The scents of Christmas – cinnamon, pine, the muted sharpness of oranges – were starting to feel oppressive. He’d lost his taste for mulled wine this year, and the warmed-over dregs of a cheap rioja, with shards of broken star anise floating like driftwood on the surface, disgusted him. The snow settling outside depressed him, made him feel trapped and lonely.
Continue reading Going to Town
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 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
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
The day had been short, lit by a mocking sunlight that refused to admit Christmas cheer into its long black shadows. People now churn through the streets of the City, pushing home, diving here and there from the crowd to chance a last-minute bit of gift shopping. The dark evening barely intrudes in the continuous stream of headlights, streetlights and the bobbing rectangles of phone screens, frantically being consulted for opening times, stock levels, last trains.
Continue reading For home.
Everything is broken. I don’t even know how we got here. Last I knew, we were zipping together down the dirty-yellow plastic flume at the local leisure centre. Now we’re here, adrift in clear shallow water at the foot of a cloud-smocked peak in god knows what part of South America.
I’m not complaining, per se. I am wondering how we return. Did we move through time or space? Have I forgotten our journey here, or did we never make one? After the leisure centre, my mind is a blur, a scramble. A mundane last memory, but one that melds perfectly with our situation. Did we tumble from the slide into this dream?
Another day I might remember. Give me another day here, and I might forget more. I sweep my arms above my head, sending swirls of ripples across the lake. They fan out and, from high on the mountain, perhaps someone can see an angel in the water.
“Mate,” he said, not looking at me. “Mate, come on. It’s just up here. In this pond.” Pond, I thought. Maybe that’s a local name because it looks like a lake to me. But then again, I’m no fisherman. If I was, I probably wouldn’t be here. I’d be somewhere safe, a long way away.
Continue reading Seeing Things