All entries for January 2009
January 30, 2009
The Guardian article on the subject seems to have got the idea that this is somehow a bad thing, close to sacrilegous. Personally, I think it's brilliant. This concept isn't some sort of attempt at "fusion cuisine"; it's a parody of Jane Austen and her tamest world of all possible tame worlds being thrown into the fantastic absurdity that is the zombie apocalypse. It IS funny that the repressed romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy be mixed with something like this.
"How low can you go?" cries Alison Flood. Actually, it's about time someone poked a bit of fun at the religiously revered Austen. Mark Twain (http://www.twainquotes.com/Austen_Jane.html) must be roaring with laughter in his grave.
It takes three weeks, at most, for the body to putrefy. Then my nails will drop out, my organs will swell and burst and my face will bloat until it’s completely unrecognisable.
Anita draws the balcony doors apart. The room seems to cool.
‘You can’t stay here,’ she says after a few moments. I continue to lie there, quite still, half-covered in the duvet.
‘Hey, dogman, didn’t you hear me? You can’t stay here. I don’t want any more trouble.’
‘Why did you bring me back?’ I ask.
She leans back, enjoying the wind’s caress on her long black hair.
‘You were never bad company, dogman,’ she says. ‘Besides...the way they did it, in the back of the head, no sporting chance...you deserved a sporting chance.’
Anyone can bring you back from death, if they have enough ready cash and don’t mind a visit down to the knock-shops in the lower side of Santa Colcha. I once heard of an old dogman who kept a leg alive for fourteen years after its owner died. No heart, no respiratory system. Just a leg that went around the store, sweeping up with its heel, and occasionally walloping drunken customers who wanted to speak to the Devil. Until one day he found it in a corner, kicking at the wall, refusing to stop.
I stand, stretch, and observe myself in the mirror. Pale. A thin line of red running from my throat down to my naked stomach.
‘Did I have a name?’ I ask Anita. ‘Something you called me?’
‘Don’t you remember?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘You were just another dogman,’ she says, shrugging. The skyscrapers gleam in the dawn light behind her. For a few more minutes the harbour will be lit in deceptive gold. My feet draw him out onto the balcony; the breath of the city is waiting.
Anita joins me there.
‘Enjoy it while it lasts,’ she says. ‘The knocking-man said you’d start to go off in four or five days. It’s only downhill from there.’
‘And you can’t tell me anything else about this?’
She flinches in the wind.
‘The child said it was a tall man. Not a dogman- he was pretty sure about that. He didn’t change even to run away. A, you know, a military type.’
‘Do you know where the child is?’
‘Hell, I don’t know. It was just-’
‘-Just another dogchild. Yeah, yeah, I get it.’
We lean on the iron rail and watch the city wake. Santa Colcha embraces the sunrise and robes it in smog. I might never have seen another dawn, I think, as the air whistles through the hole in my head.
I’m wrapped in an overcoat stained with my own blood, shivering in the morning sun. It’ll get hot soon. Human kids are running back and forth on the beach, screaming and chattering, throwing a red ball from hand to hand.
Men in white T-shirts, worn tight to show their muscle, stand at the very edge of the boulevard to stop any strays from touching their feet on the scorching sand. A brown dog limps across the waterline towards the children and one of the men jogs towards it and swings a leg out. The dog yelps, skids back to the public sand, and changes. The naked dogman sniffs at an imaginary bruise and scurries back through the sunbathers and out of sight.
‘Go back to the barrios!’ the security officer shouts.
Someone collides with me. A young man in sunglasses and a leather jacket. He snaps,
‘Hey, man, watch where you’re going-’
My eyes must be bloodshot. He stares at me for a moment, and then walks slowly on. I can feel him watching me from all the way back down the boulevard.
Nobody speaks of these things in this part of the city. There was a scandal a couple of years ago when two rich girls wandered into the barrios to get wasted on deliriant tea and ran into an Orb in one of the alleys. Sometimes children die in the slums, alone and crying out for love, and when they do, what’s left of them can get hot- agonising to the touch. If you’re alone in the barrios and you hear,
‘I’m so lonely...love, I’m so lonely!’ then you’re going to have to run.
But the rich girls didn’t know any of this. Nobody wants to hear about Orbs, so the media blamed the charred bodies on a slum fire. One of their father’s, a politician, made a speech complaining that the packed barrios were a serious health hazard and should be cleared. Someone had to quietly whisper in his ear that bulldozers that go into the barrios are rarely seen again. The slums have their own way of dealing with invaders.
I buy a plastic cup of tea and drink it by the Presidential Bathing Pools. Models splash from the three-storey diving board. The palm trees shift, almost embarrassed, as one gorgeous body after another emerges.
I have to find one dogchild in a city of three hundred thousand kids and half a million stray dogs. He’ll be scared, and he’ll be a child of the barrio, and I have three weeks at most to find him before I begin to rot. This is going to be tricky. But I do have my Other.
I only know her through the signs she leaves me when I wake. Muddy pawprints on the floor, strings of meat between my teeth. Once I opened my eyes to find a half-eaten, unplucked chicken on the mattress beside me; a token gesture of love between two creatures that share the same stomach. Anita tells me she’s good-looking, for a slum dog. She tenses behind my skin.
Can you remember how he smelt? I think.
And, unless I’m kidding myself, she replies,
January 27, 2009
The roads are wide. The lampposts shiver. A girl called Angie wakes up.
The houses and the trees are gone. The birds and the cars have vanished.
“Does anyone know where my Mum and Dad are?” Angie calls.
“Over here,” says the desert. “Over here,” says the concrete road.
Angie sits on the concrete road and imagines a country.
It’s called Anginia: there’s a giant ferris wheel above the town hall and the people are all so happy and nobody goes to work because they don’t need to.
There’s no crime in Anginia because nobody needs to commit any crimes and there’s no sickness because the hospitals are all so good.
One day Angie is walking down Angie Avenue when she sees a girl crying, and of course she picks her up and carries her home and takes good care of her.
Soon she has a whole house full of children, all from different countries and parts of Anginia and they all play together.
In the summer Anginia falls sick. No-one can figure out why. Angie sets out on an adventure to find the Only Cure, because she was chosen for this purpose at birth by a good witch.
She sets out into the forest for forty days and forty nights, and on the forty-first day, the people receive a single drop of golden liquid, carried on an oakleaf in the wind.
And they know then that Angie has found the Only Cure, and will soon be with them once more. They prepare a great feast in her honour.
The roads are wide. The lampposts shiver.
January 17, 2009
The University, in response to complaints from some of the professors and general staff, produced an official statement which spoke of cosmic brotherhood, shared knowledge between the galaxies, and the necessity of good diplomacy in order to avoid the possibility of interstellar conflict. The professors and general staff read this statement, and muttered to one another that it was definitely a question of the money and publicity the University would accrue with such exotic students.
The aliens said nothing; only repeated that they had come here to learn.
The next problem was the question of precisely what the aliens should be taught. The Department of Biochemistry made some enemies by suggesting that they take on the newcomers. Had Professor McGarrick considered, yelled the Deputy Head of Engineering, exactly what these creatures might do with a basic understanding of earth biochemistry? Supposing they used it to create a poisonous vapour which spread across the world and enslaved our species? (Professor McGarrick, slumping back in his chair, was heard to mutter something rather nasty about the Deputy Head of Engineering's basic understanding of anything.)
The deputation returned to the spaceship, a towering heap of lunacy perched on top of the student’s union, and asked if the aliens could be a little more specific.
The aliens said that they had come here to learn, and eventually the professors were able to draw up a detailed term schedule, comprised of all the major faculities- except for some which might have been considered too dangerous, complicated or treasonous.
Meanwhile, the student population was becoming restless. Someone was heard to mutter in the Varsity bar,
I wouldn’t mind them, you know, if they only fucking integrated.
One student reported, pale and shivery, that she’d wandered into their room unexpectedly and disturbed them making love, the inch-high male thrusting his curious head in and out of the stooping female’s ear. Others grumbled that the enormous female would be too tall to fit into the lecture theatres, ‘and it’s too much of a squash in those chairs as it is’. A malicious email circulated, to the effect that a great war was now raging on the aliens’ homeworld, and that the two exchange students who’d been sent there would almost certainly never be seen again.
The aliens, meanwhile, formed a student society, called BrellaSoc, where fans of umbrella-making or anyone interested in learning more about the process of umbrella-making could congregate and make umbrellas. Nobody attended, but the aliens sat in the Chaplaincy for an hour every Tuesday anyway. The female, her enormous arms trembling, snapped the metal rods together while the male danced back and forth across her shoulders, sewing up the waterproof skin with tiny dextrous fingers.
It was something of a relief for everyone concerned, four minutes into the first lecture (on the importance of Brecht as a means to understanding the cane toad) when the aliens stood up, gave a loud, decisive cry, and pitched over dead.
The lecturer made a quip about having never realised his lectures were that bad. He got a laugh.
The bodies were burnt, of course, and the spaceship (since nobody could figure out how to work it) was quietly integrated into the design of the new student’s union as a bold and exciting work of art.
Weird fiction task:
Sally’s still a bit jittery, so I make her a cup of camomile and chat with her for a few minutes before stepping back out into the darkened street. No kiss at the door though. Nothing at all. Her nerves have ruined the entire evening. A lone pair of lights dip down the road and past me. I watch them go. You can never be too certain about people out at this time of night.
My phone’s vibrating. It’s Sally.
-I just wanted to apologise, she says, about...
-About the cat?
-Yes, she says. The cat, of course. I just got the jitters.
I’m beginning to feel more sympathetic towards Sally. It’s almost endearing, in a way.
-I had fun, she says. Thank you for making sure I got home okay.
I stop walking.
-I’m going to have to call you back, I tell her, and hang up.
Someone was watching her after all.
Yes- it moves again. Something is drifting in the darkness beyond the theatre, beneath the overdrooping elm.
My hand tightens on my keys, the pincers jabbing into the flesh of my palm.
-Oi! I shout. Oi! Stop!
The corner to the alley is lit by a single street lamp. My feet are carrying me across the pavement. I crack my neck, letting the tendons strain. I hope he saw that. I’m past the theatre now. I turn the corner.
Strange. A little boy, no more than four or five, is crouching in the alley. He keeps whimpering, eyes on the pavement,
Didn’t mean to do it mister- he told me to do it- he told me to do it-
For one moment the damp yellow light is all I can make out. Then...
...oh, Jesus Christ, those eyes...
Something is treading high on stilt-like legs. For a second it shifts. When it shifts I can no longer see the stars.
All I can think is: it’s been waiting for me. Grey shapeless eyes.
I begin to back away, fast. It moves forward with me, scattering cans with those teeter-tottering legs. The lamp-glow flutters upon it for a moment. Its torso hangs wide open, as if torn by a gash across its middle, but instead of hearts and livers and organs there’s only a star-filled place. Scabbed ears toss in the wind. Those eyes.
The little boy is crying.
Didn’t mean to do it- he told me, he told me-
I must have tripped. The pavement lies cold beneath me. I can hear it breathe. Don’t open your eyes. Someone will come. I can hear it breathe. The little boy has stopped whimpering.
Something is slipping across my ankle, something wet and caressing. Like a tube, or a snout. It lingers upon my leg for a moment, and then moves on. It’s drifting beneath my shirt, across my naked belly.
It’s trying to find what makes me work, I think. It’s trying to figure out how to turn me off. The breathing seems to be getting more intense.
Too horrible. The tube is slinking over my throat. Keep your eyes and your mouth shut. Don’t let it into your head.
It’s found my nostrils. Jagged prongs are inching into the flesh of my nose. My phone is vibrating, useless, in the pocket of my jeans.
January 12, 2009
So how much did your Mum and Dad love you, Tasha, in those early days?
If I’m honest, I can’t remember all that much love. Fear, certainly; overpowering fear that your squashy head would stove in beneath a careless relative’s fingers, fear that one of us would toss you out of a second-floor window on any of the particularly tough nights (I watched your mother closely, Tasha; she wasn’t to be trusted). There was fear that you’d begin, in later years, to join the wrong crowd, and we became sick with worry as we imagined you morphing into one of the smoking ten-year-olds who used to hang out on Tavistock Road, and the upshot of that fear always came within a couple of seconds- what if she has no crowd at all?
In time we found a kind of desperate, obsessive love for our fears themselves, because they were the only method we had of expressing love for such a fragile object. Keep her off the hot surface. Keep her off the cold surface. And it was incredibly infuriating that while we scuttled around, rescuing you from certain death a thousand times upon a thousand, you’d just lie there, as if quite careless to the fatal possibilities yawning wide all around you.
January 11, 2009
He considered them, after all, wholly horrid little monstrosities, devoid of the symmetric proportions and anatomical precision which makes the human most apparent.
He leant forward over the alabaster sink and sheared away the peak of his pimple, imagining that perhaps there would be something amusing, even triumphant, in annihilating his handsome face. He could shrug it off as a sort of biological stoicism;
‘Surely Daniel is still Daniel, no matter what his deformities? But, no...I suppose, they would shun me.’ Dropping the razor into the froth of the sink, he leant forward to gaze into the mirrored gaze of his simulacrum.
‘My God...I might look monstrous!’ The length and effort of his nightly excursions were clearly visible in the droop of the bags beneath his globes. Sweet intoxications had, clearly, deadlier outcomes. The thought of his returning home at night had been impossible, out of a kind of fear, which he was unwilling to mention to his landlady- the sense that, had he lain himself down in his bedsheets, and extinguished the lights, he might somehow have slipped into a waiting darkness- an eternity of horrors.