The hour of shadows

The hour of shadows came then, scouring the pavement in a carpet of pale crystal cubes which shone with the fairground photograph as if there were nothing more beautiful on this earth.  And it took time in its scissored fingers and stuffed it into a bottle, throwing it far out to sea to be washed up on some distant shore.

She tried not to run.

A magic lantern of blue light played out a crisp, bass rhythm that dumped information in disconnected chunks.  There was a silver car on its side.  A strip of metal had been stretched and curled around one of the traffic lights like a scrawny pole dancer.  Men and women shouted instructions, their words cut out and silhouetted into anonymity.  Across the street a fish tank of kebab seekers watching from their glass fronted TV set.  And everything was caught in the white light of abduction.

She knew she’d got the wrong accident.

His car wasn’t there, just a dark, unfamiliar shape rammed against the small Post Office building.  It hissed and clicked out its cockroach protest as the machines tore at its upended flesh.  This was some other car, some other mother’s son caught in the place between life and death.  This was not her son.  Her son would be waiting for her.  Waiting in that yellow lit suburb with the same name.  A soft road full of cats and driveways, a place for playing out the countless rehearsals, exchanging details and kicking his bumper back into place.

‘Everyone has an accident in their first year,’ she had told him, as if she could build an air bag out of her fear.  The police officer blocked her path.  And the firefighter leaned against a misplaced profile of metal and took off his helmet.

‘My son phoned me,’ she said, flicking her eyes between them, ‘is there another road?’

They knew.  But they took her and unveiled the truth gently as if they were finding it too.

‘No, there must be a mistake,’ she twisted away from them, ‘he phoned me, he told me not to worry, he said it was nothing…’

When they finally lifted the broken casing of blood and bone free, his hand was the only part left that she could hold.  But in the shallow waters of that new land, it was so much more than enough.

 

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The Last Human

If you were the last person left alive, would you still write?

Sure, it’s a hypothetical scenario.  But words are about communication.  A book is written to tell a story.  A poem to share an experience.  You only have to look at the submission figures churned out by the publishing industry to recognise that this art is only one half of a far larger whole.  So what would be the point in writing if there was no one left to read it?

Which leads me to the point of this.  We have been programmed to fit in, to look to other people for approval and to compare our insides with everyone else’s outsides.  But we are creatures of opposites, and so by its nature, this domestication process has also shown us what it is not.  And that excites me more than I can say.  Because being the last human would mean no gallery to play to, no judge and jury, no external validation, no internal submissions requirements and best of all, no fairy tale comparisons.

And perhaps if we could write from that place, then for the first time we would be free to lay out all the pieces of our soul in words so beautiful and wild, that they could never be read, even in a world of 7.4 billion people?

 

The problem with ticks

Last Christmas I was given a wall calendar.  Due to what I can only surmise is some kind of Pavlovian response, I immediately stuck it up on my kitchen wall.

In order to add some excitement, I decided to not peek ahead.

And so the year went on.  With each new month revealing a different view of the South Coast.  By March, I was bored.  I decided to use it as a kind of prison style tally.  I would take a moment to review each day, and put a cross or a tick in the bewilderingly small message box provided, depending on how good or bad it had been.

Some days had big fat ticks, some had crosses.

What I began to notice was that the ticks were getting less, and the crosses more.  One month there were only crosses.  By July, I had added a new category of Skull and Crossbones to the review process.

Picaresque West Sussex soon resembled a flotilla of pirate ships.

I decided that the problem was that I liked drawing crosses.  Ticks were so chirpy and fleeting.  One little swipe and they were done.  A cross however, could happily accommodate every mood from mildly annoyed that my socks had been paired inside out, to wanting to rip off someone’s head and ram it in the juicer.  Ticks were dull affairs, crosses could be read in the dark… four months deep.

Once I scrapped ticks I felt a lot happier about my life.

This Christmas I was given another calendar.  July has a view of riders on the South Downs Way.  I’ve taken to drawing stick men in situ.  They are all Postmodernists.

Synopsis…ssses.

When I’m writing a novel, I can happily sit at a keyboard until the postman calls through the letter box to see if I’m still alive, but come the bit where I have to pull a synopsis together, and I’m cleaning out cupboards, decorating the lounge and talking to my neighbour about compost.

Seriously, I hate this bit.  I hate everything about it.  I hate the prescriptive nature of it, I hate that it’s about jumping through hoops, I hate that it reduces my baby to a clinical monologue, and most of all I hate that I’m terrible at it.

I have pondered that this is because a synopsis is loaded with so many expectations.  It is the point of contact for an agent or publisher, it is the make or break moment. It has to be everything to every man, sometimes on a single sheet of A4. Each chapter has to be catalogued, reduced, and churned out in a can. No wonder it makes me want to run. It feels like strangling the thing I love and then cramming its twitching corpse though a ham slicer. Frankly, after several attempts, the finished article bears as much likeness to my book as an energy saving light bulb.

Is there some panacea  of process that I have previously missed? 

Medicine Man

As the last remnants of a colourless sunrise faded from the horizon they saw him, the man from the desert who had come in search of ghosts.

They rose up then, and before his shadow had even wrapped itself around the first of the granite stones, they were upon him.  Holding out jars sealed with wax and bound with ribbons and brightly coloured braids.  And he lifted each of the glass cages in turn, pressing it against the hollow leather of his skin until his body shook and beads of copper sweat dropped from the point of his chin.  Under his hand the jars jumped and fractured in spider silk patterns, calling out a silence so loud that the people crouched low and wrapped their arms around their heads to be free of it.

When he finally spoke, his voice was as dark and deep as the myriad of caves that coiled beneath the small village, ‘You are bound to me,’ he said, ‘you creatures of fear and torment.’

And with his words came a great roar of fire, which snatched each tortured jar from his hands, flinging it across the earth in a primordial arc that boiled and scoured the crude glass back into the same pale sand that had delivered the ghost hunter.

When all the jars were returned to the earth, the man walked in the places they had been, and stooping low he collected up the braids and ribbons, tying them like trophies to the spaces of his dark coat with fingers that had once again blistered into pus.

And when he was done he raised his arms wide so that the people there could see the journey he had taken spelled out in ticker tape warnings.

‘It is late,’ the people cried, ‘do not walk out into the desert tonight.’  Because it was part of the agreement that they should ask him to stay with them.

The man tilted his head in appreciation, ‘I thank you,’ he said, ‘but still I must go.’  Because it was part of the agreement that he always declined.

‘No,’ they sang, ‘for the night is cold and cruel.’

‘This is no place for the likes of me,’ he said.  Because it was part of the agreement that he would go back into the desert and nothing more would be heard of him until the year had turned full circle and the ghosts called him back to them.

‘Please stay,’ they cried, happy in the knowing that he would not, ‘please stay and take supper with us.’

The man narrowed his eyes, ‘I have told you that I cannot stay,’ he said, ‘and yet you persist in your asking, why is this?’

The people hesitated, glancing at each other for the unscripted answer, ‘Because it has always been this way,’ the eldest of them said.

‘And why is it that you dress your ghosts in such sweet colours?’ the man said, flicking his blistered fingers through the bright ribbons and braids.

‘Because it has always been this way,’ the eldest replied.

‘So it is that you speak the truth,’ he twisted his mouth into a smile, ‘and who would choose another path when the one you follow is lined with such sweet scented herbs?’

The villagers looked for a question in his words, but there was none to be found.

‘I will stay with you,’ he said then, ‘and each day I will take off 100 ribbons and return them to you until all are set free from me.’

‘No,’ the villagers cried out in horror, ‘please, there are too many, we would surely die.’

‘Then perhaps I will make it 200 each day,’ he smiled again, ‘for I would not wish you to die before all that you have given is returned.’

They knelt then, begging him for mercy, ‘Please do not condemn us to this fate, please, there must be another way.’

He took a long, deep breath, ‘We exist in terms of opposites,’ he said, as the evening mist curled around his feet, ‘rise up and think on this.’

But the people bowed lower, wringing their hands, ‘Tell us what to do,’ they wailed, ‘tell us how to appease you?’

‘Fill your fire pits with flowers,’ he said, ‘braid your houses and tie bright ribbons in the hair of your children.’

‘Yes!’ they cried, ‘This we will gladly do for you.’

‘Very well,’ he said, and with his words, the first howl sounded out across the desert, ‘but be warned that all things long to return to their home, and the ghosts of your lives grow restless for their hearth.’  He turned then and walked back the way he had come, and all the colours of his coat were stolen into grey by the night.

The morning sun came gently as the year began again.  The villagers rose early and returned again to the great vats of dye and the mighty fires that seared the white sand back into glass.  And they didn’t give another thought to the man who held all of their monsters inside his sliding flesh.

And on the wind, came a whisper of ice, ‘You are bound to me,’ it sighed, ‘you creatures of fear and torment.

Ghosts are made of nothing but past imaginings.  But bindings, bindings are formed of spoons and needles and of silk ribbons and braids… and who among us would choose to turn away the Medicine Man?