The death of dragons

The dragon was more than motionless, it was lifeless.  If he hadn’t known better the hunter would have sworn it was a statue.  He snapped his teeth, taunting the beast, ‘The time of your tyranny is finally over!’ he said, swishing his cape dramatically. He’d rehearsed this several times in front of a mirror and wasn’t going to let a bit of dragon glamour put him off.

In a small, lake encrusted clearing beyond the cave, a group of anxious looking people had gathered.  They’d heard tell of the traveller’s quest to kill the dragon and were desperately concerned for his welfare.  Some of the younger ones had also brought their phones, secretly hoping for an elicit #hellfire.

Back inside the cave, the dragon didn’t say anything.  Not even when the hunter flicked a rope over its great neck and pulled it tight.

‘To be honest, I expected more,’ the man hauled himself up onto a rough ledge, securing a chain to the binding before clamping the locks shut. ‘The fearful tales were pretty fearful.’ He jumped down, scooping up an elongated weapon from his rattling caravan, ‘But then I fear that the truth of dragons always gets lost in the… fear.’  He cursed his last minute choice not to pack a thesaurus.

The dragon didn’t answer him.  Not even when the Teflon clad hunter touched the tip of a surface to air missile to its sparkling belly.

‘I’m not going to lie, this will hurt you far more than it will hurt me.’

Outside in the clearing, the people were restless.  It didn’t normally take this long for a fry up and the apple core of their anxiety had sprouted several saplings of curiosity. A spectacularly moustached man peeped around the cave entrance, ‘Everything okay in here?’

‘Behold!’ the hunter gestured like a late night shopping channel host, ‘Your great foe is easily subdued by my manly skill.’

‘Right…’ the man twirled his moustache because it had its own Twitter page, ‘only some of the children are asking if they can have a photo.  When it’s all over… obs.’

The dragon didn’t interject with an amusing riddle.  Not even when several of the increasing number of innocent bystanders gave it an encouraging thumbs up.

‘Um, sure.’  The hunter had been growing a beard since 1993, he fumbled uneasily at the wispy outcrop occupying his chin, ‘I’ll just finish this Hellspawn off and the…little dudes can take as many Selfies,’ he quietly congratulated himself, ‘as they like.’

The dragon didn’t make a sound.  Not even when the tip of the rocket launcher rebounded off the cave wall and exploded like a disappointing advert for season 8 of NCIS Los Angeles.

The hunter didn’t make much noise either.  Although he did make a sort of squishy, hissy sound as what was left of his underpants hit the lake outside.

The people clapped.

‘Ah, hunters and their ego,’ the dragon said, shooing away a pale curtain of smoke with one of the man’s arms before beckoning the children inside, ‘they always think you’re talking to them.’

dragon

Something close to Bowie

something close to bowieOn the 10th of January 2017, Peter took the day off and made a pilgrimage to the little shop in Doncaster. Of course it was a coffee shop now. They were all bloody coffee shops now.

He sat in a high backed armchair by the window holding the cup tight against his mouth until he felt the skin burn away from his lip. It would blister later, but that was okay.

He’d forgotten what it felt like. To choose to hurt that much.

Outside, the northern sunlight had struggled its way through another rainy afternoon. The streets glistened hopefully, and a flurry of tribal shapes moved around the same spectrum that he had once worn. Fashion repeated in cycles, culture dictated boundaries of normality, sexuality searched for another unique identity. The 21st century was obsessed with change, but nothing had really changed at all.

The people at the next table were laughing too loudly. But even the chatter, the steam, the clinking of crockery, couldn’t hide the temperate ghosts of those Saturday afternoons. He’d found Bowie here, all those years ago, tucked under the arm of the only man he’d ever loved.

Peter smiled with the memory. He’d never seen anyone wear black like that, like it was a million different colours. From the shelter of the record racks, he’d allowed the patterns of it to unfold across his skin, a forlorn tragedy of longing that had nowhere to go. The man had glanced over at him as he left the store, and Peter had taken that look and made it last a lifetime.

He’d also bought a copy of Ziggy Stardust.

And now here he was, relishing the pain again. He blew a cobweb of thoughts out across the top of his coffee before biting deep into the burn, pulling the spike down to his chest. Too much time had passed and memory had a way of changing the facts to suit its own agenda.

He closed his eyes and allowed the sun to turn the darkness orange. Wherever that sweet nowhere man was, whatever, whoever he had become, Peter knew that they were feeling the same loss today. Seeking out something close to Bowie in a world forced to live without him.

In a run down record shop all those years ago, nothing had happened. Nothing. In a multiverse of choices, he had chosen nothing. A whole mess of nothing. And that’s what the pilgrimage was about.

Because on that day of nothing, that moment of nothing, all those years ago, the moth in him had flicked through the records, and chosen to buy the wings of a butterfly.

 

 

#Rule 1

silences

Everyone knew Rule Number 1.

A soft evening light had curled along the back of the sofa. Adam caught at it with his fingers,‘Don’t play the innocent child with me, you know damn well that avoiding the bad things is all we care about.’

‘So why do I still feel like I’m failing some kind of test?’

‘It’s always that way with belief,’ the older man turned away, gathering his things, ‘once you get that, it’s easy.’

‘And you expect me to accept that this life is the culmination of hundreds… no thousands,’ he almost laughed, ‘possibly millions of lives, that I’ve lived before?’

‘Sure, why not.’

‘So it IS some kind of test then?’

Adam knocked the words back with his finger, ‘How many times do I have to say this? One, ten, a thousand… even a million, would make no difference. Each life is a new beginning. The first is always the last, and the last is always the first.’

His companion looked genuinely worried, ‘That’s why there’s no memory?’

Adam smiled like there was nothing remotely weird about what he was saying, ‘Absolutely. And because there’s no memory, there’s no test. You can’t fail at being you, because you’ve never been ‘You’ before.’

‘Okay…’ the younger man wrapped his mouth awkwardly around the words, ‘but if there’s never been any memory, and there’s never been a ‘Me’ before… not for any of us, then logically, there can be no witnesses either?’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Adam absentmindedly checked his phone.

‘So, if there are no witnesses, then how come you know so much about it?’

And a silence, deep and dark, filled the space where forbidden words had been spoken.

EVERYONE knew Rule Number 1.

 silent-hedges

 

 

pp13.452:1b

 

Snow always seemed like a suitable medium for death. Red on White, the symbolism already had its gory fingers all over it, so what backdrop could be more appropriate than this snappy little winter morning to shuffle off some coils, mortal or otherwise?

‘To be honest… Daniel cursed as the spectre of his ill-chosen words billowed a badly conceived Halloween costume into the piercing air.

Luckily the creature didn’t seem to notice, it was too busy staring at his hands.  They both knew that he was officially on the menu now, along with every other bastard on the planet.

He tried again, ‘No way back, no way forward and the last thing we want to do is to stay where we are, eh?’ The creature shook, flicking a rainbow of foul smelling saliva out across the snow. Behind it, a set of dark lines crackled sarcastically across the royal icing sky. Hope may have switched sides weeks ago but Daniel still missed it, ‘Feel free to chip in with any last minute amendments or additions,’ he spoke with more joviality than he felt.

‘So,’ the creature whispered. It was the first time it had spoken since they’d stopped running, ‘this is how the Great Species ends, not with a bang, but with a supplementary form?’

‘We just like to make sure it’s done right, that’s all.’ Daniel could feel the creature getting impatient. It had edged forward another few inches. He tried not to stare, a black ice was already crystallising a new set of scales onto the kaleidoscope skin. Despite excelling in his level 3 integration training, Daniel still shuddered. Some things were just too weird to get used to.

‘Do you not see that the notion of right and wrong seems to have fled along with the birds?’

‘You ate all the birds,’ an irritating wobble had wriggled past his vocal chords, ‘right after you installed the net.’

‘The birds were given ample time to submit a counter proposal, just as your kind were.’

‘Time is weird like that,’ Daniel said, more to the situation than his companion, ‘it follows you home all bouncy and full of hopeful ideas.  But then it has some supper and curls up quietly next to the fireplace of your mind, and after a while you forget it’s still there, right up until someone knocks at the door.’

‘You wish to use your last few hours discussing future policy for effective time management, Human?’ the creature circled behind him.

‘There are worse ways to go, and I can always pop the paperwork in the post, save you hanging around.’

‘You know I’d laugh,’ the creature’s breath was warm on his neck, ‘but my mouth is busy savouring the stench of your mistakes.’

‘Hey that’s not fair, they didn’t seem like mistakes at the time.’

‘I’m curious, why did your species choose to continue with this strategy, even though you knew it was not working?’

Daniel shrugged, wrapping his arms tight around his chest in an effort to keep more than the cold at bay, ‘Don’t forget, it was you who made us all Civil Servants, being concerned with whether something is working or not hasn’t factored in our lives for a very long time.’

The creature grinned, because natural selection loved a bit of irony, ‘If it makes you feel any better, I can show you my pp13.452?’

‘Ah, permit to picnic in this quadrant of the park,’ Daniel rallied, ‘I think you’ll find that a pp13.452 doesn’t cover….’

The creature blossomed a tendril, coiling it chummily around his shoulders, ‘Supplementary form 1b, attached,’ it whispered into his ear.  And then it grinned again.

But only with its teeth.

 

 

A man with seaguls

She touches her fingers to his for as long as he will bear them, ‘Hey, I meant to tell you earlier, Poppy painted a picture at nursery today.’

‘You peddle words like they would call him back,’ he shuffles on the path, white slippers catching at the stones, ‘but he is set free. Why would he return to the wasteland of your suburbia?’

‘She said it was you,’ she smiles anyway, ‘and actually, I can see where she’s coming from, in a primary, dribble down the paper with a blunt object kind of way.’

‘Where do you want him? Where is he in this?’ he smacks the palm of his hand into a long scar that cuts through his hairline, ‘Where is he in this utopia of you?’

The wind stirs up the bones of empty trees. She stoops, picking up a silver remnant, another bastard reminder of that November night, ‘She even gave it a title, A man with seagulls.’

He pauses, tilting his head to catch her words and her breath is burnt away in the sweet of his familiar. He leans in, conspiratorially, ‘Man, men, mice, a misplaced piss, a strange choice of water bottle and they rapture, they have no idea that it’s really them who run on the wheel.’

Grief, vicious at her flesh. Even the scent of him has been sanitised away, ‘She wanted me to give it to you…’

‘They don’t know that the cage has bars on the inside. Locks on the inside. They are the caged, they are the rats,’ he laughs, spinning away from her, stumbling as his slippers lag behind with the stones, ‘they are the watchers, watched.’

‘But they say you can’t be trusted with anything,’ the bullets still ricochet, ‘…not even your daughter’s painting.’

‘You’re not welcome here you know,’ he stumbles again, ‘he won’t tell you, but you make him sick. Sketching out Foucault in the charcoal of your conformed normality. You make him vomit.’

The madness of mankind had scattered his sanity. And now it seemed that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him back together again. Tears can burn like anger in the meaningless. In the desolate. She closes her eyes and feels them die away, ‘I asked the staff if they would put Poppy’s painting up in the main corridor instead.’

He turns, stooping, whispering back through her words.

‘And then everyone who sees it will remember that the world isn’t ready yet,’ she watches him curl, twist again into winter, ‘not for a man with seagulls.’

Signposts

Mind flickers fluorescent. On. Off. On. Off. The snap of plastic, sharp in the air. Soiled. Another broken picture show. Another broken streetlight. Another broken stranger. We catch water in a paper cup from the segregated graveyard. Where are the signposts in this land? We break. We crawl. We stand. We fall. We crawl. We break.

‘It’s not so bad,’ whispers legion, ‘not so bad here.’

A peeling poster grips the floor. Gravity always has its own agenda.

 

Cut along the L. ‘Is that my name?’

‘Mr Tuesday?’ The door shut over her voice, but she waits anyway. There is no Mr Tuesday here. Camouflaged in the bamboo of shadow, she calls out again, ‘Mr Tuesday?’

No one wants this name. It’s a nice name. Perhaps it could be our name? Snatching twists punctuation into the neat little row of 17 green chairs, ‘I’ll have it!’

Her smile is, cold, alone, ‘Have you returned all the pens, Mr Tuesday?’

‘Is this my jacket?’ we are feeling for pockets that might be there, ‘I don’t seem to know.’

She sighs like we have done this a thousand times, ‘Do you want me to check?’

A moth is circling the moon. Burn. Burn. Burn. I’ll have it,’ our lips are working her harmony around the words. No more signposts. In this land. Don’t tell.

‘They will just search your room again you know,’ she taps her foot tunelessly on peppered vinyl, ‘and that’s wasting everyone’s time.’

‘Can I have some tea?’

 

Cut along the O. ‘Is that my name?’

An old woman stares empty at the TV, clutching a teddy bear close to her chest. I was a person once, now legion breathe with my lungs. A piece of rubber stranded between the pale forest legs. It was a shoe once. Everything was something, once.

Rain on glass. Fallen leaves on fairy lights. There were signposts… once, we remember, ‘Can I have some tea?’ we ask the blue overall, ‘Can I have some tea?’

‘You had your tea 10 minutes ago.’

The fluorescent flickers, ‘….Can I have some tea?’

 

Cut along the S. ‘Is that my name?’

‘Do you remember me?’ she is pleading for an answer with her pretty eyes, ‘Do you remember?’

‘Yes,’ we remember, ‘I have returned all the pens.’

She smiles, warm, searching, ‘Dad, I miss you so much.’

Dad? The moon burns down to the wick. Black smoke….  …. I remember… There are fairy lights. Hidden in the cellar. Don’t tell. About the signposts.

 

Cut along the T. ‘Is that my name?’

Blinds run sideways, keeping the dark out. Necklaces strung like fairy lights……. She is crying…. Don’t tell…….I….. I…………. There are fairy lights. Legion say. In the cellar.

 

Legion say, ‘But don’t tell about signposts……….  or we will all be lost.’

‘Is that my name?’

 

Game of dice 

The outcast of carrion rises, curing a smile with the salt of his words, ‘You would risk everything?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you are certain that you would leave the terms of your defeat to me?’

‘I am certain.’

A laugh, gaseous and fetid, seeps through the tenure of agreement, ‘Then you are a fool, for only a fool is certain of anything.’

She turns an arc, stirring dust into the desert, ‘Do you seek to mock me now?’

‘You would speak of mocking, to me?’ The Tick. Tick. Tick. Of the clock, falls silent with his question.

She does not answer.

‘Then perhaps this is just another shattered grail to you?’ Familiar, cool cotton rain falls, temperate. A blind drawn backwards across the sun, ‘So many have narrated my form around that sniveling companion.’

Still she does not answer.

Teeth snap at the air, blood on black, ‘Tell me at least why you would chose dice as mechanism for this game? Why not a game of skill where the odds can be woven closer around your skills?’

She finally lifts her head, her eyes raw, ‘It seems that chance is the only truth left now.’

‘Then we are done with talking, make your choice.’

‘It is for you to choose,’ she waits even then, for another way.

But there is none. The words ooze suit from the fat of his pale lips, ‘I choose, Even.’

‘Then,’ she sighs, ‘Odd is mine.’

The die are cast.

Thrown.

6 in 12.

A shift.

Too small to catch.

Missed between thumb and finger.

Both fall.

Scattered and discovered.

Made again with the ragged dots of bone.

The numbers.

The fates.

Skip.

Slow.

Settle.

EVEN.

He tilts his head, flicking his tongue around the maggots of her flesh, his blood drawn raptor by the sweet of it, ‘I win!’

‘So it is,’ she whispers. But it is her unspoken words that writhe poison in the pastures of his bloated victory.

He recoils, ‘What is this flavour, this scent of grey treachery in your loss?’

But she is already breaking.

Wing on stone. She breaks. Wing on stone. She is lost.

Dying, again.

Beginning, again.

A new earth. She forgets again. That there was once a winner. In this game of dice.

 

 

Gallery

The door whispers. A woman speaks, ‘Ethan is so busy building his empire, he forgets his manners,’ The crow circles. Darkness between the couple. She takes the young woman’s arm, ‘Come my dear, I have something to show you.’

He is young again. Hesitant. His face hidden behind soft ribbons of hair.

‘Hurry up child!’

He remembers her hands. Rough on his. Lifetimes. Mapped out, drawn, painted, sealed beneath the yellowed varnish of this hallway. Just one word. An oath sworn.

A soft hiss of tapestry on oak. A dagger through his thoughts. He runs at her, taking her shoulders. Forcing her back against the wall, ‘I told you never to follow me.’

‘But you were gone so long,’ she moves her body into his anger, ‘and I got tired of waiting,’

‘I’m sorry,’ he tempers his strength, steering her towards the concealed door. Guiding her way back. Holding the leash of his rage tight.

But she slips away from him. Dancing. Pirouetting into the long room, ‘I thought you had a dungeon or something hidden back here,’ the tips of her fingers are curling a smile around her mouth, ‘but it’s just a gallery, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘Did I say I was ashamed?’ He grabs at her. Playfully. Deliberately. And she folds into his body.

‘Are they all paintings of your family?’

‘No… Yes.’

‘No and Yes? You drive me wild with your enigma, Ethan.’

‘Yes, they are my family.’

‘They are all so…’ she tilts against his chest, ‘I mean usually there’s something like a massive nose or receding chin in common, some blood born connection. But these look more like a bunch of random strangers that someone pulled off the street. That’s so weird.’

Frozen in time. Another. Another. Unmoved. Untouched by her words.

‘Weird and dead, that’s my family all over.’ He wraps his arms tight around her, ‘Come on, let’s go make some noise in the music room.’

‘Except for the peacock blue of their eyes,’ her smile lights slowly, ‘and I thought you were the only one.’

The first wave of panic. Biting. Breaking across his chest, ‘No,’ he whispers, ‘I won’t let this happen.’

‘So strange…’ she pulls away, caught by the shimmer. Blue to green. Green to blue. And she sighs.

‘Sarah, I mean it, we need to leave before it’s too late.’

‘What do you mean, too late?’ Her fingers still held to her mouth.

And he feels it. Bite in him. Drag in him. Burn in him. Ropes. Chains through his blood. Just one word. An oath. The last to rot here is the first to rot here. The culmination and the destruction. It curls in his throat. Growls at the moon. The sum of it all. Just one word.

‘Too late to leave,’ he says.

But his words come late.

The door whispers.

He whispers.

‘Yes.’

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing

The small print wasn’t even small when you made a deal with the devil. So why did people still sign up? The question had lived inside his head for as long as he could remember.

He took another drink and looked up at the disc of silver light that hung just above the horizon. Bathing in the reflected fury of a distant star, the lonely satellite crawled a path around its protector. It was nothing but a second hand jewel, an enslaved rock, and yet its mass was enough to drag the tides of the planet below. He squinted, holding the moon between his fingers. Perspective pulled it all down to flesh and blood, and flesh and blood pulled it all down to time.

Everything that had been before was gone. Time was illusion. The beginning and end of everything, wars, famine, disease were nothing. They fell like the insignificance of raindrops on an infinite ocean.

They were nothing.

But those billions upon billions upon billions of tiny drops of nothing also made up the ocean. Without even one of them that ocean of nothing would be a different place. Change one drop of nothing and you could change everything. And suddenly, each drop was the most important thing in the universe, without it the universe would be gone.

He had realised the implications when he agreed to sign the contract.  Touch one part you touched it all, move just one part of nothing and… The knock on effect was incredible.

Time had a suggestion of Lycra about it. People went around treating it like it would hold its shape no matter how many times you washed it. But it was more like the George Bailey scenario than they had ever imagined. That whole town had re-shaped because one man had never been born. The film had set its boundaries around Bedford Falls, and no one got to see what happened outside of that sweet shop utopia. Throw a stone into the water and the ripples grow bigger as they fly away from the centre. A butterfly flaps its wings and on the other side of the world a mountain crumbles.

He emptied his glass and turned back to his desk. It wasn’t complicated, it was just pyramid selling with time. And once this contract kicked in, the moon was in for a shock. Everyone was. He flicked his eyes over the parchment. He’d been in marketing for years and this was pretty standard stuff. Hyper realism at its best, the whole industry was built on the damn stuff. Give them what they want in a way they don’t expect, no wonder the world was in such a bloody mess. Even the putrid spewings of politics had been vindicated by that rag-tag line.

The best part of this was that the man had come to him. His pathetic flesh crawling with desire, begging for that one selfish thing that felt like nothing.

He grinned, in a way he’d miss the Human Race, he’d have to go a long way to find another species so wrapped up in perceived reality. But hey, a deal was a deal, there was no going back now. And how did that old saying go?

The Devil is always in the Detail. 

Normal

Nothing about this was normal. But then, that was Normal all over. Most people didn’t realise that the damn thing had been hanging out with them until it buggered off. Waking up to find a recycling bin rammed through the windshield of your second hand BMW and a dollop of sketchy looking poo sliding majestically down the inside letterbox was a boot camp reminder of how fickle a companion normal could be.

See, that was the other bastard thing about normal- you could only measure it by its opposite. Which always felt like a kind of roundabout way of doing things. Conner looked over at the man perched perkily on the edge of his favourite chair. Good old normal had its non-descript fingers in every pie imaginable. It had happily skipped with him through long, golden days and it had cowered with him under the duvet as the black dog paced the dark halls of his mind. It was littered across the monochrome grey of scarlet battlefields and feathered with the peacock colours of love. In a line up, normal would stand, perplexedly overlooked and ordinary next to the average looking guy, while whispering corrupted stars into the ears of the serial killer.

Conner cleared his throat, ‘Well I for one need a cup of tea, can I get you anything?’ he ran his hands over his face, feeling unwelcome stubble catch at his fingertips. The man certainly looked better, there was a healthy colour to his cheeks and he sat with an annoying authority that made Conner feel decidedly uncomfortable. The prospect of an ambulance being the solution to all his problems was rapidly fading along with the evening light. Even the most tolerant of paramedics would look unkindly on him calling them out to a patient who vaulted onto the stretcher as they arrived through the doorway. He just had to keep reminding himself that whatever happened, he was not answerable to this stranger.

‘The outline of civilisation scours chalk from willow fingers…’ the man spoke softly, threading the line like poetry. His voice also cut out the middle man and interfaced directly with Conner’s brain.

Good old normality eh? It was so easy to overlook just how great it was until it had thanked the crowd and gone for a drink at the hospitality bar. People talked about weird shit like telepathy, but no one actually believed it was real. Conner battled on, ‘I have Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Green, White… Peppermint?’ Strictly speaking, Peppermint wasn’t a real tea, but these were desperate times.

‘Specters of acrid hope.’

Conner laughed easily, but it was the daisy chain laugh of a deceiver, ‘Is that some kind of Himalayan blend?’ He had never been so freaked out in all his life.

‘Snakes of peroxide venom are the martyred weavers.’

‘I have decaff if you’d rather?’

The man twisted his head like a bird, ‘Sanctuary and oblivion flicker with the same tepid fires.’

The words roamed around inside Conner’s mind, trying to find a purchase of understanding. He grinned hopefully, ‘I’ll put the kettle on then shall I?’

In the relative safety of the kitchen, Conner leaned against the dishwasher and wondered if the milk was still in date. He wished he had an answer for what the hell was happening here, but he didn’t. He just had tea. And tea would have to do because tea was normal. And in all honestly, normal was the only thing left to hold onto in situations like this.