Thursday, November 17, 2005


He came out of the half-breeder barely quarter done.

The stigmatised flesh was clinging patchily to the alloyed knuckle-ribs like batter, his stomach-wall a naked silver shield. His calves and feet were however perfectly cooked; with no difference between his and those that real humans used to have. His head was an unveneered skull, neither bone nor metal, but a substance in between like reconstituted rhinoceros horn or, perhaps, an ancient recipe of soya and lava.

Whatever the state of his finish, he knew he had a name. Fagurchin was branded on his latest lobotomy-proof brain. Fagurchin he was, Fagurchin he believed he would always be.

More brain than sense.

More tattooes than taboos.

Police Constable Constable poked around the dustbins in the back alleys of the Scar, as if he had been doing it for some hours. His navy-blue uniform and round helmet blended in with the darkness, the glint of his buttons being easily mistaken for electric cats' eyes on the scavenge. Anybody near enough to listen to P.C. Constable’s mumbling investigations would have noted the odd curses, the intermittent whistle through a hollow tooth and the cluck of the tongue when he thought he had found some interesting trinket amid the rubbish. There was silence except for some Tinkers calling their wares into the night, mistaking the Scar for Shackletown. A heavy drizzle made the warm air seem like the inside of the policeman’s stomach. These streets had more houses than people, he mused. Many many more.

More brick than brain.

Sooner or later, Constable would feel the need to return to his own home for a breakfast that his wife had promised him as a special treat on their wedding anniversary. However, the Station Officer had told him to keep to his beat until at least half past Dark, when he would be relieved by his Sergeant who would continue the search. He wondered how anyone could be found in the dank murk, but he decided to loiter in the Scar until his replacement came en route via Shackletown. Constable laughed uncontrollably making any ghosts skitter into the Runs. Time was, he mused, when policemen were not allowed to tramp around on their own in quarters like the Scar. They'll even be allowing women officers here, before long.

More nattiness than nous.

But nowadays, unbridled crime was on the wane and he could not remember the last time that a gratuitous mugging had been reported. He supposed that this unparalleled period of relative lawfulness in The Scar history was due to the reduction in population in Shackletown proper. Most of the criminals had scuttled to the Runs where self-incubation kept them free of the Scar's stigmas and plagues.

So why was he on this godawful jaunt - tonight of all nights? True, he knew there were only three such policemen as himself (one a woman) in the whole Shackletown patrol and, so, the rotten jobs came round on the rota that more quickly. Above all, Constable wished he knew exactly what he was seeking tonight amid the disused dustbins. Suddenly, however, he spotted a crack of light between the drawn curtains of a tall terraced house which overlooked the backyards. One of the few squatters immune to the Scar's plagues was evidently holed up there - probably Fagurchin himself.

Constable had a lot for which to thank Fagurchin. That man with teeth like wingnuts had an almost laughable scare quality straight from ancient horror films. Fagurchin often scuttled on all fours like the run-down robots. Fagurchin could still conduct a one man crime wave without one blink of a pierced eyelid. He was probably the last villain in the Scar, a token crook, without whom the unnatural order of things would eventually collapse. So, respectfully, Constable plodded on, fearful that the curtains would abruptly flick apart revealing Fagurchin staring coldly out into the night. Constable did not want any excuse to make an arrest.

The man in the room had tears in his eyes, but he did not cry. He merely sat, listening to the large invisible clock. He was waiting for a call, but there were fewer and fewer to make telephones ring as the days passed. The last call was outside of living memory.

Being a Police Sergeant was more boring than death, or what he imagined death to be. Ah, he could hear the light tread of Police Constable Wendy Finn heading for the outside exit.

"Wendy!" he called with his voice.

The footsteps re-tracked. He could imagine her holding breath as she poised looks to meet another's.

"Yes, Sarge," she said, her head round the edge of the door.

She was pretty for a woman Police Constable. He could discern the suspicion of masacara removed from around her large victoria plum eyes. She had been masquerading as a tart in Shackletown, before coming on her second duty.

"Come in, for a moment."

"Have we got time? You've got to relieve Constable Constable - he'll be wondering where you are, Sarge."

"It's just that I want a few words in your ear, before you leave." The Sergeant nodded knowingly, as if he wanted to imply that she was going into the Scar, that night, instead of himself. Inference would be less of a shock to her than being told pointblank, he foolishly believed.

Police Constable Finn came out into the open and fully entered the stuffy room. Her thick dark skirt was deeply pleated, hanging below her knees, but the Sergeant knew that during the weekdays, when off duty, she wore short flimsy frocks and natty nylons. With his binoculars from the top of one of the Towers he often spotted her strolling through the Spare which he knew like the back of his hand - an area of no man's land between Shackletown and the Scar was the only way he could describe it to himself. It was once a recreation ground, during the heyday of Shackletown.

"Have you the right amount of money to keep you going, Wendy?"

She shrugged. She did not care to answer. In fact, like most who survived the first onset of the Scar's plagues beyond the Scar's catchment area, she considered it bad taste, almost prurient, to talk about money. What one had in one's purse was sacrosanct, not to be divulged in any circumstances. True, she appreciated the necessity of keeping a healthy balance, but there was no excuse to bring it into the open, especially in front of a colleague.

"The job pays too much," she finally ended up saying, blushing to the ends of her blonde hair. She felt in the side pocket of her skirt to see if the purse was still there, joined with an umbilical fuse to the wiry spaghetti of her innards. The plagues had brought different bodily functions to those who had survived them. But, in her case, the stigmata and mutations had never really taken, never completed themselves. And she was too rich for the half-breeder. The odd plumbing of her pipes and tubes ever ached when she was tired and often seeped real blood, reminiscent of those times when representatives of her sex were prone to natural childbirth.

"You know, Wendy Finn,” said the Sergeant, “I'm not going to last much longer. I believe you originally came from a well-heeled family in Shackletown, but my own background is tin baths and outside lavatories. I did make good in old-fashioned computerised finance, turning over other people's investments by hacking into the triggers of programme dealing. I spread the bid and offer prices wider and wider. Created commodities from thin air and sold them on the nod, collecting other transparent dirigibles from other free-loaders to sell on further nods. I am a Tinker made Trinketer. But my upbringing is beginning to show. I'm cracking up. Why do you think I'm part of this policeman charade, otherwise. So, I sent Constable Constable off into the Scar, to enable me to have a clear run with you, Wendy, sort out a few things, syphon your conscience, as it were. You know, switch off the lights and see if we can feed off each other's metabolic systems. We've both got a lot of goodness left to give each other..."

Thus, her original inference was wrong. As had been the Sergeant's implication.

"What a godawful bastard you are, Sarge. You sent Constable Constable off into the Scar, unprotected, on a wild goose chase - he probably believes he must arrest Fagurchin on his own! Where will that leave us? Up Queer Street. And it seems neither of us are going to relieve him..."

Despite the events having already happened differently, she nearly added - but decided against it for fear of even more unlikely events transpiring as a result.

The Sergeant wished she would call him by his real name: that would at least show he had a remnant of charisma in her eyes: showing she saw him as a person rather than what he really was: and what the Sergeant really was - was someone with two minds, neither of which liked the other.

He looked towards where he thought the clock should be, with some guilt. Such guilt gave him a hard-on. He thought of P.C. Constable still peering into the Scar's unlit dustbins with no hope of finding out the nature of what he sought.

"Call me George, please,” suddenly announced the Sergeant.

"Look, Sergeant,” she replied, “there's no point in trying to use me to absolve your lack of pedigree. There's no hope for our union. My mother was a Shackletown lady born and bred - and my purse is full to bursting..."

There, she had said it, simply, clinically, and even the Sergeant could have no cross purposes. They were both swimming against the tide of forces that neither fully understood. His tears made his eyes shine like jewels, but their riches were fraudulent.

More salt than sparkle.

Constable Constable stood at the end of an iron-gridded terrace once called Lloyd Street Gardens. He would be late for breakfast, but his wife would forgive him, as she always did. She was a real doll, he thought, and at the end of tonight's duty, they would snuggle up in everlasting mutual metabolism and coitus quietus: permanently on a plane of drifting between death and life, for an eternity of love. Education had taught him that love was the goal of every man and woman worth their salt, since, behind each of the unlit curtains - curtains that hid the dead eyes of the Scar - there percolated many single living dualities whose loving was their very singularity. Purses under the beds like soft chamber pots, connected direct to the bladder.

Constable Constable finally gave up waiting for the Sergeant and returned towards Shackletown for the last time.

Constable Constable and his wife were to become one of the last pairs fully to couple off (after the anniversary breakfast), leaving the Separates to wander the sirocco-swept Scar forever or until they managed to die.

Wendy Finn had left the Police Station; the large clock had timed her departure to the minute. The Sergeant had ceased teardropping ... accepting that there had never been an even number of people. He had been granted the unbearable fate of pulling the odd short straw. He would be the only Separate left. There would be no point in resorting to the Runs, for they were full of living corpses, breathing the earth. Or so he thought.

Wendy Finn, perched on the edge of an ill-ribbed bench, overlooking the empty slides and roundabouts of the Spare; she craved for poverty and cursed her ancestors in Shackletown for the rich blood that now soaked the lacy frock she had put on to look like the pretty little girl she had always wanted to become. Soon she'd break the curse of foregone conclusions and stray into the Scar to see if she could find Constable Constable - or, at least, someone looking like him.

The terraced twouptwodowns along the periphery of the Spare did not now have even one yellow crack between curtains, since Fagurchin was prowling between those dustbins which Constable Constable had previously scoured. Fagurchin lifted the garbage lids here and there, intent on finding the discarded riches for which he had seen the policeman seeking - items worth less (so, effectively, worth more) than a disused brain - or a wind-up doll - or a fancy-dress police helmet ... an expected event or, better still, an unexpected one. The deepest sadness was at the borderline, where none were spared.

More dead than dying. The only vampire worth staking to a cross.

(published 'Heliocentric Net' 1997)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Deep One

They used to come in seething shoals. Now they came in frisky ones and twos, snouts snuffling out dreams to dream. Not exactly werewolves, but more the slightly flesh-corrupted ghosts of similar beasts, new-smoked from cthulhoid burrows towards the seas of slumber.

Sometimes dreams failed to supply sufficient sustenance - and, yes, in dream, all words often sounded alike: or sometimes like poetry masquerading as both sense and nonsense. Then, of course, there was nothing to boast or swell the chest about. And, having let wasted valuable time in rehearsing such pretentious dreams, the Platonic Form of Dream itself began to dream - having first dragged the dreamer inside its darksome burrow. Corpses had thoughts, too, but could not pack a pen - which left their dreams unrecorded. Meanwhile, there were three snores in the bed where there should only have been two.

Gerald had crept between the sheets, as he had done for years in search of a dream-blurred unconsciousness upon the Plateau of Leng. He lay beside his wife, expecting to awake next morning, unless death interfered. If death was indeed to end his life with a loving care, as he always hoped, he would need to die during sleep's dream of surrogate waking.

That night, as usual, Gerald had stirred fitfully to the echoes of time's small numbers tinkling amid his own ears' tinnitus - insomnia, nostalgia and amnesia, all bed-partners within his amorphous blight of a soul. He listened to his dear wife's nethermost confusion of snores, but there had surely been three snorers, counting himself. Now, fully awake, there were only two. He coughed in an embarrassed attempt to halt further widening of his dilemma. However, he could not be certain about doubt, let alone about certainty.

His wife's snores were complex at the best of times - a combo of nasal bong-bongs, tongue-clucks and teeth-grates, together with the uncanny out-of-body Jew's Harp of the spirit that twanged a mere inch from her lip-bursts. Yet, even this mish-mash of physical frictions could not account for the startling cannonade of snores from beyond his wife's recumbent form. Gerald leaned over the familiar valley of wifely breasts and covered the strange third party with the echoing coffin of his own mouth and kissed its breath away with a slobbering slug of a tongue. The white tombstones (albeit gappy) were epitaph enough. Then nothing but whisperers in the darkness.

"You don't look right today, Dad," said Sarah out of the blue.

"Yes, I've been feeling a bit achey."

Gerald finger-combed what was left of his hair and winced at the sun-burnt tenderness of his scalp.

His wife gave a glance at his daughter, as if to say - typical. Just when the family holiday was just round the next corner. He always felt peculiar at such times. He threatened death as a corollary of every excuse.

But Sarah thought there was something different about her Dad this time. She had also noticed that her father was not the only phenomenon showing signs of strangeness. The aeroplanes had been flying low, with wider wings, throwing darker shadows, filling the air with incessant drones. Not that this had happened all at once. Nobody had admitted noticing. Except little Sarah. And then only to herself.

Gerald was indeed not right. In fact, it did not look like her Dad at all. Which didn't mean to say he was someone different. How else could she explain it? After all, she was too young to know everything.

A scrap of bacon hung precariously at the corner of Gerald's mouth, as he scanned the newspaper which had lately grown so small it sat in his hand like an instruction pamphlet, covered in nothing but headlines. He slowly turned the pages, tutting as he came across scandals he found disgusting or which stirred envy or even opened up new vistas. Lurkers on all thresholds in all townships. Or so the scaremongers said.

Sarah's younger sister Pauline had long since disappeared. Not even their mother had questioned this event. The postman had stopped delivering bills. Perhaps, the outside world no longer existed, except for the proof provided by the TV. The serials were never-ending, which thankfully gave the lie to Sarah's greatest fears.

"Your face looks like a burnt bacon, Dad," said Sarah.

Gerald looked at her quizzically. Never mind. They would soon be flying off for a holiday in the sun, she thought. A resort near Innsmouth.

The hotel receptionist was neither old nor young, but that said nothing about her age. It felt as if she had appeared ready-made from a dream - but Gerald knew it was not really a dream at all, even though he was asleep at the time. The room he had booked was reputedly haunted and he rather fancied seeing a ghost, never having believed in such phenomena before, he said. The receptionist humoured Gerald more than he humoured her, he guessed - and, with a guffaw, he gambolled into the chosen room, clutching his night things. Ghosts were so much more preferable to full-blooded monsters.

There was, of course, neither ghost nor monster. But there was the indeterminate woman, attractively and sophisticatedly dressed, who spoke of things he could not later understand, although he was convinced he understood them then. And a little girl who was rather too pretty to be his daughter was soon to be lost on the beach.

Gerald would later hasten to add that he had felt no sexual yearnings for the woman - thus, thankfully, it was not one of those despicable dreams which he had suffered as a boy.

"Did you sleep well?" the woman asked Gerald. He told her that his body felt full of a lumpy bed's aches. But there was silence. Nobody there. The woman had spoken to a bulging suitcase, because speaking to herself would have been deemed madness. "I've got your bacon sizzling downstairs," she added. She had a huge fin on her back, which made her breast-harness bigger than any dreamable brassiere. Tinnitus the background of waves. Her daughter Sarah had been filleted off the bone for evening dinner, on the menu as "fresh-caught and stuffed with fucus".

(written, published 1992?)