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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.

11 comments

1 Steve Green { 09.06.11 at 11:16 pm }

Beautifully descriptive, and a fantastic walk through the sights and sounds of the festival. The paper attack is quite extraordinary and unusual.

2 John Xero { 09.08.11 at 9:41 am }

Love the madness of the festival, the wild claustrophobic agoraphobia that is almost a dark magic unto itself.

The paper attack was well-played (reminds me a little of the scene in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) and there’s a good blend of the ‘real’ world and the other in here. It’ll be interesting to see the full extent of her power, and how this ties in with Mr. Softly.

Intrigued by the oblique reference to the descendant wheel too.

3 Aidan Fritz { 09.10.11 at 1:22 am }

Beautiful details. The opening reminded me strongly of gaelic even before we get to the place of Edinburgh. The details of the fair were a pleasure in their reality and unreality.

4 Stephen Hewitt { 09.10.11 at 10:44 am }

@Steve – thanks Steve. Had a good wander round the festival this year, so figured I’d add it in as one of Edinburgh’s reoccurring ‘characters’. That paper attack partially grew out of the mania of Fringe flyers: you can’t walk five yards without being offered one. ;)

@John – thanks John. I love the festival and it’s kind of all those things you describe (at least as I see it). I’ll be getting to that link between Mr. Softly and Rowan in the not to distant future, or this story will definitely be quite a bit longer than I intended. :)

5 Stephen { 09.10.11 at 6:18 pm }

The paper attack was both interesting and creepy. I enjoyed reading about the festival. It reminded me of walking along the Strip in Las Vegas, everyone with their hand out, papers advertising this and that. In fact, I might have seen a few of the characters you described along the Strip.

6 Joan { 09.11.11 at 5:36 pm }

I like the fact that, in Part 1, the old man’s razor was still there, ready to be picked up again, if Mr Softly hadn’t murdered him, and that here in Part 2, Rowan has a ‘wicked’ (probably in both meanings of the word) cut on her cheek ‘like a crack split by a razor’. It seems to me to be a good link between the two parts.
I like the way she becomes a ‘huntress’ in Edinburgh.
Good that you’ve got the up-to-date (Edinburgh festival) with something (Part 1) that seemed of another time (possibly was, or timeless).

7 Stephen Hewitt { 09.11.11 at 5:53 pm }

@Aidan — thanks Aidan. Yeah, the Festival can be pretty unreal at times. But it’s always fun.

@Stephen — You’ve seen the guy in the tutu on the Strip? Actually, that may be true? I think I gained about three stone accepting paper from our lot — it’s great if you’re in the zone to go do show stuff, but can be a pain if you want to get from A to B. Soooo much paper…

8 Harry B. Sanderford { 09.13.11 at 2:43 pm }

I’m a bit behind on reading and just catching up to this one. Clever descriptions conjure clear images as usual. Love the paper attack, so inventive you are!

9 Stephen Hewitt { 09.16.11 at 11:11 pm }

@Joan — that’s why razors shouldn’t be left around in stories. Huntress for sure. And I do love bringing the fantastical into the current day (or vice versa).

@Harry — you’re welcome whatever the hour. I guess she has yet another job where you shouldn’t let the paperwork get on top of you. ;)

10 Helen { 09.19.11 at 4:08 am }

Wonderfully descriptive capturing all the sights sounds and diversity of the Festival. The Paper attack was something else!

11 Stephen Hewitt { 09.22.11 at 11:14 am }

@Helen – thanks Helen. As long as I can get on a bus, I love the Fest. On the plus side, the paper attack did use recycled paper, so it was Green as well :)

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