Digital Ischemia


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?”
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?!”
“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.
“You fixed the pipes?”
He nods affirmation.
“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.
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.


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


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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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


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—
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?”
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.”

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.”
“They would die horribly in your water supply.”
“Whereas now they’re just shitting in it?”
“I’m training Beetles to penetrate—”
“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


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 grafting.

Ancient beech tree branch


Stage 3: Exploration

[ Stage 1: Resistance at ]
[ Stage 2: Anger at ]

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.




Lughnasadh – Samhain 2015


Stage 2: Anger

[ Stage 1: Resistance at ]

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


Lughnasadh – Samhain 2015


Stage 1: Resistance

The market is many steps away. Sometimes I leave winter at the village and find spring at the market, but Spidda breathes on the towns first. I’ll get a baked potato at Nellin’s.

Here the road is full of snow. I look south, scanning the ridge parallel to the road. The ridge looks a good step away and uphill; hard to believe these two paths left the village together. Aye, it looks easier-going up there, but for how long? If I step up this field, this field with new cut boulders, there could be an access track. Or there could be…

If it’s moving, I’m already too late. Or will I be lucky with my light load of tinctures and trinkets, and gain a tale to tell?

Curse Antiog; I should’ve checked the field was empty of horses… and quaggi. I was too absorbed in seeing the boulders. Some folk had been carving them out. Maybe building a new wall; maybe breaking up an old wall. Maybe the rock made me feel safe. But abandoned. Now there’s movement among the scrub lining the ditch. Cold crackles up my right side, jolts my free arm forward to point at a dip in the wet gorse. A puff of steam drifts and fades. Something singed. I’m dreaming again; must step on.

Nellin meets me at the town gate. This way we can speak before we are overheard. We speak about our worlds but to him it’s subversive, offensive or just an excuse. Her uncle is a jaggy bush and an avalanche of soil: all prickles until an unpredictable, engulfing blow.

Nellin’s uncle’s shop is mostly full of ironmongery but in the back corner, reached by skirting around the wall, is the back of a food stall. I ask the guy for my coveted baked potato. Nellin pokes me for adding “with cheese.” He confirms “ghost cheese and chives, just chives.” I know he means goat. Still I ask “is there definitely no meat?” It could be only pheasant, I know, but the folk that catch the creatures catch all sorts and I don’t want to eat any more quaggi.

Watching me gulp, Nellin says I make too much fuss and someone will want to know why. What have I against quaggi? “Nothing” I reply, every time. I would say more, but she doesn’t understand; she never leaves the town. Why shouldn’t land creatures know as much as sea creatures? I don’t ever want to look into those eyes.

You are cold. Thirsty. You hear tantalising drips so reach out: blessed snowmelt. You haul out to search for spring. Your eye catches red among the white and green and brown but you dismiss it: sodden berries can only have been left because they’re rotten. A little fresh, green matter will sit fine and maybe a sweet twig.

We snuggle at the back of the shop. The potato guy is away home but the potato oven is still warm. We press our backs to the stone. Nellin’s uncle fidgets around a plated carrier, itching to peel the metal but fearing his shaking hand. We whisper about everything except him. We think of nothing but him, wishing he’ll drink soon and quickly and forget us with the day.

The market bustles with folk eager for restocking. Nellin is a good seller. She knows so much about the herbs now. She is good at so many things, but wasted. A good day’s trade. An average day’s blether; her life is stuck.

Nellin will never come along to the clootie well. My good friend. Every time I say “I’m scared too: there are quaggis about;” every time she says “no, it’s not that.” She and her uncle have their own Imbolc: she cooks up everything left from winter stores and he drinks up the same. If she’s lucky he passes out. Why wouldn’t she rather come with me?

Leaving town, I reach the turn in the road as I hear the first shout. I hesitate in a shadow. But Nellin doesn’t want my help or my pity. It’s her choice. I have a near empty bag and a road of promise ahead.

By Mabwhit’s wood I see my first: a curled tuft of feather; two grey-brown downs, their tiny quills still joined by a ring of skin, wedged in a tiny muddy hollow. Plucked again, into my bag. Clean, clear spring sunrise trickles across my path. The silence draws me out.

A second treasure makes me skip to avoid treading on it. A skein of fleece, or coarse fur, drifted into a hollow. Now I see: the depression is an imprint, a backward step.

More prints tread backward. I had thought the printer was heading opposite to me but the weighting is reversed: a retreat.

A claw is my third reward, its bloody root hanging on air. Under the mud is a chance split between stones, clenching the claw tip. I must dance about to find the weighting that widened that crevice enough to welcome the claw and now relinquish it. I have the claw clamped between my second and third fingers, feeling it could be mine. I rake at the air. Cold crackles up my arm. A rush of horror: quaggi blood on my hand. Again.


Stage 2 at


Lughnasadh – Samhain 2015

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