Friday, 28 November 2008

Fish heads and wolverines

When they caught him, Francis said he’d been chasing fish heads and wolverines. He said he’d followed them until they returned to the river. Then they told him to take off all his clothes and swim with them.
Later the wolverine called him from the water on the other side and took him on a stroll through the park. He told the police this after they’d found him, naked and dripping in the cold afternoon.
They took Francis back to the station and took this strange statement from him. Later, he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Francis was a minor celebrity. He had appeared on Big Brother, series three. Everyone in the house had quite liked him. He was funny and he cooked most of the time for them. He was open about himself and did not bitch about the others. He always said he prided himself on keeping his mouth shut, when needed.
He made it to the last four housemates and people cheered when he was released. Later that year, he hosted a cookery show on Channel Five. He was happy for that year and people would greet him in the street; complete strangers shaking his hand.
He even got ‘papped’ a few times. That is, the paparazzi would sometimes cross the street in front of him and take his picture for OK magazine or maybe even The News of the World.
And then it all went downhill for Francis (or Fat Frank, as he came to be known). His fall from grace has been well documented so we don’t need to go into that here. Suffice to say, he got well and he went back to trying to live his life.
He’d been out of the flashlight glare for some six months, when he noticed a man was following him. When he went into town, when he walked his dog, when he went to the shops of a morning, so many times he’d see this man out of the corner of his eye. He knew it was the same man, because he always wore the same clothes: blue t-shirt, blue jeans, white trainers. He always wore a t-shirt and showed his arms, even though it was cold, and he never wore a coat.
Francis was perturbed by this and noted that it was happening increasingly frequently. Still, he didn’t mention it to his wife, for fear that she’d think he was losing his mind again. Instead he planned to question this blue shirted man when next he spotted him and ask him to come clean about the reasons for this apparent stalking.
It was on a Saturday in early November of this year when he next saw the man. Francis was in town and had decided to explore some of the historic sites of the place that he had always just walked straight past. It was while he was up at the top of the cathedral, as part of a guided tour of the seldom opened north tower, that he spied his stalker once more. Francis looked with horror at the man, who was down in the street below, looking up. Despite the distance between them, the unmistakeable shape of a quite wicked smile then crossed the lips of the man as he pulled to his eye a small black camera fitted with a zoom lens, and began to snap, snap, snap away at the defenceless Francis.
Poor Francis; trapped between two old women on the thin walkway of the tower’s rampart, no room to squeeze by, nothing to do but stand and shout, howl and scream in utter frustration at this devil who was following him; tormenting him at every turn. The look of horror on the face of the old woman to his right was the last thing Francis remembered before he passed out on top of her.
He came to in the vestry below. Evidently someone had carried him there. They gave him warm tea and kept him warm until his wife came. He said nothing to them about the photographer, even though they asked. He knew well enough not to talk now.
And even after he was feeling better; and even after he was safe in his wife’s car; and even after he’d seen the man standing at every bus stop between the town centre and his home, Francis knew to say nothing.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The unconquerable walls

The body of the old church looked pristine. It was so smooth, like the alabaster skin of a virgin bride. Jacob wanted to touch and stroke its walls. He longed to climb it, but he had little knowledge and still less skill when it came to such things.
Jacob had seen a man, on TV, called the human spider or some such epithet. He could climb up vertical structures, tall buildings with almost no footholds or handholds. All the time he’d push himself further, make the acts more dangerous, watch the crowds get bigger. Did they gather beneath him to see him succeed; to tackle this mighty and impossible edifice and defeat it? Or did they gather to see him fail, and hopefully fall to a grisly end? They could tell their friends: ‘I was there, I saw him fall. It took longer than you’d think, you know, to hit the ground...’
It didn’t matter to the human spider though. He said that he never worried why the crowd had gathered, because he knew he would never fall. He would keep climbing until there was nothing more to climb, rather than let himself fall back to Earth.
Looking up at the church again, Jacob stepped back to admire it more fully. He had no idea quite how old it was, but ‘the old church on Bethel Street’; that was the only way he knew it. It had a richness that spoke of the decadence of organised religion; of the Papacy and the secrets held deep within Vatican vaults. And yet, he knew nothing of its denomination, though it spoke stoically of Catholicism. All he knew was that the deep mysteries of faith and belief in the divine were held inside these walls; secure in near darkness, candlelight and the filtered unreality of stained glass.
Jacob longed to belong then, to become a part of this great building, this great Church, this institution of understanding and security. How wonderful, he thought, it would be to be assured. To be certain of one thing in this life; one thing that would make it all worthwhile and take all the fear out of it, out of everything you ever had to do.
He reached out to touch the smooth walls once more. His hand hovered, tantalisingly, over the perfect brickwork but he withdrew, suddenly. He felt something strange, a shuddering, like an earth tremor beginning.
That was enough, he thought. Enough for today, and he turned his back on the perfection of the church and its unconquerable walls. He stepped quickly along the narrow street and off around the bend.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

We met under the trees

We met under the trees that day; Rhoda, Sanchez, Billy and me.
The sun was so white it bleached the light and the buildings around us. It was hot, but Billy sat outside the shade of the tree. I looked at his arm and hoped it would soon go as red as his t-shirt. I wanted it to become thick with boils and sag, peel and wither.
I hadn’t seen these guys for a few weeks, but I barely spoke. I glanced around the group, but my eyes would linger longest on Billy. I wondered how I’d be the next time we met, but I didn’t think I’d feel this upset.
Billy, for his part, looked at the ground and sometimes at the others, but never at me. He spent a long time rolling a joint; longer than I’ve ever seen him do it before. So meticulous it was, that you’d expect it to be the most amazing, the most perfect joint ever constructed. However, when it was eventually passed to me, I noticed all the usual small flaws in its architecture, all the scattered thoughts that made it such an imperfect work of art. Perhaps Billy had been building these in by design?
I dared to glance up at him and this time he caught my eye. He offered a smile; thin and intangibly curved. I found myself beginning to smile in return. It’s something I find hard to resist, my ability to please. But I couldn’t let him have this smile, I couldn’t let him have this day. So, as my lips began to imperceptibly curl, I slowly blew the smoke out of my mouth, covering his face with a thin blanket of grey.
Childish, wasn’t it? I know it; everyone gathered there knew it and they shuffled uncomfortably. Billy, though, took the hit. We’ll give him credit for that. He knew he had to do whatever it took to regain acceptance and re-admittance to the circle. Still, the line was a tough one to walk. How to not let Billy have an easy ride back from the brink, while also not alienating Sanchez and Rhoda from myself? Ah, they wanted such a quick retribution, a swift ending to hostilities; but I’ve never worked like that.
I had to restrain myself, stop my legs from standing me up and shuffling me away from the cover of those trees. That would have meant a failure on both my goals; but it was so hard seeing him there and thinking of all the things I blamed him for, all I suspected him of, and all I knew he was guilty of.
Probably a few blows to the face or stomach is what everyone had hoped for. That’s how men can sort things out easily; simple retribution. But I was extracting my flesh pound for pound, and the strain was beginning to show.
So, I spoke to Billy. I asked him how his mother was! It was the best thing I could think of. Of course, talk of mothers was the last thing Billy wanted, and the last thing anyone expected to hear from me.
I enjoyed watching Billy flounder for the right words. I don’t think he could believe I’d said this to him, and at last his skin had gone red, all around his face. Waiting a second or two, I then turned my head slowly around the group with a grin stuck to my face to let them know I was having a joke at Billy’s expense and that it was okay for them to laugh.
That’s when they exploded, Rhoda and Sanchez. They’d waited so long to laugh, their bursting faces went as red as Billy’s and they were soon fighting to refill their lungs. The laughter rolled on like a spring tide, and Billy had the chance to join in, and so did I.
Later Sanchez would tell me that he’d been about ready to stand up and scream, before the pressure was released. That, had he a gun, he would have been fidgeting with it; toying with suicide or murder.
I nodded, and told him I knew just what he meant.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

I'll see you back home

The movie’s over,
And then I get hit by the way you walk -
Same way you get hit back home;
I’ll see you back home.

I call your name,
And then I get hit by the way you talk -
Same way you get hit back home;
I’ll see you back home.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Dreaming spires

I unfolded my life like a pocket handkerchief; unfurled and hung it from the tops of the great Sentinel spires.
I climbed like Quasimodo to the tip of the gothic tower and danced around on top, my features blacked out by the sun at my back, my shadow cast long across the great square below. It looked so strange to see my silhouette, maybe 30 foot long, dancing a jig upon the plaza, with a dumbfounded crowd looking on.
And then I plunged inside the statue’s head, this sentinel of the tower, and felt that inside was the warm squish of a living brain.
Without hesitation I ripped it from its casing, from its stimulating wires. But only a portion of the brain came free, and it tore apart like raw minced beef. I had to scoop the leftovers out and hold it above my head. Grey matter rained down about me, but the crowd started to cheer and with one almighty heave I lobbed the brain out, away from the tower and listened for it to splatter satisfyingly upon the building’s steps below.
And then, seeing the cheering crowd scatter, to be replaced by Authority forces with weapons trained on me, I took the decision to step off my platform. And as I saw the great steps racing up at me, I was laughing at the thought that soon they wouldn’t be able to tell the bits of my brain apart from Mackenzie’s.
Mackenzie, the founder of Lacroix, the first Sentinel; how I laughed. In fact, I woke up laughing.
Now I sit, awake and sweating. Will Authority be coming for me? How far can the Sentinels see? Do they read my dreams for dissent? Will Mackenzie himself be sleeping with me tonight?
I dare to flick a glance out of my window; I dare to quiver, but the city is still tonight.

This tale is related to an earlier piece called The Sentinels.