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May 12, 2008

Short–shorts

Writing about web page http://www.ommatidia.org/

Ommatidia is a webpage of 101-word short stories. Now this is something I can get behind. I have the attention span of a bole-wevil, but I still manage to read my webcomics every day. That probably takes me 15, 20 minutes before I have my shreddies. A daily update of a smidgen of fiction lets me feed the same habit, yet exercise my reading muscle at the same time.

The website also bounces back to the penultimate Icw session of term, looking at short stories. The point of a short story (under one reading, anyway) was to present the moment in a characters life when something changed; the story was the fulcrum between past and present, the lens through which both would forever be seen. If that was the case, I said, you could abbreviate the story into a flash fiction and be damned with the whole lengthy edifice of words.

And here we have a vast tract of flash fictions; neatly enough it provides a total counter-example to what I was saying. Because these stories, although (mostly) complete in and of themselves, suggest larger stories that could capture a greater moment. My favourite is "Jenna" (at least of the dozen or so on the front page - I'll trawl the records when I have a day), and I'm wondering how legal it would be for me to write out an expansion of the story. It is so terribly suggestive. 


February 15, 2008

Belated Non–Cliched Events

And another belated update - this time the exercise was to take the events from one genre and the style from another and mash them up.  Events from Weird Fiction, style from Crime Fiction. Oh, and the key events in weird fiction? Making contact with the Other is the only real condition. But following Lovecraft I've also included an occulted researcher meeting a grizzly fate, and a powerful entity reaching into dreams.

______________

Inspector Meier shuffled the blanket off the young man's body, delicately. The corpse's face was askew, as if all the flesh had teemed to one side in a rapid, brutal migration. The body was naked, arms pressed against the chest. He had been clutching the blanket when he died.
"Another one?" Asked Gugenheim. His partner lounged in the door frame, picking at his teeth indolently.

"You want me to give you the list?"

"I'll trust you." Gugenheim grinned, but Meier overcut him.

"Because discolouration, check, locked room, check, no fucking witness, check."

"I said I trust you."

Meier just grunted and looked back down. The marks were the same as the other Inkwell murders; dark blue bruising running down the neck and sternum, terminating in a pool of matte black that wallowed in the bowl of the solar plexus.

Another immaculate crime-scene. Inkwell was a near perfect killer. The whole investigation was a rotten house, two breaths from falling over, rancid with air-borne poison - two lead investigators had already quit in disgust. Inkwell took a CSI as a victim. The tabloids were drinking it up like mosquitos.

And that was before the fucking Sanderson Diary came out and the rotten walls of the case finally gave out.

"Well." Gugenheim purred, scratching his stubble. "Well well well."

The pair had been on their way to a domestic when the woman ran screaming from the tenement, out into the road. The breaks were slow on the antique cop car and they halfway hit her, knocking her to the floor and taking the skin off her right shoulder, but she didn't slow down, just scrambled back up like a rat and careened off. They had to run her to ground, Meier pouncing on her and pinning her despite his age, and all the time she was screaming:

"Opals! They were opals!"

Gugenheim had stayed with her long enough for the rest of the precinct to arrive and sedate her, peel her off into an ambulance. When he caught up he found Meier in her apartment, doing a cat-pad round and round the tiny room, glowering at the walls and floor and daring them to give up their secrets.

"Where are your opals, Mrs. Palmer?" Gugenheim murmured absent mindedly, thinking of the screaming woman he'd parcelled into the police meat wagon.

"In her head. In the Sanderson diary. Not here."

"Least it makes them easy to spot. Got in on this one pretty fast. Still warm."

Meier picked at the skin of his cracked lips, angry. "What I'm worried about, Frank, is that Inkwell's gonna get the same idea as Sanderson, and start with the fucking opals."

"I'm just saying, they're easier to spot."

The Sanderson Diary had fallen into the sweaty little hands of Rupert Downey, a minor sultan of the local media circuit. The diary was left by one of Inkwell's later victims, Patricia Sanderson, a small-time artist whose work had gone from abhorred to adored in the month since her death. Inkwell had been haunting her dreams. At first he was a tall, African man, with hair made of rope and eyes of black beetles. He fed her opals, he made advances at her. Before long she was painting him. He permeated her art. Soon she was seeing him in shop windows, the smoky corners of old terraced houses, the ring of rope tying a boat up at it's moorings. And then she died.

You could write it off as media hysteria; bored singleton fantasises about man of mystery murderer and ends up on his list. Downey had gone the other way. He'd set his little gargoyles loose, uncovering every scrap that could tie Inkwell into his victim's dreams and blanket them with opals.

What worried Meier was how easy he'd found it. Normally the papers had to make up about half their "facts" on a big murder case, but Meier had looked it through with the bureau. All legit. Somnambulists, insomniacs, astral projectors, narcoleptics, CFS-victims. Inkwell's victims were weird sleepers to a body. Some of them kept diaries too, though none of them as explicit as Sanderson's. One young poet wrote an "Opal series". A teen boy changed his fantasies from his math teacher to "the dark adonis of dreams". The only hole was the CSI. Nothing unusual about her; she was one of the most straight-forward girls on the force. Then her husband came forwards and revealed she was a "sexsomniac". A sleep fucker.

But it was all drek compared with the real opal Downey had found. Victim number one, Randalf Carter. The police's press release had him pinned as a psychologist, which was almost true. He was a sleep researcher - and more than that, he was also a covert para-psychologist. His expertise - his obsession - was the transcendance of the human rational state through the gateway of dreams. And his birth stone?

"Opals." Said Gugenheim, pressing Meier back into consciousness. He still couldn't decide what was worse; the supernatural media creature Downey had created, or the real Inkwell.

"What?" Asked Meier, but Gugenheim just pointed down at the body, and said:

"Opals."

The black inkpool in the victim's torso was pulsing, moving up and down as if some bulging thing was seeking egress through the skin. There was a moment of resistance, and then a breach. Showing through the split was the round head of pearlescent, shining stone; and then it receeded, the flesh seeming to repel the object with elastic force. The throbbing of the flesh continued, and this time the strange dance was joined by another bulge, mid-way along the sternum. For three seconds the flesh rippled with the pressure, and then the bodies breached again, two gem spheres peering through the veil of flesh like the eyes of some demon statue. This time they probed further, almost half an orb pushing through before being repelled back under by the resistance of the flesh. Meier had the horrible sensation that somehow, wherever the globes were being pushed back to, it was not inside the body.

"I think we should go." He said to Gugenheim, but the man had already gone. Meier split from the room as quickly as he could, seeing Gugenheim's retreating back as he vanished down the stairs, and as he rushed to join him, he could hear from the room the noise of a heavy clink clink whirr, a sound of opals dropping and rolling across the floor.


Belated Non–Cliched Character

Belatedly, here's the exercise from two weeks ago. The task was to write a cliched character, without using cliches. My choice? French Philosopher.

______________

The cafes are all gone.

The stairs fall under my creaking approach, and this is the thought I am summoned to – the cafes which were once, are now not. My lifetime was spent rationalising just such impossibilities, and yet again and again this fact stumps me – the cafes are all gone.

But I’ve spent too long dwelling where things are not, and before me now is a door, a door which swings open to reveal the type of bar the new generation meets in – or rather, the type of pub. I’m in England after all. “Pub” – a contraction of “public house” – a peculiar linguistic artefact hanging on long after it has lost any ability to capture the meaning of a place like this. I take pride in my knowledge of their foreign etymology; a little skill that is dwarfed next to my other achievements, but still indelibly a part of the big hazy “me”. I’m here to share my Philosophy with the lucky tyrones.

I believe that the cafes went to the Arabs. Arabic money backing French developers and (perhaps) an Italian architect, turning the south-bank café district into, what? Trendy residentials, desirable workplaces, “lasting commercial investment”. The warehouses and the granaries went too, and the docklands also, where my father and grandfather and some deep polluted stream of my forebears made things with their hands and tools.

What relationship do I stand in to this crowd of people? Each one a question mark. I’m unannounced and unknown. At the caf we were more than people. Jacques the poet, expounding his latest commercial disaster - Maudeline, whipping me with silence and the furtive promise of ash-tasting sex. Hazy glorious times which may never have been. Here we have the present, the indubitable present, and all I hold are unsatisfied existential statements; there exists some contact, who relates to me thus – we are to meet today, in order to discuss my paper for the colloquium tomorrow. Damn him.

I’m an oddity, a fact acknowledged by all but admitted hardly. One of the idiot Vienna circle stood where I am now, in this relation – intruding, enquiring, stupid and dumb, in a world which was not his own. Jacques lashed him, Paul promised him sex with bitter little whispers and of course did not deliver. I watched the bastard and loathed him, but now I miss those games of youth.

There’s a bar, a barman, a small gaggle of infants peeking at this methusela. I look, I believe, like some drawn out alcoholic. In a certain sense that is what I am, but not the important one. The glory of Philosophy is that midday absynthe binges can be written off as a working expense. I had a friend who knew a man who kept a shaggy dog that claimed back the tax on his alcohol problem. Or so he said; but he was an alcoholic too, and we’re hardly to be trusted.

Peculiarly close to Socrates, that’s how we stand. Corrupters of the youth. This gaggle seem so very child-like. Adult enough to wallow in their first existential crises, perhaps, but not wise enough yet to drink them away. This whole place has the aspect of a creche; the soft leather couches, blocky little tables, the pretend bar counter. My father would have suppressed a smirk at that sort of plastic joinery.

I find that I am increasingly reminding myself of the banal, to prevent myself from forgetting it. For example – what is required, on various levels, for me to purchase a drink, is;

I place myself in a physical relation of conversation with the man standing behind the bar
I enter into the conversation game of asking for a drink
I engage in the social practise of purchasing said drink

But you could probably collapse steps ii) and iii) together. And why these little lists? Because I am losing touch with it. One thousand fucks. Is it alcohol destroying my mind, or is it age?  As a young man I would have put a bet down on it, lost, and refused to pay up. I am not acquainted with the answer; but this answer of all preys most heavily on my mind, and if I am denied it, what value is there in any other?

There was a time, a long time ago, when I could say “I am so close”. “I am so fucking close”. But I have been spinning away from that point for ever now. Here I stand, an infinite distance from the bar, asking a simulacra of a human for a lukewarm liquid,  watching as my hand makes motions which could be interpreted as presenting him with money from behind the cataract veil of perception and hoping that when it lands on the counter, my body will not have dissolved into gas and I can clutch it, hold the tall smooth glass in my outstretched interaction and move it to my lips and drink.

The glass lands, and the beer is warm and flat.


January 17, 2008

A little flash fiction

So, here's a little short story that literally smashed out of my cranium and onto the page. How bad a writing process is that? No structure, no idea of what would happen, just one metaphor and two faint characters and up this popped. I hope you find this enjoyable. George, I hope it's not too cliched ; ) Anyway, this is a first draft - if I'm ever happy with it I'll send a later draft out to journals.



“Carpe pullo” I scrawled on Marcy’s left thigh, ironically. Everything we did was ironic. Our affair was in the height of irony. Neither of us was married, for a start, although Marcy did have a live-in lover. Later he would break my nose and three of his knuckles in one impressive punch, but not over Marcy, and not for three more years. My nose is now wide and French, and he had to learn to write with his other hand.


“’zat mean?” She asked, and I replied, “Seize the cock.” So she giggled and scribbled up the words she was putting on my stomach, low, just above the jeans line. I wasn’t wearing jeans then, I wasn’t wearing anything, but I always wore them too skinny. They left a red band like a belt that I was inexplicably proud of.


We were in a wood, naked. It wasn’t overly warm and we hadn’t had sex – we never had sex. Not once in the whole thing. I wanted to of course, and nowadays I think she did too, but she told me the first time I ever asked: “Nuh-uh. If it’s not cheating for Monica Lewinski it’s not cheating for me. So it’s just oral and cigars.”


I didn’t actually know about Lewinski. The whole thing with her and the American president had passed my by, while I was still lurking moodily in my bedroom in my parents house, without a television but with a huge sense of universal injustice. I think I passed that entire period of my life either sulking or masturbating, so a television wouldn’t have raised my awareness anyway. Marcy had to explain the reference to me, and when she did I bought the largest Cuban cigar I could and fucked her with that instead of my fingers. “Carpe pullo” might have been one of those little pushes I made to try and get some more, like the forty year old rubbing his cock against his wife’s brown dot and grinning like a cat, hoping she’ll say “go on them” and let him in.


The sun was a hazy white dot through a streak of cloud, and between us we had four very rigid, painful nipples. It was Autumn, and soon it would rain, but not for a few more days.


“Keep writing.” She said, and I bit her softly on her cheek – her left buttock - and twiddled the marker in my hand. “You’ve gotta keep writing.”


That morning we were on the bus. I was Indie, and we were riding nowhere in particular. You have to have whims. I had secret hopes of spotting a record store I had found once, very drunk, late at night, closed of course, but very secret, rising from the drunken fugue like the ruins of Atlantis. I didn’t know where it was or what it sold. The chances were I’d hate the music. But a good whim.


Marcy was with me because her boyfriend was out of town and she was even more ironic than I was. “I’m a New Romantic.” She said, and she was. Text book. Apparently Romance was reinvented in the 1980s, landing with A Flock of Seagulls and taking off again around about the time of Thatcher’s second term. I listened to underground music, the deeper underground the better. My favourite bands fought troglodytes and morlocks to make it to the mic stand. Hers were just uncool. I ached to be that ironic.


“Yu?” I said. It was a solid reply.


“Yuhuh, I looked it up. All my faves’r New Romantics. And my beanie-hat”

I didn’t have a fucking clue about the beanie hat, so I said:


“Yep. That is one New Romantic beanie-hat.”


And she laughed, possibly because I was wrong, possibly because I was stupid, not that it mattered. That laugh. It was dreadful. I mean that in the ancient sense, the one that’s lost to our world of “downloading” and “computeach”. It filled me with dread. A base ape-like fear that I was missing the plot entirely. And it was beautiful too, in a Jackson Pollocky sense. Broken and cracked by a little too much smoking. The rest of her was dainty.


The trees moved very slowly, at their own pace. “They’re not moving with the wind.” I said that out loud, I distinctly remember it, and she said nothing, even though it was such a damn stupid thing to say. Admittedly she was distracted. We were both covered in ink, and now she was working it off me.


The bus was one of those clanky old fuckers with angry drivers who’ve long fused with their seats, one leg stuck on the accelerator, the other on the brake, their urinary tract feeding into the cooling system for the engine through a specially arranged catheter. We weren’t alone onboard or my hand would have been in her trousers already. I was an idiot for never fighting her boyfriend.


She had these small breasts that made her look like a boy, almost, and which I found intensely, worryingly erotic. They were nearly non-existent, hidden like faces on the moon – you had to want to see them. They were a wonderful secret. But they made her look very young.


“If you shaved your pubes,” I said, gazing into that tangled blackness, “I don’t think I could have sex with you. Too wrong”


“You can’t have sex with me anyway.” She laughed. “That would be cheating.”

And she dotted the “i” on my chest.


The cloud was low, soft and wide, wispy and English. Later I walked back under fish-skeletons covered in gold lace, black shadows and gold ribs melting into the fading sunset. “It’s getting colder.” I said, which was a lie. It was already too cold to feel the difference. The town had been sweating all summer and now that sweat was evaporating, chilling us down at the speed of science.


Walking through the town the cold had been crueller. My undeclared search for the record shop was over, abandoned due to pointlessness, and the weather had no respect for my feelings. Pointless projects are the ones closest to the heart.


I put that on her skin as well. And “2+2=5”. And “Autumn is the cruellest month”, which I scribbled out when I realised Autumn wasn’t a month. The mess turned into a mouth – turned into a monster – tuned once more into black nothing. I was gazing at her crotch.


Two weeks later she shaved it. We were on her boyfriend’s bed, fumbling in a well-practised way, when she pushed me back, silenced me with one finger to my lips and another behind the hem of her skirt, and then stripped, just the skirt, and left her t-shirt on. Then she lay back, legs akimbo, and said, “Come on.”


I hesitated. Just long enough. She caught it in my eye and pulled it out, reaching for a felt-tip pen – one of the same we bought the day I didn’t find a record store – and scribbled on herself, a fake fur of ink. “Eat me then.” She commanded. I did – rubbing my face and mouth in there, licking and working and building up a shiny black nose of ink.


The felt-tip pens came from the same store we bought the cake at. She was always better at whim than me.


“We pack a bag with felt-tip pens and cake and then we go out into the country.” And we did, filling my satchel with pineapple upside down cake and twelve thick marker pens, one of which got lucky later, barely ten minutes after we started to ink each other, and found it’s way as far into her affections as I ever had.


We were swimming in our afterglow which almost stopped me shivering in the dusk. I was covered in ink and the sun couldn’t be seen in the woods now.


“I should probably go.”


“Don’t.”


“Okay.” I said. “I’m just gonna stay here.”


“That’s right.”


“While it gets colder and darker.”


“Yu-huh.”


“My clothes won’t keep the cold out.”


“You’re naked anyway.”


“Very wise.” I observed. “What’re you gonna do tomorrow?”


“Don’t talk about that.” She said, and held on to me.


She looked very sad, sitting there still naked, this glade of trees bowing around her, her flesh a pattern of ink and white, so smeared and intermixed you could hardly tell which was the real colour, as I walked away. But then she laughed and waved and pouted and put on a sad face again, and then I almost hit a tree, and after that I watched the path instead of her.


We could have had sex, I’m sure, if I’d only had the nerve to break something. What she really wanted was for me to shatter society – to break my own inhibitions – to cripple taboo and just fuck with her, naked and covered in ink, in a town square, surrounded by the old and young and CCTV cameras and police and pigeons, slowly and pleasantly, at ease, enjoying it, with everyone watching and staring and wishing they could be us. But I think breaking her boyfriend’s nose would have done the job almost as well.


November 04, 2007

Hours

And here's the same story again, second draft. The working title is "Hours"


Kristen pulled the hair out of her face, spat into a kidney-dish, and spat again. Hollow green light sickened her features and pulled her face out, already thin and sad from long, fruitless hours in the little laboratory. She went to the sink and pulled the tap on the boiler. Scalding water screeched out, and she whisked her hands through it. The pain brought her fingers back to life.

With a sigh she collapsed into the little chair at her desk and added another mark to the results notebook– “Negative”. The scrawl joined eight pages of brothers and sisters.

Long laboratory hours made you clammy. Her shirt, under the lab-coat, was stuck to her joints with sweat. Her underwear was rucked up uncomfortably and she smelt raw, thick and vile. There used to be something lively about the smell of piss and sweat – it was the cologne of a day, spent, worn out, ready for washing off and putting on again in the morning. Now she just felt dirty.

The screen-saver on her laptop was a spinning 3D image of the test molecule. It was the one with promise – of all its chemical siblings, this one seemed the most likely to come through the experiment alive and kicking. But every time it died very quietly at the third stage of interaction. It just didn't work.

She cleared her eyes with a handkerchief, a precaution against conjunctivitis, and looked unsteadily at the clock. 4 o’clock. Morning or afternoon?

She sank down very slowly onto her coat-sleeves and fell asleep.


* * *


Kristen woke up in bed. The sun was low in the sky, washing through the tree-line, and she couldn’t tell if it was going up or coming down. The shower was running in the en suite. She rolled over very slowly, feeling the softness of the sheets and the dirt in her hair and skin.

Mark came out of the shower, shining as he dripped water. When he saw that she was awake he gave her a tight smile and sat down on the bed, drying himself. She stumbled out and slipped into the shower cubicle.

The water was deliciously hot and heavy against her skin. She felt her own body up and down, stretching out all the muscles. Some of them were tight and bunched – others were weak. The muscles behind her eyes were sore, holding her gaze dead ahead. There was a little phantom pain in the old scar on her abdomen.

When she came back to the bedroom, Mark was stretched over the bed, still naked, reading a beaten paperback. She collapsed down onto the bed with him, rolling over and holding onto his broad chest, kissing him once, twice.

“I thought you’d gone out.” He said, not looking away from the book.

“Sorry.”

“Mmhm.”

“I thought I was on to something.”

“Mmhm. You need to get some distance from it. It's not good for you.”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry.”

She reached up, pulled the book from his hands and kissed him, and he kissed back gratefully. They made love, slowly, enjoying the soft feel of one another’s body, the hard press of the wooden bed-frame, the swallowing warmth of the sheets. Kristen still couldn't tell if the sun was coming up or going down. Afterwards they lay together in hazy warmth.

“Are you going to get some distance from it?” He asked.

“Yes.” She said, softly. “Okay.”

Sooner or later she was going to have to tell him.


November 01, 2007

A short story

Short-stories are what I'm all about. They're why I signed up to the ICW module (not to suggest that I don't enjoy poetry - far from it!) - I love writing short stories and I'm looking to improve. I find I can be vastly more expressive with them than I can with poetry - and I think I'm more adept at leaving things unsaid in short story format. This is a first draft, and untitled.


Kristen pulled the hair out of her face, spat into a kidney-dish, and spat again. Hollow green light sickened her features and pulled her face out, already made thin and sad by long, fruitless hours. She went to the sink and pulled the tap on the boiler. Scalding water screeched out, and she whisked her hands through it, teeth gritted.

The results-chart was already worked through to the eighth page. With a sigh she collapsed into the little chair at her desk and added another mark – “Negative”.

Long lab hours made you clammy. Her shirt, under the lab coat, was stuck to her joints with sweat. Her underwear was rucked up uncomfortably and she smelt raw, thick and vile. There used to be something lively about the smell of piss and sweat – a day spent, worn out, ready for washing off and putting on again tomorrow. Now it made her feel just dirty.

She toggled through the synthesis chart on the computer screen. The molecule should have got some result, but nothing. Inert, inert, inert, another dead chemical. One hundred twenty tests and not one positive.

She cleared her eyes – with a handkerchief, she didn’t need another bout of conjunctivitis just now – and looked unsteadily at the clock. 4 o’clock. Morning or afternoon?

She sank very slowly down onto her sleeves and fell asleep.

*         *         *

Kristen woke up in bed. The sun was low in the sky outside and she couldn’t tell if it was going up or coming down. The shower was running in the en suite. She rolled over very slowly, marvelling in the softness of the sheets and feeling the dirt in her hair and skin.

Mark came out of the shower, shining in the water, towelling himself off. When he saw that she was awake he gave her a tight smile and sat down on the bed. She slipped out and stumbled into the cubicle.

The water was deliciously hot and heavy against her skin. She felt her own body up and down, stretching out all the muscles. Some of them were tight and bunched – others were weak. The muscles behind her eyes were sore, holding her eyes dead ahead. There was a little phantom pain in the old scar on her abdomen.

She walked back into the bedroom. Mark was stretched over the bed, unclothed, reading a copy of some book. She collapsed down onto the bed with him, rolling over and holding onto his broad chest, kissing him once, twice.

“I thought you’d gone out.” He said, not looking away from the book.

“Sorry.”

“Mmmph.”

“I thought I was on to something.”

“You need to get some distance. I hardly see you.”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry.”

She reached up, pulled the book from his hands and kissed him. They made love then, slowly, enjoying the soft feel of each other’s body, the hard press of the wooden bed-frame, the swallowing warmth of the sheets. Afterwards they lay panting.

“Are you going to get some distance?” He asked.

“Yes.” She said, softly. “Okay.”

Sooner or later she was going to have to tell him.


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