Showing posts from 2013

Art Pact 283 - Ninety-Nine Percent

From beneath the water the horse's soulful eyes stared back at me. I took a careful step towards the edge of the pond, feeling the familiar damp caress around my face. My feelings towards the pond have become strangely ambiguous in the last months. It has always smelt of childhood to me, but there is another scent coming to overlay that nostalgic aroma - the smell of sex, the smell of the sensation inside me when I see a beautiful back, the curve of an ankle. The smell that makes me want to puff out my chest and sing songs of my strength.

"Hello," I said to the horse. Its nostrils flared, and for a moment I thought that it might be mute - some horses are, or they pretend to be, at any rate. But the horse blew out a pulse of water from its snout and then spoke:

"Hello yourself."

I wanted to ask why - of course I did, what else would I ask? But such large questions must be approached by roundabout means. One cannot simply march up to the front door.


Art Pact 282 - The Drill

"You know the drill," he says.

"The drill?"

"You know." He points at the door, or rather through it at the situation unfolding outside. "The drill. What to do in situations like this. The drill!"

"Oh, oh!" I say. "Sorry, I thought you were talking about"--I mime using a power tool to drill through a wall--"you know, I thought you had some plan for getting us out through one of the side walls."


"Into another shop." He stares at me blankly, so I add: "Sideways. Through the wall. Into another shop, and then away."

"That's not the drill," he says.

"Well, okay, that's just what I thought you were saying."

"No. No, that's not what I was saying."

"Okay, good, I understand that now. It was just an honest mistake."

"Through the wall?" he asks. "Into another shop?"

"It was just a thought. Just a misunderstanding,…

Art Pact 281 - This is hardly

This is hardly the time for jubilation. The kingdom is fallen, the crows feast on the bodies of the dead, a great plague covers the land and a blood moon presides over all, looking down and laughing its crimson glee at the chaos that engulfs us. Hope has fled to the farthest corners of our minds, and we cower in dark places, hiding from ourselves as much as each other, calling out to gods that we are sure no longer exist for a grace that we have long since forsaken. A dark shadow rolls across the land, and with each person it touches it grows stronger, sapping away our humanity and calling us to arms against each other, man against woman, parent against child, beast against bird.

This is hardly the place for a feast: in the middle of the battlefield, a table set for ten surrounded by the bodies of thousands, sweetmeats and sorbets laid out delicately on silver and crystal bowls, white and yellow and gentlest pink set in a field of deepest red gore, the ruin of many a man. Yet here sit…

Art Pact 280 - Questions about living in a monsters stomach

Let me throw the floor open to questions - well, wait. Before we have the first question, let me make a little note on this piece of paper here, I'm going to fold it up, put it over here. You can - here, you, you can look at it if you like. Just to show that it isn't a magic trick. Yeah, just... no, you can look at it. Just don't show it to anyone else. You don't have a question, right? Right. Okay. No, yes, otherwise that would sort of be hard for me to predict. Okay? Okay.

Okay, we're all good. So, do we have any questions?

Oh, quiet a lot. A lot of hands, that changes the odds slightly, perhaps. Or maybe it doesn't. No, probably not, that's not how odds work . So, uh, do we have a roving microphone? No? Okay, well people are just going to have to shout their questions and I'll repeat them back. Or for the first question, I'll just show the piece of paper there. 

Oh, we can get one, but it will take a moment? Okay.

Uh, so, people in the back, forg…

Art Pact 279 - Comodina

Of all the worlds in which I might have lived, the great moon of Comodina-5 was the one that I found most pleasant. When I was a boy of a mere six hundred and ten I fell from the sky and landed in a clearing in the centre of a Mushtik village. It was midday during a dark month - the period during which the moon was cut off from sunlight by the great bulk of Comodina itself, which filled the noontime sky with rolling red clouds and violent flashes of light - the result of lesser moons and rings falling into the atmosphere of the gas giant and being consumed. I fell hard - I had dropped a lot of speed coming through the atmosphere, at the cost of my clothes which had been ripped to shreds and were no doubt flitting around the upper atmosphere, but not enough to prevent me from embedding myself three meters into the soil of the clearing. I lay there, staring up at the me-shaped patch of red sky that was all I could see (I did not know at the time that I was seeing the sky of another plan…

Art Pact 278 - Points of View

First Person: Well, I can't tell you much about the incident to be honest. I'd been walking through the park over the electroway, counting the grey carriages scattered among the more regular blue ones as they sped by beneath me. It was late, I remember that - I think I'd stayed an extra couple of hours at work and the sun was just coming down over the Makta Tower. I looked up and I saw a cloud of little dots just in the corner of my eye, and that was them, right? The flyers, coming over the hill on the south side of the crater. No formation, so that from that distance they looked like a flock or birds or a swarm of insects. Then they got nearer, and there was the droning, the droning...

Second Person: Only you can hear the droning! You stride purposefully over to the side of the park, pausing only to glance beneath you at the busy electroway hundreds of feet beneath the park's plastiglass substrate. There are people around you, but they have not yet noticed the sound of…

Interlude - six of five thousand blades of grass

I can see approximately five thousand blades of grass from my window. The first is about six centimetres long, tapered end, bending slightly to the left, about the same angle as a man who's walked six miles through a shopping centre with his wife, following her from shop to shop as she tries to find the perfect pair of shoes, and has just stopped to take the wait off his right foot. It's a sort of darkish green, approximately Pantone 355 EC.

The second is slightly shorter. I think it comes from the same root. It's roughly the same colour, but a bit more yellowy.

Number 3: It's considerably longer, maybe two centimetres which doesn't sound like much but it's a lot when you're that small. I'd say that the colour was more of a yellow, something like the shade of a jaundiced cauliflower.

It's difficult to talk about the fourth. It's hiding behind its brothers. Or sisters, I'm not sure how one sexes a blade of grass. The French would know. Either wa…

Art Pact 277 - In the rush

In the rush to close up shop - to lock doors and set alarms and ensure that those electrical implements that were to be turned off were turned off and those that were to be turned on were turned on, that all the windows were closed except for the one in the staff toilets of the first floor - the mechanical counting machine was forgotten. It was obvious that it would be, from the moment that it had been placed on the floor to the right of the counter. People came and went there, and so the machine was nudged further and further under the counter until it was at the back and Rebecca's tote bag had fallen across it. The counting machine had sat there all day, under the soft beige canvas, slowly counting off the seconds since it had been left. When the doors were closed behind the last customer it had got to nineteen thousand six hundred and three, when the lights went off twenty-one thousand and seventy-four, and when the door clanked shut behind the last employee - Brian, who had be…

Art Pact 276 - Reviews

"Christ," she said, scanning the column. "I've read hostile reviews before, but this is ridiculous. What did you do, strangle his mother?"

I hadn't strangled his mother. I hadn't run over his cat. I hadn't even (and this had been the source of at least three bad reviews in my university comedy group) gone out with him once and then blocked his calls on my mobile because he turned out to be a massive douchebag. In a life that I have spent inadvertently offending or injuring people, in fact, Martin St. Severan was one of the few people I had met personally who had no ulterior motive for writing me up in such scathing terms. If it wasn't for the fact that Caroline had assured me that my act was gold, I might have assumed that my initial fears were correct and that everything that came out of my mouth was a steaming pile of shit.

"He's not one of those arseholes who thinks that women can't be funny, is he?" she asked. "I hate …

Art Pact 275 - Dry Garden

The previous weeks had been unbearably hot, and it was not just me that suffered. In the early morning, when the sun had risen but had not yet had time to heat the air, I unlocked the door to the cabin and walked barefoot on what had in May been the lawn. I had lain there, reading, the soft moss at mattress beneath me and grass blades borders around my arms and legs. It had been comfortable - lush, almost - but now I could feel nothing but scratchy hay pricking at my soles, and the moss had dried out until it was nothing more than kindling. I sipped at my lukewarm cup of acorn coffee and flexed my feet, scratching at the dry surface of the ground with my toenails. It was time to cut them, I noticed.

"When do you think it's going to end?" asked Milla. I'd not noticed her sitting in the shade of the big oak that marked the boundary between her land and mine. She was still in the long ragged shift that she slept in, and she held a block of ice in her hands, shifting it …

Art Pact 274 - Early Morning

I woke up this morning to the sound of lorries reversing. The beeping had made its way into my dreams as the ringing of a phone I couldn't get to, then transformed itself into the sound of my/an alarm (I say that because in the half-dream it felt like the alarm was for me, but it's actually nothing like my real alarm: I have the Dies irae from Verdi's Requiem). Finally I heard the recorded words "This vehicle is reversing." and I twigged that it wasn't yet time to get up. My eyes were still covered with a film of that gunk that gets there while you sleep, and I blinked it off awkwardly. The right eye cleared faster than the left one, making me feel slightly nauseous. It was 6:15, still another half an hour until I had to get up, and probably the earliest I had been awake in seven or eight months. I lay down again and tried to squeeze in the rest of my sleep, but the lorries were relentless. Either there were ten of them and more coming as each one left, or th…

Art Pact 273 - In the dust

I like it out in the dust. You can float there, surrounded by nothing more than the glow of your own suit lights reflected back at you. Kidderminster tells us that it's like fog back on the ground, and when we ask what fog is he just waves his hands and tells us that we should already know stuff like that.

"How can we know it if we don't know what we don't know?" Peppi asks. She's ten as she asks this, then eleven, then twelve, and now that she's thirteen she stops asking because she knows the answer - there's no way to learn these things except by listening to old people like Kidderminster and then immediately searching for any word they say that we don't understand.

So, this is what fog is - it's water in the air, so dense that you can't see it. Now Peppi wants to know why it is that the scrubbers let this sort of thing happen. Are they broken back on the ground? And Kidderminster shakes his head and rolls his eyes and says "kids!&q…

Art Pact 272 - Seven Aspects of Animals

One: Seven hundred of the world's finest swans will be performing in a lake tonight. The swan ensemble comes from all corners of the world and includes the famous whooping swan choir of lower Germany, plus (controversially) a dance routine from the black swan group of Australia. Swan society has become considerably more open in the last hundred years, but this still marks the first time that black and white swans have performed together on water in public - certainly on such a large scale, arguably ever (our reporters have been to several mixed performances in the past, but they were all small affairs marked specifically as rehearsal spaces to get around the strict swan segregation rules that still exist in some states). The performance is expected to be attended by several well-known swans.

Two: In some cases, rabbit warrens have been found to extend for hundreds of miles underground, right down to the lower edge of the Earth's crust. There are several theories about the exist…

Art Pact 271 - The Big City

Some facts I have noticed about the big city.

Everything is big! The buildings are big! The train stations are big! The parks are big! The people are big!

Well, almost everything. Not quite everything is big, but most things are. Some things are small. The mice are much smaller in the city than in the country, and the rats too. They're timid things, things that you see out of the corner of your eye as they scurry from one hiding-place to another. You could easily miss them if you're not sure where to look for them, and even then you might not find them. It's not the same as in the country, not the same as opening a barn and going inside to find a tool that you haven't used in years. You might look in the corner of your toolbox and see six little black eyes staring back up at you - nestmates, curious to see what has come to find them while their mother is away. The bit city mice and rats are reared in burrows or nests deep in the underground of the city, in the pipes an…

Art Pact 270 - First Dragon

From my place under the duvet, safely cocooned from the seasonal but rather rude sunlight that had pushed its way into my room, I could hear the unusual sounds of people moving around in the front room. It was not strange to hear my mother up early - she was a compulsive morning person, unwilling to sympathise with the idea that anyone might not be as chipper as her at seven o'clock in the morning. But my sisters were more like me, and my father even more so - if it wasn't a work or school day there were even odds that you might walk into our house at midday and find my mother the only person out of bed, the only sounds our snoring and the chip-chip-chip of chisel on concrete coming from her studio.

But not that morning. That morning the sounds of girls voices - one loud, one soft - took the place of the noise of my mother at work. Which in itself was strange, because my mother had been compulsively working on piece after piece for several weeks by that time, her rhythms of ar…