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.

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.

Notes From an Early Reconnaissance Prior to The First Celestial Conflict

The workings of the machine, if you could call it that, were intricate to the point of being maddening. It was made up, not of physical parts, but of what seemed to be translucent, ghostly shards, each one, a single three -dimensional edge or fractal facet of some ethereal, vaporous matter. They shimmered and flickered as they moved, collapsing, shattering and coalescing as they each worked to dismantle the recent dead, striping away their guilt, their shame and indeed their very selves, in order to fuel and people this horrific contraption. It was a terrible mockery of an afterlife promised from pulpits, an amalgam of heaven and hell, of peace and annihilation, this industrialised, postmortem punishment/purifier. Taking in the whole of it, I had the realisation that, on my previous visits, I had been deposited somewhere inside the swarming iterations of the thing itself. This time, however, the amygdalial inhibitor had thankfully worked as planed and had caused me to unfold at some external vantage point, able to survey, as best I could, the immense heaven/hell machine.

I was somehow able to view the continental, perhaps even planetary, engine as a complete whole. The sight of it, along with the crushing strain that its size and complexity placed on my transient from, was almost debilitating. I was awestruck, not only with the intricacy and delicacy of it, but also its compete lack of scale. I struggled to take in the extra-dimensional vastness of it, the colossal thing somehow twisting and compressing perspective, causing my gaze to splinter and multiply and blend. I saw in kaleidoscopic visions that shifted and folded throughout and around and inside that sprawling soul-machine, giving me a total yet incomprehensible sensory experience of its structure, its instrumentation and its processes. 

All at once, I could witness any and every facet of its jagged, soul-spalling mechanisms, I could see into its deepest components and ingredients and products. It was as if my awareness of it was not one of a passive viewer, but that I was, myself, a part of of it, while also set apart from it, spread around, and diluted throughout, the whole of that immense, etherial and diabolical engine. I was somehow intrinsically vital to the impossible contraption’s ability to function, as if, for it to operate while I viewed it, the machine had to amalgamate my senses into itself. I realised then that the fleeting glimpses gleaned on previous expeditions had not been cut short due to improper dosages or imperfect regression as we had first thought, but that my presence there had been dismantled, eviscerated even, by the engine’s undulating, gyrating and unfolding mechanisms. As they had stripped away the sins and selves of the unlucky dead, they also unraveled my own, transient ghost and sent me out and off and down, back to our own lower order of being. 

But now, having finally arrived outside of it, this time I could stay, I could see and I could study.