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Category — Serial Fiction

Black Door, Part II: Rowan

Welcome to Part II of my short serial ‘Black Door’. If you want to read the first part of this story, it’s here:

I: Softly Does It

II: Rowan

***

R

owan has been following the luasgan for days, winding her way up through the southern hills, along the slanted shores of the great landmasses and ancient volcanic rock. This is where great plates butt and press into mountains. Mist drifts as horizontal falls. There is only mud and shale, the old stone ways, and the rustling scrape of gorse-thorns on waterproof, where she trails fingers over eroded spirals and the white bloom of lichen. She is the tiniest of tiny blue flames beneath the great vaulted grey skies of rain. Clouds grow up like vast cliffs of crushed snow, where castles of giants aught to sit, were not the weather bleeding the pendulous formations, pulling rain down to the level of the land, in one long downdraught of the elements.

Buckets. Sinks. Bail for your lives!

Mud cracks between her teeth. Her feet ache, her arms are numb; bones are bruised. These trainers will never be the same again. A wicked cut wanders her left cheek, like a crack split by a razor. And while there is pain in her eyes, brown as Autumn’s fingers, there is also determination. To find this trouble before it runs to ground with its last tatters of magic.

And then she hits the festival.

By the three!

The Festival – Edinburgh Festival – where the streets boil with tourists and performers, every eye looking to ingratiate at the latch, every hand a flyer proclaiming this show or that; and her pushing through the bodies that stop to watch the temporary stages, where men in dresses and women holding puppets vie with drummers and Oxbridge ya-ya-yas. Geisha, punks, Slavs, a man with his trousers round his ankles, a trio of nuns, false breasts bumping, bulges, wailing, singing, Lycra, lamenting, applauding, cat-calls and whistles – a bulbous honk-honk, ha, ha, ha, ha – balloons squick and squerk as they’re tied into inflated octopi, while rope is laid as impromptu stages on cobbles, and the stalls of jewellery and fine crafts are perused. A WWI infantryman with a face of pancake white wanders past, followed by his cardboard plane on little brown legs. Both are bog-soggy. Why they wear tutus is quite the mystery.

And through it all, dazed and dirty, the huntress wanders; wondering at the hopeless task of finding one unbody, unbound, in the hundreds of thousands, while Edinburgh is swollen like an overripe pumpkin of pithy players, and extravagant one-liners.

“Hey nonny, nonny,” says a bulbous fool, bowing in his motley. Mesmerised by his rubbery, red-tipped nose – a perverse eight inches long – she takes his flyer; but immediately – guilty and angry – dumps it one bin later, in the great snowdrift of similar flyers. Take it. Take it. Take it. Take a rude brush past, paper scraping at her edges.

Brows ratcheted low. Sighs. Too numb to be angry or involved, or anything. She keeps her hoody up, fingers pinched to the cap-brim beneath, squeezing moisture and the remnant prickle of a bracken spur.

Feels her heart speeding; stares down another flyer for a theatrical review, stapled stars fluttering, man gabbing about venues and discounts. Man face here, man face on flyer. He holds out the paper for the taking – see? She wonders, briefly, if she can state, ball-faced, she has no arms, despite the obvious swing of them. See what he’d say.

A silver Audi crumples along the cobbles, slowed to the speed of crowd awareness, and sinks down Coburn St.

A cycle rickshaw, held standing on chain and pedals.

“Be-yoot-iful lay-dee, issa wanna ride?” Along with the faux-talian, the Australian idiot is trying to keek under her black hood, and peer around her curtain of slung blond hair. An uneven antipodean smile, wet and dazzling; muscular legs and cycle shorts. Regretfully, she lets the pleasing movement of lips and teeth drop behind, swallowed in bodies.

People eating pizza, scattered with fistfuls of grassy rocket, with straw-clinking glasses of Mojito – gourmands and commentators sitting on aluminium chairs under a wide awning, rain a curtain, curling at the edges. Umbrellas ill-advised, block the view. Fuck’s sake!

Pushes through. Blue poncho’s, German, Italian, Spanish voices.

Suddenly exhausted.

She huddles in an arched ‘close’ beside a black iron gate, the bars as thick as three fingers. High on the wall, an iron plaque says something Scottish in raised gold paint.

Breathing.

There is stone and slabs and her own chest rising and falling; a split-splatter of water from the far end.

Breathing.

Revellers wander past like trash in a flood.

The ring in her lip burns cold.

Sighs. Slips some hard lines out of a plastic bag strapped up in elastic. Wipes water from the screen. Cursing the interminable digital wait, she composes a text. Her fingers are so cold they feel like meat impaled on metal. Her waterproof chaps at her wrists, flesh pressed into branching canals; white and pink.

Sniffs. Sniffs. Back of her hand wipes wet. Bloody weather!

The text reads:  FESTIVAL – WTF??! SCARRED BT OK. LK FNDG BOGGART IN A MALL. SPK SOON, ROW X.

Sniffs.

Waits.

Waits.

Waits.

Pling!

Flicks open the phone again: SEE ADAM. K?

Not bloody K! She stabs the red exclamation, killing the phone, and dumps the L of black plastic back in her pack. Hopefully it’ll drop amongst her soaked underwear and explode. As it is, there’s a dull clunk, tunk, and ‘ptung’ as it bounces the length of a crossbow.

She has to push on.

Grubby fingers and torn nails rustle on waterproof fabric. She pulls out an agate arrowhead – smoky grey, white bull’s-eyes – on two foot of chain, each loop a tiny silver ring scribed by the Toichean, and hangs it there in the shadows that smell of kebab and strawberry ice cream. She relaxes her mind, spinning the beebaw, faster, twisting slower, slow, then faster revolving back again, slow, stopped, slow, revolving; moving it round in a circle over the stained concrete, slippery and black with chip fat.

Her mind opens up, then, like a door.

The door has ‘no idea’ written on it.

Her eyes snap open; almost yanks the chain into the ceiling.

Great. Stuffs the apparatus back into her pocket, loop-after-loop, and zips up the last poisonous coil. As if it meant it. Anger bubbles. Useless piece of –

Gods! As usual, no preparation, no place to stay, no way to turn back.

You could phone Adam, says a thought that’s looking to get stabbed. Shut up, she reminds herself. Meanwhile, something of the descendant wheel wanders the streets of Edinburgh. But where?

A small insect-like huzzz.

A piece of paper tumbles. She watches, black ice; eyes suddenly sharp, forgetting the dark bruises that ring them.

“Bloody Mary!” She mutters. Another scrap whirls around and around through the bars, where instead it should drop limp and wet, running low with the rain of the day. But it doesn’t. It is propelled.

This is paper brought by performers, loud and long from far away – those pushing the cheap seats and converted town houses, where theatre grows up behind black curtains. Fringe for Free. Punters deciding. Or not. Fate grows charged and dangerous on decide, decide, decide.

Or rather, those things decided against…

Horror-struck, she realises a deep, heavy magic has been performed in this city, with no care for those other travellers of the word; those already breaking rules.

Her in-breath is cut short. Glossy paper smacks and folds over her mouth, the white photography of ‘Britain’s bitchiest comedienne’ now the reverse of a smile, holding in, rolling on like film played backward.

All the better to wipe out her anomalous path.

She scrabbles for the knife in her pack, as more paper oozes, slips and slides beneath the tromping feet – discards, muddy and mongrel, looking for a fight. Others, whiskery, sliding like rusty sheers in buckets and bins, dry and sharp, as jabs of cutting paper begin to slide into her.

Now swiping in a circle with the stone knife, hacking towards her own features, flint whirling, scared to stab herself in the eye or face, and yet the paper is on the march, pressing in like papier-mâché, moulding to her face and tracts, the soft slumping of mushed words squashing water to her lips, moving like slug or worm.

All the while, the threads of reality are twanging like loose power lines – the antibodies of causality are on the march.

Her overwhelmed, thrown onto the metal of a dumpster, head clangs. And then, and then…

Slices across her face with the knife, the tip rattling her teeth, a taste of blood, and breath whooshes in.

She drops a word like a lead brick.

Foom!

Tatters of paper, curling at the edges with an eye-blink of flame, others trailing smoke like downed tail rotors, other fluttering like black feathers, her stumbling out of the close, coughing, eyes red, watering.

Into the cheers of the crowd watching the backs of other cheering heads, while somewhere in-between are acrobats.

Soaked paper slides from her arms like wet flannel; some cracks and falls away like cooked egg-shell.

A woman – child in hand – snarks a face at the slup that’s ended on her boot-end, her eye-shadow crinkled to nail heads.

A man pretending to be a statue – dark bronze and verdigris from head to foot, tie wired, bowler hat steady – catches a fluttering ash that floats to his palm like a tall-masted rigger. He blows it away with a metal-lipped, theatrical stiffness; and then he catches the scent of charred hair and waterproof.

This – this is why the Fates let none play the warp and weft of the loom: Weave m’boy and the lands will end. Weave m’boy and the white seas shall have kith and kin of the word.

September 6, 2011   11 Comments

Black Door, Part I: Softly Does It

In an effort to push myself beyond one-off pieces, I’ve decided to try writing a short serial, so welcome to part I of ‘Black Door’. It was supposed to be 3 parts in flash fiction, but it’s already escaped. This first part doesn’t even class as flash fiction (it’s 1237 words), and the serial is likely to be 5-7 parts.

As we’ll probably discover together, when it comes to planning fiction, I’m more of a reader than a writer: I love the surprises that come with reading, and detailed plotting tends to kill my fiction dead. Bit of a problem that, when I want to ‘go large’. So what follows is really a plotting experiment, where we all get to find out the details together (I’m laughing, but I’m crying). I have a rough structure, but nothing too restrictive.

So welcome to the writing equivalent of knife juggling…where the knives are paper and the worst dangers are presumably paper cuts, or confused readers. There’s no author, though – I’m reading along with you. St.

***

T

he last shreds of the weaving, unfurled from his body like a long sheet of cellophane pulled straight up into the sky. His right hand and arm were left upraised in rapture, his left sagging, caressing the air like a cello player’s crescendo, holding onto the old magic for one, long, lingering moment.

Colours he’s never seen before, things he’s never felt; and then dark trees rising up as a wall of whispers and cold gloom.

He moans.

Time slows. Needles fall. Sounds drag up to speed. Nature turns.

The sparkle gone: the whole of creation revealed as a finger drawn through a mundane pile of mud, as he steps into a new time and place.

The magic was all he could imagine and more, and his stomach lurches to bile even thinking about the feel of it, and Softly has never lost a meal.

But time is pressing. So he shakes his head till his lips slap, cracks one shoulder then the other, and turns a sharp eye to the trees and their long, tall slots.

He orientates and trots off.  

Nothing sees him coming, nothing sees him go. There is no tip-to-toe of Mr Softly, on account of his looking exactly like thin air.

Down the earthen banks, over dykes; tip-toeing through glades, with tattered leaves flapping.

After a while, a ripe, herbal odour begins to fill the greenhouse beneath the dappled canopy. It’s those little four-leaved helicopters, poking through endless mossy mounds; the sphagnum domed like foreheads of men marching in quicksand.

That smell could be sweet, Casaba melon on the turn.

Splutch, splutch.

Behind him, the mounds pop up beneath his footprints.

Foul water bathes his toes. Despite the lack of crumbling sewer brick, he may just be home.

Then he smells wood smoke; getting a gulp of it on the breeze.

Softly, softly, he begins to circle round, hands splayed.

Until he almost has his elbows off – there is a scuffle and one dismal, throttled bark.

He presses branches aside like vaudevillian drapes.

And now to the grandstanding murder of the day – an old man on a stoop porch. Middle of the brown woods, smells of paraffin. Gun on his knee, stoat heads on strings, wide eyed to the birds flying with hooted calls.

Chitter chatter, giving it away!

The old cuss growls something, holds up the rifle but doesn’t fire.

“That you Parley?” Old dog looking for his old dog. Sounded like “Far-ey”, way he said it: worried and hopeful, shot through with back-woods suspicion. But Softly had gotten the vicious thing with a loop of barbed wire, right next to the drop house: wolf hound, surprisingly strong, with gobbets of yellow teeth and coarse grey hair.

His hands still smell of dog; a kind of sweaty, livery, wet-blanket smell. Even got its fibrous muscle ridged up under his fingernails. Uncomfortable, that. Gloop feels like a warm glove. Licks it.

But he’s sweating all the same: gun’s pointed right at his heart, a foot away, though ‘Old Coop’ can’t see it.  Forget about guns, forget about ammunition.

Click.

And then again…

Old man gotten so addled with shadows, he’s forgotten to play the gun as loaded. You look through that one, narrow, window cut through weathered log ends – grains like graters, the glass swinging with webs and leaf crumb – and you can see his cartridges sitting on a pail of broken shingles.

Old fraud ain’t so much, after all that.

Whip-crack smash. Boots off and blood.

Breeze stirring the leaves.

A tooth tick, tack, tickity, tack, glistening like a ruby.

Got me the gun, oh my. A rifle – heavy, awkward. Bolt action, oiled, smooth stock.

Impressive.

Need anything else?

The old man’s head? Go guddle for it under the porch?

Pfft, spent enough time crawling around in dark spaces – another reason to get on changing up.

Besides, blood on the smooth stock for evidentiating. Clutcher got a nose don’t it? Gods knows Softly can smell the old hunter on there; him and his foul-mouthed doggit.

But now, the awkward carry. Gotta get a gun up a hill, middle of the lonesome forest, and without one intention of touching it with naked, glassy flesh. Bullets bad, but momentary; barrel-iron, a long and insufferable boil with bleach in…

There is a weathered creak.

The door on the old stoop, lolls. Latch settles.

Softly, pushes inside like a bear in a supermarket. Even hums his own muzack.

Smells of socks, and cabin smoke. Gun oil and garlic.

It’s Softly who sets up that tankling of tin cups, enjoying their wide mouthed ping pang as they bounce around on the floor; and then has to restrain an impulse to pounce, but he still grins at the jerking wing-wounded motion.

Wades ankle deep through the rag rug, like an all-coloured anemone.

A subtle push, as if launching a little ship, and a picture frame flips backwards down the back of  a bow-legged dresser, glass splashing and sliding to a stop on the floor. Loved that sound. Picture of man and dog slides out from under, like a Polaroid of remembrance.

Then he finds a fresh shirt by the old man’s washing pot; caught him on the shave, cut-throat razor open like a musical note. Still got a battleship of shaving foam on the water, bristling with a scrape of tiny, tree-like whiskers.

Impulsively, he runs the tip of his tongue along the blade, the metal burning like frying oil, seeking an intimate flavour of the man. Makes a face – lemon and chemicals! Curses. Spits.

Takes the shirt, then out by the door hanging with more locks than god has in creation – little uns, big uns, plain old bank-vault monsters – when all the old man had around them was shack wood.

On the stoop he wraps the gun, and decides – on second thoughts – to take a finger, Clutcher being Clutcher – yank to dislocate, and bite off at the knuckle. That’s how it goes, with a little, savoury pop.

By all accounts, Old Man and Clutcher have been at war for years. Years and years. But the old man was too cunning, and the big ole brute too lumbering and slow. And for a big thing dripping with bad attitude, Clutcher sure doesn’t like dogs and guns. A feardy horror, is what it is. Not that Softly would say that within snapping distance of its complex jaws. But either way, it’s sure going to be glad to meet its best, new friend, if it doesn’t just disembowel him where he stands.

But time, oh my, time is an issue. There’s already a faint frisson of inelasticity – like the world wants to pop back. And by the flayed gods of fiendish horror, that can’t be for hours yet, lest his plans spoil at the seams, though a full night may be wishful thinking.

He drops his watch on the old oak boards and inspects the dull face through its swaddling of Sellotape; tape that’s gone brown and greasy. Digits flicker likes flies alive in amber.

Hu. That’ll be late afternoon, then: oh-six-oh-five. 

The tape creaks as he slips the watch back on his wrist as a bracelet that has entirely vanished.

Adam’s watch, curse him. But don’t curse him too soon, because he has two more weavings to bestow, or not. Better than wishes, better than anything. Softly, softly, that’s the trick. And the other trick, will be getting close enough to the Clutcher without it ripping his head off.

August 27, 2011   17 Comments