Impending

In the dream the stopper to the bottle is a velvety stone sphere, veined in silver, heavy in my hand. Then I’m in a Paris sidewalk café eating a scoop of dark chocolate drizzled with pale sauce. I wake up hungry. The next night I look down through the manhole at the pale water as it trickles over the mud. Over my head, against the pallid sky, the moonlet rises, its myriad channels catching the alien sun.

It’s getting larger. Soon it will fill the horizon when I wake, and I will finally understand its hints. I am not afraid.

Gukurahundi

It is always winter, now. The trees are a delicate tracery of twigs, black against the grey skies, and the rotted branches grasp me, clawlike, each step a battle. Frost crunches beneath my worn boots as I crest the rise. Below me lies the valley, indistinct in the dawn mists that rise from the river. The cold enters my lungs like martial steel. The ring stretches before me, a mile wide, cloudy circles retreating into darkness and unknown depths.

I wish I could say this was the only site. It doesn’t match the great ring at Auschwitz, twelve kilometres across, the weight of millions boring into the earth. In New York, 9/11’s cone punches the soil like a fist, concentric circles of horrified loss. This few hundred metres of psychic wound is a locus, I think; it stands for more than the sixty-two massacred, concentrating the atrocities across the province into one great wound in the earth.

A single bloody decade is memorialised here, as it wasn’t when it happened. The ones we can’t identify are worse – solemn, incomprehensible, mathematical mutilations that mark a magnitude of loss our history ignored, or can no longer recall.

We have given up trying to account for the rings. Like the winter, they pass on history an inscrutable moral judgement; we have been all too aware that the billions who starved have created no rings of their own. This disfigurement is of our own making. I do not know if the realisation is enough, but I hope. Like others before me, I will shortly walk down this slope to plunge into the cloudy, geometric depths – to fall, endlessly, appropriately, into dissolution.

None return from that journey. None deserve to. If all who survive sacrifice themselves, it will barely begin to ameliorate our crimes.

New theme

My chosen picture:

Branches, by Max Barners

As threatened, it’s a Max Barners. Since I am devoid of imagination to a truly horrific extent at the moment, let’s stick with 300 words (i.e. 250-350). The theme runs from Monday 16th to Sunday 29th May.

I apologise very humbly for the extremely late posting. It’s been a hideous week, but it’s no excuse.

Moths

I saw you first in the dance, the bright flame to which I was drawn, helplessly fluttering. I saw him first as my enemy, a rival. We were both young, strong, manly: we locked glares across the torchlight while you twirled out of reach. When the dance stopped we reached your side together. You laughed and took his hand as the music started once more, but your eyes watched me over his shoulder to tease me with your choice.

I struggled through the brambles to your house, and heard him crashing stubbornly through behind me. You gave us wine, admiration, the gift of your gaze; you set us tasks. You flirted, but we never knew which of us you preferred. I was the first to return with the tree’s teeth, the hound’s crystal bell, the sparkling dust from the floating stones; he brought the giant’s shoehorn, the malachite harp and the blood of the wayward knight. We fought, shoulder to shoulder, the bristled, sinuous creature which guarded the grotto, and staggered back together with the sacred pestle, jewelled and heavy with gold. Our blades became strange and scintillating, bathed in blood and ichor and spider-silk. I never knew what enchantments you wove with our trophies. It didn’t seem to matter.

By then we were brothers, fellow captives. We beat our wings against your indifference, and were burned. For you we overcame the doughtiest foes – the invisible basilisk, the earthquake owl, the twelve shrieking ghost-damsels escorted ruthlessly back to you while we spelled each other in wincing, ear-stoppered shifts – and in reward you allowed us to touch your fingers, no more. We would have it no other way.

But our quest was always for this eventual respite. Our wings are dusty, now; that last tangle with the thorned phoenix left us tattered and lame. And tonight I watch you shine in the dance, while the eager young chevaliers challenge each other, drawn inexorably inward in hopeless rivalry, fuelled by desire. I hope they are strong and determined. We have taught you to demand much, and have it fulfilled.

Outside the glittering circle we flutter our wings in the darkness, and hope only to be allowed to alight for a moment on your fingers one last time. Perhaps you will pause for a careless instant of gratitude or even tenderness before we are burned utterly away. It will be enough. We ask for no more.

Drift

The strap of my bag, heavy and final, chafes my shoulders, and a trickle of sweat runs down between my shoulder-blades. My arm, still held awkwardly, has stiffened, and the blood-stained fabric of my shirt rasps against my skin. The late summer’s sultry harvest dust and smell of cut grass are remote and unreal, deadened by the curtain of exhaustion. Somewhere in my bubble of pain I’m grateful for the shade of the trees.

My vision is already clouding, my gut clenched around the days without food. I drift in and out of focus: somehow the drone of the distant combine harvester is also his voice, a hateful snarl of rejection. I tune it out fiercely, and hear instead the cry of seabirds.

I blink. There are small birds twitting sleepily in the trees, and a gentle shushing of the wind in the branches, like waves on a beach. I can smell the sea, the sharp, cinnamon tang of wrack and driftwood and something stranger, like musk. My feet sink into the sand and an unseen hand steadies me gently. The road catches my feet: unsupported, I overbalance, sink to the sticky tar, jarring hands and arms still bruised and grazed by the gravel when he knocked me down. I stand painfully, and carry on.

The air is hazy with sunset, the slopes of stubbled fields complacent in the evening calm. The city rises out of the haze, spired rose and umber in the dawn light. The breeze from the golden ocean is crisp and cool and tinged with vanilla and musk.

I drop my bag onto the ground, kick off my shoes. Lightened, I walk down the beach towards the glass spires. In the empty road my bag and shoes sit on the tarmac, dusted with lemon-scented sand.

I’ll huff and I’ll puff

It’s a sturdy house, well-made, and the glass in the windows is thick and snug. It does no good: when the hot breath is on my heels it feels like straw.

And it’s not as if there’s any attempt at a polite visitor’s knock, either: with a rank, lupine stink the beast is there, rampaging through my rooms. What drives it? Some terrible lack, a gut-deep need, a loathing of its own rough and barbarous fur, so different to my clean pink skin.

When you come down to it, it would be more helpful if the damned house was straw; if at need I could explode through a wall in a frenzy of fleet-footed terror. But I’ve built it too well for that, and now the beast is in here with me. Instead, I pound my hands on the window and shout. The thick glaze between me and the world muffles me: I may as well be silent.

Did I mention the beast is invisible? You, the passer-by, may be moved to pity by my desperate breath on the window, but you can’t see what pursues me. And I’m a pig. It’s not like you’re going to be sympathetic to my squeals even if you could hear them.

The moment when its teeth meet in my heel and drag me backwards is the moment at which the house explodes outwards and I’m straw, whirling in the wind.

Suitor

He’s not a bad boy, really, just young, and the son of a famous father: he thinks the gods favour him. He has never been able to believe I don’t care for him. I refuse his gifts, and turn my head away from his compliments, and he simply presses me more ardently. In his mind I admire him already – the trick is to make me admit it. He is only a year or two younger than I am, but I feel so much the older.

So this is the latest attempt. He’s so proud of the stupid things, and the fact is, he just looks silly. They’re beautiful, the feathers set so carefully in the wax in that graceful curve, but they look odd and awkward attached to someone’s arms. And Zeus knows if they work at all it’s his father’s doing, not his. Even imprisoned as he is the father is a great man; the son is a spoiled child.

When he came to show me he was strutting like a giant bird, boasting of how high he’d fly.

And I stand here, in the hot sun, and watch them. It was never about me, of course. The king will be furious at their flight. They’re soaring like the seabirds, away from his father’s achievements and the king’s jealousy. Silly boy, he hasn’t thought it through – he can’t ever return to see if I was impressed. And yet there he is, trailing his vanity across the sky, going higher and higher.

The gods watch over them, him particularly. He’s so young.

Our Fall Colours

“…God, it’s a hellhole in here, Sven from Vogue almost has his camera down Vanessa’s cleavage …”

“… such a crush, what’s Mario done, sold his soul? Last year was all D-list celebs and promo people, this year there’s a real buzz…”

“… heard it’s something special, he’s doing things with colour that aren’t  technically possible – it’s not shot silk, those scarves change colour even when they’re not moving…”

“…did you see her walking? She’s chalk-white and has lost about twenty pounds. I bet it’s heroin…”

“…who’s smoking in here, anyway? Bloody ash everywhere…”

“…no, it’s not blue, not quite. Never seen anything like it. That ballgown’s fierce, the colour’s otherworldly and the drape’s frankly impossible…”

“…apparently she never goes anywhere without wearing something in the new fabric, quite an obsession…”

“…God, darling, have a canape, you look like you’re about to pass out…”

“…no idea of the technology, he’s keeping it very quiet, says his science team is a bit out of the box and doesn’t want publicity…”

“… bold new experiments with texture and hue, these fabrics defy categorisation – hell, Paul, get the camera on me, for fuck’s sake…”

“…like an epidemic, models dropping like flies, even more than usual.  That new fabric isn’t healthy…”

“… saw her after the show, nearly collapsing, ash everywhere – when did she start chain-smoking? That weird almost-blue shade makes her look dead, frankly…”

“… Mario, darling, huge triumph, really edgy clothes…”

“… no, I tell you, it’s aliens! Lovecraft was right! Aliens are infiltrating our fashion! That fabric’s alive! You laugh now …”

“… God, did you hear? Annabel’s dead…”

Horizon

You look like a nishe girl. I mean nice girl. Buy you a drink?

Nice girl… but that’s a one of them new crystals round your neck, yes? All turning and shining and chiming, bing! Like magic. Ours don’t do that, they shuck. Suck.

Sorry. Had a few myself.

I used to be a moscologist myself. Cosmologist. All the big sky up there full of lights, suns, planets.  You know what sucked about being a coshmologist? All the empty. Great big wide universe, only lil’ ole us in it. Fermi bloody paradox. Sad. Have ‘nother drink.

Then they arrive. Great big shipsh. Ships.  Watching us for years. In hides like duck hunters. Like we’re ducks. They were there all the time, they just hid. Warped basic physics. Impossible. Bastards.

And the ships. Couldn’t believe what they could do to spacetime. Makes no sense. Still makes no sense. Like Amazon tribesman with an Ipod. Hopeless.

And now they’re everywhere.  All the diff’rent kinds, fur and scales and twelve legs and tentacles. God I hate tentacles.  Aliens, and alien stuff. All the pretty thingsh, your crystal – bing! Beads to the natives.  Barman! ‘nother whisky.

See, it’s like this. It’s like you’re in your world, an’ it’s big. Stretches to horizon. Full of things you made, things you use, things you unnerstand. Works. You’re king of it. An’ then one day someone takes off the sky dome an’ you realise the horizon’s a wall, and outside the wall great big creatures stand around the table and watch you, like a rat in a maze. And all you know about the world and the stars is a lie, and you’re nothing. A dot, a speck. Can’t even see the horizon.

Where you going? Oh, that’s your boyfriend? Damned octopus. Tentacles. Hate ‘em.

Barman? ‘Nother one.