Sunday 26 September 2010

This-That and the Other

This-That wandered, and searched.

He wandered through the scrumpling trees and the gleeberry bushes. He wandered up the wearyups and down the rollydowns and then along by the burbling till he came to the long rock (which wasn’t very long, but was very tall).

He was searching for something. But he couldn’t remember what.

He climbed all the way to the top of High Riffling (the highest wearyup) and when he was there he met a stranger he’d never met before.

“Hullo.” This-That said. “I’m This-That.”

He held out his fivepaw, because that was what growners did when they met people. It was the polite thing to do, and This-That was always polite.

The stranger looked at This-That’s fivepaw with his wide peeryholes. The stranger looked hungry. This-That lowered his fivepaw quickly.

The stranger was much taller than him, so This-That had to stretch his neck to look up at him.

“What’s your name?” This-That asked.

The stranger opened his nommer (This-That thought his whole head could fit inside); it was full of sharp chewpins (This-That swallowed nervously). A deep rumble came from inside.

“No name.” The words were very slow and very long.

“No name? How sad!” This-That thought it was very sad that the stranger had no name. “I will give you a name!”

“This-That?” The stranger rumbled.

“No,” This-That laughed. “That’s my name, and you’re not me.”

This-That thought for a moment, “You’re not me, so you can be Other. Do you like that?”

“Other.” Rumbled Other.

“Yes!” This-That grinned. “Now tell me what you're doing up here. I’ve never met anyone all the way up at the top of High Riffling before.”

“Searching. Something.” Rumble, rumble.

“Well,” This-That smiled. “I was searching too, but I’ve found what I was looking for, so I can help you now. Where do you want to go?”

(author's commentary)

Sunday 19 September 2010

These Killing Fields

The killing fields reek of peacetime.

Soon they will be farmland; the glorious dead reborn as crops, or worse: bright flowers. Corpses make such good fertiliser.

I have watched many wars. It is a good battle when the burial pits are not far from the field. It shows a need for efficiency, a need for minimal distractions from combat. The sign of a better battle is when there isn’t even the time for burial; when each side is fighting to regain their corpses as much as their ground.

But war ends. And the victor claims the land, though it is inevitably soaked more in the blood of his enemies than his own men. Should the greater claim not go to whoever has the most corpses, whoever put the most of their country into that land? That is not how these things work though. That is not how men think.

My brothers and sisters have gone elsewhere now; looking for better pickings. I remain, and the humans call me a curse. I remain, and I have been thinking.

Always we are content to let humans work themselves into war, and we go where they fight, we go where they die. But there are fewer and fewer wars, and in peacetime we flounder; only the strongest survive.

I have seen a hundred wars, a hundred peacetimes. I am the oldest of my kind, and I have a plan.

I have studied humans; so predictable in their pride and their rage and their greed. I will guide them to war, and we will have our feasts.

I take to the air. I shall find the rest of the flock and the great work shall begin. Ravens will be scavengers no more, but harbingers.

(author's commentary)

Sunday 12 September 2010

This Most Unfrabjous Day

The door opened as far as the taught security chain would allow and a weary face peered through the gap. A face unshaven for several days, that much was clear, with heavy bags under squinting, bloodshot eyes; a face topped with unkempt, mousey brown hair.

“Sorry to call so early in the day. Not been sleeping well, Mr. Farnsworth?”

“Fuck off. It’s 2 in the afternoon. What do you want?”

“’pologies for my partner, Mr. Farnsworth, can’t help hisself, can ‘e? We’re coppers, come to chat ‘bout that incident y’had y’self.”

Mr. Farnsworth, Barry, looked them up and down through the crack in the door. They didn’t look like police. They were both wearing black combat trousers (not ‘fashion’ combats though, these looked heavy duty and functional to Barry, the real deal) and neat black shirts. One of them had his sleeves rolled up, despite the cold. They both had dark hair, very short, clippered.

The man who had spoken first was the slimmer of the two, but not skinny; his thin lips were quirked up into a smile on the left side, his left eyebrow raised. The other man was bulkier and his shirt was a little too tight, maybe intentionally, he clearly worked out regularly; his accent was definitely not cockney, but something like that. What sort of coppers called themselves ‘coppers’ anyway?

“E’ll be wan’ing to see some eyed, Smithy.”

‘ID’, Barry realised, a little slowly.

“No problem, Jones, I have some right here.”

Smithy smiled broadly as he produced a badge and card for Barry to look at, as if he was challenging Barry to comment. His partner held his up next to it. Barry studied them as if he knew what the tell-tale signs of a fake might be. They certainly looked genuine. Except the names were actually stated as ‘Smithy’ and ‘Jones’ no first name or initial, both ranked as detective.

They might as well have called themselves Slim and Muscles.

“I also have the transcription of your interview, Mr. Farnsworth.” He dug a few folded sheets of printed paper from his pocket. “We just want to go over a few details. It’s nothing serious.”

“So you won’t mind if I give the station a quick call first then? No offence.”

“We ain’t from the local, Mr. Farnsworth, but you give ‘em a call if ya want. Best to call our boss, though, really. Smithy’s got the number.”

Smithy was still smiling, helpfully.

Barry sighed. He could see that the paper did indeed have his interview on it. He unhooked the security chain (more for security of mind than anything else) and opened the door. He was wearing navy jogging trousers and a loose white t-shirt with ‘Handsome Security’ printed on the front and, when he turned around, ‘personal safety never looked so good’ printed on the back. From the fit of the T-shirt he worked out too, although from the way he slouched into the living room it didn’t seem to be a habit he was keeping up. Particularly with all the empty pizza boxes.

Smithy sat on the sofa Barry waved him to. Jones went to the window.

“Oughta get some air in ‘ere, Mr. Farnsworth.”

“It’s Barry.”

“Ain’t good for ya, flat bein’ all stuffed up like this.”

Jones opened the curtains and the window then turned to the bookshelf and started looking through the books with interest.

Barry looked pained at the big man going through his books, his books were important to him. He opened his mouth to say something about it, then sighed and looked to Smithy instead.

“So what ‘details’ can I help you with? I told them everything I know.”

“Just some clarification, Mr. Farnsworth. It will, no doubt, seem minor to you, but it is important to us. And we are grateful you’ve taken the time to see us, we seem to have caught you in the middle of tidying.”

Barry glowered. “Look.” He stabbed a finger at the Handsome Security logo on his chest, “my last client got buried in bits. My boss doesn’t think that’s good for business so guess what, even if I wanted any, he wouldn’t put it my way. You think–”


He glared at Jones for the interruption.

“Barry, Smithy’s sorry.” Jones shot a look at his partner, “‘E don’ mean ta belit’le ya problem.”

On the sofa, Smithy spread his hands and inclined his head a little, apologetic and conceding to his partner.

“So.” Smithy looked at the printed statement in front of him “What made you go upstairs?”

“Initially? A burning smell.”

The two ‘coppers’ exchanged glances.

“Eyes.” Jones said.

“Eyes.” Smithy nodded.

“Eyes?” Barry repeated.

“Yes. So, after going upstairs you mention a noise.” Smithy looked at the transcript in his hand. “Could you describe it to us again.”

“Well,” Barry looked a little embarrassed, “It was, it went... snicker-snack. Again and again.”

The two exchanged another meaningful glance.

“That’s an odd way of describing it...”

“I know,” Barry frowned, “I’ve tried to think of another way to describe it, but that’s all that comes. When I think about it, that’s what it is, in my head. I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere before, the words anyway, but I just can’t remember where. You know, it’s like when you’re sure you’ve seen an actor in another movie, but you can’t quite place them.”

“We know just what you mean, Mr. Farnsworth. Don’t we Jones?”

“Oh yes. We ‘ear a lot o’ that.”

“Now we don’t want to go over what was in the room, poor Mr. Burton can rest in pieces. Peace!” He quickly corrected himself.

Barry suspected it hadn’t been a slip of the tongue. He sighed again.

“And there was another noise, you said, from outside.”

“Well, there was a hole in the wall, but with straight edges; it was like, I don’t know, like something had just cut clean through it. And outside, I could hear something moving around, something large, but the light wasn’t good enough to see anything. And whatever it was, it burbled.”

“Burbled?” That look again. “Another odd choice of word.”

“I know, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it, that’s just the right word, the only word.”

“Ok, Mr. Farnsworth, I think that’s everything. Do we have everything, Jones?”

They both looked at Jones, by the bookshelf. He moved as if he was putting something in his pocket, but Barry couldn’t see anything in his hand, and when he looked later nothing seemed to be missing from his shelves. There was a gap between the Bs and the Cs, between Naked Lunch and The Man Who Was Thursday, but he couldn’t think of anything that might have been there before.


Later, in their car, Smithy took the old, worn book from his pocket and passed it to Jones.

“Nice. Original?”

“Nah, pre nine’een unnerd though. I rec’on. Always preferred the Mervyn Peake illustrations m’self.”

“It’s always about the pictures with you isn’t it?” Jones looked down at the book and sighed. “So the boy and the beast are working together, that’s unusual.”

“Enemy o’ my enemy I s’pose. They’ll be comin’ fer us.”

“Why is it this book that keeps coming back? Why can’t this one stay dead?”

(author's commentary)

Sunday 5 September 2010

This Alien Land

Cally is not trembling this time.

She puts a hand to his massive face – that part of him alone approximately two thirds her own height – and lets her eyes wander over his green features.

Now that she is really looking, and touching, she realises his thick skin is soft. His face is not unlike a human face, though she cannot liken the features of this creature to the features of the man she knew. Rigid structures sweep back from the top of his hairless head, like half-flattened cones, or horizontal icicles. Smaller but similar structures descend from his cheeks, protecting the sides of his wide mouth with its semi-circular rows of pointed teeth like pencil nibs lined up (two rows at the bottom, she notices, and one at the top).

The same thick protrusions extend back from major joints all over his hulking body. The effect is not unlike a young boy trying to draw something moving at speed, but he is so stationary, so settled he seems as immoveable and weighty as a rock. If she hadn’t seen him in motion, hadn’t seen the speed and grace and ferocity, she could almost believe him a freak outcropping of lichen-swept cave. Almost, were it not for the gentle hush of breath from his half open mouth and his eyes – shifting, cloudy maroon orbs with no pupils (which are disconcerting as she can’t tell exactly where he is looking).

It strikes her then as odd that his physical form seems so earth-like. Gargantuan, for sure, but, in a general sense, his body shape, his stance, is somewhere between a bear and a gorilla. Brutish but regal, beastly but graceful. His back curves down from his high shoulders to the squat hind legs on which she has seen him stand when threatened, a spectacle inciting fear and awe in good measure. Rearing up he becomes taller than two men, and free to strike with his powerful forearms, his taloned fingers.

Cally takes a deep breath, and sighs. Whatever she hoped to see in him, she doesn’t. He is too different. It may not be there at all, or it may just be that she does not know how to recognise it now.

He tilts his head a little to one side. Curiosity, a strikingly human gesture.

She talks to him at last.

“Bryn is in prison now. For... for what he did. And the ministry say you may return.” She hesitates. “They want to study you, but that will be your choice.”

“And what do you want?”

His voice is deep and resonant, calm. So unlike how he used to be.

“I–” she clears her throat, swallowing hard on the sudden tightness. “I don’t know. You are not the Benj I knew.”

Saying that, she knows that she can move on, finally. And now she begins to tremble, tears welling in her eyes.

(author's commentary)