Friday, 15 February 2008

On the beaches, far away

Hair, dirty brown by nature but now specked with wet clumps of sand, grew more dank as the sea-spray flushed it.
A girl of seventeen, scrubbed face as red as her bloodshot eyes, lay on her side on a barren Devonian beach.
She held a grey piece of folded paper in both hands and kept it from the wind.
Then, drawing it to her chest she began to tear at it, quite calmly, methodically placing a piece into the left breast pocket of her coat and then the right.
Once the paper rectangle was fully dismembered she reached her right hand into the pocket closest her heart and retrieved the scraps.
Thrusting her hand vertically above her face she gazed at the fist she’d made, gazed for fully three seconds and then unlocked it.
Paper whistled away across the beach, dancing for God and catching on dune grass, slipping into sand hollow or flopping onto the tide.
Her left hand now scrabbled greedily for the other half of the paper. Changing position she raised herself slightly with her right arm and swivelled onto both knees to face the crashing shore.
Eyelids slowly closed.
Then, opening her fist slightly as if to make a cup, the girl took up a single slice of paper and, holding out her tongue, received it into her mouth.
This process she observed solemnly until the cup was empty.
And then she leaned backwards so that her pendulous body was pulled backwards onto the gritty beach.
The sand was noticeably wetter now as the tide made its advance towards her. The girl's body had indented the sand like a shell does.
The waves crashed harder and closer, and the spray covered her in a fine mist. Struggling to make herself heard, she opened her dry mouth and wet eyes and sang a song to the tumult.

“As I walked by the winter sea, on the wind you called to me
All along the frosty shore where good men come to moan.

“On the wind you called from sea to say that you belonged to me
And not the blasted patch of sand where they say you have fallen.

“On the beaches, far away,
On the beaches, far away,
On the beaches, far away,
Where they say you have fallen.”

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The ghost stag

Thunderous hooves striking basalt and arduous turf, the beast roared its approval of the land with rhythmic beating footfalls.
Shooting out from the treeline came the white stag - a creature so tremendous that the onlooker was said to shade his eyes from its radiance.
Here stood Henry, the great photographer, the consummate filmmaker, with his sights trained upon the stag.
This animal, breathtaking in its realism, Henry could only afford to glimpse through the thick lens of his camera. Its reflection, squeezed and twisted through the barrel of an 800mm lens, came to the eye as a perfect replica of its image, as if you were standing mere feet from the delicious creature.
How rare a find, was this stag. Everything related was now Henry’s. He would name said stag, he would describe the rituals and trials, friends and lovers of the animal. He would report on it all and pass the information to the world - a world that didn’t even realise it was waiting.
All day long he watched the creature, he snapped and reviewed, he filmed and played back. Amazing footage: eating, running, calling, standing and looking. The mundane became majestic, almost supernatural, in the presence of the white stag.
Ancient Celtic cultures were wary of the beast. They recognised it had great power, its presence in a local glen would bring forth soothsayers, melancholy for the lives of the landowner and his family. Some even say the white stag is behind the myth of the unicorn.
But Henry forgot these flotsam mythologies, for his childhood was fuelled by but one story - that of the ghost stag.
This animal appeared around once a century - often before a time of war or other great suffering. Its advent was traditionally seen by farmers as the crying out of the land. The animalisation of nature to bring forth a message of unnatural events to come. It was as if the ghost stag were spat forth by an acrid earth to run, whisper and warn of a brewing apocalypse.
These were the thoughts and fine wonders that filled Henry’s mind as he shot away at the beast - his images growing more graceful, more godlike with each passing hour, with each memory card filled with photographs.
It was at roughly 3pm that the white stag turned its nose to the east and sensed Henry’s distant presence. Camouflaged in a green hide, tied up between a large bushel and a solitary pine tree, sat Henry. And as the ghost stag turned its head, so that it was the direct peer of his eyes that was squeezed and shunted down the telescopic barrel of Henry’s lens, the cameraman’s finger stopped firing shots off at the deer and froze for the first time in three hours.
It crept forward at first, stealthy, into and out of heather strewn ditches and hollows. It haunted the moorland like a legendary wight, seeking the unfortunate traveller in order to feast on his vitality. Then it darted north-easterly, splashing through a full winter stream and causing other deer to worry away into higher ground.
As the ghost stag crossed the byrne, effectively entering a rival’s territory, it occurred to Henry that the beast may be nearing on purpose - may be coming for him.
The focal length of his lens had reached it’s lowest capacity now and a new fitment would be necessary to apply to the camera. Of course, it is rare that stags should come so near, especially with the rutting season approaching, but Henry was prepared and rolled out of his camper chair to pick up the video camera - which was capable of a much more diverse range - and slowly zoomed out.
Steadily, the blur of the middle distance gave out and the eloquent stride of the white stag filled the frame. Then it began bounding up the hill, a full-charge for the tent, and it had roared a sneering cry before its launch.
With one hand, Henry held the video camera very steady and kept the brown eyes of the deer in shot and in focus with an insane determination. With the other hand he picked up his old analogue SLR camera and held it up to the flap in the sopping hide. Flicking the switch to ‘rapid/continuous’ shooting mode, the camera was able to fire off tens of shots into the face of the animal, lit by the light of a myriad camera flashes.
The ghost stag reared and bellowed, bellowed and reared, before dropping to its feet and munching the untouched wild grasses that grow in such heath regions. It milled and rested for fifteen minutes or so before disappearing over a steep rise.
Henry’s heartbeat then returned to normal, as did most things within the world. Henry blew the air out from his lungs and slowly wiped his brow.
He would look at the pictures, but not yet. He would wait. He would wait to stare at the creature, the great white beast, the ghost stag. He would wait, because he realised that this life is transitory , as are the actions of everything in it.
What if the shots were blurred, what if the lens was smeared, what if the stag seemed less than brilliant white?
The ghost stag could not be viewed for the moment, because, in Henry’s mind at least, the images would be burned indelibly, perfectly.
It’s a photographer’s prerogative to notice the flaws in an image and, sometimes, to remember the flaws alone.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The spoils of war

Yes, I try to forget, but you wrench these memories from me like the gold teeth I extracted from that gallant Frenchman on the fields of the Somme.
The rounds whistled like throstles that day as I crouched by his broken body and took my windfall. What was death to me in that hellish maw? Had I been there at Flanders or seen the very Angels of Mons I would still have stopped to fill my pockets with these ingots. These molars are life. And just as the dragon tooth, when sowed can bring power, so my find should bring me a great life once I returned from the blasted front.
Next thing I was flung into a scarified tree by a falling shell which disrupted a nearby corpse into flakes of its former shape. I passed out and woke in a field hospital. I felt the doctors whispered as they left my bedside. They later shipped me off to Scotland for recuperation. I had to sleep with one eye open for the men of my ward surely knew what secret lay in my pyjama pocket. But it was to no avail. The teeth were lost one night and I could do naught to request their return.
One morning Wilfred recited a poem of his about a beggar who went to war and stole from the dead. He called it 'The Ghoul' and likened the sorry beast to the grave worrying scientist, M. Frankenstein himself. I scowled and shrank into my bed. Siegfried laughed loudly at his friends' joke, and as he guffawed I swear I caught the glint of gold in his mouth.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

St Vitus' Dance

I can’t hear because of the screaming of the crowd. I can feel them all around me.
They don’t know I’m there yet, but they’ve come to see me. I allow myself a grin - I try not to cough, or make any sound.
Someone is banging, a rhythmic pounding, almost upon me. It’s too regular to mean this is my time. I will remain here just a little longer.
Sweat is starting too engulf me. I wonder, for a mere second, if I might drown in here. I have an orange stress ball in my hand which I squeeze after every blow rains down. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. Fear and excitement well up in equal measure. The adrenaline feels like it’s going to burst from my skull in a vibrant fountain, gushing and mixing with the sweat to create strange chemical concoctions to feed the frenzy of the waiting mob.
I’m in a box, a crate about six feet long and a couple of feet deep. I think it’s used to carry lighting or wires or something. A massive stagehand dragged me over here a few minutes ago and I’m supposed to wait in silence for five minutes.
I’ll be able to tell when the rest of the band take to the stage - the cacophony will increase as screams mix with chords. An A-minor to start with, I believe. Then, just as the audience think there can be no more excitement - that excitement does not have a level beyond this point - I will rise, with grace and power. My made-up face inches from theirs. And in one moment they will know fear, awe and then rapture.
I picture this moment, I imagine the crowd’s reaction. That’s invariably when the shakes happen. Slow trembles in my calf muscles - they twitch like I’m cold - I do feel cold, and clammy now. I’m shivering, but I feel ridiculous. It’s more than a shiver, I’m twitching all over - I’m vibrating.
The crowd roars, as if to salute my St Vitus’ Dance, they won’t hear my head threshing against the sides of the box. My body becomes very heavy and my eye lids droop with the sleep of a child. I’m shutting down and I like it, I will it to happen.
And then comes the chord, the A minor that startles me from my reverie, and I rise so quickly from my casket, so much more wildly than in my mind’s eye.
I whirl around before the baying punters. The room spinning ever so slightly, but the adrenaline tempering it.I fight back the vomit, but they’d love it in their faces.
A strange choreography is at work. There is a crazed man in their midst, floundering, dying; but they feed off it. They go wild.
Every show starts like this.

Monday, 11 February 2008

The Green Man

One day a man felt something in his shoe. Not painful, or particularly uncomfortable, just different. He smiled as he walked, now he was special, different from the others. They had ordinary shoes with nothing inside but their feet. They had ordinary feet that couldn't stand to have something pressed up against them all day.
And all night, so it came to pass, because this young man decided never again to remove the shoes that made him so different.
One day his leg began to turn green but his doctor could not persuade him to remove his shoes to find the cause of the infection. So he hobbled out of the surgery and back into the world where he was now a man with special feet and a green leg to boot.
On the 4th of December, 1989, he passed away. His body, now all green, had made him a figure of freakish fun for the tabloid newspapers of the day.
The next day, his jaded body lain on the slab, the man's GP was in attendance at his autopsy. "May I?" he asked and the coroner nodded.
With one gloved hand he gripped a mushy leg and with the other slid away a black brogue. "Aha!" he exclaimed as the coroner and his assistant craned their necks to peer over the GPs shoulder and stare deep into the shoe.
Tipping it, ever so slightly, an object rolled into view. The globular form of a single garden pea.