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Showing posts from October, 2011

Art Pact November Hiatus

There won't be any Art Pact writing appearing until the 1st of December - I'm doing Nanowrimo, so my daily words will be going into that novel. Normal service will resume when November is finished!

Art Pact 63

We reached the main plaza of the zoo just before midnight - me, Caroline, Gobbler and Stumblebum. Gobbler and Stumblebum were still dressed in their Halloween costumes: Unsexy Nurse and Half-Man Half-Unicorn respectively. Stumblebum's horn kept catching on overhanging foliage, until he finally whinnied in disgust and remove it, letting it dangle around his neck like some kind of narwhal hunter's lucky charm.

"This is crazy," he said. "Why aren't we doing this in the daytime?"

"Because the animals are only vanishing at night," Caroline told him. She'd explained it to me while we were waiting for the others: the zookeeper, a friend of hers (jealous, I did not press too much about just how friendly they were), had found one or more of his animals completely missing every day for the last four days. This morning he'd come in to find not only a teenage rhinoceros had disappeared, but also the security guard he'd hired to keep an eye on th…

Art Pact 62

In the interim, in the break between the fighting, we could not talk to each other. It was as if the lead in the air acted as a catalyst to speech, and only when bullets were flying around us could we communicate with each other. Of course, under those circumstances the words we could share were strictly limited to the contingent. There was no opportunity for terms of endearment, just single words: "Down!" "Left!" "Reloading!".

But those breaks, tense and silent though they were, were of course welcome. Our guns, that had grown hot in our hands, began to cool. Our hearts, so long straining at their absolute thresholds of activity, relaxed to the simple elevated rhythm brought on by our nearness to one another. I breathed in gasps of gas from my inhaler, Alison fiddled with her clothing, adjusting her bra straps, which the weight of her flak jacket tended to drag out over her shoulders.

We had abandoned our first line in reception, falling back to the top of…

Art Pact 61

"What's your objection?" she asked, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms. I stared out of the boardroom windows over the city, letting my gaze roam out to the orange-lit suburbs in the far distance.

"Well," I said, when I judged enough time had gone by to give her the impression of thoughtfulness. "I don't think we'll be able to get it past the regulators, for one thing."

"Trivial," she said. That was true enough, I knew that she had friends (was that the right word?) in the regulator's office. She could have the details of the plan buried so deep in the reports that only the most stout-hearted official would be willing to wade through and find them. "What else?"

"There's the question of the availability of resources. If you can't get the - uh, the fresh material into the city quick enough to keep up with demand, the whole scheme falls over." I pointed to her diagram on the projector screen…

Art Pact 60

At the top of the mountain, when they finally broke the crest, they saw the beautiful rolling vista of the western county. The range stretched out to the north and south, the higher peaks still covered in a thin layer of snow from the winter.

They arrived in ones and twos - the priest first, the bellwether for the others, then the fittest and most driven, then the others graded according to their motivation, health, and the other numberless differences between them. They stopped at the top, quickly perching on all the stones that were big enough to act as chairs. As more and more people reached the pinnacle groundsheets were unfurled, rugs laid out, little folding stools set up, until eventually the rounded top of the mountain was covered in resting travellers. They were mostly silent - the climb had taken too much out of them for them to be as chatty as they were when they set off - but the few children who were among them quickly recovered, and dashed about laughing amidst the supine…

Art Pact 59

I tried to get it to stand still, but the creature was restless and began to move every few minutes, pacing nervously around the room and setting numerous small fires which I had to extinguish myself, hurrying around from behind my desk with a heavy plastic folder to beat at the flames.

"Sorry!" it growled, frowning. The whole thing was a vicious circle, each new set of blazes making it more and more anxious, and the anxiety making it less and less able to be still and therefore more and more likely to set further fires in the waiting room. I tried to re-organise around it - the first thing I did was move the dry flowers under my desk, then gather up all the magazines from the coffee table - but I was pretty much tied to the phone by the constant ringing of Mrs. Danvers enquiring after the fate of "Little Kimmy". No matter how many times I assured her that I would contact her directly after the surgery was finished, she still insisted on ringing every few minutes, c…

Art Pact 58

Daniel was woken up that morning by his host treading on his bed.

"What the hell, man?" Daniel grumbled, but Peter stood there and swished open the curtains, letting the bleak low light of the November morning into the room. Now there were two unwelcome inhabitants, and Daniel pulled the duvet up over his head and continued his complaints from within. "Hey, I'm still in here."

I guess he wants me out for some reason, Daniel thought, but Peter said nothing, merely continuing to bustle around the room, tidying things up. He even straightened the duvet, which Daniel found rather uncomfortable.

"Hey, what gives? Hey! Hey!"

No matter what effort Daniel went to to attract his host's attention, Peter continued to give him the cold shoulder. Daniel thought back to the previous night and tried to work out whether he'd said or done anything that might, in the cold light of day, have given offence.

Christ, I hope I didn't make a pass at... no, I couldn&…

Art Pact 57

Her stories were incomprehensible - tales of climbing the sides of buildings that stretched from the ground up into the clouds, of riding on carriages that flew in great columns of traffic that criss-crossed the night sky. Those were the more palatable parts of her history, the ones we allowed the children to hear. Later at night, in the darkness around the glow-lamp, she told us about the war, about being onboard a ship that had floundered, drives destroyed, and fallen on a city.

"When I got out," she said, "I mean, it took me a long time to get out, you know. I was in the drop capsules in the middle of the Anthracite. I had to shoot my way out of the capsule, climb all the way down to the lower levels."

Her timeline was confused, I knew that. She demonstrated how she had lowered herself using her bionic arm to grip on while the flesh one sought out the next handhold, but she'd told the children that she'd lost her arm just before she caught the ship here. A…

Art Pact 56

One day up on the rope came a child. About three years old, a boy - light but healthy, tousled black hair and light skin. He was chatty, babbling away to us in some language that none of us could understand. We set him aside to continue hauling on the winding wheel, but there was no way we could just leave him, not like the other debris. He toddled back to us every time we put him at a safe distance, pulling at our robes and demanding attention. He was smiling, too, and strange though he looked we could not help but be charmed by his odd language and cheerful demeanour.

We'd pulled people up on the rope before, of course - people came up all the time, in all sorts of states - but the dead ones were more common than the live, and even the live ones were usually fractious or terrified. When one of the hooks gets in you, pulls you out of your place, for most people it's just too traumatic. But the boy was happy, and we discussed what it might be.

"Too young to understand deat…

Art Pact 55

When a man has once admitted that his promises to be faithful forever are not within his power to keep, there remains forever an air of untrustworthiness about and within him, so that both he and others in the know remain acutely aware that he is not capable of the sort of fidelity which society demands of him. Of course, this is a generalisation rather than an absolute, and there are certain those who, through a lack of self-awareness, believe themselves victims of circumstance, cheaters simply because of fate or the adverse actions of their partner rather than due to their own weakness. Although it can be rather amusing to converse with such people, impervious to irony as they are and defenceless against mockery, being attached to one in a romantic relationship can sometimes stretch the nerves almost to breaking point. It was for this reason that I greeted the news that my boyfriend had decided to leave his husband with some trepidation.

Although not a particularly bad man - I appr…

Art Pact 54

Cruising down the highway the car flashed blinding glints of light into the far mountains, from where the silent watchers kept their vigil. Several of the shapes flinched whenever the light leapt up at them, protecting their unseen eyes, but others maintained their ceaseless stares. Sometimes one or the other even of those more stoic of the forms shuffled in place, but there were those that might as well have been stones trapped at the top of the bluff, great silent monoliths that had stood since the dawn of time and would be there still when the occupants of the car were long dead, the car itself nothing but iron dust, the civilisation that had built the one and birthed the others nothign more than a footnote in the great chronicles of earth written by some future archaeologist.

In the car itself, thoughts were strictly short-term. In the passenger seat sat a gruff young man, nursing a six-day beard that he was forced to guard as much from the criticism of his fellow travellers as f…

Art Pact 53

As I looked into the smoldering eyes of the monster my throat seemed to tighten and my heart to rush. The tendrils around its face writhed in waves, seeming to draw the gaze in to the sinister aspect of the nostril holes that ran in two short lines up from the scaly lips between the two lower eyes and up to the single greater one in the centre of its forehead. I took an involuntary step back and stared. It too a long breath in and out, jets of steam from its lungs shooting out in white plumes like a row of moustaches, then almost in sync six flaps shut off the nostrils.

"You're amazing," I breathed. "The perfect monster."

It blinked - first the top eye, then the left, then the right, and parted its mouth to show two rows of gigantic cone-shaped teeth. They were not sharp, but they looked solid enough to crush bone and they were covered in a sort of fetid red slime that could have been the remains of some past encounter or a manner of naturally secreted venom. I r…

Art Pact 52

Notwithstanding the presumptuous youth of the day, E____ took it upon himself to awaken me from my pleasant sojourn into the sandman's realm by calling upon my stateroom in some state of agitation. My mechanical man-servant attempted of course to dissuade the unwelcome visitor, but sadly crippled by the unnecessary morality programmed into it by its over-cautious creator it was unable to fully execute my thunderous command to "dispatch" the intruder, instead choosing to allow him egress to the outer chamber of my suite, all the while protesting in its grating electronical voice that this early hour was no time to be calling on a gentleman of my stature. While I appreciated the sentiment entirely, the d___d machine's voice box, lacking any overall control of volume, could not provide its suggestions in low enough a tone to avoid dragging me entirely into wakefulness, a state which I am normally scrupulous in avoiding until at least ten of the ship's bells have run…

Art Pact 51

Carla found the paper tucked underneath her keyboard, one white corner poking out from beneath the number pad, only visible when she sat down in her cubicle. She assumed that it was some receipt or other, some piece of paper she'd dropped herself weeks ago that had somehow avoided her frequent tidy-ups by escaping under the keyboard, but when she opened it up to double-check before tossing it in the recycling bin she saw that it was a hand-written note - red ink joined in a smooth looping hand into the words: THERE IS A MOLE IN YOUR OFFICE. BE CAREFUL.

She looked around, then folded the paper up and tucked it back where it had come from. It looked innocuous enough there. She opened up outlook, began to type a nonsense email to herself, stopped suddenly in the middle of a sentence and listened for laughter. Nothing. Just typing from the other cubicles and the muted sound of telephones warbling for attention over in the technical sales section. She pulled out the note and looked at i…

Art Pact 50

Character is the choices you make in the dark. That's what they said, what my parents said. I can't imagine them ever in the dark. When I cycled home from the woods in the middle of the winter I would see the house from miles away, every light blazing, a beacon drawing me in to normalcy, the mundane routines of family life: breakfast, lunch, dinner, all at the same time every day - lunch and breakfast my mother's work, dinner that of my father except on special occasions. I always stopped when I saw it, the first moment that I could glimpse a spark or shard of brightness through the dark wall of trees, put my right foot down (always my right foot) and propped myself up to examine that evidence of my family. It was easy in the woods, in the darkness of the winter evenings, to forget that there was anything other than shadows and trees and the cracking sound of wood settling, but that first glimmer of light brought me back to myself.

Now, in the house, there is no true darkn…

Art Pact 49

"This is some sorcerer's apprentice bullshit," Simon said, stepping backwards through the ever-growing pile of bolts at his feet. The trickle of parts falling off the end of the conveyor belt continued relentlessly. "Did you try pressing  the button again?"

Alice rolled her eyes and made an exaggerated show of pressing the emergency stop button - once, twice, and with a final flourish a third time. The machine buzzed each time the little red mushroom was pushed into its housing, but body of the machine was still hissing and clunking and the conveyor belt kept churning out more and more of the little hexagonal bolts.

"We can get another container in," she suggested. "I saw three more of the things out the- Eek!" She was cut off in a shriek as the waxing cone of bolts underwent a major landslide on its near side, spilling out a great torrent of tailings that swept around her toes. "OK, this is getting ridiculous. I'll get a container in…

Art Pact 48

"The Earth is in love with the Moon," she told me, the fire throwing black and orange stripes across her face. "He reaches out to her all the time, chases her around the sun, but she is too light for him, too fleet of foot. She dances rings around him constantly. She pulls at his hot metal heart, at the magma blood of him, at rivers that are his tears and the oceans that are the sweat on him from his long chase."

She doodled a helical pattern in the dust - a large circle, the Earth travelling around the Sun, the Moon around the Earth and the Sun at the same time.

"It won't ever catch the Moon," I said.

"That's where you're wrong. There will come a time. She can't run forever, not from someone who was made for her. Sometimes you have to give in to the inevitable. She'll slow down as she ages, she'll give up her freedom and come to rest in the arms of her suitor."

"Then that will be the saddest day of all." I thought …

Art Pact 47

I watch Carrie through the window. She and her friend are laughing, and I feel an unfamiliar pain in my throat. I sit down at the outermost table, close to the curb. Free of their rush-hour jams further into the city the cars are thundering past, swirling up choking storms of road dust and heavier rubbish that jostles around my feet, nestling into the lee of my legs. Carrie says something that makes her friend throw her head back in an uncontrollable laugh, and I look away to see that an empty packet of Doritos has captured a Coke can, and the two of them are trying to escape the cold fingers of the wind by banging repeatedly into my shin. I can't feel anything there.

I don't notice the waitress, so I jump when she says (from behind my shoulder):

"There's plenty of room inside, wouldn't you rather sit there?"

Yes, I would.

"No, I'm -" I start hesitantly, but I realise that this will only inflame her sympathies. Brusqueness is the key here. "A b…

Art Pact 46

"Mole Squad assemble!"

That was the rallying call of the premier almost-blind underground super-hero group of the nineteen-seventies. Moles of my generation grew up with their pictures on billboards and splashed all over the front-pages of newspapers. I had Mole Squad pyjamas, and a nightlight that projected a picture of Mega-Mole fighting Nega-Mole onto my bedroom wall. Where in school tunnels of the centuries before people would have played Worm Run or Vole Versus Rat, now they were the scenes of titanic battles between the Mole Squad and their mortal enemies, the League of Evil Diggers. I was small for my age, and not popular enough to be one of the Mole Squad themselves unless I was playing on my own, so at school break I always had to be Mouse-Trap, the cowardly scout who was always the first to be caught when the LED hatched one of their evil schemes. Such games proceeded mostly by rote - there were favourite stories which everyone knew, and which were played out as tho…

Art Pact 45

We jumped off the boat at fifteen hundred give or take, scattered like seed pods around the big central bulk of the Ranger - you always boot that out first in case it lands on someone. The boat pilot was a greenie, first live delivery since he'd got here. You can always tell by how they deal with the Ranger drop - he hadn't accounted for the mass of the thing suddenly easing off the boat's repellers, so the boat leapt up about ten meters as the first of us went out the door - an extra ten meters is enough to wipe out the shocks on a man's boots if he's put on a few extra stone, so Tubby One and Tubby Two ended up on the floor rolling around like they'd been shot, grabbing their ankles and whiting out our headphones.

Course, we couldn't just leave them there when there was a boat so close, so the pilot got his punishment: having to wait around for five minutes like a sitting duck, repellers roaring and the heat off the boat's sinks slowly lighting up agai…

Art Pact 44

The problem with being so much shorter than everyone else, of course, is that crowds tend to be a huge forest of crotches, so I like to climb on tables and things wherever possible, get above what can seem like an endless array of more or less loosely packaged genitals. That's why my lair (which is not what I call it, by the way, you can thank Sgt. Johnson for that) is arranged the way it is - a sort of central pit around which there are ledges that allow me to walk around, sit down, so forth, without being at groin height. It's sort of like one of those film-set trenches, I suppose, that are designed to make the leading man look taller than his love interest, except that, as I keep trying to point out, I am not actually insecure about my height. I'm the right height for me. I made very sure that I got the ledges built at exactly the average height for a human, so that most people I'll be looking dead square in the eye (give or take). If people are taller than average …

Art Pact 43

"I know you're probably tired of hearing this," she said to me, "but he was a great man. Regardless of your... disagreements, I suppose..."

I snorted.

"...he still did a lot for the country. And for the town. Probably for the world, if you think about it. Imagine how the war would have ended if it hadn't been for his intervention. If the Merlia had won it wouldn't have gone-"

"Spare me the history lessons," I snapped.

She fell silent, and in lieu of any more productive action she poured us another cup of coffee each and I in turn reached into my box of biscuits and took out two to share between us. I could see she wanted to keep talking, but there was nothing more I wanted to hear. I was, as she guessed, tired of hearing the constant patriotic drumroll that the people were playing as a hagiography to my father.

When we had sipped our way down to the bottom of our cups Alice pushed her chair back from the table and looked to the outs…

Art Pact 42

"We'll push the fifth button in the row," Rostok told me. "There's a good reason for not pushing the other four, but no reason not to push that one. Since we have to do something, we'll do that."

I examined the glyphs and icons surrounding the buttons, but couldn't make head nor tail of them. They looked like octopus tentacles with serifs to me, or half-mutated trees.

"Why aren't we pushing the other four buttons?" I asked. The others groaned. "OK, ok! I was just asking!"

"Why don't you just press it," Garn said, "and quickly, before we have to go through another explanation."

"I didn't hear the first time," I said.

"Or the second or the third, but whose fault is that? Just get on and do it before Rostok starts talking again."

"She does deserve to-" Rostok began.

"PUSH IT!" the others shouted, and startled into action I stabbed my finger down onto the button…