Digital Ischemia

24/08/2019

A Manifesto, by the Omphaloskeptic Party

As we were waiting on the stair,
For a chance that wasn’t there,
We saw a wolf and then a bear,
And third a pregnant mountain hare.

These things have disappeared from our biotically denuded, cartridge case-littered isle. Also apparently under threat is the pregnant human. The honourable member for Waitrose Helensburgh raised the concern that Britain is shrivelling – that is, the human population thereof. Not himself personally, of course, for he is deliberately concentrating all his energy into the head end, ahem, and what becomes of the rest is unimportant. But if the falling reproductive rate of females – currently around 1.8 children per female – continues, ultimately the British will cease to exist as a race. This is not a personal exhortation, of course; all tacitly accept that my eggs are quite addled.

The Party’s broad sweep over social issues includes views on abortion. Although there are strong arguments pro, the venerable patron of Paisley Podiatrix would not like to ‘undertake’ the procedure himself. This is just as well, since his current inventory of surgical implements comprises a dazzling array of sugar-encrusted kitchen utensils and a pair of pliers for stubborn fastenings.

Next the Marks & Spencer-moccasined member asserted that single parents are on the rise. This is simple statistics: as a nation we are losing interest in breeding. Completely missing the point, I countered that people will not stop having sex; life is hard enough. Opinions have changed little since the 60s, when any of Hrabal’s young beauties would tell you you might as well be buried alive if the man in your life has a faulty fandangle, which sounds even more, er, galvanising in Czech.

We swivelled our bradawl-like intellects to the ethics of childminders. Mothers are under pressure from the backwash of the suffragette movement to exercise every single one of their hard-won rights. They must return to work full-time as soon as possible. No matter that gender parity is a hormonal beast. Women are entitled to work as long as men, just not for the same pay.

However, women are currently entitled to longer maternity leave. And to wrangle to their heart’s delight with the Dostoyevskian dilemma of flexible working patterns. Anything less than full-time remains an admission of inferiority. A lack of professional commitment. So they grasp ‘compressed hours’ – full-time hours over fewer days. Leaving them a longer ‘weekend’ to engage in ‘compressed hours’ full-time parenting. Because if you’re working in order to pay somebody to look after your children, like every stage in any process of value conversion, something gets lost.

Consequently, with unanimous support, we propose to introduce both parity of paternity leave, and parity of pressure on fathers to reduce their working hours commensurate with their partners to at most seventy-five percent. Thus, by equally sharing the professional shame of being a parent, we can accelerate the depopulation of Britain, and allow its recolonisation by more intelligent mammals.

Quoth Beethaven “Leonore!”, lightning to strike thrice, and that concludes this manifesto on behalf of the Omphaloskeptic Party, brought to you in dysfunction with powdered fresh ginkgo biloba leaves.

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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

25/07/2019

Neohaguich 4/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Calluna’s politeness does not extend to acquiescence.  “No, you have come at last.”

Through the dust cloud, and the gloom, the Stranger radiates allure.  Curse him.  But his face contorts as if his programmed script has skipped a track.

“You are the new cailleach, the neohaguich.”

“Any idea why?”

He produces an unfeasibly large section of tree trunk from his pocket.  “It is written.”

“Aye, last week by the looks of it.  Bit of bored whittling?”  There goes the politeness.  In the moment while he clutches for a response, with the benefit of clearing air and adjusting eyes, she peruses his appearance.  Not bad.  Still.

Calluna realises the fleeting conversational initiative has ebbed away as he replies.

“Since you left, all my time has been whittling away.”

Clever.  But what does that mean?!  If in doubt, snipe.

Calluna retorts, “good for you.  While you’re creating dust, I have to sort spiders and midges and things that scrabble in the eaves.”

“Whatever you need.”

Was that smarm or sincere?  She grabs a chunk of card, regardless of any attached hechlers, and flaps it shooingly at him.

He calls back from the front path.  “Springs Creek will be ready when you are.”

More ambiguity!  Ready for what?  Why should he be involved?  How does he know what she named it?!

Not wishing to whittle away any time, Calluna scrambles for the spring.  She’ll be first there by ages.  He won’t expect that.  Unfortunately Droopy Alf is already dangling parts of himself in the pure water as an exercise that illogically leaves the water dirtier than he gets cleaner.  Calluna is not having this blatant disregard for the community.

“Out!  Get yourself out of there, Alf!  This is a community resource!”

Alf retracts and complains limply, “I am the community!”

Calluna takes several seconds to fashion a lame dumpling of a comeback, which is way beyond Alf anyway, “aye, you’re the ‘nit’ in the community.”

Alf looks predictably boggled.  Calluna relents.  “I need you to make boxes, containers.  Etcetera.  Out of wood.  The Stranger will show you.”

“I shouldn’t talk to strangers.”

“Alf, you’re stranger than he is.”

Alf leers nervously and lurches away.  With a melodramatic exhalation, Calluna whumps on the river bank.

The Stranger’s thrilling burr: “You should be more careful.”

Of course he would be here already, ever lurking in the shadows.  Of course Calluna scurries back to her own shadows.

“Believe me: I know.  If I could have times over again, especially times with you.”

“I’ll choose to take that… positively.  But I meant when you piss in the burn.”

“You know that’s Alf.”

“So you’re doing something else.”

“So you’re watching me.  Pervert.  Voyeur.  Stalker.”

“I don’t need to watch you.  I always know where you are.”

“Shite.  I still have something of yours?  Cursed tracking beacons.  What is it?”

“Apparently something close to your heart.”

Calluna snorts over her botherment.  “My bladder.”  Handy drinking water in his justly proud invention: birch leaf fabric, ‘bettex’.  His carefully sculpted stone neck with its perfectly fitting stopper, bound in seaweed fibre.  Watertight.  “You charmed the stone.”

“Closest I could get to you.”

Does he mean close to track her, or close to charm her?  Or that emotionally she’s closely related to stone?

Sensing sufficient impact for now, he closes.  “North-east wind: late snow.  Dig in.”  With a slight rustle he’s gone.

Calluna exhales more disbelief and discomfort.  Snow?  Three weeks past the spring equinox?

continues at part 5

24/07/2019

Neohaguich 3/11

Neohaguich series starts at part 1/11

Penitence.  How appropriate.  How timely.  Udderfiddle means the moor, named for its drippy bleakness that attracts those overwrought neurotics wishing to absolve guilt through self-flagellation.  But a stranger who once was not strange ought indeed to approach via Penitence.  But of course he can’t.  Not possible.  No more brambly picnics on the riverbank.

Completing the geographic re-familiarisation loop and returning via the afterthought shed at the village limit, Calluna hears a dodgy rustle.  Alf, the small, droopy, wrinkled, male member of the parish, will not be overlooked.  Since before even the time of mists, the parish has kept two fairs yearly, with official notices displayed to wit: some chattel and small wares are exposed for sale.  Alf finds in this announcement an endorsement to offer his small wares.  No-one has bought in fifty-eight years but he enjoys the spirit of the ritual.  And the ritual of the spirit hastily produced by some concerned citizen to keep a lid, or a coat, on things.

Calluna is suddenly in Aunty Gail’s cottage’s bedroom.  Her tour of local disinterest must have concluded.  There’s only the one bedroom, and it remains unoccupied as the other inhabitants prefer their idiosyncrasies.  She keels over on to the thin, bare mattress to think.

In contrast to the divisive gossip and individual grasping over the natural water source, Calluna recognises potential benefit and improvement for the whole community.  If the local hydrology needs a good bradawling, she will happily wield the instrument.  Conversely, if Udderfiddle’s toxic soup is counter-balanced by a natural spa, the status quo may be safer.

A snippet of wisdom from the distant past worms out of its dust: you should inhabit a place for several years before you take any notions to change it.  His wisdom.  Drat.  Him again.  Her cogitation is truncated by an ache; probably hunger.  Definitely not heart-related.  Heaving herself over the bed frame, a small inspiration strikes: we shall call it Springs Creek.

The pantry is prettily decorated with gingham curtains and brightly painted, marine-themed ornaments.  It is inhabited by the lady from Spain, who recently arrived from South America.  How she persuaded Aunty Gail to invite her to stay in anticipation of Calluna’s arrival is a mystery.  But not one worth bothering to resolve.  Señora recalls Calluna’s retirement a couple of decades earlier.  Calluna is not an octogenarian; she just feels like it sometimes.  She retired from conventional life.  But Señora, well, she seems quite moved in recollecting Calluna’s peculiar ways.  She has pinned up a series of postcards that Calluna sent from the other side of their shared office.  Such subversive humour.

Calluna retreats to the living room and perches on the wooden frame of the only unoccupied seat: its upholstery long since perished or combusted or eaten. In a rare moment of lucidity, Aunty Gail opens her eyes and stares fixedly ahead while remaining bolt upright on the sofa.  She announces to Calluna, “When I’m gone, you shall have my box of letters.”

“OK.”

“Not before.  I keep it locked.”

“OK.”

“The key is inside me.”

“For how long?”

“When I pass it, I give it a rinse then swallow it again.”

Calluna adds another item to her list of reasons to establish a separate washroom.

Gail chunters on, “as long as I’m alive, the key is in me.”

“What does that achieve exactly?”

“Only once I’m dead may you unlock my box of letters.”

“How do I get the key at that stage?”

“Since I will be dead, I won’t be reswallowing it, of course.”

“My dear Aunty Gail, if you’re dead you won’t be shitting it out either.  I won’t be going looking.  You haven’t thought this through.  I won’t be rummaging through your bowels nor cutting you open.  I’m not that sort of niece.”

“Oh, Calluna, you’re so very agricultural.  Why would you think I would die with it still inside me?  Of course I shall wait until it is out.”

“Good for you if you have that level of control.”

“Do you doubt it?  Is that not the very mantle I pass to you?”

“Of all your skills I would wish to inherit, being able to delay my death until after having one last shit wasn’t high on the list.”

Señora rattles vibrantly by and over-helpfully enlightens Calluna regarding the hechlers: “they live in the fridge.  Don’t look at me this way!  They colonise it while the power cut.  I unplug it then: I am not responsible for massacre.”

Calluna bites down on her frustration.  “They’re on my list: repatriate hechlers to loft space above wardrobe.”  After ‘ensure Jardine is safely landed’ and ‘give Alf something constructive to do with his hands.’  Mess!  Mess and filth and muddle everywhere.  Lax housekeeping.  Years of neglect.  Years of avoidance.

Calluna finally boils, leaping up and thumping a fist on the kitchen counter.  Through the abundant puffs of dust and suddenly airborne and startled hechlers, she calls out, “enough!  Enough wacky distractions.  Where are you, eh?”

She turns about.  Obvious.  She clenches her hands firmly at her sides, determined to start politely.  “Hello.”

“You have come at last.”

continues at part 4

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