Showing posts from May, 2012

Art Pact 174 - Complex Issue

Bill pecked at a seed, flipping his head up to throw the grain back into his throat with a little cough.

"It's a complex issue," he said, turning his head so that one gold-rimmed eye faced towards me. "I mean, I understand that the fox needs to eat. We all need to eat, it's a thing. I couldn't stand here gobbling down - what are these, grass seeds? Man, the food here is not what it used to be. Man, I remember-"

"The fox, Bill, the fox," I reminded him. He bobbed his head.

"Oh yes. I couldn't stand here gobbling down these grass seeds, if that's what they are, and condemn someone else for eating. I mean I could, obviously, but it would be the basest sort of hypocrisy. Am I right?"

Jim and Bruno nodded their heads enthusiastically, although as they were walking up the roof towards us at the time it might just have been the goofy way their necks worked. I flapped my wings a few times, ruffled my feathers.

"You're right…

Art Pact 173 - Continuing Boredom

There's nothing like the threat of continuing boredom to stir up impotent dissatisfaction. We'd been sitting in the dining room for seven hours since breakfast, pausing (if that's the correct word) only to crawl to the kitchen and make boring sandwiches for lunch. Our plates stood there still, covered in crumbs, just at the maximum reach of our arms because putting them further away would have required movement, and it was into avoiding movement that we had put all of our effort that afternoon.

Diane, sat closest to the window, had at least shifted somewhat. As the day had progressed a sunbeam had chased its way up her body, lighting her ankles first like some Victorian pervert, then crawling seedily up her calves, her thighs, onto the fuzzy fabric of her pyjama shorts, across her belly, her chest, and then finally up onto her face, spurring an uncomfortable shuffle. Every few minutes the relentless progression of the sun would cause the ray of light to catch up with her …

Art Pact 172 - Secret Admirer

Lavan found the cow outside the entrance to his hut. It had died there, judging by the huge pool of congealing blood that surrounded it. In the middle, like a stepping-stone, the thick tuft of grass that had always previously annoyed him rose from the red lake. He used it to get across from his door, then after a short survey of the scene he crossed it again to go back inside. Finally he emerged with some rope and began the laborious process of dragging the dead animal away from the door. While he was doing that Son the blacksmith passed by.

"You've a cow in front of your hut, Lavan the weaver." Son observed.

"That I have," Lavan agreed, "but I am in the midst of remedying the situation. Perhaps you'd care to help me, Son the blacksmith? I could do with your strength."

Son the blacksmith was lazy, but he was also vain. He nodded, taking station on the rope behind Lavan and heaving ostentatiously so that the thick bands of muscle on his upper arms…

Art Pact 171 - Cartography

Once a map-maker always a map-maker, as my father said, and it did seem to be true. I found myself catching up my notepad and pencil, and before I realised it I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and staring at the paper, imagining the strokes, the lines, the shading. That's how it is with me - the map has to somehow mature in my brain, or perhaps develop would be a more apt word. Like a film image it fades into solidity, to something that I can capture and hold in my head, as though I'm projecting it onto the page and then just pencilling in the lines that are already there. Perhaps it's as much art as anything else, but there were no other artists of any kind in our block, so I have never been able to talk to someone else about it.

There's a more technical aspect to it than plain art, of course - there are proportions to be preserved, relationships to be observed. Compromises are possible, but every compromise must be weighed against the end use of the map. Dista…

Art Pact 170 - The Waterfall

The waterfall drowned out the sound of the conversation. Richard, sitting in the hidden cave, watched the couple as if through a melting window. Their outlines twisted and warped in the constant tumble of lensing water, and it seemed as though they were fading in and out of existence. He ran his finger over the cover of the book, then dragged one stridulating fingernail across the closed pages. There was no sign from them that they were aware of his presence, but there remained a sort of furtiveness around them, an aura of paranoia, perhaps. As though they feared that someone were watching them, and that to be observed would have dire consequences.

Richard's mother had warned him repeatedly about eavesdropping, and he heard her voice in his head now: Richard Prescott Maitland, how many times have I told you about respecting other people's privacy? Sometimes that memory was enough to keep his curiosity under control, but what, he reasoned, was he to do now? If he emerged from …

Art Pact 169 - Bomb

We stared at the bomb. I had never seen one like it before - so quiet, nothing like the showy bombs on TV with their blinking lights, their beeping, their rapidly counting down numerical displays. It was as if it were sleeping, and I felt as though we would be OK as long as we did not wake it up. Sandra, more level-headed, simply knelt down and began to inspect the device. She pulled a notepad and a stumpy pencil out of her back pocket and began to make notes and little diagrams on it. Little square pencil boxes, connected to each other by lines with scribbled names following their arcs. She reached out a finger to isolate one of the wires from the rest of its bundle.

"Wait, wait!" I cried nervously. "What are you doing? Don't touch it!"

She looked back at me coolly.

"Why not?"

"Why not? It might go off!"

"It's going to go off," she told me, turning back to the bomb. "I don't think it's a ticklish time bomb."…

Art Pact 168 - The Ghost

I saw him for the first time hanging around the corridors. The bell had gone, the end-of-lunch bell that calls us all back hyperactive and sullen at the same time, to the first of our afternoon classes. I was slow, making a point to my maths teacher that he was not the boss of me, and I shuffled through the the echo-ridden halls almost on my own, just a few of those two most despised other classes - the dullards, too stupid to get to class on time even if they wanted to, and the prefects and teachers' pets roaming around on their various pointless missions. I kept clear of them by snaking, by zigging and zagging, by making up my own route through the labyrinth like the prize rat they thought I was. It was for that reason that I spotted him.

He should have seemed awkward and out of place, but he did not. There was a confidence about him - not an attractive one, though, the sort of lazily aggressive self-confidence that made you think that he was leering all the time, a repulsive s…

Art Pact 167 - Reporting to the Emperor

"Emperor," I said solemnly, bowing my head before the altar. The emperor said nothing, merely flicking its tail as if a horse attempting to swat away flies on a hot summer's day. I looked around nervously at the waiting attendants. Some of them were watching me, others looking away. I paused. Behind me I felt the presence of the liaison. It was an icy-cold sensation in the small of my back, the feeling of being watched by something with ill-intent. Still, I could trust it here, and I had done the things it had asked me in the emperor's service, so I did not feel that I was in any danger of hearing a lie from it. I turned. It was there - I think - a collection of black specks that washed across the front of my eye. "Should I talk?" I asked it. "Or should I wait?"

The proper protocol, it told me, was to wait until the emperor signaled me to continue.

"What will the signal be?"

It shifted lazily, a gesture I understood was its equivalent o…

Art Pact 166 - Red Circus

"Oh yes," the guide agreed enthusiastically. "All the greats came here. Einstein. Nobel. Marx. I could go on."

"Please do," I prompted. The guide stopped for a second, bit his lip, frowned.

"Curie," he said after a long pause. "And countless others."

Yes, quite, I thought. I could have believed Einstein's presence, but Nobel seemed very unlikely. Marx, possible again - he had spent a long time living in London, after all - but Curie no. My suspicions as to the guide's accuracy were now confirmed, and the only thing remaining to be decided was whether he was an innocent chump in the scheme or whether he was the mastermind behind it (although I use the word mastermind less than seriously).

"Is there a plaque up somewhere?" I asked. "I mean, don't they put plaques up, the heritage people?"

He looked at me, his eyes narrowing and shooting daggers at me. Then, for a second, I noticed his gaze flick across th…

Art Pact 165 - Journals

"What do you do all day?" I asked. He raised an eyebrow, turned to look out of the window. Thinking that he hadn't heard me, I was about to ask again (louder), when he suddenly leapt up and hammered at the frame.

"GET OUT OF THERE!" he yelled. I saw a flash of ginger shoot out of his herb garden and across the lawn, leaping up in one fluid movement onto the brick barbecue and then over the fence and away. "Bloody cat," he muttered. He turned back to me again. "Sorry, love, what was that?"

"I was just asking what you did all day. I mean, here."

"Oh, yes. Of course. You'd want to know that."

He nodded, sat back down in his chair, and pointed to the books surrounding him.

"You read?"

"Yes, I read."

"What sort of thing?" I said, standing up to examine the spines. The bookcases, covering three walls of the room, were packed with slender books of various types and styles - plastic and card-spi…

Art Pact 164 - Undrillable

The drills rushed downwards, glorying at the sight of the work coming towards them. Their bits spun eagerly, they revved and relaxed, they tucked their bodies away neatly in preparation for the plunge, calling to each other with honks and hoots that echoed across the landscape. For a moment more they were in cold air, then their cries were cut off suddenly as they plunged into the soil.

Twisting, claylike earth grabbed at the helices of their bits, trying to keep its place in the earth. But they were too strong for mere clay, ripping at it and twisting it up behind them. What came to the base of their bits flew out in compressed pulses into pouches at their throats which their collections of tiny limbs then cleared out, pushing these tailings towards the backs of their bodies.

In the ground, blinded by the substrate through which they joyously worked, they could no longer see each other. Yet they could feel the patterns of vibrations coming through the earth through which they moved,…

Art Pact 163

Swirls of steam drifted lazily around the kitchen, idly traversing it as if the lords of that domain. They carried with them scents alternating between the delightful and the horrific, which Rushforth sampled with suspicious snorts - short sharp intakes of breath that made a whistling noise as he sucked in the air through his good left nostril and his ruined right one. He remained beneath the counter, letting the smells come to him, and as each one passed he pronounced judgement on them, either a pleased whimper when the scent was pleasant or a disapproving sneeze when it was not.

Rushforth's owner, visible to the dog only as a pair of fluffy slippers and a set of sheer-stockinged legs scribbled blue with varicose veins, bustled around the room in pursuit of her alchemical purpose. She sang nonsense songs to herself, by means of which Rushforth kept aware of her position at all times, even when she went behind the island in the middle of the room and disappeared from view. She se…

Art Pact 162

Bronwen ran the flower shop at the bottom of the tower block. The flower shop ("Full Petal Jacket") had occupied the fourth of five small retail caves in the ground floor ever since the tower had been constructed, and was owned (and, sadly, named) by a recluse known only as Mrs. Janis. Bronwen had never met her employer, having been interviewed by an employment agency, a placement specialist, Mrs. Janis's lawyer and finally the incumbent manager of the shop, who had one month after hiring Bronwen emigrated to Thailand for unspecified reasons. That had been seven years ago, and although Bronwen had taken the position without the slightest hint of managerial or administrative skill she had grown into the task, keeping the shop ship-shape and profitable despite the lack of either passing trade or a proximate customer base. The people of the tower block were not natural flower givers, although they did tend to resort to flowers as an apology - either post-fight or post-infi…

Art Pact 161

We line up on the safe wall of the trenches, the one closest to the enemy. During the night the rain has poured down like the judgement of God, so that the bottom of the trench is just one huge shallow puddle reaching a mile in either direction. As we shift to try to keep our feet free from the mud it ripples away from us towards our company-mates, each of us therefore culpable for sluicing the fetid liquid over the tops of boots. The slatted wooden walls leak a thick mud that seeps into our clothing - we try to stand clear of it but each time someone goes past us we are forced to step back to allow them passage, mumbling at the idiots who dug the fortifications so narrow.

"Now then!" shouts the sergeant, uncomfortably loud. It seems impossible that the enemy cannot hear him just as well as we can. "It is thirteen hundred hours now! At fourteen hundred hours precisely our beloved captain will sound his whistle, and I and the other sergeants will sound our whistles in r…

Art Pact 160

Transcript One (Day 22):

175: I'm getting the hang of this now. Listen to this. [SINGS] Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high!

92: So I hear. I must learn to control the gain on these microphones.

175: Oh, man, don't be like that.

92: Like what?

175: A hater. Hating on me, like a hater.

92: Christ, when were you bottled? Twenty-ten?

175: 2011. If you must know.

92: Yeah, I guessed it. Listen, I don't have the privilege of politeness any more. I can't just get up and walk away, now can I? I can't ask you to move into the next room to practise. All I can do is sit here and listen to you, and if I have to listen to you singing show tunes for the rest of eternity I might as well just boil myself in this jar.

175: Gawd, alright. Fine, so you don't like show tunes. How about this: [SINGS] The Jim-jam-jive is-

92: Stop! Please, for the love of all that's holy, stop.

175: You could have just asked nicely, man.

92: Apparently I couldn't.

Transcript Two (Day 24):

268: Do yo…

Art Pact 160

She dangled the key between her index finger and thumb, swinging it tantalisingly over my supplicant palm. I watched it travel to and fro, wondering whether Ian's warning about her hypnotic powers were actually true. I could hear her dog snuffling around my legs, and smell the wet hair scent, but I found myself unable to take my eyes off the key.

"You'll need this," she said. Her voice was low and gravelly, and carried an interlineal tale of cigarettes smoked in endless chains. I was struck with a sudden image - her body in a bathtub, details obscured modestly but tantalisingly by drifting islands of bubbles, a book in one hand and a Rothman's in the other, pale wisps of smoke drifting up from the ember end.

Her fingers stopped moving, and I snapped back to attention to focus on the key being lowered towards my hand. When it was within reach I quickly grabbed at it, only to have the prize whisked away from me sharply. I looked up to find her staring at me sternl…