Digital Ischemia

27/02/2018

Felix – part 2

Follows Felix – part 1

Calnish is calm and accepts much sooner than I expected. Perhaps some part of him grows wiser too. Or perhaps it’s the eye of the storm.
“How long have I been gone?”
“Six years.”
“You do look a bit older.”
He didn’t notice such things before, or didn’t bother to comment. Another cracking branch pierces this cloying ether, closer now.

Calnish seems to sense urgency, and not from me. “You’re pushing the trans-species frontier?”
“I value the companionship.”
“Waste of time; can’t civilise them.”
“Why would you want to?”
I never noticed his superior attitude before: suddenly humanity’s assumed superiority seems predicated upon the tautological comparison that any other creature is ‘less human than us’. Risible. He’s agitated. The door thuds, then rattles. Three claw scratches.
“I’m away, then.”
Relief. “I love you.”

I shuffle to unbolt the door, bracing myself to grapple with a swirl of wind. Felix glides in with perfectly timing, perfect poise. He rides the landscape features, bringing warmth to air that is suddenly clear. Calnish has dissolved, as he always does. I stand as Felix shakes himself by the fire. I wait for him to adjust to the temperature, to feel how things are, to push me, to fold me into my chair. As he always does. I murmur to him how good he smells. The words are nonsense—I don’t smell anything beyond cold—but the tone has the meaning.

Felix is slighter built, lighter coloured, than other lynx I’ve seen; my blonde northern boy. Even as a shade, Calnish is dark and sturdy. How can I be drawn to two such contrasting beings? My changing taste? The person inside.

Fed and set for the night, I let my drowsy mind wander through the stove flames. “If I said I needed to be someone else—somewhere else, would you take me away?”
I feel Felix’s breathing deepen. This is how he senses my moods. If only Calnish, or any other of my men, had been so well tuned.
“I thought you might understand: you might be an edge dweller like me, not exactly outcast but not in community, not having found a conventional role. Being unsettled.”

If I want an answer, truly want one, not just idly, I’ll have to pay very close attention: read his movements, his sounds and smells, his energy, his habits and reactions. There’s definitely a language and it’s fascinating to learn. And I’m just as gratified to see him learning to read me – actively training himself to understand then anticipate.

Lynx are usually not sociable – so he’s different. That word again. Humans generally are sociable, so I’m also unusual, here at the edge of the world. Of course sometimes I wish I could just ask him: why do you…whatever? What are you thinking or feeling? How is your world? But that would be too easy. Working it out the long way is so much more gratifying.

Lying here I can wish I was with the ‘right’ man, but I’m not with the wrong person.

Felix has a five centimetre scar on his right flank. I feel it as a hard ridge under his fur. He tenses. He dislikes it touched. I wonder what the trauma was.

Winter’s claws recede. The cold is relatively mild and most days unfrozen. We remain in stasis but I can savour the season’s benefits: the time to mend and fix, to craft and embroider. Felix surprises me by gaining weight. By Imbolc shoots poke through the soil like green beaks. I have loved the dead brown mush in its turn but welcome the return of life. Felix grooms away his winter coat over several evenings in a delightful masculine ablution. Without the shaggy layer, he is gorgeously toned and contoured.

Soon after the equinox we get the first balmy day. I feel the urge to open windows and air sheets. I anticipate a visit from Enga any day. I look forward to the human contact, the exchange. Well before dawn, Felix nudges me farewell and strides into the trees to hunt. He returns after breakfast for a sleep, stinking of carnage. Usually he washes after a big kill and feast. Something is different. I feel my complacency in the status quo jolted.

He marks the veranda post but stays out there, fidgeting. As he squirms across the boards, I see he’s aroused. And I know it’s the heat, not me. He doesn’t hide it. We have so many jigsaw pieces in this relationship that fit pretty well together. There are still some taboos. One taboo. There is companionship, there’s pooling talents and resources, economy of scale, there’s animal warmth and security. There’s no…intimacy. I probably smell wrong.

Perhaps it’s just timing. As Beltane nears, I feel surrounded by gravid females and musthy males. Not Felix. He seems to have passed through; the fresh spring air carried his pheromones elsewhere. The first heatwave strikes: four days of belting sun and no breeze. He sleeps. I can’t—work or sleep—in this heat. In heat.

Once the climate normalises, we resume usual activities. I’ve had a productive day, cleaning out my stores, preparing for drying later in the year, before fresh pickings take up my time. Scrubbing and wringing has exhausted my arms and shoulders. I rinse off my sweat but a proper wash will wait till I’m done, probably two days yet. I sink on to the blanket in my cotton smock, drying in the mild air, hoping I remember to pull the blanket around me before I sleep.

I wake with a gentle movement. Behind me, Felix seems to have hooked the blanket’s edge, and with some tugging and undulation of his torso he works it half over my legs. I reach around behind me to help but find only him. I’m so dopey I hope the gesture will suffice as thanks.

The movement also ventilates my armpit. I had forgotten I would still stink. Silent contrition. I feel him stiffen. I feel him nuzzle my neck. I hope this is forgiveness. It isn’t. Nuzzling becomes a nibble, then a light bite, holding my skin between his teeth as if to carry a child. Suddenly, he pushes half on top of me, pushes a leg between mine. My nakedness is vulnerable.

No mistaking: he slides along my groove, not in me but searching, unhurried. My heart thumps. I could, right in this moment, or this one, tilt my hips and welcome him. Is he waiting for a response? Is he satisfied with what he’s doing? Is this the first…? The crossing of the trans-species barrier? It is for me.

Unlike human men, the next morning is not a hurdle, not a step-change in behaviour. He licks my neck as he always does. I wake to the cooling warmth. I turn and bury my face in his chest fur. His breathing snags a little.

I see how far he’s come, away from his people. Was that all just intuition or a natural inclination? Or did he set out to be a pioneer?

The start of harvesting for me always brings cuts and scratches. I apply various wild herbal antimicrobials to my arms—garlic, heath myrtle, dankwort—to heal and guard against infection. Before the doorway he smells my potion, arches back, snarling. My thoughts race around: what horrendous herbal faux pas have I committed? Is this something that works for humans but is terribly poisonous to other mammals? Or smells like some such?

I think of Calnish: he was always tearing his skin, coming back from hunting lacerated with weals. Again I wonder if his prey was human or other. My heart thumps with another forming thought: Felix isn’t a natural pioneer; he’s the twisted result of human abuse, half-tamed, half-accustomed to humans and that same half consequently incompatible with his own species. He knew Calnish. Calnish was his tormentor. The herb smell is a key to that traumatic memory.

Is this possible? Is it true? What was it that brought Felix here? His human-distorted worldview or revenge? How human did he become?

What did you do, Calnish? I count myself very fortunate not to have suffered any of your violence. Also lacking, somehow: why was I not enough? How could you be with someone like me, and yet another part of you be such anathema?

The clues will be there. I have only to read them.

I never get the chance: a few days later, without any hint that I detect, even reviewing the events time and again afterward, Felix departs. Before Lammas, he sets out one early morning, seemingly the same as any other and doesn’t return. I wait. I look. I look out for him every hot day, every cold day, but never catch any sign, not even a hint.

Did he plan to leave? I flatter myself that I would’ve read that intention somehow in his ways. He’s too fit and well nourished to starve. Too canny to injure himself. Did he meet some misadventure? Usually other predators would be unlikely to attack a lynx. But he isn’t usual. He also has the double handicap of his human accustoming: susceptible to abusive human hunters or violent rejection by other lynx. Either way, I’d like to think he met someone more like him than me.

If I see Calnish again this midwinter, I’ll ask him outright: how did you die? Did a lynx ambush you in desperation to escape your captivity and torture? Somehow I suspect Calnish is gone for good too.

———

Inspired by:
“The [US] federal government has left it up to the states to decide the legality of bestiality. As a result, Americans have a system that allows people to legally sexually abuse animals. It is time to get serious about protecting animals in the USA from sexual predators.
Sign this petition now to tell the US government that it is never OK for a human to have sex with an animal, anywhere.” Care2 petition alert, 05/10/17, https://www.care2.com/go/z/e/Ay1.s/zt4I/CGArN

Bestiality is always abuse. Is it? Will it always be? Isn’t that presuming a lack of capacity for consent? And isn’t that human dominionism?

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26/02/2018

Felix – part 1

“There! Did you feel it? The world turned.”
Calnish belligerently under-reacts to my childlike excitement. “Nothing ‘turned’. If anything, it reached the furthest extent of its tilt and swung around.”
I persist. “Semantics! You felt it, though?”
“I felt nothing. It only appears to change direction relative to your perspective and four-dimensional frame of understanding.”
“You don’t suffer such pedestrian constraints?”
“Midwinter is a valuable construct, but that’s all.”
“A construct. A powerful observation about the cyclical changing of seasons. About life moving on.”
“Moving on… Yes, about moving on: who’s the guy who’s been hanging around?”
“What guy?”
“I see his footprints. In here I can smell him.”
“There are no footprints; there’s no smell.”
“I see you through his eyes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s attached to this place. His essence…”
“Maybe I know who you mean.”
“Yeh, you do.”
“Hey! You were away. Far too long. You were gone.”
“Did you miss me?”
“You know I did. I grieved.”

I know who Calnish means. The guy approached my edge of the world only once winter had its claws deep in our flesh. Not for company, but for warmth and food. And for a drink you didn’t have to waste precious body heat melting first. The world was so still, so cold. I heard his feet crush patches of frost.

Deep within my blanket bundle I was excited to meet him at last. I expected him. He was the only person to venture within sight since Enga had paused on her migration north to trade before the spring equinox – more than three quarters back. I recalled his first visit.

Around Lammas, when the voluptuous verdure was creaking, bounty rained down all around in a surfeit I simply couldn’t use. I actually considered binning those herbs I’d dried in late spring to make way for higher quality sprigs. I realised my insanity and remembered that not only did I not have energy to squander duplicating tasks, but those plants were not purely resources for me.

Late one sultry afternoon I deliberately stopped myself. I sat on the cabin’s veranda, idly rasping my foot across the jutting edge. A soothing regular to and fro, in time with the waves of grasshoppers’ buzz rippling over me. The scent of Sweet Cicely was a perfect aniseed confection.

I opened my eyes, not having noticed their closing. At the foot of a tree, a hundred metres away, he stood motionless – I imagined he had just descended from storing his bounty for winter too. I admit I noticed which tree. I also noticed the beauty of his figure, staring at me, breathing. Had he stopped because my eyelids moved? Had he detected that?! No, it was the cessation of rasping. After mere moments he sauntered away. He hadn’t seemed in any way perturbed by my presence, just observant.

For several minutes, hovering on the edge of the chair, Calnish has his whole face chewing over his envy. He settles on renewed attack.
“Then you took up with a replacement.”
I’m not yet weary of this verbal dance, so I try to stay tactful. “It’s not like that.”
“What’s it like then?”
“Entirely new.”
“I suppose you love him.”
“Love is the nearest word for it, it’s different, but still…”
“Does it change things that I’m back?”
“You’re not back, not really. Our paths just crossed, that’s all. A midwinter intersection.”
“Where is he, this cold night?”
“This isn’t his only bolthole.”
“I’ll bet.”
“Coarseness is new for you.”
“I’ve changed.”
“So I see.”
“Is he a hunter too?”
“Not like you; coming back after your two, three days away, stinking of every bodily fluid.”
“Except one.”
“Especially that one, that male one. You weren’t always hunting for food.”

I wish I’d asked Calnish if his prey was human or other.

“You were jealous.”
“No, just disappointed.”

At times that winter after Calnish left was deadly cold. There were two particular nights that were so deep I wouldn’t have survived without shared body heat. The cold pilfered in through the wide spaces between atoms.

If this guy hadn’t turned up… If, if. What would I have done? If I’d known just how cold it would get, I would’ve climbed the tree, the one hundred metre tree. I would’ve raided his store. And if I’d found something I could eat, it would’ve been a waste. My metabolism couldn’t keep up; the stove couldn’t keep up.

I fancied a cold death would be pretty fortunate. If my brain froze to a halt and I stopped thinking, I couldn’t suffer. Too simplistic. Plain wrong. But I would lose consciousness. That would be a relief. I’d done my best. I wasn’t owed a living.

When he announced his approach through the dark with a whump and some scraping, my thinking was already slow. My mind crawled through my pitiful food offerings. I suppose it was a bargaining. I grasped the two least unsatisfactory ideas and opened the door a crack. He glanced over them and tilted his head: thanks for the effort, but…

He’d brought his own provision and stowed it in my cool crate. A smear of entrail and coagulating blood trailed from the lid. I dropped my desperate inappropriacies in the crate beside the half deer carcass, wiped the smear and added the discouraging stones to the lid’s catch lock. He would have to trust me. But then he’d already decided to forewarn me of his arrival.

He didn’t need much enticing. We slept well together, curled around the stove. In the morning the top blanket snapped with frost from our breath. I would reach out to shove the ready-placed wood into the stove. When I retracted it, he would hug my chilled arm back to warm. Slowly the cabin breathed again.

Calnish worries at his bone compulsively.
“What’s his name?”
“What’s yours?”
“What sort of question is that?”
“Humour me.”
“You know my name.”
“If you tell me your name, I’ll tell you his.”
“Petty nonsense.”
“You don’t remember, do you?”
“Some of my memories are patchy, I’ll admit.”
“I think they’re tied up in the place you went to. There’s some stuff you can’t bring back.”
“Putting up barriers, now?”
“Pointing them out.”

A distinctive branch snap pierces the fog. Calnish squints at me, suspicious. “That was an unusual reaction.”
“What was?”
“When that—whatever it was—cracked the branch, you glanced away; you smirked.”
“How should I react?”
“A little anxiety would fit better: stormy, cold, dark and wild creatures out there.”
“The only thing I fear is in here.”
“Is that meant to be profound?”
“Except I don’t fear you any more.”
“New guy protects you?”
“If he found you here he might get territorial; I don’t know.”
“You don’t feel demeaned by that? Where’s your ecofeminism now?”
“We’re in a whole new… territory.”
“I take care of myself.”
“Can you? Because I thought either you cared so little for me that you deserted me or you got caught somehow by the wildness, the elements, and couldn’t get back. Which is it?”
“I’m finding my way back. That’s resilience.”
“With bits missing.”
“Bits I have no use for anymore.”
“Like a name.”

I do have a name for him, but I keep it from my thoughts by focusing on my visitor, this throwback. I don’t trust Calnish not to get into my head, to get aggressive. If he’s going to figure things out, it has to be by stealth.

“If I had told you my name, if I remembered, would you have told me his?”
“No.”
“You don’t know his name?”
“If he has one, it’s in a language I’m still learning. Communication is quite different.”
“Is he…?”
“He’s very intelligent, differently from us.”
“All I’m hearing is: different, different. Which tribe is he from?”
“I think he’s… a migrant.”

Blue-white lightning flashes once, then allows us reflex time to glance to what we want to see clearly—Calnish out the window, me at Calnish—before flashing again. Protracted thunder follows sharply. The scaured creases over his face imprint on my mind. He’s mesmerised.
“Wow. Did you see that? Lit up the whole… Is that… a lynx?”
“Is he heading this way?”

Time slides by. I’m not afraid of Calnish crossing paths with anyone else – that particular someone else. These days his aggression is never more than verbal sniping. And that other someone, against all instinct, would not smell him.

Calnish latches on to a curiosity. “You said ‘he’. How do you— The snap—”
“That’s the guy you envy.”
Calnish splutters into sardonic laughter. “Your guy is a — wildcat? Not even human?”
“Why does that amuse you?”
“I always said without me you’d end up a crazy old witch with feral cats prowling everywhere. After all this tiptoeing around, I’m still the only man in your life? All this jealousy for—”
“My love, you’re not human either.”
“Ridiculous.”
“You haven’t been human for a long time. At midwinter the interface between worlds draws very thin. Paths can cross. It’s always good to see you, but the part of you that can step across get dafter every year.”

Concludes in Felix – part 2

25/12/2017

The Santa Hat

As the sky reluctantly lightens to murky blue, a two centimetre tall shiny red cone bobs along outside the window. Could it be elves or some other mythical creatures associated with the season? The jaunty angle fascinates me. I hear tapping and scratching, and the faint thumps of small feet.

I lean in to the shadowy wall, craning to see past the frame. A bluetit lands, unfazed by the festive mystery. He ignores the seeds I sprinkled in favour of jabbing the frame edges for insects trapped in spider web. The red cone wobbles and pulls my focus. Other than the seeds, I see no trail of magic or any clues. Can I get closer without being seen?

The bluetit twitches his head one final time, satisfied he has exhausted all visible sources of ready caught insect. I brace to move, hoping to use his departure as cover. I have to take a chance, as the red cone could also vanish at any moment. Wings flutter and I lean right in to the glass.

The red Santa hat tops a less than festive sparrow. She has a shiny plastic lid stuck to her head. It looks like the cap off a bottle; unmarked so I can only guess if it was packaging for some food product or cosmetic. Sticky either way. It’s poorly designed, even for its intended purpose: difficult to grip to twist it. Impossible for a clawed creature. Harsh penance for seeking food.

The sparrow dips clumsily to peck a seed. She flaps and falls into the adjoining shrub. Apparently she can hop up to the window and back to the bush but not fly. She’s too unbalanced, weighed down. Perhaps a sparrowhawk can get the lid off.

24/12/2017

Three Boxes

Harris drives himself around the mezzanine’s south-east corner. Two more laps around the atrium, maybe three. He won’t have time for four. Walking is good for creative thought. Being away from the office is good for any kind of thought. He can’t think in that fairground of hollered conversations, phone rings, keyboard clatters, printer whirs… Nor in the fog of alpha-female pheromones.

Never mind the hurdles; he has a conundrum to solve. He focuses on the brick red railings passing at his left. The regular vertical stripes of shiny red soothe him. Until they refract into nauseating undulating shimmers.

Half way along the east side, Harris momentarily achieves a meditative state. Ironically this is vaporised by a numinous shaft of light from a southwestern skylight. Reflexively he halts, tilts his face perpendicular to it, to maximise the radiation, imagining he feels the warmth of divine inspiration. He registers a faint sigh. Sighing would probably be a key theme in the office soundtrack if it weren’t smothered by the fairground effects. The fairground conundrum. A seat in the sun would be good.

Harris wheels about and steps over to the nearest bench. This is mostly an act of spatial memory as his eyes are still readjusting to not staring at a nuclear explosion. Lucky chance has him alight not on top of someone else. As his eyes return to usual levels of exposure, he finds he is not at the epicentre of the beam. That position is occupied by a woman with a tilted face, closed eyes and beatific smile. He aborts his inner mocking reflex with the evidence for his own recent practice.

Harris launches in, “it’s like an alien tractor beam, isn’t it?”
The woman replies without turning her head, “I wasn’t sighing out of pique—it’s not my sunlight—I was exhaling in sort of appreciation.”
“Maybe you’ve had enough? I mean, maybe you’re cooked enough? Sorry, I keep sounding disrespectful.”
“No effect. Too good a day.”
“Depends where you’re sitting. Argh, sorry, sorry; I don’t mean literally; I mean my day’s pretty shite, as usual.”
“I was just wondering who to share my good fortune with first. Who might be most in need. And here you are.”

The woman flicks her head to face Harris and opens her eyes. He feels them rake through his motivations. The sensation is curiously paralysing.

“I’m Iona.”
“Harris. What fortune?”
“I got a commission.”
“From here?”
“To fill that space.” She indicates the massive cuboid of air within the mezzanine’s confines, capped by the shallow tetrahedral roof.
“With what? Why would you?! What are you?”
“Styrofoam; to blot out everything pleasant; a sadist.”
Harris tips his head back and manages half a chuckle. “Knee-jerked again, didn’t I?”
Iona turns back to the project space. “Serious answers: I don’t know yet; to make people think, to achieve your company’s objective and hopefully to get paid; and, I suppose, a sort of installation artist.”
“But however good your intentions, anything’s going to blot out that magnificent light!”
“Nonsense.”
“OK, give me an example! Please don’t say some ghastly perspex construction.”
“Just one? The sound of brass cogs and shafts, pistons and capstans, in an enormously convoluted contraption.”
“Yeh, I see how that’s not going to obliterate anything at all. And how are you going to hang it? Sky hooks?”
“A speaker?”
“Ah, I see: ‘the sound of…’; cunning.”

Iona turns to feel the sunlight fade, replaced by her smugness. Not to totally take advantage of her troubled companion, though. Supposed to be sharing fortune here.

“What’s your bother?”
“That’s what I was doing circuits to solve.”
“Before you stopped to interfere with my sunlight.”
“Can’t get anything right.”
“So let me spread my irrepressible joy over your problem and make you feel even worse.”
“I can’t really tell you. I mean, I’m not being mysterious, it just wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“How about … a metaphor?”
“Er, OK, I have— No, there are two boxes. I can pick one or the other.”
“What do they look like?”
“What?”
“These boxes.”
“Does it matter?”
“It would help me visualise the … options.”
“They’re solid, ebony cubes, with lids. Thick sides.”
“How big?”
“Pfff, about twenty centimetres each way. Happy?”
“Ecstatic. Thank you.”

Harris realises he’s going to be late back to the office. Suddenly he doesn’t care. It was a mostly self-imposed target anyway. The world has changed.

He volunteers more imaginary detail to delay the inevitable. “There’s a regular dashed pattern in a strip near the top of each side. You want to know if there are any chips or other blemishes?”
“I’d like to predict the inside.”
“Piss off.”
“OK, I’m going to write it down … then we can check later if I’m right.”

Iona fishes a scrap of paper and pencil out a pocket and scribbles. She scrumples the paper and lays it on the bench between them. Harris is unimpressed.
“Nerd.”
“Absolutely. On you go.”

Harris settles back to describe professional contents that have leaked in different ways into his personal life. One tends to froth angrily and foam stickily over the edge of its container. The other seems under control until you spot the poison leaching from the bottom corner. Under questioning, he admits the boxes are there as much to segregate the contents from each other as from his personal life.

“I can’t cope with both; I don’t even know if I can manage one, but I’ll have to try.”
Iona cocks her head, mildly amused. “Will you?”
“What other choice is there?”
“There’s always a third way.”
“Where?”
“Go back a bit.”
“In time? Are you going to tell me the two boxes were once parts of the same original box?!”
“That would be ridiculous.”
“So?”
“Step back.”
“Bloody metaphors. Oh, surprise, there’s a third box, sneaking into view.”
“And what’s in this one?”
“No idea.”
“Can you look?”
“Nope. Mystery.”
“Hm, well, I’m sorry. I see I’ve just massively wasted your time on this entertaining but fruitless diversion.”

Harris caresses the scrumpled paper prediction. After tantalising himself for a couple of seconds, he snatches it and pulls it open. He frowns, reorients the writing.

Iona watches him sidelong, curious but trying not to be too attached. After a few seconds of his neutral expression, she nudges, “well?”

Harris jumps up. “Come on.”
“Where? Why?”
“I’m going to need your help with these boxes. Well, with the other two.”
Iona hesitates. “They’re not going to like it.”
“Absolutely not. I see my metaphor wasn’t as veiled as I imagined.”
“You chose the third box?”
“Of course I did. I may be afraid of the unknown but I’m not a masochist for known poisons.”

Harris strides north. Iona grabs her bag and tries to keep up.
Harris calls back, “how’d you know then? Is red silk some standard default male mental image?”
“Railings, Harris. How many circuits?”
“What? Because they’re red and shiny?”
“What does this building look like outside?”
“I hate architects. And artists. What’s your name again?”
“Iona.”
“No, it’s Box Three.”

10/09/2017

Play Me

SCENE 1
SOUND: phone rings
HARRIET: Hey, Vin. Alright?
VIN: (D) No, sorry, need you to come through. Drew’s really upset. He’s locked himself in his office.
HARRIET: Upset? At what?
VIN: (D) No’ angry; he’s wailing, greeting even.

SCENE 2
SOUND: footsteps approach, taps on door
HARRIET: Drew? Can you let us in?
SOUND: door handle clunks, muffled groan, sob
HARRIET: My love, we’re really concerned. Please let us in. Drew?
VIN: Come on, man. Need to let us help.
SOUND: taps on door
HARRIET: Drew?
SOUND: footsteps recede
HARRIET: (whisper) At least he’s conscious.
VIN: (whisper) There’s no’ anything up wi’ you two, is there?
HARRIET: No? Totally fine till you called. Was he alright with you?
VIN: Aye, seen him first thing. He just didnae come through for lunch. Will we burst the door?
HARRIET: He might be right inside. OK, what I’m about to show you… Never mind. I trust you. We’re going back along, but totally silent, OK?

SCENE 3
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: Nicely done.
VIN: We’re in a storage cupboard.
HARRIET: Aye, I found this one time he had me wait in his office. I got bored, peered about, seen the wardrobe—why is there a wardrobe in that office? Turns out the back of it’s like Narnia except it’s just sort of joists and maintenance scaffold between the walls. Anyway, it comes out here. So, we walk along the planks and sneak into his wardrobe.
VIN: Do we need anything?
HARRIET: Torch. There.

SCENE 4
SOUND: breathing, click, rustle, swish, steps burst from wardrobe
DREW: No! Get out! (gasp)
VIN: It’s only us, man.
SOUND: shuffle, rustle of kneeling
HARRIET: My lovely man, what’s happened? Can you sit up? Look at me.
VIN: Did he collapse?
HARRIET: I don’t know yet. No smell on his breath, eyes are fine, pulse a bit rapid. Can you look about if anything’s out of place?
VIN: I don’t want to touch his stuff.
HARRIET: Don’t. Just scan. You’ll see something.
VIN: Why’s that flashing? Must’ve been unplugged. There’s a CD in, paused. Who has CDs still?
HARRIET: Maybe that’s why it was unplugged.
VIN: Will I unpause it?
DREW: No!
HARRIET: Drew, my love, can you tell me why? Just tell us, please?
DREW: No. (moan)
SOUND: caress
HARRIET: OK. Why plug it in..?
VIN: Guess we have to listen—
HARRIET: No! Wait. No, don’t touch it. Don’t touch the buttons, any CD cases, anything.
VIN: OK, what?
HARRIET: What do you do when some mailbox you don’t know emails you a file unexpectedly?
VIN: Bin it; virus.
HARRIET: What if it’s an audio file?
VIN: Probably a fake file extension; bin it.
HARRIET: What if it’s on a CD? Can’t infect the stereo, can you?
VIN: Shit! Sonovirus?
HARRIET: Don’t touch anything. Come away over here. We need serious polis. Nobody needs to listen to that. They need to Fourier analyse it or something off-line. No audio.
VIN: You think Drew here got like hypnotised?
HARRIET: I know: I have a rush of paranoia now. But we do it to ourselves plenty: atmospheric music, trance, using vocal tone, pitch, pace to match mood or subtly altering it to lead mood. No wonder we’re stressed-out insomniacs. Applied maliciously you could use sound as effects, tunes, speech to match subconscious thought, brainwaves even, then disrupt them. Not much of a leap to someone twisting it to an audio weapon.
VIN: He maybe thought it was a promo track?
HARRIET: Call the polis—ambulance first. Say he’s maybe been hypnotised into some sort of mental breakdown.
VIN: Psychotic?
SOUND: phone tapping
HARRIET: I don’t know the psychiatry, it’s mood-altering sound. I don’t think he’s scrambled, just maybe acutely depressed or paranoid from suggestion or non-verbal sound.

SCENE 5
VIN: On the way. Eight minutes. Can I touch the door?
HARRIET: Why?
VIN: Unlock it?
HARRIET: Aye, good point.
SOUND: bolt drawn
DREW: (gibbers)
VIN: You’re alright, man. Help on the way. Why Drew?
HARRIET: That’s not how terrorists work, is it? It’s random, innocent folk.
VIN: There’ll be more then? Shit. They won’t show their hand without an impact.
HARRIET: That’s my paranoia ramped right up. Maybe it’s just one random nutter. Oh, my poor boy.
VIN: How desperate do you need to be to go to these lengths to get attention?!
HARRIET: I’m not feeling sympathetic to anyone’s cause right now.
VIN: It’s just nasty stuff. Twisted sociopaths.
HARRIET: Want to head out to meet the medics?
VIN: Check they are who they say they are?
HARRIET: Cannae do this conspiracy shit. I just need to see my man safe.
VIN: Still trust me?
HARRIET: Have to trust someone. Have to trust each other? Otherwise they win.
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: My poor love. We’ll be alright.
DREW: (sigh)

03/09/2017

Barcode Not Recognised

My wife disappeared in an art gallery. I’m not a connoisseur. The exhibition was modern – post-talent I would say. It appeared minimalist of effort and mercenary of presentation. The images were monochrome, straight lines.

I wandered among them in bewilderment, wondering how long it would take a troupe of monkeys to produce the same with a graphics app and random key strokes. After twenty minutes I abandoned my search for any shred of interest or intrigue. I approached my wife who was standing, mesmerised before a giant barcode: black vertical lines on a white background, but perfected – entirely uniform with equal width bars and spacing. It was a grill lit by one ice white spotlight. We stood, side by side, for several minutes. Eventually she murmured that it was true, pure brilliance. Tactfully, I muttered something about it standing out but I didn’t recognise any feature of value. I couldn’t sustain a focus on it and my mind and eyes soon wandered. Consequently, when the incident occurred, I glimpsed it only peripherally.

Apparently without cue, from about five metres away, she walked straight at it, slowly, steadily, right up to it. She closed in and vanished.

At first I thought she’d wandered between the exhibit panels, but couldn’t find her. I didn’t think she could’ve left as there was a perky ticket checker beside the doors, and I had the tickets. I swept the place, then, just for my own sanity. I went out to check our car, despite knowing I had the keys. Eventually in escalating concern I sought help. The ticket checker assured me that no-one had left before my foray to the car park. We scanned the CCTV footage of the entrance and car park and indeed no-one had. We examined the internal camera footage and there, in poor quality monochrome—ironically suited to the art—we watched her approach the massive barcode and disappear.

I was surprised all over again. I had thought I must’ve been mistaken. She didn’t disappear front to back, like passing behind the edge of an opaque object; she didn’t fall; she wasn’t grabbed. She faded away, like someone had switched off a projection.

That was what spurred my thinking, in the following hours and days. After several nights of insomnia, my mind opened up creatively to the most bizarre and unlikely possibilities. I wondered at what point beforehand a change could’ve been made. When was the switch?

I found it: she’d gone to the toilet when we arrived, and I hadn’t seen her come out. She had appeared beside a piece or art, so I had joined her. She hadn’t spoken. I had nothing to say, bewildered as I was. But why? I invested weeks and months of painstaking forensic analysis into all the life evidence she left. She had carefully, gradually and systematically removed anything she valued, including her own money, and left all the dross as an unchanged façade.

The rest is cliché. Infidelity, attraction to a man with more money than a small country, but also a staggering creative talent, which combined to manifest even his most elaborate whims. A hologram. A simple message relayed from a tiny black speaker stuck on… you guessed it: the barcode. The toilet had a cleaner’s cupboard, which had been unlocked, and which had a service hatch, which was shared with the neighbouring shop, which had any number of patrons departing in obfuscatory groups or hats. Gone.

I have no idea why she left, or why she chose such a dramatic exit. The banality of the barcode could suggest that she rejected our life because it was too insipid and predictable, or not dull enough. She had changed into someone I didn’t recognise, and had deliberately hidden that change. I stopped analysing my own thought-echoes and got some sleep. The stages of change played through my emotions. I hope they’re happy living a perfectly straight path.

Now, when I spend time with someone, I pay attention.

27/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 3

begins at Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

20/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 2

follows Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

13/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

06/08/2017

My Neighbour’s Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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