MAX: You have a phobia about vehicles?  Is this a reaction to our trip?
FENELLA: Seven years would be post-post-traumatic.
MAX: I’m a slow burner.
FENELLA: Unlike the fossil fuels.  No, it’s deeper, more primitive; it’s basic fear.
MAX: Death?
FENELLA: What makes you say that?
MAX: Your partner expired.
FENELLA: Your marriage expired.
MAX: Yet here we still are: in the autumn of our lives.
FENELLA: Like rotting leaves.  Is that why you’re here?
MAX: Because the wind happened to blow this way?  Do you think I’m entirely passive?
FENELLA: Didn’t you just have a wife-shaped hole to fill?
MAX: I think my hypothesis is slightly less self-degrading.
FENELLA: Leave me now.
MAX: Why?
FENELLA: Because I’ve had enough of you for today and we both know you’ll be back tomorrow.
MAX: All our problems boil down to timing.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
MAX: Where did you and he meet?
FENELLA: Are you obsessed with him?
MAX: I would think so.
FENELLA: Cramond.
MAX: Specifically?
FENELLA: That…reception, soirée thing for the almost-celebrated Scots I got invited to. Somebody insisted I went.  Wow, six years—
MAX: I was meant to be there.
FENELLA: Yes, you were.  Giving me a swerve, eh?
MAX: If I’d known, but I was having some dreadful premonition: all that talk of blasting under the firth.
FENELLA: It doesn’t matter; we’re all as guilty as each other.
MAX: It does if he was my substitute.
FENELLA: Hardly.  I really don’t know why he was there, since he was definitely celebrated.
MAX: Not by everyone.
FENELLA: OK, not by you.
MAX: The corporates were quite vitriolic about his appointment.
FENELLA: As they were about all of them.  Even though the tide had turned far too late.
MAX: Whatever about the guest list, where exactly were you?
FENELLA: Cross-examining me?
MAX: Keen to know what I missed.
FENELLA: I was out on the sand, hiding, as usual.  Too many bright lights and clanging people.  The water soothed me.  He just appeared beside me.  I was a bit awestruck, but I’d had just enough fizz to be perverse.  To test him.
MAX: Even then?
FENELLA: Even what?
MAX: Right from the first encounter you had an idea he was worth it?
FENELLA: Worth testing?
MAX: You know what I mean!  You only test the ones you care about.
FENELLA: I told you that.
MAX: I haven’t forgotten.
FENELLA: So there was a lot of me nipping and him being bemused.  He stuck it out for ages.  He had surprisingly big shoulders. Did you ever notice that?
MAX: Tried not to.
FENELLA: I guess the activist business required a certain amount of…climbing.
Anyway, I was getting tired of being waspish and pretending not to know his résumé, and wondering how to coolly extricate myself.  Saved by our dippy hostess redistributing him.
MAX: There has to be more than that.
FENELLA: There was.  I was draining my glass, drawing imaginary dotted lines of least resistance to my exit, when he came striding across the sand at me, stabbing the air, shouting something like, ‘I know you!’  It was a bit blowy.
MAX: And your cool, witty rejoinder?
FENELLA: Lost forever in possibility: the tremor.  Turns out you were prescient even if not present.
MAX: Lost your sandcastle?
FENELLA: That was what freaked me out: the sand; it cracked up – wee patches and lines of it falling in on wee gullies…
MAX: I don’t understand.
FENELLA: The sandscape wa—
MAX: Most people say ‘beach’.
FENELLA: The beach was fracturing and pouring into its own crevasses.  It felt like standing on a crazy paving of quicksand.  Then he hit me—
MAX: Hit you?
FENELLA: He just carried on running and collected me on the way through.  He was staggering about, heading roughly at the buildings, dodging the moving sand.  After all the being flung about, he shoved me into a tree, barking at me to climb.
MAX: Barking!
FENELLA: Ha.  I never climbed a tree in my life.  He was after me, pushing.  I was utterly confused – useless in a catastrophe – bewildered by my stinging hands.  Turned out he had experience of quakes in Asia and the tsunamis that often follow.  So you get up high, preferably on something solid like grounded rock, but a tree was the best he could do.  In the event the wave was big but the sand was enough to absorb it.
MAX: Thank you for that!
FENELLA: You asked!
MAX: The earth moved, the wave rolled over you. Can we just say you were besotted?
FENELLA: I was in shock.  We just sat in the tree, watching helicopters swarming up the firth, hearing sirens swirling down the streets…  My memory’s fogged after that.
MAX: But you saw him again, obviously.
FENELLA: Couple days later he showed up at my house.  ‘You’re the one that dedicated that manifesto to me!’  Done his research, totally took advantage of my enfeebled state and my tattered hands, and charmed through all my defences.
MAX: Bastard.
FENELLA: Aye, weakened me then left me to live through this shit alone.
MAX: Not alone.
FENELLA: That’s right: I can always count on your presence in shitty times.

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2021, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, FIRE SPUTTERS
FENELLA: Say that again.
MAX: Why?
FENELLA: Wasn’t recording.
MAX: Fine!  I don’t give you enough credit.
FENELLA: For?
MAX: Prescience.
FENELLA: Ugh.  Don’t patronise me with ‘woman’s intuition’.
MAX: I don’t think it’s gender-specific.  As far as I know it’s unique to you.
FENELLA: Actually you’re not that hard to predict.
MAX: I know.  Much more impressive is being able to foresee global-scale – what are we calling it?  Climate cataclysm?
FENELLA: Again, I don’t think I was the only one who saw that coming.
MAX: I think you’re among very few who knew it was only a matter of days away.
FENELLA: I think you’re havering.
MAX: I think you came for me.
FENELLA: Not in this lifetime.
MAX: In fact I know: you came to my office on the Tuesday.  I was in that meeting that seemed so insurmountably important.  Imagine my disappointment to find I’d missed a far more important one.
FENELLA: Nope.
MAX: No what?
FENELLA: Can’t imagine that.
MAX: Denial is futile.
FENELLA: Almost rhymes.
MAX: Point proved.
FENELLA: Hardly.  Even if I was there, you have no idea why.
MAX: You were there.  My assistant described you.
FENELLA: My description is astonishingly non-specific.
MAX: He didn’t describe you physically.
FENELLA: I barely spoke to him!  I was there all of seven seconds!  What other terms could he possibly use?
MAX: Mine.
FENELLA: Insightful.
MAX: He’s a good assistant.  Second only to you.
FENELLA: Well, go on, Sherlock: how’d you deduce my purpose?
MAX: If it’d been unimportant, you’d’ve emailed or phoned.  If it’d been personal, you’d’ve come to the house.  It had to be the only thing that you couldn’t discuss with anyone else.  Alive.
FENELLA: To distinguish you from?
MAX: Your late activist.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) England, Exeter, Hotel; 2019, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: DELEGATES CHATTER, MOBILE RINGS
FENELLA: What.
MAX: (DISTORT) I’m outside.  Can I come in?
FENELLA: No.
MAX: (DISTORT) Why?
FENELLA: Because you don’t have special powers or a key.
MAX: (DISTORT) Just let me in.
FENELLA: No.
MAX: (DISTORT) Why?
FENELLA: Because I don’t have special powers either.
MAX: (DISTORT) Where are you?
FENELLA: That’s better.  I’m not at home.
MAX: (DISTORT) Well, hurry up: I need you.
FENELLA: Impossible and unlikely.  I have about twelve minutes just now if you want them.
MAX: (DISTORT) No!  Can’t be done over the phone.  Crisis.
FENELLA: What crisis?
MAX: (DISTORT) Crisis crisis. Need to know basis. In person.
FENELLA: How quickly can you travel six hundred miles?
MAX: (DISTORT) Unacceptable. When are you back?
FENELLA: Tomorrow evening.
MAX: (DISTORT) I’ll see you then.
FENELLA: No you won’t, because I’ll be out.
MAX: (DISTORT) Cancel.
FENELLA: No.  You can either get yourself invited to the Commonedge Trust thing or wait till Sunday.
MAX: (DISTORT) Blacklisted.
FENELLA: Then it would be very bad form of me to take you with me.
MAX: (DISTORT) Brilliant, yes, do that.
FENELLA: No, I’m actually there to work.
MAX: (DISTORT) You can slice through that; I’ll help.  Pedantic nonsense.
FENELLA: Why were you blacklisted again?
MAX: (DISTORT) Offended some bean-counter over her obsessional focus on grains of sand.
FENELLA: Hard to imagine.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Autumn, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
FENELLA: Do I look as ghastly as you?
MAX: Like a burst mattress? You called me back for that?
FENELLA: Remember I said about the third time?
MAX: Being the second time the universe crapped on you. Can I get on with my soul-destroying and literally fruitless pursuit of food now?
FENELLA: I found it.  Listen.

SCENE 7.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Perthshire, Garden; 2019, Autumn, Day
SOUND: LEAVES RUSTLE AND SHOOF, BIRD CALLS, BREEZE
MAX: I’m at a loss.
FENELLA: I think I’m the one with loss.
MAX: Mine is what to say.
FENELLA: Unusual for you.
MAX: Highly irregular.
FENELLA: Who’ve you been speaking to?
MAX: To find out?
FENELLA: To pick up a peculiar phrase like that.
MAX: You still amuse me.
FENELLA: Aye, I didn’t expect you to be here to lift my spirits.
MAX: I could just not speak?
FENELLA: I doubt it.  Stand there, at that tree.
MAX: Here?  Why?
FENELLA: I’m going over there to take a picture and I want you out of temptation’s way.
MAX: Why do you want a picture of me?
FENELLA: I don’t.
SOUND: FABRIC PUSHES PAST LEAVES AND BRANCHES
MAX: (OFF) Then what?  It’s all dull orange and brown.
FENELLA: I’m learning to love it.
MAX: (OFF) Are you secretly hoping to catch me hugging this tree?
FENELLA: It’s really not about y—  Oh!
SOUND: FABRIC SLIDES AND TEARS
MAX: (OFF) Are you alright?
FENELLA: (OFF) Yes.  No, I’ve lost contact with my wristy.
MAX: (OFF) Serves you right for using outdated technology.
FENELLA: (OFF) Three years is a museum piece?
MAX: (OFF) No, they transmogrify it into something newer.  Have you got it yet?
FENELLA: (OFF) No.
MAX: (OFF) No?  It’s hard for me to tell from this sub-omniscient position, but you sound a little…stuck.
FENELLA: (OFF) I’m stuck.
MAX: (OFF) Oh, dear.  I don’t suppose you want to release me from tree arrest?
FENELLA: (OFF) Only if you walk quietly away and never speak of this to anyone.
MAX: (OFF) Impossible.  I’m leaving my post now. (PAUSE) Oh, dear.
FENELLA: (OFF) Is that all you have?
MAX: (OFF) Why don’t you just climb back along the branch?
FENELLA: (OFF) I’m not leaving my wristy.  Important files on there.
MAX: (OFF) Important?
FENELLA: (OFF) Personal.
MAX: (OFF) Not important.
FENELLA: (OFF) They are.  They’re recordings of…
MAX: (OFF) Oh, him, right.  Then I think you have to use me as an anchor—
FENELLA: (OFF) I don’t think I’m emotionally ready to crawl over you.
MAX: (OFF) Up to you.  I don’t expect gratitude.
SOUND: FABRIC SHUFFLES, DRAGS
FENELLA: (CLOSE) You’re quite warm, aren’t you?
MAX: (CLOSE) Fuck, woman, I’m doing my best here!
FENELLA: (CLOSE) A bit tense?
MAX: (CLOSE) Just get your—  Ooh, you’re very close. Move along.
FENELLA: (CLOSE) I’m snagged on something.  Can you see?
MAX: (CLOSE) There.  Ahhhhhhh!
SOUND: WHUMP, GRUNTS
FENELLA & MAX: (TOGETHER) I’m not ready for this!
MAX: I’m going back to the tree.  I was safe there.
FENELLA: Look at that!
MAX: (OFF) Not now; I need the safety tree.
FENELLA: My wristy’s still recording!

SCENE 8.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2021, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, FLICKING THROUGH PHOTOS
MAX: One photo I didn’t understand: Edinburgh Waverley station.
FENELLA: You don’t like the soothing orderliness of parallel lines?
MAX: You have five pictures to remember your life by. Why that one? And don’t give me any smart-arse crap.
FENELLA: The track not taken.
MAX: Well, that’s crystal clear. Although, it reminds me of a night I was stood up. Yes, 2011. In fact, it was that exact night, wasn’t it?
FENELLA: It was.
MAX: But the time-stamp – you said you were too late; you were early.
FENELLA: Except…
MAX: Except it’s an hour later because of your time setting idiosyncrasy.
FENELLA: So I was neither early nor late.
MAX: And you were there.
FENELLA: Hard to define the terms of being stood up, isn’t it?
MAX: I suppose if I look closely I’ll see I was there too.
FENELLA: Almost an existential crisis now.
MAX: So why the fuck did you let me wait, lie to me? Why stand me up? Another of your feminist interludes?
FENELLA: Look again.
MAX: What? The platform? The posters? Trains? People?
FENELLA: People, but not passengers.
MAX: That… looks… Oh, god, she suspected.
FENELLA: What do you do when the man who has invited you on a train to Paris confirms in the same moment that the trip is not entirely professional and that he has unfinished business with his wife?
MAX: You take photographic evidence for future arraignment. Remarkable.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.