Friday, 20 June 2008

Voices in the city

Click. The VHS turned off. The image returned to a soap opera called Emmerdale Farm, except it was tough to see the cows for the blood covering the screen.
The room was thinly lit but with a turn of a dimmer it shone to reveal a bubbling wound upon a body black with blood.
A detective would later assume that the blood covering the TV set and some of the far wall was caused when a blade was used to open the artery of one Jonathan Gerne, late of Henley-upon-Thames. The reason for his visit to and subsequent murder in a Soho bed-sit was still unknown and would be for several weeks. However, as the wound still sputtered forth a little, a heavy-set man with a mullet haircut sloshed towards the TV set and bent down to eject the video cassette. As the shunting device ejaculated forth the hard black box through its cassette flap the words Hard Knocks could clearly be read on the label by any ghost standing in the room.
The man put the video cassette in his pocket and left the room and then the flat. The TV buzzed on as the blood clotted over the green fields like cream.

Somewhere in the city a sickness crawled. It plunged on through walls and pavements and minds. It was devastation breathing fumes, a substance that swallowed light and tricked the sun into death. And someone was tracking it.
Evidence was hard to come by and impossible to present, at least to Scotland Yard. Enough whackos leading them down blind alleys as it was. Taylor knew he was a whacko too. Associated with whackos, learnt from whackos, used whackos. He sensed things though. Sensed the good in some, the churning nipping bitter mouths deep within others.
He could hear the tiny voices that told them, told everyone, what to do. Maybe it was because he could distinguish these sounds from all other background noise that he could ignore them. Society had noticed them - named them conscience, mind, or even soul - but society thought these noises originated within them, whereas Taylor knew they certainly did not.
This realisation had caused him to act noticeably differently to the average person in the average situation. He would actively disobey the voices; the guiding voices, the commanding voices, the desperate voices. Sometimes this would get him into trouble, would cause him to be a bit of a whacko.
Taylor saw the second murder. Knew it was the second when he saw the papers. Knew there would be more when he heard the voice.
He didn't know if it was one booming disparate voice from the gloom or many chattering furies, but they were whispering above the city and sometimes they would rush down and grow louder. He could hear them right now. They were below him, somewhere along the canal towpath.
He had got this close but fear gripped him. He wanted to vault the brick wall and get a glimpse of his quarry, but his limbs were locked and all he could do was listen to the cacophony of rage.
The domination of the voice echoed over the stagnant water. It was blasphemous in its meaninglessness, yet it was compelling someone. A flash of moonlight danced near a mooring. A scream clashed with the howl of the behemoth voice and then both were silent. The padding of footfalls moving off to the north won the fight of sound.

Underneath the canal bridge there were plenty of good people fallen on hard times. There was plenty of bad luck, hard luck, tough luck. Too many stories ending the same way. Greatcoats of bin bags, weak fires, fingerless gloves. It was cold.
There was a wheezing haunting the damp corners and other invisible sounds creeping through the darknesses. The sounds that the police could feel as they picked around looking for clues. The sounds that kept them sharp and scared. Chief Inspector Tonne was even affected by it.
Someone nearby was not affected though, not in the slightest. Someone was sitting with his eyes closed, listening to the voices. Listening to the moans and the screams, the whispers and the laughter.
With his knees pulled up tightly to his chin, sitting upon a bed of thick cardboard, someone was deep in communication with the voices.
All around were stacked videos and books, old stereos and towers of comic books, surrounded. Someone had brilliant blue eyes and a dirty blonde shower of hair in ringlets and straights uncontrollable. A wide grinning mouth was filled with lucid pointed teeth.
'What a whacko.' Smith says, nudging a couple of arms. A few policemen turn to see him and feel the same way. A whacko. They're looking for answers and they're looking for a killer. The kind of killer who likes the sight of blood.
Smith starts to swagger: 'I'm going to ask him a few questions'.
'Excuse me sir? Sir?'
Eyes straight ahead, he keeps on rocking.
'I'd like to ask you a few questions about what happened here last night, sir. Do you know what happened?'
No answer. Smith tries to push on: “Sir, can you please -”
Someone’s mind moves - rustling all around in the dark. Restless.
“He can't hear you.”
“He's just a crazy mute.”
“Leave him alone.”
Smith takes a step back. Looks at the small crowd and Taylor in the middle of them. Walks away. Someone was watching.
Tonne, he saw it all and he felt it, ugly and strange. This was the beginning of his fear.

Thanks to Paul for help and inspiration here.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

An elegy

Today he saw a face from his past; a face he could never forget. The face of Philippa.
They met while studying Latin. Neither of them were that hot at the language, but the poetry brought them together. Those Romans could sure write a love poem.
Elegy it was called, and elegy tells, usually in a poetic form, about a loss or a death of something. It can be wistful, nostalgic and mournful. It can also be the most beautiful feeling in the world.
This boy’s study of romantic elegy coincided with its birth within him. He soon found that the longing for a love that couldn’t be had created a singular internal stirring that becomes almost addictive.
This feeling can be easily evoked, perhaps by certain songs or pieces of music, also through powerful literature and film. Imagine these feelings now, feelings which can successfully transport you to a magical place of all-consuming passion; feelings that can never be sated, that can never truly be shared.
Rather than feeling empty and depressed, though, his elegy filled him with bittersweetness and this is something which can keep a heart enthralled.
Let me share with you this elegy of mine.
I once sent a note to a girl whom I was friends with, but who had a boyfriend. He was a real idiot; of course he was.
It was at university, but he wasn't attending the university. I was really taken with this girl and we had a good relationship, though I guess she was just enjoying the flirtation, the attention.
Her boyfriend lived nearby. We were away from our homes and families for the first time, but there he was every few days. He so regularly visited, like a nightly ghost, and he was everything I thought a boyfriend shouldn't be: a burping, puking, insulting, child.
I didn't understand the attraction on her part and, as I had met the girl soon after we started at the university, I figured this relationship was simply a hangover from a school romance. A lingering crush. The last puss from a teenage spot.
Two years down the line and I am proved very wrong. He remains; lingering, stale in the air around me.
Is she just weak, what power has he over her? I decided I needed to act. Galvanised by a recent night out, a dance, that connection still and the spark; I posted a note under her door.
I told her things: that she was special. You might say it happened on a night of the soul. Music, writing, solitude.
My actions were unwise, silly, ultimately destructive. The creak outside, the rustling at the door, the note sliding through. Whether it woke her up or she found it in the morning, it doesn’t matter. The entire exercise appears creepy in the light of the morning. All she can think about is a man, standing outside her room, in the wee small hours.
When next we met, the ugly embarrassment was paining her pretty face. It took weeks until we could begin to talk again, but our relationship had changed. She could no longer feign innocence. No longer pretend to understand what I really saw when I looked at her.
Her boyfriend greeted me with huge toothy grins from then on. He never mentioned the note, but he was pleased he'd won. Perhaps he respected the gall of my actions, but in his victory I was more sickened by the sight of him touching her.
However, I wasn’t downcast. I couldn’t again go near, yet the taste in my mouth made me smile. It still does.
When I saw her today, she was alone. She walked with purposeful grace, and the same red glow in her cheeks. But some zest was gone. Some divine spark of hers seemed washed away, perhaps forever.
I stopped where I was, and allowed my gaze to follow as she walked by on the other side of the street.
I thought about going over there, and speaking to her. Asking if she remembered me, was she still with him. Endless futures seemed possible for those few seconds. But the elegy, the elegy gnawed at my stomach some more and demanded to be fed.
So my eyes closed heavily, taking and holding one last image of her. Flowing brown hair, walking away from me once more, beautifully, forever.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Does anyone really know
How the stuff that we call fluff
Gets in my belly-button?

It seems to gather in the day
And at night, while I'm away
Asleep, it makes its journey.

Such a sojourn shouldn't happen
Logic unravelled, fluff travelled
To my blow-hole.

Why does it gravitate?
And will it just once abate?
I have sat and sat to fathom.

Some people think me rude
But I do not watch my crotch,
I'm just gazing at my navel.

So next time you clean it out,
With your finger in the spout,
Stop and think of me.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The red dragon

As I look now, out of my second floor window, I can see the first mountains of the ancient kingdom of Wales, climbing into the horizon.
They are out there, across the railway tracks, down the road of terraced houses, across the dunes and over the estuary.
Today I can see white crests breaking out where the river meets the sea and, still further out, crepuscular rays beam between cracks in the cloudscape, illuminating foreign beaches or sand banks.
Wales is a whole other country, and I can see it from my lounge. I’ve never been there and yet it appears quite a walkable distance away; drowning in mud, quicksand and saltwater not withstanding.
It seems a place of mystical and magical possibilities. What secrets might it hold? What ancient power may still be locked within those mountains? Their national flag has a picture of a dragon on it! How much more mystical can it get?
When last I thought like this, I resolved to journey there.
In order to aid my flight to this land, I spent all evening watching the dance of the insect-chasing swallows as they glided over red-tiled roof-tops and swooped at speed across the road below.
Then I watched the glossy winged gulls as they flipped and flapped their huge spans and took off from chimney pots and railway sidings. And I spied the arcing flight of the pigeons, glancing branches and telephone lines but still flying straight and true. If these rodents of the skies can do it, I reasoned, then why not I?
So, once the sun had descended into its nightly cradle and the moon was safely ensconced behind the sinewy clouds, I slid open wide the huge window in my lounge and clambered out onto its narrow ledge. Someone had painted the ledge cream, and I found that comforting.
I took in deep lungfulls of air and bent my body backwards, stretching my arms out as I went. I then began to move them in a routine flapping action and my joints cricked and cracked under this unusual motion.
I then held one of my deep breaths, counted to three and prepared to step forward, off the ledge. I strained and I struggled but each time I tried, something, some primal fear deep within, wouldn’t let me go. Wouldn’t let me leave the ledge. I felt like some fledgling who couldn’t depart the feather-lined nest.
Perhaps it was for the best, I thought. I’d probably just collapse, sprawling, in the garden below.
But then a remarkable thing happened. Through a crack in the ever-shifting night clouds, I saw a strange shape flit across the face of the moon.
“A dragon!” I exclaimed and, without second thought, leapt into the summer night.
What happened next is still difficult for me to understand or make clear in my head. I remember though, quite distinctly, my body rising up, and it just kept on climbing.
The railway and road went by in a flash, and I was soon swinging out towards the river. My shadow fair whizzed across the beach and I felt the air temperature cool as I reached the water.
All I could do was flap my arms and head on towards the far side of the estuary and the north-east coast of Wales.
I must have been mere minutes from the Welsh border when suddenly the temperature around me rose quickly. Flame crackled close to my head and I was forced to dive down, close to the spraying sea.
I twirled and wheeled my body like it was some top secret fighter plane and was amazed to see the scaled body of a great red dragon flapping above and snorting its fiery breath in my direction.
For a large beast it flew superbly and soon headed me off in my quest for the coast. A crackling wall of death halted my progress and I banked sharply as my progress to the sandy shores of Talacre was blocked by this boiling curtain of flame.
As I scrambled to avoid a scorching end, my course brought me into the path of the ancient beast itself. The dragon reared and roared at me, swinging a blistering claw in my direction. Its breath, all sulphur and inferno, wilted my resolve. It landed a bloody smack and my body sailed backwards at an astonishing rate, across the ten or so miles of water that separates Merseyside and Wales.
And that is the last thing I remember about my encounter with the red dragon of Wales, the great guardian of its borders, repeller of English invasion.
I awoke the next morning, scratched and sore in the branches of the apple tree that grows in my front garden.
I was lucky to survive my encounter with the dragon, that’s for sure. But every now and then, when I gaze from my lounge window, I still get the urge to make that short trip across the water to visit those Welsh shores.
Not by air, though. Next time, I’m going to swim for it…

Monday, 16 June 2008


The feeling of floating above the clouds is a queer one.
If you let it, it can take you over. You could get lost in a kingdom of cloud, see castles with soldiers and dragons attacking. Something about these fat mountains, wisping into new dimensions before your eyes, turns one’s head back to childhood dreaming.
I once took my grandfather with me on a transatlantic flight to New York, to visit my sister. It promised to be an uncomfortable journey; a long flight interlaced with stilted conversation and awkward silences. Still, there were always the clouds.
I remember the first time I flew in a plane. I was an adult yet I was stuck to the window in delight as a million synapses fired at once, relaying memories of candy floss and ginger beer, chasing pig-tails and climbing trees, mud seas and bloodied knees. And now I was above all that.
I travel by air routinely now, but it still stirs up some of those feelings, and it did that day flying with grandpa. I looked away from the clouds when I heard the clinking trolley of the air-stewardess but my grandfather, in the window seat today, stared on at the rolling white ocean below us. The stewardess had to touch his shoulder to see if he wanted a drink. She may have been checking to see if he was dead, too.
Then, as we enjoyed an in-flight brandy or two, my grandfather began to speak.
He told me how he had longed to fly above those clouds in his youth; and how he had loved flying above them in his adulthood.
“I would take every opportunity available to me to taste the higher air,” he said, “And get closer to those white angels dancing in the fluffy sky.”
He didn’t look at me many times while he recalled his time amongst the clouds, and at times I couldn’t tell if his memories were real or fantasy. His words were laden with romance and it seemed as though he had at one time managed to grow wings and flown like a migrating swan to reach the heavens.
The war was raging and there he was, a flying delivery boy transporting whatever was needed to wherever he was told.
He said how lucky he was to be able to fly so often back then and recounted a tale from those days:
“Often the sky would run black with smoke and man-made clouds would burst my white castles and set them aflame.
I would stay calm by searching out any little speck of white in the distance and focusing on it and striving towards it with all my might. Anything to leave behind the grey reek of the flak.
I was doing a similar journey to the one we’re on right now, in the June of 1940, when one of my engines caught fire during an attack on our convoy. It spread to the wing so my co-pilot and I bailed out.
In a way, I’d always longed for the chance to jump, the opportunity to step onto the clouds. It almost made me cry when my body flashed through them like they weren’t even there.
They might look substantial, like a dream taken form, but they’re really just clouds of water vapour.
I thought about this as I plummeted, and I didn’t want to open the parachute, not for a long time. But something in me, maybe when I saw those blue Atlantic waters rushing at me, something made me relent and I pulled the ripcord and slowed sufficiently to hit the water safely.
I bobbed around there for a few hours before a passing trade ship happened to spot me. I looked up, helpless once more, and saw the clouds turn to white again.
And as I looked up at that colossal sky I was thinking, ‘Maybe I just picked the wrong cloud? Just the wrong cloud to walk on?’ ”
He finished his drink and then didn’t say anything for a while. I looked and saw that he’d fallen to sleep.
He was back in the land of dreams now, where anything can happen. So when the stewardess brought our dinner I asked her not to wake him.
We let him sleep awhile longer. We let him sleep there in the sky for as long as we could.