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Showing posts from 2012

Art Pact 249 - Eric in the garden

Old, old Eric Mutterbaum creaked down the steps from his porch to the front garden and stood in the whirl of leaves that the early winter wind whipped up around his feet. He pulled his cardigan tighter around him but it just made him colder, stretching out the threadbare thing until it was little more than crochet lace, holes loosely tied together with wool from some long-dead sheep.

His right slipper was biting at the sore on his heel again, and he kicked his foot at the ground to try to force his toes further in. They were themselves too swollen, though, and the pain was excruciating. He buckled forwards, caught himself on his walker, then tried to right himself against the wind. It was hard work. The wind was bully strong, rushing down the canyon formed by the long straight road and the tall terraced houses on each side of it, and a gust came that almost pushed him off his feet, it was so fierce. He clung to his walker as though it were a railing at the edge of a cliff, and betwee…

Art Pact 248 - Fete and Fortune

Full of the joys of spring, the young couples danced around the fete, infuriating Preston. He had been placed at the far end of the field, the lower end where the drainage was bad and in winter a great sheet of ice covered all living things. The ice was gone now, but its malign presence lingered, the vegetation there different in character to further up the meadow. There it was grass and wildflowers and soft moss. Here there was grass, of course - the local grass was unstoppable - but mixed with it were nettles, burr-grass, and a species of foul-smelling mushroom. Once he had been placed there by the vicar, though, Preston felt no impetus to move away.

"You're looking in fine form," said Mrs. Caraller from the next stand over. She reached over her massed ranks of jams to exchange a pot of marmalade with a pot of damson, examined her work, tutted and swapped them back again.

"Fine form?"

"Yes," she said. "Healthy. In good fettle. Hale and hearty.…

Art Pact 247 - Paperwork

Drowning in paperwork, we took a few minutes to go out on the balcony and smoke, impishly tapping the ash from the end of our fags off the edge so that it tumbled down onto the lower levels. There were five of us, although Bentham didn't smoke, so he stood at one end of the platform and alternately frowned at us and stared at our cigarettes. Sharon, who has a finely-tuned radar for people's weaknesses, nudged me and drew a line in the air between Bentham's eyes and Lola's mouth. I'd assumed he had been staring at her tits, but the truth was more interesting.

"You all right?" Sharon asked. "You look a bit discombobulated."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"Disconcerted," she told him. "Out of sorts."

"No. Perfectly fine."

"Oh," she said, nudging my elbow again. "I thought you might have some cravings coming over you. You know, perhaps something you used to love in the past but you've give…

Art Pact 246 - Stocks and Shares

The precipitous drop in stock prices, though, was hardly a worry for my portfolio - which consisted two shares in Manbourder Industries left to me by my uncle. Manbourder Industries, from what I could tell, was a holding company that held precisely one other company - a fifty-three percent share in a clothes shop in Seven Dials called "Tall and Dark" which catered to overweight and unusually tall goths - generally the former, despite the shop's more optimistic name. The shares, since they were not publicly traded, had no easily calculable public worth, and since whenever I walked past the shop on the way to my day job (filling in forms in the travel agency) it was either closed or open but empty, I imagined that profits were unlikely to be flowing to the parent company fast enough to justify any sort of dividend. Indeed, I assumed that the holding company had originally been set up as some sort of simple shell system so that the shop could be jettisoned when (as seemed …

Art Pact 245 - Tumble

When I moved into the house there were several existing tenants - mice, a neighbouring cat that wandered in and out at will, a family of spiders, and most disturbingly, some sort of raccoon. The first thing I did was to duct-tape closed the cat flap, but much to my dismay I soon discovered that there were other ways into the house, ways which the cat and the mystery raccoon knew about but which I could not detect. I kept my bedroom door closed, bolted in fact, because there was a deadbolt on the top of the door left there by the previous owner. That kept the visitors from making uninvited nocturnal trips into my sanctum, but it did nothing to enforce my sense of ownership over the rest of the territory that should by rights have been mine and mine alone.

The cat was easy enough to deal with. I briefly considered just trapping the damn thing (I have never liked cats - probably some childhood trauma) but the first time I caught it strolling through my living room I noticed that it had …

Art Pact 244 - Sleeping off a drunk

Well, when you're sleeping off a drunk under a rhododendron bush, curled up in the foetal position with the stink of alcohol in your nose - partly from you, but partly also from the half-finished can of Carling you have clutched in your paws that's slowly letting its contents evaporate into a miasma cloud of booze - that's not the best time to discover that there are dogs outside, wild dogs in that park, dogs that your drinking partners didn't warn you about when you said that you would walk back that way to your hotel (neglecting to tell them that what you actually meant anyway was sleeping on the floor of the little bit in between the lobby and the front door, the bit you can get to without a key card). That's the worst time, in fact, probably the worst time anyway, to discover this fact. When you stink slightly of piss because during the night your bladder got uncomfortably full of cheap lager and started to wonder what it was going to do with it all, because i…

Art Pact 243 - Embedded

Every morning I pick up my watch from my nightstand and strap it on. When my husband leaves for work, I raise it to my mouth and begin to report my observations from the previous day.

In my capacity as a secret agent, I have often wondered whether the people at home are really quite as on the ball as I remember them. I've been embedded here for close on to thirty years now, have married and raised a family and although I have seen much to be deplored here, it is impossible to spend so much time in a culture and not come to appreciate some elements of it. The people here are friendly to me, of course, because I so resemble their cultural ideal - as an eighteen-year old girl when I first arrived, I was head-turningly beautiful by their standards, and although I have been weathered by age, experience, and (chiefly, I think) children, I still retain something of that natural advantage. In addition, unlike the great majority of the native women, I have my training from the homeland, m…

Art Pact 242 - Thrown out

I punched the bartender, which lead inevitably, as night follows day and day follows night, to me being repeatedly punched myself - first in the face by the other bartender, who at least did me the human decency of putting the bottle she was holding down behind the bar beforehand, and then subsequently in the back by bouncer number one (the big guy, the one with the newspaper type tattoo on his face that made him look like a huge human-shaped piece of silly putty). Finally there was a a resounding one-two in the stomach by bounder number two, who I can only assume had some sort of obsessive-compulsive need for balance, since he gave me one shot with each hand one perfectly opposed ribs. Had I gone to the doctor no doubt I would have been awarded a cup for the most symmetrical injury. At the time, of course, my thoughts were not on that glittering prize and the fame and women that would come with it, but on the four sources of pain which were now present in my otherwise healthy body, …

Art Pact 241 - He's got a photo-bomb

(with apologies to Mark Leyner)

He's got a photo-bomb.

He gets into the frame, clicks the button on the top of his camera, his lovely DSLR that his wife bought him for Christmas, framing the holly stalk so that it's perfectly on the two-thirds line in the viewfinder, because he's heard that that's the ideal point to place the focal point of the picture. He turns off auto-focus - because, really - and gently adjusts the focal ring until the drop of dew that's sitting on top of the nearest berry is so perfectly in focus that a millimetre either way would spoil the interplay of light on top of it. The shutter button depresses, and releases, and the speaker in the camera makes a little click to show that it took the picture. Satisfied, he lowers the viewfinder from his eye and scrolls back into the camera's gallery to review the picture.

He's got a photo-bomb.

The holly is there, okay, that much is true. But it's out of focus, a soft white blur around a bro…

Art Pact 240 - Plantship

The great mother-pod rolled in its orbit, the lower castellations and towers on the surface of the craft rustling the leaves at the very tops of the trees below. Workers on the surface of the pod wound their vines and graspers around the nodes extended from the pod for safety, clamping tight so that they would not be swept off into the void. Some of them had the presence of mind to grab at the leaves that were brushing at them, snatching trophies and collecting samples for their work.

We are coming in, said the mother-pod. One more run.

The forest planet's green sphere spun beneath the pod. The canopy shielded the life forms below, and the surface workers clinging to the side of the mother-pod attempted in vain to peer below, signaling their frustration with waving tendrils. They had been expecting a less fertile target, and although the buzzing fecundity they found promised greater advantage for them, it was also an unnerving unknown. A planet so lush might be an uninhabited Ede…

Art Pact 239 - Spirit City

Lords and ladies and other things that hunt in the inbetween spaces, observe this simple mirror trick. Hold a mirror close to a light - not too close, perhaps the width of a knife's blade away, so that the light shines back in on itself with but barely diminished strength, then stare sidelong into the gap. There you will see the spirit city of rotted silver domes and empty boulevards. Reach forth into that space with a knife's blade, for I know you have one to hand, and scratch at the window. If the planets sit in their houses that scratch will grow and grow and open into a door until you can reach in a hand, a head, a leg, and step into the bewildering bright gloom on the other side.

You are burning with questions, lords and ladies and other hunters, you are aflame with curiosity, yet wait. Do not do this yet. This is not the trick. Any fool with a mirror and a light and a knife with a sharp point can cut the membrane and travel across into the other city. But once one arriv…

Art Pact 238 - Coming to New York

We'd dropped all pretence at friendship and fellow feeling by the time the boat reached New York. While the others all cheered and waved at Liberty Island and the great slowly greening statue that adorned it we sat sourly in our stateroom and pretended that we were still in the middle of the Atlantic - partly to avoid the realisation that the denouement to our journey was rapidly nearing (and with it any chance of reconciliation), and partly (I think) because it gave us the opportunity to ponder favourably on the idea of hacking each other to death with axes and toppling our body over the side for the sharks to eat, out in international waters where the evidence of our crime would never be detected. At least, that is what I thought, and if I know anything about Chivers it is that he thinks along similar lines as me when it comes to homicide.

The stateroom, which on boarding had seemed so luxuriously large as to present us with almost an overabundance of riches when it came to per…

Art Pact 237 - Cellar

I had never experienced such darkness before. Living in the city I'd become used to the ever-present glow of the sodium lighting at night, brighter than the moon, that filled the sky with a bright orange fuzz. Indoors there were the standby lights of electronic equipment - bright as flashlights when one got up in the middle of the night, quite enough to wander the house by with no fear of stubbed toes. Even in my bedroom, where I had done all I could to keep light from disturbing my sleep, there was the faint hint of illumination from behind the curtains, a little line of brightness around the card that I placed in front of my alarm clock's dial so that it wouldn't glare at me. Since my eyes had started working I felt like there had not been a moment of my life where I wasn't able to see something.

Not there. In that cellar was the dark of the abyss, the dark of nothingness, the dark from before the beginning of time and space, when there had been no photons to carry …

Art Pact 236 - Mother's Promise

"I will always love you," she croons. "I will always care for you."

And I understand that for the near future this is true, that she means it to be true. She will look after me, she will attempt to lavish me with all the gifts that she can. But she has already given me too much. This insight, I understand, is something that I have but others do not. She has it to a certain extent, but she does not realise how much greater my own faculty for it is. She sees things only dimly ahead of us - and perhaps that is the source of her misplaced confidence, because in the near future we appear closely entwined, as though she were indeed nothing more than she pretends to be: a doting mother. It is only further on, when this gift of foresight has already begun to manifest itself more strongly in me, that the relationship sours. I can withdraw my focus a little - squint, you might say, although that is as far from the reality of the sensation almost as it is possible to be - an…

Art Pact 235 - Ascending

At first tentative, the great device began to pull free of the ground, drawing up the leg-like structures that had seemed to anchor it so firmly in place. Clods of earth tumbled from metal feet, and the thing itself lurched from side to side as its motors struggled to free it. There was a grinding noise from within, overlaid with a high-pitched whine that might have been motors, and an odd rattling sound like many thousands of marbles tumbling through a waste pipe. At the first motion, too, a cloud of starlings had leapt into the air from their roosting places on the support structures, and now they wheeled and tumbled overhead in their great cloud-like murmuration, a flock of dark fish in the light afternoon sky, circling and twisting and constantly reforming themselves in a strange vortex. They seemed alternately to be mobbing the device and calling it upwards, like parents teaching a fledgling to take the first flaps of its wings.

There were seven legs on the machine, three along …

Art Pact 234 - Golden River

The Auradoor - which was its proper name, meaning Golden River in the language that had been all but destroyed by the coming of the mesh people - flowed down from the mountain in an utterly normal manner for most of its length. It originated in rain that fell at the top of the mount and washed through the mildly sulphurous rocks that the mesh scientists were so in love with. Then, transformed into the yellowy fluid that it would be for most of the rest of its journey, it gathered in little rivulets which in turn congregated into tiny streams, which they went on to unionise into the river itself, growing and growing until finally they formed the great estuary which stretched almost the width of the colonial town known either as Mesh City or as Morgadsville, depending on how formal the referent was. The native folk tended to refer to it more as Morgadsville the older they were, since it had been their tradition only to name towns after their founders. This meant that for the crucial st…

Art Pact 233 - Duel

"No offence," I told Donnie, "but you couldn't win a fist-fight with toddler."

He stared at me, shaking his head.

"I.. what's going through your head?"

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, where's the part of your brain that imagined me having a fist-fight with a child? That's just sick. Ridiculous and sick. You"--he poked me in the chest with a finger--"are ridiculous. You're sick. You have a sickness."

I gave him a second of silence.

"Are you finished?"

He nodded.

"Well," I continued, "the part of my brain that's doing the imagining isn't imagining you fighting a toddler mano-a-mano. It's imagining the aftermath of that little encounter - which is to say, you lying supine on a nursery floor while a three-year-old girl stands with one foot one your chest, with her arms like this." I shook both fists out in a triumphant gesture. "That is ridiculous, I grant y…

Art Pact 232 - The Scar

She would some it up later, when asked at a dinner party, as "saws and drills". That was all she would say, staring miserably down into her starter. A minestrone so thick with rice that it could almost have been a risotto, stained deep red and spattered with slivers and chunks of unidentifiable vegetables that the hostess bought at her local farmer's market. The rest of the table was quiet - the question had come at one of those moments when everyone else stopped talking at the same moment, as though there had been some previous agreement. A negative flash mob, she thought, stirring the contents of the bowl. The silverware was nice - so clean, a mirrored surface in which she had examined her face earlier, surreptitiously checking for any sign of the experience that might have been left on her face. It seemed almost obscene that she could find no visible scar. There was the off-colour pale patch across her cheek where she'd been knocked off her bike and landed heavil…