Red Bricks

It had been some kind of factory once, in the decades before the boy and his friend had found it. The grass and the weeds had moved in since then, bursting between the bricks and growing to cover the collapsed walls. The red bricks had once been home to some mysterious, mechanised creation and despite the weight and wear of time, some parts of the crumbling factory still stood. Almost three stories remained near it’s entrance, with an uneven, ever-decreasing sprawl stretching away behind.

The boy and his friend would race through the archways that leaped about the crumbling factory’s once-grand courtyard and they would explore the mouldering spaces within. Dank, red-bricked caves that shaded them from the summer sun and kept the wind from the fires that they set in the winter. There were shadows that moved in the corners of those damp, dark spaces. Shadows that sometimes whispered to them while the wind howled. Shadows that would frighten them back into the daylight, where they would pass the time by climbing the disembowelled heaps of bricks that had spilled from the crumbling factory. Loose piles of faded crimson, spreading low and uneven along the valley’s slope in squared and jagged dunes.

The boy and his friend learned to tell time by the shadow of the chimney that rose proud and straight a short way back from the crumbling factory. A home for birds now, roosting in the broken brickwork that towered precarious over where the boy and his friend played. They would occasionally harry the birds, hurling rocks high and clumsy towards the bird’s roosts, when boredom or the mood for violence took them. And the boy and his friend were harried in their turn by older ones, by Not-Yet-Men that would gather in that place as the daylight began to leave it. On some evenings, girls would join those older ones, after they’d dislodged the boy and his friend with their insults and threats. On those evenings, the crumbling factory would become home to awkward, adolescent fumblings. Excited, clumsy explorations that had a habit of becoming their own accidental acts of creation.

The boy and his friend were terribly afraid of those older ones. Afraid that the threats of terror and shame would be visited upon them, should their flight from the crumbling factory be too slow. But that fear eventually gave-way to curiosity. They set themselves to finding a place to hide, a vantage from which they could watch the mysterious goings-on in the crumbling factory at twilight. Searching the upper levels, around the old production floor, they eventually settled on a room that suited them, the wall and floor on one side of it having fallen away to provide a clear view of the space below. The cavernous room beneath was littered with old mattresses and abandoned car seats, beer bottles and cigarette butts, and all the collected detritus of bored adolescence. From the corner in their room, the boy and his friend would be able to survey, in secret, the site of the older-ones’ evening rituals.

The boy and his friend worked the day transporting piles of the old, red bricks up to their new hide-away and they worked the afternoon stacking them into a rough wall near the edge of the room’s fallen floor, leaving gaps here and there through which they could view evening’s activity. And as the sun fell, the older ones came. Shouting their threats and warnings while roaming the crumbling factory’s exterior, before making a lazy search of the spaces within. The boy and his friend held one another tight as the older-ones stalked and called out to them. But their reconnoiter was half-hearted and they soon quieted, settling into their appointed places. Before any activities began in earnest though, the boy, growing a little too curious and leaning a little too far forward, disturbed his makeshift bunker. The wall give out with a painfully-slow, grinding moan while the boy and his friend crouched, frozen as their world fell away before them, disappearing with a clatter into the room below.

In the short silence that followed, the boy and his friend did not wait. They turned and raced through the nearest broken doorway, scrambling together, deeper into the crumbling factory. They heard footfalls and threats from a corridor behind them as they spun wildly in the gloom, looking for an escape. The boy saw a staircase at the end of the hall. Rough concrete stairs with an iron scaffold railing spiralling down. The boy grasped his friend’s hand, rushing onward and down. Together they fled from the terror behind as the stairs twisted deep into the dark.

The boy lead his friend at random, desperate to put some distance between them and the older ones. The gloom soon grew too dark to see and they were forced to stop. The boy felt out a corner in which to settle and to soothe his crying friend. He held his friend in a tight embrace, both for comfort and to stifle the sobbing. Time passed slowly in the dark but the consistent silence assured them that the older ones had not braved the factory’s bowels. The boy grew bored and brave while his friend sobbed. He decided to scout out the darkness in search of a way out, promising to return and lead his friend to safety.

The boy fumbled at the walls, guiding himself away from the sound of his friend’s tears. Onward into the dark depths of that crumbling factory, he stumbled, turning this way and that, going forward then back, growing increasingly convinced that he was lost. Eventually, tired and afraid, he came to a stop, leaning back and sliding down the wet stone wall. The boy rocked back and forth, hugging his knees. And then he began to cry.

After a time, between his sniffs and sobs, the boy heard a voice. It was a voice of many whispers and it seeped out from the shadows that wrapped themselves about him. The voice scared him at first but he soon calmed himself enough to listen, straining to understanding the hissing cacophony. And within that whispered static the boy heard promises. The darkness said it would show him, said it would open itself to him and lead the way out. The darkness would deliver him to the surface, but at a cost. He must give up his friend. That other must remain, a sacrifice to the darkness.

The boy knew his answer immediately. It had settled in his mind as soon as the offer was presented. But he pretended think. He made a show of wrestling with his conscience, set to building himself a more noble memory. So that, in time, when the boy might recall this moment, he would be able live with himself.

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How many “B”s in Insomnia?

I’m laid out on the sofa, cursing the droning hum of the air conditioner, with my limbs wrapped in sandpaper. My every joint is gripped in coarse vices of fatigue and I’m stretched out on the sofa, almost in tears. I’m praying for sleep, I’m begging to be unconscious, when there’s a knock at the door.

I roll, dropping onto my hands and knees, then I’m zombie walking through the hallway. I’m padding along an icy, concrete floor that’s sending jolts up the backs of my ankles with every, single, heavy step. Then the texture of the floor changes and I’m slipping on one of the letters strewn about the hallway and I’m tumbling forward towards the door. I manage to reach out and get hold of the latch. I twist it and then I lean back and the door begins to swing open until it’s caught by the chain and clunks to a stop. My head jerks back. I pull myself upright and then I’m peering out at a thin, vertical slice of a woman.

It’s Joan from next door.

“Hello, Joan from next door” I mumble.

She looks me up and down and frowns at my bare feet, then she’s rearranging her face into a polite mask and fixing me a concerned stare.

“Hi there!” she beams, “How are you?”

“I’m ok, Joan,” I say, “I’m pretty tired.”

“Good, that’s good. That you’re ok, I mean.” She forces a cough while shifting her weight from one foot to the other, “We heard that we might have been making a bit of a racket last night.”

“Ok” I say.

“We might have unintentionally disturbed some people?”

She’s nodding expectantly and I feel as if I’m messing up some sort of call-and-response. As if I don’t know my part in this.

So, again I say “Ok.”

“Well,” she looks past me at the snow-drift of post against the banister, “we got a call from Environmental Health you see. Apparently someone was disturbed and decided to complain to the authorities, instead of being neighbourly and coming to speak to us personally.”

“I didn’t hear anything Joan.” I say, straightening up to block her view of the pile of windowed-envelopes, take-away menus and ignored correspondence.

“Oh good. That’s good. I’m glad you managed to sleep through the racket at least.” She pulls her cheeks and lips apart to show me as many of her teeth as she can.

“No,” I correct her, “no sleep for a while actually.”

“Oh dear, oh dear. We are so sorry.” She’s hiding her teeth again. “It’s the bees you see.”

“Bees?” I ask.

“Yes, the bees. All the bees that live with us, they need to fly when the nights get warm and the swarm was clamouring to be let out. The buzzing was quite loud apparently.”

This makes so little sense it hurts. What the hell is she talking about?

“What the hell are you talking about, Joan?”

“Our bees.” She repeats.

“Bees?” I‘m saying again, my head quickly filling with the gritty discomfort of confusion, “Like for honey?”

“And pollination!” She shouts. “It must have been what was keeping you awake. All the bees.”

She opens her face to show off her teeth again but she doesn’t stop speaking. She’s still saying Bees, forcing the word out at me from behind those pearly-whites. She’s hissing and buzzing through her clenched teeth and I feel a dull rumbling tremor growing in my chest.

I want to scream at her, to make her understand how crazy she’s being but the vibrations start to swell and I’m shaking, I’m heaving when the swarm starts to crawl from her ears, spilling from her eyes and her mouth, tumbling down her chest and over her shoulders and spreading into an undulating cloud in constant motion, drumming at the air.

Then, the opened hive that is Joan-from-next-door and all it’s bees say, “Knock, knock.”

And I’m lying on the sofa.

And there’s a knock at the door.

O.G.B.

We were just trying to innovate, you know? To push things. The place was full of these people; these dreamers, these space-heads, these geniuses. All of them with wild, out-there ideas and, thanks to Our Gracious Benefactor, the means to explore them. That’s how they liked to be addressed: Our Gracious Benefactor, each word capitalised. They could totally tell if you didn’t pronounce the caps, if you thought in lower case. That got to be a saying with the white-coats, thinking in lower case: if you weren’t going far enough; weren’t pushing things all the way out there. That wasn’t me, you understand. I wasn’t trying to mess with things or make anything. I’m not to blame, is what I’m saying. None of this was my fault. I was just there writing press releases; trying to make them sound less like off-brand Bond villains; to figure out marketing strategies for things that fucked with reality, that twisted humanity. Just a hired geek trying to sell the end of the world.

The white-coats, they were the ones that actually did things. Your Emmett Browns, your Professor Morriartys, your Doctor Dooms. They’d been tempted away from studies and tenures, from cushy government jobs. These wannabe Einsteins, these Oppenheimers. From every discipline, from every industry, all living and working in Our Gracious Benefactor’s gleaming, futurist paradise. Far from government oversight, from petty protesters. No funding applications. No interference. No questions. Our Gracious Benefactor assured them they’d be free to explore their own unique brand of crazy, fully funded and unfettered. Most didn’t even care about money, not really. They just wanted the acclaim. So Our Gracious Benefactor got in people like me, creatives, to play yuppie-troubadour to the white-coat’s scientist-knight.

A few demanded their work wasn’t used in any military capacity. Your hippie type’s mostly, your pussies. So, complicated contracts were drawn up by lawyers, then checked by other lawyers, then chewed up and shat out by some all-powerful lawyer’s lawyer, by God’s lawyer. And finally these hippies and pussies, they’d sign on the line that was dotted, their worries soothed, their conscience absolved. A lock-stock, death-free, guarantee. Benevolent applications only! For their disintegrator ray, or their temporal compressor, or their (no word of a lie) mind-control suppository. Come to think of it, butt-hypnosis guy came on board without any stipulations. Dude just wanted to work.

It couldn’t last though. Things can only take so much fucking with before they turn to bullshit. You fold and unfold the world enough times and it’ll start to fray, start to tear. And that’s everything now. Loose and lawless and falling apart. The big-hitters managed to escape the bullshit in time, of course. With their ships or portals or pods. A few ascended into some higher state of bullshit, leaving the norms behind, neck deep in it. And now that’s us, stuck in the hot suite while the outside splits and twists and fractures. A bunch of pen-pushers, safe and sound watching the end of the world.

Which Stupid Bastard Gave Charlie Manson Another Drink?

Slow nights are 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. You're topping them up with cheap swill. You're listening to their bullshit. You're marvelling at how anyone can lack such a basic understanding of human interaction, ignore your screaming disinterest, be socially dyslexic. Most people, even half-crazies, 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 just keep on. 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 way too close, practically mounting the bar to get near me. A real personal space invader. Breath like an abattoir next-door to a brewery. A smell that hangs around like a beaten dog. His accent is a blanket European. Greek, Italian. Maybe Romany or whatever. And he just keeps on talking. He 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 sigh and Charlie nods eagerly.

"Am I right? I'm right! If you are going to be a performer, you must perform! Not just dress like a crazy and stay still."

"Another?" I say.

He empties his glass, nodding again. 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. As I pour his beer I imagine those freaky human statues staring me down. All dead eyes and stiff limbs. Jerking around whenever no one's watching. Folding themselves in the dark. Glassy and still when there's eyes on them. Haggard, paint-peeled fingers that crack and splinter and claw at your back as soon as you turn.

"Man, they 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's shouting, 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.

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 the cracked fingers locked about its rough loop. The sack's broken straps trailing and gently stroking either side of the growing trench. Their staggered clawings at the furrow's edges agitating the sands; a pathetic 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 are now all but 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. On he walks, 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.

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, through air filled with crackling, wet white-noise.

Alice sat in the large bay window that overlooked the driveway and gardens, a small figure 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 flowing 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. 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 crawling down her hand whilst the tatters of paper clung to her fingers.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Alice let her head drop, looking back into the room from under the arm that still gripped the latch. Abe filled the doorway to the hall, lit from behind by a warm yellow glow. She rocked back, closing 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, leaning his over-stuffed suitcase against the door frame with some effort.

"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, "not what you did and definitely not me kicking you out."

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 an impression of a person with 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 said, 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.