Digital Ischemia

02/08/2020

Vanishing Mythnight 3/3 Satyrs in the Wood of Cypress

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation… begins at part 1

Being bound by the wench is simultaneously thrilling and repugnant – I still suspect she has been sub-lagoon. I glance at the gilt-lacquered Venk: he gives a magnificent ham performance of dismay at finding himself similarly restricted about the wrists. I actually— I admit, for once I’m glad he’s here. I have every confidence in his total preparedness for any eventuality. Infuriating as it is at every other juncture. But the evil wench is speaking again.

She’s doing the tedious megalomaniac explanation of all her motives thing.
“It was me who knocked over the second statue!”
“I suppose you shat by the third one too? Heavy lunch of grass?”
Her expression becomes irate. I can tell, even in the gloom, because there is a sudden sizzling warmth. But I’m unforgivably tied up in a folly; I am fully justified in being foolish. My foul fingers have been forced against my filthy, dung-encrusted body. She paces as she prattles on.

When the wench recedes, Venk whispers, “have you learnt nothing?” As an afterthought he adds, “sir.”
If his character’s circumscription is crumbling we must be approaching the thrilling denouement. I hiss an arbitrary pretentious literary reference.
“Gogol considers the most profound sleep to come ‘only to such fortunate folk as are troubled neither with mosquitoes nor fleas nor excessive activity of brain.’ I see which one is my problem, but which is yours?”

The wench continues to wander the misererium as she witters about her sacrifices for the quest… blah blah… conquering the lagoon… blah blah… The moment she faces away from us, the torch’s glimmer on Venk’s face shows him jerking his head repeatedly at her and mouthing, “key!”

Our intellectual tête-á-tête is interrupted by a tapping on the window.
An unholy voice rasps “Venk! Venk! Are you in there?”
The evil wench freezes. I seize my chance and lunge my foot at her. I don’t know if it is the prospect of discovery or a fear of the undead, but, just as I reach her ankle, our captor bolts. She does not trip and fall. However, a girly post–exertion whimper escapes my lips. Hopefully she didn’t notice that on her way out.

I re-group and hear a tinkle on the floor. Metallic, not terrified. My toes seem to have caught something. A familiar adversary. I squirm, trying to prehensilise my phalanges. Venk goes one better: he has already untied himself and is now releasing me. I’m astonished, despite myself.
“For the love of pastry, Venk!”

Venk airily admits to being an amateur ventriloquist as well as an escapologist. As well as the mythical salvation thing. Clad in nothing but skilfully–applied gilt paint. I suppose he has had some time over the centuries to master such leisure pursuits. Certainly after seven hundred years he knows the estate quite well, for example when a gust of wind is likely to cause a branch to tap the window.
“Jolly well done, Venk.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I shan’t forget this.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Sorry?” But he is already on his way up the stair. With the torch. Grabbing a butterfly key from the floor.

I leap, well, lunge, well, lurch after him. His sprightliness has never surprised me; it has been a fact for my entire existence. However, I think this is the first time I have tried to keep up with him: his turn of speed is impressive. Of course, I’m handicapped by my several injuries.
I bleat, “bags me unlocking the first statue!” How immature.

By the time I reach the statues, the first two are already wobbling about, emitting rusty neighs. Venk is anally-liberating the third.
He calls cheerily, “clockwork! A butterfly key up the arse and off it goes.”

The third statue approaches me with curiosity and vomits. I feel my ankles sizzling. He whinnies regretfully.
Venk scurries up. “I do apologise. I’ll get that rinsed off with haste.” Had I thought much about it, I would expect lithified mythif— mythological creatures to have pretty corrosive stomach acid.
“Thank you. I wouldn’t bother you, but I think lagoon… juice would merely aggravate the problem.”

The statue glances over his shoulder at the source of increasing rowdiness among the trees.
“Venkeslav is remarkably resourceful – what a party!”
Venk is indeed astonishing: he is the centre of bawdy antics. He has a coven of reanimated satyrs, centaurs or suchlike gyrating hypnotically. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about my rinsewater. Meanwhile, I need no invitation; I am Hrabê Nula!— “ONE STEP, YOU GHASTLY WORM, AND—” Quiet, Mother. I am going to enjoy myself.

I think this qualifies as a ‘good party’. Very Bohemian. No, the other one… Bacchanalian. I smile at my masterful articulation. Woven among the trees are even railings with skulls and crossbones. I enquire incoherently of one of my fellow revellers, a whirling wych-elm.
“Warning of what?”
“Well, death.”
“Yes, but from what?”
“Plants.”
I receive my first ligneous sneer.

I need no invitation; I am Hrabê Nula! No, I’ve done that already, haven’t I? No matter. My physique is sufficiently— “SCRAWNY!” — Quiet, Mother. I am sufficiently lean and lithe to slip between the railings, with little damage. What rich colours and glossy leaves. What a deliciously heady atmosphere! I inhale deeply. My senses overload: white vision, white noise, diffuse fuzzy feeling, lack of gravity, then the ground gently but firmly hits me on the side.

Faintly I hear Venk. “Sir, you seem to be having some trouble with your fly.”
As usual, he has put his tactful finger right on— “I was! There were dryads and nyads and… plyads— Where have they gone?!”
“Evaporated.”
“Where am I?”
“In the garden, sir.”
“I don’t recognise—”
“The Poison Garden, sir. Your mother, RIP, kept a quadrant segregated for your father’s…”
“Intixo— ontox—?” There is another collision in my mind: this time of half-baked notions with poison-induced anxiety, but still Venk-oriented. I splutter for good measure.
“Traitor! Imposter! Methuselah!”
This is slurred beyond translation, but he nods patronisingly.

When I next regain consciousness, I am in my bed. It seems a long time since I was last in repose. All is peaceful, quiet. And sore.
“Venk?”
“Sir.”
“You fixed the pipes?”
He nods affirmation.
“Damn.”
“Sorry, sir?”
“It was all a poison dream, wasn’t it?”

Sheepishly he unlocks the door of a small, ancient cabinet. “I did keep one glass, sir.”
“Mouse piss?”
“One last trip, sir? That’s all it would be, I’m afraid. Can’t have you going the same way as—”
Before he lapses into his obsessional neurosis about my genetic predispositions, I split the glass into another and offer it to him as a dare.
“Exactly how old are you, Venk?”
“Millennia, sir. Drink up.”

Venk downs his dose and strides out; I choke mine down and stumble from my bed. I’m less fussed about the role reversal now, just keen to get to the action. We hear it before we see it. The reanimated statues seem to be having a philosophical altercation.
“Has the old tyrant finally died?”
“Which one?”
“There’s always another one.”
“Why is there no lava?”
“Where’s the blood?”
“Am I a centaur or a satyr?”
“Let me look at your ears, then.”

Maybe it’s having had only half a dose this time, but the vista is so much clearer.
“Satyrs, Venk? This is so much more than my effort!”
He seems diffidently pleased. “Would you excuse me for a moment, sir?”
I make an expansive gesture of goodwill.
He calls over his shoulder, “I leave you my daughter.”
Daughter? What withered crone would this be? I’m not delirious enough to get entangled in another barnacle-like family member. This night is for fun. I stare hard at a couple of trees, willing them to give up their spirits. To my astonished delight, that old wych-elm shimmers promisingly. Something is detaching from the trunk… No! Of all the rotten luck.

I greet her as an old friend.
“You nymph of Nizhny Novgorod!”
“You don’t even know where that is!”
“It’s east, north-east actually!”
The wench explodes with scornful laughter.
I continue to protest. “You wouldn’t have found the key without me!”
Venk runs past in hot pursuit of a satyr and throws out an attempt to mollify us en route.
“Children, please. I can’t wait another generation! I had hoped to expedite matters.”
The wench is still sniggering.
I spit back, “what ‘matters’?!”
“The world is disintegrating! You seem to need a shove.” Fair enough. For one horrible moment I had thought he was trying to arrange a marriage.

The wench acquiesces. “Sorry for the tying you up and running off thing. When I saw my—” She breaks off, seemingly overcome with awe, or perhaps something less respectful. “—Saviour glowing gold I panicked a bit.”
I am gracious. “Quite understandable. What’s your name?”
“Venčova.” This time both halves of my brain collide.
“You’re related?”
“You can call me Nitka.”
“Short for?”
“Infinitia.” Of course. Everything I am not.
The whole thing has been a contrived pantomime. Entertain the inchoate nobility. Disappointing.

While we have been playing more nicely—I am much dispirited—Venk has boarded one of the statues, which he now coaxes around a cypress.
“Absolutely the best retirement present, sir! My very own herd!”
The satyr looks less than happy, having two heads and a spine unwilling to be ridden. I turn to Ms Venčova.
“What have I unleashed? The hooves of hell?”
“The seven horsemen of the apocalypse?”
“Horsemen – very good.”

Venk vents a thundering call to arms. After a couple of seconds of revelry-lag, the other satyrs wince and stagger into a loose coalescence. They collectively gallup into the copse, altercate with several trees, then emerge beyond, with unimpeded momentum, despite two facing the wrong way. As this salvation vanguard passes out of sight, we continue to follow their progress.
“Listen!”
A mighty splashing and churning, as if a dam has failed.
“They’ve reached the river.”
Distant roars of civil alarm. Massive masonry destruction.
“They’ve reached the town.”

The wench yawns. She doesn’t start fondling me in distracting ways, but then I am still sporting a crust of manure. She sinks on to the grass beside an old oak and curls up drowsily.

Starlings are waking. Their rasps sounds like peeling potatoes. Time to start planning the new world. Starting with a full map and inventory of this estate. Really quite urgently. Before I forget everything. And I must figure out how to make hot water in the bath.

End

Inspired by Bohuslav Martinů’s Vanishing Midnight in its three movements: Satyrs in the Wood of Cyprus, The Blue Hour, and Shadows. Backward. As in Natas Pishrowers.
I often have insomnia, often hypoglycaemic. Unfortunately I don’t have battlements, but I enjoy wandering through the hallucinations.

cypress sunrise orange sky

01/08/2020

Vanishing Mythnight 2/3 The Blue Hour

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation… begins at part 1

I return to my course, destination: misererium. The second statue is behind this cypress. As it reveals itself, all silky muscle contours, it is still but not still: it seems to be quivering. That’s the night light again: my brain trying to resolve puzzling images. I press my hand on its flank. Peculiarly warm, like the stone of the parapet. I imagine a pulse, a fasciculation.

I snatch my hand away. Another of my mother’s injunctions—”KEEP YOUR FILTHY PAWS—” But I seem to be fighting back. She’s not here; I’m quite grown-up now. I know there’s no danger from a statue. I press on toward the next. I fancy I hear a muffled whinny. That’s my mind trying to recognise the quiet sounds usually drowned out by daytime noise.

My soothing inner voice is shattered by a mighty crash. My head snaps around: the second statue lies on its side by its plinth. Its legs stick out stiffly, but it appears unbroken. Perhaps I was a little hasty in asserting the total safety of statues.

I wind along the path through a few more cypresses. The dark mass of the wood presses at my side. I hear wheezing. This time I am ready.
“Venk. Please desist from following me.”
“But, sir, I heard a tremendous noise. I imagined you hurt.” A reasonable assumption. He scans my body with medical interest. Then disappointment.
“How did you find me?”
“Well, sir, there was the tremendous crash.”
“I didn’t do anything! I was just walking past when it fell!”
“Of course, sir.” He glances at my trail. Curse my shin.

Out here my drippings show as violet. In the vicinity of the third statue I approach a hum. I expect to meet undead bees swarming up my blood runway to attempt to pollinate my— Drat. Just as the fantasy is rather pleasantly taking my mind off my throbbing shin, Venk has interrupted.
“—turd, sir.”
“I know this is the third!” Wheech, splat. Flies, not bees.
This feels like the daft kind of adventure where everything has to come around thrice. Except Venk; he is apparently an infinite loop, curse him.

I pride myself on my resilience and agility so I roll immediately out of the dung. Just the tiniest of winces. The shortest route to safety from any chance of falling sculpture seems to be through the excrement itself.
“Please stand aside.”
Venk has read my intention and is already stepping back.

I want a closer look from a safe distance at the source of this steaming pile of mythical manure. Venk follows indiscreetly, like a manic dog.
“Why are you looking up its arse, sir?”
“Er… I’m just fascinated by how sculptors from times gone by sort of glossed over certain anatomical…”
“Glossed? It has a hole. What more do you want?”
“Yes, but what an interesting shape: like an inverted keyhole…”

But I must not let myself be distracted: I will get to the… bottom… of this.
“Right!”
I stalk past the remaining four statues, oblivious to further incident, and on up to the fated misererium. Again the flitting white wisp. Just in case, I walk carefully with both hands limply before me. None of the great vaulted gateways are fitted with glass, pier or otherwise. The vaulting seems sufficient inexplicable ostentation for a folly, without doubling everything in reflections. Especially since the above-ground portion is merely misdirection.

The descent into the actual subterranean misererium is predictably dark, wet, and fetid. Shards of pale blue moonlight slice jaggedly between the ill-fitting masonry and only serve to make the rest more impenetrable. A papery rustling suggests mummified corpses or centuries of human dust heaped in dunes. A small crunch under my foot: probably a toenail. Not mine. I reach the cavern.

As quoth Mutual Friend Eugene Wrayburn, “invisible insects of diabolical activity swarm in this place.” Plus an ethereal wench. In a white nightshirt or smock or whatever is the appropriate term for female garmentage. All my manners are instantly sucked swirling down the plughole of my confusion. I blurt.
“Are you sleepwalking?”
“No, you are.” Her phlegmy voice suggests she’s been gargling lagoon water. Perhaps the drifting manoeuvre failed at some point and she fell in. I make a mental note not to touch her.
She continues, with incisive tact. “You are injured.”
“A mere graze.”

My eyes adjust to this darker shade of dark, and discern less dark shapes. The papery rustling may actually be paper. Papers. The wench sits in a pile of them.
“I was reading.”
“I doubt that.”
“I extinguished the torch when I heard you blundering this way.”
That would be how she identified my injury. Not concern.

A taper flares. From the papers leaps a cacophony of blurry hieroglyphs. I grab a handful and scan them eruditely.
“Where did you get these?”
Her glance slices through me, like a warmed rapier through wax. She throws a wispy arm toward the cesspit. I let the papers fall. I make a mental note not to pick my nose.

I step carefully around her. The wench sniffs deprecatingly. Another piece of vicious masonry grates my toes. As I suck my teeth again, I reflect that it is no wonder this place is rustling with toenails. As her taper flickers, her face seems to momentarily reflect that viciousness. Wait…
“You’re rubbing the stones.” My usual marker has helpfully smeared into a series of regular indentations, highlighting their contours in crimson ink.
“Your father… reused some local… monuments.”
The old cadaver! “Was he disturbing ancient graves?!”
“Not exactly: stone tablets.”
“Oh, like runes?”
She grudges an equivocal head wobble.

I have not impressed. Shame and regret lead to petulance.
“Give me that.” I snatch. All my mother’s training out the window. “I am Hrabě Nula!”
“That sounds about right.” I ignore her barb.
“What do the scritchy scratches mean then?”
She is reluctant to share her treasure. “Well, an army of knights… asleep underground…”
“Dead, you mean?”
“No…”
“Are you going to dig them up? Re-animate them?” My head wobble is taunting.
She collectively gestures the sheets. “It’s not clear how that will happen.”

Uncannily I feel my super power forehead ring fire up. The hieroglyphs shimmer and squirm then start to convey something.
“It’s hard to read: all smeary. ‘They will awake and, under the command of Chief Satyr Wensey—, will come to the aid of the Smudgy People—”
“Smudgy people?”
“Ink blot. Or something off my thumb. This torch isn’t helping.”
She recoils then carefully cranes over to peer down the page.
“… In their time of need.”
But there’s a gap. Does she think I can’t read it or can she not read it? I can’t read it… completely, but the sense seems to be about what actually triggers the awakening, the unfreezing, the unlocking…

I feel a surge of intellectual, or possibly egoic, titillation. This is the apocalyptic stuff Venk has me reading about. This could be where I insert myself nobly. Er.
“Just how dreadful do human affairs have to get before these somnolent heroes stir into action? And who is Wensil—”
Our reading light gutters with an irreverent hiss. She licks her finger and prods the wick. This is simultaneously arousing and annoying. I’ve been training for months to put my hand through— Now the wench is speaking.
“I think it’s pronounced ‘Vench—'”
Is she reading my mind?? Oh, she means that ‘Wensey—’ word. Wait!

I snatch the recovering torch and thrust it to light the one by the steps. I tread heavily on another cold, sharp piece of debris. Unsettled concepts in my mind collide with acute discomfort.
“Arsehole! Does this torch holder look remarkably like Venk?”
“Who?”
“A sort of staff gentleman who refuses to leave.”
She nods, nonplussed. She has noticed my leg recoil and, although obviously she can’t offer any direct nursing to my shit-splattered foot, she feels around the floor to remove the injurious item.
“It’s not him, is it?” I give the brass some firm palpitation. It reminds me of the statue. I realise that if this is Venk dressed in nothing but gilt paint I will be traumatised for the rest of my life over how I am touching him. I stop abruptly.

Luckily the vench—wench does not suffer my sensitivities.
“What exquisite workmanship… despite the subject.”
“Thank you, madam.”
We both gasp. Still annoying when you know fine well what’s coming.
Venk continues, “sorry, sir. Perhaps you wanted to be alone with—?”
“Thank you, Venk!”
“—but you will keep wandering off without a light, leaving blood everywhere, and it saves time if I get at it straight away.”

My dear mother always said—”pull yourself together, YOU DAMP BLOT!”—I should be assertive.
“Venk: what is your full name?”
“Classified, sir.”
“Nonsense. Is it by any chance Vince? Winsey—Winky—?”
“Oh, please desist, sir. It’s Venkeslav.”
“That’s not as interesting as I expected.” I lie.

Venk seems to have just admitted to being a legend destined to lead mythical forces to save humanity. Or something like that. I must protect myself from any potential adverse side-effects of the discovery by feigning ignorance.

However, the wench blurts out her disagreement. I forgive her for not reading my frantic facial expressions in the gloom.
“I think it is rather int—” She is suddenly muffled.
“Venk. Unhand my companion. Dismiss.”
“Sir.”
“You’re still here.”
“Yes, sir. Like I say, when you get going with the… lady I want a head start on the mopping and repairs.”
“Dismiss. Avaunt. Clear off.”
“Sir, your poor mother said to me—” “lash him in cask and float him out to sea!” “—to look after you.”
The wench interjects, “he could hold the torch.” Very droll.

The wench physically positions Venk to our best advantage, rather piquing my envy. She turns her attention to me.
“Why are you holding your hands behind you? Is it because you’re an irretrievable, entitled, elitist Tally?” Another point to her.
My self-consciousness short-circuits my self-preservation. “Swamp water. Mustn’t pick my—” Drat.
She sniggers. “I can sort that for you.” She springs behind me. I feel a sensuous touch glide over my arms, a soft cloth and a sudden tight bind. Curses.

…continues at part 3

31/07/2020

Vanishing Mythnight 1/3 Shadows

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation

Something wakes in my head around 3AM. There’s no hint of daylight yet, just the summer midnight blue. I wander about the crenellations, imagining myself a hero in an as yet unexposited drama. Always I am poised on the verge of glory; world salvation calls but my dozy brain has yet to figure out which way. Still, the masonry remains comfortingly warm from yesterday’s sun. After an hour my legs tire and I return to bed to complete my slumber.

But not tonight. Tonight the murk gives up an ethereal wisp. At the far end of this opulently long and wide corridor there sways a pale figure. As I see it, it seems to see me; we both halt and hold our breaths. I watch its suspended stillness. Involuntarily I move toward it; simultaneously it sways toward me.

What a dolt. My reflection. My white nightshirt. I wave. Within a moment, the apparition responds. I laugh sardonically. I turn about, thinking of it setting off similarly in its mirror world, as I tread another hall toward another rampart.

I should introduce myself. I am Hrabě Nula – Count Zero. Following the Roman tradition, my father planned to number his children, but my mother took one look at me and decided to stop before she started. I’ve lived here all my life; it is the only place I have known, yet all I know is that I don’t know all… That’s quite good, actually; I should write that down.

I relish glancing over the semi-familiar shapes in the grounds below: efflorescences of darker dark; geometrical puzzles that tantalise and surprise as I—
Thwack.
I suck my teeth.
“Venk!” My voice quavers.
“Yes, sir.”
I gasp at his ubiquitous proximity. Venk has been my family’s retainer for about seven hundred years. He has the physique of a leather kite.
I whimper. “The masonry is protruding again.”
“I have the file.”
“It was that second column after the—”
“Yes, sir. I see your usual marker on the balustrade. May I blot your shin?”
“Don’t fuss.”
“Right, sir. I’ll follow with the mop.”
“Leave it; it makes the battlements look authentic.”
“Yes, sir.”

I take this opportunity to be gracious.
“You really needn’t address me as ‘sir’, Venk; you wiped my bum as a baby!”
“I most certainly did not, sir! I am a butler; I don’t do crevices.”
“Well, perhaps it was a turn of phrase of my fath—”
“I did not under any circumstances perform any such or related services for your father, RIP.”
“Not even when he was floating drunk?”
“Never.”
As I hobble on, the rasp of Venk’s metal file recedes.

I don’t ask Venk to do anything. I pay him what I believe is a decent pension, and more besides, as reparation for his centuries of torment. However, he still likes my perfunctory opinion on certain matters of estate and domestic management, so I try not to be too imbecilic.

Recently Venk has had me studying a ‘news’ circular from the city after meals. It’s frightening stuff. I don’t think it can all be genuine; some must be a literary in-joke. He says it will ‘broaden my horizons’, the blighter.

My cogitations are interrupted by a dainty scuffling among the gargoyles. Not an ethereal wisp. Not Venk. I call back to him, trying to sound authoritative.
“Scuffling, Venk; animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“As yet, sir, not fully determined.” He has no idea.
“We’ll attribute it to Od, pro tem.”
“Have you been at the pig Latin again, sir?”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Ixnay, ogday, and suchlike, sir.”
“I was twelve, Venk! It was a fad during my pseudo-intelligentsia epoch.”
“I see. So it’s not odgay?”
“Absolutely not. It’s a placeholder for unexplained natural causes and scientific phenomena, coined in the 19th century.”
“That’s an entirely different and wholly appropriate matter, sir. I apologise.”
“I don’t know where you get to these preposterous notions, Venk.”

Feeling still entirely untired, I limp toward one of the flights of stairs, which is wide enough to serve as an amphitheatre. My father was a considerable narcissist. Emphasis on ‘arse’. To be precise: short-arse. Each step is barely a heel’s depth and as polished as the day, or the day after, it was installed. Just to add excitement, some of the steps are not horizontal. That skittering is the sound of my inappropriate footwear losing traction and further polishing said non-horizontal steps.

Fear not: as I said, the steps are shallow, so the descent is little more than the feeling of a back massage with a washboard. The problem is that my father liked to survey his estate, while my mother disliked the Baltic breeze whistling up the stairwell. Plus my inability to maintain a feet-first position as I cross the floor below. You can imagine the sound as my forehead connects with the glass partition door.

I push myself up to sit but I’m too dizzy to move further. The pain radiates sparks through my vision. Yet I can make out a small boy standing beyond the glass. He seems about five years old and remarkably composed with his hands clasped neatly before his belly. I recognise him: he’s the one rumoured to have been recruited by some clandestine organisation because he has super-mental powers.

He steps toward the glass, our faces level. He raises one arm, his forefinger outstretched, to precisely touch my forehead as it appears in the glass on his side. I lift my finger to meet it on my side. He recognises my forehead energy ring as a sign of similar super-mental powers. I gaze at his face as his forehead lights up with a small red ring. I feel the strangest, wondrous, intense sensation in my own forehead.

Initially we test each other with tricks. The boy wanders to the village and waves to me from the church. I focus my special forehead vision and proceed to pan and zoom as if viewing from a bird’s eye. I’m confident that the church is north from here so I move in that direction by intention. However, this is hard work as I’m too close range so it’s difficult to make out features. Eventually I hit indistinguishable grey blobs and conclude I’ve found the church roof.

About this point Venk ruins my connection to this extraordinary skill by throwing a glass of cold water over me and expressing his untender concern for my welfare.
“That’s an angry red ring on your forehead, sir. Shall I prepare a poultice?”
I swat him away. Something is not right in my head. Apart from the throbbing bruise and frayed blood vessels. The glass… There isn’t any glass on the parapet.

I grab the glass from Venk’s hand and down the remaining measure. He seems momentarily appalled but regroups admirably. Clawing my way up his shiny buttons, I haul myself up to a swaying stand.

I retrace my steps: straightforward as there is a convenient red dotted line. Intrepidly I step Beyond the Red Line. I yelp. The ever-solicitous Venk leaps out from an alcove, a threadbare dressing draped over his shoulder, a crucible of noxious excreta in his hand.
“Please let me attend to your wound, sir.”
In my excitement I flap him away from my shin.
“There was a girl— There was someone here.”
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
I stumble away with horrible visions of this exquisite ethereal wisp manacled to a slimy wall.

The misererium is an often overlooked feature of Roman architecture, and thus of mock-Roman, faux-ancient, ego-indulgent edifices.
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
Venk’s words echo through my frantic mind. They also echo through the stone corridors; as well as Baltic wind funnels, my father was unintentionally successful in creating the most bone-powdering auditory effects.
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
“What do you mean ‘put’?!”
“She is awaiting your convenience, sir.”
“To restore her to health? To one piece? I’m not a sorcerer!”
Venk glances critically at my bare legs, and their cross-hatched archaeology of injuries. “Indeed, sir.”
“Why? Why there?”
“She seemed melancholy, sir.”
“Sadist.”

The misererium of my acquaintance is situated on the far side of the lagoon – a stagnant, algae-glazed, joy-sapping puddle. It is dangerously close to the wood. My mother forbade me from exploring—”If I catch you in that wood, I’ll remove your testicles with this fork.”—that feature with her characteristic firmness. I feel shivers developing into shudders at the mere glimpse of it.

But first I must divert Venk.
“What’s that infernal scritchy scratchy scuffling?”
“Mice, sir.” He’s guessing.
“Mice?! Poison them!”
“I am effecting every method of dissuasion, sir.”
“What sort of cowardly—?!”
“Unfortunately they’re in the gubbins, sir.”
“So?”
“They would die horribly in your water supply.”
“Whereas now they’re just shitting in it?”
“I’m training Beetles to penetrate—”
“Beetles?!”
“The cat, sir. You named her.”
“I was four! Is she still going?!”
“With a sniff of mouse at one end and a sharp stick at the other.”
“So there’s ancient cat piss in the waterworks as well.”
“We are well supplied with… alternative beverages, sir.”
“Father’s fifth circle of cellar?” This is desperate. “Please sort it forthwith.”
“Yes, sir.”

In repairing to the forbidding misererium, I must negotiate other characters. My father littered the grounds with marble and stone and bronze statues; he never could decide which was the most ostentatious. Yet oddly none of them were intended to resemble himself. They are creatures of mythology: human-beast chimeras. On second thoughts, perhaps they were very good likenesses. I make a mental note to research the distinction between centaurs and satyrs, more for a false feeling of mental control than any genuine practical application.

The midnight blue gives the statues an eerie luminescence, a looming essence from behind trees. Involuntarily I gasp. Despite knowing exactly where each one is, my primitive brain sparks to make me start anyway. This is annoying. Yet without an overhead light this first one seems to wear a smirk.

I glance across the water—or whatever is beneath that fetid crust—to steady my nerves. In this deceptive non-light its coating looks like an oil slick. I get a further jolt: the ethereal wisp drifts over the far side of the toxic swamp. It could not be one of the marble statues: they are not that well polished and reflective. Nor could they balance upon that noxious veneer. There would be a chthonic crack and plunge.

I vacillate between relief that Venk has failed to constrain her and further anxiety that she is still abroad. The first statue sneers at my discomfiture.

…continues at part 2

01/08/2019

Neohaguich 11/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Cautiously, but, as it turns out, unnecessarily, they negotiate the room and emerge alongside a subterranean rivulet, a sub-springs creek, a path beneath.  The Stranger pauses.  His face contorts around an ancient conundrum.

“Why are you—?”

Calluna needs no thinking time.  She doesn’t even need the end of the question.  She has been rehearsing this for just as long.

“You promised you’d always be there but you weren’t; you vanished; never came back.”

“I did.  I just took longer than I expected.  You didn’t wait.”

“I waited for eons!  Patiently!”

“You didn’t recognise me.”

“Your features are carved into the inside of my forehead…  Like that rock actually!”

“My features changed.  I got old.”

Calluna shrugs, suddenly fully aware of her own ancient, sagging, changed features.  The Stranger still worries at something.

“Why the elaborate obfuscation to ensorcel an old man when he finally returns?”

“Hard work keeping up an image.  Way beyond the promised time.”

“Finding my way home took millennia.”

“Meaning you mucked something up.”

“And this isn’t home, is it?  It’s not quite right.”

“I had to set out to find you, and I’m not quite omnipotent.  It’s a compromise: somewhere you could get to; somewhere I could make look a bit like…”

The Stranger suddenly groans.  “I’ve been walking for so long.  Look at my feet.”

Calluna drags her reluctant eyes to his feet.  She is petrified of seeing mutilation, gore and putrefaction.  The anticipation is worse than the reality: his feet look as if he’s been treading red grapes, but nothing significant is missing, not even that phalanx, although it is attached only by habit and chance and not the proper complement of gristles.  Red, sticky, like cherry treacle.  Thea-treacle.  Not real.  She lurches into brisk war effort.

“How very theatrical.  Easily mended: the hechlers will make you a paper cast.  Sturdy and breathable, but don’t get it wet.”

The stranger petulantly slaps the injured foot into a menacing puddle.

The slap reaches Calluna.  “How long have you been squelching about down here?”

“Long.”

“And yet your foot…”

“The water hasn’t miracle-cured it, but maybe that’s a big ask.”

“I think the miracle is that your foot hasn’t turned green and dribbly.  I think nature has found a way to extract the pure water from Udderfiddle’s ordure for everyone to benefit.”

As the words fade, the walking resumes.  Calluna, having again forgotten entirely about Jardine, finds herself unable to resist sharing a useless relic.  “I have decided to call you Magnus Opium.”

The Stranger splutters a laugh, thereby acknowledging how much work he inherently is, and that he is hers.  Comforting.

The walking and the thinking and the sloshing of water seem to achieve some intermediate level of mutual forgiveness, or at least relaxation of hostilities.  Finally, no longer required, the water disappears into a rock crevice, destination unknown.  The tunnel shrinks to a crawl space with encouraging dappled light at the end.

Calluna and the Stranger, Magnus, emerge from the rock with very necessary caution through a bramble thicket, an effective deterrent to any pilgrims seeking an easy way in.  Calluna geo-locates herself.

“Is this–?”

Mr Opium smiles by way of completing her question and answering it.  The very site of the fateful picnic.  One bramble lucky to be abandoned.

They survey the landscape with different eyes.  Magnus points out how the arse-shaped indentation in the rock by the cave entrance is actually caused by the tenacious sapling splitting the linn so it hits the rock in two curling streams.  Calluna recognises the similarity to a certain farmer’s seat, and pronounces this Udderfiddle’s Cleft.  Once formally notified, Farmer Udderfiddle senses this is not a great accolade.

Finally, to acknowledge the equality of all geographical features, Calluna rebrands the village ‘Bubbling Bridge over Lochsplit Linn under Springs Creek’.  If you tilt your head and squint this is not far off an amusing acronym.  Something about it attracts visitors anyway.

END

31/07/2019

Neohaguich 10/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Jardine flaps and slaps until gravity and lack of friction further disgorge him into the gorge, a welcome salvation—and ablution—but a worrying connection to the oblong loch.  However, always better that such things are out in the open.  Spat out in the open.  Calluna wonders if this connection is the cause of some of the spring’s bubbling, and thereby a cause of Alf’s peculiarities.

Perhaps Alf himself, the embodied warning flag of unsafe levels, on so many levels, may be persuaded to team up with Jardine in the environmental sampling business, as he has no reluctance to dunk himself, while Jardine is understandably less and less inclined to approach sucking sediments.  Encouragingly the rock face seems to concur.  Mirrors are helpful that way.

As Jardine bobs to the cauldron surface, spreadeagled and beaming beatifically, Calluna hollers an apology for further delay in coming to his aid.

“I’ll come down the long way.”  There must be one.  A safe one.  How else could whatshisname flit back and forth?  Where is he now?!

An exquisitely gentle press on her upper arm answers her second question.  To answer the first, the Stranger points up to a faintly lit, tortuously twisted chimney through the rock ceiling.  Calluna demurs.

“Not in this lifetime.  Not in this body.”

The Stranger smiles at the expected response.

Calluna urges matters onward.  “You have a key.”

“You do.”

She stubbornly and futilely resists this asserted superiority, while her mind scuttles about all its dusty corners seeking evidence.

The Stranger continues: “your bottleneck.”

And so the pebble with the hole resurfaces.  Calluna prises the stone from her bladder and offers it to the Stranger.  Irritatingly, despite her eyes having adjusted to cave darkness, she still barely sees him move, let alone where he puts the pebble.  Yet there is movement.  On the wrong side.  The rockface ahead of them remains; that at ninety degrees to their left has vanished.

“Well done.  How about this one?”

“Decoy.”

Calluna is reminded of joinery and ingenuity.  “Did Alf—?”

“Oh yes.  Very willing, but the attention span of a fruit fly.”

“He won’t be making this sort of—?”  Calluna has lost the ability to finish her sentences.  She raises the neckless gourd.

The Stranger smiles patronisingly.  Alf is about as close to enchantment as he is to the moon.

The pair step tentatively into the new space.  The Stranger sidles along a wall.  Calluna stops a couple of paces in, to survey: the murk resolves into dark floorboards and curiously paler stone walls.  Within this small room, faint streaks of light suggest wires.  Booby-trap.  Tedious.

Calluna feels a sharp pressure in her right thigh.  The tip of a very slow-moving spear is persistently digging in.  She steps out of its path and watches it lurch and judder across the room to persistently but futilely press into a stone wall.  Another vertical spear wobbles diagonally towards the roof and dislodges a few grains of sand.  She smirks.

“Is this an incredibly rusty ambush?”

The Stranger retorts in similar feigned masterfulness, “or are we thinking faster than time?”

concludes at part 11

30/07/2019

Neohaguich 9/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Having recited several tediously inconsequential misdemeanours with palpable penitence, the gaunt woman continues.

“Where is it you still feel I’m going wrong?”

“Is this only about you?”

“Seriously?  You want me to take responsibility for every other human life too?  No, that’s your job.”

“Let us review: who did you want to be in relationship with?”

“Doesn’t exist apparently.”

“Hardly matters now.”

“True.  So where was my ideal soulmate, then?  The one who’d make me whole, complement all my shortcomings, etc.?”

The air coruscates.  Calluna eagerly anticipates a stab of lightning—a stab, not a bolt: a lightning bolt is what you secure lightning conductor rods with—to sizzle the old husk to a welcome crisp, but there is to be none.  The gaunt woman anticipates with more accuracy, if less eagerness, the purpose of the atmospheric effervescence.

“Oh, seriously?  I’m getting the ghost of guys past?”

“In the name of pity…”

Calluna ponders.  A pitiable version of herself is having a conversation with an amorphous creature who believes it’s a god and pronounces aphorisms, maxims and wisdoms interspersed with hysterical attempts at smiting any who would obstruct its progress.  Well, if dying is going to be so tortuously convoluted, she may as well ‘get on with it’ –  ‘it’ being tackling the problems of this curious in-between world.  Apparently those of the next apparently have such immense bureaucratic proportions that they serve as a powerful deterrent.

How to resume normal—usual—accustomed—whatever existence this is?  A tremendous, belated, but much needed smack on the arse propels Calluna gracelessly on to a sludge-covered platform.  She splutters out a few litres of water.  Her lungs refill with air, less than fresh.  Her eyes adjust to near darkness.  Her ears continue reporting white noise.  For a few moments she fears this is the putrid wasteland scene repeating, only with her experiencing the gaunt woman’s perspective.  Her arse smarts.  This comes of being racqueted by a rock worn into two smooth indentations.  As you will keenly recall.

Calluna slowly flails her arms to swivel on the slimy hard surface, to assess her surroundings, preparatory to attempting verticalitude.  The water wall, presumably the way she entered, drowns out any sounds of movement.

“You’re supposed to grab the sapling and swing yourself across the rock, monkey-fashion.”  The Stranger’s voice is the most comforting thing she can imagine right now.  But any moistness about her eyes or heaving of chest is merely residue of her recent trip along the rebirth canal.

Meanwhile, those comforting tones have allowed her thoughts to reach a much more important and long overdue conclusion.

“You didn’t die in the—”  She flaps a hand in the presumed direction of the churning water, scrabbling for any label that doesn’t imply witch, and gives up.  “—cauldron!”

“No, far too much bother.  Did you notice that?  Off-putting.  I found something much more interesting.”

“A hermit’s lair?”

Suddenly Calluna is lifted under the armpits and reorientated.  As usual the Stranger moves imperceptibly.

“That’s one word for them.”

Calluna peers intently at the smooth cave wall before her.  Her intensity causes it to wrinkle, which her eyes resolve into facial features.  Yet more resolving.

“I don’t know how it can see me with its face all like that, but it’s very effective at menacing.”

“Keep watching.”

“That looks… That looks remarkably like Aunty Gail.”

“And what does she need?”

“Retirement.”  The rock face crumples in hurt.  Calluna adjusts her delivery.  “A well-deserved rest.”

The rock face calms and relaxes.  Calluna continues, “the box of letters remains hers, and her attachment to Damon and the hechlers may be a comfort.  They all seem quite content in the shed.”

“Meaning you don’t want any of them in the house.”

Calluna raises an eyebrow, the rock face mirrors, and the Stranger draws his own conclusions.

The rock face adopts a petulant frown.  The Stranger settles down for a long session.  Calluna recalls the frowning girl in the mirror washroom at Aunty Gail’s now destroyed abode; another mirror, another version of herself.  No special need for that connection now, although nice to know it’s available, should she have the urge to converse with her younger self.   In this instance, the intellectual reach-around to refute any accusation of altruism wouldn’t be too tricky: she would be, literally, helping herself.

On reflection, or so it seems when a rock face is modelling the facial features of characters you know well, Señora’s irrepressible jangle would work a treat in putting the wind up the Ladies of Plumptitude.  

Redirecting their idle interference toward…hospitality for village visitors?

Calluna’s self-satisfying reverie is interrupted.  A delicious sucking squelch deposits an undelicious Jardine in a slime slick on a narrow rock shelf beside them, spattered by the waterfall.  Calluna leans as close as she dares and gulps.

“I forgot about you.”

continues at part 10

29/07/2019

Neohaguich 8/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Mist resolves into strands of smoke over a wasteland.  Rubble and rot, strewn and slimy.  Beached on a mound of debris, charred and sodden, a bedraggled, gaunt woman is supine in torn layers of clothing.  And annoyed.

“Hoi!  Bit busy are you?  A few other pitiful souls needing collected and processed?  Pish.  Get your priorities: I was always going first; look at me!  No way this pathetic vehicle was enduring an apocalypse.  Hurry up!”

A clatter: the gaunt woman tilts her head, spies the outgoing form of a rodent from a can.  She relaxes, chuckles, renews her demands.

“You forgot about me, eh?  Embarrassing.  Still waiting!”

Calluna becomes aware that she is an observer.  The gaunt woman seems unaware of being observed.  An edge of anxiety enters her voice.

“You…  You’d better not be getting any ideas!  I’m done.  No more.”

A terrifying quake dissolves any remaining dry rubble to dust and shakes much of it into the air.  The rest, including the mouthy skeleton herself, sinks further into the sludge.  Only the foremost surface of her torso escapes submerging: two knees, two hips and the tips of more prominent facial features.  Two eyes blink as slime laps at their canthi.

A huge voice surrounds the scene.

“Not finished.  Work to do.  Get on with it.”

The gaunt woman pleads.

“No, no, no, no!  Mistake, confusion; easily done in this chaos.  As you see, I’m on my way out, so if you would oblige and permit me to disengage from this rustbucket?”

“Repeat: work to do.  Get on with it.”

The gaunt woman renews her querulousness.

“Need I point out I’m as much use as a yogurt fence?  Post-apocalyptic skills: nil.  Self-preservation skills: nil.  Broken.  Error!”

Fascinating as this introspection is, Calluna’s observation is diverted to herself and her lack of dampness.  Wasn’t she supposed to be wet?  Dissatisfied, her attention returns.

The disembodied voice seems resigned to engaging in the painfully constrained form of communication that is human discourse, with the half-buried skin of once woman.

“Your most important lessons are from relationship.”

“The only thing I’m in relationship with right now is mud.”

“And what—”

“Don’t—  DO NOT suggest I should learn something from this goup of … minerals and bugs and shit!”

“You are above that?”

“Clearly not.  Technically I’m on it, unfortunately face up.”

“We all start somewhere.”

“I’m actually ending somewhere—here.”

“You do not get to make that choice.”

“In fact there are a number of ways I can make that choice.  Having this conversation with you is really just politeness.”

“That is not how it works.”

The gaunt woman has a surprising ferocity of breath for an empty bag.

“Well, this is what it gets for being so bloody arrogant and uncommunicative and machiavellian and unempathetic.  If you don’t give me any information to allow me to connect cause and effect, I’m not going to learn anything, am I?”

“You are not grateful?”

“Oh, yes, to my parents: thank you for the gift of death.”

“Should you not experience all kinds of suffering as well as joy?”

“That’s my point: only in order to learn; if you’re just going to keep piling it on, randomly, that’s just cruel.  And I have learned!  I’ve been back to every choice and retried every alternative until I cracked it.  The older lady tripping along the pavement…”

Calluna starts.  How does this woman know about that shameful experience?  When she watched, and did nothing, and watched another rush to help, and thought about doing something, and did nothing.  Why is this woman speaking of that event as if she was there?  As if she was Calluna?

continues at part 9

28/07/2019

Neohaguich 7/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Calluna stomps through the slushy village.  She benefits from its quiet abandon, but distrusts it.  Lights in the hall beckon her curiosity.  She rattles at the foyer door.  Suddenly it gives way, crashing off the wall, squealing horribly and echoing viciously all around everything.  Only after several moments do her ears regain sensitivity and detect ethereal strains.

The choir is ranked in shades of black.  With every flutter of page turns, they stir a patch of white leaves, silently rippling beneath their breeze.  The audience of two ladies of plumptitude and one Alf of flaccitude are motionless, oblivious to Calluna’s thoughtless entrance.  All suspended in rime.  Or, in Alf’s case, grime.  She trudges out of the hall, grimacing disapproval of the sublime artistic expression.  Mere diversion.

Absolutely no-one in the environs is suitable aid in the quest to exhume Jardine.  Calluna must see to it herself, accompanied only by her insistent circulating thoughts.  The rapidly de-icing loch-pond-toxic-marsh reveals only a pair of ancient sandals, partly colonised by rapidly evolving slime snails.  Not Jardine’s anyway.  He prefers a full-body wader.  Even in six centimetres of liquid.  They could be the remnants of some foolhardy hiker.  More remnants.  Or, more likely, one who crossed Farmer Udderfiddle, or simply crossed his land, wearing offensive clothing, and had to be summarily punished.

Calluna reaches carefully with a stick and prods the sandals until they remain upright, wedged in the sludge like pitiful remains of the foundation of a very small crannog.  Foundation nonetheless.  Then there is the oblong loch itself: the toxicity of too rigid a framework.  Utter rot, of various calibre.  These thoughts circulate like a herd of bees.

The water’s surface blurs, the ground shudders: other feet are afloat.  Madame du Lac shimmers into view and sails up to the positioned artefacts.  Apparently she considers them an offering or a summoning or somesuch clumsy human ritual.  Calluna feels ashamed that her noble intention to rescue Jardine has descended into childish guddling.  Can she get away with labelling it ‘found item art’?  Who lost them?  Did the Stranger ever…?  No, if he had ever ‘sported’ such footwear, he wouldn’t have clawed gracelessly through the bankside technica and forfeited a phalanx before… disappearing so finally into the churn.  What ever happened to all that picnic?

Another giant step vibrates through solid and liquid.  Of course: the lady and the giant; the ideal balance of relationship.  Something like that. Mistress Moist extends an arm dripping with weed dripping with putrefaction, and points wanly toward Springs Creek.  A comforting jolt out of that rut.  Calluna is happy to take a hint in the direction she wants to go anyway, and moves respectfully away, wondering if Her Highness of the Haar is just an apparition of toxic vapour raised by the quaint mining quakes.  More diversion.

Here is Calluna at last, hovering beside Springs Creek, attention downstream.  She hears the linn endlessly churning; voiding and replenishing in perfect balance.  Animate and endothermic, but not alive, like its grisly sediment.  She can walk all around it, but eventually she will have to know: what lies beneath; what lives behind the curtain.  She steps in.

As she wades along the creek’s course, her feet quickly numb.  This seems the best way, if one is going to lose a limb, or something worse.

“What would be worse?”

She ignores him and his insightful questioning.  She knows that he knows that she knows she means him.  Somehow.  Lost.  

Calluna wonders at the wisdom of following the flow, and its inevitable plunge over the precipice, but truly this whole convoluted façade needs sorting and resolving.  Thinking of resolve, she resolves to just keep moving, no hesitation, no pause and definitely no discussion.

“Fair dos,” acknowledges the Stranger in her head.  “I’m sure Jardine will return the favour.”

Drat.  She never did locate that local pollution data officer.  How ironic: drowned in a land-scale vat of toxicity.  Hopefully that will count as ‘bad’ quality for the monitoring report.  But no!  That could have ramifications for Springs Creek!  Which she continues to mildly discolour with her filthy paws.

Aunty Gail cheers encouragement to Calluna from the bank.  She perches on a rock with the baleful eye of Damon glowing in the folds of her blouse.  She has the box of letters in her lap.  She lifts the lid just enough for a sample of hechlers to reach out with their tiny filaments and prise her fingers off till the lid shuts again.  She has the box, then. Perhaps the wooden letter blocks have now been passed on, donated, left to lie wet-warped in a defrostings puddle.  The thought was there.  Somewhere.

At the last moment before the water’s momentum carries Calluna over the falls’ brink, she notices a tiny sapling, rooted in a rock fissure, right on the precipice.  This will shortly explain what she passes next: a rock worn into two smooth indentations.

continues at part 8

27/07/2019

Neohaguich 6/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Still the wailing and the howling and now a creaking.  In the dark you hear more, feel more.  Feel more paralysed until the world is ready to move you.  Until the walls are ready to move.

Calluna gasps, “the walls!”  Then she realises the utter stupidity.  Two broken people of dubious life status attempting to hold up a cottage.  The Stranger continues to hold her up.

Calluna squeaks, “can we get out?”

No reply, nothing audible beyond the wind and the avalanche of masonry.  The air shudders.  Everything is suffocatingly close.  Massive things moving far too close.

The storm passes, leaving Calluna with the tedious metaphor.  The dust, metaphorical and literal, settles.  All is flat, blank, ruined and ready to restart.  Quiet.  The Stranger remains somewhat present and thoroughly attentive.  He continues the conversation from where they left off, as if he has blinked and missed the apocalypse.

“Could you entertain the possibility that the sound was merely compressed?  A lower quality rendition that distorted the extremes – the highs, the lows, loud, quiet?”

“Not unearthly, then.”

“Only in the sense of being virtual.”

“You caught a speaker cable with your toe on the way past?”

“Garrotted.”

“Hence the graceless plunge.”

The revelation and its careful cognitive analysis and integration is interrupted by a small, muffled explosion.  One last puff of dust beckons them to some broken timbers, covering curiously, cleverly arranged cardboard, covering the fridge—still unplugged; nothing to plug in to.  The door dangles slightly open, having allowed the shockwave to rumble past Calluna and the Stranger.  They peer in.

Several smoking, all-over-mascara’d hechlers clamber over their carbonised compatriots, quivering.

“Over-heated,” supplies the Stranger.

“Dust doesn’t spontaneously combust.  They were up to something.”

“Trying to accelerate the defrost?”

“Or a diversion tactic.”

Calluna delicately prods a scorched hechler.  It crumbles to dust.  Dust to.  She is horrified to feel concern, dismay, regret; one of those troublesome achey sensations.

“I should check on Jardine and—”

“Attend to your social care remit?”

Curse him.  “I don’t care about social care.  Yes, write that down: there’s your quote.  I care about nature.  All of it.  I don’t have any spare care.  If I care about any more stuff, I’ll have anxiety attacks and stop being any use at all.  Other people care specifically about people and they do it well.”

“Some might say we are part of nature.”

“Some should say it to my face.  I’ll show them a part of my nature.”

“Who should I quote you to?”

“Put it on your carvings, distribute them to the frosted frumps.”

“Does that include you?”

Calluna twists to retort spitefully but is arrested by a stabbing pain in her side.  Reflexively she presses into her startled flesh and meets a hard shape.  Something she didn’t have, hadn’t pocketed, must have been given, surreptitiously.  A key.

The key is in Calluna’s hand, feeling, turning, examining, before she thinks about its duodenal provenance.  Too late for tentative fingertips.  It is tarnished but not digested.  Meanwhile the Stranger wrenches open the freezer and exposes a wooden box emerging from the dripping iceberg.  A great thawing.  The revelation and release of myriad unknown threats from the Past.  Terrifying.

A wooden box: the letter box?  Calluna unlocks it expecting an archive of soggy epistles impregnated with anthrax or smallpox or typhoid.  Not so.  It is neatly filled with small kids’ wooden blocks, coloured letters painted on each face beneath a layer of frost.  A wooden box of wooden blocks.  She finds she knows that how they fall gives advice.

The Stranger sweeps the kitchen counter with his forearm, catastrophically erasing eons of dust geology.  Calluna’s ‘care’ purview stops short of geology.  She upends the box and delights in the creak and clatter of scattering iced cubes.

She knows what she will see; she just has to find the route through the lettered blocks that spells it: ‘at springs creek’.  However, naturally, Aunty Gail’s clairvoyant cubes aren’t that amenable.  Instead, every permutation passes tenaciously through ‘stranger’, helpfully also providing ‘sick’.  Notwithstanding occult interference, that’s not advice in either case.  What’s it supposed to mean?  She abandons the Stranger and his fascinated stackings.

continues at part 7

26/07/2019

Neohaguich 5/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Calluna notices the cottage’s name plate for the first time: peeling strands of varnish, faded stripes of wood underneath.  Simple, functional lettering cut then picked out in black gloss, dusty but sound: Windrift.  As she falters, mentally rearranging and interpolating the letters—win drift, wind rift, wind drift, twin fridge, Winifred…—the first tiny flakes float down.

The whirling wind is oddly quiet.  Vortices of lifted white dust swoop silently around all the land features, then still again, giving the flakes the temporary respite of falling vertically.  Drifts accumulate in corners.  Exposed surfaces are blown smooth.  The intermittent drama entices her through the window to join it, in its variations on the theme of grey.

The scene is grey because there are no lights, no yellow fires.  Everyone has gone.  Why?  Calluna feels a pulse of anxiety.  Rational thought swiftly follows: she’s not relying on them; if anything, she actually feels it a burden, sorting out their various retrograde habits.

Seemingly, Gail has taken her intestinal letter box key and Damon in his lasagne blankets and set up a retirement home in the shed.  Now Calluna can see purple smoke curling into the grey.  Good for Gail.

Señora has detached her pantry from the cottage and dragged it away to the far side of the field.  Now Calluna can see those vibrant curtains even through a blizzard.  Good for Señora.

The hechlers have retreated into the fridge’s fruit drawer and papered themselves in.  Probably traumatised by two unexpected launches in one day.  Good for them.  Sort of.

Calluna wonders where Alf is bedding down.  A shuddersome prospect.  Farmer Udderfiddle needs no concern as he’s quite self-sufficient.  Probably making a deep arse-cheek imprint on Penitence Moor because he likes to show he’s hardy.  Jardine…  Drat.  He may need to be chipped out in the morning.  Perhaps a spell of cryogenics will do him good.  A desperate grasp.

And the Stranger…  He’s not here, and she doesn’t need him, but would she enjoy his company if he was?  Academic.  He’s not here because he can’t be here.  Not possible.  Just a ghost.  A perceptual artefact to be sorted, ironed out, normalised, like everything else.  On the list.  The tang of brambles…  Wrong time of year.  Utterly.

Calluna’s thoughts drift and swirl and settle behind the window.  Here is a triangle of women.  How synchronicitous.  There must be a challenge to be faced.  Always something.  Always that one thing.  That thing she has repeatedly banished to the attic, bolted in the basement, papered over behind the mantelpiece, subsumed in the permafrost, left to fade under dust.  Why else would she be back here?  Springs Creek had boiled with blood.

“You’re afraid that the depths of the pool below Springs Creek contain a body.”  The Stranger’s soft assertion makes Calluna start, knocking a cascade of cardboard shavings into the fireplace.  Paper over the mantelpiece.

“Remnants.  How do you keep getting in here?”

“Invitation.”

Never accept the premise of his laconic expressions.  Never interpret; never obvious.  Therein lies the road to entanglement.

Again the Stranger’s voice pilfers through her cranium.  “Have you woken up yet?  Everything is metaphor.  Señora, Damon, the hechlers, even Aunty Gail.”

“And you?”

“A stray dog that you can either take in or leave to its own devices.”

“You must be tremendously pleased with this effort!  A whole landscape of smoke and mirrors and devilish devices!  OK, if I must expound the saga, here and now, rather than enjoy the sublime bit of weather…”

“Why else would this unseasonal storm arise, with your fellow gatekeepers carefully positioned?”

“Aye, I got that, thanks.”

“What did you see?”

“In the middle of an unacceptably pleasant picnic, you dived in, twisted horribly, the music went all weird, and the linn churned up blood.”

Calluna stops abruptly, horrified by a ghastly howling wind that is suddenly audible.  The wailing and her open mouth, the pain in her throat, the pain in her heart; these may be connected.  She feels a touch, a caress, an enfolding.  Curse his arms that make her weak and feeble and paralysed.  Hallucination that touches.  If he wants to absorb her howling in the dark…  Blessed darkness.

continues at part 6

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