My, my, doesn’t time go shooting by: years are months, months are weeks, weeks, hours. It feels like only last week I put a post up, and yet months have passed. In the meantime, my SEO broke on the site and a bunch of links stopped working, like my story index. It felt like I was returning to a holiday cabin up in the Western Isles, and having to do those little maintenance jobs after the winter: a slipped tile, fixing a broken window; that sort of thing. There was a huge pile of junk mail on the welcome mat, of course.
One of my follow panels still isn’t working, so I suspect the last WordPress update made it expire. I wrote that plugin myself, but can’t remember, now, what I did. But I’ll go investigate, coding hammer in hand.
A big thanks to all those who were enquiring after my next story and where I’d wandered off to. That a meant a lot. Working in a start-up games land has kept me (and is keeping me) rather busy, and all that game-making tends to use that same bit of my writing brain. I get back, and I’m tired. But hey, writing is a lovely, personal thing. So I’ve got to do more of it.
Cue ‘Hell’s Roses’. After the hiatus, all perspective has flown out of the window. There may be too many words in here. Or not — who knows. I’ll let you decide. Plenty of enthusiasm, though. I’m sure I’ll calm down by the next one.
ippy Lee is spraying the arch of a wide eye, taking care to move her hand in one long sweep. Big-eye art is a favourite, and it uses a little bit of book. Not so much that anyone might look and guess her secrets – those little, intriguing twists – but not so few, that she won’t be regarded as a player.
“Look,” she mumbles.
And they do, if they can see it; up on the buildings, up on the crags, hanging in the clear blue sky – tinted with frost – while the sun rises and takes its place in the day.
There you go – a little pixy devil.
She taps in the final highlight with a rattle of can-beans, and a short, sharp hiss, like a cat with a tail trod on. Miles away, they’ll see the little Pac-devil eating rivets on the bridge.
‘Course, she’s undercover – recon-o-touring. On the other side of the bridge, over that fast moving road, there are bushes and another foundation. And right there, Rascal has thrown up a masterpiece – a rapacious garden bursting out of a cocoon. It glows in the morning light, damp and shiny as if newly born; elemental, steel-faceted and very distracting.
The pilgrim flicks the fringe out of her eyes. Looks away, rummages through her black rucksack and pulls out her piece book. Flips through. Now her work looks sketchy. A year, she thinks. I had another family once, but now consumed.
This page, Dionaea Muscipula – Venus, all fly-trappy – with her mouth open, throat organically rendered. Tongue lolling. Teeth.
Lines, pictures, pictograms, strange captured stills that are waiting to be expanded. I izz the mamma, she tut-tuts; the mother of a wicked little brood.
There. She holds up the piece book, pages fluttering in the gentle breeze. Her rose is a broken little twizzle of ballpoint and fingerprints. No denying the genius – she collects technique like a jailor. But look at that facing bridge-found: greens thrown up and curling across the stonework, leaves fleshy like pea pods, tendrils curling and twirling in tentative exploration. The piece is growing and filling out the space. As she watches – crouched, black-garbed and mute in the bushes – she imagines a thorny rose tagged out and blooming, as one pod-like bud uncurls. And she sees it now – pretty and red and dark, like fresh liver, and the little moon-bow of Rascal’s ‘(R) reserved’. Mocking.
Her own flower dies on the page.
“Hell’s roses,” she mutters. Bloody Rascal.
She swings up and drops the pack on her back with a spongy slap. Huffs. Cans rattle. Rubs her gun-hand. Smears paint off her tendon-backs to the smell of nail varnish remover. Pearl paint sparkles like diamond lipstick. Own nails bricked.
She trickles down the trail from the found.
Lippy dreams of China. That’s where the new world is exploding. They’ve got so much to find out, she mutters. So much. Money, luxury, arty farty shit – like Coke and Macky M’s – and graffiti. She’s so sure and possessed that China won’t know crap about graffiti, she ain’t even ever looked ‘em up.
What? Dragon dogs? Hm.
But now, the championships are coming. And that rose on the other side of the gulf has China appeal. She knows it. Even though her image of China is as a flat and two-dimensional as a fast-food menu.
Got a sketch goin’? Take a leaf outta ma book – a later leaf, where the pictures ain’t so nice. Where papa sits with big legs and dog’s face slippers, while the seat spreads like sausage, and the glow of electric fire burns his face off. That’s how she remembers him, and the magic lines make up the melting.
Down the trail, whisk, whisk of plastic jacket through budding branches. Moisture drags dabs across her face like hamster wee. The thought brings a ‘v’ of elbow through it.
Waits as cars frowm, frowm… darts over. Frowm!
A whistled intake of breath through her mask, valves squeaking. How did Rascal get up there, even? Crazy, dangling like a monkey? Face purple, fingers locked on infrastructure? Girds. Pigeon poop. Monumenty. Think she’d pee herself. But now, yah, gotta get close.
Bag over the gnarly fence of chain links. Over like too many legs, ass out. And up, tropping on plants, crunshin’ crowns. Gravel spits. Porn and tissues blowing on branches like chewed up wooly flags.
“It’s the principle,” she mutters, angry now, breaking stems. Scruffling on all fours up the divot path. Young little shit-shooter, can in hand, thrown his beans around like Wyatt gun-person-thingy, respirator hanging all Top Gun. That little shit!
Until, broken glass on bagged-stone reinforcements.
It’s all metal and brick up here – a dog bone, where the concrete, all cranial, meets the dry, dusty poop-sand. Can see the honeycomb of it.
And then she remembers. Moves the scene around as if turning it on a lathe. And can see, now, the other side of this self-same bridge. Hair in bunches, pink like bubble gum. Talking to Branklin. Flirting even. And later… years later. Moppet. Revisiting that strange name for a guy. And then digging until her nails bled, with some kind of entrenching tool, or maybe a metallic fragment of car. Wing mirror? Got a white scar to prove it, wandering round a knuckle like a worm. And there was blood, or paint. Can’t remember. Sees blue blood washing in and sticking on the earth. All matted. And kicked it away with boots. Moppet touched her knee and she… well, took his paint.
China calling now. She did what had to be done, and the piece book got fatter and phatter. Until, well, taking their thing, she was Miss Thing – toast of the escapades, aerial extra-pert-tease of the fly-vers. No one gets their shit higher.
There is a tink, of boot tappin’ glass.
‘Cept Rascal, that is.
Now, if she turns around, Rascal clocks Libby (Lippy Lee’s alter-ego) and Libby clocks Rascal. And if he does, she’ll go all coy and bendy like slippery sugar. Until she can slip the knife in.
Rascal says, without saying so much: the red fire is waiting. You died years ago!
But what does he know? She looks down. Looks at the traffic. Stares at the sun until she gets alter-images. Roses everywhere. Nodding.