THE LAST BALCONY (www.nemonymous.com)
As an aside, I have been thinking further about the 'scrying' gestalt broached above in connection with 'Psammomancy'. Scrying and Divination and other interpretations can be in two forms, eg EITHER extrapolating likely trends from the empirical study of, say, the position of the stars in Astrology and what happens synchronously with that over the course of human history (i.e.. As Above, So Below) OR the actual cause-and-effect between those stars and human history. My own beliefs tend to the former rather than the latter. The same would apply to sand or smoke or whatever.

And, now, as result of my still developing interpretations of various Mark Valentine works, such Scrying or Divination may NOT in any way involve one's interpretation of the patterns or configurations of the stars, grains of sand, rooks in the sky etc., as a mandala of cause-and-effect or a diagram of empirical synchronicity, BUT rather the stars, sand, rooks in the sky etc. forming their own LANGUAGE, just like this book's poetry: STAR KITES: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/star-kites-mark-valentine/
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Published 'Stygian Articles' 1997

When I was a child, lying awake in the early evening, watching the light seep from the curtains, I often saw monsters on the stairs. They all bore faces of those I loved. Mummy's face was the wrong end of a large rat, with sucking snouts. Dad's was not there at all. My brothers and sisters were borne along on spare ribs, like kites, dropping off bits of bad meat, as they skittered along the skirting-boards. My best friend leered at me from a giant crow, one that seemed to scare itself more than it did me. My pet dog was the most pitiful of all, its head perched upon the neck of a body that looked a bit like my Dad's body. But it was when I saw my own face staring idiotically from the depths of a hooded spider, that I would start to shiver and shake in my bed.
The monsters in my actual dreams, however, were not only far worse than all these things but also seemed more real. Right to the core.

Salustrade grimaced. Starship City was not what it used to be - once a place where dreams of past and future came true, now grounded in a tawdry tranche of time with nobody believing it possible for there to be subway machine rooms feeding power to city-edge rocketship launchpads let alone for there to be a history which could entice such realities from the claws of jealous fictions. The place was no longer even called Starship City, but altogether something else: a name that sat easily alongside any London, Rome or New York on the maps of Godfearing atlases. Salustrade was the only one alive - or so he thought - who remembered with any degree of certainty the Mediaeval/Modern hybrid that the City had once been: a cover for the vast land fissures which sheathed the mighty rockets either side of the various bright swordblasts in the sky. These, he knew, had been mankind's escape valves - in which the-great-and-the-good escaped to outer space, leaving such miscegenates as Salustrade to masquerade as residual humanity, with half-breeds, cripples and crooks actually becoming a veritable norm. And, having expended his grimace, Salustrade smiled. The world was well rid of the money-grabbers, those Golden Yuppies who once plied invisible trades for such trades' own sake rather than the heartfelt bartering of goods for the benefit of the parties thus bartering. Yet, he had heard there was a worse-than-Golden-Yuppie type still darkening the lanes of deepest Surrey - an Art Master who pretended nonsense was its opposite and that abstractions and non-sequiturs and random comparisons and spontaneities and chance strokes of the pen were the highest form of spiritual development...

The path up to the house was crumbling away underfoot. Even though Salustrade was only knee-high, he was noticed rolling away up to the front door like a mopsy ball, his legs squat and his huge head hairy.
Padgett Weggs was sent to answer the door; but he thought, when looking through the spy-hole, that the doormat had blown itself up. He had a Q-shaped face and was dressed in pyjama-style jacket and door-wide trousers; I overheard many voices in rooms off the hallway muttering about him under their collective breath: "...mouth in his trousers ... left his brain in the ..."
I went up behind Weggs and offered to open the door in his stead, for I was fed up with serving the tea-and-cucumber sandwiches, and with the incessant chinking of china and the steady leaking of teapots on to cream cones.
"There's nobody there," he said, barring my way to the latch.
"Someone saw Salustrade come up the crazy paving, so please step aside, Mr Weggs, and adjust yourself, man, be a bit more presentable when you're butlering..."
I opened the door, not without some difficulty, for the latch had been left half-cocked by Weggs ... but soon it screeched aside to reveal Salustrade retreating along the aisle of flowers that was, whether he intended it or not, the way to the arbour of follies, renowned in even the distant corners of the county as an architectural curiosity.
I set off in pursuit, calling him; and others, now crowding at the windows, watched me go. Some had even raised the sashes and were shouting inaudibly at me: "...Old Ones ... in the bullace tree ... get his message ... don't touch ... between his toes..."
I soon couldn't hear then at all for a short line of none-so-pretties led me into a side path where the trees closed in and shadowed me timelessly ... until I reached the clearing where Salustrade had decided to hold forth. He had not yet seen me, but his speech had already reached the meat of the argument:-
"...here in Surrey, where every country house is full of artists and writers and yuppies, the things that come up from the ground and the equally wild things that come down from the sky are being nourished by the manifold muses that slide like hot cocoa through the hot air flows, and run in and out along the pipes of the houses' bathrooms and conveniences, and gain more hold than you would think. But in the north, shapenny games and meat 'n' potato pies are no alternative and are positive disinclinations to..."
I could not be bothereed to listen to any more and decided to leave him to the disentangling of his own destiny. I bumped into Padgett Weggs as I began to go back. He had evidently been sent after me, with words of wisdom from the others in the house. But he had got it all round the wrong way and mixed up with his own preoccupations:-
"I've done with buttering toast," he said. "I can't be expected to unclog everything else in the house, and then to butter the toast. But, the Art Master himself has now arrived at the front door to see how the paintings and scores and manuscripts are coming on ... and he says we've done too much socialising and tea-dancing, to cope with his demands ... he can sell a miniature, they say, further south, for the price of the house. They take them to the critters that gather, even now, like Old Gods over and within the earth itself. And the shed's full of the uncloggings, as the dustbin collection don't come on Bank Holidays..."
Needless to say, I was bored stiff, for I had been brought up to mind my own business, have no aspirations nor hopes, for the world did not own me, of all people, a living, and, as co-butler, I had not concerned myself with the internal workings of the house tea-parties. Of course, I knew there had been some sort of fuss about the death of one national Art Master, an election for a new one and the Civil War, o such a bitter war, that had ensued between north, south and inward, shortly fizzling out for want of ammunition (and purpose).
Salustrade had turned up now from Starship City, muddling along like a hedgehog that's just managed to cross a busy motorway. It had been said that he was manservant to the original Art Master and rumour had it that he had assassinated this very Art Master, for lack of artistic fibre. But one rumour can easily lead to another, and I wouldn't be surprised if Salustrade was in league with the Northern philistines ... against the hippy communes in the far South - and against their mystic allies above the racing clouds and below the moving crusts.
Padgett Weggs and Salustrade faced me out. Whatever their common cause, they had become the two that makes three a crowd. They laughed; leaned towards me like statues in a gallery of modern art; mumbled about Elder Gods that they worshipped. Weggs raised Salustrade from the ground; held him out towards me; rubbed him up and down to and fro across my tummy and pasted it out; laughed again. They then proceeded with every other part of my body in and out, and then abstracted the soul.
I'm sorry that I've not been able to give you a full picture of the situatiuon; but I'm kept now above the clouds, bits of me in differenet pockets. I'm allowed to watch the hippy hordes swarm across the Surrey plains, their hair behind them like scarves in the wind. In the vanguard, would be the newly appointed Art Master himself wheeling his freshly barbered morning-star around his Q-shaped head.
I dreaded the moment when all would freeze into a cartoon or comic strip ... through which you can see the trees. That would be come-uppance indeed. And out of the corner of the eye of mine being currently used by a particular co-habiter of the sky, I saw the tea-dance was still in full fling in the country house ... evidently oblivious of how the world teetered on the edge of abstraction.

It was a tough life in Surrey in those days, for the Insurance Company head offices had withdrawn decades before, leaving a vacuum in the otherwise civilised layers of society. So, fresh from Starship City, Salustrade, a squat, hairy chap, more like a spiky ball with an earring in its snout than a gangling teenager that he may have been in other, better days, bore door-hinges over his eyes, steel brackets as epaulettes, a file or two in his washing-line belt and screwheads stiffening and joining up his muscles to his bones.
Why such aggression in those days? It's not as if there weren't enough food for looting; nor was it over good books; and arguments regarding the relative values of abstract or representational painting did not have a look in either. But, it was about some probably misguided view as to the nature of Art itself, and what it actually signified in the minds of the combatants as they shaped up to the frays that ensued. It could equally have been to do with football or even politics and religion: as long as there was some cause or other, call it an excuse if you like...
It had all in fact stemmed from one who had set himself up as the Art Master. He had neen an ordinary teacher, once, in a school in Tadworth, and his only disciples at first were about twenty odd scrawny orphans, with charcoal all over their fingers and toes. But they latched on to the idea of the Great Old Ones (or, in the teenage parlance of Surrey then, 'Spakkers') supposedly lurking behind parts of the sky, especially at dawn and twilight, and even more especially when there were racing clouds for them to ride like ghostly cowboys.
These 'Spakkers' were said to have a strange effect on our brains, but it's difficult to tell, if you've got one of those brains that has been duly affected. Suffice it to say, the Art Master, as the teacher soon became on the 'Spakker' bandwagon which he had himself set in motion, painted on hoardings round by the Railway Stations in Purley, Cullesdon South and Woodman-Sterne, depicting a mighty cosmic war involving, not the cosmos, but the North and South and Inward of this our world, a war sponsored by those sky merchants, the Spakkers themselves.
Salustrade had mustered reluctant troops from outside Crystal Palace football ground, by disguising his pubic, puggish body as a White Knight complete with Silver Shield and Masonic Cockadilloes. He bleached his face to give an effete look of artists and aesthetes, as all the more macho and punkish individuals had already drifted North in desultory packs to join up with the mercenary philistine armies round Bradford way.
To those who circulated in the pubs of Norbury and Thornton Heath, Salustrade was known as something to which even the Art Master himself was a secondary figure by comparison. Some actually confounded the two, as they muddled along between drunken skirmishes.
One day, the clouds above Sutton split asunder like high-rise oceans, to reveal the probing, tri-forked beaks evidently readying themselves to mash our skulls. The Art Master, currently caring for his aged mother in Leicester, was not around for consultation and, I suspect, even if he had been around in Sutton at the time, he would not have believed his eyes. He thought he had made it all up - Art wasn't like this, it could never actually be real, COULD IT?
Salustrade's white charger surged down the Brighton Road from the Windsor Castle pub car park in South Croydon to Hooley at the tangent with the deserted M25; redness setting in along its haunches and in rivulets from its fixed, staring eyes.
Salustrade himself had not had the gumption to think of an "aged mother" excuse for himself, but he did wash off the bleach on his face in a desperate attempt to blend in with the dark background of crowds. But they would have none of it - they tore him limb from limb and fed him to the Spakkers.

All is quiet on the Southern front and even quieter on the Inward one - Northern brigands still coming down the motorways on occasions, in dribs and drabs, but, meeting no opposition, they go back again. It has to be set down for posterity, I feel, that the Old Ones spat out Salustrades's body in disgust, not to their palate at all, as were all the Southerners they pre-tasted. Bits and pieces of Salustarde still bore a modicum of life and, who knows, he's still an oil-man in Starship City's machine rooms even today. He's no doubt regressed to his normal cavortings as a Surrey hog-ball.
The Great Old Ones were truly appalled by us beings to whom they had been feeding 'artistic' ideas from their looming haunts in the heights and shafts of upper sky, like godly muses of old. They thought that giving such right royal refinements to the human flocks would tenderise and sweeten their creamy thighs. But no, an evil taste both in mind and body was all the reward they received. And they skimmed off to other parts, come USA and even Australia, to try their luck there, not yet being able to fathom the realms beyond the Earth's crust. Furthermore, they were not keen on the 'Spakker' epithet.

He got to get there. He really got to. Right to the core. Elizabeth Lakeminster stood alone by the corner of the street, only able to see as far as the next corner, where she could discern the brick-ups of an asylum. But, having forgotten he'd got to get there, really got to, Padgett Weggs turned up from around another corner, lugging a sack as large as himself. He panted, pulling faces. He stared up at her, as if saying that the secret was safe, but if she merely twitched even one eyebrow, any onlookers would guess at a relationship which pre-dated this supposed first encounter in Victorian London. And once upon a time, long before it all began, there was a little boy, there was a little girl, and they lived, they thought, happily ever after, across the street from each other, a street tied together by washing-lines, with sodden under-drawers dripping over the children's attempts to play games as diverse as body-toppling, hop-frogging, spider-whipping, guessing-where-the-baby-began-and-the-mother-ended andnd does-old-age-come-before-you-are-young. And-catch-a-Salustrade-by-his-black-toe.
Weggs had one secret from Elizabeth, she from him, but they failed to realise it was the same secret. On the other hand, she was older than her years and had taught him to play deep, real deep. Right to the core. She tagged him along the dark wall-endings where no self-respecting alleys would venture - and guided his tentative fingers to her budding breasts. The pair were then to be thick as thieves, even in precocious old age. He got to get there. He just got to. Right to the core. He often had a yearning to become more than he really was. On the rare occasion when ambition was in his heart, he needed to grab it while he could, before it escaped down some new-fangled sewer system in direct sluice to the Earth's very middle. These were vague thoughts but he still knew Elizabeth and, somehow, she was tied up with his aspirations in more ways than one. He pointed to the sack.
"It's in there," he said, "as much as we can handle before Christmas, but it will not be long before it smells..."
She shrugged, carefully opening the neck of the sack. She took a deep breath as if testing something with that sense of hers keenly nurtured for the diverse smells of ancient London.
"It's gone bad already," she complained.
"Not half as bad as the other half of it I left behind."
"We've known each other since the day our mothers had us," she said. "Now, have trust, tell me what's what."
Their eyes met - and he blanched for fear of her reaching down to the bottom of his soul, right to the core. Even he failed to realise what was sunk so far in himself. In fact, he believed they had first encountered each other whilst still wrapped in separate wombs.
"Yes, have trust," she repeated. "Without that, there's nothing."
He sighed and answered her heart-felt request: "Well, I'm not as I used to be but I've seen the future, our future, perhaps."
At this point, he prodded his hand into the sack and, glancing furtively from side to side, he scooped out an irregular wad of sodden shoddy white and smeared it on his cheeks like face powder, overbrimming his lips like the misfittings of an epileptic. She, too, scooped her fill of black-stained whiteness from the sack. She loathed these dark back-endings of this part of London and yearned for the river. The real Thames was to be teased out when night was at its fullest, she hoped.
"Leave some for us to sell to Salustrade," he said, gathering himself at last.
"This muck has gone bad."
She spewed all over her pinny, as if her stuffing were coming out. She had abandoned any hope of the river appearing in time, where she could relieve herself more circumspectly.
"We're bound to find buyers other than Salustrade," he mused, "round by St Pauls since they've effectively sold it already, and if they don't get it, however bad it may have turned, they'll go bust, and they'll be forced to buy off us."
"Don't you believe it," she spluttered. "They've already sold it before they've bought it, true, but where's that leave us? We're half in, half out of the middle of their transactions, having bought a paddle with no creek to put it in! Only that little imp Salustrade will have enough of the readies."
She laughed at her own idiosyncracy of speech. He thought for a moment, as if giving credence to the proposition that what she had just said made sense, and then suggested: "Give 'em river dirt - it'll mean no different, and we can snort for evermore on the real stuff here."
They folded up into each other's arms, descending beneath each other's dreams one by one. Right to the core. And once upon a time, there came Commodity Brokers to the City of London. None sold. None bought. But all prospered by a freak of timing created by some of them promising to sell and others promising to buy, and vice versa in turn. And, twisted together like intestines silted up with salt, amid some far, forgotten, unbegodden quicksand of the river's wearing course, two lovers were on a bender beyond eternity. One being still half alive, whilst the other was half dead. They began to crawl back across the ink-darked stuffing, yearning for it to be reconstituted into sheets of white paper on which to scrawl their fleeting dreams in forms of finest art. Really got to get there. Just got to. And their eyes met. To the very heart and soul.

Padgett Weggs recalled a time when he was an old man - when ordinary people were able to build their own inventions from scratch, like that wondrous Great Drill. His ramp had looked like a giant youthful Meccano model. However, it bore the weight of the Drill which glinted in the setting and rising suns. This was to be his home - together with his family, friends and chosen strangers such as myself, for at least the length of our lives.
The bodywork of the Drill sloped towards the ground upon the ramp and creaked like a regular clock, each tick representing a separate strain on its rivets. It could be measured in hundreds of metres, and even thousands, widening out towards the top, tapering down to the deeply spiralled Bit which was poised half a centimetre above the desert floor. The Bit spun gently as the powerful engine above in the main body took light revving exercises, whilst clambering labourers leaned from the gantries to squirt huge gouts of black sludge into the moving parts. And as the sun rose, blinding off the shiny areas of the mighty contraption, the Bit spun harder, and he, whose project it was, pressed a button which he knew was the real starter-switch, despite all the other switches built into the pilot's console just for show.
Years of arranging - poring over incomprehensible charts of futuristic engineering - debating the ways and whyfores of the avenues towards which it might lead him - vicariously enjoying the false start romances which alternated like misfiring currents between members of the crew - carefully monitoring his own sanity - yes, after all these things, surely the day had arrived. He got to get there. Really got to. A Noah's Ark that was not taking to the open skies, as had been predicted but to be home for humanity's hope not as the Lark Ascending but, in his darker moments of doubt, more a Lurk Descending.
Elizabeth Lakeminster was younger than him, although they dreamed independently that they had once been the same age. Separate dreams that neither could admit to the other. She had peach-blossom cheeks and a name she kept hidden, making him call her by all manner of endearments. She played on his good nature and his deep desire for a sex partner (even at his advanced years). She stood beside him as he pressed the starter switch. The ignition turned the mighty engines, one sparking off another, until the Bit spun so fast it was just one among many scintillating shafts of the dawning sun. The tip met the hard redness of the Surrey desert, throwing up a wormcast fit to outshadow an Ancient Egyptian pyramid. It eased into the undersoil, to where centuries of misbegotten seasons had sunk. Then it ground into the first layer of bedrock, setting off a rain of white-hot splinters which cascaded past the windows of the Drill's cabins.
His family and friends merely sat and stared, amid the juddering, as the darkness of Earth enveloped them. No need for concern, he told them: the lights on board would not even flicker, since the relentless power of the Drill's torque would feedback and regenerate the cells. He showed them where the fuse membranes were stored, so these could be replaced with just one turn of a screw and a snap-on-snap-off cassette. The chosen strangers in the crew were less confident, for we did read fear in his eyes, behind the hope. We were suspicious of why we were chosen to ride at all.
"On to the core!" he announced over the ship's tannoy. "That's where we shall pitch our tents!"
Elizabeth laughed. She knew at the bottom of her heart that it was far too hot at the core for anything to exist, especially for our bodies of human parchment and the spontaneously combustible brains that our skulls freighted. It had always felt that he possessed two brains: two lumps of grey matter with hot-rod lightning Z-tracking between. He was not schizophrenic, but merely overburdened with thoughts and ideas which, by turns, conflicted and merged. It was like being married to himself. And as the mammoth Drill delved downwards between rocks which shifted amid the sluggish marrow of Earth's inner sky, he had to calm the nerves of everybody on board. He needed to contain our fears at the same time as not allowing his own sanity to slip. He boasted that we were the ultimate pioneers, ones that history had foretold would boldly bodily go to the outer reaches of the Universe, finding a new home to flee a terrible world. Instead, escape was not up, but down, since the dire diseases were wilder, deeper, stronger in the places where the stars flowed. We listened open-mouthed, but he soon saw that none of us believed him. How could any of us have the nous for such concepts, when times were so backward?
There were other questions, too. Indeed, he set us quizzes to pass the time along its rightful channel, tested us on knowledge and on historical perspective. Until I, one of the strangers, pointed out that they had forgotten to stow the books. How were we meant to preserve the spirit of the world, the very posterity we hoped to further? Old people were meant to have wisdom, weren't they. Otherwise, they'd be young again. He bit his lip and indicated towards the carved slabs of map-crazed rocks which slid past the windows, but if he were meant to speak, to smooth away the puzzles on our brows, he could only find two words: "Trust me".
Suddenly, we all heard an edge-toothed rasping and outlandish crunching noise, like the strongest tide upon loose shingle, when trying to claw a way back from drowning. The Drill ground to a ricocheting halt, sending the passengers in all tilting directions, his lady collapsing on top of him with a screech which the Bit itself must have felt as it met an impermeable Hard Core. Sparks in a molten silver river flowed past the portholes, as his family clambered across the steepening floor towards him, yearning for his comfort and words of unalloyed wisdom. But Elizabeth spoke first: "The air is escaping, we can't breathe."
Padgett Weggs' two brains merged - at this optimum point of time. He gathered that the hull of the Drill had been stove in by the force of the jolt, and the carefully preserved life support systems were seeping out - not rapidly as they would have done in outer space, but gradually enough to warrant immediate donning of Q-shaped masks. His mask was in the image of Ancient Pan, and Elizabeth's in that of a birdlike creature with oversize beak. My own mask was Salustrade's hooded face whilst the rest of the crew presented a motley array of fictitious heroes and villains, spinning on their rumps like dying bluebottles, all doped to the white-clogged gills. Only Weggs and Elizabeth had the masks that possessed the secret air supply instead of the snorts of dope. But such supply was to last for a mere one minute - suitable for him and Elizabeth to reach orgasm. But, instead, he took the opportunity to speak a gratuitous message:
"The Core will split asunder like a lanced boil and give forth Spakkers which will crawl back up the vertical chimney, a chimney we've gouged for them."
Seeing what these creatures used as faces slide past the Drill's cockpit, his two brains alternated endlessly between Death and Life, between Doss and Toss.
"Trust me," he said with his last words - but he knew, in his heart, if not his two brains, that we were all trapped between the hard covers of a book, the ink-trod paper crumbling to choking dope-dust in our throats. A Victorian girl pulled a washing-line of pure white oblong flags from under her skirt. She smiled and held it out for him to help pull them free from endlessness. They were not the virgin pages for a book, but banknotes for invisible money, each blank except for the miscegenate monarch's hooded head in the corner.

One of my eyes, I somehow know, weeps an old man's tears; the other sparkles like a child's. Got to get there. Really got to. Right to the core of dreams where all of us are trapped.
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Hawling wi' Chomu
Massive ‘Weirdmonger Wheel’ (inaugurated in 2004) is today re-opened to slow my pace down so that ebooks can keep up with me! It’s still free.

This to celebrate the discovery (by CERN Zoo) of the Higgs Boson next week.


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The Ha of Ha
Photobucket www.nemonymous.com
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by Clacton Writers' Group (July 2008) (1)


by Clacton Writers' Group (July 2008)

“Gosh, Lilley, they’re playing our tune.”

The dance hall had been empty until late evening, but now a few people struggled through the door having just left the pub down the road. The echoey spaces towards the inner-roof were only half-revealed by the slow onset of a giant ball’s twirling glitters. The walls’ shoddy decor was barely visible, too ... the hall’s internal dimness serving two purposes: cosmetic disguise and electric thrift.

The first piece from the makeshift loudspeakers had elicited an old man’s recognition of various harmonies morphing into a tune. He moved towards the centre of the deserted floor, like a clumsy sailor on board a storm-tossed ship, Lilley in his wake, tugging her hand as she, perhaps reluctantly, submitted herself to the music. Alone together in the dance.

Other couples remained shrunk back into the dimness that still hugged the walls. A ghostly audience for Lilley and the man, who had by now miraculously transformed into the spinning vision of youth and romantic memory. The dancing couple had truly become earlier versions of themselves or they were simply a mirage of youth that the others saw from the side-lines of the hall – stimulated by a drunken nostalgia for old dreams.

But someone must have clicked a light-switch by clumsily leaning against it. The whole hall sprung into bright light, revealing all the blemishes and insecurities of reality. Lilley and her man were seen to be exactly what they were: old people on their last legs.

Then the door from the outside suddenly opened. More dancers? But, no, there appeared a complete stranger. The main light had been quickly switched off again, so it was difficult to make out the shape of the stranger between the sharp speckles showering down from the shuttling kaleidoscope that the glitter-ball cut loose.

Lilley, looking over her partner’s shoulder, gave a sharp gasp. A full stop seemed to have entered the room. Her tune had stalled along with the dancing.

“Remember me?” a gravelly voice was heard. All the couples had their heads turned towards him as if an audience watching a play.

“Well I don’t know you but Lilley obviously does. How dare you ruin our tune!” Lilley’s man was furious. His creased face had suddenly taken on a pink hue. His nostalgic dream finished.

The figure drew closer and the other couples stayed in the shadows. The man – who was not the complete stranger they had first thought he was – stood directly under the glitter-ball now. It flickered over his shiny head as he reached out some gnarled fingers towards Lilley’s soft face. She was still frozen in shock and didn’t wince when he stroked her cheek.

“You must remember me. The tune that was playing when I walked in, I recognised it Lilley.”

A tear slid down and dropped onto her pastel green dress, leaving a little blotch.

“Who is he, Lilley? Tell me!” said the man who had led her on to the floor.

“I can’t,” she replied softly, sending more droplets downward upon her dress.

“How does he know our tune? Answer me!” Her man was obviously furious.

“It’s not your tune at all,” the so-called stranger smiled triumphantly. He had on a long coat and it made him look very tall, like if you looked beneath he might be on stilts.

“Why come here and spoil everything?” Lilley’s blue eyes grew wide, her long grey hair vibrating with the quivering head.

“What was there to spoil?” The smile had slipped.

“I’ve had enough of this, one of you must tell me what’s going on.” Her dancing partner looked in total despair and confusion at the turn of events.

Lilley and her new partner remained silent; indeed the whole hall remained silent, with the tableaux of three frozen under the glitter-ball.

Someone behind the scenes looked up from their newspaper, took another sip of hot, dark-brown tea, and restarted the music.

“Gosh, Lilley,” both male protagonists chorused, “they’re playing our tune.”

In the reflected, glittering light, the dust motes danced and danced, more furiously with each movement of the dancers. Lilley, unable to choose, stepped toward, then away, from each prospective partner as though dancing a solo hokey-cokey, With each movement the dust motes gathered, until they coalesced into another human form – an old man, short and fat, with a jacket too short for him and trousers that preferred not to go anywhere near his shoes.

“Gosh, Lilley, they’re tuning our play,” he squeaked.

Lilley’s hand shot to cover her mouth.

“Oh, my God! Not you! Surely not you?”

“Lost, Gilly, they’re mooning our day,” said a one-armed figure appearing from behind the original man.

“Wash, Milly, where neighing our dune.”

“Dosh, Filly, dare weighing flower loon.”

“Cosh, Willey, flare saying dour coon.”

Figures appeared, and kept appearing amid a babble of voices. Lilley kept looking around, occasionally saying things like “Jack!” or “Bill,” or “No, not Neville.”

Soon the shadows at the outer reaches of the hall were themselves pushed into ever deeper and deeper shadows, as Lilley’s erstwhile partners took their places.

“Hey, what’s going on here?” The man who had accompanied Lilley to the dance in the first place wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” Lilley wailed. “I don’t. Sodding. Know.” Her eyes were wide as breakfast plates, fear and confusion evident in them. Incomplete dust-mote figures swirled round her and she ticked off their names as she spotted them. Bill, with one arm; Neville – he was missing an eye; Jack, with six fingers on one hand and none on the other; Samuel – half his right leg was missing; Derek, minus his right ear; Herbert, who looked complete but was probably missing a vital bit of his anatomy somewhere, and Joe, the original one-armed man. Oh, and Uncle Thomas. Lilley barely remembered him; he was a shadowy figure from her childhood, kept alive by photographs that had been placed prominently in every house she had lived in when she was young.

They were all men that Lilley had known. All, in fact, men that Lilley had danced with, and not only danced with, but danced to the very tune that had been playing when they appeared – Glenn Miller’s In The Mood.

Sadly, apart from Lilley’s original partner of the evening, there were all also men who had been killed; Uncle Thomas, who Lilley couldn’t actually remember dancing with, had probably twirled her around in his arms at some point before going off to war and being shot down over the ocean. His body had never been recovered. Bill had been a family friend, considerably older than her, who had taken her to her first dance when she was 14. He’d died in Korea. Neville, Sam and Derek had been mates. She’d been passed round each of them in turn one hot summer’s night on the beach. Later they’d wound up the gramophone and she’d danced with each of them to the only record they possessed – In the Mood. They were all drunk by the time they dropped her off at the end of the street where she lived. The boys had never made it home. Their car had wrapped itself round a lamp-post and Sam and Derek had been pronounced dead at the scene. Neville was still alive when they took him to hospital but, despite copious amounts of blood being pumped into his body, he was dead before morning. Jack and Joe had both left Lilley a widow. Jack had been killed while serving in Northern Ireland, and Joe had died of cancer couple of years ago.

Lilley looked from one set of eyes to the next and the next and the next. For her, each pair held a memory that she had cherished for so long that it made her want to call out with joy....

...until she remembered the other memories that she associated with each of these men. Memories that she had spent most of her adult life trying, and, until now, succeeding to repress. She looked into the eyes of each of her dancing partners and wondered of which of their shared memories they had come to remind her.

Blue, brown, hazel, green – between them they had every conceivable eye colour. Yet not one pair of these eyes had been the colour of true love.

“Lilley,” her partner of the night said softly as he reached out and touched her arm, “shall we …?” He left the sentence unsaid. He didn’t want to complete it in case he got it wrong. She may want to go home. In that case he would drive her. And should she wish to stay and dance, then he’d make sure that he alone would partner her.

Frozen in time Lilley wondered what to do. Somehow she knew that she would have to dance with all her partners; real and ghostly. Why else would they have turned up here? She also knew, with a certainty that scared her that she would have to dance with them to this tune. She couldn’t. No she wouldn’t ask the band to play it nine times. And she wouldn’t ask any of them to make such an unreasonable request on her behalf. Or was it on their behalf? She really didn’t know any more.

“Why are you here?” she asked, afraid of the answer yet determined to stall for time.

The nine spectral figures circled around her. “You know why we are here Lilley,” they all said in unison. Yes, she knew. They were all here for retribution. They were all here to dance the dance of death with her, and to escort her into that other world into which she had sent them with her curses when they had been alive.

Lilley paled. The hell of her own making loomed. Bill was first. He danced her round the room.

“Hey baby it’s a quarter to three.”

She was handed over to Herbert.

“Baby wont you swing it with me?” He swung her around faster. Then on to Jack.

“Darlin’, may I intrude?” Faster and faster he twirled her. She was feeling giddy. One by one they took her round the hall, moving quicker and quicker until she felt herself collapsing on the floor to the final strain of “Don’t keep us waiting whilst we’re in the mood!”

In the silence that followed, Lilley felt herself drifting towards the ceiling. The glitter-ball beckoned her ... she clung to it like death. Below, she could make out her other self lying on the floor, face down. The men as one stared up at her. Their beautiful eyes glowed in the darkness. She sang, “So who’s the lovely daddy with the beautiful eyes?”

The glitter-ball started to twirl her round in another mad dance. The figures below became hazy. “In the mood,” they shouted. “In the mood, in the mood, win the dude, bin the lewd, spin the brood, fin the snood, tin the food.”

Their voices became fainter as Lilley was swivelled away to the hell of eternity where none of her curses could save her.

Gosh Lilley that was some tune!


by the Clacton Writers' Group (July 2008)

Judith was triumphant. She could now open a can of beans without assistance. A small victory but it meant a lot to her. She so wanted to be independent like before the accident. She listened to other women when queuing in a clothes shop as they droned on about their worries and problems. Silly, superficial things like they can’t find a nice top that matches their shoes or how they wish they were more fit and not so fat at forty. Why couldn’t they get things into perspective like her? However, it shouldn’t mean that people must have accidents or horrible diseases like a dose of medicine to make them wake up and smell the coffee.

She used to be like those other women and although she saw life for what it was and appreciated it every day, she wished it hadn’t taken this tragic event for her to think like that. She had stopped worrying about her weight and was now more concerned about picking up a saucepan or opening a door. Her husband had stood by her and did a lot for her but it had meant he had taken a lot of time off work. That’s why relief had flooded her at the opening of the beans. It signified a step along the road towards a better home life. Pete could go back to work and stop giving her that guilty look of his.

He did feel responsible and it ate away at him every day. “It was an accident, not your fault,” Judith would constantly tell him but it didn’t matter. His big eyes drooped so much they looked as if they were going to plop out onto the floor. It was a shame because she had dealt with it so much better than him. It had made her grasp life more because she could have so easily lost it that day.

Mind you, she knew why he felt as he did. Sometimes imagining what someone else was going through was worse than experiencing it yourself – especially if you felt responsible for any pain they might be experiencing.

But hey! It had been Pete’s fault. If he hadn’t left the blasted tool box on the stairs she wouldn’t have tripped over it and tumbled to the bottom. Okay, so it was only a few steps because he’d left the toolbox on the bend in the stairs, just before the long flight up to the first floor. And okay, he’d assumed she’d see the bright blue box on the orange carpet, but didn’t he realise that you couldn’t see what was on that step until you came round the bend? And if you came round the bend carrying a linen basket full of dirty clothes then you didn’t see anything anyway, and were trusting your memory as to where the stairs were.

Anyway, there was nothing to be gained from appointing blame. She’d fallen, the clothes had scattered everywhere and the bones in her wrist had shattered. Well, not shattered perhaps; they’d said at the hospital that it was a nice, clean break, but it damn well felt as though they’d shattered.

It was her left hand which bore the brunt of the fall, which would have been good for most people, but for her it was disastrous; she did everything with her left hand.

And it didn’t bear thinking about that if they hadn’t moved the bookcase the day before the accident then her head would have smashed into the corner of it. She knew that was so, because when she opened her eyes following the fall she found she was laying – half on squashed carpet pile, where feet had trod, dogs had lain, carrier bags full of shopping had been placed – and half on the soft, long pile that had been between the bookcase feet and had never been squashed.

But back to the beans. No good thinking ‘what ifs’. She’d opened the beans now and, more to the point, she hadn’t spilt any of their stain-making juice. Even if she had spilt it, that wouldn’t have mattered, because she’d already thought she may spill the contents, especially with her weak left wrist, so she’d opened them over the sink.

As she turned away from the sink her old slippers caught on the curled-up edge of the carpet she always kept in front of the sink.

As Judy fell it seemed, to her, to take forever. She had time to realise that if she used her hands to cushion her fall then the damage to her wrist might be very complicated indeed so she turned, legs twisted, to take the brunt of her fall on her well padded bottom, careful to keep her hands away from the floor and the can of beans towards the ceiling.

Her head thumped the floor with just enough force to rebound upwards in time to meet the can of beans, now upside down, in its downward flight. Beans, in tomato sauce of course, cascaded over her head, into her eyes, mouth, cleavage, hair – everywhere. The jagged, serrated lid was still attached because, with here earlier injury, she had not been able to quite complete the 360 degrees needed to separate it, and this sharp edge just caught her cheek a glancing blow.

Without the weight of beans behind it, the tin only just sliced her cheek – enough to cut, enough to bleed, enough to upset her, but not enough to cause any real damage. Make-up would easily disguise it.

She sat up on the kitchen floor, looked around her at the mess and promptly burst into tears. They ran down her face, leaving trails of clean skin in a tomato-juice visage. Like a circus clown or tragi-comic actor.

The reality hit her; no real damage, nothing out of the usual, just yet another catastrophe in the life of Calamity Judy. How could she have let Pete carry on thinking that it had been his fault? Out of sheer frustration she screamed.

Pete was there, at her side, theatrically pulling her close to him. Wiping tears, blood, juice and beans off her. His actions were mechanical, medical as if unaware of the more sensitive areas he touched. His eyes met hers as he picked a rogue bean from between the strands of her hair. His hold slackened as he pushed her away and squashed the bean between his thumb and middle finger. He fought to control himself. The battle was never going to be easy. The victory lost before he’d even started. He rocked slightly, to and fro. He removed another bean from the floor as he listened to her crying.

His mouth parted. He bit his lower lip. He tried to cast sympathetic eyes to her. She didn’t look up. He looked away. He concentrated on picking up individual beans and holding them safe in his massive hands.

“I was trying…,” Judy said between sobs. “Well I managed it, after a fashion.” She stammered as if consciously trying to remember each word before actually saying it. “I’d left the slippers, and I guess that’s why they’re called slippers!” Her feeble forced joke matched her tone. She wasn’t sure if Pete was listening and she wasn’t going to look up to see for herself. She felt foolish and wasn’t going to risk meeting his censorial eyes. Not again. Not this time. Not when it was obviously her fault.

The laughter was so loud and so strident that she was momentarily stunned. She raised her head to notice his face. Contorted and laughing as hard as he could. She then realised that his hands were being held above her head. She looked up at the very instant that he released the baked beans – showering her once again and splattering himself in the process. She was so shocked for a moment words failed her. Then she realised how funny she must look covered in beans, and because she had come through the almost scripted episode relatively unscathed, she joined Pete in the raucous laughter.

“No harm done,” he said eventually. “Don’t worry I’ll clear this up. You go and see to yourself.”

Pete turned to let Judy pass. Unfortunately being unfit, fat and forty, he moved rather clumsily and slipped in the bean juice. He toppled over sideways like the statue of a deposed leader being brought down. He hit his head against the floor but there was no rebound this time. He lay unmoving. Judy couldn’t believe what had happened. She knelt down beside him, repeatedly calling his name and pulling at him to wake him up. His pulse seemed steady but there was no other response. She finally panicked and called the emergency services.

In a matter of minutes two paramedics arrived. A man and a woman. They were astonished at the scene which greeted them. The woman they saw was adorned with a mixture of blood, tomato juice and beans streaked down her face and body. She was crying hysterically. It was almost impossible to understand a word she said. In the kitchen a large fat man lay prone in a similar mixture. It was a scene of carnage. They separately wondered what kind of fight had been going on between these two.

Even as the two paramedics assessed the scene, Judith slipped over again on the tomato juice.

It was at this moment that Pete started to groan, and he slowly moved his head. “Does it all fit?” he mumbled, with studied emphasis.

“Fit? Fit what, sir?” asked the paramedic as he did the first inspection of the incident and how the human beings involved were faring within its assumed context of cause and effect. He more or less ignored what Pete said, believing him to be dazed or delirious or drugged.

“Do the events fit...?” Pete continued. “The beans, the blood, the motives, the likely results?”

“We can sort all that out later, but now we need to get you both to hospital. What’s your name? And the lady’s?”

“Pete and Judith.”

“Well, Pete and Judith, you need to listen very carefully...”

The male paramedic suddenly stopped. The job was getting too much for him. At forty, he was still young enough, but he was becoming increasingly fat, and he often now found it difficult to bend so as to tend to accident cases and then negotiate their recovery to the ambulance. The female paramedic simply knew her partner was too fat for the job. She frowned as she stared at him trying to attend to Pete.

The whole thing seemed staged. Concocted. A test case.

Judith and Pete had been chosen by a concertina of linked events, even from the very moment of their marriage years ago – all leading to this culmination – this destiny, this tableau of four people frozen at a cross-roads of an accident-prone life.

Pete eventually helped himself and Judith to their feet without involvement from the paramedics.

“We shall be OK,” said Pete. “Sorry to have called you. We shall heal. We shall get better.” He hesitated then said emphatically, dramatically: “We only have old age to fear.”

And with tears in their eyes, Pete and Calamity Judy hugged each other, golden flowing beans between their chests, her left hand managing to scrabble round his neck to haul his face nearer for a messy kiss.

The two paramedics left in silence. Silent except for the suspicion of their sobbing.

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1. Weirdmonger left...
Friday, 18 July 2008 6:15 pm
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by Clacton Writers' Group (July 2008) 2

by Clacton Writers' Group (July 2008)

The threnody hung in the still, early morning air like the earlier dawn mist. It crept, wraith-like, out of the dark, green forest to glisten on the clearing, seeming to react with the mournful cry of the lapwings as they wheeled and plunged like photo negatives in a breeze; the calls of the terns and oyster-catchers on the distant shore a sharp counterpoint.

The violin was clear and sharp but the vocals were growled, rough with age and abuse, their meaning both at once clear and indistinct. This was no celebration of life, but a pained acceptance of loss, of death, a howling at the moon, a railing against injustice.

I found him standing next to the main chimneystack, the only thing that the fire had not destroyed. Even now, despite the winds, despite the rain, the smell of smoke pervaded everything. From that point forever more I always associated the smell of burnt wood with death.

He had his back to me and I watched as both hands caressed the instrument to make it cry, to lend itself to his loss.

Beyond him, where the fence once stood, were two mounds of freshly dug soil; one for Sarah and a smaller one for Louisa. Around him lay the bloody, rotting corpses of his dogs and cattle, left where they perished.

I looked back at him, his shoulders flexing under the plaid shirt.

“Bill,” I said. “Bill.”

He didn’t stop. He continued to push his lament into the world like a difficult birth, but he did turn around.

His trousers were of some fur or hide, possibly moleskin or deer. His feet were encased in elk-skin boots. His long, grey hair and beard were matted. He was crying.

He was wearing their war-paint.

Well, not theirs, I suppose. Somehow he’d found the makings and painted his face the way they did. As I stepped closer I could see that on top of the colours the black streaks had been crafted using burnt wood. Apt, I suppose, that he would use the ruins of his home to prepare himself for the war of revenge.

I had to talk him out of it; he would never survive. But I guess that if I were him, I wouldn’t want to survive..

“Bill,” I said again, “Come on, give up on this. Come home with me. My Jenny’s got a stew bubbling on the fire and a bed made up ready for you.” I held out a hand, but his fingers were still doing their slow dance of death up and down the instrument. A single tear trickled down his cheek and he once more turned his back on me and faced the resting-place of the two he had loved most in all the world.

There would be no talking to him until the lament was finished. I walked across to a fallen tree and sat down, taking some tobacco from the tin in my pocket, and started to chew it.

It was hard to believe that Sarah and Louisa were no more. The daughter had been the image of her mother, both of them with heart-shaped faces, green eyes and so full of life. Little Louisa was never still; she never walked if she could run, dance or skip, and the words tumbled from her mouth in the same fashion. Whenever I came up from the valley to visit the family the house was always full of music and laughter. The contrast of the laughter with the sad lament that now spun its horror through the woods was nearly unbearable.

I wish I could move time on and to make it later, years or decades later. But I can’t. I sat and chewed as I listened to that unearthly sound and reflected on what he had lost and on what I still had.

I looked without seeing. Listened without hearing. Desperately needing the lament to end and desperate to persuade him to come home with me.

Without me thinking, my finger and thumb found the soggy mass of chewing tobacco that was clogged in the gap in my back teeth. I prised it away and threw the offending mush in the scrub. I don’t know how long I’d been chewing or sitting there. But when I looked to the west the sun was below the mountain tops and the day closing fast. I turned to face Bill.

He was standing looking at me. He raised his arm and, with a dismissive yank, he broke his instrument and threw it to the ground. While the action shocked me it was obviously cathartic for him. His face lifted to the heavens; his mouth opened and he screamed for all he was worth. Words that I’d not heard for years came tumbling out. Words and incantations that had been outlawed these 20 long years. Words that were only spoken softly among friends. Words that we never spoke aloud. Yet here he was, screaming them for all to hear. I couldn’t turn away. But I wanted to. The penalty for using the language was imprisonment and 50 lashes for a man. For a woman, it was death. You could lose everything if you were seen to be encouraging it. I had too much to lose. Yet, I’d known Bill all my life. I looked at the graves of his wife and daughter and knew that I couldn’t leave.

He turned again, away from me, away from his ruined house and the graves of his wife and daughter. He started walking slowly towards the mountains to a place we all feared to go. The light was fading fast. I could only hear the odd sound or two as the creatures of the day were preparing to take their rest, and those of the night preparing to stalk their prey. Bill had transformed himself into a beast of darkness. There would be no mercy.

In the stillness, I felt myself on the edge between the two worlds. Should I follow Bill or take the route back through the forest to the safety of the village. I decided on the latter, telling myself that perhaps I could get some of the villagers to go with me to rescue Bill before he became lost to us forever.

I found my kinsmen gathered together in the village. Some women were swaying and murmuring the lament for the dead, echoing the melancholy air played on the violin earlier. Others were saying prayers to ward off the evil spirits. The men stood in grim silence, their forms silhouetted by the light of the lanterns hanging from the doorways of the surrounding dwellings. All became silent as they saw me approach. They were waiting for me to speak.

“He has buried his family and gone to the mountains to take his revenge!” I shouted. “I didn’t know what to do.”

I did not mention the incantations. There was an atmosphere of disappointment at my failure to deal with my friend’s grief. But then Ric the Elder stepped forward. Deep, dark, bronzed, a blood-relation of Bill.

”There is nothing we can do tonight,” he said. “Let us meet again at first light and decide what to do. Bill may change his mind and turn back to us of his own accord tomorrow.”

I was surprised at his decision.

The villagers slowly and quietly walked back to their homes leaving me alone in the gloom. I felt the night closing in around me. I felt Bill’s desolation and utter aloneness envelop me. We had lost our music-maker to the sinister side. The song of the birds would not be able to compensate for our loss.

I eventually went home and slept fitfully, determined to stay awake to hear the first single note of birdsong that would show it was always darkest just before dawn.

My Jenny snored beside me, her snores so little characteristic of her open daytime face and delightful trill. In between my moments of sleep, I thought I heard Bill’s threnody again, pining like a theremin. This was no dream, because I never dreamed.

But then I was full awake. Jenny stood by the window. It was now fully dawn, its beginnings having passed me by.

“He’s come back,” she piped.

I poked a plug of tobacco into my mouth from the bedside table and approached the window to stand behind Jenny. I could see that Ric the Elder was framed by his own window twenty yards opposite our window. And there between Ric’s face and Jenny’s was bushy-legged Bill’s shadow, flanked by what I saw as two shining angels, one tall one short. I call them angels, but they may have been many things. It was like a mummer’s show, and its sweet music penetrated the window as if the dawn itself was golden sound.

As the two angels faded like burnt negatives, I saw that Bill’s shadow carried a new instrument, having earlier broken his old one. A harp in the shape of a bird.

“His soul is its own threnody,” whispered Jenny, hardly knowing what she meant and to whom she spoke.

I put my hands on Jenny’s shoulders and kissed her neck.

We both wondered whether this was the end of Bill’s presence among us? Had Bill already wreaked his revenge and, if so, how and on whom? And would the words needed to answer these questions result in 50 lashes for whomsoever used them? I was almost joking with myself, to clear my mind of too much mourning.

That was indeed the last time I saw any sign of Bill. I did in fact walk that day to where his house once stood and it was even bleaker than the day before .... because of the silence that was filled with my imaginings of the threnody. The blackened mess formed a scar on the landscape. I realised then that it was better to have an imaginary threnody than nothing at all. To be mourned by someone – in whatever way the mourner managed it – meant you were loved and cherished once. And I trusted Bill could feel the mourning himself, wherever he now was.

I thought of hermits. There was a rumour that one lived in the mountains at which I was now staring. People had glimpsed a wizened old man on the slopes now and again. Ric said it was probably a trick of the light. If this hermit did exist, no-one would mourn him when he died. No one would even care or know about it. That was the saddest thought of all. I shivered and took a look at the graves. I walked away, hoping that such an awful event would never happen to me. I know it was a selfish thought but everyone has those. I did also hope that Bill was still alive.

A few months later, Ric knocked at my door.

“I found this in the forest,” he said. The bags under his eyes showed the many sleepless nights he had been having. He held out what looked like a harp. It was very dirty and the strings were torn. I thought of Bill but I didn’t say a thing as it was as if Ric could read my mind. We stood in silence for a while, mourning in symmetry. All you could hear was the sound of teeth chewing on tobacco. Jenny broke the silence:

“Apparently someone saw a man looking like Bill on the mountainside last week.”

I looked down at the instrument, expecting it to play of its own volition. Vaguely violin-shaped ... a broken heart.


by Clacton Writers' Group (2008)

Sometimes I think of you, the way you were when I last saw you – standing under the laburnum arch, shafts of sun splintering the branches and kissing your hair into spun gold. I always try to hold my thought there, on the precise moment of parting; anything either side of that moment is too painful to contemplate. Yet always, always, my traitorous mind takes me to places I’d rather not go.

I wonder what happened to you after I left. Did you travel, as you always said you would? Did you become a new forces’ sweetheart, singing up suppers from West to East? Did your journeying take you to far-flung places, to smell the aromas of the markets in Cairo, to stand, dwarfed by the pyramids of Giza? Did you travel stormy waters and feel the spray on your face? Did you stand beneath scorching suns or whisper in the wind as the northern lights spun above you?

I wish I could have been with you, wherever your life has taken you. I wish I could have held your hand when you crossed the equator, felt your body beside me as we stood on top of table mountain and felt the warm wind in our hair, wiped the tears from your eyes weeping over the beauty that was Rome...

But it was not to be; I chose the lesser trodden path, the road that took me far away from you and to places I would preferred to have never gone. I have seen sights that have made me glad that you weren’t with me, wept my own tears over things that were far from beautiful.

And through it all I have never forgotten you. Not for one second.

I turn away from the television and notice that your image is still reflected in the broken mirror that’s the only adornment in this crap hotel room. I turn away. Seeing your fame and fortune and contrasting it to my surroundings is just too painful. I walk to the bed, slump down on it and grab the bottle of gut-rot that I’ve smuggled past the porters. They’d prefer it if I drank in the bar and paid their prices. I laugh. I can hardly afford the room let alone food or drink.

I up-end the bottle and swallow greedily. The liquid burns and burns without destroying any of the images or the possibilities that may have been. If you’d turned and called after me. If you’d given a hint of … I throw the bottle towards the bin. It falls and rolls. I’m not a wasteful fool. I’d made sure that I’d drained it before I made my grand gesture.

I walk to the TV and pull the plug from the wall. The image of you fades in reality. Yet in my mind’s eye I see you there on the carpet of fame. Surrounded by glamour, riches and the most powerful people in the world.

I pull back the sheets and evict the ‘roaches that are startled by the light and angry that I’m ejecting them. But it’s my bed. I paid my last few bucks for it. And I’m not sharing it, not unless they’re paying their share.

I reluctantly climb into bed and pull the covers up. But not too far, nowhere near my nose: the smell of the bedding leaves a lot to be desired. The contrast with your life would bring tears to my eyes. That is, if I had any left to shed.

Sometimes, strangely, I become you and you me – and then I think of a different you, the way you were when a different I last saw you.

I will never forget the anguish on your face as we said goodbye under the same laburnum arch. I am haunted by that moment. Oh why did you not come with me when I asked you to? We could have travelled the world together and seen all the places I longed to see, with you. Oh yes I went to Egypt, the Arctic, Italy, India, Africa and many other places. I have seen all the great wonders of the world as I told you I would. But there was something missing all the time. There was a hollowness inside me. You were not with me.

Then I wonder what happened to you after I left. Did you start your own business? I expect you are quite rich by now, and settled with a family. I feel inner pain thinking about the children we never had. I can visualise you in a skyscraper building in London, your office high up, over looking the city below. You will be sitting behind a huge mahogany desk. There will be a plush carpet underneath and the walls adorned with expensive original works of art. I can see your many minions rushing around to do your bidding. You will go home in the evening to a large house in a leafy part of Surrey where your family will be there to welcome you.

As for me, I’ve had my own success in a way. You may have seen me on television reporting on the train crash in Germany, the earthquake in Turkey, the flooding in India and the car bomb in the Philippines. I am off to Afghanistan next month. My name and face are becoming well known. But like many reporters, I remain essentially poor and depressed. My only riches are the riches I find in the job.

Behind the animated and earnest face you see on the television is a lonely and isolated soul, yearning to see you again and forever regretting that moment we parted.

“What’s stopping you coming with me?” Rivulets of tears cascaded down. The last few days had been very uneasy.

“Everything, my love. I can’t tell you why but the reason is tearing me apart.” Guilt was in his eyes.

Any other time she would have enjoyed the scenery but the beauty of the pergola in the sun’s gaze was marred by that moment. She could have sworn a waft of whisky had come her way. “Was he drunk?” she thought to herself.

“So I’m meant to be left guessing. Is that fair? How can you do this to me?” She was racking her brains as to when he had changed. They had been having fun a week ago when swimming in the sea. That was before they had met that man in the hotel. Perhaps he was something to do with this? The two men did go off together a lot, leaving her alone sunbathing. She found lying in the sun tedious but there was little she could do on her own.

“I agree it’s not fair but if you found out the reason it would destroy you. I have had no choice. I desperately wish it hadn’t happened.” He riffled his hand through his hair. “Look I must go. I can’t bear to be in this situation. Goodbye my love.” He stood there for a few moments as if drinking in the scene, pretending it was a different outcome.

“Goodbye.” Her voice had turned colder as anger took over. Then reality hit him, his face crumbling and he rushed away from the laburnum arch, his sweat mixing with his tears. She then had to turn away as she couldn’t bear to watch him go. She secretly wished he would change his mind and come back. Pride stopped her from calling after him.

It was as if the two of them already predicted their own future thoughts about this monumental parting-of-the-ways from under the arch ... deep regrets that lasted forever, as they wrote each of their diaries or journals year after year, amid otherwise busy lives. Neither of them could quite give the other one up or even surrender hope of meeting again. They should have written, in their journals, about a strange third person involved in the parting, but neither of them did. Was this third person a catalyst in the loss of each other? Or a ghost? Or the thing that joined two pillars to make an arch?

In the centre of the far eastern desert township was an arch that met their gaze as the reporter and the cameraman arrived in the TV Company’s jeep. They were parched, the engine spluttering after the long journey, the cameraman still hanging out of the window ready for what he hoped would be the news shot of the year. The arch was, of course, not at all like the laburnum one many years before. It was a ramshackle contraption made from lumber and scrap metal that didn’t, at first sight, seem to serve any useful purpose at all. A few kids played around and under it, before scampering over in beggar-mode towards the jeep.

As the jeep drove off, the reporter turned around in the jeep’s seat for a further look at the arch. The watery shimmer that the hot air created now showed a figure within its ‘embrasure’ (for want of a better word when coming to write a jounal later that night).

The figure in the arch was not a child; it was a tall, blurry blackness against the dipped rays of the baking sun, swaying like a human-shaped willow-tree in the wind. But there was no wind. And, upon looking again, in an attempt to by-pass any mirage-effects, there was no longer a figure.

The reporter took the jeep, together with the cameraman, back to the village the next day. Nothing had changed; the hot wind still blew, the sand still moved and, in the heat, the arch shimmered.

The two of them sat together in what little shade was available from the courtyard walls and buildings. It was a good two hours, nearly mid-day, before any movement broke the stillness. The pair shuffled slowly along on their buttocks, following the shade. Unaccountably reminding them of the time they had swum together in happier times. Then they were never thirsty.

A hundred eyes watched them, the street urchin hiding in the compound behind them, two goats wandering desultorily along the street, and occasionally they thought they’d glimpse a figure in a doorway.

The sun’s power was waning when they got back in the jeep and drove back to their flea-pit of a hotel. Where they sang to their drinks.

Despite the absurdity of the quest the cameraman agreed and loaded his gear back into the jeep. They returned to the village around nine in the morning.

At midday someone offered them water. They saw no one else.

The following day no one offered them water and no one took any notice of them as the inhabitants went about their business in the heart of their war-torn country.

By the end of the following week the camels, cattle and sheep were back in the village. A market was held one morning. Food and water were shared along with chocolate, petrol and cigarettes.

Then it was gone.

They sat in the shade, waiting, camera at the ready.

The escort stopped outside the village and I saw you once more. You moved easily and they, like me, knew you’d see the arch and would not be able to resist it.

I have your death on film as the arch exploded in a sea of flame and acrid smoke. The Taliban made certain you would sing to only a heavenly choir now – no more troops.

Reporting restrictions will not be lifted. And no next of kin have owned up.


by Clacton Writers' Group (July 2008)

In years to come when, or if, anyone asked, “Who was it who thought of the question?” no one would be able to provide the answer. There was no hint in their conversation that they were about to start sharing memories or recount embarrassing situations. But once the question had been asked it became the inevitable course for their inebriated talk. They would not remember the question had been asked in that drunken way so common during the latter stages of an evening in the “White Pelican”. That decidedly tricky yet innocent way in which really difficult questions are always asked. Asked as if the answer would not bring pain to the teller. So, it was asked and as alcohol had lowered their guards, they would answer the question, “When were you out of time?”

Pete decided to get his confession over and done with. He’d been so embarrassed by his situation at the time that these days he didn’t dwell on it any longer than necessary. In fact, to be honest, the story still held a whiff of shame so strong that it made him shudder whenever the incident flittered into his conscious. Hence his reluctance to recount it, however fleetingly – and so he never dwelt on the detail.

“It was soap box night at the Sup-up”. He set the scene before anyone else had time to draw breath. “We got 5 minutes. I’d done everything right. Got a great hook, the rational and I’d rehearsed in front of the mirror until I was word perfect. And it was good. I was passionate, serious and engaging. My subject was important, real and relevant to everyone. I asked the pertinent question: Why do 99 ice-cream cornets cost £1.20 when they should cost 99p or be called £1.20’s? I then went on to ask other associated questions which involved the mismatching of names and monetary amounts. It was the best theatrical performance of my life. But horror of horrors, I’d forgotten that it was ‘Time Voyager’ night as well. I realised at length that my audience was getting restless and low mumblings became loud protests. Many had travelled from different decades, and some from different centuries. It dawned on me that I was in the wrong time period for at least part of my audience, no matter what I’d said. I left the stage to the sound of jeers and confusion. I had also broken the rules and had run out of time and so couldn’t deliver my planned masterful finale. It was humiliating.”

“I was there,” Simon laughed. “You ought to have seen the face of the chap who had come all the way from the sixteenth century when Pete went on about the penny farthing bicycle. He thought he was facing an argument in favour of transubstantiation and hadn’t a clue what Pete was on about. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time.”

“Well at least I know what transubstantiation means, unlike you, you moron!” Pete was getting annoyed, a not unusual occurrence when in his cups. “So lets hear your own embarrassing ‘Out of time’ moment. This should be interesting.”

Simon was beginning to look pale. He knew Pete’s temper of old. He tried to dredge up a suitable humiliating moment of his own which at least matched, or even surpassed the one his friend had just recounted. It was time for appeasement. He hit on the very thing. “Do you remember the time we were in Spain twenty years ago? I made a right fool of myself then. Talk about being ‘Out of time’!”

“Spain, you say? Tilting-at-Windmills, eh? Don Quixote, wasn’t it? A bit like fighting against giant clocks rather than wilndmills! All is out of kilter in Spain, anyway! Bull-fights being just an anachronistic echo of humanity’s brutal past. But do go on, Simon.”

Pete was pleased he had managed to find a chink in Simon’s armour, even before Simon himself had humiliated himself with the biggest self-inflicted chink of his own, namely that he had once addressed a whole army of Spaniards in Seville thinking they were English tourists, viz: “I don’t want to interrupt your holiday too long, but there is something you need to know about the Spanish.”

Simon had looked around surreptitiously to ensure no Spaniards were over-hearing him and continued:

“Spanish time travel is not like our time travel. No big jumps from decade to decade that our friend Pete talks about in the ‘White Pelican’. No vast shifts between generations. No star-travellers leap-frogging millennia. Spaniards just side-step between minutes or even seconds. There they are. Then they are gone. Then they are back, some clutching guinea-fowls, others straddling a couple of sovereign states simultaneously, yet others waving red capes. Spaniards need to shift real quick to dodge any bulls. Being ‘Out of Time’ puts them in danger of being gored...”

Pete laughed. But laughter soon died. Pete was astonished to see that Simon’s audience had suddenly disappeared. Only to appear almost immediately behind him, wheeling their arms relentlessly clockwise as they shuffled (rhythmically clicking and ticking) towards him.

Luckily, Simon managed to learn a lesson in body-strobing from the Spaniards and was able to focus this ability eventually by stabilising it back towards the Sup-up (ten years before it had changed its name to the ‘White Pelican’).

Soap-box night was in full swing and there were no memories of Spain as they hadn’t yet happened. But Simon, as he stood on the soap-box to deliver a new drunken tale, suddenly saw a girl at one of the tables and felt himself falling in deep deep love. This was Sylvia. He vowed to himself that if in future he went on holiday abroad, he’d be going with her, in preference to being accompanied by his old pal Pete.

“What about your confession, Sylvia?” asked Simon, hoping to get some juicy tit-bits to tease her with later (or earlier) when he knew her better (or worse). She had been twiddling her hair whilst Pete and Simon had been talking about their embarrassing ‘Out of Time’ moments. Sylvia just wanted to keep quiet and not have to enter into this particular conversation. She started to fiddle with a beer mat whilst staring at her white wine Spritzer.

“I haven’t got one,” she replied, hoping that was the end of it.

“Bet you have,” smiled Simon. “Come on, tell us.”

“Ok then but it’s a bit boring. I go to a line-dancing group as you know.”

“That’s embarrassing in itself,” Simon chuckled.

“One night they were playing ‘Boot Scooting Boogie’ and I had just brought some nice new cowboy boots. The problem was I was so busy admiring them that I forgot to do the ‘Kick, Ball Change’ step and Mavis tripped over me, crashing to the floor. She had to sit out for the rest of it, I felt awfully guilty as it wasn’t long ago that she had a hip replacement.”

“More like the ‘Kick, Fall Crash’,” Simon smirked.

“Stop interrupting me, Simon.” She wasn’t pleased with his constant teasing. “Anyway, I was in all of a flutter after that and completely out of time for the rest of the evening. Talk about stomping in the wrong direction. Mavis wasn’t the only casualty.”

Everyone was now laughing at the thought of Sylvia bowling down members of the local line-dancing group because she was out of time.

“What about Nathan? He hasn’t mentioned his moment yet.” Sylvia was determined that the attention was turned away from her. Nathan was a new or old target, she wasn’t sure which. She was getting really fed up with Simon. He used to go on holiday with her often at the beginning of their relationship but now he kept going off with Pete on time-travel trips and coming back drunk. She didn’t know when and where he was going to pop up next with his body-strobing.

“My worst one was quite some time ago,” said Nathan.

“Like you went … It happened when you were a lot younger?” questioned Pete.

“Or you went back a long way?” Simon, always quick to spot a second meaning, asked.

“Both. I was actually 19 and I went back to the mid-sixties.”

“2360?” Sylvia didn’t want to miss out.

“No, 1967 actually.”

The other three gasped aloud.

“19, and you went to the 20th century?”

“Were you drunk, or what?”

“What about the wars? They had lots of wars then. I know, I’ve studied that century. There were two world wars, a Fleet Name thingy, two break – no, gulf wars and … oh, it was awful.”

“Load of bollocks,” said Nathan, “1967 was called the ‘Summer of Love’ and if it wasn’t for the people then this world would be a far worse place. They changed the world in the twentieth century.”

“If I wanted bloody history,” said Simon, “I’d go back myself and find out.”

“Why don’t you? I’ll come with you,” Nathan, normally non-confrontational, challenged.

“Not interested that much.” Simon realised he’d been caught out and, worst of all, a quick glance at Sylvia and he knew she’d just changed her opinion of him – downwards.

“I wanna know what happened. Why don’t you two give your mouths a rest and let Nathan excercise his, ‘specially you, Sylvia, you wanted to know … or was that so you didn’t have to explain your ‘Out of Time’ any more?”

Simon was about to protest, but one look at Pete and he shut up.

“Well, it was in a country called America and I got involved in some sort of youth movement.”

“Like the cadets?” interrupted Pete.

“No. There was a lot of political revolution coming from the youth.”

“See, told you that it was warmongering.” Pete scowled at Sylvia, who snuggled up to Simon.

“It was just, well, no one knew they were changing things. It was after those two big wars you spoke of but before Vietnam, I think. Anyway, the young people started taking over the music world and all sorts of things were said and protested over. You had to be there to understand.”

“And you were,” said Pete. “So what’s this ‘Out of Time’ thing of yours?”

“Well, it happened when I went to this big music festival called Woodstock.”

“Ah,” interrupted Pete. “I know all about that, some farmer’s field in rural America hosted loads of the top musicians of the day and four businessmen arranged what turned out to be the biggest musical event of the century. They...”

“Who’s telling this? You or me?” Nathan asked coldly.

Pete looked sheepish. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Go on.”

“Pete’s right,” Nathan admitted. “Woodstock was one of the major events of the 20th century, certainly in the music world. I think most of us who were there recognised that even then. It was a turning point; a point where it became obvious that a quarter of a million people could live in harmony. For three days at least.”

“And the happy-drugs helped,” muttered Pete.

Nathan shot him a glance. “Anyway,” he continued, “I’d only just arrived there and, unlike Pete, I hadn’t studied the century.”

“That’s why you didn’t know that America entered the Vietnam war in 1965,” commented Pete,

“No, you’re right, Pete, I didn’t. Although, come to think of it, that makes sense, given some of the music that was played at Woodstock, especially Country Joe McDonald.” He shook his head. “Anyway, I digress. The thing is I didn’t know how to act or anything. My clothes were all wrong, although the crowd was so friendly nobody took the piss or anything. In fact the guy standing next to me turned to me, looked me up and down, took a cylindrical straw shaped thing from his mouth and handed it to me. ‘Look like you could do with this, man,’ he said. I took it from him, noted lots of them had got similar things in their mouths and thought it was something to eat. So I put it in my mouth.”

There was a silence as they all looked at him, waiting for the punch-line,

“Then I screamed,” he said.

Pete burst out laughing. “It burnt your mouth,” he said. “It was a cigarette.”

Nathan nodded. “That’s right. I’d never seen one before, of course. It was alight and it burned the same way that flames do.”

“So what happened?” asked Sylvia. “Did your new friends laugh at you?”

“No, they were very kind. One of them gave me a drink in a can and that cooled my mouth. Then they gave me another of those cylindrical things and I watched what they did with them and copied them. In no time at all my mouth had stopped hurting – well, at least, I think it did. I really don’t remember much until I got back here.”

“That proves it,” said Pete.

“Proves what?” Nathan wanted to know.

“Proves you were there,” Pete told him. “They say that if you can remember the Sixties then you weren’t really part of it, so presumably if you can’t remember them then you were there!” He slapped Nathan on the back. “Well done, mate.”

The words continued strobing out of time, as the famous thunderstorm approached the 99 towers shimmering at the edge of migraine. Or were they windmills?

comments (1)

1. Weirdmonger left...
Sunday, 20 July 2008 4:08 pm
Above written by six people.

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Performer's Nerves
Performer's Nerves

posted Sunday, 23 December 2007

Solomon was a trapezist by training, a high-wire act by aptitude, an acrobat by synaptic antic, a serious contender for testing the devil-may-care gap between life and death…

He travelled from circus to circus, improving his daredevil skills amid the airy heights of each big-top, glancing downward at the various failsafe, foolproof methods for inopportune falling … with giant safety-nets and unwholesomely over-nourished spiders lurking in these nets.

Solomon never needed such fall-backs because he was so unfoolhardily surefooted on the tightrope, so strong-gripped on the thin swing. Except, one day – his partner was a new one – the air-artiste who was due to grab Solomon’s wrist’s (or was it vice versa?) as he left one swing for another.

The handhold of these swings is called an aglet … or that was what Solomon once heard them called, except he was half deaf half the time and often misheard the calls of fellow swingers in the dizzying upper depths … and Solomon’s fingers sweated as he hung and swung back and forth in the spotlit criss-crosses of the tented heavens – nearer and nearer to the other’s swinging half-blinded shape or shadow.

Then Solomon saw what he thought was the other aglet snap – and then his partner of the canvas skies slipped slowly toward the engulfing net below, only to be swallowed whole by a spider before falling finally (as the spider) through a gaping hole in the net towards the inadequate sawdust in the circus ring below.

Already, however, before the slightest blink, Solomon was skimming the thermals, gliding painfully near-motionlessly, if not emotionlessly, towards the same snapped aglet…

His nerves stretched to the untutored tautness of a high wire, until the big-top’s supports were dislodged by mass hysteria and pulled apart till his nerves tugged upon a breaking-point … and he self-possessedly performed a somersault, followed in close order by a nip & tuck, like a high-diver as he, too, careered towards the swirling ring … beyond the reach of the cheep-cheeping safety-net spider – but just before Solomon hit the swaying sloping sawdust surface, he glanced upwards a last minute look and, with relief, saw that his own ganglia of stringy nerves had thankfully broken his fall.

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posted Sunday, 23 December 2007
There was a time when fossils lived.

Charles and the girl gazed at their grandfather – his stone face giving the decided impression of death. Memories were in the air like moths hovering. Their parents were arguing in one of the back rooms – unclear words that meant more than themselves, given the answering of the house’s echoes.

The voices spoke of history, of how Europe was changing even as they stared at the map. Countries merging, borders blending, frontiers in free-wheel, lands moving, slicing around rivers towards bays and estuaries that had only existed once, if at all, in legend or serious University essays. The Earth was a giant fossil, having failed to be fused by such doubtful dynamics.

“He’s dying, you know,” said Charlie.

The girl nodded. Charles and the girl had never known sadness before or – at least – they had never recognised it as such. Their grandfather had been more of a friend than the squeaky pipe in the chimney-corner with whistly breath, given their parents’ continued absence as mere voices in far-off reaches of the house. Their parents had been Grandfather’s daughter and her husband.

The girl had a skipping-rope. As she swung it in barely visible loops between feet and floor, head and ceiling, she watched the eyes in the stone face try to follow the movement. Charlie blinked, imagining modern strobe lighting ... yet to be invented. The future was a wistful trove of novelties masquerading as an inherited nostalgia of wonder, the past (their present) being mundane and lacklustre.

Everybody’s past is painted with fake colours of wishfulness.

“I wish, I wish … we were rich,” Charlie said, during a sudden lull in the girl’s skipping.

Grandfather creaked his pipe between the teeth. His head became a globe twirling to a standstill after the unexpected consciousness of movement outside itself. “Your mother was beautiful,” he said. His daughter, thus referenced to his granddaughter.

The globe faced forward, the British Empire of his complexion settling around the King Solomon’s Mines of his eyes.

Noises off-stage. Arguments. The girl’s eyes filled with tears. Wars of the Roses. Her cheeks took blush from the dying afternoon sun.

Charlie was called away to a back room. The girl was unsure which one. She applied rouge to the old man’s cheeks and kissed his cold forehead. She knew there was a fingerprint inside every bust. One day, she guessed, there would be several fingeprints inside her own bust, given the ability to crack it and find them. She wept, whilst she was still able to cut tears. She needed the hinterland of a real family rather than standing stones…

She skipped through the gloomy moths of a wistful dusk towards her own special back room.


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posted Wednesday, 19 December 2007
First written today and first published here.

The fog came down like a safety-curtain. The voice I then heard wasn’t muffled but seemed as clearly struck as a well-tempered bell. It rent the air in much the same way as I imagined an opera singer would rend it in recitative to himself, probably unaware I was close by.

I made as if to answer but this was too early in the morning to trust any voice. Cold and crisp as a Christmas older than simply old-fashioned.

My wife Maude had often scolded me for failing to be wary of strangers early in the morning.

“You know it’s just as dangerous and as lonely at dawn as at night-time, George.”

I would nod. Maude’s warning strangely reminded me of the case of late-night drinkers religiously avoiding driving themselves home because of the law regarding inebriation, but then they would get up early in the morning after a similar skinful the previous night and drive without thinking. If they were breathalysed they would still be over the limit. Old Christmases were full of drivers weaving all over the road, at any time of the day or night, looking for innocent parties to maim, it seemed. If it wasn’t so funny, I would have laughed at this train of thought. The thought itself was confusing. I almost felt drunk myself, but I never drank.

Upon this morning in question, however, my mind was as clear as the aforementioned bell. Maude’s warning took root as I heard the lonely traveller’s relentless soliloquy become a sing-song rant that rent onward through the now mist-turning fog, while retaining a vague resemblance to spoken speech. I could see the face at this point for the first time amid the ‘smoke’ rising from the dawn frost that the fog was, even as I spoke, simply allowing to take its place. It was a muzzily kind face, clamped into the sweetest smile I had ever seen on a man.

The figure held out an upturned palm as if singing Christmas Carols for a charity. However, there were others behind with faces that looked far from Christmassy. They could have easily found a suitable dance routine in a film of thrills, I thought, as I gathered myself to run. All of them must still be suffering last night’s skinfuls, as they shuffled closer into view. The stitching of their outer surfaces allowing their innards to poke though.

At heart, I knew I was too old to run. Maude had often told me that age brings dignity, together with a counterproductivity beyond our control, representing forces that eventually destroy the very dignity that brought these forces into being. It was now I wished I had been drinking. Then, none of this would have seemed to matter. I absently heard cars on the near-by by-pass. This was the onset of commuter traffic as, against the odds of reality, a once permanently static dawn turned to rush-hour.

“Run, George, run as if your life depends on it.”

I head Maude’s voice as if it were actually there. It overtook the operatic crooning from the shamblers of the morning’s school run. Kids once run over, now alive again to seek retribution from those who had swerved into their young bodies, because of drink. Led by the stylish figure of the smiling soloist for an unseasonal chorus of trick-or-treating.

“I am Sir George Corbett,” I piped. “Knighted for good works and donations to help the wheels of civilisation go round. Mistaken identity. Begone!”

My voice was never as strong as Maude’s but I stood my ground. The world was going round as if I were truly drunk. Running was never even a starter.

“A bad trick. A bad treat. I was never a drunk driver. Was I?”

I intended to intone inwardly. Strangely, I realised the sound of the words had come out all wrong. It was as if I were also singing ... just like the unholy chorus ... but in counterpoint ... using a rich baritone uncharacteristic of me. My normal squeaky undertones had vanished. My feet may well have been packed in ice, but my voice was pure molten gold to match the maturing sunrise.

“Not a drunk driver, Sir George, but a bad one.”

It was unspoken. But I at least knew the truth. Drunk drivers were pilloried. Bad drivers simply endured. We can all have accidents.

It was then I saw that the leading figure was Lady Maude herself, face still scarred by windscreen shards. Neck gored by gear-stick. Too long in the tooth for comfort. Her voice had broken during the oldest Christmas of all, that dark season when those tricked from life before their time reached out for resurrection.

Upstaged, unsung, stripped of title, I took her in my arms and poured out a poignant aria, till I myself succumbed to the final curtain lowering across the most dangerous time of day in the pretence of being the safest. The shuffling shambling angels took my body away, no doubt.

“There are no seat-belts in Hell.” From ‘Deaths and Dodgems’ by Rachel Mildeyes (also author of ‘Pre-Raphaelite Music’ and ‘Heaven without God’. )


PS: The title was originally: 'A Knight at the Opera'.

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posted Friday, 14 December 2007
Written by me as the 10 minute speed-writing exercise (with a surprise title) during the Clacton Writer's Group meeting last night and, now, exactly transcribed below:


The Slaughters were a well-known family in the area. In fact there had been generations of Slaughters. A Slaughter line radiating back - it was said - to a noble who fought in the War of the Roses.

The latest issue of young Slaughters - like most people - never really understood the ins-and-outs, the Political and Royal machinations involved in the War of the Roses. Nor the relationship betwen Yorkshire and Lancashire, red roses and white roses. It was sad that something so central to their family's stock was so little understood by its descendants.

They simply hated the fact that the family home was known as Slaughter House - and could not be changed, as if the name itself, as opposed to just the actual house, had National Trust protection for never being allowed to change into a more acceptable name. Could names be protected? It was like living in an abattoir, where they killed animals for eating or walking in or sitting on. Indeed, the whole of Slaughter House was filled with leather furniture and nobody had really noticed the significance of this. It was perhaps instinctive that the place was also full of white roses to welcome visitors. Red roses were not appropriate, in the circumstances, but nobody ever really understood why. It was all undercurrents. A bit like the causes that underlay historical events, human interaction, Politics.

The younger Slaughters were unaware of these things. They just played games on their computers, little realising they could easily have looked up Wikipedia to explain the complicated events of the past. Like all modern people, they simply lived on the surface of things - skimming over a lake of time that would soon melt through global warming.

At night, they slept too well to hear the animals screeching in the cellar. The clunk of axe through neck-bone. The squealing of pigs. The honking of gooseflesh. They slept too well, too easy with life. The slaughterhouse reeked of dead roses, lit by silent blinking computer-screens.

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