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Sir 2.0 Episode 2: Processing.

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You swallow but your throat is acrid with tension. You cannot make out the details of the people watching you, only that they are there. The gown continues to shift up on the back of your legs, adding self consciousness, drop by drop, over the stir of emotions that collide and change within you.

‘To complete processing, you will undergo a cursory medical examination and a bathing procedure. Once those are complete, you will be assigned sleeping quarters and then left to your own devices until tomorrow morning.’

You narrow your eyes against the light. The voice has retreated behind an air of routine and its emotional content is all that you have to go on in terms of figuring out what is going on here. How much trouble, you potentially are in depends on what information you can glean from your present circumstances.

‘The correct response is yes sir.’

Your heart beats hard and faster. There is a low murmur of conversation, and a stifled giggle which rakes its nails down your spine. A hot flash of humiliation bursts in your stomach, a perfect emotional time travel, taking you back to high school again. The spotlight is hot, and you can feel perspiration beginning to teem underneath your arms and at the small of your back. At this precise moment, every sense is sharpened, ready to cut like a theatre of eager surgeons. Whether it’s you or someone else, depends on the response you give.

‘Yes, sir.’

You raise a hand and a titter snakes through the audience.

‘Am I being held here against my will?’

The laughter grows and someone calls out ‘not with those thighs, dear.’ Your cheeks burn with blood and tears well in the corners of your eyes.

‘Don’t laugh at me.’

That draws a series of oohs.

‘What upsets you more, being held here against your will or being laughed at?’

The voice comes through, silences the others in its wake. The way a comet burns up air on its passage through the night sky.

‘Don’t play doctor with me. I want an answer to my question.’

The voice gives a dark chuckle that makes you shiver to be its subject.

‘What if you had already been asked that question?’

You frown, aware that the spotlight makes every expression exaggerated. Another ripple of laughter starts up. It hurts more than the first time and you start to back up.

‘Stop right where you are.’

You jerk at the change in tone and volume and in response, the back of your gown hitches up a centimetre, highlighting the backs of your thighs where they meet your ass. You give an involuntary yelp, which fuels the embarrassment even further.

‘I wouldn’t, there’s nothing wrong with me.’

He pauses and the laughter dies away again. It’s application reminds you of a whip or a paddle and its sting unsettles rather than the pure, stable joy of pain that you enjoy. That you recognise this comes to you unbidden and without import.

‘My point, exactly.’

A wall to the left bursts into brilliant, white light and coalesces into a screen. A series of numbers dance across, teeming in patterns of deliberate complexity before it opens on a woman’s face, smiling.

Your face.

‘Hey, look you’re probably freaking out about now, but that’s kind of the point. I am you and you are me, before all this starts off.’

You watch yourself give your name, date of birth, social security number, mother’s maiden name and that you have paid to experience SIR, signed a raft of paperwork to avoid indemnity and that you should just relax and go with it.

Offscreen, a female voice asks you onscreen how you heard about SIR. You smile, and you recognise yourself, the telltale blink that you give and the bitemark on the inside of your lip that you could probably slip the edge of your front teeth again and find the indentation by instinct.

Your capacity to tear yourself to pieces without cause, a thought arises, might be part of why you are here.

Not that you are sure what here means.

‘I go to a munch two towns over once a month and one of the subs there went. She did not stop talking about it so I looked into it and -‘

You watch yourself spread your arms and grin. A hopeful light twinkles in your eyes. If this is not you, then it’s terrifying in its accuracy.

‘Here you are. Or I am. Sorry, I get tongue tied with things like this.’

The interviewer chuckles and you join in, a little ahead of the beat and the audience in the room follow along. The screen fades into black.

‘We’ve installed a block on your memories. We don’t change anything about you, and at every turn, we’re a bit like the opposite of a supermarket. We always offer choice. You are here because you want to be, but part of what makes this so popular and so important to maintain discretion is that we agree that this is all part of the play.’

Your breath is molten in your lungs and a heat begins to pool in the pit of your stomach, drawn downwards by gravity and you clench your thighs together to make the sensation flare deeper and warmer.

‘So, I volunteered for this?’

A hum fills the air and you experience the interview directly again. The leather chair underneath you, the scent of the Ethiopian coffee that you were offered on arrival and the drive over, calculating how much this was going to cost you. Chrissy had said it was ‘life-altering’ and you knew that your life could use some of that.

Some people went into simulations about the zombie apocalypse, you came here.

‘Does that answer your question?’

You stare into the darkness. The want is bolder than your fear, it puts a leash on it and a muzzle. The courage hardens your nipples, relaxes the muscles between your thighs, opening and transforming the emotions into fuel for the engine of your desire and your fear and your need.

There have seldom been clear distinctions between them and that, you know is part of why you are here. You smile and lower your head. Deferment is part of it, and you know that there is expectation and a responsibility here for you. It is a misconception that the submissive is powerless, and you stopped explaining this to vanilla types a long time ago. Here, you have the power and the voice, the eyes in the darkness are asking you to take it.

‘Yes, where do we start?’

The table is wheeled in with stainless steel stirrups mounted on telescopic stands mounted on the ends, a section cut away in the middle and velcro straps at the top end. A second table is brought in with a bowl of steaming, lilac and coconut scented water and a natural sponge. You run your tongue over your lips, and your heartbeat drowns out the thoughts in volume and rhythm.

No one is laughing at you now. Which is a good place to start.

‘Whenever you are ready.’

TO BE CONTINUED.

 

 

 

 

 

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Beneath An Open Sky, We Dance

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Skies open

Brilliant with light

True as anything

You’ve known

Dancing beneath as we

Grace one another 

With

Feelings

Rushing through

Pores and veins

Magical in it’s intensity

Huge in it’s intention

Mutual kindness continuing

Unwavering

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A Bridge For The Furies 5: Performance and Cocktails.

alienabar

(This is a photograph of a bar designed by HR Giger. I know, right?)

Previous episodes are here, here, here and here.

Cara ushered them through a set of double doors into a small lounge, where chairs shaped like clam shells were arranged around rectangular tables. Which would not have attracted anyone’s notice aside from the fact that everything floated a good foot above the floor.

Cara caught their mutual expressions of disbelief and laughed.

‘Rare earth magnets and molybdenum. They can take the weight of a Gysterfanica warpod, so we’ll be fine, I promise.’

She gestured towards the bar.

‘Now, I will get us drinks, and you have to trust me here. There are at least eighteen things on the menu that will kill you and about thirty that will turn you blind or insane.’

Drea chuckled and shook her head.

‘Sounds like my kind of bar. Although what the fuck is a Gysterwhatever?’

Gloria saw that Olivia had turned tense and pale, she put a hand on her shoulder and asked if she was okay. Olivia gave a tight nod and took a deep breath.

‘It’s a lot to take in, you know? My biggest concern was keeping the farm running and maybe someone to run it with, ya know?’

Gloria saw the pensive light in her eyes and expressed a true pang of sympathy for her. At least her and Drea had some form of pop culture to inoculate them against all of this, but Olivia was experiencing the cognitive dissonance that would result from giving a Victorian lady a Hitachi Magic Wand.

‘If it’s any consolation, I am ready to run around screaming at any possible minute. So look, let’s keep this in perspective. If you’re mad, then so am I and if we’re not, then we see what she has to say. Deal?’

Olivia managed a terse smile and put a callused hand out to shake. Gloria shook it and grinned, surprised at the strength she manifested in a causal handshake. Farm girls, she thought. The contact was enlivening and grounding, reminding her that she was not the only one going through this.

Cara came back with a black slate tablet and gestured to a nearby table.

‘Drea, a warpod is a species of an intelligent mollusc race that used to cause all kinds of shit, but they’re absolutely hilarious once you get over the whole cultural barrier. Now let’s sit down and I can fill you all in on the next bit.’

Drea frowned and pointed to the tablet in Cara’s hands.

‘Where are our drinks? If I’m going to listen to more space cosmic shit, then I want at least one entertaining anecdote to wake up with.’

Cara rolled her eyes and placed the tablet onto the table, where it sank into the surface with the ease of a pebble dropped into a body of water. Four tumblers emerged from the mass of the table and immediately filled with an orange carbonated liquid.  In the centre rose a small column that began to glow and hum with a sequence of different colours. The air around them vibrated and became tangible against their skins as they sat down.

Drea picked up the tumbler and took a sniff. It carried an oily, citrus scent and when she brought it to her lips, it was thick and warm with the aftertaste of bubbles. She set it down and stared into space for a second then looked at the three of them in turn.

‘When I used to watch Star Trek, they all used to drink these fruity, strange looking drinks and I always wondered how they tasted.’

Cara picked hers up and raised it.

‘Here’s to mayhem.’

The three women looked at one another, with mutual apprehension before Olivia and Gloria took sips of their drinks. When their powers of speech returned to him, Gloria asked if she could have a drop of water added to hers. Cara chuckled and said that she could, but only if she wanted it to explode in her lower intestine. Gloria set the drink down and it melted into the body of the table.

‘That’s a perfectly fine Undara Surprise you’re not drinking.’

Gloria winced and shook her head. She leaned forward, forearms resting on her thighs, afraid to touch the table in case it did something to her. She had always believed that the future would appear bizarre and at too high a velocity for a traveller from the past, but she could not say whether this was the future or not. Cara was the only recognizable human, and Gloria noted that her syntax and intonation had an odd, stilted quality to it.

‘I’ve had enough surprises to last me a lifetime. So, now that we’re all settled, why don’t you tell us what we’re supposed to do.’

Cara downed her drink in one and set it onto the table.

‘I like a woman who gets down to business. So, I’ve chosen the three of you-‘

Olivia coughed as she took another sip, with her eyes glazed over and a beatific smile on her face.

‘This stuff is…yeah…it kind of creeps up on you, don’t it?’

Drea tried to give her a thumbs up, but the brain-body connection that she took for granted had surrendered to whatever was in the drinks. Instead she gave a sloppy grin and tried to arrange her features into some kind of order that denoted mindfulness and concentration. She failed, but she figured it was worth the try.

‘It’s okay, it wears off in a bit if you just have the one, plus I’ve got RB’s if anyone’s a bit too off their tits.’

‘Arby’s?’ Gloria said.

Cara shook her head.

‘Receptor blockers, basically sobers you up  instantly. I swear by them, especially with the diplomatic functions I have to attend.’

Gloria sat back and decided to go with the confusion. Source yourself in nothingness, she told herself and let it all happen. She remembered the retreat at Spirit Rock meditation centre, how it had removed the thorn of grief left in her heart’s paw, but it still stung when she moved.

‘Anyway, so what makes us so special?’ Gloria said.

Cara pointed at her with her index finger and the platinum ring there began to glow with a soothing amber light.

‘You in particular, or in general?’

‘THIS BOY WEARS COVERS, KIND OF HIM TO FAINT.’

The four of them turned as a Klee cloud from earlier billowed into the room exuding drunken indignation, which resembled in it’s scent signature, a gas station bathroom at four a.m. Cara rolled her eyes.

Olivia raised her hand.

‘The guy said it was because ah can shoot.’

Gloria fought to keep the consternation from her face, for fear of offending Olivia, who had inspired a protectiveness in her even though they were roughly the same age. There was a lack of sophistication to her that Gloria warmed to, from the very first. Cara gave her the thumbs up.

‘Yes, you, my dear, are a regular Carlos Hathcock. Also you give off a tremendous amount of potential energy when viewed from my particular perspective.’

Drea sat back in her chair, cautious because she realised that she was sitting in something with no apparent means of support.

‘There’s better fighters than me, out there. No shame in that.’ she said.

Cara nodded, in agreement.

‘Again, I’m working from a particular set of criteria here. Sure, you may not be Ronda Rousey but all my data centred around you three as a cluster of possibility.’

Gloria chuckled.

‘You’re using English, but I will be damned if I know what you’re talking about.’

Cara’s humour left her and she fixed Gloria with a look that could freeze the blood in her veins.

‘I could give you reassuring techno babble, none of which you would understand and we could waste time. I chose you because all the horribly sophisticated intelligence arrays and the experiences I have had, most of which will have shortened my life expectancy by centuries said that you three would be the most effective means of subduing -‘

Olivia cocked an eyebrow.

‘Y’all said kill.’

Cara nodded and waved her off, her attention focused on Gloria like a magnifying glass on an anthill.

‘Subdue, kill, either way if we don’t stop the Leviathan, there will be months of diplomatic wrangling, some messy and futile military action and then nothing.’

‘Nothing doesn’t sound that bad.’ Drea said.

Cara blinked slowly and sat up, pulling her shoulders back and lifting her chin.

‘When I say nothing, because my fear is that Leviathan will eat creation itself, or enough of it to make sure that our lives, inconsequential as they may be, are no longer around to be mourned.’

Gloria tried to imagine nothingness, much like the concept of zero, it took a great deal to approximate the idea of it. Endless possibilities, ended and she would never see or experience any of it. She thought about it on a smaller, more manageable set of concepts. No more running in the mornings, no more books to be written or read. No more ‘I love yous’.

‘So come it falls to you?; Gloria said.

Cara winked at her.

‘You know how Bond was the bastard of the British Empire, you know, everyone knew it was him coming if you messed with the empire and he was going to kick seven shades of shit out of you, raid your liquor cabinet and shag your girlfriend?’

Gloria smiled, warmed by the endearing swagger that Cara projected.

‘You’re the alien equivalent.’ she said.

Cara winked at her and made finger pistols.

‘Got it in one, but part of it means that I get a degree of levity that means I can move resources around faster than organisations or governments can. You three are assets that all my intelligence shows to be the most effective, least messy way of sorting this out. I outfit you with the kit, point you in the right direction and we all go home at the end of the day. That’s really about it.’

Gloria chuckled and shook her head.

‘I write books, what possible kit do I think I can get from you?’

Cara reached inside her jacket and retrieved a slim case, the kind that you would find a decent fountain pen within, a gift set that looked classy but showed little to no consideration. She slid it across the table to Gloria.

Gloria looked down at it, then back up at Cara who gave her a challenging, smug expression. She opened it slowly then looked up and sneered.

‘False nails and contact lenses? How the fuck am I meant to save creation with that?”

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 

 

 

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A Bridge For The Furies: 2

gloomybridge

Part 1 is here

Gloria’s life could be measured in rituals. Her first was to get out of bed, throw on sweats and trainers, drink a cup of coffee and then hit the road. She ran to the bridge and back. It was a quiet stretch of road, and that time of the morning, no one was around. She lived out here precisely because there were vast stretches of silence that she could shout into and know that it was absorbed.

Perfect conditions for her writing.

She liked people, but was never sure that she could stand to be around them for any amount of time. She locked up, even though she knew that she didn’t have to.  She had learned about that the hard way. She started to run, to get away from the memory.

 

Gloria had whittled herself down to sinew. She knew how far she could push herself, but always wanted to go further. The writing was the most sane application of that impulse and that would come later. At that time of day, though, she ran.

The mist clung to the road and a bank of cold air met her as she started her run, letting her body remember the pain, then the pleasure. She could not say which she preferred, if anyone asked her.

She went deeper inside herself with each mile, focusing on the deep engine of her breath and letting the quiet majesty of the trees work their magic upon her. It was her hundredth run without him.

He had gone to get groceries, cook them both breakfast because she had forgotten to pick up eggs and he had rolled his eyes, called her a goofball and put on his shoes. She had sidled up to him with one of those side way bump and grinds that she did, pushing her warm hip against the small of his back and said she would keep the bed warm for him.

In the washed out, grey days and nights afterwards, she slept on the couch to keep the warmth of him still in the sheets. She would try and write, but nothing came out of her. So she ran, went back and looked at the blank page, smooth and devoid of anything. She wanted to trade places with it so much that she could not bring herself to mark it.

She started to feel the dull ache beginning in her hips and hamstrings, which meant that she was close to the bridge, she would stop and walk off the lactic acid build up, then run back to the house, shower and eat breakfast.

The bridge had always been there. It had borne endless winters and humid, torrid summers without complaint. She would walk across it, holding her breath until she got to the other side, make a wish and still believe that it would come true. She would talk about the running until her voice gave out, but the truth of it was that she did all so that she could walk across the bridge and make a wish.

She turned the corner and saw the man stood there, waving to her with a cigarette burning between his fingers. She missed cigarettes but she had managed ten years without them, and the constant test of will had smoothed over the jagged peaks of her withdrawal. That was also when she had subsisted on a diet of coffee, cigarettes and diet cola to keep her skinny. The smell of it wandered over to her, and she shook her head, upset that someone had to be out here, an absurd anger at the cosmic coincidences of life that made her feel petulant and small inside.

‘Hello, Gloria.’

She stopped. Her heartbeat fluttered with concern. She had dealt with convention crud, online reviews and all the forms of ugly compulsive interaction that a woman writing dealt with but this jangled her nerves. Her phone was back at the house, but out there there was nothing but the silence. It swallowed her cell phone signal as ably as her screams.

He finished his cigarette, stubbed it out on the heel of his shoe and pocketed it with a practised, smooth gesture. His smile faded, noting her apprehension and already moving to address it.

‘It’s okay, the last thing I’m here to do is cause you any trouble.’

She stood there, feeling the aches gathering together and telling her to run.

‘You don’t just walk up to people like that. I don’t know who the hell you are.’

He put his hands up and raised his eyebrows. He had dark-blond hair, streaked with charcoal and platinum and a crop of stubble that highlighted his angular, sharp features. She went dizzy when she saw the pointed ears peeking through the hair.

‘You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But I know you, Gloria.’

He had jewellery on his fingers, twisted and burnished into spirals and knots at which sat gleaming precious stones. He wore an olive-green leather coat over a crumpled white shirt and blue jeans, faded at the knee over black polished shoes.

‘That’s not helping you, whoever the fuck you are.’

She could punch, aim for his eyes, the jewellery on his fingers would cut her if he was going to hit her.

‘I know that you’re thinking that if I hit you, these rings would do a lot of damage.’

He put his hands in front of him, started to chant and stare at a point on the road a few feet ahead of her.

‘SOWAHIMTIPSNU’

The air sparked and seethed with an organic, ambient light like the luminescence of deep undersea creatures. It undulated and he splayed his fingers again.

‘SOWAHIMTIPSNU’

Gloria desperately wished for a pen and a piece of paper, to commit this to memory. The energy began to coalesce into the shape of a small bird.

‘SOWAHIMTIPSNU’

It held the shape well, but sacrificed the details of beak and feathers, for suggestions of the craft and the shifting, rainbow patterns of the matter that formed it. He stood back and swept his hands upwards. He grinned like a child and gazed into her eyes.

‘Tell me where it goes, Gloria.’

She sucked in a breath, watching it circle overhead.

‘It returns to the flaming forest, there is an egg that needs it’s attention and inside that egg lies the child who will grow to rule -‘

He tutted and shook his head.

‘Oi, no spoilers.’ He laughed with a confident chuckle and lowered his hands to his side.

Gloria shuddered. That phrase had been taunting her, afraid to leave the skull prison of her head and mark the page. She had not been able to even speak it, but here it had flowed from her lips like an unguarded criticism.

‘Who the fuck are you?’ she said. She sounded distant, subdued by this florid burst of insanity.

He watched the bird before clicking his fingers and on cue, it shot upwards into the sky, past the limits of her vision.

‘I’ve had a few names through the years. Bragi. Brahma. Manjushri. I like the way that the ‘bra’ sounds, but I’m just going by Manny today.’

Everything felt so far away and incredibly close at the same time. This was not insanity, this was like finding out that your whole life really was that cosmic joke that everyone else was in on but you.

‘What if I said that you writing again is the reason I came here?’

She put her hand over her mouth and started to giggle with hysteria.

‘Oh if Kelly’s put you up to this, you’re really really good.’

Manny shook his head and smiled.

‘Kelly has nothing to do with this. I’m here because some people need you to start writing again.’

Her laughter died in her throat and she stopped breathing.

‘Who are these people?’

Manny’s face looked pinched with concern.

‘Everyone.’

TO BE CONTINUED.

 

 

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Above Us, Only Sky.

ohne-titel6-35035516

Above the clouds, where the air is as pure as the sunlight, she floats with her arms by her sides, looking out at the sky around her. She can sense that her physical body waits on the earth beneath her, that this is a matter of perception, afforded her by virtue of an education at her mother’s knee.

She looked at the sky around her, endured the bone deep ache of being in the presence of beauty such as the world around her. Her soul trembled at what she had to do, but when she spoke, her voice rang out across the sky.

‘I am Esperanza, daughter of Dona Maria, I am curandera and I come to find something that has not been lost.’

Her voice echoed, but nothing moved or responded. A chill wind blew across her shoulders, wracking her with shivers. Was this the response? Mama had said that they would speak to her. Esperanza took that to mean a conversation, but this was a chil breeze.

She felt it then, a tugging sensation to her left, like a child pulling at the hem of mother’s skirt and she followed it.

Downwards.

She plummeted, too fast to scream and blacked out for a second with it’s terrible velocity.

2.

Beneath her, the soft damp bed of moss laid damp against her cheek. She got up, wrapping her arms around herself as she looked out at a sea of trees, tall enough to pierce the low hanging clouds above her. So thick was the cloud that it made her strain to see the details. She shut her eyes, and listened.

The gentle trickle of running water, and she smiled to herself.

There is the Rio Abjao Rio, the river beneath the river. If you hear it, in the air, the spaces when you hear your true love’s voice, then you must follow it. She got to her feet and began to walk. Her steps were tentative, but she took a deep breath and carried on into the forest.

The noise of the water gained presence and volume as she drew nearer. The air was cool, damp in her nostrils and on her lips. She raked her hair away from her face, and wriggled her bare toes into the moss beneath her feet. She drew courage from herself, and kept moving.

Which was when she heard the roar, not of the river this time. She felt the thump of motion gathering pace as it came towards her, knocking back undergrowth and branches with no more care than you would walk through a column of smoke.

She looked into the bear’s eyes. The warmth of corn liquor, caramelised and liquid. Beautiful, and all the more so, for the grizzled ferocity of it’s expression. It roared and she put her hands up.

‘Stop.’

The bear reared back on it’s legs, blocked out the light with it’s size.

Which was when it began to chuckle.

Esperanza suffered fools all her life, but she had been unprepared for such mockery to arise in a place as pure as thought. Pure as sky.

‘You do not laugh at me without cause, spirit.’

It guffawed as it licked his left paw with his thick, pink tongue, watching her with an expression equal parts hunger and amusement. It thrilled her to be looked at in such a way, but frightened too.

‘No, it appears that I do not. What do you search for?’

She took a deep breath.

‘I come to surrender.’

The bear shook it’s head and lowered it’s eyes as it moved onto all fours.

‘To me, is it that simple?’

Her stomach grew hot and sour, the bear’s voice was gruff but smooth, burnished by endless experience and beneath it, a warmth like a good shot of tequila began to smoothe out her fears. She shook her head.

‘No, it is not. My mother taught me that.’

The bear looked around and grinned before returning it’s gaze to her.

‘And, what is that lesson? Humour a big old bear, would you.’

Esperanza closed her eyes, took a deep breath and spoke, not from memory but from heart.

‘A woman’s surrender is a gift, a demonstration of power and not defeat. We surrender to the cycles of life and death, the release of purest ecstacy and the duties of the flesh. To surrender such power is a gift and it is done not in the spirit of looking backwards.’

The bear padded over to her, sniffed and hummed deep in it’s throat, it’s massive chest reverberating the air around it with it’s vibration.

It licked along the line of her neck, the tongue was soft, but rough like a washcloth and it tickled her sending delighted shivers of sensation down her spine.

‘I accept, Esperanza.’

It lowered it’s shoulders to the ground then looked upwards at her.

‘What are you doing, Bear?’

‘I will take you to the rio abjao rio, Esperanza. I know the way.’

She walked around the bear, reaching forward to take purchase in the thick, brown fur on it’s back. She lifted her leg over, until she was astride. It’s heartbeat thumped like a drum and the hot engine of it’s breath moved her like the tides. It was frightening and exciting all at once.

The bear lifted it’s shoulders and turned it’s head.

‘Are you ready, Esperanza? I know that this frightens you, but the truth of a situation often does. ‘

She gripped the fur and smiled at the bear before her. Beneath her.

‘Then you must show me, Bear.’

It began to move, slow at fast but then faster.

It never quite matched the rapid pace of her heart though. Nothing was faster than that.

 

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In The Library

The sunlight filters in through the large windows to my right, diffused by the glass and the public house next door. The ramshackle orderliness of the shelving appeals to me, books constantly picked up and replaced but not with the same care as the librarians show. The loudest voices of the librarians themselves and in turn, when someone goes up and asks for information.

There are the regulars, one sits in front of me, charcoal woollen coat with turn ups on his blue jeans, a mannered shock of brown hair brushed through. He sits in front of one of the computer terminals and logs on. It feels entirely modern and yet antiquated to use such facilities in an age of personal devices.

There are other regulars that I am aware of. The young woman who worked in Blockbusters and now the newsagents. She once bid on Nazi memorabilia. She has her hair in a roll and wave, which was a style at the time.

People browse the shelves the way herbivores graze, there are no children here today so the children’s books section appears frozen in a perfect tableau. Primary coloured soft furnishings, a wooden picket fence in rainbow colours next to a display of well thumbed children’s magazines in confectionery pink and orange.

Overhead the ceiling fans remain intert and the skylights give the atmosphere a quasi-religious quality. The guy in front of me is reading a news item about PMQs and hurriedly googling Google, which I think is how you’re supposed to break the internet.

At the same table where our writing group sits, two elderly women and talk in hushed whispers. The incomplete jigsaw on the table in the main area, never wholly completed, remains unattended today.

A librarian wanders the aisle, says hello with a gruff, polite warmth. Here you can be known and unknown in the same instant. Although next to the high street, the sound of traffic never quite reaches inside. A muted roar, like dreaming of the ocean.

People wander in and out, more regulars that I recognise. I’ve never said hello but we know of one another. As many people still engage with the books as they do the computers, which makes me feel good. One of the librarians is telling a story about visiting Alcatraz. It is a looping meander of a story, but he sets the scene perfectly as I check out the books that I’ve borrowed.

That I will return.

How perfect that there’s another story being born, in a place that houses so many.

(This was one of the exercises from the writing group meeting I attended this week. Write for fifteen minutes in a place, just looking and thinking about what’s around you. I really enjoyed and I wanted to share it with you. I wrote it in longhand because I didn’t want anyone I saw to think I was writing about them.)

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animals anxiety creative writing culture experience fiction flash fiction friendship mother psychology short fiction short stories stoicism strength Uncategorized war work writing

The Burden of Law.

 

We had been in country for six months now, making friends was a thing of necessity and all of us in the unit had developed friendships in different layers. Imogen, who had dropped out of Stanford to be here was tight with Lorraine, who had been about to start beauty school before she got drafted, giggled like she was sucking down helium and liked to do our nails and hair when we were back at base. Olive had been on a scholarship to run track at LSU and she would work out with Patsy, who had been running her dad’s hardware store when he took ill, had resented handing it over to her younger brother, and took it out on the rudimentary weights and track they had ground and welded out of jungle dirt and brush. My BFF out here was Kelly, because of the fact that we had come from the same town and signed up together. It was that or get pregnant, get married to someone who would become an obese stranger to us over time and watch the years fly by. Safety is an illusion, and it just didn’t feel right to stand by and let other people stand a watch for our safety.

It’s strange what you believe, and your reasons for doing things. They weren’t lies as such, but we believed them at the time. Boot camp didn’t abuse us of that notion.

War did.

We dealt with it in different ways. Some of us retreated back to habits that engendered comfort, like Olive running track and Lorraine doing our hair.

Then there was Laura. Law, she shortened it to that and even spelt it that way, had it stencilled on her helmet with a skull and crossbones underneath. She was married, apparently, no kids, volunteered at the church in the small town where she had been born and lived before she got drafted.  No more than 5 feet tall, about a buck ten soaking wet but she had muscled through training. She was good at it.

Too good, but we never said that aloud. It was a feeling that could only be captured in the language of friendship’s whispers.

Law was the member of the unit who was appointed to kill children. It was not an official order, nothing written down or anything that would put a five star general in front of a sub committee but it was there.

Necessary.

It did not sit well with us, a callus against the skin of our souls, a cut that would heal if we could stop touching it. Law bore the burden quietly at first, but that changed.

It was the enthusiasm that she showed.

She started to take trophies. Fingers or ears because they kept better. No one else needed memories of their kills in country.

Once you’ve shot a grandmother in the face, it tends to stay with you. At least, I hoped it did. It reminds you that you’re still human. Still a woman.

So, when I tell you about how it ended, you have to understand that we were thinking about a lot of different things.

The village was supposed to have been cleared by the 101st

Law, by then, had settled on fingers, tied onto her bandolier of shotgun shells with neat loops of string, each one woven through one of the canvas pockets where each shell nestled, snug like a baby at a breast. Her bright red hair had been shaved down to stubble, bursts of cinnamon freckles against white skin that either burned or resisted the sun. Droopy-lidded brown cow eyes that saw everything with a quiet acceptance. She worked the pump action shotgun with surgical skill. Whatever she aimed for, she hit.

So when the little boy emerged, cheap Russian AK shaking in his arms, she was already in motion. Olive shouted but it was too late.

He flew backwards, at that range, his unformed, tan chest blew apart like a pound of meat dropped from a great height. Law had done it with no more expression than flitting a bug from her eyeline. We stood there, as Hillary, our lieutenant came over and touched Law on the shoulder, as though waking her from a pleasant dream.

‘What the fuck?’ I said.

Hillary raised her eyebrows and strode over to me. Her face had tightened into a harsh scowl, the same one she had probably used as a wedding planner to deal with an errant tent rental company error.

‘Sargeant, you do not get to question operating procedure. Stow that shit for base camp.’

Law knelt in front of the cooling corpse, looked around and giggled. It was a sound that stayed with me for as long as I lived. She already had the knife in her hand, ready to take a trophy.

The next sound was the shot.

It took her between the shoulder blades. Kelly lowered her rifle, then knelt down, placed it ground in front of her and knitted her fingers at the back of her head. She looked at me, tears budding in the corners of her eyes.

‘It had to be done, lieutenant. She can’t go home with that inside her.’

We retreated at the same pace we had arrived. Kelly was by my side, relieved of her rifle but not her duty. Hillary could have shot her there and then, but there would have been enough paperwork with Law already.

When the MPs came and took her, she smiled at me. I could not bear the weight of it and as she waved at me, she had the same expression as Law, but it was overlaid with the patina of friendship. I never saw her again, but when I went home, resuming my bachelors degree, I thought of her often.

I thought of Law too, but those were done by the time that I awoke. I would wash the sheets and shower a little longer than normal.

 

 

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Two Pages (09/10/16)

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This morning’s pages were good, took on the challenge of showing a little more description of the protagonist’s love interest/ally  and their house. It is something that I may lift entirely and place earlier in the book but sometimes insights arrive when they’re ready to be written down, and so long as you know where you are and what you are doing, then that is half the battle. I also looked at my list of obligatory scenes and made some notes as to which I have done, and where they are, as well as started to sketch out some of the major ones later. Yes, you can skip back and forth, but I like those scenes to come to me with the force of momentum and a sense of being due, rather than overdue.

I did not work on Until She Sings last night but will do so today, spent some time giving feedback on a friend’s short story that took some detail. Feedback is a potentially dangerous thing, which is why so many people are reticent to give it. Too honest and it appears cruel, too soft-spoken and it appears patronising. I aim to strike a balance between the two. You cast bread out on the water, you get back cake and who doesn’t like cake?

This next part is the rest of the Ten Perfections as applied to a writing practice.

6. Wisdom – Your life is source material. If not the objective experiences, then the emotions that you have experienced or the things that you have learned from them. The life you have lived and live has all the colours you need to paint a masterpiece, sometimes you will need blend colours and nuances to get the shade that you need. You have lived, and learned, the difficult part is in the translation sometimes. Imagination is that path, but it is the wisdom of experience that will give you the strength to walk along it.

7. Effort. There is the effort required to write, or develop a sustainable practice of writing and maintain it. There is the effort required to research and improve your craft, the effort to read rather than watch television or play videogames. There is the determination to market your work as well. Effort is important to the development of an approach to writing.

8. Patience. Writing for a reply to an email that may offer success or feedback. Replies to enquiries or about submissions that seem to take their sweet time in arriving. Seeing people get deals, retweeting fan art and glowing reviews whilst you’re still waiting to find out if what you’ve written is actually any good. Patience is important but do not be passive about it. Work on your material, seek to improve in some small way to ensure that the time spent in patient anticipation was not wasted.

9. Truthfulness. Honesty on the page is everything. Yes, writing is a series of entertaining lies interspersed with truth. Tell the truth through the observations and actions of your characters. It is free therapy, and earnest, unvarnished truth resonates with readers in a way that the most elegant, glorious language never could. If it is uncomfortable, keep a straight face and say that it is just fiction. Stick a hobbit or a ninja in there to distract them. Yes, you’re making things up and having a fine time doing it but hold some measure up to the light of the truth within and about yourself.

10. Determination. Better work than yours will be ignored, lesser works than yours will be feted and celebrated. Some people will do less to get further and faster than you. Your work will sometimes feel like a trudge through a muddy path. Your family will demand more of your attention, at exactly the point that your second act falls to shit and phone calls will interrupt your most sublime reveries. This is where determination comes in. It applies regardless of whether writing is a hobby or a career for you. A strange fact is that the more effort you put into something, the better you will get and then your enjoyment of the hobby will gain depth and find new meaning. There’s something almost perverse in developing a level of aptitude for no other reason than your own pleasure. We’re encouraged to get better for the salary increase, the title but when we do it for the soul’s reward, there is something truly sublime in that.

When your heart is breaking, writing makes sense. It takes determination to write through your pain but it makes it easier to bear it all.

 

Writing is so rewarding for me that the more I have aligned my life around it, the happier I have become. It has made me rich in terms of spirit and mind. If you can find a groove to set into and you are present with it, it’s a thing of genuine wonder to me, and I feel successful already. My ambition is to build a life that allows me to do more of that. I am investigating the process to get into teaching, with an aim to develop as a teacher of creative writing. I’ve spent decades doing things for other people all the time, and although it was not time wasted, I can see that a future where I am sourced in my wonder and craft would be a thing of joy for me. If that groove becomes a rut, then the solution is to keep digging until you find that the air is fresher underground.

Inspiration is like a moth, killed by the smallest casual nudge so learn to work without it. Then, when it does arrive, you can appreciate and enjoy it’s time with you.

Thank you for listening.

 

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Two Pages (07/10/16)

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  • Lawful Evil is going well, as I’ve self-diagnosed that writing takes my mind off my discomfort more ably than any medicine. There are always the two pages done in the morning, which is my main writing time, but I find myself returning to it later on in the day. In the evenings, I am editing Until She Sings, going through in the frame of the notes that I received previously. It might mean more work if the forthcoming notes contradict anything I have already done but more often than not, it addresses something that makes me feel proud to meet the expectations afforded to me.
  • The rush of original work seldom loses it’s import, but I have learned far more from rewriting and editing, which then applies itself to exploratory drafts. I still go all in, but with experience, I am less prone to the mistakes and flaws that punctuate earlier work, or if I do, they’re much easier to spot and take out. These insights aren’t constant and I would be concerned if they were. I use the energy of insecurity to fuel my work, to never be satisfied and to lean into my edge, just past it and acknowledge my fears about my work.
  • Complacency is the midwife to more bad writing than we care to admit. Alongside that is the truth that the quality of the work is the only thing under my control right now, so investing in that is the antidote to anxiety. If I cannot control it, why stress about it and put the effort into the things that I can. Building an audience might be the way forward in the meantime, but I’ve nothing concrete to show beyond the work I post here and there’s nothing to distinguish that from everyone else’s free content beyond the ephemeral notions of quality. I tend to find that the building of an audience works if there is something to offer up in the first place. For me, it’s books that you can buy and I prefer to have people come and read my work organically. I post links on Twitter, which is an easy thing for me to do and doesn’t feel desperate or grasping. What you do isn’t desperate or grasping, but I have my preferences and certainly, I would look to someone who is passionate about marketing, hopefully help me out with that when it’s time to take that seriously. I have an agent, and they weren’t checking out my social media profile, they looked at the work and whether I had potential. Which is how it should be.
  • I don’t deny anyone else their experience or approach, I can only speak about what works for me, and more importantly, what doesn’t. To me, articles about what your character likes for breakfast are useful only in so far as you’re stuck with a draft and it might open you up to insight. Otherwise, you’re offering something that has no practical use and you’re just making ‘content’. I would rather spend that time writing another couple of pages or revising something that I’ve done. Especially when a little digging reveals that what content is available, happens to be incomplete or inconsistent. If you go to that trouble, make sure that you have things to show for the investment.
  • There are two important questions in life, and you need to get them in the right order.
  1. Where am I going?
  2. Who will come with me?
  • If you get them in the wrong order, you won’t get anywhere. Paralysed with indecision, looking for allies when there is no war to fight, that’s what will kill your writing stone dead. Write, write again, start to get it down in a way that feels authentic and powerful to you, then start sharing it. Being a writer is nothing special, lots of people call themselves that now and haven’t produced anything more substantial than a shopping list.
  • If you’ve spent more time outlining than writing, then you need to ask yourself what the issue is here, and whether you’re using that approach to protect the platonic perfection of your idea rather than the messy, ugly reality that you will produce. Outlines can be really useful tools, but don’t make them a reason not to do the work. Just because you’re doing something, doesn’t mean that you are producing. I’ve been there, a black belt in procrastination and used all sorts of reasons not to write. Be honest with yourself about your needs and desires in the context of writing. It will help you in the long run, even though it might be painful.  I used to have deserving issues about not having a degree or a MFA, that I wasn’t the right class of person to write, that I could only write what I knew or what I was into, in terms of my media consumption.
  • Then circumstances permitted me to confront my reticence and start writing. I’ve learned more in the last six years than the decades preceding. I’ve discovered a passion and discipline, a strength of character that surprises me on an ongoing basis. So, I don’t judge anyone else on what they do, so long as they are honest about it with themselves. If outlining produces work, then my criticism makes me the asshole.  I am not critical as a tactic to make myself look better, I’ve seen people do that and it’s ugly, caustic work that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Focus on you, be in competition with you and you alone. Let the fripperies slide out of view, be above the petty and make your writing shine like a diamond.

Thank you for reading.

 

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Two Pages (05/10/16)

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  • I ended up writing at around 0230 this morning. I had a minor surgical procedure, and in my usual hopeful bravado, neglected to consider what was actually coming in terms of pain when the local anaesthetic wore off. The answer is agony each time I swallow, not that you were asking the question. I tried to sleep but ended up twitching and restless, so I came downstairs, switched on the VP debate as background noise and wrote.
  • Everything goes away when I write. Exhaustion, pain, upset all get the volume turned on them when pencil hits paper or I am working on the computer. It isn’t always the most sterling work, but it gets done, then it gets excited and at some point, you cannot tell the rough pages apart from the good ones. I’m 230 pages into Lawful Evil, there’s other manuscripts with the agent and things are moving in the right direction. Not that you care, and why should you? That is a liberating question for me, as a writer.
  • Why should you read my writing? Why should I read yours? I’m not being rude in that regard, but it’s the sort of question that comes up when the initial rush of fear and enthusiasm smooths out into the contemplation of how you’re going to approach things in terms of whether you stay with writing as a hobby or move beyond it. That question of why you should read my writing, is that I believe that I tell a good story with characters that are interesting and my books range from stories of ambition and personal growth through to confrontations with the supernatural. I write, for and about women, and that’s in the obvious understanding that there are no typical women readers out there. I don’t usually go much beyond that in terms of analysis because it feels pretentious.

If there is a special hell for writers, it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works. JOHN DOS PASSOS

  • History shows us that there is an ugly seam of the artist, focused on their craft and meaning, getting absolutely murdered financially, both in the short and long term by management or distribution. It’s why Prince changed his name to a symbol. Why The Rolling Stones didn’t make money really until the 70s. The Rolling Stones, who have so much money that they can clone themselves and send them out to colonise other planets with rootsy blues that never got better than Exile On Main Street. I am a Beatles man, myself, mainly because McCartney’s bass playing was a thing of slinky, melodic wonder and I loved the psychedelic period with a passion.
  • This is a perfect example: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/cases/. I’ve said before and will say it again, money should flow towards you. A reputable agent won’t ask for your money upfront. If you’re paying for a service, then that should be explained to you in terms of what you are getting for your money. The problem is that we spend more time poring over the details on a new smartphone than attending to our financial affairs in respect of our writing careers. I’ve not been ripped off at any point, my agent is warm and encouraging and has been instrumental in my improvement in terms of craft and learning. I’ve also had the benefit of working day jobs for far longer than I’ve been writing. I also like to learn from other people’s mistakes or cautionary tales but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than anyone else.
  • Passion is wonderful but it clouds your judgement. The creative community is inclusive and warm but it can be exploited, as I have said before. It’s shitty because legitimate practices with transparency and clearly understood goals and objectives make more money for everyone. It’s not something that I obsess over at all. Victoria Strauss does a far better job than I ever could. I work on myself and my writing because that’s all that is within my power to control. It doesn’t mean I am some polymath, just smart enough to know my edge and lean into it without denying or being consumed by it. I know people who work in finance, who can read a contract and explain it to me like I’m five. Some of them, I don’t listen to that closely which is why my marketing strategy is like fighting WW2 with wit and candour.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments, questions, challenges for rap battles and interesting dancing suggestions below.