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The International Circuit

Warning2 The International Circuit

E

achann fought the circuits; a huge man, whom they said had the strength of five, but was wiry and fast, and carried his knuckles wrapped in bloodied cords of bed linen, torn from his own mattress. He could kill a pretender with one punch, could blind another, or hemorrhage a third, as well as look at any of them. He was odds-on-favorite and wherever he fought, in the car-parks, abettors, or garages, he made the touts a lot of money, and they said there was no fighter alive who could beat him in a straight fight. And Eachann was proud of that reputation of his, and said, let any rival challenge him and he’s send him back in pieces.

Then there was the bout at the bus depot on Edinburgh’s Fanmuir Street, surrounded by dead buses, looming like maroon dinosaurs, and the smell of antifreeze and scorched asbestos hanging in the air. There were thirty punters, slips in hand, screaming and shouting. And when the job was done – a grotesque Russian by the name of Viktor Gorovich, who worked as a deck hand on the Moskaw, was lying pooled-out on the floor – Eachann’s arm was held aloft and great handfuls of notes passed hands, tied with chains of elastic bands, and the touts were licking fingers to count, and Eachann’s man, Haden, was gathering up their cut: a huge stack of child’s play-blocks with Lord Islay on the front and Inverness Castle on the back.

“Ach, it is terrible shame,” said the last to come forwards, shaking his head in theatrical disgust. He was dark and swarthy, but smart in that suit of his. “These Russian’s are not what they were, after the collapse, hey? Your rabble-rouser, Eachann, he’s all right for a farm boy. But how would he do against the Greek? Hey?”

“He’d dae  just as well” said Haden. “Now gie us what you owe.”

“Kolotripa, pfft.” But he handed over his block of money. “I tell you this, I have a one who could beat your man.”

“Aye, is that right?”

“Ha. I heard his challenge. Smart mouth, always talking. Back in Greece we really know our fighting; have seen off many provincial fighters. There’s not so many ready for what the international circuit has to offer. Your Scotch man, he is not so much.”

And Haiden took a good look at this foreigner, who in truth was a nasty piece of work – dark eyes, long fingernails, but immaculately dressed, hair hanging in oily curls – but was undoubtedly Greek, and said, “The challenge stands. You think your Greek can beat The Big Man? Bring him on.” and they shook on it, with Kostas Malandris staring him in the eye, with a calculating look, while his mouth wore a faint sneer of contempt.

“One month,” he said, “and we do it at abettor near stadium.”

“Sure, aye, it’s our best venue; with a gid hame crowd.”

And the Greek snorted, and held out his fist as if to give him a coin, and said, “Your man will be needing these, hey” and dropped three teeth knocked from the Russian’s head into Haden’s palm, who dropped them like a hot cinder, and wiped his bloodied hand on his jeans, cursing. Kostas walked away laughing.

A month later, the bout was ready to go. But the Greek had added two stipulations which Haden didn’t like; didn’t like one bit.

“He wants the round ahind closed doors; just you, and his man. So we all stan’ ootside hudin’ our baws, while you two beat the shite out of each other. An’ he wants yis to fight ’til dawn – last man standin’. It’s nae gonna happen. He can get tae fuck. We’ll hand back the money.”

“The hell it isna,” said Eachann. “That Greek daesna scare me.”

“But his fella cud pull a pipe, a shiv, or a gun; wrap lead in his bindings; hell, even pish in your whiskey. We don’t even know who it is. Maybe they’re just efter gettin’ you oot the way.”

“There’s nae body goin’ I cannie beat, fair or foul. Bring him on. I’ll fight him alane if I haf tae.”

And Haden said a lot more, thinking of everything he could to dissuade the bout, but Eachann was full to thinking he was unstoppable, at the top of his game, and was already to binding his hands, when Haden bent to help him.

At midnight, the Greek was there, as contemptuous as ever. “He’ll need more than just those bandages on his hands, hey – our man is a monster.”

“Away an’ shite,” said Haden, and Eachann had pushed aside the hefty door like it was only paper and tape and had gone inside to wait.

Twenty minutes there was nothing, then the sound of a truck pulling up. Chains rattled. There was the whine of a hydraulic winch; the creak of a metal door; the sound of low Greek voices; the clatter and bang of metal being kicked, shouts of alarm; a dull thump, thump, thump, and then plaster dragged off the wall, scattering like gravel on the floor.

In the shadows something huge and heavy moved, breathing like a steamer in hot coffee; each breath a long, drawn-out thing. Then the clopped footsteps, dropped like bricks on stone, grinding the rippled concrete, and into the arena of light – from one dirty bulb, hanging on a chain – horns straight and tall, as long as a man’s arm, cream turning to black at the tips, and the steam that rolled from its huge body, and then dog’s teeth bared beneath a bull’s curled lip, black beard, wet with slather, dank beneath its chin, nostrils snorting, wet and wide, eyes black, ears notched and long, fuzzed with coarse black hair, twitching as Eachann circled on the sawdust – appraising it; still convicted of fighting this thing, spitting on his hands. Body of a man, head and legs of a bull, seven foot tall, neck corded like bridging cable, chest as wide as a truck, forearms like girders. It stank of blood and silage. It was something out of fuckin’ legend. It had the look of a killer.

Eachann raised his fists and beckoned it on. “You dinnie scare me, ya big beastie.”

At six am, the agreed end of the fight, the punters went back to see what-was-what, slips in hand. When they opened the door, they found blood up the walls and hoof prints everywhere, and matted chunks of black hair. Eachann was beaten so badly he was more a pile of purple and blue meat, than he was a man, and he’d been gored in three places – chest, thigh, and hand – wounds that pooled with dark blood on waxy flesh. He looked like he’d been trampled by a herd of cattle, and given the venue, inquiries were made, but there was no cattle in the place.

Of the Greeks – Kostas Malandris and his unknown fighter – there was no sign, and they never came to collect their money.

March 6, 2011   4 Comments

The Star

T

auri had a real scare of bright red hair. Her momma was sticking it down with a comb and a cup of water. It was about as futile as licking a flame to put it out; it just kept springing back up there.

The sky was dark; black almost.

“You got to look your best, Tauri. Don’t you let your momma down.”

“Sure, momma. I don’t mind doing this. Just give me the stupid thing.”

“’Kay, but he’ll be here soon.”

Tauri held a fistful of red and started dragging the comb through.

Momma got back to looking out the window at the gathering crowds. “I’m gonna get that rat for what he did to us.”

“But he’s a star, momma.”

“Star or no, he’s gonna pay for what he did. Look at you, so young, just out of school. Startin’ some dead-end job – hairdressin’ or somethin’.”

“Hey, momma, I like hairdressing.”

Momma sniffed. “That’s not the point, now, is it?”

“You shouldn’t want to be no hairdresser. You should be wantin’ college or some such. If he’d been around – been around with some money, even – then we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“It’s not a mess, momma. We got a home, don’t we?”

“But it would’ve helped to have a man around. I’m just sayin’.”

But he’s not a man, now is he, momma?

Momma had cashed in whatever amounts of jewellery, sold the antique dog over the fireplace, and gotten them a hotel in the city. It was a rush and riot and Tauri had never seen so many people busy-bein’-busy; going up and down on the moving stairs or swinging through the revolving doors with those funny, little plastic cups of coffee they have. But momma wasn’t interested in coffee. She wanted restitution. That’s what she said, and she’d looked that word up special in the dictionary.

If you listened to momma’s side of it – and how could you not – Tauri was an immaculate conception. Just like that lady Mary, but on some beach up at Lake Havasu, on the ‘Arizona Riviera’. It was a hundred and ten, a real hot summer, and momma had been sunbathing. Then she’d come over kind of funny, felt too warm, had a cold drink and that was it. Nine months later she had a child with red hair.

“And nobody in the family had all that red, now did they?”

When she was eighteen – old enough to know what leads to what – Tauri had asked: “You wasn’t drinking were you, momma?”

“Now how can you ask your momma a thing like that? Course not! And there was nothing in that water, neither. It just happened, and it was him – I knows it – and that’s the end of it. Too damn warm. I shoulda known.”

So here they were.

With about ten minutes to go, they took the lift down to the foyer, and momma barged them past the merchandise. “Fifty bucks a T? They must be crazy! Stay away from them.”

Outside the hotel, all those press-men were getting ready. According to momma, it was a goddamn free-for-all. “We better get past this. Now you smile, Tauri. And I’ll point you out, and then we’ll say what we’ve come to say.”

It was midday but the sky was growing dark and the heavens were beginning to show – a billion pinpricks of light. It had been happening for around two days now.

A murmur went round the crowd. The TV vans began pushing up their satellite dishes on hydraulics, cameras swung to the skies, presenters threw pieces to the camera and were pointing back and up and over their shoulders, as they talked excitedly to the viewers at home.

And then he was there: a blazing light, with four white horses, trailing fire and flame, impossibly bright to look at. The smell of seared tarmac filled the air, and then the arc-light flared and vanished. A white limousine remained, with a few wisps of blue smoke trailing off the paintwork. A tall man, tall as a barn door, stepped out in a dazzlingly white suit.

This was the most famous face on earth.

Of course the crowd surged forward, and momma got her elbows out and sharpened, and started elbowing whoever got close; she could be real fierce. Problem was she wouldn’t let go of Tauri’s hand, and Tauri was getting squeezed between a policeman who smelt of pastrami and a woman reporter who was slippery with sweat, and worst of all she could feel that shock of hair springing back up.

But momma was determined – another force of nature – and before Tauri could draw a breath, they were squeezed up against the still-scalding metal barriers, and there was flashguns going off, and automatic cameras winding on, and reporters screaming, and momma screaming along with them and pointing down at Tauri. But it was so loud, Tauri couldn’t hear a thing momma was saying. In fact, it was a little scary.

Tauri woke up with a slurp. With a jolt of embarrassment, she found the back of her hand was already sliding across the dribble on her chin.

“Uch.”

There was a smell of leather and the fleshy, plastic feel of it beneath her cheek. Where the hell are we?

“Momma? Momma? What …? What happened?”

Muzzily, she pushed herself upright. It was way too bright.

“You got squeezed a little, girl. But we got you out.”

Unaccountably, she sounded pleased.

“Where?”

“You’re in the car, Tauri. In his car. The celestial car, is it? Where do the horses go? Is that one of those mini bars?”

Momma was sitting propped up on the back seat, as prim and proper as a queen.

“It’s all sorted, Tauri.”

“It is?”

“Sure it is. Your pappa’s a gentleman. I always said as such.”

I keep telling you momma, not a gentle man, a gentle sun. The Sun.

Helios sat in the back of the car, reclining on the leather, just looking at her; an irresistible presence, tied to every living thing on the planet. He could be of any nationality, or all of them. He was incredibly handsome. His olive skin gleamed with a faint iridescence and his frame was lean and muscled. Above all, though, he was crowned with the shining aureole of the sun.

I read this in the Sunday paper: he drives those horses all day to the West, circling Oceanus, and at night it’s through the world-ocean to the East.

He leant forward and held out a tiny clump of red berries. The green of their stems was emerald and translucent, like crystal, and the berries scintillated beneath the surface like hot coals; flaring red and yellow; revolving within their own skins.

“If you like, Tauri. Only if you want to, I can take you with me.”

“Where?” she whispered.

And his smile was rich and golden, and could put a better complexion on anything, and he said, “Up there, Tauri. Where you belong.”

February 21, 2011   12 Comments

The Mushroom Culture

MushroomCulture e1287612487595 The Mushroom Culture

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he trouble with bloody fairies is the look that comes into people’s eyes when you tell them, that, not only have they been discoing down the bottom of your garden in Costa Del Toadstool-os, next to Barry the broken garden gnome, but they’ve been in your home too. There it is, that look of shiny eyed disinterest and an, “Oh, you have?” expressed in one tone removed from the ‘koochie koo’ noises designed for babies and the clinically insane. “Fairies? You’ve seen fairies?”

Yeah, I’ve seen the little bastards – they’re so goddamn cute, I want to pound them with a mallet. You get me? Strap ‘em into a Black and Decker Workmate and go to town with a hacksaw. You ever peel the wings off a blue bottle as a kid? Peeling a fairy is just like that, only more satisfying.

I almost appreciate the disbelief, rather than the koochie koo fairy eyes. At least disbelievers have some kind of informed opinion: they thought about it carefully, went through the pros-and-cons and, ‘we’re so sorry Brenda, but believing in fairies means you’re whacko, pure and simple.’ It’s as if it were an infallible test for the ‘fringe community’ exams.

Well, for my money, crop circles are tornadoes, UFO’s are marsh gas, crystals are rocks, psychic powers are wishful thinking, and bloody fairies are really, fucking good at avoiding fairy cake in mouse traps.

The cat got a couple yesterday, but I’ve already had to rescue him twice from the fairy ring next to the compost heap – you know what they say, ‘step in a ring and stay forever’. Now I’m trying to train him to avoid pouncing while the little buggers are dancing in amongst the polka dot, red-and-white toadstools, but unfortunately the cat has real instincts involving small, twitchy things, and I did spend quite a few hours bobbing a ‘My Little Fairy Friend’ toy in front of his nose, splutched all over in ‘Go Cat.’ At least I’m generally on hand in the middle of the night – you know, kicking in small toadstool housing estates with a stout pair of steel-toe-capped Doc Martin boots, and brushing down spider web picket fences with the aid of a flashlight – to rescue Mackerel prior to an extended knees-up with the Seeley Court at sunrise.

My reputation as ‘Brenda the madwoman spiritualist type’ has been made all the more infuriating by the fact that the winged vermin can choose who gets to see them. They quickly figured out I wasn’t going to take any of the ‘twee dancing around in tights,’ bullshit, or ‘bathing in moonbeams,’ malarkey and set up camp.

When my friends come to visit, somewhat unwillingly these days, it must be said, they see only the wild, sleep-haunted look in my eyes, teeth bared, white-knuckles gripping the armrest in rigid indignation, rather then the Tiller-Girl-style dancing rings amongst the Digestive Biscuits or, even worse, the synchronized swimming routines in the toilet. The only nightmare that most people have to put up with in there is the cat taking an occasional drink…

Trying to deny the fairy madness in hand, I once – up to my arse in kicked-in shroom houses –  tried a piece of a particularly striking, yellow toadstool with a small outdoor pool attached. I recognised it from my Collins Guide to Fungi under the Shamanic Culture in Northern Siberia section (apparently, the pool was an optional extra). For three or four blissful hours, wild hallucinations ensued. I didn’t see a single, maniacally dancing figure in the fridge, bread bin or washing machine – it was amazing. Of course, they came back in droves when the fungus wore off…

After that, the only thing that kept me from a midnight run with the rotovator was the shop assistant in the Tool Pigeon who caught me browsing the poisons and animal-maiming devices…

What are ‘mole bombs?’ Sound promising…

“Want some help?”

Sure I have fucking fairies – yup, the morris-dancing, twice-round-a-hill-top, don’t-eat-the-cheese-dip-in-fairyland, kind. Can I have a No 6 Brownie trap, please?

“Yeah… I’m looking for a steel-sprung trap, one of those heavy ones for… mice…maybe… a rat?”

“Have you thought about humane traps? You catch one, you can release it after.”

People want to release them after? I just call the cat…

He held up a brown, cardboard box for me to look at. Printed on the outside was a picture of a housewife with a big smile, arm-in-arm with her benevolent, moustachioed husband, as their kid happily released a mouse into the grass. Even the mouse had a little smile. Behind them was the happy family home with a revolving wash-line; this was the ‘Mouse Master’ from Humanitek.

Damn. I felt guilty about the Paraquat…

He made the mistake of asking me if I wanted some bait.

“Let me see: given the shortage of virgin school girls, a small saucer of Carlsberg Special Brew usually does the trick – especially the draught stuff – or a couple of spoons of Pillsbury Vindaloo mix on a poppadom, freshly prepared at around 3:00 am. That does it every time. Everybody has an opinion about bait. But I know what works.”

For the next few weeks I laid humane traps for the local fairy population. I even tried to keep Mackerel in my room at nights, cutting down on the number of dismembered corpses he usually left under his favourite chair in the kitchen. Apparently, fairies can talk to animals, but this is probably limited to: ‘Hey, did you see a bloody big – arrrgh!’ when chatting with Mackerel, and predominantly this would be said to his lower intestine.

Mackerel had also mastered the art of bringing them back alive, but was definitely getting suspicious of my now ‘benevolent’ motives for calling him over to show me what he’d got, then pouncing on his jaws as the cat yowled and struggled, clawing my hands and arms, while the fairy swore blue-bloody murder and cursed the TV remote again. Ever channel, sporting bloody highlights…

The other night, I spotted a nixie running along the skirting-board while I was watching Casualty, and another – which I’d already rescued from Mackerel’s jaws by levering open his teeth, much to the cats disgust – made an unfortunate and extremely slim reappearance the next morning under the sheepskin rug in the lounge.

Traps or no traps, this was going to have to stop.

Each day I’d come downstairs to find twenty or thirty so-called ‘fair folk’ in each Mouse Master penitentiary, hands on bars, unwashed and reeking of booze. Most of them had the look of terminal alcoholics, or were out of their minds on Moonbeams and Duneberry Dew. Hangovers and vomit stains were in profusion.

I tossed them into the back of the car – followed by a persistent Mackerel – and drove the twenty or thirty miles out of town to a very nice country copse. There were plenty of toadstool rings, one or two outstanding oaks to bond with – even the local spider population was fairy friendly (I checked with a library book and a bit of hands-and-knees work in the hedgerow). So I let them out there, shaking out the cans on a log or a mossy stone. Mostly, the fairies just tumble out in a groaning heap, far too hung-over from dancing and drinking the night before. A couple might have looked around, wondering where the fuck I’d brought them, but mostly they just wanted to throw up in the nearest patch of ground elder, or blink at the bright light through tortured eyeballs, like little red rowan berries.

Three months of this, and the catch wasn’t going down. Repeat offences were becoming the norm and my band of fantastical delinquents was actually increasing in number.

I should have gotten suspicious when I found two of them trying to get into a trap one morning and had to pop them inside as Mackerel tried to pick off stragglers. By that point, I was getting a lot less bothered about trying to restrain his killer instinct.

Every night till 7:00AM (sunrise) the sound of a succession of Hard-Ass Techno Trance Beats from the Mushroom Culture could be heard while they raved it up in the rhubarb patch. Another week of the ‘ooom cha, ooom cha, ooom cha, ooom cha …’ super-bass reverberating the foundations, and I was going to snap in a very folklore-unfriendly manner.

Straight after, on the next car run to the distant copse, I found a whole spread of holiday-condo ‘Wizard’s Knob’ bracket fungi and self-catering ‘Crete-os Agaric’ death-cap parasols with ‘river’ view, and a great many more under construction, with en-suit nutshell and candygrass plumbing.

So much for humanitarian traps – I was running a weekend break cum package tour to the countryside!

I began to retrain Mackerel to kill, kill, kill!

Now I’ve limbered up with a variety of kitchen implements they’d never let me use on Master Chef because they are far too well weighted for throwing – and the use I’ve found for a meat tenderizer definitely extends beyond whacking rump-steak.

I’ve got it in for the little bastards now, and the next coffee shop owner that offers me a chocolate brownie gets stabbed in the eye with an extremely in-humane melon-baller.

Mythology is hell – it’s fucking folklore out there…

October 14, 2010   2 Comments