Chandler is a Girl’s Name

My mind kept drifting to the mess of papers I’d had to stuff into the filing cabinet. Brace had called from the phone-box downstairs just moments before and wouldn’t be dissuaded from coming up. There was barely time for me to scrape together my clippings and notes, to get my less-than-sane looking research out of sight before he made it up the stairs. Things had recently come to light that meant I’d been pouring over past investigations into my, let’s say condition, when Brace and the telephone’s rattling dance had interrupted me. Now my notes and clippings sat in a crumpled wad in the dark at the bottom of the dull tower in the corner of the room. Years of asking and looking and digging and hunting, all screwed up in steel because of this impatient, entitled wanker.

Brace’s panicked footfalls barely slowed as he hit the door, flinging it into the bookcase behind. My bookcase wasn’t taking any of that though and gave Brace the door right back. He took a good hit to the leg, cursed under his breath, then closed the door with a hard smack. He brought in the smell of too many cigarettes, of too little soap. He had the beaten look of a washed out carpet salesman. The look of a man who told himself he was doing just fine while he remortgaged a rat-hole shop and worked seven-day weeks. A man under-slept and overweight. A man with haemorrhoids and a stomach ulcer and a gambling problem. His shoes were polished but the suit, tight around his paunch, fit badly. His hat, with its crumpled brim, looked as though it owed the wrong people money.

“Well?” His voice was panic stirred with blame.

“Well what, Mr Brace?”

“You said you’d found her!”

Poor bastard.

I took my feet off the corner of the desk and turned squarely to face him.

I have completed my investigations and you will have a full report by Monday.” I rattled off the message I’d left him in a flat monotone. “Does that sound like demand to see me immediately and don’t take no for an answer to you, Mr Brace?”

“Less of the cheek, lady. You’ve done what you were hired for. Just tell me what you found.”

We stared at one another for a moment. Brace didn’t blink. I let out a grudging breath.

“I’m going to need my fee before that, Mr Brace.”

“You’ll get your money, woman! Just tell me!” His palm slapping the desk.

“Now, normally I wouldn’t demand payment like this” I continued, ignoring him, “but you strike me as a fairly hot headed individual and I have a concern that you won’t want to part with money in exchange for bad news.”

“It’s bad news?” He blurted, his hand still flayed on he desk.

“My fee, Mr Brace.” I said, fishing the invoice from my drawer.

He slid his hand over to take the slip of paper.

“£165, Mr Brace.”

His jaw tightened, eyes falling to the bottom line.

“You’ll see that’s including expenses.”

Brace grunted and shifted in the chair, his hand working it’s way between the seat-back and his arse. He extracted his wallet and started thumbing at the leather and the notes. Once he had selected an appropriate assortment, he pulled them out, folded them once and held the fold out over the desk. As I leaned forward, ready to reach out my own hand, Brace lifted his.

“Where is my wife?” Quieter now, calmer.

I stood, looking Brace in the eye, and took my money from between his fingers. My desk drawer squealed open and I swapped out the notes for a stack of photographs. I closed the drawer, a dull groan this time, and tossed the photos at him.

“I tracked her spiritual adviser to a farm in the dales.” I said, sitting back down as he reached for the photographs. “He’s some kind of priest now, charitable tax status and everything. Runs a commune with a bunch of strays. Some missing kids, that sort of thing, but your wife appears to be there of her own accord. No kidnapping.”

Brace had been looking through the photographs but he’d halted at a particular picture, and I knew just the one. Two bodies, sweaty and writhing. The kind of picture you don’t want to get caught looking at, let alone taking. People talk about free-love, but most still want it in the dark, behind a locked door. I do find parts of my job distasteful, the stacks of filth squirrelled away, the piles of fermenting transgression, but I’m afraid private lives are my bread and butter, and I can’t afford much by way of a conscience.

“She’s with that goddamned hippie?” He stammered. “But I loved her! I bought her everything she wanted. She wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for me!” Shouting again.

“As you say, Me Brace, she’s conducting an affair.” He didn’t look up. “That, along with your separation over the past few months, should see to a quick divorce. She’ll get a big heap of nothing.”

“Divorce?” He echoed, eyes still on the photograph.

“I did tell you to prepare yourself for this very eventuality, Mr Brace.” I tried to sound reassuring.

He finally looked up.

“Come on! That’s just something you say to everyone, surely?” His voice, equal parts desperation and defeat. It could still go either way.

“I do, Mr Brace, and do you know why?” He was still staring at me, over his wife. “I say it because, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that’s the way it is.”

I turned away absently, perhaps to see if the filing cabinet was still there. You never know with things like that. I remembered the bottle I’d put there. And then the stuff that made the bottle necessary. When I looked back, Brace’s was still staring at me.

“At least now, you know.” I added.

Brace’s eyes avoided his wife as his head fell, the photographs flapping their way to the floor with his gaze.

“I’ll have the completed file posted out to you.” I said, standing. “I suggest you pass it on to your solicitor.”

Brace was a heaped pile of defeat, bent over himself like a beaten question mark. It was far past time he should leave. I stomped around the desk, slamming my fist on the filing cabinet at I went. No reaction. I rattled the door knob pulling the door open and letting it bounce with a clatter off the bookcase. Still the sad heap in the chair. I kicked the chair back gently. Kicked it again, hard. Brace’s head jerked up with a start.

“Good evening, Mr Brace.”

He exit was slow but without fuss. And, with him gone, I could finally liberate my mess of papers from the filing cabinet, along with the bottle. And I set about, once more, to making sense of my crumpled life.

Which Stupid Bastard Gave Charlie Manson Another Drink?

Slow nights, they’re the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I hate work as much as the next guy but if you’re going to be somewhere for 12 hours, it’s nice to have a little something to do. Nights like this, you’re stuck at the bar serving whatever sad weirdo lays claim to a barstool. They’ve got you all to themselves. You’re topping them up with cheap beer. You’re listening to their bullshit. You’re marvelling at how anyone can lack such basic understanding of human interaction. How someone can ignore your screaming disinterest. How someone can be socially dyslexic. Most people, even meth-hoofing hobos, they’ll piss off once they realise you’ll only give back monosyllables and grunts, no matter how inspired they consider their tedious observations on life to be. Barflies though, they’ll just keep on spilling their asinine crap. And tonight’s is lord of the fucking flies.

He looks like Charles Manson, if Manson was a Russian used car salesman. That’s Manson who’s Russian, you understand. His cars are from wherever. Mexico. Fucking Delhi. Mr Manson, he’s real intense. He’s got too much hair and wears too much cologne. He’s way too loud and he’s way too close, practically mounting the bar to get near me. A real personal space invader. His breath smells like an abattoir next-door to a brewery and it hangs around like a beaten dog. His accent is a blanket European. Greek, Italian, Russian. Maybe Romany or whatever. And he just keeps on fucking talking. Segues from politics to TV to musicians to actors to parenting to work-shy youth, and most recently, to fucking street performers.

“So they just stand there! How is that work?”

I exhale. Charlie nods eagerly, interpreting my breathing as agreement.

“Am I right? I’m right! If you’re going to be a performer, you must perform! Not just dress like a nutcase and stay still.”

“Another?” I say.

He empties his glass, nodding eagerly. Flat beer spills out, soaking into his stupid, twitching rug-face. On a good night I’d cut him off, kick him out and get some room at the bar but it’s been a shitty week and if I’m going to make rent, I’ve got to squeeze as much as I can out of Mr Manson. He’s refused a tab, paying drink by drink, so the tips are dripping out good and steady. As I pour his beer I imagine these freaky human statues staring me down. All dead eyes and stiff limbs. Jerking around whenever no one’s watching. Folding themselves through impossible angles. Haggard, paint-peeled fingers clawing for your back.

“I gotta admit it, they do creep me out.” I mutter.

I instantly regret it.

He almost jumps over the bar.

“You see! You get it my friend! It’s no good, this statue act. It’s boring and like you say it’s…ah! Unsettling!” He shouts, punctuating the last word by slamming his hand on the bar top, so proud to have understood and labelled another human’s emotions. Well done Mr Charlie fucking Manson.

It’s goddamn impossible to keep quiet when some jerk’s spouting out stuff you agree with. You can’t hold out forever. You give them something eventually. It’s like we’re hard-wired to reach out to anything familiar, shitty people with our fucking in-groups. We make me sick.

He sits there till closing. He keeps on talking. He’s back the next night and the one after that. Fucking great. Fucking perfect. Now I’m Charles Manson’s favourite bartender.

Sometimes it’s Hell Just Getting Out of Bed

It’s the second clock that wakes the thing. A slant, warped box of thirteen crimson letters set about a chipped, slate face. Infernal, arrhythmic punctures, steel striking bone, dancing between the pendulum’s metered silences. The manic, staggered metronome somehow resonating, layering tick over stop over tick over tock over is over not.

A breath crawls up the thing’s shrivelled throat. Ribbons of rotting tissue flutter between the jagged ivory jutting from its maw. A mob of sleep-stuck eyes writhe under tallow skin. Misfiring piston coughs shake the meat of it and rattle the iron bed. Tender flesh snags against the rust-peppered springs, galvanising the putrid mass into full waking. Its flank of crust-glued eyelids strain and, oozing, tear themselves open to the gloom; goat/squid pupils snapping at the thin, grey morning, edged flame by the streetlight that peers through the barricaded window.

Then the thing begins its screaming.

Trudge

The wanderer’s pack cut a ragged line through the dessert. Dragged by cracked fingers locked about its rough loop. The sack’s broken straps trailing, gently stroking either side of the growing trench. Their staggered clawing at the furrow’s edges agitating the sands in some weak attempt to hide the wanderer’s progress. Though progress was an all too optimistic label for his trudging.

Just onward, forward and away.

He imagines a purpose to this journey, lost somewhere back down the line. A necessity or desire that gropes at him from his beginnings. His whys and becauses now dried up. Reason cracked and crumbled and trampled into the sands behind. Whether his was pilgrimage or flight, he can no longer remember. Only sure that he has to keep on, toward the constantly setting sun. He walks on, away from the dark. His mouth raving and his mind reeling. His skins empty and his face peeling. He walks on. Dragging himself into that ever-dying light.

Cold Statues

It’s too early and too cold. Pins and needles twinkle on the frosty ground as I try to stomp some feeling into my numb feet. The sodium street lamps pour out a flat, heavy light, dotting bile-yellow pools throughout the morning darkness. Half-dead but almost awake, I’ve wrapped myself up as best I can, the layers of thin clothes now somehow less than the sum of their parts. I’ll have to raid the lost-property at the bar if I’m to survive winter. At least one of my eyes is open but I haven’t gathered enough energy to lift my head, tucking it instead into the folds of scarf tied around my neck, thin streams of smoky breath crawling out through the folds and trailing behind me. Fortunately the walk to the bar is not a long one. Very convenient, especially for my boss who calls me whenever she needs someone last minute. Busy night. Low on beer. Emergency delivery. So in I go. Way too early and way too fucking cold.

The bar’s just off the main strip, tucked into a back street behind a glitzy cartoon of a hotel. I’m across the street from the hotel’s entrance when I see the brewery truck pulling out onto the main road. The fiend is trying to leave. I make a break for it, sprinting across the street and waving my arms to get the driver’s attention. Frigid air creeps up under my clothes and wraps around my chest. Something collides with my leg and clatters behind me. My breath catches as my legs slip out from under me and I almost stack it face-first into the road, only managing to stay upright thanks to my flailing arms. The bastard driver laughs. I give him the finger through a cloud of relieved breath, then point down the ally. He nods and begins to back the truck up.

Behind me stretches a trail of scrap metal, wires and springs. And there’s somebody stood at the far end of it. A clockwork somebody. It’s staring at me from behind a pair of small mirrored sunglasses, wearing a suit of cogs and wires and metal plates. Stretching out behind it’s left shoulder is one gleaming copper and brass wing, dense overlaid shards of twisted metal feathers and a series of gears and cogs set about it’s joint. The thing’s face is gold with a bulky lower jaw hanging from it’s bolt ears. A tarnished machine underbite and a human nose looking out over the jagged parapet of cruel metal teeth. There are wires and cables in place of hair, parted in the centre and hanging straight in the still, clear morning. It must be some street performer getting set up. One of the human statues. It’s just staring like they always do, but there’s just it and me in the cold yellow dark. I realise I’m staring right back, panting. Clouds of my hot breath tumbling through the crisp air. Not a hint of movement from the clockwork thing.

“Sorry.” I say, pointing at the scattered machine parts, then the street behind me. “I had to stop the guy. The truck. Emergency delivery.”

It just stares back, unmoving. Slices of street light reflecting from it’s clean contours and dissecting the thin air. It’s head is hung low, so that it’s Frankenstein bolt ears are level with its shoulders. Like it’s waiting to charge.

I take a step towards it to help pick up the scattered junk when a blast of noise clamps around my head. I jump, nearly spilling into the road again. The truck’s horn. He’s getting impatient. The clockwork thing doesn’t react.

“I gotta go.” I tell it, taking a step back. “Sorry again.”

As I back away, it’s head begins to turn, following me down the street. There’s a terrible noise like twisting, tearing metal that minces the inside of my head. I turn and sprint to the ally, the shrill, metallic scream rising as I run. A wave of relief hits when I round the corner and the noise stops. I don’t look back.

Now That It’s Over

The birch trees lining the drive were throwing fits in the drenched night. Their writhing limbs excited the security lamps into action and the lawn was doused in a stark, clinical light. Sheets of crashing rain caught and reflected the harsh glare, throwing a haze of static back at the house, the air filled with crackling, wet white-noise.

Alice sat in the large bay window that overlooked the driveway and gardens, dwarfed by that cavernous shell of glass and wood. She was still and quiet, watching the rain smeared against the window by the relentless wind. Quivering rivers of inky night flowed sideways, like fingers of the storm feeling for a way in. Pulling a cigarette from her lips, she stretched out two smoking fingers to the glass and traced along the water’s course until she reached the edge of the frame. Alice’s hand settled on the latch. The security lamps clicked off and the scene ahead of her was replaced with her own gloomy reflection. She stared into her own eyes, dark circles in dark circles, and then turned the latch, opening the room to the storm. She pulled her legs up onto the sill, crouched and pressed her face into the liquid wind, leaning out into the storm. Her hair whipped about her, the rain striking her one cheek while cold fresh streams ran down the other. There was an iron tang to the rain as it crept into her mouth, minerals and ozone on her tongue. Her cigarette, soaked and battered, broke apart, spilling it’s innards. Loose shreds of tobacco washed down her hand, the tatters of paper clinging to her fingers.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Alice turned, looking into the room from under her arm, still gripping the latch. Abe stood in the hall, lit from behind by a warm yellow glow. She closed the window, sat and wiped her hand on the sodden cushions beneath her.

“Nothing.” She replied. “I just wanted to feel the rain, that’s all”

Abe stepped into the room, resting his over stuffed suitcase against the door frame as best he could.

“Look, if you don’t want me to go, you just have to ask. You don’t have to act out like this.” His voice dripping with that oh-so-understanding salesman tone.

“I want you to go Abe, I thought I’d been pretty clear?” She was going to stay calm.

“Well I still think you’re overreacting. Everyone makes mistakes. I just-”

“It wasn’t a mistake.” She interrupted.

She waited to see if he’d argue the point but he just stared. So she carried on.

“You’re a soulless creep, Abe, masquerading as person. But even though you’re a parasite, I don’t hold it against you. It’s on me for not calling you on your bullshit earlier. You were just doing what came naturally, leeching off a healthy host, worming your way into my life. But you got complacent and you got caught and now we’re done. So you can get the fuck out of my house.” Calm, calm, calm.

Abe’s face attempted to display hurt feelings, his head lilting to one side as his eyebrows tried to work out the optimum angle for sympathy. It was like watching a dog try to walk on it’s hind legs.

“That’s unfair Alice. I understand why you’re hurt, I really do. I mean, what I did was shitty but I’m not a bad person. You’re going to regret saying those things once you calm down.”

“Out, Abe. Now.”

“Ok, ok. I’m gone.” He picked up the suitcase and turned toward to the door. “I just want you to know that I’m sorry. I mean that. I really didn’t mean to hurt you.”

A hell of a time for a first apology. Did he really think she was going to call his name and forgive all that shit? It was all she could do to not hurl everything in reach at the back of his head as he left the room.

Alice heard the front door close and let out a breath that she hadn’t noticed she’d been holding. She picked out another cigarette, lit it and breathed in one long measured drag. Then let her head drop back, lolling between her shoulder blades.

“Fuck your sorry, Abe.” She whispered to the room in bitter smoke.

Inspiration Strikes

I lay down in a gently sloping meadow as a light breeze nudges the world along around me. A rustling drone rolls down from the trees behind, mixing with the sound of tall grass brushing against itself, snipping at the air. It’s still early but the light feels like it’s gaining weight, slowing down and shifting red. I expect to hear mothers calling their children home and children begging for a little more play time. I am lucky enough to have nothing to do and no one to cut my playtime short. I am here for as long as I need to be. I am waiting for inspiration.

World in, words out. That’s the basic idea. A two point, one line flow chart from inspiration to creation. But, like the tube map or the circuit diagram, this is an idealised versions of reality; the creative process is a much messier affair. Each experience and stimulus is a cat thrown into a room full of dominoes, kicking off a chain reaction that goes quickly out of control.

Words come to me. Quoted from someone, quoting someone, quoting god. In the midst of life, we are in death. This fragment seems to trigger a change in the world around me. The rustling sound intensifies for a moment, as if the meadow is trying hoist anchor and lift off. The sudden rush of noise conjures a cloud of insects in my head, a swarm of things with too many legs and too many eyes jostling for position in the spaces of my mind. An undulating haze of dark, the blur of translucent wings, dull, black bodies and dangling segmented limbs. The swarm above seems to spark a reaction beneath and with a shudder, the earth throws up a raiding party of skittering, writhing outriders. Thick, bright creatures with inquisitive feelers and antennae explore my extremities. Bile-yellow stripes and shocks of red carapace flash over my exposed skin, searching for a way in. The touch of pin-prick feet, like a taser jolt, locking me in place. The wriggling mass of the bugs from my mind take their first bite and my imagination begins to consume me.

You Don’t Say?

The kid hadn’t spoken in a long while. That’s not minutes you understand, we’re talking years here. Used to be he’d chatter away with barely a break for breath. Word vomit, folk call it. Those around him didn’t mind it for a time, but their nods and smiles eventually faded, irritation bubbling behind their eyes. Occasionally irritation boiled over into shut-the-fuck-up and the kid would pass nights stewing in prickly silence. Not that any of these were bad folk, mind. They were good people all, but good people have their limits. Hell, even Jesus flipped tables when he was pissed off.

It got so kid’s thin whine was bricked up inside his own skull. Aimless, lazy thoughts would loll and lurch, twisting around and through one another. Jagged streaks of half-formed ideas would collide with the slightest distraction, splintering and embedding themselves in the bone. It was a real tangle in those early days, the kid’s head. Mad cats walked across the keyboards in there and he’d struggle to make sense of the crazy they’d throw up.

Things wound down some, after a time. The kid managed to get so he could keep an idea still, could grip a concept, hold it steady and use it to chisel bigger things out of the walls. He started thinking about how he got this way, why he stayed this way. After all, he wasn’t gagged, he was behind no bars. Reaching back into the low corners of his mind, he couldn’t get hold of any specific person or event to blame. The past was all knotted with embarrassment and guilt. Shit smeared memories, detail smudged out. So the kid got to carving out a new idea; maybe he was down a hole he’d dug himself. Why not try to climb out?

The kid’s atrophied vocal cords contract. Dry tissue cracks and flakes away. Sand-blast coughs bend the kid double, the spasming bellows of his chest throwing out the dust and the cobwebs and the dead flies. The kid straightens up, takes one deep breath. And listens as his low groans explore the spaces outside his head.

Blind

Fills me with amazement, the way some of a-one’s parts can take up the slack in a pinch. By way of a for-instance, one can reckon the distance and texture of a thing by the nature of echo it’ll give in reply to a click of the tongue. Folk can navigate a space just clicking away and listening, sight be damned. While gone by, I’d not have put much credence in a thing such as that but since giving up my own peepers I’ve come to pick up the knack all the same.

It’s idleness on your ear’s part I’ll wager prevents folk from taking advantage of that singular talent. It’s as if those peepers got the loudest voice in your head, shouting over the fingers, the tongue and the rest. That noggin takes so much stock in what those peepers got to report, it don’t often pay a-much of itself to them other God-given mechanisms we’ve all of us got. That array of fleshy devices, given us each in order to absorb another facet of creation. These others, feeling secondary, tend to hang back a-ways and let the pictorial, the visual, take the lead. Demure is what they do, only throwing up a mite of detail here and there, should they feel it necessary. Less that is, they figure a thing to be of pressing urgency or irritation, then they’ll pipe up to make themselves heard right quick.
Mightn’t be idleness, now I lay it out for myself. Could be nearer neglect. Shirked so regular as they are in favour of pretty pictures.

I find I think myself in circles when ruminating on a notion and I got plenty to think on, tell it true. Getting a hold on the real shape of things as I did, late in a lonely life. I’m still teasing some things out for myself currently. Once I got that illuminated spark in my noggin, all multitude and manner of things awoke in there, same as they wake for all of us. In those early days, starting on the way, I found I could see easily from the vantage of another. It came that I got to talking other folk through their own confusions. I’d craft ideas so as to make ’em more easily digestible, take a notion and turn it this way and that, showin’ folk the nooks and crannies, the flip-side and the under-side, cutting away the assumption and misconception as I’d go. Just as I do so with myself and as you’re hearing now.

They were mighty impressed with me in them early days. Real shinin’ star I was. Some folk, ones inclined to puzzle such a thing out, would quiz me in order to deduce the root of my talent. They’d ask me on my youth and, having heard the circumstance of my girlhood, would credit that knack for explanation to my activist adolescence. Can’t say I much like to dwell on them times nowadays. Tell it true, I got sad-sick after all that youthful fire got spent in service of nothing. World’s much the same now as it ever was, you’ll have noted that for yourself too, I’ll wager. Or you will, granted world enough and time. I turned away from folk for quite a while after my younger days, went hermit you might could say. It was many a year before I come across any notions I’d judge worth sharing. Thinkin’ on it now, I suppose there might could be some small comfort in that thought. All that painful struggle kicking up something of worth, beaten up out of that futile dust and it getting put to some use before the end.

A Setting for a Suicide Note

Galescar House sat low, battered and alone on the uneven horizon, the fading sky threatening to colour the whole scene a uniform grey. Yvonne scanned the hazy silhouette of the house, her eyes running along the rough rooftop of the squat servants quarters that made up Galescar’s west wing, rising slightly as it gave way to the main house with its heavy oak doors, imposing windows and clawing eaves, then up once more to Galescar’s single, lonely eastern tower and its octagonal roof, monocled by a circular window and constantly surveying the suburban sprawl far below. Yvonne suddenly had the notion, with Galescar’s grander parts somehow unfavourably distributed to the one side, that perhaps the abusive western wind had beaten and shaped the house into some great, cresting wave littered with flotsam and slate, rising above and to someday crash down upon that dry, heather-strewn shore.

To the rear of the house were Galescar’s neglected and overgrown grounds, the gnarled, skeletal hedges and low, tumbled-down walls sketching the outlines of its once-grand gardens, now violently cut short a few yards to the north by the cracked earth and chipped fissures of the Splintered Cliffs’ increasing trespasses. While at the front, the geometric tracery of Galescar’s oppressively tall gothic windows considered the precipitous, rock-strewn slope that fell away behind Yvonne, that juddering, rocky decline of Wolfhound Ridge.

Yvonne turned away from Galescar, away from that husk that had once been a home, and looked down over the crystal spires and shimmering rooftops that sat below, connected to one another with a complex cats-cradle of silver threaded walkways and the electric blades of humming mag-highways. The gleaming, prysmatic architecture built up steadily to the south, growing to join the vast city-state of The United North. It had all once been part of the larger, old kingdom, and in that kingdom, the glittering metropolis below had been a small town. Long before that, at the boundaries of Yvonne’s memory, that town had been a village and in that village she had once been a child. She had lived in that town and finally, in Galescar House on Wolfhound Ridge, above those impossible spires, Yvonne had grown old. She looked back at the gritty, blue/grey silhouette of the house one last time before opening the slim leather-bound ledger on her lap. She took up the pen in her right hand while stroking the length of the crisp page with her left, the paper and her hand a pale, raw-clay yellow in the thin light that spilled from the windows behind. Then Yvonne put pen to paper and began to write.