23# The Building.

Image by gubgib, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100138707

I was so proud to work there. Every morning as I rounded that final corner I would catch a glimpse of the building basking in rising sun. It dominates the skyline from every direction, you can’t escape it. As a feat of architecture it’s not only functional but aesthetically captivating, it has a terrible beauty about it which makes even the locals stop, and stare when they come near it.

When I first started there I was on top of the world about it. I mean you would be wouldn’t you? Starting at a firm like that. My decision to re-train, at my age, was such a gamble. I really thought it had paid off. It wasn’t the firm, not at first, I mean it was, but it was the building. I know you won’t understand until I explain it all, but the people were a delight to start off with. Most of them were very nice, and very sociable people, you know, always inviting me to their houses, and barbeques and all that. I never went of course, being me, I sort of wish I had now because maybe then I would have sensed something from them. But then, I still don’t know who knew about it, about the building.

It really started one day when I was in at the weekend, on my own. I remember waking up that day and thinking that I could do a thousand things with my time, that I was on top of all my work and so could spend the day doing anything, or nothing, and yet, suddenly there I was, on the way to work. I just needed to be there. Suddenly I felt as if not being there was a waste of my time.

Here’s a picture I took. You can see how the surface of the copper on that side catches the sunlight so beautifully. It’s a sculpture really isn’t it. All those layers, those jutting edges. Yes, that part does look like a face doesn’t it? You could almost believe it was watching you. I have so many photos like that, all from different angles. Even in the rain it looks majestic. Perhaps, especially in the rain.

I have no idea who built it. I tried to find out but it isn’t even on the net anywhere. The design is always credited to the firm and what they call the C.C.C, “Collective Creative Cooperative” which is a kind of employee program I suppose you could call it. It was brought up in meetings but I never seemed to be able to find out much about it either. Some sort of extracurricular artistic collaboration I thought it was. You know modern businesses are so hellbent on teamwork and bonding and expressing yourself, all that gumpf.

Where was I? Yes, the day I went in for no reason.

I stayed there all day, I worked on a project, idly. I remember thinking, as I ate my lunch, I should feel lonely here. But I didn’t. I was almost glad to be alone. To have that space to myself. I remember looking at the walls and marveling at how I thought there were must have been paintings up, but there were none at all. Just the wall, but it in itself was fascinating. The way it seemed have that natural flow, like water, like a river. It was part stone, part metal, it seemed to shift with the eye.

It got late and I suddenly realised that I hadn’t typed anything or read anything, or even thought about anything in at least half an hour. It was so peaceful, like being in a womb. Because at night the lights would go dim naturally, and the huge windows would let the soft sunset in. The sunsets up on my floor were spectacular, it was like bathing in a watercolour, every night.

It became a habit. I couldn’t stop going back there on the weekends, and during the week I’d stay late. Sometimes others would stay too, but we kept to ourselves. It was as if no one wanted to disturb the atmosphere, that strange, calm movement the place had, like sitting in a giant rocking chair.

One night I thought I could make out voices. Whispers. There was no one in the office, and I had to check my phone to make sure I hadn’t called anyone by accident, I hadn’t. The whispers were coming from all around me. I thought I had been dreaming, but In a few minutes of getting up, standing very still and listening, I realised where the sound was emanating from. It was coming from the walls. I lent my ear up against one and heard it. The voices all whispering. I think there were actually speaking loudly, maybe they were even shouting, but all that material was blocking the sound, trapped it in stone and iron.

Don’t even bother to look at me like that until you’ve heard the rest of it.

Yes it dawned on me that they must be piping sound in through the walls somehow. It could have been one of those arty ideas, to make the building a talking installation or something. They do that in art galleries sometimes don’t they? And the building is a work of art, or rather it’s even more than that.

One day I was invited to join the C.C.C. My manager showed me a leaflet with lots of vague statements on it about “giving back” and “rewarding loyal employees”, “personal enrichment” that sort of thing. I glanced at it and said I would love to be a part of it, at once, without even asking what it was.

By this stage I was in work all the time, and I had begun to notice how quickly people came and went in that job. Many faces remained to treat me kindly or to give me increasingly unsettling stares in the corridor, but there was also a high turn-over of nobodies. I guessed they were just part-timers. I never really made an effort to get to know anybody who I didn’t have to directly work with. Every so often one of the managers would talk about the “dispatchables”, and I soon realised that they meant those come-and-go staffers whom no one really knew but who seemed to fulfill their roles and then quietly fade into obscurity. I remember my own manager, the man who had given me the leaflet, say,

“Jim, you’re special. You’re an indispensible. A future custodian, It’s people like you who eventually maintain us all.”

The business was ludicrously successful. When he said that, I pondered my future at the company, and it wasn’t even about a promotion or the money, it was about what he had said, about maintaining. I wanted to be a custodian, of that building. It had become my whole world.

Finally, they took me aside and said that they would explain the CCC to me. They said that I had shown enough dedication and had been there long enough to enjoy its benefits. It was in a meeting at 6pm on a Friday, when everyone else had gone home. I remember watching the last rays of light glide down onto the table, and looking around at the faces of the others who had fallen into shadows. I was suffering from exhaustion. The voices in the walls were now everywhere and when I left that building I couldn’t sleep because I missed them. I felt disconnected without their chatter.

The managers led me away from the conference room. One of them explained the architecture of the building to me in terms of  flows of energy, like in Feng Shui. As we passed room after room, down flights and along more corridors her voice mingled with the wall whispers and her hands pointed out this feature and that. She imparted the wisdom of the structure to me, how it caught all the positive energy like a trap, reached out and grasped energy from its surroundings, and from us. But people like me benefited from this. We were wrapped in this flow, our energies becoming one with all the others; streams and eddies of opportunity, of luck, of wisdom, all caught up in the building’s every living breath.

“Imagine that this building is a beast, that every twist and turn you see is a coil of its body. That we are all existing inside it, protected and nurtured by the air its breathing circulates.”

I didn’t really think much about the validity of what she was saying as we walked. Of course it sounds ridiculous, but I just listened. Everything made perfect sense to me then because my work was my life. Whenever I entered that building I came alive, and when I left I was emptied of it.

We ended up at a small door down in the basement. It was dark and hot down there, like a boiler room. They opened the door and we all stepped inside. You wouldn’t believe what I saw in there, how majestic that room was for all its inauspicious appearance from the corridor. The walls were like gold with glints of copper, bronze, I don’t know what. They whispered and writhed. The floor was a dark red, like a resin, like a very deep amber, and in it floated shapes, seemingly borne along by a current.

In front of me I saw two men and a woman. They stood before a patch of wall marked like a doorway without a door. They all had their backs to me. The man was limp, as though drunk or asleep, held up by the man and the woman.

My manager turned to me and said, “I wish I could have my first time, again. Just watch.” He smiled wistfully.

Then the man and the woman woke the slumped man. They said some things to him which seemed to distress him, before leading him forward. They propped him up against the wall and everyone waited.

Nothing happened for a few minutes, then I saw his eyes widen, and swivel. He moved, he was being pulled backwards, sucked. His shoulder went first and he struggled, but fingertips appeared to grasp him, and pull him further in. A foot appeared, more limbs, it was as if a struggle was going on between those behind the wall and the man in front of it. I saw a palm go up on the golden wall, beating against the material, but it couldn’t break the surface. The man was now pinned, both his arms behind him, screaming at us.

The last I saw of his face was his gaping mouth as the wall consumed him. Then it was all over, as if nothing at all had happened.

The woman who had given me the tour quietly said,

“I almost envy the Dispatchables.” Then we all left.

After that day I started to notice, more and more, the missing faces in the office, in contrast to the voices, to the sudden shapes that I would imagine I could see in the walls. I say imagine, but really I knew what I was seeing.

“They have to be alive.” My manager had said to me after we left the golden room. “We need their energy.”

I gave three people to the wall. Not that many, not as many as the others. I knew their names because I had to research them first. They couldn’t be sick, mentally or physically. That would affected us all.

But one day I got sick. I nearly died. Something I picked up from a late night meal on the way home. I was in hospital for weeks.

At first not being near to the building was unbearable. But as I grew in strength I started to forget about it, it lost its hold on me. I mean I still knew that I was guilty of hideous things, but somehow even my guilt was tied up with the building. It wasn’t a part of me, because when I was there I wasn’t myself. Strangely enough, it was only when I passed the building on the bus that it hit me. All of what it was. A living, breathing thing. Hungry, insatiable. And I had fed my colleagues to it. I looked out at the building from the bus window, and something looked back at me. We were both remembering.

I never went back. The firm never even contacted me, except once. They sent me a chatty letter, reminding me that the C.C.C was “the future of corporate business”, and that I was always welcome, should I wish to return. It mentioned they were planning on expanding.

A branch in every town by 2020, the slogan read.

 

19: Daedalus

Image by Winnond, freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100283191

Someone once made the mistake of telling my Grandfather that, being the greatest shipwright the province over, he could build a boat out of anything. I remember him laughing at the man, grabbing his chest, his white beard quivering, but his eyes were starting to mist over. Something then, gripped him, and never let go.

First it was a boat made of hair. He sent my sister and I throughout the town, and then the neighbouring town, and on and on down the roads to collect all the strands. I remember standing there in the sweltering heat, holding the bucket as the old women went round shaving heads, their deft old hands working so quickly as to become a blur before our eyes. Those with the strongest, darkest hair took our money, and we gathered up the hair newly fallen from now glistening heads. We took the buckets back to our Grandfather who hugged us in excitement when he saw how much we had collected. He would comment lovingly on the good quality of the hair, what a great job we had done. He would reward us with biscuits from an old tin adorned with a smiling lady holding a bursting cornucopia. Later, when we were afloat in that other boat, I would think of her, and wonder where she had gathered such wondrous fruit, and if we would ever see land again.

The boat made of hair was not seaworthy. It pained us all to see my Grandfather abandon it, but everyone knew it was a fool’s errand. Suddenly where once we had a house full of laughter and industrious excitement, now even the walls radiated with silence. My Grandfather was thinking, he was grieving for his dream, surrounded by all the swathes of dark hair left here and there in every room that seemed to become entwined in everything. But he did not give up.

Next there was the boat made of heavily salted butter, but you know how that turned out. I think pretty much everyone heard about that one. There was not enough salt in all the land to make that ship sail, and you know it’s funny because the sea is full of salt, but there it is. My Grandfather abandoned that too, and everyone we knew said (by that stage) that it was a good thing my Grandmother was not alive to see it. It would have cut her two, they said, to watch him turn his hand to all these follies.

It was only one day, when I was sitting under the willow, that I heard my Grandfather shout from out of a window somewhere, and I knew he had done it at last. It was the most unlikely design, but it was beautiful.

“A boat made from paper! But of course! So simple, even a child could make one!”

He was leaning out of the side of the house like that, clear out of the window into the sun. I can still see him now, and yes I think he really was half in and half out of life. Each day and each new design brought him a little further away from reality.

But the boat made from paper was the greatest of all his successes. That’s what everyone said. Grandfather was so proud, he stood at the docks and beamed at it, and beamed at us and now when I remember what it was like to look upon that ship it fills me with wonder still. She had the tallest sails, ivory white, and her sides were tinged with blue. The cabin walls were smooth as glass and the bunks so soft to lie upon, I’ll never really know how he did it.

“It was all in the folds,” he told me as if that were the secret. “I folded all my dreams into every plank, into the mast; as I shaped the body of the figurehead, I thought about what it would be like to have made the ship that no one could make – and I have done it!”

We set sail one quiet autumn day and half the province came to wave us off. They all brought picnics and there was singing and dancing and fires burning all along the wharf as we drifted away like a feather on the wind. I remember having some misgivings. I was sorry to leave so many of my things behind but Grandfather said I would be able to buy new things, once we got to some new place. My sister grew dark as she heard him say this, her face became stuck, pained. She asked him how he knew where we would go and what we would do there and he just said that the boat would decide. He actually laughed at our concerns.

“I built this boat, and this boat will not fail me.”

But my sister whispered into my ear one night,

“Doesn’t Grandfather realise that this boat is made of paper?”

“Of course he does,” I said, “don’t be silly.”

She sighed, her hair glinted where the moonlight cut across it to make a path out of the darkness.

“A paper boat would sink with all of us in it. Only magic is holding this boat up in the water, and magic comes at a price.”

I thought about what she said, the thought had never once crossed my mind.

“What price?” I asked. But she never answered. Still I could hear her thinking in the dark all night.

It took a few days but soon I saw it. The change in her,

I found her down below, in the belly of the ship. She was sobbing. My Grandfather was up on deck singing, oblivious. But when I came to my sister to see what was wrong, I found she was bent over a sheet of paper, she had a pen in her hand. It may as well have been a knife. A pen. On a magical boat made of paper.

“I can’t stop.” She had, by way of an excuse. She had been writing.

“What is that?” I asked her, I felt my hands shaking, something strange was happening to us.

“It’s a page from the galley table.” She said. “But it’s just a page, it won’t be missed.”

That was what she said then. That night I heard her scribbling away again.

“What are you writing?” I asked her. But she could not reply. I found some of her notes and began hoarding them in case Grandfather might see. I tried to read them but they made no sense to me at all. They were just strings of words, some weren’t even spelt correctly. Soon her bed was gone. She had ripped it up to write a book of nonsense verse in a language she had invented. My Grandfather, who slept on deck, was still none the wiser until she started attacking the very helm. She tore the great wheel apart in her madness for paper to write upon.

When my Grandfather saw what had happened to her he fell down upon his knees and wept. Carelessly he tore a sheet from the deck to use as a tissue to blow his great nose in. He knew then that all magic comes at a price. He had been willing to pay any deficit for our sakes, he said, but no one had come asking, the magic had just taken the thing it wanted most, or what was most easily taken.

My sister went raving mad when we took the pen away and so we had to lock her in the brig. Still she ripped at the sides of her cell and so we had to restrain her. Lying awake at night I could hear her screams and I even took the pen and hurled it into the ocean but it did no good. My Grandfather and I both beseeched the ship to leave my sister be, and to torment us instead, but to no avail. You cannot unchoose a choice made by magic.

“Sink it.” He said to me one night in a storm. “Sink it and we’ll try and swim away.” The storm raged so loud that night we were almost grateful because it drowned out the cries of my poor mad sister. Every cloud has a silver lining they say.

“To the bottom of the ocean with her.” Grandfather cried, and he downed the last of the whiskey, and crushed the soggy bottle with one hand. In his ship, even the bottles were made of paper. We had run out of food by that stage, and as my Grandfather said, we could not eat the paper.

“How are we to do it though? How do we sink her?” I asked.

“Magic.” Was all he said.

The next morning I woke to the sound of seagulls and a face full of sand. I turned my head to my right and saw my sister, lying on the beach, her hair extended in beautiful honey tendrils. For a moment I felt like I was only dreaming, and I wanted only to put my hand out to touch those soft strands, to feel them under my fingers, something safe and familiar and beautiful. But I knew in my heart I was awake. It was then I saw my Grandfather waving goodbye to us, I watched him sink below the waves and rubbed my eyes because it seemed impossible. How had we come to be there? Could it really be my Grandfather sinking away into the water, leaving us? The reality hit me like the waves, full in the face, stinging and blinding and relentless.I screamed and screamed but he came no nearer to us, in one moment he was gone, swallowed by a wave, his boat of dreams, obliterated in an instant.

I turned back to my sister who was waking. She too rubbed her eyes as if emerging from a great sleep.

“Oh it’s beautiful here!” She said, as if she had quite forgotten my Grandfather and the boat made of paper.

People were coming towards us now, tall people with beautiful eyes holding baskets, some held children.

“Mermaids!” Said one.

“No, see they have no tails.” Said another.

“Please help us,” I ran to them. “Our Grandfather will drown, he’s out there now in a boat made of paper.” That’s what I said to them. I pointed out to sea but someone said.

“There’s nothing at all in the waves child.”

And she was right, where my Grandfather’s boat had once been, was now the ocean, and the long horizon.

I felt a last cry gather in my mouth and then stiffle. I saw my sister smiling and chatting to the people on the beach, I saw her take a shell out of her beautiful hair and act as if nothing had happened. I felt utterly at a loss, and so I put my hands in my pockets and it was then that I felt something crumple. It was a sheet of paper. I took it out and opened it up and saw the words my sister had written start to make sense at last.

“I had to give everything up to get anything back.” It started off, the words slanting this way and that, twirling round each other like twine.

“I had to loose everything to gain anything worth having.” Here and there the letters twisted so I had to twist the paper to follow them, like a road into a labyrinth.

“I needed to be empty, in order to be full again.” The words neared the centre.

“I needed to be wiped away, and in order to be written again.”

The words stopped. They had finally run aground. I shook my head and tried to say something to my sister, about the things she had written, and about our Grandfather, and about that emptiness in the centre of the page but she was already moving away. The sun was rising high above our heads, and above the people who led her away up into the trees. Someone was singing, the smell of food was drifting down the beach and catching me up in it.

One woman came and stood beside me for a time as I grieved for my Grandfather and his boat.

“Better that you should live, and that he should go.” She said by way of a kindness to me.

I nodded and screwed up the paper into a ball. I tossed it away from me.

“He was all we had.” I said.

“Are the kinds of dreams one makes out of paper, really worth sailing off in?” She asked me, her head cocked to one side, her eyes large and taking me in as if I were a mirage.

“Yes.” I said. “They got us this far.”

We watched the ocean for a while longer, and then she told me her name and asked if I was hungry. and I thought I may as well follow her to where the trees met the sand, to where all adventurers go eventually.

 

 

 

17: The Sand Bride. (WriteUP prizewinner 2018).

This story won second place/runner-up in the WriteUP short story competition and was featured in their anthology (University of Portsmouth, 2018). A huge thank you to the judges and organisers for hosting the competition. Here’s what judge Emilia Walker had to say about the story – thank you Emilia for the kind words!

‘This story stood out from the crowd with its unqiue storyline, drawing in the Gothic genre to create something unlike anything I have read before. As the story progressed it took unexpected paths that left me gripped throughout and invested in the narrator’s story.” 

Image Sura Nualpradid @Freedigitalphotos.net

image

The man stood at the cliff edge and tossed the torn-out heart into the ocean. The heart was his own. He didn’t watch to see where it had fallen, but immediately wandered off, dripping blood, making a thin red trail that no one could trace through the grass. He frequented the most popular coffee shop in town and appalled everyone who gazed on him.

“Look at him and his bleeding heart, out in public like that. It’s a disgrace,” said someone’s mother.

“I think you’ll find the man has no heart. He has torn it out, yet the wound keeps bleeding,” the waiter said as he took her money.

“Disgusting,” the mother’s friend said, the corners of her mouth curling down. “Why doesn’t he just go elsewhere? Doesn’t he know this is a respectable town?”

The man, however, was unconcerned by those who talked about him behind his back and labelled him an outcast. He would read the paper, and every so often the waiter (who was himself a failed romantic) would pass him wads of napkins to mop up the blood which drip, drip, dripped from his chest under his shirt.

“Will it never heal? And do you feel any better at all?” the waiter asked him with genuine concern. The man said that he had no idea if the hole where his heart had been would ever stop bleeding, but that he did indeed feel better. Or rather, that he no longer loved and no longer pined for the woman who had so irretrievably damaged his heart in the first place.

“Well that’s something,” the waiter said, and he surreptitiously rushed off to deposit the latest batch of bloody napkins in a special bin the manager had marked as “BIOHAZARD”.

One day the man realised that something was missing. He searched his house from top to bottom but he could not recall what it was he had missed. He searched in the kitchen cupboards and under the stairs. He looked in the garden shed and picked up the snails to check in their shells. He searched under his bed and up in the attic, he even went into that room in his house which had been sealed since the day he had been born, but the only thing he found in there was a desiccated corpse and a suitcase full of women’s underwear and old post cards. At last, feeling utterly perplexed and aching from the feeling of emptiness, the man resolved to admit defeat. Perhaps it was just as he had all along suspected. Perhaps it was his own heart he longed for.

He went down to the beach. He gazed up at the cliff from whence he had tossed the heart and tried to plot its likely trajectory. After all, he told himself, he had not seen the heart swallowed by the ocean. Perhaps it had landed somewhere along the pebbles of the beach and lay there still, alone, just as he was. But as he searched for it, terrifying thoughts began to cloud his mind. What if it had indeed been washed out to sea, or eaten by birds, or dashed to pieces in the fall? What if a wild animal had spied it and gobbled it up in one juicy mouthful? Well then, he thought to himself, then that animal would feel the pain that he had felt and would surely die. No one could survive a pain like that without wanting to rip the offending organ out of their body.

He found no dead animals and no birds and no trace at all of his heart and he despaired. He did not want the heart but he could not live without it. In his misery he fell to his knees and tore with his fingers at the sand.

I will dig and dig and dig until I reach hell,” he told himself.

Night came on and he was still clawing at the earth. The rain lashed his back and still he shovelled the handfuls of wet sand over his shoulder. He wanted to weep but without his heart the emotion seemed trapped inside him, incapable of movement, unable to be expressed at all. All he could do was continue to bleed from the wound in his chest where his heart had been. The blood trickled out into the hole he’d made in the ground until the sight of it all swelling under his feet disgusted him, and he could dig no more. He was no nearer to hell than he had ever been.

Exhausted, he stumbled over to the ocean and lay down where the sand met the water. The waves lapped over him and where they touched his body they turned the foam pink. Dusk came. It flooded the beach with a cold mist and the sky began to resemble the inside of a cut peach. That was when he heard the sound like a sucking. At first, he thought it was the movement of the water washing over the hole in his chest but then he realised it was changing. It became now a scraping sound, then a trickling. He raised his head and looked about him. On the beach he saw a woman, made entirely out of sand. She came close, and watched him for several minutes. He knew she was watching and sizing him up, as her head was cocked to one side in a vaguely human gesture. The man sat up and sized her up too. Her breasts had no nipples, they were all round, her seaweed hair was full of urchins, and her legs were studded with chips of driftwood. Her eyes shone out of the sand of her face where the moonlight struck the shells within them. The space in between her legs was uncovered; she was a woman. It did not matter that she was different. His heart no longer resident in his body; all the man could embrace was lust and confusion. Perhaps he felt excitement too, and became at once keenly aware of the emptiness dragging at his guts. He stood up and felt as naked as the sand woman. He greeted her, and she nodded. She pointed to him, to crimson stain on his shirt, where underneath the blood was gushing out half-red, half sea water.

  “Oh this, this is nothing,” he wanted to say, but the words just vanished from his mouth. He tried to say,

  “If you break your arm, or your leg or you vomit then people know you’re sick and they leave you be, and maybe they are even kind to you. But when you have a broken heart no one can see how much it hurts, and no one knows unless you tell them, and then they pity you and that’s worst of all.” The sand woman nodded even though he had been unable to utter a sound.

Encouraged and undaunted by this the man continued with his silent speech.

  “I cut out my heart, not because I thought it would make me feel better but because I thought then at last people would see how much I had been hurt. I thought then people would know that I wasn’t weak, but that the pain I carried around with me every day was just more than I could stand in silence. That a broken promise hurts infinitely more than a broken arm or a broken leg. That no one knows how to put a splint on shattered hope. That no doctor can crawl into your head and remove the dreams you have of the one you love after they are gone.”

They stood for some time together on the beach watching each other. Birds settled on the sand and hunted for worms; the man idly wondered if they were the ones who had eaten his heart. Finally, the sand woman approached him and pulled up his shirt with her fine grit fingers. She plunged her fist into the space where the heart had been, and filled it with sand. In an instant the gap was closed. The man sighed, he felt complete again. He embraced the sand woman, and clutched at her seaweed hair. He wept and the tears came out in grains; sand trickling from his eye sockets like rivers of gold.

He visited the beach every day, to bring gifts for the sand woman. A watch on a chain, a scarf made of turquoise silk (which he wrapped around her, but which fell off and was carried away by the tide), a ring that he had found in the suitcase with lingerie and the old postcards, a bell that was so exquisite he was almost afraid to touch it himself, and a bird in a cage (she threw away the cage and the bird took up residence in her seaweed hair). He told her how she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen and how even though she never spoke, he would never grow tired of talking to her. When he tried to hold her in his arms the salt of her skin stung him but it was a pleasure of sorts, and even though he couldn’t quite feel love he could feel the excitement of her nearness. Oftentimes he thought about the people in the coffee shop and how they might wrinkle their noses and call out in horror at the sight of him and his new sand sweetheart. But he never went back there, and the manager eventually replaced the BIOHAZARD bucket with an expensive wicker basket for discarded paper hand towels, because since the man’s disappearance business had doubled.

In the meantime, the man completely forgot about all his old loves, all the women who had broken his heart inch by inch. The sand woman had erased them all the instant she had replaced his heart with her own essence, with all the grit and stones and sea creatures so small you could never hope to know of them. Each dawn the beach reclaimed her, sucked her back into the earth and he would return to his bed. On the long walk back to his empty house he would think of her, imagine that it was her shape he saw rounding a hill, or walking somewhere behind him. Every tree was the beauty of her body, and all nature had something of her in it. He would lie awake and feel his guts churning and wish that he could be just like her. So one day he told her, in his way of speaking but not talking, and she reached out and ripped at his skin and tore out the strands of his intestines and he didn’t feel the pain because as she removed his insides she replaced each ounce of flesh with sand.

“I love you,” he said out loud, because all his insecurities were gone now. The words blew away on the wind and the sand woman merely nodded.

They bottled his guts into jars which he buried (although glad to be rid of these, he had not forgotten the worry that the loss of the whereabouts of his heart had caused him). Standing beside his love he thought he felt whole, that she balanced him. But then dawn came and the ground swallowed her up again, leaving him shivering and alone, and ripped apart, half-made. He went home and tried to cook a meal but his appetite was gone, food was now meaningless to him so he threw out everything he found in the fridge. He even rooted out the toffees from down the back of his settee, and poured away all the fine liquor he kept for Christmas.

Finally, he resolved to make his love his forever. He found the local vicar and dragged him down to the beach after sunset. He didn’t want to dress the sand woman in yards of material that would hide who she really was, so he compromised with a garter he had found in the suitcase and a bunch of wild flowers he had gleaned from the road side. The vicar put up quite a fuss at the lateness of the hour, and the damp and the lack of witnesses and the gaping holes in the man filled with sand, but he went along anyway to see what all the excitement was about.

The sand woman was waiting, as still as stone, tall and inelegant. The man swore to the vicar that he would know her silhouette anywhere, that even if she were transformed into a real woman, he would know her instantly by the way she stood. They approached her, and the man gave her his gifts, but the bird that had taken up residence in her seaweed hair stole the garter to make a nest, and the flowers he had held so tightly in his hand were now wilted, so the man scattered them to the wind. As the moon rose high in the night and the stars punctured the purple darkness with yet more holes, the couple stood before the vicar.

“Dearly Beloved,we are gathered here-” he began, and there was something like an earthquake. For just as the man had reached out to grasp the cold, soft hand of the sand woman, the beach became alive with shapes. A man rose out of the earth as tall and improbable as the woman. The sand bride stepped back to join the man and before anything could be said or done, the whole beach was filled with watchers, shells for eyes, seaweed for hair. The man searched the figures for his bride but in vain, for as he watched they had become a series of sand dunes. They had joined hands and hips and arms together and become each other. The man roared out at them but nothing stirred, no shape resembled his beloved, and he could find no trace of the bird or the bell or the garter, or any of his gifts to her.

The vicar went home and said his prayers vehemently, kneeling before his bed. He clutched his wife all night as if she might disappear into thin air the second he let go of her. The man waited on the beach until the dawn came, and the sand dunes had disintegrated into pitiful humps. He began to dig again through them, searching for any trace of his bride or the jars that contained his entrails, or his heart. But he found nothing, and so he went back to his house, utterly bereaved but emotionless, empty as a glass jar filled with sand, but without a message inside. When he returned to the beach that night the shapes were waiting.

  “I only ever wanted to be one of you,” he said.

The shapes nodded. In a rush they came forward, and swallowed him up; swallowed him, as the ocean had swallowed his heart.

****

16: Heaven

Image by Stuart Miles,  courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

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The spell worked. I’m in a new place now.

Do you want to know how I feel? Ecstatic. I am every bit as brilliant as they said I was, and more. I’m not even paying attention to what’s around me because it doesn’t matter. I got here and they all said it was impossible. I want that victory to sink in before I start contemplating the rest of my life here. It’s not even as if it will be living, it will be existing, for all time. Eternity. It’s not a gimmick it’s real. He said to me once,

“Even if such a thing were possible, how could it be tolerable, bearable?”

He didn’t believe in Heaven. I should have known better than to talk to him, but he had a little slice of knowledge that I needed so I took it.

“Heaven isn’t a place, it’s– I don’t know how to talk about it really, but even if you could go there before death, even if you could, it isn’t somewhere you can just break in, don’t you see? You have to earn a place there. Wherever you thought you went it wouldn’t be Heaven.”

That’s what she said to me, I came to her because I needed all of her belief. And so I took it, every last drop.

“You’re being ridiculous. Magic isn’t real.” They said.

I came for them as well and took their will, their confidence. I needed it, because in order to get into Heaven you need to know you belong there. You need to know you’re right. You can’t carry doubt into Heaven.

“Heaven is real, and you have no place there. Heaven is for the good, for the meek, for the pious.” I knew that, and so I took one righteous soul. That’s the toll isn’t it?

Magic binds everything together like a fabric. You have to un-sow some stitches, you have to remake what’s real if you want to change anything. You need to be a garment maker, and have a tailor’s knowledge. The Universe is a weaver, so must I be.

I took what I needed and I re-made myself.

When that was done, I called on my new belief and I fastened it down where it would never stray. It became only a part of me, it had to be, because I could not relinquish all of my true self. I could only hide what I really was.

I had the ability, and the strength to make the magic work. I became the hybrid of their knowledge, their will, their belief, with their soul. I was two beings, both the cynic and the saint with one beating heart. Only for a moment. As I died I made the spell, and wished for Heaven.

Now don’t think I meant someone else’s heaven. You see, what you have just missed, is the realisation that as I have made myself new, I have conceptualised a new Heaven too. Half of me never believed, and that half is free to choose whatever heaven it wants. It was never tied to any conventions, any concepts or images. No crucifixes, no altars no lambs. The half of me that believes in Heaven now, has taken me there. Do you understand? I can have my cake and eat it, like no one else. That’s what makes this all so brilliant. I am smiling now thinking about it.

What does my Heaven look like? I wish I could show you. When I died I imagined a place of sensory delights, a place that would be changing all the time; new experiences, new colours, new wonders, just like a kaleidoscope. All I would have to do would be to blink my eyes and I’d be exposed to something fresh. That’s what got to me about Earth, and my life there. Nothing could ever satisfy me. Sooner or later even the things I enjoyed looking at bored me to tears.

Nothing was worth loving forever.

This Heaven is just what I imagined as I lay there, exploding on the carpet, every cell in my body being re-aligned. Now as I look around I can see rainbows everywhere, patterns, shapes, colours. It’s dazzling my eyes and it won’t stop moving. I’m in the midst of everything, this must be the very heart of the universe. This must be the very heart of matter, of every molecule, every particle, every space. I must be just as infinite. I am now the garment maker, I have the tailor’s knowledge.

I want to run and run and never stop. I’m running now and the colours are flying through me and they’ll never stop. Each step is a new vista, unfolding a new fractal, geometrically perfect and never ending. I see blue squares and yellow triangles, purple flowers and orange insects, red balloons and green jewels. I’m going to keep running forever–

Wait. I’ve hit something.

A wall. I’m pressing against but it won’t give. I can see a blur beyond it, more shapes, more colours, but I can’t pass through! It looks so much bigger, and brighter, and better out there but I can’t get through this barrier. I don’t understand, my Heaven shouldn’t have walls…

“Hey this is awesome! I haven’t seen one of these in years. This one has really cool patterns.”

Jim passed the kaleidoscope to Susie who shook it and then held it up to her eye.

I think there’s a speck of dirt trapped in there, stuck to the lense. Shame. Where did you say you found it Suz?”

Oh, it was on the floor of the library, in the reading room on the second floor. It was just sticking out from under one of the chairs.”

Hmm. Funny thing to leave lying around.

I know. But there it was. I used to love these as a kid.

I’m surprised they even let you in there. That’s where they found those students you know.

What do you mean?

You know, the reading room, it was all over the papers!

Susie shrugged. “That was a month ago. It’s funny but I was just thinking how I needed something to cheer me up after all this revision.”

Looks like you got exactly what you wished for then.”

Susie laughed. “I know! Isn’t it great when the universe gives you exactly what you wish for?”

 

 

 

 

 

Synaesthesia and the Spectral Locomotive.

Image by Artur84 courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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Last year, I was delighted to take part in a wonderful magic realism blog hop organised by Zoe Brooks, (you can see the short story I wrote for it here.) Check out the links at the bottom of this page for other great blogs by fantastic authors on the hop.

In the previous blog hop, I included a short story, as I didn’t really know what I had to say about the genre. I felt at a loss I suppose. Many others had, and have posted excellent pieces about magic realism, and considering how flexible the genre is inherently, there might feasibly be as many personal interpretations as there are grains of sand.

With this in mind, I thought I’d try this year to talk about what draws me personally to write magic-infused stories, and to enjoy reading them. The answer is perhaps more clinical than you might think. Apparently my brain is hard-wired to see fantastic things.

I have a condition called synaesthesia. Here’s the wiki page. I can’t explain it all that well in terms of the science of it, but essentially it means that my sense are a little more interconnected than they might ordinarily be in most people. I like to use the metaphor of a ghost train, stopping at stations that would have been long since shut down in other  minds. In my brain, strange pathways led to strange places. Smells become sights; colours and emotions and tastes all intertwine.

For example, when I smell a perfume, it also manifests itself as a colour in my mind’s eye. The same perfume will always bring to mind that colour, in the same way that if I asked you to tell me what colour the grass was, you would instinctively think green wouldn’t you?

Chanel make a perfume called Chance. I used to wear it all the time, but my mother (who is also a synaesthete) wasn’t a fan. One day we both realised that the reason we disagreed over the smell was because it was a very light shade of blue. As a child I had loved the colour, but my mother couldn’t stand it. As far as I know, synaesthetes won’t usually see the same colours or patterns for the same things, but sometimes these overlap. So, a lot of synaesthetes might see the letter O as white in colour for example.

Some synaesthetes have only one type of sensory overlap, such as that of colour-numbers/letters. I happen to be blessed (or cursed) with a wide range of sensory entanglements. Numbers and letters have colours, genders and their own personalities. (I thought I was just a little crazy until I realised that some other synaesthetes personify numbers too-phew), whenever I hear music I see patterns, shapes and colours. Emotions have colours (grief and all bitter-sweet feelings are purple). When I touch something hot or cold, that also manifests itself as a colour, and when that something is too hot or too cold both sensations look exactly the same to me, they are both yellow.

Certain words have an amazing power to bring tastes into my mouth, “emerald” being the strongest of these. Whenever I hear or say the word, I experience a rush of sweetness, a bit like syrup, on the back of my tongue. I once heard that these taste sensations are frequently linked to childhood experiences. I think perhaps I was watching The Wizard of Oz, eating a lollipop when the Emerald City scene came on, and now the association is with me for life. Lucky for me it’s a pleasant one!

I could go on and on but I won’t. This is supposed to be a post about creativity, not neurological conditions. I wanted to share this because I wanted to show how magic for me is not so unlikely or remote a thing. I live in a kaleidoscope. When I hear music or conversations the patterns and colours soar around me in great arcs. I sit in lecture theatres and coffeeshops and have to try and not be engulfed in rainbows. It can be terribly beautiful. Terrible because the sensory overload I occasionally experience can tip me into anxiety attacks. Beautiful, because I live in a world where monotony is just impossible.

I recently discovered that, when given the choice, I will rely on my synaesthetic responses over my normal ones. If a friend asks me “can you hear that?” I won’t listen, I will look to see if I can spot the shapes the sound makes. Perhaps vibrations trigger these patterns then, as I often see the shapes before I am aware of any sound. Because of this, I can’t imagine what I would do if I woke up without these strange hallucinations. How would I feel my way around the world? I suppose I would adjust, but it would be like loosing a limb.

When I write about magic in everyday life, it’s because the concept lies close to my heart. I see magical things all the time. Every time someone speaks, or a band plays, or someone hurts me, or makes me happy, I see things that are unique to me. Ghosts are everywhere. Ghosts of sentences, or dogs barking. Ghosts of emotions. When someone talks about “a smile lighting up a room” for me it’s really true. When someone smiles naturally and unselfconsciously it makes me see a giant sunflower, with huge petals opening up, it brightens me too. That may sound horrifically corny, but it’s what I see.

I suppose the one thing my condition and my writing have led me to wonder, is what is magic now? The term and its implications for society have meant so many different things throughout history. Magic can have both positive and negative and (perhaps more rarely) neutral connotations. It represents the wondrous, the heinous, the mysterious, the things we don’t understand. Nowadays it is taken more metaphorically. We say “oh when we got engaged it was just so magical.” I understand that my synaesthetic experiences can be explained by science, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling any less magical to me.

For me, magic is an every day thing. Sudden visions appear and disappear all around me and I walk through them, because I’m too busy and I can’t afford to get distracted. I don’t want to be run over, or I don’t want to miss my bus. Sometimes I allow myself time to enjoy them. I’ll put on my favourite songs and watch the patterns they make as they form and swirl around. Then, I collect the things I see and incorporate them into stories. Being a synaesthete has many draw backs, but I know I’m lucky. I rarely run out of inspiration, because my dreams are all around me.

MAGIC REALISM BLOGHOP 2014
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

bloghop+button+2014+small

 

 

 

 

 

14: The Well

Photo by cbenjasuwan, courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

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The boys all gazed into the well. Somewhere behind them the sun was dipping; the clouds tinted with a fiery glaze.
“It doesn’t look that deep” someone said, but no one answered.
They were staring into the darkness, looking at the broken ladder coated with mildew.
“It’s getting a bit late now, should we maybe come back tomorrow?”
There were mutterings. Yes, it was late now, they might be missed, there would be trouble if they weren’t home in time for dinner.
It was all because of Joseph’s brother, because he had gone off, but then that was a year ago, and no one talked about it anymore.
“I say we should come back tomorrow-”
“No” Joseph shook his head. He was paler than the other boys, leaner and dirtier. There was already earth under his fingertips from days of scrambling up hillsides and hunting for worms to dissect.
He loved the old farm more than the others. Most of the other boys just found it creepy. They found him strange too, though no one would admit it.
“This farm used to belong to our family, a long time ago,” he would tell the others proudly; it was always Joseph who persuaded them to go on adventures into the abandoned plot.
Now they were at the lip of the old well again. They had stumbled across it weeks before, but it was always too late, or too wet or too cold.
“Let’s leave it and come back another day” someone would always say.
But Joseph shook his head this time.
“No, I want to see what’s down there”
Without waiting to hear the disapproval of the others, he approached the ladder. He turned his back to the sickening sun and grasped the metal. It was cold and slippery under his hands, and as he descended, Joseph could feel a cool wind rising up from below as if to grab him him by the ankles.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked the eldest boy.
Joseph pretended not to hear and continued his way down the ladder. Soon he was just a pale, bobbing shape.
“Do you think we should wait for him?”
There were anxious looks exchanged between the boys above the well, they could all see how low the sun was sinking.

At the bottom of the ladder, Joseph drew in a long, damp breath. It was dark, a thick, roiling darkness that shifted before his eyes and contained a variety of mouldy, earthy scents.
The light from above seemed so far away, he could just about make out the shapes of his friends, leaning over the well mouth, peering down at him.They were anxious to leave.

The well was very deep, and its floor was a pool of stagnant water laced with algae and small, moving things, but not much else. Joseph felt a strange wave of disappointment. There had been stories, tales about an old man who had died very rich, whose wealth was never been found.
Those were only silly stories for children though. Joseph placed his hands on his hips and kicked at the well’s sides. The sound it made rang out like a bell. It was louder than he had expected, it startled him and made him slip and fall into the water.

The boys above strained to see what was going on.
“What was that noise?”
“Is he alright do you think?”
“What if something is down there after all?” the youngest boy asked, stepping back a little from the edge.
“Oh don’t be silly Tom it’s just an old well. Has your sister been telling you those daft stories again?”
The young boy grew red-faced and his friend laughed at him.
The eldest boy was growing agitated, he called into the well.
“Joe! Are you alright?”

There was no reply. Joseph was staring straight ahead where a glowing light had formed out of the darkness.
He was going to shout out, he had meant to when he saw the light, until beside it appeared a long thin finger, drawn up against thick, rubbery lips. The hand holding the source of the light extended a green, mossy fist, the fingers slowly curling back to reveal the glow. In the slick, wet palm sat pieces of gold, sparkling, and blood-red rubies, burning like hot coals.

The sun was now just a streak above the land, the night was stealing in across the hills, sending chilly tendrils out and around, cooling the earth.
“Can you see him? Is he still down there?”
“You know I thought I saw a light for a moment, perhaps he’s lit a match.”
“I can’t see anything now, but he must be down there.”
“Joe?”
Only silences greeted the other boys as they watched for movement at the bottom of the well.
“Do you think he’ll be OK? I mean, I would wait for him but I’ll catch hell if I don’t get home in the next half hour.”
There were nods and worried looks, and for the last time someone shouted into the well.
“We’re going Joe. So why don’t you come back up, you don’t want to get in trouble do you?”
There was no reply.
“Blast him then” said the eldest. “Come on Tom.” He took the youngest by the hand and led him away, followed by the other two who cast nervous glances over their shoulders.
“You don’t think-” Tom started to say, but the elder boy shot him a look and he shut his mouth.
Night fell, and sound of voices receded into the distance.

Down in the well, the small figure nodded at Joseph, at his wide eyes still fixed on the treasures. The finger beckoned him on into darkness.
Just as the boy slipped into the tunnel behind the beckoner, he glanced down as the light it held briefly illuminated a pair of well-worn shoes that had once been quite smart. The laces were now limp and frayed. Gnarled toes poked out from the rotten black leather.
For an instant Joseph remembered his brother, standing at the door of their house in his new school clothes.

 

 

 

13: Learheart

Image by Sattva courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

faerie story

Surely everyone remembers where they were on day that Lord Learheart appeared on the BBC, claiming to be the King of the faeries.
You might have thought it was a joke. You can’t trust what they say on the news anymore, it’s even worse than it was before.
But I remember him, and how I thought he just looked like one of them.
He had long flaxen hair down to his waist, straight and shimmering. He had the sharp face that all Fae have, and his eyes were green, they were dragon’s eyes.
He said,
“Now DNA evidence can prove that we are a race apart, and that we deserve respect.”
His voice held every throat silent, every eye watching.
“I command all Fae, that is, all who would believe they are of faerie stock, to come forward and be tested.”
He said this and he knew exactly which camera to look down, I swear I thought he was looking straight at me then, when really he was looking for me. But I didn’t know that.
The human presenter was talking, I think she said,
“Yes, if you would like to be tested, there are dedicated clinics being set up all around the country – check the web for more details and your nearest clinic.” Her hair was blonde and cupped her posh face so neatly. But it looked like a haystack when she sat beside the faerie King. All beauty paled beside his like butter melting.

I went onto the website and located my nearest clinic. It was quite a while away, I would need to take two buses (I couldn’t afford the train as I had just graduated and didn’t have a job – we lived quite far out you see).
I noticed also, that on the website it listed the traits that suggested Fae characteristics. I felt a bit deflated because I didn’t think I fit a lot of them. The main ones I had though – the sharp face, the light eyes, thick hair, nimble. But I was so much smaller than the average Fae height, and my hair was very dark and coarse. I had no freckles, but I suppose I do have a sort of sing-song voice. I wanted to ask my mother if she thought so, but she was at work, and would probably have said it was a silly question anyway.
When I got to the clinic I was very hot and bothered. All the other people in the queue looked so hopelessly cool. They were lounging with their long legs and long arms and perfect faerie hair, and I felt really quite out of place, so I kept my head down and tried to fill in the form they gave me as neatly as I good, in my best hand writing.
I had put my nice perfume on thank goodness, so at least I smelled the part. I tried to choose something flowery, but I didn’t really know what faeries were supposed to smell like.
When my turn came I stuck my arm out and they took the blood. I didn’t say anything, I just watched as the blood oozed out, viscous and ruby coloured, into the tube. I had to stifle some disappointment that it was not a more exotic colour, but then I had no idea what faerie blood looked like either. The nurse smiled at me, I think she noticed that I was different and maybe either felt sorry for me, or liked me because of it. She said,
“Have you had this done before, your bloods, have you had them taken before?”
I shook my head.
“Oh,” she said, she had bright rosy cheeks.
“It’s just that you are so calm about it, I’ve had so many faint on me today!”
Right enough, when I came out I saw some young people all leaning against the wall comforting each other, holding their arms as if they had been mortally wounded. I walked past them and was completely ignored. I had in my hands some brochures the nurse had given me, about what to do if I found out I was Fae. I honestly didn’t expect to find out anything, I only went because, well, it was that man, Lord Learheart, he had looked right at me.
Can you call a faerie a man?

I remember it as if it were yesterday, getting the letter.
I remember how I held it for a while just staring at the words on the page. They said there was a hotline I should call. I frantically began searching my room for those brochures they had given me but I think I used them as bookmarks. I just love reading, but I always loose the markers because they tend to fall out, and so I usually end up using tissues.
I called the number and the woman on the phone was very excited. She said they wanted to see me straight away. Did I realise I was 91 percent Fae? 91 percent! Imagine!
That’s what she said to me on the phone, she sounded totally hysterical. I hung up after agreeing to come visit them at the HQ. I suppose I was very excited. I had never been to London.

When I arrived I was wearing my new outfit that mum had bought me. She said I didn’t own any clothes fit for meeting Fae royalty. I said I didn’t think I would, I would probably only be talking to some sort of representative or other, but mum was adamant. I think she was desperate for me to meet Lord Learheart, because she had been dead set against the faerie stuff until I showed her the clip of Lord Learheart on Youtube, and then she just went all girly and suddenly thought it was a wonderful idea. She went off to get tested herself, but she had a lower score than me, and so wasn’t invited to London. I think it had been my dad who had most of the Fae blood in him. But my mum did have some too, which apparently is very rare, to have it in both parents I mean.
As I said, when I got there, they made quite a bit of a fuss of me. They gave me yet more clothes – very rustic – and all this silver jewellery (I’m allergic to iron and all that cheap stuff). They were tall, but not as tall as I would have expected, still not like me though, except the face, and maybe the eyes. They cooed over me and took me to dinner in this fancy hotel. We were having a great time, laughing and drinking and the lights from the chandeliers were so bright, and I had just started to relax when a man started asking me all these strange questions. He wasn’t a Fae I don’t think. One of the faeries came rushing over when he saw us talking and dragged me away. The man had been a reporter. The faerie said the word as if it made him feel sick. I was taken to my room after that, and then I fell asleep in my second pair of new clothes because I was exhausted and my feet hurt.
The next day it all got more serious.

They told me that Lord Learheart had issued a decree. The Fae Kingdom was at war with the Coalition government of the England. Apparently the Prime Minister had met with Lord Learheart, but that they had had quite a major falling out, as the PM did not agree with Learheart’s religion.
When I asked one of my new Fae friends why, she said,
“Oh it’s because of our adherence to Pagan Polytheism. You’d think he had practically ingested The Golden Bough, ridiculous, antiquarian, outdated, the man is a cretin. He has no culture at all to speak about.”
I smiled at her politely, then tried to memorise what she had said. I wanted to sound just like her, and the other faeries now, but it was not how I talk at all.
I was enlisted into the army that afternoon. They gave me a beautiful uniform, gilded with silver and turquoise. They gave me a sword too (it was wonderful looking with a fancy jewelled hilt, but it was a bit heavy really), a shield, a dagger and a bow. No one told me how to use them though, and mostly the only army work I was expected to do was to patrol my local shopping centre, and the Friday fish market. They wanted me as a Regional Representative in case any Fae were put in danger. No one told me what to do if something bad happened to one of us, they just told me to:
“Fight! Spare no human mercy who defies the Fae! Honour your Lord Learheart, do him proud above all things. For an attack against even one faerie is an assault upon his majesty.”
I smiled at them, and nodded, and hoped nothing of the sort would ever happen. I couldn’t imagine killing someone, even if it was allowed by Fae law, and even if there was a war on.

As much as I liked being in the Fae army, sometimes I missed being like the others, other human friends I had grown up with. I mean, I had always been strange and different, and at first it was nice to know why, but then it only seemed to make the loneliness more strong. You see, I was not a proper human anymore (not that I ever had been) but I was also not really like the other Fae, not really.
They said they loved me, because I was so special (91 percent!) but really I think they too thought I was a little different.
My regular humans friends stopped hanging around at the supermarket to wait for me after everything closed down for the night. I don’t think they meant it in a bad way. They just knew that I couldn’t be one of them anymore. But it was alright. Sometimes I would go off into the fields and sleep under the trees, waiting for the stars to come out. At first I did it because I thought that’s what Fae did, and anyway I quite enjoyed it.
(When I told this to a faerie that I knew, she just laughed and laughed and said “don’t be silly, nobody does that anymore! Imagine how the elements would batter one’s face black and blue!”)
And so I moved to London.

I had been given an absolute mountain of faerie gold by the Fae council, because I was so unique. I had no idea what to spend that on, so I went and bought a nice place beside the Fae embassy which overlooks the River Thames. It has a balcony and I like to keep little trees in pots on there because I miss the countryside so much.
One day, I received a very important letter. I knew how important it was immediately because it sealed with a pretty golden flower, lily-of-the-valley, (not a real one) and had gold leaf all around the edges.
Lord Learheart wanted to see me it said. I phoned my mum immediately and she was in bits Gods love her.
Lord Learheart had the most amazing house. It was more like a palace. It was out in the countryside a little way, so as you would never know that you were anywhere near the motorway.
It had gorgeous fountains and hedges in the shapes of animals and birds and in the grounds were real peacocks! I wasn’t allowed to take photos they said, but that was ok because mum would only be disgusted with jealousy. That’s what she said when I told her all about it.
He was so handsome, and he moved everywhere as if he weighed nothing at all. Just like Tolkien’s elves. I always loved reading about Middle Earth, really it was like a dream come true. Only I wish he lived somewhere like Rivendell. The palace was amazing, but it was just a big stately home really now that I think about it. Sad really, they sold it to an investment banker a few months ago. He wasn’t even a Fae, but I had no control over that due to some legal loophole in the will.
He looked me up and down when I first came into the big ballroom that he used as an office.
He smiled and his eyes widened.
I had never had that reaction before. Usually the Fae looked at me down their noses a bit. But Lord Learheart didn’t, even if they did say he was a bit up himself.
“It’s true then, you are the finest specimen of a pure blood Fae now existing on this earth.”
I felt a bit awkward. The room was so big, and I was so small and he was staring at me.
“I’m not sure your Lordship. You see, I only know about Fae that are local to the British Isles and that.”
He nodded and smiled again, his eyes glittered. He was rather lovely.
“Of course, but you are the most impressive Fae I have yet encountered. Come and have a seat.”
I sat on a big golden couch, he paced around the room, picking things up, examining them, and then putting them down again.
“Oh, thank you.” I said.
I told him, after a while, that I didn’t know why I was so special, that I didn’t think I was half as beautiful as the other Fae I’d seen.
“Oh but you are beautiful” he had said. The way he said it almost made me believe it. That was the magic that he did have, even if he didn’t have the other sort of magic.
“You do realise that the Fae were always more like you than like them,” he waved at some Fae staff that were lounging around by the doors.
“…or me for that matter.”
I must have given him a perplexed look because he laughed.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you all about it later.”
But he never really got a chance to.

A man from the BNP stabbed him just outside Covent Garden after a Fae rally.
All his personal guard were so busy fighting with the humans that they sort of forgot all about him and left him by the stage, bleeding.
His blood was just as viscous, and ruby-coloured as mine.
I knelt down beside him on the ground, I cupped his flaxen head in my little hand.
“It’s alright,” he said. “It was the same for Martin Luther King.”
I was so upset that I couldn’t even remember who that was and I just cried.
“My dear,” he said, (through the blood on his white teeth).
“My dear, they don’t like us because we are different, and you are even more different than most. But you have to be in charge now.”
“Why?” I said, I have never been more upset in my life.
“Because you are the only one who can get things done properly. None of the others are organised enough to bother to lift a finger, aah”
He coughed and spat blood. Red Fae blood on the grey ground.
“I bequeath it all to you,” he said, and he made me take a blood stained page out of his jacket pocket, and he used my ball point pen, and he wrote down his will and signed it. I countersigned, but I was weeping so much that the page was soaked.
“You see, the others would have used a fountain pen of course and this would all now be a blurred mess” he laughed, it was the last time because he was dying now.
“Oh why can’t they get an ambulance!” I looked about but there were too many people fighting and pushing all round us, and I knew it was too late.
“I don’t even know your blood type!” I shouted, I was so frustrated.
He just smiled up at me, lips all red and glistening.
“I’m only 63 percent” he said, his eyes still twinkling.
“What?”
“Yes, yes I’m-” he coughed and coughed.
“-I’m barely more than human, imagine!” The thought seemed so funny to him but I don’t know why.
“Oh I don’t think that matters at all, that’s just silly numbers, everyone loves you.”
I said, and it was true, they all had done, even now they loved him so much that they were fighting for his honour, battling with the protesters, and they were so passionate about their cause that they had forgotten all about us.
“I think there might still be magic in the Fae blood, you should look into it. You, more than anyone might wield it against the Coalition. There is an old man I know, who says he’s descended from Merlin, I…”
But he was fading away from me by that stage, the blood was spilling out all over me and my new uniform, and the cold, hard ground. The last words he spoke on this earth, were in a whisper in my ear as he held my hands,
“It doesn’t really matter who you are, it’s who you really are, that matters.”
He died and I was all alone.

I like to think he went to that place that all Fae go to. I think it might be some sort of woodland. I imagine it as filled with trees, hanging with stars like Christmas lights. Just like in my old student flat, where we hung the lights over the furniture even when it wasn’t Christmas.
He left me everything, the army, all the money, everything. Except the house. Like I said, there was some problem with that.
I stopped the war with England even though I knew he would have been cross with me. But it was the best thing. I set up a political party instead and we have been gaining so much support, especially on Facebook and Twitter. I really hope everyone comes out and votes.
I’m not as enigmatic as Lord Learheart was, but I took his name. He told me I could. I’m going to see that man he told me about. The one who was descended from Merlin. His address is in Glastonbury so I guess he must be legit.
I want to find out if there is still magic in my blood. I know that Lord Learheart didn’t believe he was capable of magic.
But he was.

 

7: Resurrection.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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Matiara crept into the tomb as effortlessly as a shadow.

She wore the darkness like a cloak and her footsteps seemed to make no sound at all.

If you had been standing still in that place you would have smelt the decay, the rot.

All Matiara smelt was a sickly sweetness wafting up from the bag she clasped in her hand.

In that bag were the candles, the brick dust, the roots and spices.

 

She crept across the cold and broken flagstones but they never hurt her feet.

Somewhere in that darkness she thought she could see a light.

Dawn would arrive soon, but not yet. It was still too early for that.

But in these new-born hours she would work her best magic.

That which was to be her greatest enchantment.

 

Coming closer to the source of the meek light she knelt.

The earth at her feet was fresh and newly turned.

It was piled in a rectangle, eight feet long, four feet wide.

Worms turned in its folds like drowning men.

Matiara let go the bag, and placed her hand upon the ground.

 

Laying the candles in the soil she lit them one by one.

their light was brighter than the first few rays of dawn.

As they burned they infused the air with smoke,

and sweet scents of oranges and blood.

Matiara waited for a moment, then searched the bag again.

 

Into the soil she mixed the dust, the roots, and threw in the spices as she sang.

Her voice, soft and wavering disturbed the spiders high up in their webs.

They scuttled to the edges, and scurrying down the walls,

they came to join the worms, in amongst the earth.

Matiara opened her book and said the words.

 

The earth shook a little but not enough.

Just as much to shake the dust off the foundations but no more.

Matiara said the words again and howled when they would not take effect.

“But I did everything you said!”

The cry echoed round the tomb, until the silence ate it up.

 

Matiara placed her hands into the dirt, in futility she began to dig the grave.

She had seen them lower the body into the ground.

Watched on powerless as they consigned her loved one to the earth.

“Wake for me!” she whispered as her nails dug in.

As they reached the coffin, a new voice could be heard.

 

“This is needless desecration” the watcher said.

“Your lover sleeps and will not wake again.”

Matiara turned in anger at the words, to see the speaker was a man,

pierced through the skin by shafts of daylight.

The new dawn breaking in the window stretched right through him and beyond.

 

“And what would you know of life, that you might say who lives and dies?”

Matiara asked, “your words are nothing but the envy of a ghost.”

“Jealous I might be perhaps.” He said.

“But if I say your magic has no power now,

it is because you are a ghost yourself.”

 

6: Ten Years Gone.

Image by Pixomar, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

ID-10011293

I almost didn’t notice him.

It was late, and I had had my share of wine and beer. The street was dead and alive; at that time of night everybody on the street is half gone, even the sober ones are frayed and worn, their eyes half open, tired, thinking of home and bed. I sat in the van and stared and stared at everything, at the darkened shop fronts, the way the pavement shone in the rain.

People drifted in and out of my sight like holograms under the neon signs. Half real, half drunken illusion. But then I looked up and saw him. He was standing in the window, just a man in a white shirt. He didn’t move, his arms hung limp by his sides. I jumped when I noticed him, because I was half asleep, gazing out blankly, and because his gaze had intent and that frightened me, when everything else about the night seemed so soft and out of focus.

The nightclub was emptying out now. The girls with the short skirts tripped out into the gutter, streaks of sweat and dribbles of rain from the club awning drawing lines down their fake-tan legs. The boys came with them, they laughed at the wobbling high-heeled dance the girls made, they fell about too and clutched at each other, they were too loud and play fighting. I got up and poked my head out of the open side door of the van. Nothing was going on in the street, nothing. Just those drunk kids and the bouncers with stoney faces watching them with a mix of boredom and contempt.

“Are you nearly done yet?” I shouted out. They were loading the gear into the back, everyone had that dead eyed stare that you get when the gig is over and you’re just waiting for the man to come with the money so you can piss off home and not think about it anymore.

“Just a few more things, sit tight sure.”

I went back to my seat, pushing the old sushi cartons out of the way, I didn’t want to look up at the window again so I cast my eyes around the street. Nothing going on, nothing. Thing about working like this is, that at some point, people stop mattering.

They lose meaning to you, they just become a load of faces in the crowd staring at you, not staring at you, fighting, spilling their drinks, dancing badly, mouthing the wrong words like a fish drowning without water. Even when they come up and try to talk you don’t really hear them. They say:

“Do you know this song right, it’s well good, my brother does a wicked version on guitar yeah, you should hear it, it goes something like this–“

They sing the song at you and they lean in so close that you can smell every single drink they’ve had that night. Suddenly their spittle is all over you, and you have their hair in your mouth as they grab you round the shoulders, coming in closer…

“Yeah you know the one? Goes like that. The one that was in that car advert, yeah that’s the one!”

They say, as you nod, smile and hum the tune right back to them. But when you tell them you don’t know the words they get angry, and pissy. They complain, even though they’ve danced to every song, all night.

“Why can’t you just play something decent?” They say, their eyes not even focusing on you, but on something in the mirror behind your head.

The boys were ready now. They had loaded in all the heavy stuff, the stuff I can’t carry because I’m only a girl. When you start out you want to take on the world, you want show you’re not a light-weight so you go for the amps and the PA system and everything, Then all of a sudden there’s ten years gone and your back’s going and it’s raining and you let the boys carry the heavy stuff because you’re just a girl. Only you’re not a girl anymore, and you don’t bother to re-apply your make up in the break like you used to. Everybody starts off keen don’t they? But we all end up the same, mostly.

It’s alright for the lads though. When the grey hairs peek through and the lines draw their faces a little gaunter than before, they look like rock stars still. They look like Mick Jagger to the teenagers at the back, the ones doing sticky shots at the bar, getting Sambucca all down themselves and laughing about it. But when I catch a glance in the bathroom mirror, I don’t see Debbie Harry in between the cracks of glass anymore, you’re just yourself only older. The life goes harder on girls, I don’t care what anyone says. And people say things to you like:

“I bet you were a looker back in the day!” No one says that to Mick Jagger, no one.

Back in the van I can hear them shutting the back door. I hear the happy sound of the jingle of keys that means it’s nearly home time.

“Did you get hold of him?” Someone says.

“Yeah no hassle, it’s all there, they seemed happy enough.”

The sound of money in an envelope rustling as it get shoved into a back pocket.

“Shall we hit the road?”

I get out of the van to stretch my legs as the others get in. I don’t say anything because by that stage of the night you’ve said everything there is to say anyway.

Across the street I see a woman coming. She’s not stumbling along like the others. She’s wearing the big-girl heels but she’s walking without effort, she’s got the dead eyes too. I can spot them even from here. I watch her approach the strip of shops over the street, she’s clutching her black handbag and glancing across at the club to the slouching door men, she waves, and they wave back, but there’s nothing amicable about it. She takes a taloned swipe at her lacquered hair with fluorescent fingernails, wiping the sweat from her brow. She rubs her hands together to wipe the grease from her make-up off her fingertips. She stops at a half-hidden doorway and pulls down her top a little. She’s ringing the door bell, and she looks bored already.

“Right, in you get.” One of the lads motions for me to step back into the van, they want to leave.

I take my seat by the window and look out as the engine starts. The woman is still standing in the doorway, still clutching the handbag like a grenade. Almost instinctively I look up and see him. He’s still standing too, but his body has movement now, he’s bringing a hand up and he’s turning away from the window to go answer the door. Something long and silver like a sliver of moonlight catches the light and glints before the darkness swallows it up. I turn away from the window, so that I never see the door open, or the woman step inside. Because when you do this job you learn not to see things.

And the thing about working like this is, that at some point, people stop mattering.

3: Beggars

Image by Maggie Smith, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

beggars image

Ghosts like shadows lie, all around, their faces aching towards the light.
Where you see only shadows I see shapes. The people with the wanting faces crowding round the living like beggars for scraps of life.
You say they belong at night, in the dark, in old folks stories but I say different. You can’t see them like I can.
When you were small and you looked up at the night sky, what did you see? Stars. Thousands upon thousands strong, and many, many more besides. Did they tell you the stars were like grains of sand on some celestial beach? What happened when you went to bed, did the stars go out because you stopped looking for them?
What happened when you awoke in the morning and stepped outside your door, were there stars then?
You saw none, but they were there all along.
Just because you cannot see them, does not mean they are no longer there. Just like ghosts, or beggars.

When I walk to work I see them. They are crouching in the corners, they don’t walk like the living do. They are afraid I think. Imagine what it is to live like that, in the half-light?
But the dead want nothing tangible. They want to watch, and yes, they strive for relevance, because there is none, where they are.
I remember the first time I saw them. I was a child, playing in quiet sunlight. Slowly I felt them watching. I looked to see the shapes gathering, not menacing just mindful. They stayed all afternoon, flickering on and off like blinking strip-lights. They smelt like snuffed-out, smoking candle wicks.
I’d know that smell anywhere now, and I never burn candles in the house, never.

One day I wonder if I will become like them.
Surely if I am aware of them, then I must have some kinship with their own kind of magic.
But I don’t want to be like them. No one does.
Not when their eyes are so hollow, hollowed out like some notch in a tree-trunk. But still, the expression of their eyes remains, and isn’t that all that really matters? I know what they are feeling.
Sometimes it makes me sad to see them, but other times I see the gift for what it is.  These shapes that follow me let me feel their presence, so that I will never be alone. I know I am always needed, wherever I go.
For every time I look up in the street I see them, hiding in the folds of life, but with their lost eyes gazing out at me.
I know all they want is to be noticed, once. Just like beggars.