Showing posts from March, 2012

Art Pact 146

Indistinct fires in the distance marked the remains of the town. Beaufort took a deep breath and let the smoke taste of the air swirl around in his mouth. Even at this great distance the fumes from New Hampton tasted like burnt milk, and he wondered whether the blow to the head had awakened some new sense in him, a sort of long-distance taste. He looked down at his map of the area and began to sketch a grey line around the affected area as best he could.

"Sun's too low," Ashleigh said, her eyes scrunched up to emphasise her point. She lifted up one hand to shield her eyes, then the other, then she bent forwards, turned her head sideways, and squinted hard at the vista of devastation.

"Best look we'll get," Beaufort told her.

"I disagree."

He shrugged.

"We'll have to disagree, then," he said.

Ashleigh sighed loudly and began to remove her tools from the bag. A complicated mixture of scientific and mystical equipment emerged and was l…

Art Pact 145

During the long journey home I stabbed and poked at myself with recriminations a doubts. The train carriage was almost empty, old rolling stock smelling of must and the stale breath of a million commuters. Ugly grey smears of buildings slid past the window, garishly coloured in by the ubiquitous cheap flashing LED signs: NAILS, 24 HOUR, OFF LICENSE.

In the grand scheme of things it hadn't been that bad a night, but the night had closed in on me and the grand scheme had vanished, to be replaced with a petty diagram of myself, lonely and bitter about my own shortcomings. Dark thoughts cruised through my mind, matching the shadow clouds that crawled past the window. I wondered whether anyone had noticed when I left or whether it had just seemed to the others that there was suddenly more room. I thought of myself as a curtain - a draping lifeless thing that had just hung in the flat and blocked out the light of other people's fun. I wondered whether it would have been better in t…

Art Pact 144

I was feeling somewhat rushed that morning, so I skipped my usual leisurely breakfast in favour of a couple of pop tarts and a swill of my mouth with milk (slightly sour, I discovered to my detriment). In hindsight I can say that I had just as much time as I normally would have - there was no real time pressure on me - but the morning felt rushed, as though there were something important waiting for me in the near future, something that was squatting impatiently on its haunches, ready to go without me if I took too long.

I'd woken up that way, slightly vertiginous and with a feeling that I had been dreaming but the inability to remember any of the contents of the dream. I suppose it was a sort of wrong feeling - perhaps not that the dream had been particularly upsetting or unusual, but more that it had been incorrect, that I had been dreaming wrong. Is it possible to fail a dream? I have never seen any meanings in my dreams (none more than simple wish fulfillment in the case of c…

Art Pact 143

We rolled up the lane to Fox's house and a hushed silence fell over the passengers in the car. As Owl had said, the house had two driveways - one at forty-five degrees to the other. Each ended in a huge gilded gate, and Hedgehog pulled the car over to the side of the road. As the car stopped he began to rock wildly from side-to-side, squeaking uncomfortably. We watched him for a minute, until Owl (sitting beside him in the passenger seat) enquired politely if there might be some problem.

"I'm stuck!" Hedgehog complained.


"To the seat!" he explained. "The drive was so long, every time I pressed on the brake pedal it pushed my quills further into the fabric."

"What!" wailed Otter, in sudden distress. "Not my seat covers! What have you done?"

"If he's done anything," said Owl sternly, "it's your fault. You didn't have to get banned from driving, you didn't have to sign us all up t…

Art Pact 142

We swam lazily beneath the hot sun, every few minutes rolling from our backs to our fronts or vice versa. The sea was blessedly cool, and during a turn both sides would revel in the feeling. If one had turned so face the sky the deep drying heat in one's back would be quenched by the fathoms-deep chill of the ocean water. Similarly, one's face and belly would be caressed by the sun's hot rays and slowly begin to steam as the salt water was burnt away. We wagged our flippers in languorous circles on the surface of the water, watching the ripples rush away from each of us towards the other and merge in complex patterns. There was no wind, there were no waves on and scale that we could measure with our eyes, although we could sometimes feel beneath us a minutes-long swell that gently pushed against our outstretched bodies.

It was this, I think, that carried us to the edge of the sound-cell and away from the territory we were supposed to be exploring. The booming call of the …

Art Pact 141

For someone so remarkably maladroit at any physical activity, Marshall was certainly confident in his ability to not only hit the target but to catch the resulting fallout. The rest of us stood back and watched his awkward wind-up - one of those comedy ones where he flailed his right arm around in huge windmills that served no purpose except the psychological one of fooling him into thinking that he was building up his energy. Then, with a single badly-timed jerk he threw the stone precisely forty-five degrees away from his intended trajectory, which sent it straight at the house.

If Marshall had been a stronger thrower, the stone might have vanished relatively harmlessly through one of the windows of the old mansion, disappearing into the quiet gloom within and summoning one of the inhabitants to peer angrily at us through the shattered remains. If he had been a more accurate thrower the stone would merely have fallen short of its target and dropped with a gentle splosh into the mil…

Art Pact 140

"Encouraging," I told him, rolling my eyes.

"It's something," he said. There was a hurt look in his eyes, and a sort of defensiveness about him. I suppose it wasn't too hard to see why. He'd worked on it for a long time, and the current system was much better than in the past, but there was no way the board were going to go for it. I did the quick maths in my head - five days to train someone in the new system, about an hour saved every two months, it would take just under seven years before it paid off in time saved alone, not counting the new computer equipment and the training manuals that would be needed. It was a nice idea, and ultimately it would make people's lives easier, but it was a poor return on investment even if Brewston hadn't spent more than two years working on it. Worse, a year of that had been on the company dime rather than in his own spare time. There was no way that the company would ever recoup its money on the system, no…

Art Pact 139

There was, if you looked at him with a generous eye, something of the lion about the man, but there was also something of the jackal, and something of the spider - and it was this last facet of the man's seeming that Wilhelmina, her eyes crusty with the gunk of fitful sleep and her mouth choked with dry saliva, saw most clearly. She looked at him, in his dark suit, and discerned in his features an emotionless calculation that might just as well have been the dry maths required of a web builder or the dark hunger of a hunter. He stood before her in the lobby of the library and stared at her, his eyes flickering only to blink, his back ramrod-straight so that he towered over her and she was able to look over the rims of her glasses without even letting them slip down her nose, as she usually did in such situations.

"I'm teddibly soddy," she said, "but we cawt led you tate a bood widout a cawd."

She frowned, partly at the audacity of the young man, partly at …

Art Pact 138

The girl with he snake around her made her way slowly down the road, letting the reptile's huge and ominous head swing freely from the foot or so of body that extended past the point she was holding in her hand. Gregson watched warily from the other side of the road, at first not sure what he was seeing. The body of the red-yellow-and-green snake was wound in lazy loops around the girl's body. She was not skinny, but she was slight enough that Gregson thought the snake could easily have crushed her with a single spasm of its muscular body, and that it had got into position in which to do that. The girl seemed unconcerned, though, smiling happily and walking with a slow, relaxed pace - almost rhythmically, Gregson thought.

Her hair was long, and flowed with a gentle ripple behind her, spreading over her shoulders and the stretched form of the serpent alike, swaying gently in time with the movements of the snake's head. Every time her foot hit the ground the sake bobbed a l…

Art Pact 137

Here is the plot of my life - man is born, man grows, man dies.

There's a lot of detail hidden there in "Man grows", of course. Let me give you an example. On my twenty-first birthday, having been dropped out of a moving car onto a bridge over the river Creese, I found myself stuck in the middle of a town whose inhabitants did not speak Andrevian, with no money (local or otherwise), and flagrantly in abuse of the local red laws. In Kresford they are not like our own red laws, but the principle is the same - that tourists and other foreigners must wear something to identify them. Just like our own laws, they are there (as the cynics say) to protect foreigners from petty criminals and to expose them to the more complex machinations of the bureaucratic criminals in the local government offices. It was this last lack, rather than money or a command of the Marian tongue, which was to prove my undoing.

It was quick, almost as if the officers had been tipped off beforehand. I …

Art Pact 136

They took their apathy to quite an extreme, avoiding the slightest hint of any news that might cause them to become concerned for something or someone outside their limited group of friends. In fact even within that group they attempted - wherever possible - to keep any extraneous information about a person's history or motivations firmly out of the light of knowledge. It was as if, to them, each of the others were a black box or an atom, perfectly formed and with no internal information or state that might be analysed to provide an insight onto their behaviour. They were simply the people that they were, and their actions might as well have been random. They were, of course, consistent - it would be obvious to even the most lackadaisical of inspections that the group of them could not long have held together in the face of unpredictability, but it pleased them to allow themselves to think otherwise. To care about another would have seemed a lot of trouble - and, in some ways mor…

Art Pact 135

Jones and Forester walked out onto the edge of the desert, past the last of the squat prickly shrubs that clung onto the dry land around the mountains. Just shy of the furthest point that the shadow of that tenacious plant stretched, they spread out their blanket and lay down, placing the containers of food between them to form a little wall against intimacy.

Jones, sun-toned by her years at the outpost, lay face up and draped her hands over her eyes to shield herself from the insistent sun, from the endless light blue reaches of the sky. Forester lay face down on his side of the blanket, close to the musty smell of the wool that had been stored badly throughout the winter and the drier scent of the fine sand.

"I heard from Carly today," he said to the tartan fabric, and across the little wall of food Jones took one hand away from her face, and - turning on her side towards him - used it to prop herself up.

"Oh? How is she?"

"Pretty freaked. They're sayin…

Art Pact 134

Plentiful were the days, and long as we could want them, and bathed in the warming lights of the grow-arcs. We ran through fields of corn, chased by each other and by the machines that rolled up and down blindly according to their nature. The endless black skies of summer provided the audience, a million twinkling spectators hidden by the lights during out performance which suddenly appeared at the end of the night, fading into resolvable points as the grow-arcs flickered and died and our eyes grew once more accustomed to the endless dark of the space above the colony.

It was our game, started mid-summer by Johnny Q, to try to spot our home star. The quickest one to find it after the last arc died was the winner and king or queen for the night. Nature had balanced the game well - Sol being much brighter from the colony than Abraxus it was easier to see, but Abraxus was part of a constellation that lay above the main plane of the milky way, allowing the searching eye to cling on to th…

Art Pact 133

The whole house seemed to be coated in misery, a thick oleaginous coat of sadness that clung to the walls and exuded a bleak vapour. To step through the front door was to be instantly shrouded in the family's unhappiness, and although guests came to make their condolences and attempt to help them through the dark time, they knew the minute they crossed the threshold that their efforts would prevail naught against the overpowering sadness. They came in with hopeful smiles and lively steps, but left bearing a harsh load of grief across their shoulders and a despair in their heart against the hope that their friends might ever again laugh.

The building itself began to shrink away from its surroundings in some way. As the month of February rolled on the greenery in the neighbouring gardens slowly emerged from its winter hibernation, grass clearing and beginning to grow in earnest again, snowdrops peeking up coyly from the margins of flowerbeds, and many a fat fly banging at a window …

Art Pact 132

Let's just say my first day on the job didn't go particularly well. For starters I was late - it turns out that only one train in every three actually stops at the bump station, so the train I'd intended to catch just went straight on through the blacked-out area. I had to get off at the next stop and wait for a train that was going back and would stop. As it turned out, that wasn't too long - if it had been more than ten minutes I might have just given the whole thing up as a bad lot and gone home to the tender ministrations of bed and tea. That might have been preferable. At any rate, I got off the train with perhaps five minutes to spare. If I'd ever been allowed off at the bump station before I would certainly have made it to the shop on time, but naturally the whole thing was a complete shock to me.

I was expecting some kind of doorway or gate or tunnel or something, but what I hadn't realised was that when the train goes into the tunnel to the north of t…

Art Pact 131

Punch-drunk and still feeling the last blow that hit him firmly in the stomach, Rostra stumbled from one wall to the other, making great progress frmo side-to-side but poor progress towards the road. The two brick guards to either side of him helpfully prevented him from veering off into the distance north or the far south, but each time they corrected his direction they did so with little grace and scant gentleness, pushing their rough baked surfaces into the softness of Rostra's hands and nudging his head violently where it sloshed one way or another at the end of his floppy neck. He remonstrated with them, but they remined silent against all his accusations, simply standing in place unflinchingly - so tall and wide that they stretched all the way from the bar to the main street, their skin tough and red so that he wondered where they had been born.

It may have been some time later - indeed, it was an hour, although Rostra had no way of knowing this - he finally stumbled out fr…

Art Pact 130

The most notable thing about Mellie Jones was her walk - a kind of half-bird half-tiger stalking strut that looked as though it were being performed in slow motion. Opinion among the group varied one the matter of whether it were graceful or comical, with the lines being drawn generally (but not entirely) along gender divisions. Defectors from the party line were Nadia - who thought that Mellie's walking style was reminiscent of a catwalk model - and Boss Vince.

"She's pretty," Boss Vince conceded, "but she's not a model."

"I didn't say that," Nadia replied. "I said she walks like a catwalk model. It's not natural, but it's got something about it. A line."

"A bloody crazy line," said Boss Vince.

The group watched Mellie walking across the bridge every day. Mellie's family lived on the island and had no car, which meant that to get to school she was forced to cycle down the long beach on the inner side of th…