All entries for Tuesday 09 February 2010
February 09, 2010
Here's last week's homework for the Weird Fiction module being run by China Mieville. Not had this one back yet, so no idea what it'll come back like, but I have a feeling I may have stretched the guidelines to the limit in terms of supernatural content, so a little uncertain of it making a good impression. On the other hand, it was very late at night when I wrote this, and I found it most entertaining to write at the time, even if reading it back now I don't feel nearly so confident!
The task: Note the point in Blackwood where tips from everyday to strange/monstrous. Half a page, that stops before that supernatural. Description of a place or a thing that has a sense of being strange, unthinkable – awe, numinous wonder – terrifying somehow. But not supernatural in itself. Can reveal or not reveal what it is, it’s up to you.
I stepped under the canopy and into the green shadow-murk. The trees towered over me, their black bodies reaching up to the sky in straight-backed salute, ranks of sentinels lining the way. My footsteps were rendered soundless on the needle-shrouded floor. I continued forward, one step, another step, so many silent steps – and still the trees rose impassive above me. I moved close to one, placed my hand carefully on the thick-paved mats of its bark, and the nerves in my palm thrilled at its unresponsiveness. I trailed my hand along the wood and the battle-roughened swords of splinters nicked my skin, until my reflexes forced discomfort upon me and I shied away. I leant back my head as my skull registered a hollow tap; the trees were shedding their cones upon me, as though they had allied with the wind to pluck out their own cone-orbs of eyes and were now casting them down in a show of distain: they did not need to see me, had no need to notice me, I was insignificant. The cones pitter-pattered on my coat; false blows. I bent to the floor and picked one up, spinning the ridged mass between my fingers. The forest was still silent, trees remaining in an alert solitude of muteness. The only sounds that would ever reverberate through this eternally young funereal road were the noises made by the breathing trespassers. Off to my left I heard the panicked crackling chirrup of a cock-pheasant as he whirred through the mummified undergrowth and I jerked into movement, the cone slipping from my fingers to nestle at the mould-rusted feet of its owner. I stared up at the branches, scything overhead in an iron-black arch, and quickened my pace, feet padding faster now between the regimented columns of Nature’s soldiers.
Finally kicked myself into gear and joined this class this year, and so far am enjoying it immensely. Felt, then, that I should blog some of the stuff I've been doing as the homework, simply because they caught my imagination and gave me some interesting results, even if my attempts were not always entirely successful. I am not going to blog the first homework I did, as it involved translating a passage from an author's work into Lovecraftian style, and I don't feel I have the right to copy out chunks of other people's texts on this page, even if it is just as an example of what I was working from. However, I will blog everything else; all the stuff that's completely mine.
So here's the first of those other exercises:
The task: We were each given an Exquisite Corpse drawing that had been created during the class, and had to write a passage about it, supposedly taken from a hypothetical novel we were writing. We were allowed to mean whatever we wanted with our interpretations of the creatures thereby revealed, but we had to appreciate it for its self, its newness, the way it is. This passage was to be the scene from the novel where we see the creature for the first time. We were allowed to write this passage in any style we wished. I'll admit that I far exceeded the given limit of half a side of A4, but I was having too much fun and so pushed the boundaries just a little. A copy of the drawing I was working from can be seen at the bottom of this post.
Caitrin trailed her fingertips through the water, feeling the oily slide of the residue that floated on the surface slip nastily against her skin. Below the surface, the water flowed more freely, retaining some of the vitality it had had when it was young, before the city started purging itself of all its filth, and it ran swift as ever it had done, but even then it was not pure. The texture was grainy, little shards of material that would take centuries to degrade mixing in with natural grit and peat to kiss her palm in a rude caress.
A few feet in front of her, Pedro carefully punted the boat around the rusted iron carcass of an old range rover, mindful to probe the water ahead with a paddle in case of hidden spars of metal. This was not water you would want to accidentally end up swimming in.
Caitrin raised her fingers to her nose and sniffed them, sinuses closing off in disgust at the rank stench of the brown gunk that held shimmering onto her digits, and wiped them thoroughly on her jeans, careful to get every bit of the stuff off her skin before the itching got any worse. She hadn’t thought that it would be this bad.
Just as she was reaching for a bottle of clean water to pour over her hands, just as they passed through a half-matted mess of reeds and litter that sheltered in the upstream lee of the abandoned car, she felt the boat come to a juddering stop as Pedro thrust the oar hard into the deep silt of the riverbed, putting his fingers to his lips in a sign for silence.
Beckoning her up the boat, he put one arm round her shoulders, leaning in close to help her see where exactly it was that his other arm pointed.
She couldn’t see it.
Somewhere there, in the dark.
Somewhere in the murk of the tree-shade that lined the bank, but she couldn’t see.
And then the shape broke the water again, ripples spreading and waving sluggishly, and she did see it.
It was the one thing she had been coming here in hopes to see, the one achievement that she had wanted to make on this trip, its whole purpose. To prove that these things still existed, that they were not yet entirely gone. And here it was.
She thought it was beautiful.
The creature cutting the water was mammalian in nature, a huge bulk of an animal that spent its days in the water feeding on the long weeds and its night laid up on the shore, digging a shallow pit in the sand to sleep. She caught a glimpse of slicked down black fur, fur that should have been buoyant, fading out into grey leathery skin. The shape ducked beneath the water again, trailing a long body after it before the movement ended in the small slap of a flattened tail, and Caitrin dived for her camera, scrabbling frantically through her rucksack to rip it from the bottom before hurrying as quickly as she could back to the edge of the boat.
It still hadn’t resurfaced. She could feel her breath coming short and sharp in her anxiety, chest compressed in a worried knot as she prayed to see it again. There were no ripples on the water, and so many hiding places in all the junk.
And then they felt a small bump to the side of the boat. Just a gentle nudge, nothing dangerous; a curious prodding; and then a grey appendage snaked its way over the side, sensitive nose feeling its way across the new surface. Caitrin raised the camera to her eyes and took a couple of silent shots. Finally she was seeing it. The elegantly curving trunk receded then, slipping gracefully back into the water without a sound, and seconds later two large prehensile paws took hold of the side of the boat, heaving up the top-half of the rest of the animal’s shape after it and making Pedro and Caitrin scramble to the other side in order to achieve equilibrium. The animal peered over the narrow deck, deep set eyes fixed unblinkingly on them in the patient regard of a creature with nothing more than base instinct to guide it. Its wide ears, thin membranes held tight against the round skull up till now in order to streamline, fanned out on either side, perked in their direction to pick up what information they could; and as the creature leaned closer to them, trunk questing out again to edge its way towards them, Caitrin felt a thrill of sad horror curl in her belly as she noticed not only the half-rotted weeds draped over its ivory tusks but also the frayed polyester remains of a once beautiful floral hat, since thoughtlessly discarded, caught behind one ear. That shouldn’t have been there. The rhythmic sloshing of water behind the creature distracted her, and she followed the line of the body to find the flat of its tail, ridged with a regular interlinking pattern of epidermal scales, oscillating up and down through the water, twice the width of that of a manatee, each section of scaled skin clinking back into place with every downward wave before flexing outward as the movement stretched up again, water shearing off as the tiny plates guarded the creature from the biting chill of the water.
The creature was getting nearer now, oiled-clumped triangles of thick black fur dripping pools of brackish water all over the wood. The paws reached out, stubby fingers hooking themselves into the ridges of the planks and dragging the heavy torso slowly behind it, until the flat mass of the tail lay heavily on the lip of the deck, glistening like living chain-mail in the sunlight.
The creature stopped then, ears flapping back and forth in nervous agitation, paws twitching nervously back towards its body, scraping in a pre-occupied manner at its own fur in a futile attempt to rid it of some of the gunk that coated it. The trunk twisted, hesitating between reaching out further or rolling back to hide against its chest, and as Caitrin brought the camera up again, Pedro leant his weight forward on one leg and extended his hand out in front of him, fingers reaching to stroke at the deep ridges of the creature’s faded skin.
With that touch the animal reacted instantly, once immobile tail thrashing down in a powerful thrust to catapult the creature up and backwards, sending it crashing back into the river with a filthy rush of stinking water. The two people fell to the bottom of the boat, hanging on to the nearest bit of wood as the vessel rocked violently from side to side, clinging hard until the upsetting waves faded away, and then gradually pulled themselves to the side, where they watched the grey form fade silently away into the murky expanse of the river. Silence.
Pedro let out his breath in a whoosh of air and looked sideway nervously to Caitrin’s unmoving face.
“Well, looks like maybe it didn’t want to be friends after all.”
“Frankly, Pedro, considering the state of things, I’m amazed it let us even get that close.” A pause. “But it was amazing, wasn’t it?”
Yes,” he replied. “Did you get the pictures you wanted?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Good,” he said, and rose to take hold of the oars once again. “In that case, I think it’s time we got our proof back to the lab. This place isn’t going to hold out much longer.”