November 29, 2008

Digging a Hole

Digging beneath dappled shade,
And a chorus of applauding trees.
Crunch.
A sharp-spade chewing sound, 
Metal hum like plucked wire.

Aching back, muddy smears,
And not a blister; just
A certain hardness of the skin,
Cracking like a gourd
Across the wrinkles of my thumb.

         “Why were you digging a hole?”
         She asked me, afterwards.
         “It felt” I answered,
         “Like the right thing to do
         At the time…”

Mulch smell, wet and bodily.
The hole opens, organic;
A ventricle, it gasps.
Fist-sized nuggets, stone hearts
Send sparks against the spade.

I use the steel edge as a pick,
And the earth splits like flesh.
I know when it’s deep enough.
Panting, I watch it breathe,
And revel in the audacity of it existence.

         “If you could bury something in your hole,
         What would it be?”
         “Myself” I said,
         Pretending it was a joke.

Walking back, spade in hand,
Like Neanderthal man,
A girl I once knew sees me;
Scowling, spade, mudsmears,
And thinks I’m going to kill her.

The next day I went back there
And filled it in, embarrassed,
As though it were something shameful.

November 25, 2008

The Numerous Solipsisms of Urg

The following was found daubed on the wall of a cave in the mountains of Altamira in Spain, dated from between 35 – 36,000 years ago:

The publication of “A philosophical Enquiry into the Nature and Future of the Simian Race” by Ug Urg, will hardly have escaped the reader’s attention, so great a furore has arisen in the wake of its release. Indeed, critical acclaim has already begun to rise in the smoke signals on the horizon, and at the time of writing, signal drums are being beaten, calling it “the finest treatise on Pan-Simianism and technological advancement since Glarg’s ‘Rebuttal of the Theory of Neanderthal Supremacy’.” Am I alone, then, in regarding Mr. Urg’s work to be a gross emission of fact –perhaps the greatest solipsism yet produced by the Simian race?

              Mr. Urg begins his treatise celebrating the technological advancements that have arisen in recent times from the great minds of our species: namely the stone axe and the wheel. Urg exults in the “superior cutting edge” and “improved dexterity” of the axe over the use of more traditional implements – the bone knife, for example. However, Urg’s axiom (if you pardon the pun), is flawed. True, the axe has brought us many advantages, but it has destroyed the old ways of life, the old forms, and by reason of the continual rapid change it involves, prevented the growth of the new. Can this be allowed to continue?

              All over our land, we see tribes casting away their bone axes and knives, picking up in their place stone axes that indeed have a “superior cutting edge” for slicing through sinew, but cut apart, too, our traditional way of life. Tribes, who once carried their burdens on their back, using the honest labour of their own bodies to accomplish the task, now carry greater loads on wheeled carts and exult in their mastery over nature.

              Relics of the old ways can still be found across the land, true, where tribes have rejected the new, but the high-speed, high-demand mode of living engendered by the introduction of stone axes and wheels is steadily tearing them apart. I lament, then, that while the Simian people once had a culture, now we have agglomerations united only by contiguity, by the proximity of the cooking fire and the sharing of the stone axes and handcarts. How did this momentous change – this vast and terrifying disintegration – take place in so short a time? We, as Simians, have lost contact with what I have termed “the organic community”.

              Where will it end? Will future Simians even abandon the caves that have given us shelter since first our species emerged from the trees? A cynic might imagine a nightmarish dystopia; a world where Simians have abandoned altogether the culture we now hold so dear. Extremists of the “progressive” school of thought have even gone so far as to suggest the domestication of the animals of the wild, the ordered growing and harvesting of plants and the building (yes, the building!) of dwellings out in the open, whose height would challenge even the trees themselves. Surely I need say no more in criticism of these ramblings, as their mere suggestion testifies to a dangerous mental deficiency, as I’m sure the reader will agree. Indeed, there is no end to the slippery slope on which our species has undoubtedly begun, to the abhorrence to which such a “progressive” approach could lead.

              I impeach the reader, then, to disregard the remarks of Mr. Urg, and involve themselves instead in the rejection of these new and frankly dangerous appliances, to reconnect themselves with what is truly important to the culture of our species, and what made us who we are today. Let us return to using bone axes and carrying loads on our backs, the way our fathers did, and their fathers before them. Let us reverse this outward and obvious sign of the loss of the organic community, and by extension the loss of naturalness and normality, which has resulted from the introduction of the soulless technologies that Mr. Urg holds so dear.


November 20, 2008

Science Fiction Story – Selaptine Sunset

The twin suns of Selaptine baked the desert planet dry even as they set together. The two discs – the white and the red – sunk down over The Wall as night fell. Barbed wire and broken glass glinted in that light, catching the orbs for a moment before they slipped behind the horizon.

               Sitting in the shade of The Wall was a squat man, leaning against a rusted tractor. All around, a herd of grazing beasts like giant fleas milled. Their herder wore heavy furs, even in that heat, and his three eyes roved independent of each other, as though they possessed separate agendas. As I approached, battling through the rippling air, they all rolled forwards to look straight at me, and a frown crossed his face.

               “What is this?” he demanded. A short, black beard bristled from his leathery skin. I put up my hands, and called out to him:

               “Don’t worry, friend, I’m not armed!” He relaxed a little, and shrugged.

               “Good! I hate weapons,” he said through his heavy accent. “I will not touch them.” He beckoned to me, and offered a cigarette. I declined.

               “Trouble with your scooter?” he asked, pointing to the heap of metal dragging behind me.

               “Fucked,” I replied, and he flinched at the word. “Sorry, I mean broken. I dunno what’s wrong with it.”

               “Ah, I’ll take a look.” He shrugged, and as he flipped open the access hatch in the scooter's engine and peered inside, I felt compelled to engage him in conversation.

               “You anything to do with this?” I asked, gesturing towards the wall. He laughed, but it was mirthless.

               “My parents came from the other side,” he said with a sigh. “They were lucky to get out. Do you know what is happening at the moment, behind this concrete?” he asked, and the glimmer in his eyes showed that he expected me not to know. He was looking forward to educating me. I did know, though. All too well.

               “Yeah,” I replied. “Families living in those camps up to fourth and fifth generations now. No food, no electricity.”

               “Exactly!” he said, but I could see he was disappointed that I already knew. He jumped back then, one of the jets of my scooter flaring up with blue flame from one fuselage, and the engine sputtering into life. He grunted, and continued tinkering inside. If he had known that I was Izon, he might not have spoken so openly to me.

               “What do you think of the People’s Resistance Movement?” I asked. It was my country that kept those camps, and I was suddenly eager to find some hint of radicalism in this farmer, so that I could dismiss his words as extremist ravings.

               “Peremo? They...” he began, and then stopped himself, perhaps suspicious that I might turn him in. “What do you think I think of them?”

               “Umm...” It took a moment for me to formulate a diplomatic reply. “I think maybe you might sympathise with them, maybe see them as heroic figures?”

               He shook his head.

               “Let me tell you something,” he said, raising his head from his work and waggling a glowing blue spanner in my direction. “If I were to beat you, every day for the rest of your life; never letting you get up off the floor, beating you and starving you and keeping you in darkness, what would you do?”

               “I... would fight back, I guess...” I replied, not sure of the correct answer, but sensing that there was one. He just nodded, turning back to his work.

“I tell you, Peremo is as much a creation of Izon as this kess ihktak wall!” Now it was my turn to flinch at the coarseness of his language (I speak enough to know what that means).

               A dust storm swept the wall, scouring the graffiti like a stern border guard. Hot air blew into our faces, and I saw a film of dust settle on his beard. Two of his eyes narrowed at me (the other surveying his animals), and I suddenly became aware of the curls protruding from my hat: the Izon hair that my father had given me, among other things. I made to wipe the sweat from my brow, and brushed the offending locks under my leather flying-cap. He said nothing.

               “There you go!” he cried, dusting off his hands, which were stained black with engine oil, and the little scooter roared into life, rupturing the air around its fuselage jets, rising six inches off the floor and hovering there. “It’s not a perfect repair, but it’ll get you Tvelvia.”

               “More than enough,” I assured him. I shook his oily hand firmly and thanked him many times. He seemed embarrassed by this.

               “Yes, my friend, you journey safely. If you are ever in the area again, remember to stop by, yes? I am always good for talking!” I assured him that I would, and since he refused any payment I offered him, there was nothing left but to mount the scooter and thunder off into the dunes, dust clouds rising like cigarette smoke behind me.

I crossed into Izon half an hour later, a border guard’s glare melting as I took off my cap and he could see that I was one of his own.

               “Kol tuv,” he said to me, and I returned the greeting.

A telescreen crackled behind the steel door of a stern watchtower, the newsreader describing the latest attacks in sombre tones: improvised rockets falling on villages; shootings in schools; a plasma transport highjacked and flown into the Chambers of Commerce in Tvelvia. Peremo strike again! I peered through the door, into the celluloid glare, and emaciated kneeling men stared into the cameras and out through the screen. The barrels of rifles slipped in and out of the picture.

Were they really just fighting back? It was hard to believe: if they stopped their attacks, the siege too would stop. That was for sure – wasn’t it? I hurried away from the tower and got back on my scooter. I was eager to leave the border post, as though the guards might read my thoughts and take me in for questioning. I felt their glares burning into my back as I rumbled away, throttling the vehicle faster as the checkpoint shrunk into the distance.

               Years later, I thought I saw that farmer again on the telescreen, if only for a moment. He looked different: older, yes, but somehow he had aged more than the intermittent years should allow. He looked thinner, too, and there were dark bags swelling under his eyes. His head and beard had been shaved, and he wore an orange boiler suit. His hands were cuffed behind his back. He was saying something to the camera, and I wouldn’t have noticed him at all except for what he said: “The attacks will never stop until you tear down that kess ihktak wall!” It was live, so they didn’t manage to bleep out those words.

I stopped what I was doing then, and rushed to the telescreen, but by then the picture had changed and a ceramic-smile newsreader was detailing a feel-good story to round off the news. To this day, I don’t know if it was him or not. It could have been anyone.


November 19, 2008

Flash Fiction

It was about a year ago; a karate championship. I’d travelled about a hundred miles to get down there and fight. The type of karate I used to do – it’s called kyokushin, which means the ultimate truth, but god knows what that means – involves bare knuckle fighting, without boxing gloves or anything. Just two guys going at it for two minute rounds until someone falls over and can’t get up. Thing was, I’d been fighting in the under-eighteens for years. It was easy then; I used to win a lot of fights: hack the legs until they couldn’t stand anymore, or just thump them over and over until they fell to their knees, gasping. Sometimes I even got a kick to the head and sent someone to sleep. However I did it, I used to win a lot, which I liked.

Thing is, when you turn eighteen, you’re an adult in their eyes, and when you’re an adult, you fight adults. My first fight was a thirty-two year old guy from London. I was doing well in the first few rounds: got a few good hits in, knocked him out of the ring once or twice. If you knock someone out the ring three times, you win the fight outright, so I was getting pretty excited. I thought I was going to win this fight, going to smash this guy out the ring for the third time. Guess I was getting over confident.

I don’t really remember when it happened: I was pushing him out for the third time, the winning time, and then there was an explosion somewhere in the vicinity of my frontal lobe. There were spiders’ webs of electricity spinning themselves along my cerebral cortex, and what little perception I had of the outside world told me that I was on my knees. Turns out I’d leant forward a little too much as I was smashing into this guy. He’d jumped up and driven his knee into my face: bust my nose, split my lip and generally knocked me out for the count. I swam into consciousness with a guy holding fingers up to me and asking how many. I didn’t care how many fingers: I just wanted to get up and smash the guy who fucked up my face.

          Back in the changing rooms, looking at myself in the mirror, I surveyed the damage. So... my nose had swollen so that one distended side spread bulbous and round across my face, and my lip was the size of a grape. There was a steady trickle of blood from one nostril, which seeped down into the corners of my lips and stained my skin purple.

          Over the loudspeaker, I heard the announcement: “Next fight, in five minutes, Paul Cooper, and...” I didn’t hear the rest. Hmm... Paul Cooper... that was my name. Another fight. I looked at the crude impression of myself that stared back at me in the mirror, and I sighed. I had come so far to fight, and I knew that the monster in the glass would never leave me alone if I dropped out of the next one. I looked at myself, bleeding and concussed, tightened my fists, and walked out of that bathroom to fight the next man. From this second fight, I gained two small victories: first, I got a hell of a lot of blood over the other guy, who didn’t seem to be expecting that, and second, I didn’t lose my self-respect, which I think is probably the most important thing.


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  • This reminds me of Seamus Heaney's "Digging"...except with added sex appeal It's very visceral. I li… by on this entry
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