Numb to the barbed wire now, pushing on, everything is the same shade of dead around him. The field was churned like the battlefields of the Great War but this is peace time. As much as any time is peace time. No time is peace time. There’s always war somewhere. Soon there would be war here, in these fields sectioned off with high fences and rusted wire. The sky was dark, it was the deep levels of the ocean, stars drifting in his failing vision like the organic motes drifting in the twilight of the sea. Soon he’d sleep, maybe he’d wake up and this would be fine. The cold would no longer bite. The spines of the barbed wire would not be swimming in his blood. He plucked a barb from his skin, a bee’s sting of splintered metal. It hurt more to remove than leave it in, but he could hardly drag a roll of this stuff with him. His own blood, dirty red, fell from the holes he had just opened. More churn to the soil. Was this a dream? If he sat up now with enough effort of will, would he see the daylight of his bedroom? What war was this, that was coming over the hill to greet him with fire, and songs of power? What ends were coming? He shut his eyes. It would all make sense if he could open them in sun.
It was a cold, bright day in harvest season when I met him, and I am still unsure if it was a dream. I woke and do not remember dressing. I was in my parents’ house, and I was late rising. The sun was already crowding in through the windows, through the rippled glass of the internal doors. The smell of coffee filled the kitchen; someone had left a jug to fill in the filter percolator and I took the opportunity to have a cup. It tasted of warm toast and hazelnuts in Winter.
Continue reading The Corn
The Pumpkin King was wrong.
He made the same speech every October, as his subjects grew ripely orange in mist-laid fields. He meant it to inspire them, to give them hope in their futures, to push them on to greater things. He spoke in good faith. He was wrong.
Continue reading The King’s Promise
“Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee!!” I yell, a ghoulishly cheery shriek. My colleague recoils, spittle flecking their glasses. I grab the pot of freshly-brewed coffee I keep on my desk by its slender glass throat. My bare hand on the red hot glass starts to blister. Shaking, I bring the pot to the cup. My colleague is wide-eyed, staring at my hand. It trembles violently, but I do. Not. Spill. A. Drop.
The liquid that pours out is slow, and tarry, treacle-thick. I see it cascade in slow-motion into my cup (my cup also says DON’T TALK TO ME BEFORE I’VE HAD MY COFFEE!! Because my cup understands me better than my colleague). I cough, a barking act of violence, directly at my now quivering colleague, who hides behind the slim bundle of notes they had brought for my attention. I stare into the space their eyes would be, if they dared to look at me.
The pain in my hand is nothing now, it is ice at the heart of a star. I drop the pot, it lands with a nervous clunk on my desk but does not shatter, it would not dare. I take the cup, and finally I may taste what I have waited for, for so long. It coats me, from the inside out, in warmth and comfort, in an electric sense of myself. My mouth opens again, this time to speak. Words pour from my soul.
“Mondays, am I right?”
The restless drag and catch of a fountain pen over coarse, unbleached paper was unbearably loud in the loft room after curfew. Jamie Lam bit his lip and said nothing, staring out of the scratched, fogged windows over a quiescent Hong Kong. The streets below, heaving and pulsing with life during the day, were empty except for the occasional Patrol; lumbering one-person suits just over ten feet tall that swept a constant AFR beam ahead of them.
Continue reading Uprising
The filing system was large, dense and complex. They always are, in your head, but ask modern archivists and they will tell you about well-lit rooms with motorised carousel storage that shrinks the world to a two-digit number on a keypad. But in your head, the filing system was filled with shadow and indexed by a demon.
Continue reading Filing in
We pushed through on the dawn, ragged banners tilting skyward as the sun’s dust punched holes in our eyes and set our clothes ablaze in gold. At that moment we could go no further, feet tangled in long grass taking root as our minds set out branches with fat, flat leaves to catch the light. Were we rescued now, as the heavy sky rolled without thunder and the last of the wind from the battlefield carried the last of the screams over the long horizon. We were haunted now only by the ghosts we brought with us; slumped on our shoulders, arms hooked around our ankles as they crawled to safety too. May we never find it – the last words of the dying, hissed out of empty lungs. Never safety, never peace. We watched the sun rise and there in the cold its warmth passed over us; the distant heat of violence, an unending explosion in the silence of space whispering to a stop on our skin. We sat, and peace flowed from us. We would turn to stone, our stations presenting a riddle to future generations passing by this spot. We would watch the sky and guard the Earth beneath.
Now crunching wheels grind the concrete
Metal bones groan
The blasting surge of the Thames
Heard in silence.
And he, pausing,
an old man now
(by the standards of these things),
Stops and breathes.
He holds, not proudly,
The board he once rode.
One of many; a few shattered
And spilled him aslant on the slopes.
He is a phrase-book
Brought through time
To translate the thoughts of those
He knew here.
Continue reading A South Bank Story.
I remember my Grandmother’s cabinet. Glass-fronted, each panel etched with a complex pattern of flowers and leaves that never quite seemed to match your memory. I had favourite knot-whorls in the surface of my Grandmother’s table, I had the grain of the brushstrokes in the paint on the walls of her bathroom memorised, but I could never quite get the patterns on the cabinet fixed. I should have had a favourite flower, or known a leaf that looked like a dog. But it went through my head, like trying to catch sunlight in a sieve.
Continue reading The Glass Doors
We tore it down.
It was debated,
we should leave it. A flag,
planted in the dead soil
of a planet that does not permit our life.
A grave marker
A finger pointed at the sky
pointed at the hearts
of those who let it happen.
Continue reading Resurrection