Caught

She makes terrible coffee. It runs, heavy and choked, like muddy water through alluvial swamps. She cooks badly too – burnt offerings that bring the blessing of Chinese takeout. The gas flame on the hob, blue and flickering, endlessly fascinates her.

In the day, she paints her toenails electric blue and meanders through the city, weaving, circling, losing herself but never losing her way. She returns, fragile but triumphant, glowing with the setting sun on her back. At night, she curls into my arms.

My dreams light up with alien beauty I can never describe.

I should never have caught her.

Count

One Two

Buckle the Shoe

Three Four

See the Dark Door

Five Six

All the Dead Sticks

Seven Eight

The Path is Straight

Nine Ten

Lock the Den

Counting, counting, it’s harder than it looks.  What do you lose to suit the books?  One word, two words, three words, eight?  What do you add to make it straight?

Isn’t – is not, won’t – will not.  Twist and turn the clause and phrase.  You wrote it, you write it, it will behave.

But really what is a word or two, is it something you have to do?  Well, to be honest… Yes.

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.

A New World

The pod burns through the sky: we must seem a blazing arc, a shooting star. The shaking and turbulence recede, the flames and glow dissipate. Through the porthole we can see land below us, growing, taking shape. This is the right place: there is the river, and now the delta, splayed like a hand through dark, rich alluvium.

Then it passes us, and we’re over the ocean; a harsh break as parachutes open. Quick descent, jarring impact.

Relief. It’s all over and we’re still safe. But we look at each other — soon we will have to venture out. This pod cannot remain our home for much longer.

Dregs

After four volumes is there still water in the well? Little should be needed for a measly hundred words. But all I draw is dregs of micfic past:  images that never floated, metaphors too mixed to rise from their ashes and similes like an old car with an unreliable ignition coil.

I touch things I threw back as too strange, too frail or too ugly: the drunken rambling without legs; that voiceless dialogue; the enlightened duck pie and most of all, the hive monologue on truth.

They mock me from their unwritten limbo.

Water enough for a nostalgic drabble?

Apparently.

[still haven’t thought of a title]

I sit rigid at the simple steel table, sweaty palms making damp patches on it. That thin column of light in the far corner makes me nervous. I know how much it burns.

They say I’ve been testing for five years, but I can’t be sure. I stopped counting after the first few.

They say I’ve paid my debt.

They say that they’re going to take me home. I’m not sure if I can believe it. If it’s another test.

I still don’t know who they are.

God, I need a coffee.

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.

Alien Invasion

It would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic. The city spent billions of Rands on the stadium alone. I don’t even want to think about all the extra money that went into advertising, improving transport, and so on. But the alien invasion put a real spanner in the works. The world watched as we hung our heads in shame and admitted that the 2010 World Cup could not be held in South Africa. That Cairo would have to be Soccer City.

At first it seemed like the imported trees were just growing a bit faster, flowering a bit more than usual. So we just laid on extra landscaping staff; we’re always looking for job creation opportunities that don’t just mean another few hastily trained security guards. We joked that even the shrubs had caught Football Fever. We stopped joking after we lost the first highway. Cutting back the branches only gave a few hours grace. Crews would work through the night, hacking back enough to clear the whole road by rush hour the next morning. By noon the roads would be covered again. Thick, hard, branches with dark, sticky, fruit blocking the way. And always a few trapped bakkies: a few idiots thinking they could get through.

So then we called in the Volunteer Wildfire crews. They helped us plan and execute a controlled burn. That looked like it was going to work, for a day or two. Then the branches came back, thicker and stronger than before. Like they had learned something from the Fynbos about how to deal with fire.

Then, the stadium. We could probably have put up scaffolding or thrown new concrete slabs to fix the walls that were cracking and crumbling from the expanding vines, but there wasn’t a lot we could do about the tree growing in the centre of the pitch. It only took a week to cover the whole field. The botanist from UCT said that it should have taken hundreds of years to get that big.

The day after that, the flying saucer landed.

That’s when I quit.

Paradise Ranch

In the United States, in Nevada, there is a lake. Beside this lake is an airfield with its buildings and sheds, warehouses, hangers, garages and yards. Inside are the dead bodies of grey humanoids, stretched out as if asleep on gurneys. And a giant ring which, when stepped through, will take you to the stars. Also, a machine the size of your hand that will show you your past; a crashed UFO that our fine engineers are still examining; the offices of a shadowy cabal that was brought together by Harry S. Truman to hide the truth.

These are secret things. We keep them hidden from you because knowing them will harm you. All the things which are a danger to society and the world, those things are here: the Ark of the Covenant, the true map of the land-surface hidden under the Antarctic ice-shelf, drawn circa 500 – 550 CE.

We ensure that nothing escapes. For your protection.

Inside yourself, in your heart, is a box. This box is locked with your mind and with your emotions; inside is the person you first loved and first lost. There is the Alsatian you grew up with, who you held while the vet put down. And that is your fear that your legs are too thin, your gut too large, your eyes too big, your lips too small. Those are the people who laughed at you when you were growing up; and dead grandmothers; broken homes; alcohol.

Hiding in the corner, under the blankets, are your forgotten dreams.

The locks around your heart are mostly strong. They ensure that nothing escapes. So we think only of the aliens who are coming — or who are perhaps already here. That God is about to call us up, that the sinners will be punished, and that the government should stop hiding the truth from us.

Sometimes we think of where our Alsatian is buried, although we no longer live in that house.

Everything else is rumour and conspiracy.

Ascending

Take 1
I have no weight. I rise like feather on hot air, higher and higher. The air grows cold but I don’t feel it. The ground falls away, strange and foreign to me, bleak and fading like a memory. Between high branches, the stadium winks at me, like a blind eye. Waters recede. Buildings stand, meaningless like broken teeth, artefacts of a test I have passed. I don’t look around me; in the corners of my being, I know I am not alone. Ahead, celestial birds, imagined and beautiful, swoop and play. Their song is a silver path. I follow.

Take 2
“Is this lechery?”
“Larceny. There’s a sign.”
“Sorry.”

“Excuse me, repentance?”
“There’s cubicles set up in the stadium. Bring own water.”

“Look, I’m not supposed to be here.”
“You’ve never sinned?”
“I’ve been preparing for this all my life. I’ve not touched women, or liquor. I’ve not done any of these things. I’ve kept myself pure.”
“Ah, I see. Pride is on floor six. Prepare to wait. Next!”

Take 3
It’s a Saturday, right, beautiful day, here we are. Rover ‘n me, the ball, the park in spring. God, things are just sprouting, aren’t they, little parcels of life, just goes to show, that’s just the kind of day it is. Well, I gotta tell ya, I never really thought about it. I mean, I didn’t think it would happen, right, and if it did, which it wouldn’t, but if it did, well, I wasn’t gonna cut it. I knew that. Hardly an angel, me.

But here’s the thing I didn’t expect, the thing that runs through my mind as they all rise into the sky, the chosen ones, the ones that made it:

Damn, I’m gonna miss that dog.

That’s when he wags at me, from up high. I swear he does.