Showing posts from April, 2012

Art Pact 159

We drifted apart in a hotel in Moscow, insulating ourselves by room service from the world outside and by stubborn sullen refusal to communicate from each other. It could have been more dramatic if we'd been looking out over Red Square or some other photogenic relic of the old days, but our window looked over nothing more interesting than the back of another hotel, built under bad advice from some American marketing guru in order to capture the massive influx of tourists. There were plenty of tourists, of course, but no in that area of town. It was almost a suburb, the streets around us packed with soviet-era apartment blocks, almost the least attractive building style in the world - beaten only by english schools built in the style of sixties brutalism.

We tag-teamed the depressing truth, that we were no longer the starry-eyed lovers that we had been in Rome. Each of us in turn would try to dig at the problem, to interrogate the other about what had gone wrong. When it was me as…

Art Pact 158

"Oh, that is - ugh, god!"

Mother wrinkled her nose, holding up her arm in a vain attempt to shield herself from the miasma that rolled our of the room. I was further out in the corridor, still wrapped in the melange scent of cleaning fluid and patchouli, but I could see under her arm that the room might as well have been the scene of devastation left after an earthquake.

Simon was always a fan of the First Available Flat Surface filing system, but he appeared to have taken it to a new and frightening extreme. There was literally not an inch of floor to be seen, nor an inch of bed, nor any of the desktop. Neither was the windowsill clear, nor any of the shelves - although they were covered in their own special way, covered sideways so that although each individual shelf was technically used to capacity in its horizontal plane, there were great gaps in the vertical that could easily have been filled. Some of those spaces were fill, of course, but not with books - instead jumpe…

Art Pact 157

On Earth the job would have been nothing but oversight - watching the bots popping rivets onto the inside of the warehouse. But there was no room for dead weight on the colony, so I was one of the machines I was supervising. It was hot work, the suit's cooling system was designed to take account of the thin Martian wind and the stagnant air trapped within the enclosure kept the heat of the three robots uncomfortably close.

We'd got to the half-way stage ahead of schedule, so I left the machines to their task while I popped open my suit's bubble-front and made myself comfortable on the stack of shelving parts that were to go up next. Poor food, as always, the dried crap we'd brought with us on the ship mixed with the tasteless mush that the greenfingers were growing in their hydroponic tubes. Still, it's all good with mustard. I was halfway through a sandwich when I got a call on the network. Blue indicator - someone on the orbiting ship, which meant an actual conv…

Art Pact 156

The animals are supposed to be talking animals, but this one just blabs at me, a sort of stream of consciousness gibberish that reminds me of reading William Burroughs:

"Counter in the woods, the autocathartic end of the idiot which we were saying no to the end of grass and towering over him in a blue vest we blue vest you blue vest can in the ineffable time we drop dark sea to the end of place.."

Its little squirrel hands rub furiously one over the other in Fagin movements, but its gaze is unrelenting, always up at me expectantly, begging for something - perhaps understanding, but understanding that I am powerless to partake of.

"What is that?" Nina's voice buzzes in my ear. It's the first time she's spoken since the fight, and the volume on my earbud is uncomfortably loud, causing me to flinch. I fiddle with the volume clumsily, first blotting her out then bringing her in again even louder.

"I can't ..... OUT OF THE FRame... is telling me we…

Art Pact 155: Ten Super-Short Scenes


Just one-tenth of the amount of explosive packed around the central support column in the middle of the carpark would have brought the building down, so I wondered what the point of all the excess was. I found the foreman on the top level of flats. He was sitting in a reclining couch, with a metal dustbin on his head. He'd cut a face-shaped hole in the front of it, windowed with cling-film.

"What have you done, Barlough?" I asked, horrified.

"They said I'd amount to nothing," he cried. "But I'm going to be the first astronaut from Kentish Town!"


He leaned closer to me, and I (reflexively) leant away from him. His breath stank of garlic and I could count all the stubby bristles on his chin and cheeks.

"Have you ever seen a fat man do the lambada?" he asked. I shook my head. "Once you've seen a fat man do the lambada," he told me, "you've seen everything."

"I.. I'm not ready to have seen ev…

Art Pact 154

There's a kind of peace that comes over you when you're facing the open end of a gun. Like that little black hole that can suck in a life and erase it forever is really a candle flame that you can stare at to clear your mind. All other considerations are secondary, and everything comes down to just the simple moment. The now. You can't just hear your heart beat, you can feel it. I don't just mean the pulse or the bump in your chest, I mean actually feel your heart contracting in its four separate chambers, two by two sending the blood squirting into your lungs and then into the rest of your body. Like a tiny fist grabbing  onto a finger. I imagine it's what being a child is like, not understanding that there is a you separate from the rest of the world and there is a moment of division separate from the rest of time, an instant that cuts the past from the future. You are everything in your own mind when the loaded barrel is pointed at you, and there is no history,…

Art Pact 153

"Oh yes," she said, rolling her eyes. "What an absolutely great idea. You know, I sometimes forget that you're a genius in your spare time, Ray. Can you believe that? Then a plan like this falls fully-formed from your lips like Athena springing from the brow of Zeus and it all comes flooding back to me."

"Fuck off," Ray told her.

I kept my head down. It was best, when they were in this mood. If we'd been in Auntie Becca's house she'd have been elbowing me in the arm and making suggestive expressions, but I didn't think there was the faintest spark of romance between the two of them.  In fact, I was wondering whether to exchange the green string that connected their pins for a red one. They weren't friends, that much was clear. They were acquaintances at best. But were they enemies? A hard one to call. They fought like boxers - to win, but not to kill. There were certain things that were off-limits between them: the matter of Alice…

Art Pact 152

Among the Reverend Daniel's most persistent disciples were Arlene and Scott Pike, my neighbours-but-one at number twenty. Their house, which when I'd moved to River Cove had been painted a cheery sunshine yellow with red accents, was now the greyest and drabbest in the entire avenue, and the ornamental flower garden that had graced the south-east side of their plot was long gone, replaced with a potato plantation from which they harvested the most nutritious but least flavoursome tubers it was possible to cultivate.

"Good morning, Mister Christopher," they would greet me politely, on their morning rounds. Like all the Danielites they had begun to dress exclusively in the monochrome uniform of the church when they had joined fully: for men, grey flowing robes that extended from the neck down to just above the ankles, grey socks, and grey sandals. The women, in addition, wore grey woollen trousers so that their modesty might be protected in the unlikely event that win…

Art Pact 151

I didn't want to go along with Uncle Reggie's plan, but it seemed as though there was very little I could do to protest them. Mum was super-excited about them - she kept going on about how it would bring the family together and solve our "little problem" (that's exactly how she said it: "little problem", you see what I'm dealing with, right?) Dad was less enthusiastic, but he's never really enthusiastic about anything, so that was no good. He kept saying things like "we'll see" and "maybe this will be a good thing" which made me think that he was secretly in favour of the whole idiot idea even thought it was obviously him who was going to have to do all the work; Uncle Reggie was too weak to lift the gate, I was too young to drive the car, mum was too occupied with Frizzle to do anything. Dad didn't mention any of that, though, and when I pointed it out to him he just smiled and said "we'll see", which …

Art Pact 150

The robots rampaged across the town for four days and four nights until the Wednesday before Nigel's birthday. On that day they were sluggish from another long night of destruction, and when the clouds failed to open to admit the sun's energising rays the robots were forced to fold up their solar panels and go into hibernation. After they had remained motionless for an hour a few of the more daring townsfolk got up the courage to crawl out of their cellars and other hiding places and approach the shiny metal boxes that stood in place of the robots.

"Are they inside?" Mr. Crookshaw asked, tapping one of the boxes gingerly.

"I think those boxes are the robots," said Ms. Temperance. She pointed out the little lines and creases where the robot's various limbs had folded into the cubic shape, and a circular slot into which she theorised that the heads had retracted. She put her shoulder to the box and pushed with her legs, trying to move it, but it was far …

Art Pact 149

The mystery of the disappearing hat began one bright summer morning when the birds were singing in the trees and the mowers were droning in the gardens of Millaton. Missus Grady (for it was her that discovered the hat, and then later on the absence of the hat) described the day later to her sister as one of the darkest days that she had ever known, but if you could have seen her that morning coming out of her cottage on Tisabel Avenue you would have seen her scrunch up her eyes tight against the brightness of the sun and loosen the button at the neck of her dress to let some cooling air get at her skin. She paused in the doorway and fanned at herself and considered whether it might not be smarter to go back in and change into some lighter clothing. But the day was already underway and as she was on her way to the church fete, there to "person" a booth as the vicar put it, she decided to proceed ahead. Her dress was a patchy pattern of blues and violets and purples, exciting…

Art Pact 148

I make monsters out of the leftover parts while Angela rants on about her friend above me. The underside of her workbench is dotted with stalactites of gum hurriedly hidden in order to present a professional aspect to a client and then forgotten. The wood is unvarnished and dull, except in two shiny protrusions that extend from the edge where Angela sits, the ghostly shadows of her thighs where they press when she has her chair too high. That happens only on stressful days, of which there must have been many I would guess. I recognise it as the inverse phenomenon to one I have seen frequently at home - getting undressed for bed my sister takes off her skirt or trousers to reveal pressed lines on the front of her legs, a hand's length below her hips.

Now, though, she is complaining about Serena to her other friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth stands in the door, as far away from the bodies as she can be without leaving. Elizabeth is a perfume counter girl, and I do not know what she looks…

Art Pact 147

"I'm begging you, sheriff," Carter said, his face pressed uncomfortably close between two bars. "Please, you gotta do it."

Sheriff Townsend kicked the edge of the table gently, stared at the ground and shook his head. He would not meet Carter's eyes, but nor did he put down the gun in his hand. He turned it over, looking at the smooth chromed curves of the metal and wondering if it would even fire. He distrusted the gun's ornamentation, the fact that it had been built for show. Surely that meant that something had been taken away from it, an essence of utility as if design were a zero-sum game and a weapon could either be fit for purpose or beautiful. He'd not thought of it since the townsfolk had given him the gun, but the idea was unavoidable now. Perhaps it would allow him a way out - if he were to aim the gun and pull the trigger but the gun didn't fire, would that be enough for God? Or would it be the act of gambling a man's life that …