Digital Ischemia

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.

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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…

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

20/03/2016

Wearing You Out

Filed under: Flash — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:00

You’re nasty, to me.
You squashed the spider, you could’ve put it outside.
It was not in the wrong place, it was doing its best.
But I can slip out of my skin, and float – a moment – then slip back in.
It helps when I get cross, I have a little rest.
I never thought of this before, what if I float across to yours?
I could wear you like a dress, I could work your arms and legs.
So I march you to a cliff, then throw you off.
(I mean throw you off me, not into the sea.)
You’re angry and loud, your skin was too crowded.
I’m not going to fight, you look like you might.
You swipe forward, you lean backward.
No safety net, no spider’s web.
Silly person. The end.

10/01/2016

Chickens

I’m in the chicken hutch again – this is not like the ‘doghouse’; I’m actually toe-deep in chicken shit and damp straw. The chickens huddle and quiver at the other end, blinkingly perturbed. I wish I didn’t keep fetching up here. The hutch is a solid construction, about 8 feet by 4 feet, 5 feet high, and cosy. But bursting out is a considerable effort.

The first time I panicked. The smell tipped me over. I stood up, cracked my head, lurched at the side and continued shoving, thumping and kicking until a couple of panels broke loose and I could squeeze out on to the claw-churned mud. The wobbling, blinking eyes followed.

The second time I was more collected: I put my back into the roof until a corner popped away. I stepped out into the less acrid air, snagged my gown on a nail, lost my footing and arced into the aforementioned mud like a wet sand bag thrown at the water’s edge.

My advantage was being able to beat the roof back down almost to its original position. I’d love to say I wove three strands of my hair around the splintered edges to draw them back together with the skill of a cosmetic surgeon. In fact I placed a sizeable muddy stone on the roof corner four times and four times watched the scunner slide right back off. Casting around in the dark – it being 4:15AM in December – I settled next for—

Crivvens! Is that the time? Here I am wittering on when I should be scuttling to the vaults and fastening the strapping. More anon.

Merv has sophisticated things considerably. However, precision needs some work.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

13/12/2015

Bark

The dog barks, the bark smokes, the smoke blinds, the blind twitches…

Wood smoke is a homely, comforting smell. Being warm is a fundamental human need; roasted potatoes are a bonus. But no one offers me potatoes. I can’t sleep with my belly empty and my lungs full of smoke.

Police are never exactly welcome: they always bring bad news. This b.n. takes the form of a ‘male tan terrier’. I have to ask because I am not conversant in strains of dog. He’s a foolish example: clearly he has never terried anything in his life. A blonde dishmop. Small. Do I recognise the mutt? Any idea who it might belong to? No, sorry, but if I meet any other dog-danglers I’ll mention it; they seem to pay attention to each other’s accoutrements. Thanks for your time. No bother. As an afterthought, if you’re stuck, you could check if the kennels have lost one. Good idea, thanks again.

Tatty-bye. You got the wrong neighbour here: Uncle Merv could’ve answered your questions much more helpfully. He has his finger on the pulse. Conversely, Aunty Spam would’ve been a tremendous waste of your time, with a china cup of sour tea. Those are the chances you take, knocking doors. Such a sweet neighbourhood that the polis are employed rehoming stray dogs.

Lost your dog, hm? Or did it get away? I didn’t credit it with that much pluck. Shame. Careless. Perhaps if you’d curried more favour with your neighbours and barbecued less resentment. You see, the only two tarnishes on the neighbourhood polish are both bark.

Hardly worth going through all the palaver, but Merv needs a dress rehearsal. He’s put on a clean jumper. Perhaps only because he dribbled gravy earlier, but it gives a keen impression. Merv reminds me of the basics of ventriloquism. It’s no help. I simply need mimicry, as best demonstrated by the bird kingdom. Agility is a bonus.

The prelude: a little powdered moss upon the log pile to create that evocative scent. The main act: canine obscenities from all directions, moving on just before each light flicks on. Curtains open; torches flash out; bickering escalates; doors are flung. Window vents are such a boon: ideal funnels for noise without disturbing the neighbours.

It’s not nice to complain about a single event, without first asking why, like a dog barking one night when a man is away burying his mother. It’s cowardly to make your complaint via an anonymous letter through a door. It’s mean to harangue someone who, despite provocation, comes to apologise and explain. It’s suicidal to cross the kindest, most generous neighbour in the street, without recognising the community spirit.

Welcome to the public domain.

First there’s poltergeist dogs barking all night. No-one else hears them. Then the wood-burning stove suddenly smells so bad. Really bad, like burning flesh. Then the horror of a few tan hairs snagged at the hopper. Moving on so soon? Tatty-bye.

Don’t be ridiculous: tan dish-mop alive and well, living by the sea. A concerned traveller in a clean jumper finds him wandering a couple hundred miles from here and passes him to a local, who hands him in to a dog home. Unfortunately the mutt isn’t tagged, isn’t claimed, but despite all his shortcomings he soon finds caring home.

Most satisfying. The refreshing sensation of lungfuls of clear, silent evening air. Plus a surprise, there on the saw-horse: Merv has left for me a cup of hot milk. How thoughtful. I pour it into the gravel, just in case.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

29/11/2015

Intermission

I lay, clad in sweat and feathers. The gritty concrete floor cools me. This vigilante business is tricky. I think… Yes, damn it, I’ve weed myself a little bit. Too much excitement in the flying. The potion residue tastes putrid with the texture of dust in glycerine, or blood. Just like red wine.

The concrete presses into my skin. It actually presses. A faint ripple carries across the floor. Hangover. I twist delicately to scan the garage horizon. All as expected, apart from the corner curling up with a dainty shudder.

“Are you in there bare?” Pink clouds of candy-floss with flowers and tweeting birds adorn the words as they skip around the poorly fitting door. All wither and crisp over brown upon entering. Aunty Pamela.
I manage to expel a primeval choking grunt before wondering why she is here and how she knows about my state of undress. I flail an arm and strike lucky on my carefully flung jeans.

She moves with the momentum of an ocean liner, taking several miles of reverse propellers to alter her course. I have time to shuffle into my jeans without unbalancing my nervous system. Still lying down though. I drag the bicycle toward me. Inevitably it tips over. I exclaim forcefully, bracing my forearms to prevent my face being spoked.
Enter Pamela. “Oh, dear; did I startle you?” Without awaiting an answer or forgiveness she presses on; momentum. “Have you seen Merv?”

Uncle Merv hiding again, tut tut. Once Pamela has cleared the door on her onward cruise, I consider the gloom where the bike was. Shoes partly revealed beneath tarpaulin.
“OK, Merv.” I worry how much he’s seen.
A giggle emanates from the tarp. That’s how I get my unlikely sidekick: Bear.

He insists. His observations rather trump my acquisition of his pet name, although Aunty Spam seemed less than careful about preserving its privacy. However, he proves an insightful neighbourhood watcher. I wouldn’t want to run out of righteous material now I’ve got this whole corrections business started. Besides, maybe I could use a spotter.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

15/11/2015

Stage 3: Exploration

[ Stage 1: Resistance at https://digitalischemia.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/stage-1-resistance/ ]
[ Stage 2: Anger at https://digitalischemia.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/stage-2-anger/ ]

Nellin flaps her jaw; even if she could make sound it would be lost to the rushing wind and clattering rain. Water fills her maw. Cruelly I hope what drove her here was more distressing than my antics, so it will smother this newer memory.

Lightning rakes the shoulder of Runnel Hill like an arm in rigor. A storm advances fast. Nellin and I both whirl, seeking a shelter, knowing we’re centre stage on the field. She gapes at me. I fling us toward the road, to the lower ground. She’s more frightened than when her uncle is abroad. Water, snowmelt, flows past my cheek. I grasp on Nellin’s cape. I peer through the icy rivulets. Of all the shoddy luck! Without any warning sound or sight through the torrents, a carriage lurches at us. I yank her toward me; a wheel slices her cloak.

Here we are: prone in mud, and here is goat boy, sauntering up all dry and composed. Why does he always try to impress me with his capacity to ride chaos? I stagger upright. Between goat boy and myself, we hoist Nellin. I give her one last shove toward the carriage. She must take her chances with the idiot.

You hear birds chattering but no wailing. You leave them be.

Mabwhit’s wood greets me as old friends: here a slender alder as my first customer, there a squat blackthorn as my dead grandfather, there again a curving, collapsing beech as Weed Woman. Must I see everyone? I come for only one.

The rain dwindles, the wind calms, pale grey light fades in. I rush through sodden leaves and stems. I’m not going anywhere. You will find me. This is the place.

Have you ever seen frozen snow? All snow is frozen, you think? Not like this. Every flake frozen still, suspended in its fall, yet floating on air, riding faint currents, drifting but not forming drifts.

Spidda has yet to breathe on this corner. I glide through the snow cloud, feeling the flakes bump my face and break their individual spells. I sense the illusion of warmth and safety. My feet feel the ground creak as the points of winter reach for me. Ice crystals grow over all texture. Without grain to grip, my feet slip, slide. I skate along a woodland burn, reaching out to the cold, welcoming the chill.

I flow right through the wood, out among scrub, over marsh, deep into the loch. I spin around the shallows, spiralling in on the centre, faster and faster, scraping dizzying tracks, melting a vortex, a hole.

Through the exhilaration I remember: I spent last night in the shadow of the chimney. Rain trickled through me, through the holes where the hooks pulled down, tethering me to the tiles…

That cursed Weed Woman has poisoned me, with her crater eyes where the earth and roots were yanked out of her sockets…

A plague of midges upon her; she must’ve slipped me some potion… the well water? The more I drink, the greater the pool, the faster I whirl. The cooling, darkening, swirling well…

Ragwort in her eyes, the pustulated hag! Has she drugged the rain?

An image persists: a tall building in trouble. It represents Nellin’s uncle’s shop. Criminals are at work within: acts of sadness and deceit. There are too many stairwells to hope of capture. The building revolves. On the third pass a flame flicks out a first floor window. Weed Woman grips my arm. Does she think I forget it is a dream? And yet my arm was tense even before her grip. All nine folk escape safely. Someone says nine seems too many. How do they know how many were in? Is Nellin one? It is a doll house, Weed Woman reminds me, not real.

Now I am awake. I know because of the head ache. The cold crackle has totally gone. I know the nine are Nellin’s siblings and parents. Death was escape. Nellin remains out of twisted loyalty. As slave and I suspect something more, something insidious. And I know I can offer nothing but opportunity. But she has taken a step.

Here I am at claw point, at cleft rock. They know: I ate one. Only one, but one is enough. Quaggi are different to other creatures. If you can find the one…

You are in the gulley: seeking the threat. Where is it now? A new sound: is it here again?

Where is the origin of the prints? Which way? Beside a huge mossy rock? I snatch glances in all directions. A glimpse of dense willow looks almost like…

Wisps of mist, lumpy shadows and half-seen branches are so often fitted to something recognisable by the mind. Familiar but distorted. Recognised but threatening. It fooled you too! And you are? Not the rock but its dank shadow…

What a thrill: it is you. Sore finger, singed fur, and the beastly taste of sparrow feathers.

You are mine now and I am yours.

Now I feel the move.

 

END.

 

Lughnasadh – Samhain 2015

08/11/2015

Stage 2: Anger

[ Stage 1: Resistance at https://digitalischemia.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/stage-1-resistance/ ]

In safe darkness you curl your hand around pulsing pain. A mistake made, a price paid. You swallow to ease the rot in your belly. The darkness is less comforting than usual. Your unpleasant fragility stirs your blood. A very little provocation will set you raging.

Weed Woman greets me at the village edge; dark beside a rock like its shadow. I am still embarrassed. She sees; she has already seen. I feel her sort through my thoughts. She disengages, deliberately focuses on my empty bag, and nods approval. She doesn’t care for the money. I always offer her share; she always declines. I imagine one day she’ll need something that can only be bought; then I will buy it for her. I don’t have much use for the money either.

The idiot goat boy lopes around me, asking daft questions about my senses, in his awkward way that always veers to mockery. I honestly don’t know if he’s scared by me, or intrigued, or just been with goats too much. I’m too tired to be pleasant. Does everyone think I’m Weed Woman’s skivvy? Where is she now? Still in shadow. Until he sees her.

Weed Woman can drift imperceptibly; surprising for a stout body. She allows her shadow to fall upon goat boy. He breaks off babbling, trips away. I want to ask if there’s something I can give Nellin to help her. I expect Weed Woman to patronise me with “you can only help those who wish help,” or a similar platitude. Instead she fixes her glistening eyes on mine, “only opportunity.” Another riddle. And she didn’t even let me ask. More and more these days she leaves out the pretence. I suppose I should feel honoured, but I feel only violated. She reminds me we have to prepare tomorrow.

Not too much rest now. The winter sleepies leave slowly. But the noise is coming: the chattering and wailing that makes you feel ill. It draws you near, to see if you can smother it.

Rain. Rain like last Samhain. So dark we couldn’t travel; we couldn’t see the land. Visitors from town came running with water and dangerously chilled. Some took unwell. One never left. Weed Woman can help only so much. In two days the well will be a fountain. Weed Woman says the rain will stop in time. But there will be big mud.

Weed Woman asks me about my other voice. I’m shocked. I know she knows. I tell her it’s waking. She nods, accepting without judgement. I think I help her, but only in confirming what she already knows. After Imbolc, she says, if I feel moved, I should go to her and we will have a conversation. I think she means moved like an urge.

Weed Woman stares intently at her pot, bouncing on boiling bubbles. I always feel reluctant here. I don’t know if I want to apprentice to her ways. I don’t know if I want to weave bags or distil perfumes either. She seems to dislike folk, generally. She speaks of their ways as pointless elaborations of courtship rituals. I agree with her that the tremendous amount of food at these banquets is wasteful, and the singing hurts my head, but there must be value in lifting our spirits. I don’t want to turn into her.

Your energy surges, back in positive balance. No need to test it; you know it.

This night I awake compelled to go back to the claw point, to go yet back to what caused the retreat. I missed that point in my incautious dancing and my grasping. The cold crackle fizzes in my foot. I will run and I will still be late for Weed Woman but she will have to use her own sight. I won’t be sorry to miss the chanting.

Only once I’m alongside the ridge do I notice the rain still falling.

I see up this field, this field with snowmelt boulders. Antiog favours me: there is movement, and it’s on the run: not quaggi. The rain absorbs the boulders. I need no rock to feel safe. The movement reprises among the scrub lining the ditch. Cold crackles up my right side, jolts my free arm forward to point at the dip in the wet gorse. I clench my fist; the rushing cold builds like your pain. Out here there is only wind.

You wait, still, potent. Dry.

The cold crackle business builds again. I am giddy with power. I lash, scorching tiny random targets around my feeble horizon. Boiling snow to no purpose. Nellin’s face veers into my vision; her hair is all out in frazzles. I snort a laugh at her skinny white face, all terror. There’s nothing to fear out there! But it’s not out there she’s terrified of; it’s me.

 

Stage 3: Exploration at https://digitalischemia.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/stage-3-exploration/

 

Lughnasadh – Samhain 2015

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