Tag Archives: science fiction

Not Alan Garner (1)

31 Mar

Fucken hungry.  He could murder a cold one too, a dozen, but he knows he could drink a sea and  it wouldn’t fill him with what he needs.

He’s just taking a breather.  No one could deny he’s been digging away down here in the dark.  Working hard.  Its only when he looks up that he realises there’s a kid down here.

Thinking about it, he supposes there are dead kids. Has to be.  Plenty of them. Not much use though, are they, your dead kid.  Not in a mine, he thinks, forgetting how old he was when he started this caper, like he’s forgotten everything, except how to dig. And that he’s dead. He knows that.

Its not a smoko, cos he doesn’t have any smokes.  Can’t, not down a mine.  More a breather.  Not that he’s sure he’s really breathing.  Dead, and he still wants a smoke.  Some habits die hard.  And its not as though he’s just dead.  When he realised he was here, when he woke up working, he didn’ t have any legs left, that’s how dead he was.

The kid’s not on a track, not on rails. Neither is he, now that his legs have grown back, but you know what I mean. He’s not official like. The kid’s not working. He’s on a lark, just wandering about.  Gets on his wick.

The kid sees him. He’s got a lamp stuck on his head, like he’s a miner. He’s a bludger, more like. Shit scared now, not wandering about so aimlessly now. So he should be, bludger.  He wouldn’t bludge down here.  Who knows what they’d do?  If they can bring you back to life, what other shit can they do?  He’s never liked bludgers and he’s never liked wankers.  Remembers that.  Bludgers, wankers, thieves.  Blinks.  A feeling rises, and he remembers it before he can name it.  Shame.  That’s it.  Thieves.  He’s been eating some of the rocks he’s been digging.  Just some little ones.  Surely no one will miss them.  Fucken hungry.

Smell the kid’s fear. Didn’t know he could do that. Bet that’s new.  Scent condenses on his tongue, and saliva flows. He changes inside. Its like feelings he gave up on a long time ago. Longings.

So fucken hungry he could eat his own arse.

But he doesn’t have to.

He’d laugh if he had a voice.   Oh yes.  The kid’s face turns weird, he’s running.  Why?  He realised that he had been walking, without knowing it.  Just a passenger being carried along by legs and hunger.  I see.  The kid’s running away from me.  The kid fumbles in his back pack, loses a bit of the distance between them, pulls out a bit of tinfoil.  That knife won’t help, kid. You gonna murder me?  I’m already dead.

He hops down from the track, into the rubble of what they’ve been digging. Coal. Utility pipes. Dirt. Small trees pulled down through the earth by their roots. Form and complexity. Information and structure. Bits of it lying around down there.

Watcha got in that bag kid? A monster gun? Shambling over, stretching stiff joints. Something wriggling about in there.

Whatever it is, the kid brings the knife down into the centre of it, and it doesn’t like it.  Its jumping around.  The kid sticks the knife into its guts, and it spurts.

O!  The smell. He still can’t remember his name, but flavours flood back, and the drool pours out over his chin.  He can recall crumbed lambs brains and cream and mushrooms and wine – the bitter of the first beer after work on a summer’s day – burning his fingers snatching at hot chips with vinegar, the sun already down and steam pouring from their mouths as they broke battered fish into bits – onion as he licked at his wife’s fingers – stolen honey – other, private tastes…

The thing whatever it was was in his face and he sucked it empty, breathed it down, a wonderful throat-full of blood or motor oil or whatever it was inside, bloody beautiful, and chewing down on the carcass, swallowing it into him, wiping his mouth with his arm then licking the arm clean, the misery in his stomach abated for a moment, letting out a moan like he’s breaking.

The creaking of an ancient unoiled engine returning to life, his voice returned. “Thanks kid.” Clouds were lifting and he stepped out of a haze. “I’m George?” he groaned with the intonation of an unsure teenage girl.  “Yes, I’m George. What the fuck are you doing down here?”

“Looking for someone.”

“Are they dead?”

“Hope not.”

“What’s your name then?”

“Joe.  Joe Chip.”

***

(Such was life in Katingal.  Riding bikes, swimming in canals, wandering the zombie ridden caverns.  Kids weren’t wrapped in cotton wool in those days.  Ahh, the bliss before Trevor ruined everything…)

Among the Dead

24 Mar

My grandfather sits in the ruin of his house.  It is always night when I am here.  The sky is my skull, a low dome seen from the inside.  His jaw is strong and held hard, grinding the fossils of his teeth.  (Even if he still smoked, he could not.  His pipe stem could not be forced between those lips.  It would be snapped by those teeth.  The end of it would stay in that mouth a hundred years, preserved.)

Wind sweeps the ash.  I do not feel the cold.  I stare at the strength of that head.  I remember bending and kissing that head, like a child’s, as it laid on a pillow.  The man I never kissed, who always shook hands.  The skull beneath the skin.

That he came back to sit here, among the ruins.  He does not decay, instead the house does.  Each time I come, it has deteriorated further, taking his place in the grave.  The elements do not bother him.  If the wind wears him, if water drips him away, leaching away the minerals of him a drop at a time, perhaps it is for the best.  Perhaps it is what he desires.  As he weathers, mountains are ground down, oceans rise, seas fall.  Forests grow and are consumed.  The constellations shift, all sped up for him.  He is the Time Traveller, he is Rod Taylor in his chair, encased in stone, then freed again.  In my visits, I am a shadow.  I am the flickering ghost.  It is I who am death, I am mortality.  We are worn down around him.

He gulps sometimes.  The throat works, the jaw moves and clenches.  He is biting deeper, getting a better grip on the world.  Once or twice he has looked towards me.  I stand close.  He does not stop me.  I am calm in his presence, calm with the nostalgia of grief.  The longing for those other worlds I can never visit.  Childhood.  The past.  The lives of others.  The drowsy warmth of everything will be alright.  The knowledge of grief to come.

That he has returned, and so far, not the others.  Preserved in his pride, his inflexible ideas of proper behaviour.  The feuds that burned silently within, in his room as he read, as he listened to talk back radio.

It is monochrome here.  It suits the grey hair, slicked back along his scalp.

My aunt, white gowned against the window, arms raised and pressing the glass.  Could only I see her?  Were the adults pretending it was otherwise? My other grandmother, from the other side of my family, smiling, her lips uncertain, her eyes betraying an unease.  She knew.  We mourned when my aunt left, why did no one tell me she was back?  Kept inside, a secret.

All the dead are kept inside, a secret that no one else wants to know.  We are all haunted, and sometimes they stare out from the windows of our eyes.  They come back, but they are not the same.

My grandfather sits amongst the exposed beams, the drooping wallpaper having outlasted the plasterboard beneath.  He has made himself comfortable in the chair that was thrown away long ago.  Its return is a bigger miracle than his.  Despite the guarantees, despite the proofs, the nanobots escaped, as we knew they would.  Why do we protest?  Why do we bother to rage?  The brave new world was always coming, and there was nothing we could do about it.  We shall consume the whole world, we shall eat our young, the forests will die, the skies will burn.  The nanobots escaped, and here he sits, with no explanation for the chair.  Perhaps Trevor supplied it, free of charge.  Nothing is free.

There is no moon, no stars, no electricity, no peasant mobs brandishing torches, but I see him clear in this night.  I cannot think how I first found him here.  I think I just knew.  He cannot be in this house.  It was sold years ago, and rebuilt, and another family lives here.  Still, it is where I found him.  Perhaps we are in one of those other twenty four dimensions of folded string.  I do not know.  I just gaze upon him and sit in his quiet presence.

The dead stare.  What vision is imprinted on their eyes?  We fear what they have seen.

His wife is not there.  Will she come?  Nobody told me she was in hospital.  Apparently it was impolite to leave that on a message.  I could not answer the phone.  I was freezing in a bath of ice, sitting with a child who refused to be comforted unless someone was in there with him, trying to bring his fever down.  Later, when I finally was told, in emergency as she, unconscious, clawed at the air, as though prematurely buried and scraping at the coffin lid, I prayed and prayed into her ear, a hundred Hail Mary’s to calm her down, and those arms rested, they allowed themselves to stop.

The dead are all inside.  How many skeleton arms drag torsos forward through the mud of my mind, skulls drooping, exposed spines drifting away to nothing?  How many more bony arms are yet to come?  When shall I join them?  What shall I see?

Or will Trevgene banish death forever, infesting us with tiny, tiny robots that shall work constantly to keep us fit, keep us happy in our jobs, content in our places, happy forever in the hell he has made?

These are thoughts I think, when I awake after my visits.

Not Gregor Samsa

7 Oct

I awoke the other morning from uneasy dreams to find that, lying in my bed, I had been transformed into a giant insect.

KEVIN*#ING TREVEGENE!!

#@$&%  TREVOR!

In the unearthly morning light, the remnants of a purple mist could be seen, passing through walls and windows.  Not again.

There was nothing for it.  Lying on my hard, as it were armour plated, back, I knew I had to wait it out.  What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, I thought, the klaxon lighted sky making me feel melancholy.

But then I thought some more.  Realising no one else was about (for I share my fortified compound with no-one), I dangled first one leg, then the next, then another, from the bed, until my centre of gravity shifted and I tumbled to the floor.  I shook my segments, set my bearings with my multi-faceted eyes, and set off to explore the room.  Before I knew it, I was walking up the wall, and on the ceiling.  I felt my wings begin to quiver, and was almost overcome by a desire to set sail across the air, until I remembered that flight was impossible.

I explored my home as though a stranger, which I suppose I was.  I knew I should not be doing this.  The accepted etiquette is to simply wait until one is one’s self again.  We are in possession of our faculties.  We know better.  As I set off, I felt naughty, then more than that.  I felt great.

Cleanliness is farthest from Trevorness, and it is a state I very much seek to attain.  You will understand my surprise at my reaction to smells coming from my kitchen.  Not the pantry, well not so much.  The kitchen tidy.  The sink drain.  Scents I had never noticed before, that in my normal state would have shocked me if I could have noticed them.  Tangs of fermentation.  Wafts of  waste.  Insect glands went into play.  O,  the felicity of fetidity.  The glamour of decomposition.  I revelled in it.  Reader, I rolled in it.  No one was looking.  I did more.  I ate it.

Flavours unknown to a human palette.  Colours we just don’t paint with.  The exquisite squirting of the almost rotten.  The joy of crushing the feeble, of finishing what fungus and bacteria had begun.  The pleasure of rending organic matter to its basic state.  Mouth and stomach one.

It was not as though I had even crossed a line.  I had woken up and was already on the other side.  Which made me think of … outside.

For a normal insect, adapted to parasitism on man, the interior of my home was ample canvas.  I, however, was huge, and there was a whole world of waste waiting out there for me.

It was a fortified compound after all.  It was designed to keep out roaming hordes and rampaging mobs, escaped spooned and things that go smash in the night.  Of course it was safe.

I opened the door (yes, I was a giant insect and did not have opposable thumbs, however I retained a human brain and it was my door after all), and nearly fainted with the overload of my senses, with all the signals of death and decay.  A whole universe of half broken down organisms to be clambered through and consumed.

Shaking a little, I danced with joy.  Liberation.  A secret indulgence.  How often does one get to experience the pleasures of another creature, to live in the body of another?  Even if it was the body of a giant cockroach.

Then I noticed the stillness.  Something was wrong.  From a corner of the garden, it ran at me.

Before I knew what I was doing, I realised that I too was running as fast as my six legs could take me.  If only I could fly!  But that would take me further away from safety, over the walls of the compound.

Purely from instinct, I jinked and changed direction.  One of my compound lenses revealed what was in pursuit.  A giant spider was coming at me at terrifying speed.  This was outrageous.  It was nothing natural.  A creature of that size could only be another person, transformed for the morning by the windblown discharge from the Trevgene plant.  I tried to gather who it must be.  It could only be the woman from across the road.  She always seemed a little wrong headed.  She knew she was supposed to stay in her own place.  I cursed myself for my stupidity,  no matter how high my walls, they were no match for a giant arachnid.

I turned again, having the advantage of knowledge of the layout of the compound.  Fool.  I was running where she was driving me.  Just when I thought I was about to reach the safety of the house, I stopped.  The more I struggled, the more I was stopped.  Web!

I turned and looked at her.  There was something disturbingly Freudian about the way she was manically manipulating her pincers.  I tried to reason with her, but only a whole lot of roach gibberish came out.  Though afraid, my anger dropped away, she was only doing the same as me, experiencing the alien.

Then it stopped.  The rigidity of the armour passed away, and there I was, flesh bodied and human again.  The same for the woman, although she continued to run oddly for a few steps after her body had returned.  At least she had the courtesy to help unwrap the web from me.  It was only afterwards that I reflected how odd it was to be standing there naked in that situation.

When she left, I called directory assistance to be put through to Trevgene.  Once the connection clicked through, I gave them a piece of my mind.  I ranted. I raved.  I fell silent.  There was a pause and the static hung heavy, as though the other end of the telephone line ended somewhere huge, as though it was the universe that was listening.  Milliseconds before the reply, I realised why.

“Mate.”  It was him, and his familiar, evil voice.  Calm and fresh, unlike myself.  Unperturbed, a great, deep lake, unlikely to be troubled by a breeze across its surface.  Me and my shouting didn’t even amount to a zephyr.  The events of the morning became so much trivia.  “Think about it.  Don’t I always give you exactly what you want?”

And  though I did not want to, and wondered, ashamed and angry, that someone else could look through me, saw deeper into me than I ever could myself, I agreed.  A little later I considered (not for the first time), whether it had actually been as he said, or whether saying it, he made it so.  It did not matter now.  The words having been spoken, it was true.  Undeniable and unarguable.  All the secrets, all the darknesses within, all those little indulgences I think no one else knows about, he sees.  I am transparent, and I am shamed.

Breaching all of the etiquette about these things, Spider Woman has invited me for a drink.  Flustered, I agreed without thinking.  I have no idea what we will talk about.  Or what we shall drink.