Friday, 11 January 2008

Ctibor's Carnivale

Seventeen times the axe came down on his neck, and 17 times the blade left little more than a red mark on his leathery skin. Ctibor loved to prove that he was the toughest clown in the show.
His travelling troupe, ‘Carnivale Grotesque’, was made up of escapees from one of the last circus freak shows in Russia.
For ten years he had paraded before aghast spectators who stared and pointed and even wept when confronted with his crocodilian skin and bat-like wings. Ctibor, like his freak friends – Jiri, The Volcanic Boy; Kseniya, Daughter of Wolf; and Pyotr, The Kid With A Breast For A Face – was exhibited in a cage, in case this strange demonic beast should choose to run amok, flapping around the big top and dropping onto pregnant women to devour their unborn.
The cage was really just for show, and Ctibor's wings were actually useless sheets of skin which billowed in a strong wind. Behind the scenes he and his fellow freaks were just another act, just another group of performers. They weren’t feared by the other circus folk but they were seen, at best, as the bottom rung of talent. At worst they were despised and spat upon by the strongmen and acrobats. Even the dancing bears would receive dinner before them.
While each member was a free citizen, the ringmaster and circus owner, Vladimir Lebedev, would tell them when they complained: “You’re free to leave, of course, but who would love you, who would protect you as I have? You will be hunted wherever you go. The Furies of society will pursue you mercilessly, like Frankenstein pursued his damned creation. Stay in peace, with me, the only father you’ve ever known. Your needless ends will only make my sorrows longer.”
Master Vladimir had a Siren’s tongue, at once preaching fear and love. So many times he had quieted the rage of his mutant family. So many times he had coaxed them back into their kennels.
It took the events of a drunken night in the wilds of Rostov to snap the freakshow from the bonds of their travelling companions. Alexei, on checking the snares he always set around the campsite, found that he had caught a beautiful she-wolf. A proud and furious animal, the lion-tamer dragged the netted creature into the ring created by all who had gathered to share vodka.
Jeers filled the space. Stones, sticks and empty bottles were tossed towards the creature. Kseniya screamed at them to stop the torture. She clawed and bit the men who held her back; she howled and sobbed. The party ended with the wolf being thrown into the lion’s cage. In the early hours, three friends, three brothers, consoled the wolf-girl and prepared their departure.
Setting out into the night, they existed among ancient Russian forests for eight months, shunning a society that meant to destroy them. They survived on berries and squirrels, but as the winter began to bite the only sustenance offered came from Pyotr’s frozen nipple. Jiri offered them what heat he could, but Ctibor knew the time had come to lead his band once again, just as he had for so many years of their circus lives.
He took them to the Czech border, he made sure they all crossed into Czechoslovakia. Then they headed for a town, a place on the borders of all they had known, at the edge of society. A wolf dog was sensed by Kseniya and the gang followed its tracks down to the outskirts of Ostrava.
Much occurred, of both horror and sorrow, joy and victory, before the birth of Carnivale Grotesque and the success of the popular touring show we can all enjoy today (albeit in a tamer form to its earliest incarnation in the taverns and theatres of Ostrava).
He may now be a star of the internet and small screens across Europe, but Ctibor will never forget where he came from and how much he owes to that special group of freaks he calls family.

Thursday, 10 January 2008


He looked to heaven, as if the watching hordes of angels could halt this pain, could prevent his very dermis being sucked into hell.
His tongue had long gone, but the surprise had not been the suck and pop of its demise but rather the continued sucking and tearing of whatever was attached to it.
As the lining of his mouth shifted convincingly towards the back of his throat, so his lips and the skin of his face followed. Each flowed over where the other had been. A slow tide of sludge, as muscle seemed to absorb into this mess-like paste and join the flow. As if agonising, blistering rivers of molten ash, his body choked. A volcano in reverse.
His vision condensed as liquid flesh poured its mould over his sockets and dragged balls and eyes to their eventual demise.
He seemed aware of less and less pain. His body was mostly touching the ground now. Bone and muscle was breaking down and his form had become simple jelly.
Before his nerves and brain joined the chum, he was aware of an amazing feeling, as every part of his body seemed as one cell, one sensation. He may have known everything about sensation and, in a moment, known nothing again.
Teeth joined hungry Charybdis. The sucking demon seemed hungry for the world but soon there was nothing external.
Merely a thick tube led to a grotesque sack. Bulges travelled in the pipe - a python crushing its prey and forcing it ever onwards. Mucus there was, but mucus too joined the vaccuum; the pipe itself drawing eternally internally.
Everything became the sack and the sack, everything. It would have swallowed the sun and drank all the seven seas had the child not merely chosen to swallow himself.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Stranger Tom

“All the best, son,” the man in the bus shelter called out. “Enjoy yourself.”
Tom looked confused. The man slouched back against the Perspex shelter and raised his beer can in celebration. Tom was carrying two bottles of wine. “Happy New Year to you too,” said Tom, extricating himself from the discomfort of the situation.
More and more this was happening to him. More and more he was misreading and misunderstanding the world. People - strangers - were coming up to him, speaking to him. Had he become somewhat approachable in the last six months? Had the tried and tested frown begun to slip? Had he in some way encouraged this aberrant behaviour?
Just last week, coming home on the train, he was reading a new book by one of those suddenly widely-loved authors named Jamie Austin. The short novel, called ‘Into the Everdark’, exposed the reader to the shadowy underworld of an unspecified city neither present or past, just sometime, somewhere. The heroine, Miss Nowhere, is revealed to the reader in snatches, much like the brooding city itself.
Tom must have been halfway through the story and the author was yet to allow him to know anything concrete about Miss Nowhere or her circumstances. It seemed at times that the character herself was not sure, that she was searching for answers as much as the reader, perhaps as much as the author too?
Putting the book away into his bag and standing, ready for when the train came to a halt, a voice reached out before him, saying: “What do you make of Miss Nowhere then?”
This strange phrase had somehow leapt from the imagined realities of the page and now inhabited the train with a fearsome magic. Tom lifted his eyes from the flap on his bag to seek the owner of the tongue which questioned him about Miss Nowhere. Who was this dark conjurer, this possessed mind?
A man, tall like Tom, with a smart coat and a black woollen hat pulled tight over his head, grinned back at him. Tom said nothing, his mouth slightly open but not really feeling like doing any work, his arm though still jerked to grab an overhead bar as he felt the train decelerate.
“I got it for Christmas,” the smart man said. “I love his other books, but I’m not sure about this one.”
The train stopped and the door slid open.
“I’m liking it, liking it.” said Tom, suddenly deciding to take part in this play. “I’ve not read his others, though. Sorry.”
The man beamed and leaned back against the Perspex divider in the carriage and Tom hurried from the train. The wind blew in icily from the coast, attacking his ears, so Tom pulled on his woollen hat.
“Something’s very wrong with me,” said Tom to himself.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The Real World

A cloud of steam enveloped the bridge. Susie couldn't see and the warm rush around her made her spin and look up to spy where the sky had gone.
She didn't know whether to keep holding onto the railing before her and hope the strange smoke passed or perhaps run to the edge of the steam and hopefully out into the world again.
Below her, in the real world, on the ground, passed by another train moving in the opposite direction. She heard a whistle and the clouds thickened around her. She screamed but she couldn't hear herself over the peeping whistle. She wondered if it was her own mouth producing that shrill note. So she let go of the rail and ran, back the way she had come, back to the things she knew.
In all things now her beliefs were shattered. In terror, her senses had failed her. She stepped were no platform rested and her foot tumbled into airy space. Her body followed after it.
Tripping and skidding, and even thudding, down the blue stairs of the railway bridge Susie landed, a grazed and bleeding mess, at the foot of the flight. Her eyes filled with water but she did not fully cry for she knew nobody was around to hear her. She tried to push herself up with her wrist, but it did not seem to work any more. Her feet were still above her, on the second step of the bridge. She moved to bring them down to the ground but a crunch caused her nerves to burn and a darkness to cover her eyes.
She awoke to dusk. The sun had crept below the treeline of the wood that the railway ran through. Her legs now rested on the dirt path that ran between the bridge and the farmland beyond Sort's Wood. She decided not to make the mistake of movement again and instead lay quietly and listened to the increasing hum of the summer night insects. A centipede crossed from the grass on the right side of the path to the left, passing inches from her nose. She neither screamed nor tried to move away from the unusual creature. The insect seemed to regard the fallen girl for a moment and then passed on to whatever hollow awaited him. As he reached the edge of the path though, he changed direction and followed its border towards the trees and on out of sight.
Susie then heard the sound of a nightjar nearby. She could hear this creature from her home but he was impossible to see, said her father, unless you were prepared to wait and watch for a very long time. A tawny owl spread its wings wide and smoothed its flight 10 feet along the route of the path. Two young squirrels fought noisily on the railway line before scampering around her and on up the path.
The little girl shifted her weight and found that her left arm and leg no longer throbbed. The arm even seemed to move a little. She propped herself up and placed her weight on her left side. The left leg held, though gingerly. She sat back on the railway step.
Then, a fox. Auburn light seemed to irradiate from it's body. It paid Susie little mind, though its ears were pricked. It turned, as if to cross the bridge, and saw the girl now calm and staring in wonder at the wild creature before her.
The two waited and watched each other, unmoving and in thrall, for that length of time a mind finds hard to quantify. A nightjar flew between the two figures and broke the gaze. The fox turned around and slowly padded off along the path through the woods. Susie gamely rose and limped on behind, into the veil of trees. Always, in the distance, she kept some sight of the auburn fox, until she shambled clear into a moonlit meadow. Then the fox was lost among long grasses.
Susie saw torchlight and heard people calling her name. Now she began to cry.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Winter quakes

I went walking through a field of my own choosing and stumbled into a muddy mire.
In the hole with me I found resting three children of a green complexion. They rose from the slop like the phantoms of my youth who terrorised me as a bairn, while I lay sleeping. They spoke in turn. One was named Petandral, his sister was Leanlo, and the third, though faceless, still somehow spoke to me and called itself Gerrent.
Electrified with fear, I scrambled to leave the hole but my hands were like forks when spoons were required. The green ones touched my collar and shoulder and bade me settle. A panic reduces with touch, but the coldness of their form caused ice to burn the skin through my coat.
"It is winter, and we quake," spoke Petandral. "We are sorry," offered his sister. "When the earth is hard and frosted we have little life to give. In the summer we will soar, burning orange across the sky, dropping nectar and rich berries for you. But for now we just survive; breathe in sullen ditches and fallow meadows. Offer us your blood and we will take it."
The voice of Gerrent filtered through my head. "Leanlo looks at your beating heart with relish." Petandral answered my confusion with bold words: "Wait out the winter with us. Awake unto spring and strong new life. The waters will not freeze for long."
I reached out to his chest to push him away. His body, when brushed, crumbled slightly. A howl of death cold seared my hand. New found wildness entered me and I dived at the ditch-wall. A root, uncovered, gave me mooring from which to climb.
As I was raised from the deep rut, chill blades clawed my back but another force, some power, helped me continue to travel upward. As distant vision became possible above the trench edge a freezing fog billowed down from the foothills. A mass murder of crows sat atop each furrowed brow of the field and on every branch of every skeletal tree surrounding.
I ran back toward the River Hoole and, as I staggered on, the great crowd of black wings ascended into a devilish cloud. I turned from their mocking caws and dived over the small stone marker wall and on up the hill into the thick veil of fog.
I wandered for many hours through the gloom. Many times I heard the voice of Leanlo calling to me through the fog, begging me to return to her, but I was never again touched by her grim hand.
The lights of the village eventually cut the sodden air with sanctuary. Now I lie, beneath extra blankets, scared of sleep.
O come spring. Come summer, soon.

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