Friday, April 30, 2010

I never heard him coming

“I never heard him coming, but I sure did hear him leaving!”
The man – by the name of Cecil (he didn’t look like a Cecil, more a Robert or David) – seemed to be talking to himself. He had on green wellies in contrast with a sharp pin-striped suit.
“Pardon?” I asked.
He looked up from pressing hard with a biro on several layers of purple carbon-paper – having realised that I had arrived and was listening to him. He should have put a proper bell on his door.
The door was called Cecil’s Sensible Emporium. It was normally deserted and I wondered how it ever made money. He had one assistant – evidently his wife – who stood stock still like a tailor’s dummy.
The shop sold useless or silly things, novelty goods, trinkets – and niche products without a niche.
“Yes?” he asked curtly.
“Have you a candle I can burn at both ends?” I replied.
He stared at me for a moment. He then put his hand under the counter and pulled out what looked like a firework – a rocket with a stick at both ends and two fuses.
“I said a candle...”
“Oh,” he replied. “Maude!”
And his wife (who didn’t look like a Maude, more a Jane or Gillian) moved for the first time and walked into the back of the shop where I imagined a storeroom to be situated. I listened to a lot of scrabbling noises, drawers being opened and shut. And curses under her breath that obviously carried further than she intended.
Being an impatient man, I decided to exercise a far too long sought after skill in patience. Two hours later, Maude re-emerged carrying a selection of candles, rattling them like thin wooden logs.
I chose one that I thought I could burn at both ends without compromising subsequent snuffing out. And I left the shop, as Cecil and Maude began to squabble. Their Sensible Emporium so-called was not very sensible after all, but being a sensible customer, I was probably a vital requisite for the shop to be a sensible shop. Sensible customers make for sensible shops, you see. And silly customers make for silly shops. Supply and demand.

Stories and readers, too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I am going to have another another...

There was a belief that the wheel would last forever. The strongest design possible was, after all, the classic circular wheel that meant all forces around it played against each other before being able to focus any end force against the thing itself. Therefore, I stared at the person who showed me his design for a wheel and I could not believe it was a wheel at all. It seemed square but with levers along most of its exterior points, levers that changed position as the whole thing was pushed ... each lever levering the others with a series of internal pulleys and springs. I thought a real wheel would have been so much simpler – and I laughed.
And he laughed, too, as he produced from behind his back – like a conjuror – another thing he called a wheel...

“I am going to have another...” he intoned.

I expected him to continue the sentence. Another what? I signalled the question with a single glance. I was used to flirtatiously batting my eyelids and always getting what I wanted. But he remained silent, merely showing me another object and then another. As if they weren’t objects at all but speculative ‘anothers’, each ‘another’ complete in itself without another word following it to act as noun or descriptor.

Each ‘another’ was an invention. An invention of another invention. From would-be wheels, he progressed to was-once-upon-a-time musical instruments, and from those to never-could-have-been items of clothing. He even managed to produce a has-been. A ghost of an existence that took shape before my very eyes as he tugged pulleys, stretched out springs and opened hinges, its eyelids echoing my own with each tweak he gave it.

To come full circle, I watched his would-be bones refuse to fuse ... and he clunked to a halt on a hillock like a premonition of a modern stairway of stone steps.

I climbed them expecting each one to be the last. But there was always another.

Another last balcony.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Terror and the Tortoiseshell (3)

The third part of my real-time review of ‘The Terror and the Tortoiseshell’ (A Benji Spriteman Mystery) by John Travis (Atomic Fez Publishing Ltd. 2010).

Continued from here:

"The floor was covered in dust..."
The image of 'The Terror' as it has changed inter-breeding relationships reaches here the most imaginatively grotesque proportions both in material fact (with one's own bare eyes) and inferred philosophication. Benji is called urgently to a disused grain warehouse and I'm sure what met him there made him weep for his police 'buddy' in spite (or because) of his earlier gravest misgivings about him. I did not see him weeping, however. Only inferred it. (17 Apr 10 - an hour later)

"Talk about using a bulldozer to bury a Sparrow."
Side-splitting first-real-drink-after-the-Change rite-of-passage with Benji getting drunk on eggnog. A yellow taxi becomes a double-decker bus? Miaow. A comic lull before the Terror resumes, I guess. [Is there any reason why the word 'terror' has 'error' embedded, I wonder with a degree of expected irrelevance?] (17 Apr 10 - another 2 hours later).

"A thin beam of white light passed my left ear, the beam full of small motes of dust."
You know, this is one helluva chapter. Akin, in some way, with an epiphany, and I can only think of "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" chapter in 'Wind In The Willows' as anything with any feasible comparison to it. An epiphany that is both scatological and eschatological. An important moment not only in this book, I guess, but also, without putting too fine a point on it, potentially important in all general literature. (17 Apr 10 - another hour later)

"The sky was far too low..."
Some narrative tusslings with previous plot events by Benji - with, to my mind, at least a hint in one place about 'retrocausality' (a new buzz word personally for me in view of my recent studies of implications relating to CERN's Large Hadron Collider). (17 Apr 10 - another 30 minutes later)

A very brief chapter in an elevator. One that I dare not divulge the nature of for fear of possibly letting some sort of cat out of the bag. A complete surprise to me. (17 Apr 10 - another 15 minutes later)

Part Three: The Country of the Blind

" 'Didn't you notice the clue I left?' "
And I am afraid you who who are reading this review before you read the book must also enter the Country of the Blind. Well, at least for a while. Meanwhile, why has Benji reminded me of Mr Polly?
" 'It was a bit oblique I suppose,'..." (17 Apr 10 - another hour later)

" 'It started as a hunch...' "
And for you, it ended as such, too. Meanwhile, in general terms, many sensitive implications (or hunches) as to the philosophical interface between Animus and Hume. (17 Apr 10 - another 30 minutes later)

" 'I got nowhere with it.' "
While in the Country of the Blind, I've been extrapolating (separate from but relevant to this book) upon the entire pure mid-Ash chemtrail-less blue sky beyond my window here today. It seems somehow right thus to muse upon this sky without aeroplanes as we enter territory with this book where even angels may fear to tread. 'Dark faucets' or Blue Wells? (17 Apr 10 - another 20 minutes later).

I can lift the news blackout slightly at this point. As Benji speculates upon how he is to get entry into the misspelt newspaper's offices (for reasons you will eventually understand even if I don't!), he first meets up with Lieutenant Dingus, one of those remarkable characters I mentioned earlier, this an "undersized, squinty-eyed Basset Hound in a dirty brown raincoat..." (17 Apr 10 - another 20 minutes later)

This real-time review is now continued here:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I am going to have another...

“I am going to have another...”

A meaningful look but no attempt to finish her sentence. I looked at her quizzically as she fished for something that had fallen down inside the sofa.

“Another what?” I asked, without realising this was the sort of response she hoped to elicit from me.

“I am going to have another cup of tea and you’re going to make it for me.”

She smiled mischievously. She pulled a paper tissue from the sofa – which didn’t seem to me to have sufficient ‘weight’ to have fallen down inside it – and blew her nose noisily. She then pulled out another one and unsmudged her lipstick while peering into a compact mirror. I then reaIised that she must have put the tissues there when I wasn't looking.

“What’s wrong with keeping them in their box?” I asked, pointedly ignoring her comment about the tea.

Equally pointedly, she pushed the used tissues back down inside the sofa. I made a face.

I then made the tea.

As I stood in the kitchen waiting for it to brew, I found my thoughts wandering. All things in the world have their handles. Some handles are handles proper, made to be handles. Other things have makeshift or ad hoc handles, and were obvious as handles once you began to handle an object, like a pen or a book or anything without an obvious protuberance to use as a handle. The kettle had a handle: the least hot place as well as one to fit the hand conveniently. A teapot and teacup, too. But the packet of biscuits I was about to open had no obvious handle to grab, but grab it I did at one end. What about the water I had used to fill the kettle? How would I grab that, should I need to do so? I laughed at the prospect of grabbing the handle of water. The tap had a handle of sorts – one that moved and did a job, i.e. to make the water pour, but the water itself was not handleable, and even if it were, it would seep through the fingers however tightly you kept them together.

What about my thoughts themselves? There was an expression about ‘getting a handle' on things...

Armed with a tray – teapot, two cups and saucers, milk jug, sugar bowl, biscuits on plates, all balanced precariously upon it – I returned to the sitting-room.

I asked, without further delay: “Why were you stuffing snotty tissues down my sofa?”

Silence. Nobody on the sofa. Well, nobody on it. I saw something pink and suggestive stuffed down the side where my guest had been sitting.

I sat down with a sigh, at the other end of the sofa, listening to a stifled sneeze in the far corner of my consciousness. Absentmindedly, I picked up a crumbly digestive at one edge and bit into it as near to my fingers as it was possible to bite without threatening their integrity as fingers. I then poured out the amber infusion, with a delicious flowing sound. And picked it up by the delicate handle to take a sip.

“I am going to have another...” I said.

Silence. I looked plaintively at the crumbs in my lap and wondered if there ever could be a story with no handle at all.

Written today and first published above.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Back From The Dead

Part two of my Real-Time Review of Johnny Mains' 'Back From The Dead' - The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories (Noose & Gibbet 2010)

Continued from here:

A Good Offence by Myc Harrison
"Whispering was a way of life when you lived in a small town..."
Boyhood sexuality is an open goal, perhaps, for some. Cruelly conceived, but arguably justified, this is Charles-Birkinite revenge horror. An ice for an ice.
Tightly written, succinct, to the point. Meanwhile, taking a punt, quite irrelevantly perhaps, I mention that Hockey-sticks do jolly well look like giant keys.... (7 Apr 10 - three hours later)

Gallybagger by Roger Clarke
"Only in the ground for a year and then treated like old bedsteads and baths."
In some ways, I'm a literary snob. In other ways, I'm the complete opposite. Against all my initial expectations, this impressive anthology is continuing to satisfy both these aspects of my 'reading' character. And often satisfying both simultaneously! This story, following the complicatedly embedded thing in the previous story, tells of the prising out (unlocking) of another complicatedly embedded thing: a pipeline in the Isle of Wight and its literal entanglement with wartime remains in the ground and, more figuratively, with some Wightian mythos of the Gooseberry Wife and scarecrows... This is the stuff of dream, where, cleverly, any surrealism is made real by being tangibly embedded in tangible things with implicit ley-lines veining real honest-to-goodness earth under the feet of man (wight). And is it any coincidence that the protagonist is named Coates (the composer of 'The Dambuster's March')? I think not. See what you think. (8 Apr 10)

Spinalonga by John Ware
"The graves were no longer than three feet, so that the joints of the corpses had to be broken and the skeletons bent double to get them in."
Another island, more grounded embeddings, an ikon and other disinterred matter reminding me of the keepsake and 'earthkill' in the previous story.... This book's stories (independently written and unnconnected other than by this book) continue to seem - whether by intention or accident - to flow in and out of each other like mutual filters.
Tourists on a Greek Leper Colony Island (the I-protagonist and his wife Angela) - and a 'priest' who reminded me of the Angel in 'Angel' or Peter Hopkirk in 'The True Spirit' .... while 'Spinalonga' itself is how I remember the Pan Book of Horror Stories, Britishly charming as well as insidious with an ending that we, in our early days, thought to be so refreshingly nasty. But, sadly, today, nothing's nasty any more because all is nasty. (8 Apr 10 - two hours later)

The Forgotten Island by Jonathan Cruise
"I have levered from its bed of moss and peat, the great iron boiler used a century ago for the rendering of fat of elephant seal and king penguin."
Another island - and a journal of 'Swiss Family Robinson'-like narration mixed with Jules Verne and 'The Lord of the Flies" ... but not flies, as such. If you're a cat-lover... No, if I say what I want to say, it will have the potential readership of this book halved! "Cats are 'The True Spirit'", I'd say instead!
A wonderful tale of a shipwrecked yachtsman on an Antarctic island called Solitude (not forgotten at all!), with his loved one Ailsa. And it is as if the pipe from 'Gallybagger' squeals inside with feline terror...
You'll have to read it to find the tale's moral. And which creatures finally win out, be they human or animal. (8 Apr 10 - another 4 hours later)

Dreaming the Dark by J P Dixon
"If you're a shapeshifter why stop at forms that already exist. What you are is limited only by your own imagination."
An important novelette, I suggest, in the history of Horror Literature. No connections with the rest of this book for me to adumbrate this time, because this work is the island, the hub or heart, from which all "chameleons" and "baroque monstrosities" of "language-from-imagination-into-truth" do spread. Serendipitously, throughout the whole of this reading experience that was 'Dreaming the Dark', I was listening to Bach Cello Suites - serendipitous because the language, too, was as easy, free-flowing, going down like the darkest, smoothest syrup - while, in contrast, its consonants and edges ripped reading-muscles with their high graphic descriptions. This is Horror. No pretension to anything else. It just is. And it was almost as if I, the erstwhile horror writer, glimpsed something I've never glimpsed before - I have my own drawer in my brain I dare not pull out and look in, for fear of becoming what the words actually say (phonetically, graphologically, semantically and syntactically). (8 Apr 10 -another 3 hours later)

The Little Girl Eater by Septimus Dale
"It was dark and silent beneath the pier. Thin banks of concrete criss-crossed the sand, the upright girders were built solidly into these banks."
More embeddings - and a man trapped (or literally locked) by the rising tide under the pier and afraid of drowning to the extent of considering cutting his throat with a rusty tin lid nearby. Apt for me, because I obtained this very book I'm reading in sight of a seaside pier. I now live too by a different seaside pier. I was born near yet another seaside pier. This is archetypal Pan Horror from my own memory of it in the early Sixties. It now reminds me of British black and white films from that era, like "The Taste of Honey", or perhaps more aptly again, "Whistle Down The Wind" - where a more (to use that word again) archetypal Angel meets its own imagined version of Peter Hopkirk (extrapolating from earlier stories in this book)? And, incredibly, they sing together! (9 Apr 10)

Mr. Golden's Haunt by Christina Kiplinger
"Mr. Golden swerved his car to miss hitting a tan and white cat that ran out into the street. Hearing a loud 'meow', the driver put his foot farther down on the gas."
A poignant tale of a man growing old, put out to grass by his life-career of an employer, now to spend all his time with his wife... A couple similar to that 'in "The True Spirit". Mr. Golden has a mortality-malaise even to the extent of seeking out Death itself so as to get to know it better ahead of its due time of arrival. Mr. Golden's own Angel? Or his Null Immortalis? I should know. (9 Apr 10 - four hours later)

This real-time review now continues here: