Posts

Showing posts from July, 2012

Art Pact 205 - Anger

I had never been angrier in my life, a black rage that gripped all my muscles tight so that I shook violently and my jaw muscles bulged out at the side of my face. Something of it must have shown, because Mary took a step back, although John was oblivious to it and simple stood there with that same bland smug look on his face. I could feel the muscles in my forearms bunched up like steel wires, and knew that if I looked down I would see my hands in fists. I couldn't do that, though, because the certain knowledge that my fists were there would be the spur to use them, and no matter what I was feeling I couldn't start a fight. I took a step back myself, forced myself to focus on Mary's face. She was frightened, of course - she'd seen me get into fights in the past, so she must have been able to see in my expression how close I was to the edge - but I hoped she also knew that whatever happened I was not going to be taking it out on her. It was hardly her fault anyway. I …

Art Pact 204 - The debate

"In questionable times like these," the young man said, "it's more important than ever that we focus on our own priorities before looking further afield for problems to solve. What does it profit us if we throw away our energy in pursuit of questionable gains for strangers and neglect those closer to home?"

He looked around, perhaps hoping for a little interim ovation to begin and give him a rest from the sound of his own voice. Nothing was forthcoming, though - as I had expected the moment I had heard him talking. He had misjudged his crowd severely, perhaps under the mistaken impression that he was still talking to his local conservative party rather than the conference's mixed group of economists and do-gooders. I could imagine his confusion, expecting rousing applause from the ruddy-cheeked squires and blue-rinsed grandmothers who must have populated the village halls in which he normally performed, and instead being greeted only by polite coughs and t…

Art Pact 204 - The debate

"In questionable times like these," the young man said, "it's more important than ever that we focus on our own priorities before looking further afield for problems to solve. What does it profit us if we throw away our energy in pursuit of questionable gains for strangers and neglect those closer to home?"

He looked around, perhaps hoping for a little interim ovation to begin and give him a rest from the sound of his own voice. Nothing was forthcoming, though - as I had expected the moment I had heard him talking. He had misjudged his crowd severely, perhaps under the mistaken impression that he was still talking to his local conservative party rather than the conference's mixed group of economists and do-gooders. I could imagine his confusion, expecting rousing applause from the ruddy-cheeked squires and blue-rinsed grandmothers who must have populated the village halls in which he normally performed, and instead being greeted only by polite coughs and t…

Art Pact 203 - Walking along the bank

"I don't know," she says, putting her hat on. She pulls the brim down low, so that it covers her eyes when she lets her head nod forward even a fraction. They appear and disappear again as she speaks, flashing on and off like the lights above a zebra crossing. I feel afraid to cross her, though.

"It shouldn't be too bad."

"Well, not if everything goes according to plan. But if there's a cock-up somewhere along the line it could easily go - what was that expression you used? Go south, that's it." She muses. "Why do they say that?"

"I don't know. Look, look at it this way. What other choices do we have? We either go along with things as they are or we make some effort to change them. OK, that's not going to be pretty. OK, if it goes wrong it could be a bit disastrous. But things are just going to keep getting slowly and steadily worse if we do nothing, there's nothing to say that things won't end up disastrous …

Art Pact 202 - Kingdom of Birds

There was once a kingdom in which several warring princelings vied to be the successor to their aunt, the queen. The queen was herself unmarried, and despite several pregnancies she had been unable to carry an heir to term. Each time the queen lost a child she grieved and cast suspicious eyes at her brothers and sisters and their squabbling broods, but the royal doctor assured her that there was most likely no foul play involved - that she had simply been cursed by fate.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "the iron will needed to rule a country is incompatible with motherhood. Your constitution, well suited to the demands of the regnal lifestyle, might be too strong for a child to survive. A pregnancy is a battleground," he added, seeing that the queen was observing him coolly with the sort of gaze she normally reserved for those she was about to send away to war or to the executioner's block, "between the mother - who wants to preserve her own life - and the child…

Art Pact 201 - Magic Show

The magician waved his wand. Nothing happened. From my perch high up in the crowd I could see the brief flash of surprise on his face, but he was an artist and a performer and he rolled with it, making it seem as though it was part of the act. He waved his wand again. Again, nothing. I looked around - if there was someone in the crowd who was suppressing him other than me, I couldn't spot them. I knew that there were plenty of dampers in the town, but would most of them come into a magic show where they could be found out immediately? Well, perhaps - they weren't all known for their intelligence. That was the problem with being a damper, it didn't have any relation to any other talent, so the skill was evenly distributed across the population, which meant that a good half of them were of below-average smarts. They might easily come to a magic show for the fun of it, not realising that it would make them stick out like a sore thumb to anyone who might be watching. 

The thou…

Art Pact 200 - Housing

We went to floor fifteen first, as directed, only to discover that it was a pre-reception, some sort of screening system by which people were forwarded on to their actual destination. The floor was on the same level as the transport hub, fed into from a big plaza on which buses would stop every few minutes, disgorging one or more downtrodden-looking fellow paupers and on occasion some serious looking little gangs of white guys - sometimes in suits, sometimes in more military gear - who we tried to avoid. It was obvious that they were not here to make anything better for anyone, and Beya would shiver every time any of them got near us and have to turn away so that she could not see them. I made sure to step between her and the gangs so that she wouldn't have to see them as often as she might have, but it was tricky work. There were certainly a lot of them.

We made our way across plaza, dodging the buses and trying not to breath too much of the fume-laden air that seemed to hang ove…

Art Pact 199 - No call for bread

"There's no call for it," the shopkeeper says, shuffling brightly-coloured packets of sweets across the countertop. She sweeps them with her left arm, her right hand open at the edge to catch the packets as they topple off. Each one of the packets is a different colour, but all adorned with a beaming anthropomorphic strawberry who looks out with dead eyes. She has been doing this ever since I came into the shop. Each packet that falls into her hand she carefully arranges into a column of identically coloured packets in the display rack on the front of the counter so that there are now five stripes (yellow, purple, red, orange, green) stretching the height of the rack - although there must be far fewer yellow packets than the others, since the yellow column is only just a touch more than half the height.

"No call for it?" I ask, incredulously. She turns back, pushes her glasses up her nose, and gives me a long stare as if she had never seen a man come into her s…

Art Pact 198 - 51 Main Street

I passed 51 Main Street every day on my way to the job centre - a large townhouse in the middle of two other more anonymous houses that made up a short terrace. Although it was slap-bang in the centre of Moreditch Avenue, the house was marked with a square white plaque beside the door reading "51 Main Street" in a stylish sans-serif font. The two houses to the either side were 33 and 37 Moreditch Avenue, so obviously the name on the sign wasn't the real address, but there was no indication that it had any other identity. I once happened to be passing at exactly the same time as the postman - Dan, a vague acquaintance of mine who I found profoundly annoying but was forced to be polite to. I nodded hello, chatted to him for a minute about some party we'd both been to, and in the course of the conversation I managed to sneak a good hard stare at the incoming post - a big bundle, probably as many letters in one day as I got in a month, even including rejection letters f…

Art Pact 197 - Posse

Rounded out by the addition of the two Havershaw brothers, our posse looked quite impressive - a combination of broad chests and rugged stubbly chins with brooding eyes that radiated malign intelligence. Staring down the line I could sense an almost palpable energy rising off them, the energy of danger, of menace, of action held tightly in check but coiled like a spring and ready to explode in all directions like a bomb. A spring-bomb. Mr. Calloway had them walk forward and back a few steps, and when they were coming towards us it felt like rocks rolling. When they were stepping back it was like the tide going out, a force drawing you in, drowning you. I felt quite overcome.

"Now then, boys," said Calloway grandly. "The situation we have ourselves in is this. The interlopers, of whom I'm sure you're all painfully aware"--most of the posse wince as he said this, and I shifted awkwardly, feeling the dull ache in my ankles suddenly flare--"have holed the…

Art Pact 196 - Biggest Bear

We'd have drummed him straight out of the forest if it wasn't for the simple fact that he was the physical and intellectual superior of us all - so he said, and since we were unable to refute it, I suppose it must have been the case. He lived in a huge fallen tree in the very centre of the great clearing, and every morning he would emerge from his sleeping-place and roar at the top of his voice:

"I AM THE GREATEST BEAR IN ALL THE WORLD!"

Now, naturally, being the kind of bear he was, he made sure that he was up earlier than everyone else so that he could roar this at the most annoying time possible. Well - he could, I suppose, have done it in the middle of the night, but that might have tipped the balance between it being annoying enough that we were all wound up by it and being so annoying that it would have driven one or more of us into a desperate rage. Bernard was able to master any one of us individually, and perhaps two or more of us he could have taken down w…

Art Pact 195 - Cityworld

They showed me the view out of the window - metal. Metal everywhere - metal walls, metal walkways (albeit covered in a sort of metallised rubber in order that it not be too slippery to walk on), metal railings and fixtures and lightposts and statues and all manner of things, and it would not have surprised me to learn that the window I had been looking out of was metal (indeed, it did not two weeks later when I discovered it was a form of aluminium film that had been treated so as to allow light to pass through it unhindered). They must have mined an asteroid or riddled the ground beneath the city with galleries, for the amount of ore that had gone into the construction of the place must have been epic. 

It wasn't just metal, of course - there were people, and there was rain. The one struggling along like ants from the height I was looking down on them, the other beating down mercilessly upon the city, huge elongated drops like javelins or the shells of great artillery pieces in t…

Art Pact 194 - Stalking

In the twilight gloom we stalked the poor sod, watching him stumble from wall to wall and trip over his own drunkenness so that it seemed almost unfair to me, like kicking a puppy or killing a fawn. But we had to eat, we had to smoke, there were girls to be had for the right price and so driven, there was only one way it could end - with the poor sod in the gutter either dead or dormy, all his drink washed away in violence and all the fineries he carried now in our pockets and bags to be sold as fast as possible.

I was caught myself - caught between feeling a little sorry for the poor sod, which made me want to hang back, and between my shame over the little scuffle with Bronson and his boys which made me want to be the first to step on the poor sod, to show that there was still fight in me, still a bit of fire no matter what the others said. I was damned one way and cursed the other, so I found myself in the middle of the crew, Sally and Drut going first, Bounce and Little Boy after …

Art Pact 193 - Cave Dwellers

Of all the niches, in all the caves, in all the mountain ranges, in all the continents, it had to walk into mine. I say walk, although it slouched in one its great tongue-foot, leaving a trail of viscous slime behind it so that passers-by toppled like nine-pins as they walked past outside. I was sat behind my desk, deep in a big fruit that had marinated in the heat for so long that it had begun to turn alcoholic. That's the way I like fruit - I don't like feeling as though I'm doing anything too healthy, but the addition of booze makes that scruple drift away one way or the other.

"Hello Brogan," it rumbled. "It's been a long time."

"Not long enough," I said, looking up. The beast had aged - and not well. Its skin was still just as slimy as always, but now I could see a sort of frail translucence underneath it, a thinning that hinted at wrinkles and forgetfulness. Its shell blocked the entrance to my office - well, I call it my office but …

Art Pact 192 - Consistency

I ask Bellows. He is working his forge stripped to the waist, his heavily-muscled upper body glistening with sweat. He is not actually at the bellows themselves, but motions me to work them while he lifts the metal shape in and out of the flames. With every press of the bellows-lever a blast of hot air rebounds from the fire and licks uncomfortably at my face. My ears clamp shut painfully every time Bellows's hammer hits the shape, and when he holds it up to inspect it I discover that I have clamped my jaw shut so hard in order to avoid the pain that I have a cramp in my throat.

"Consistency, you say," he says. I rub at my throat, and nod. He holds the shape closer to me - its cherry-red glow has dulled to a less exciting grey-orange colour, but I can feel the heat still pouring off it, and I know that if I touch it it will burn me. It is a curlicue, a spiraling shape that does not spiral but winds around itself. Something for his latest commission, I suppose, but I cann…

Art Pact 191 - Ghoul Trouble

"Seriously," I asked. "What's the worst that can happen?"

"He could find out," she said glumly. "You don't know him. He's"--she rubbed her fingers together by her mouth, miming worms writhing their way into a body--"insidious. He'd find out. I couldn't keep it a secret from him."

"Couldn't?" I asked. "Or wouldn't?"

She shook her head: don't know.

I levered myself up slightly, putting more weight on the rotting tendons of my right shoulder than they were accustomed to, so that they creaked mightily and threatened to disintegrate and topple me back into the grave. From my higher vantage point I could see that the mist that was gently cascading in over me was spread throughout the cemetery, right up to the brick walls and the lightning-fire outside.

"What's the weather like out there?" I asked.

"What?"

"The weather. When you came here. You came here from home…