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Old Harker’s Resurrection Pool

onehundredandeightyfour

Listen, all ye, who would learn.
By the fate to which I fell.
Sometimes that for which we yearn.
Is only another type of Hell.

Drinking and carding late one night.
I set off long for home.
I knew she would be sleeping tight.
In our marriage bed, alone.

At the altar I had claimed.
To be something I was not.
Cupid’s arrow had been squarely aimed.
But in time we had forgot.

A little her, but mostly me.
We had let the time go by.
Drifting from one another.
Like the shoreline from the tide.

But still I loved her, for all my shame.
Her beauty and her poise.
To the gambler, life’s a game.
And I had made my choice.

The pavement rocked beneath my feet.
Singing, drunk, of Scarborough Fair.
Stumbling, stupid in the street.
I caught the smell of cinders in the air.

Coming down the blackened drive.
I saw the sky burning like a coal.
The garden, now, was quite alive.
With fire burning beyond control.

Our house had become a bonfire, lit.
And the townspeople gathered round.
I staggered through as the vultures split.
To see them lay her body on the ground.

Lying in a soaking shroud.
That swallowed an early dew.
I beat the earth and cried aloud.
To a God I never knew.

They laid her down into an earth.
That was dry as my sunken eyes.
Overhead my grief gave birth.
As rain pelted from the skies.

But I obtained no further release.
And the pain was all my own.
The firmament offered no more peace.
As I walked the streets alone.

Lurching amidst tears of fury.
I found no solace from the sky.
Staggering from bar to brewery.
I drank a hundred barrels dry.

Listing in such a wasted tavern.
I met the man who would be my fate.
Lurking as if a ghoul in a cavern.
Or a snake that lies in wait.

From his dank and shadowed nook.
He watched me from a single eye.
Drumming his fingers on a book.
As black as any midnight sky.

The binding was some awful thing.
The pages yellow; torn and ripped.
It almost looked like human skin.
The binding as dark as any crypt.

He beckoned me with a shrivelled hand.
That I should sit and search the tome.
And from its script, to understand.
How I might regain my hallowed home.

The book, it seemed as old as time.
Somehow the crooked ink still bled.
It sent a shiver down my spine.
To see it had a tint of red.

He showed me passages of ancient lore.
Dread instruction from forgotten schools.
And finally his finger underscored.
The tale of Old Harker’s unholy pool.

Harker, in some uncounted year.
Had come across, or so it was said.
Back in a cave, in the depths of the wood.
A body of water that could raise the dead.

Though drunk and desperate as I tell.
I had no time for the old man’s trick.
Magic woods and wishing wells.
Could not make healthy what was sick.

Laughing off his foolish verse.
I pushed back my chair and went to stand.
But was arrested by a hissing curse.
As he took my wrist with an iron hand.

“Look, my boy”, he whispered, grim.
“If you want again to see her face
You’ll need to cut your ties with him
And anoint yourself at that devil’s place”.

I tore away my shaking hand.
And turned away with curt disgust.
But his words had left their brand.
And I began to place in them my trust.

I turned back round to meet this bait.
And the bile within me reared.
But there was no more object for my hate.
The sinister man had disappeared…

The shadows only left behind.
Except of course, I need barely look.
As the daemons had designed.
Upon the table remained the book.

I staggered back to my lonely room.
And in my hand I held that tract.
My mind was spinning like a loom.
But there could be no turning back.

I waited for the night to come.
Knowing only drink’s relief.
When your nightmares are your rest.
You will learn to spit at sleep.

Through the rooming house came the sound.
As the town clock struck its bell.
And the twelve chimes echoed round.
As I slipped out of my cell.

I wandered through the sullen streets.
Clutching to me the blackened guide.
Down by where the canal meets.
The dark tongue of the tide.

I wandered outside the town’s low walls.
And then up into the trees.
Where no man walks and no bird calls.
No sound beyond the shivering of the leaves.

I climbed amongst the abandoned shacks.
The woodland church and its tilted graves.
And found behind the overgrown tracks.
The lonely entrance to a cave.

I walked through rifts of dripping stone.
And corridors as cold as sin.
And though the way was never shown.
Something called me from within.

I pushed my body through a crack.
And though the gap was slight.
I slipped out of the cavernous black.
And stumbled on the light.

The walls were hung with ghostly fire.
That clung to the jagged slate.
The lambent glow began to inspire.
Within me, a sinister weight.

The floor was littered with tiny bones.
Creatures lost inside the gloom.
Perhaps they, too, were led from home.
By the curse that called within that room.

I walked towards the stagnant well.
All rimmed with stones and leaves.
I stared into its blackened swell.
Desperate to believe.

Old Harker had been a singular case.
Living up in these haunted hills.
Could he have truly found a place.
Where the cup of life could be refilled?

Up from the abyssal depths.
Came a pale and ethereal form.
I held to faith as I held my breath.
That my prayers were being sworn.

Just beneath the rippling tide.
I saw the face for which I’d yearned.
Her eyes were closed; her arms spread wide.
The one I grieved for had returned!

I reached into the icy murk.
That which we hold we understand.
But some things that in black pools, lurk.
Will reach out and take your hand.

As I touched that translucent skin.
I saw her beauty seize and contort.
What it was that pulled me in.
Was never the angel that I’d sought!

It wrapped its hands about my neck.
And as our forms drew nigh.
The face was now a sodden wreck.
But, still, I recognized that eye

The old man with his wretched book.
Was not some old and lonely freak.
His spirit skulked inside the brook.
And his bitter trick was now complete.

A body stepped from the frigid pool.
And I watched outside of time.
By the doctrine of some arcane rule.
The body was somehow mine!

He looked down at me from where he stood.
As I screamed up from the well.
His face was mine, and mine his blood.
By some diabolic spell.

And then I felt around me tighten.
The icy water that was my bond.
Specks of wan light began to brighten.
As spirits became visible within the pond.

A choir of voices in my head.
Beseeched me in their hollow tones.
That the black pool must be fed.
By the marrow of my bones.

The ghoul had been right, a devil’s place.
Not only some ancient wyytches well.
He stood there smiling, with my face.
By the black and hungry mouth of Hell!

And just as another must have misled he.
There was a further trial to be undertook.
Before his spirit could be truly free.
He would use my body to pass on the book.

Dusting it down, he turned to leave.
As I writhed within my frozen ghost.
The phantoms of the pool began to feed.
And he walked away, my body’s host.

Gone to search the living land.
For to bewitch some other fool.
To come and take my icy hand.
By Old Harker’s Resurrection Pool.

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The Blood Engine

onehundredandeightythree

I

In the seat behind, a woman wittered into her mobile phone. Some reminiscence of how drunk she’d been and how terrible she now felt. Jennings wondered, sinisterly, what it would take to shut her up if a hangover could not. He wiped the sweating condensation from the bus window. It was Monday and the upper deck seethed with bodies, boredom and the resentment of the routine come around again. The slow trickle back into work. Water running down the windows. Five days starting their downhill charge to the gutter.

The bodies walking on the pavement below were steaming with the rain. The wind lashed lank, soaking hair into their faces and cheap umbrellas undid themselves against the gusts. The commuter crowds thickened as the bus came around the corner and started its descent into the high street. It came down between the rows of grand Georgian houses, sending spray out into the multitudes waiting at the various stops that lined the street. Jennings looked up from under the rim of the bus window at the towering buildings. The brick was a deep red, washed with the rain. The ivy that crawled across the faces of every other house was glistening and dripping sullenly.

Brass plaques affixed to the walls announced chiropractors, dentists, solicitors and surveyors. But the pavements were filthy. Plastic swam in the drains and piles of rubbish bags were stacked in the porches. On any floor above ground the dirty, bare windows allowed one to glimpse the washing drying on the horse and the unpapered walls inside. Clothes, irons and tubs of washing powder sat on the sill. There was something of the slum, still, about these buildings.

On the stop before his own Jennings began to gather his damp jacket and scarf. He glanced out of the window as the bus was pulling out. The sign next to the peeling red door that stood behind the bus stop read “Yvette St. Vincent -xxxxxgrapher”. The letters that were missing had been peeled away since long before Jennings had ever noticed them. But they fascinated him. The whole street fascinated him. Though it was just off the city centre and was filled with people waiting to catch their bus he never saw a soul step in or out of these doors. He wondered how these businesses kept up with their rent. Perhaps they were owned in full by the dentists and solicitors? Perhaps they subsisted on the rent money from the hordes of immigrant families crammed into their upper floors? But Yvette St. Vincent’s establishment took the best part of his interest. Every weekday at 8:53 he wondered, again, what field of “graphy” it was that she practiced. And then the bus peeled out and the thought was gone.

 

II

He sat at his desk, the damp cuffs of his trousers brushing against his calves. The computer screen in front of him was horribly bare. It pulsed with the awful whiteness of bone. His mind was fogged. He needed to write a report. He could barely get his head around what it was supposed to be showing the result of. Who cared? Did the people who commissioned it care? Some of them probably did. The ambitious and grasping idiots who strutted around the office in too-tight suit trousers and ugly shoes. The kind who spoke loudly and had nothing worthwhile to say. They would be the ones who critiqued his work. Send it back to him in a relay with all the mistakes pointed out. The ones who made him feel two inches tall because he couldn’t invest in the quality of his work or how it affected company outcomes.

The ironic thing was that he was well respected within the office. His intelligence was obvious. Everyone made mistakes in these reports, it was the natural part of the upper management to check them and send them back for revision. The ambitious and grasping may have thought him a little odd but they knew that they could rely on his ability. Some were, perhaps, even a little intimidated by his sharp mind.

It rained for three days solid. For eight hours each day Jennings sat in his damp clothes in front of the slowly amassing figures and diagrams on his screen. He loathed them, these black scratches that filled the white page. What import did they have? They would be picked through in an hour and then discarded. Like faded and forgotten names in some country graveyard. He longed to leave a mark that would endure.

On the fourth day, as the sky was beginning to clear, he walked through the office door to water pouring from the ceiling fittings.

“Jennings. Did you not get the email?”.

“Sorry?”.

One of the office managers squelched across the sodden carpet towards him.

“The whole goddamn roof came in, man. We sent out an email yesterday evening, did you not get it?”.

Jennings looked around, a little bewildered. Sunlight twinkled in the sheets of water that lay on every desk. Busy repairmen and office staff hurried, toting computers and files, here and there amongst the damage. A dim rainbow shone in the spray by the operational manager’s desk.

“No. I don’t think so” Jennings mumbled.

The office manager clapped him on the shoulder.

“Well, sorry you wasted your bus fare, but it’s full pay and sat at home for at least the rest of the week. I’ll make sure they put you on the distribution list for the updates going into next week. Not a bad way to start your Thursday, eh?”.

He squeezed Jenning’s shoulder and winked. The man’s breath was stale with cigarettes and coffee.

Jennings took the lift back to the ground floor and headed onto the street. One of the security guards nodded and waved as he passed him. The sun was out and it beamed down in blades of brilliant heat. The air was cool and refreshing as the water gathered in the gutter began to rise and evaporate. Jennings began heading to the bus stop. He slowed and then stopped and loitered outside the coffee shop on the corner. He felt strangely uplifted and elated. People hurried past, their bags and umbrellas battering against their shins. They were stragglers who had been caught in traffic or who had overslept their alarms. Perhaps this joy was only Schadenfreude, but Jennings was not in a position to count or categorize his joys. Even if it was only to sit and have a relaxed cup of coffee with no commitments to meet, he decided that he would enjoy at least a little of his freedom in town before he retreated to his flat.

Sitting by the window and watching the truly late storm past with knitted brows and panic stricken eyes, Jennings sipped his coffee and thought about the day that stretched ahead. The cafe was full of mothers meeting after dropping the kids to school and students in no hurry to get to class. Jennings went through a mental list of films he had recorded at home and weighed up which one he would sit down to at lunch and which he would watch, with dithering interest, over a bottle of wine that evening.

He liked old films. Old horror films, particularly. The older the better. It was the same thing that attracted him to the old Georgian buildings. The sad, dreamy quality of things that have fallen slightly into ruin and are buried away from the gaze of those who are not inclined to see. The horror imagery was almost incidental. It was the sweet melancholy of art gone to waste and a cast of actors, long dead, whom no-one would ever remember, that made him feel something. A queasy, creeping but unique and calming feeling.

As he drank away the last of his coffee and watched the traces of black grounds swim lazily in the dregs he decided what he was going to do with his day of freedom. He stepped out of the cafe and headed up the streets and, against the crowds, towards the row of Georgian houses. The bus that would have carried him home passed him and a bus on the same route on which he came to work idled at its stop. He stood on the porch of Yvette St. Vincent’s curious enterprise, trying to surreptitiously peer in through the window. He could make out the dim outline of furniture and nothing more. He stepped up to the peeling, crimson door.

 

III

There was a row of buzzers on the right of the door. On all but one the incomprehensible surnames of foreign residents were written on in rain smudged biro. He pressed in the button that remained. He heard the far off rattle of the buzzer but he got not tell from whence it issued. He waited. The streets were quiet now and he still heard the idling motor of the bus behind him. He heard feet coming down the stairs and was beginning to turn when the door was flung wide.

An Arab man stood in the doorway looking at him with a vaguely disgusted look on his face.

“Yvette St. Vincent?”.

The Arab man’s brows knitted together.

“I mean, I’m looking for Yvette St. Vincent”, Jennings said.

The man reached out and tapped the set of buzzers.

“I did. I rang the bell”, Jennings stammered.

“No. Doesn’t work. No button. This is my flat” he said, jabbing his finger towards the buzzer that Jennings had used.

“I’m very sorry. I just assumed, because the rest were unmarked, you see…”

“You have to knock”.

Jennings pictured a scene where the Arab was about to slam the door in his face and force him to knock on the door. Instead, the man stepped to one side to allow him into the hall.

It was dark and the sharp smell of chlorine mixed with the warm smell of washed clothes floated in the shadows. Jennings hung around the bottom of the stair allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. The man pushed past him without another word and begun to climb the stair. As he reached the point where the stairs turned he barked something in his own language to someone out of view on the landing.

Jennings was left alone in the hallway. He looked at the back of the door and considered what it was that had motivated him to come. There weren’t any answers. Some rush of passion that was fading like the blooms of coloured light before his eyes. He ground down a creeping anxiety and turned resolutely to find the door he had come here seeking.

It was all the way in the back of the hallway down the side of the staircase, enveloped entirely in the darkness. It looked like it should have been the entrance to some utility or storeroom. Only a brass plaque screwed into the wood made it stand out as anything other than that, and even the writing upon it was unreadable in the deep shadow. He began to think about what he was going to say. Began to think about walking out of the building and stepping onto the bus. His mind drifted. In the darkness and in that strange situation his mind and body seemed to slide away from one another. He thought about his warm, lonely flat. He was surprised to hear a loud banging on the door and realize that it was his hand that had floated up to the door to cause it.

There was a shuffling behind the door and he heard several locks being undone. He stepped back only a step and his back hit the stairwell. The door opened and a pale face peered out at him.

“Yes?”.

A light bulb encased in a frosted glass shade cast a warm light from behind the face looking out through the crack of the door. She had a lightly made up face and he could not place either her age or her accent. There were a few lines in the one and a a Slavic draw on the Y in the other, but he could not make a decision on either.

“Are you Ms. St. Vincent?” he asked.

“Yes?”.

And now what, he thought.

She smiled an encouraging smile at him as he fumbled with the decision.

“Are you a photographer?” he managed.

She opened the door a little more. She was wearing a long wine coloured dress that fit closely at the neck and a pair of what looked like black riding boots.

“No, I’m afraid not”, she said, “though I believe I have, still, some cards for a reputable man. I picked them up a while ago. I really ought to have that sign fixed, I suppose”.

“Oh, well, I, err…” Jennings was lost now. Entirely.

“What kind of work were you looking to have done?”.

There was a mischievous smile playing at the corner of her dry lips.

“Well, nevermind. I think he does all sorts. Would you like to come in and have a seat whilst I find the card?” she asked.

“Erm, yes, thank you”.

She stepped aside and held the door for him and, as he stepped over the threshold, he dropped his scarf. He reached down and fumbled for it on the darkened floor. As he stood up he came face to face with her. She was watching him with a strange concentration that broke back into a welcoming smile as their eyes focused on one another.

 

IV

He walked down a long hallway and stepped into what must have been the drawing room of the house before it had been carved up into flats. The large window through which he had tried to peer from the outside was fitted with murky glass and most of the light in the room came from the fire that crackled in a huge, ornate fireplace. The blurs of colour beyond the window were of buses and cars and people walking along the lonely street.

She came behind him down the hall, walking with a light tread. She motioned him to sit on a hard backed sofa in front of the fire and she excused herself to head behind a heavy curtain hanging across the arch at the back of the room. He looked into the snapping fire and listened to the heavy ticking of a grandfather clock. The room was decorated in a deeply period style; all brass candlesticks and bucolic watercolors that were darkened with age and faded by light. There was a smell of damp and dust in the air, mingled with a sweet undertone; familiar but just beyond the grasp of recall.

She came from behind the curtain carrying a silver tray upon which a china teapot piped thin wisps of steam into the murky air.

“Well, I’m afraid I couldn’t find his card so I shall have to offer you a cup of tea by way of apology” she smiled.

He began to stand, muttering some polite excuse.

“Sit, sit, sit. Don’t be silly, just one cup” she chided as she set the tray down on the small table in front of the sofa. Before he had had a chance to offer a counter the aromatic tea was splashing into the cup and he found himself sitting once more and watching it pour.

“There now. Milk? No? Then, sugar?”.

“Two please”.

“Perfect” and she dropped two quaint cubes into the golden tea and passed him the cup, rattling on its saucer.

She sat on the opposite corner of the sofa smoothing her dress under her. They sat in silence for an interminably long time. Jennings cursed the futile endeavor and himself for both attempting and then failing in its execution.

“I really must see if I can find those cards” she said, at last. “You wouldn’t believe how many people come looking for photographic services. I really, really must have that sign relettered”.

Jennings sipped his tea and watched her as she stared into the heart of the fire.

“What do you do, Mr…?”.

“Jennings. I’m a loss adjuster”.

“Are you really? You always hear that title. But I don’t think I have any idea what one is”.

She looked back at him dreamily.

Loss adjuster. It sounds a little sinister when you say it out loud”.

He smiled.

“You’re not the first person to comment on it. And what do you do here, Ms. St. Vincent?”

“I’m a haemotographer” she replied.

“A haemotographer?”.

“Yes”.

She said it in a prickly and clipped manner and sipped at her tea with exactitude.

“Something to do with blood?”.

“That’s a bit reductionist, but I suppose it fits” she said.

There was a heavy silence that he did not know how to navigate. He watched her from the corner of his eye. By the light of the fire the lines in her face had melted a little and her grey hair glowed with an echo of what it might once might have been. She had obviously possessed a great beauty in her youth. It still lingered, quiet and delicate, like smoke that ghosts the air after the roaring bonfire has died.

“I’m sorry” she spoke at last, “it was my father’s profession and it’s little understood. I suppose I have inherited his defensiveness around it”.

“Was he a biologist?”.

“Of a sort” she said, turning to face him again. And now the fire that burned was in her eyes.

“But he was much more besides. A scientist. A true scientist; bold and with an appetite for discovery that overflowed the brackets of so called fields. I am a shadow compared to him. I have gone further only because I ride the momentum he created. If he were still here today…”.

“He sounds a very great man. You continue his work, then? As a haemotograper?”.

She watched him with shrewd eyes, grey like flint and only the pink threads of late age in the white and the folds in the eyelids marking them as anything but a hot blooded youth’s.

“I have never known anything else” she said quietly. “Would you care for another tea?”.

She leant and poured him a further cup. The faint smell of lavender, orange and sandalwood floated off of her wrists. Jennings felt a great calm. Acquiescing to this strange circumstance, he found, brought control and a bright sense of accomplishment.

“What does the title refer to, exactly, though?” he asked, choosing his words carefully.

She slowly buffed the nail of one little finger with that of the ring finger on her opposite hand as she considered her response.

“Do you believe in God, Mr. Jennings?” she asked. There was, again, the thick, Slavic spitting of the syllable in “God”. The capitalization being pronounced..

He winced a little internally. He had hoped for something more when he had found himself rapping on that door in the dark hall.

“No” he answered. The urge to add “I’m afraid not” was swallowed down.

“Neither do I. But, ironically, I find that it is easier to explain what I practice to those that do. We lost something when we killed him, you know? God, I mean. We scientists perhaps lost the most. And far more than we gained. A lot of the curiosity, the wonder and the curiosity of the grand, has gone out of people. They know that science can explain the world and that they only need to wait long enough for the curtain to be pulled slowly back”.

Jennings waited for her to go on. In the silence the clock was a beating insect heart twitching against the wall.

“There are universes inside us, Mr. Jennings. Not in any literal sense. I don’t believe in existence in a grain of sand. But the cellular workings within every living thing are as complex and, I suppose the word is astronomical, as any of the gears that drive the universe without. The splendour out there in the great black sea of galaxies is no more infinite than that which takes place inside our own bodies every second of each day. There is as much to discover, and to correct, in our own workings as anywhere else in existence”.

“And this was your father’s work?” he asked.

“He splintered off from the main streams of scientific thought. His ideas and the things that he discovered were in direct opposition to the accepted wisdom and he spent a long time in isolation whilst he built a case to present. Too long. Daddy feared ridicule and loathed assumption. But there was always something new to test and to validate. His discoveries came one after another. In time, the various fields of science were so far removed from what Daddy had pursued, revealed, that his work would have looked like alchemy to them”.

She sipped her tea and a sinister, knowing little smle played at the corners of her mouth

You could show them, though?” Jennings said, “You say you’ve gone even further than him, right? You can finalize his legacy”.

She dismissed the idea away with a wave of her slender, wrinkled hand.

“I’m an old woman with no background in their institutions. Everything I learned was from acting as Daddy’s assistant. They wouldn’t give me the time of day”.

“Show me, then” he said. Unwonted calm had made him bold.

But she didn’t meet his gaze. She watched the shift of colours through the murky window over his shoulder. A muted ray of sun lit her face. She must once really have been tremendously beautiful, he thought.

“OK” she said and put down her cup.

 

V

She walked back each of the heavy damask curtains. Jennings watched on as a trill of electric anticipation pinballed through his nerves. But behind the curtain there was only a kitchen. She motioned him to come over as she flicked on an overhead light. He noticed a door, tucked in beside the Welsh dresser and secured with a large padlock, as he sat down at the large wooden table she invited him towards. On the table, before the seat she had placed him in, was a bizarre piece of machinery.

It was about the size of a microwave oven, all told, though this included the height and width of the copper pipes that snaked in an out of it. What appeared to be a short stack of bellows was also part of its makeup. The face of it was littered with dials housed in glass bubbles and, on the top, two chrome spheres were set at equal height atop rods wound with copper wire. He recognized many of the elements but could not name more than a few. The whole thing was like some antiquated piece of lab equipment from the days when they ran current through dead frogs and watched them spastically twitch.

She set down a tray upon which there was a syringe, gauze, a test tube and a smaller tray made of glass. Jennings looked at her.

“Some things, it is easier to show than to tell” she said, “Can you roll up your sleeve, please?”.

“I don’t…”.

“I’m going to take a small sample of blood as part of the process. Have you ever had a blood test?”.

“Erm, yes, I think once. Yes, I have”.

“Good. It’s no more than that”.

He began to unbutton his cuff as she tore the packaging from the syringe and began to fit the needle to the barrell. His hand shook a little as he fumbled with the button of his shirt. She took his wrist and brought his bare arm nearer to her. Her hands were as dry and cold as lake ice. She swabbed his arm at the crook of the elbow.

“Do you not like needles, Mr. Jennings?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not”.

“Look the other way”.

He shifted in the chair and stared into the battered grain of the locked door beside the Welsh dresser. The padlock that held its hasp to the wood was a lump of worn iron. He wondered what could need such significant protection?

She coughed and he misinterpreted it as a seemly way to let a man weak at the knees know that she was finished. He turned his head to see the needle still slid into the skin and an issue of blood still growing in the drum of the syringe. His stomach turned over on itself and his head felt like it lost five pounds of substance in an instant. He turned back to the door which now seemed to warp and bend before his eyes. He took a ragged breath.

“Just a moment more” she said in a cautious half-whisper.

“There now”.

He felt a pad of gauze pressed into his flesh.

“Give me your other hand” she said.

He did as he was instructed and turned back to face her, the chair wobbling on its legs just a little. She placed his hand on the gauze and he took over applying the pressure.

“Would you like another cup of tea?” she asked.

He shook his head delicately.

She took the test tube and began to decant the blood into it from the syringe. She screwed the test tube onto the open end of one of the copper pipes that emanated from the machine. She threw a large lever that took up almost one whole side of the thing and the machine began to thrum. The bellows started to pump like desperate, dry lungs. The table below Jenning’s elbow began to vibrate gently.

“What does it run on?” he asked, noticing that there were no wires coming from the machine.

“There’s a battery inside. My own design” she replied.

The blood in the test tube began to drain upward and into the copper piping. She reached across him and made a small correction to one of the dials. The humming of the machine and the vibration that it threw out began to ramp up in intensity. Arcs of cobalt blue electric charge began to crack and bounce between the two metal spheres on top of the body. Jennings lurched backwards. The air seemed to fill with electric charge. He watched the hair on his bare arm begin to stand up. An ear splittingly high pitched whine began to sound. The machine groaned and shook. The whine turned into a metallic scream and the veins of lightning snapped and whipped between the metal posts.

Jennings pushed back his chair in alarm. He envisioned this homemade reactor, whatever the hell it was, bursting and hurling shards of metal into his chest. He looked to Yvette. She was rapt with awe, unmoving. The reflection of the electric light flashed in her eyes as if they were sapphires in the sun. And, suddenly, the vibration and the lightning dropped out of existence. The bellows, which had been working feverishly, wheezed and died. All that remained was a hollow, sonorous moan as the blood began to flow, drop by drop, back into the test tube from which it had been drained.

There was a long silence

“We need to wait a couple of minutes” she said.

Jennings tried to swallow and found that his mouth was tacky and dry. The hair had gone down on his arm but his nerves felt as if they were twitching and dancing. He rolled down his sleeve.

“What does it do?” he asked.

“Would you follow even if I were to explain? I don’t mean to be course, but…”.

He supposed he wouldn’t. He was a sceptical man, though, and his instinct was to demand the credentials of all that was put before him, whether he knew their worth or not. He had been held back in his life, somehow, by this scepticism. Those that stand and question are often left behind as the rest go over the top. The cautious may live but they will not lead. Consideration and rationale is often mistaken for cowardice by the chaotic and feeling masses.

She watched the blood through the glass.

“That should do it” she said.

Taking the glass tray and setting it in front of him she placed the test tube next to it and then got up to switch off the light. He looked at the blood in the tube. Perhaps it was the light but he had the strangest fancy that it gave off an, almost imperceptible, blue glow. She sat down in the chair next to him and unscrewed the cap from the test tube.

“This”, she said, “is what Daddy worked to perfect all his life”.

She poured the blood into the tray. It dispersed with an exaggerated slowness. It didn’t seem to move in the way that a liquid should move. He couldn’t put his finger on it but the movement had an eerie quality. It was too uniform, somehow. As the last portion of the glass tray was covered by the glassy, shining blood the tinge of blue light that he wondered whether he had imagined became undeniable.

Veins of bright blue phosphorescence began to snake outward from the centre of the liquid. They crept across the shimmering surface of blood and began to form complex geometric patterns. Jennings hands grasped the edge of the table. The threads of light gradually began to take on recognizable form. The air was suffused with an indescribable smell, somewhere between ozone, hot metal and an animal shed. The image that appeared was an impossibly intricate scene of himself, Jennings, sat at a desk in the office. Not his desk, but that of his boss. The tiny identifying details were all visible in the seams of light that permeated the shed blood and traced the image.

He looked at Yvette, his mouth agape. She motioned him to look back towards the table.

The image was breaking up now, the blue light diffusing back into the crimson blood. But, once more, the veins of blue light pulsed and began to creep into appreciable forms. Now he saw himself sitting in a house that he did not recognize. The items that filled the room, though, were his belongings.

What is this?” he whispered as he gazed into the pool of strange, charged fluid.

“It’s what you came here to see, is it not? This is what I do. I am a haemotographer” she replied.

“What does it mean? Is it my future?”.

“Of a sort. I don’t pretend to understand these things to their full extent, I only know the process by which we can access them. I’m like a smith forming cogs for a great watchmaker. If only Daddy were still here…”.

He felt himself overcome. Hot tears began to form and his throat felt choked. A single tear fell and splashed into the blood. He lurched with a fear of nameless consequence. But there was no reaction. For a long time the blood lay still, its previous image having dissolved. He was about to push his chair away when there was a sudden change on the glassy surface. A tiny swirling pattern appeared in the centre of the liquid. It grew in size, its whirling tendrils now stirring every inch of the surface. The smell of ozone and butchery grew in intensity, stinging his eyes. The trees of blue light flashed in stark relief. Unlike the previous images which had traced in gradually, this final graphic on the surface of the blood appeared in a split second and lasted only half as long again.

It was of a single building towering above a city skyline. It seemed familiar to him but there was something subtly off about the picture. He did not have the time to place just what that thing was. The image was made up of the same tracery of blue light as the previous visions,  but in this there were two solid and opaque elements. A single window in the tower and a moon in the sky that glowed with grim intensity.

And then it was gone. The light suffused back into the liquid and the smell of gore and cold, metallic plasma hung, dying, as the only trace. Jennings let out a breath that he did not realize he had been holding. There was a pain at his temples and his jaw ached.

“What the hell just happened?” he asked.

She stood up and pulled her the material of her dress at the wrists.

“Come and sit down” she encouraged him.

He stood but stayed where he was, staring at the tray of inert blood. It was his blood. Something made him desire knowledge of what would become of it.

“What would happen if you were to put it back into the machine?” he asked.

“Come, sit, have tea” she said. But there was a look of knowing satisfaction in her eyes.

 

VI

By the time he was getting ready to leave the sky outside was growing dark. They had talked for hours about the machine and the ideas that underpinned it. He still hesitated to call it science. His mind vaulted between accepting what he had appreciated with his own senses and the unreality of what he had seen. Yvette had a knowledge that went far beneath the surface, but it was not total. Not enough to cement his own belief or settle the oath she felt she owed to her father. But she knew things that Jennings could tell she still kept withheld. There were times that the conversation would be subtly diverted down different paths. The desire to tease these secrets from out of the shadows had a strong pull. She walked him down the long hall and to the door.

“I don’t know what to say, Yvette. What you’re doing here, it’s earth shattering. All it would take is one person in the right position to see it… You could change the course of science”.

“And then what?” she asked.

“You go down in history? You advance the sciences? You become fabulously wealthy!?”.

“Daddy left more than enough collateral for me”.

“But, don’t you want people to know your father’s work?”.

“I suppose I suffer under the same curse that he did. The fear that they would laugh me out of the building before I had a chance to show them anything”.

“I could help” he said.

But she only smiled and opened the door.

The hallway was as black as pitch. The smells of cooking drifted in the cold air. He could hear the banging of hordes of small feet on the floorboards in the flats above. He opened the front door and stepped out into the night.

The rows of houses were like the imposing ridges of some black valley. The street was a trench of shade and flickering orange sodium. He stood at the bus stop and watched the streams of traffic and people on the high street further down the road. No one walked amongst the rows, here. It was strange; he felt no trepidation, isolated and exposed as he was. In fact, he felt indestructible. He felt rooted to the concrete, vast and immovable. His heart beat a solid, unshakable tattoo. He was aware of himself, of his strength, his ability and resolve, in a way that he could not remember having felt before. The bus came and he stepped boldly into the harsh light.

That night he dreamt. Dreams of fierce colour and emotion. In one he stood at the top of a small flight of stone steps looking down into a conservatory or greenhouse. Amongst the rows of tables and trellises a girl walked here and there, watering the plants. He took the steps slowly and the sound of his feet echoed in the glass chamber, though he could see nothing beyond the panes. It appeared to be a starless night beyond and, as he lifted his head, he saw his own reflection staring vertiginously down at him. The girl did not react as he reached the ground floor. She walked amongst the rows in her white gown, humming to herself.  The conservatory was lit by shaded bulbs that hung on long cords from the beam in the ceiling and the soft, swaying light they gave off showed the girl’s thin, pale body beneath the delicate fabric.

“Can I help you water them, at all?” he asked. And in the dream the movement of his lips and the sound coming from them seemed quite disjointed and of little consequence to one another.

She only continued to float from plant to plant, all the while humming some ethereal tune, dipping her watering can at the ones she decided needed nourishing. Nonetheless, he sensed that she had heard him.

They’re quite beautiful” he breathed, “you are very kind to come looking for them in the night when they need to be fed, and not wait ‘til morning”.

She looked in his direction but did not appear to see him. Though, perhaps a little flicker in her eye and a twitch at the corner of her mouth told him that she saw something. She went back to her flowers. He looked at the plants. The were the most vibrant crimson roses he had ever seen. Their petals were thick and tough and they seemed almost to burn with colour. The stems were a deep, dark green; the dense thorns that jutted from them were almost black. The cloying, sweet smell, undercut with the sharp ammonia of the earth, made him as dizzy as when he had caught his own inverse form staring down at him from the shadowy glass in the roof. He spoke and his tongue felt like a clot of lead in his mouth;

“Tell me; will I help you tend your roses?”.

And now she turned once more to him and this time, narrowing her eyes, she seemed to pick out his image, almost as if he were fading into view before her. She was quite unafraid and she shook her head gently, her blonde hair drifting too slowly about her shoulders.

Then how will you ever feed them all before the dawn comes?” he said, and this time his lips did not move at all.

He came up behind her and placed his hands on her delicate shoulders. She did not react. He looked down at the flowers to which she was attending. The roses in the bed before her were as white as polished bone. At first.

As she tipped the watering can forward a fine shower of vibrant, red blood rained onto the petals, peppering them with spots of colour. He watched, his hands still on her shoulders, as the flowers were washed with crimson. The blood that fell into the soil gathered in small, black pools. He looked at the rest of the flowers in the rose garden. They, too, dripped and shone with the gore that coated them.

She turned and her pale face looked up at him. He felt her bones creak beneath the thin skin. Her eyes were like those of a puppet, black, shining and hollow. The watering can in her hand hung at her side and the light sound of the blood pattering on the tile was the only one in the winter garden. Her lips curled back revealing two savage rows of tightly bunched, thin and translucent teeth. Like the tearing fangs of something hauled up from the depths of the ocean. They seperated with a sound like the rustle of dry grass or rusted iron being manipulated. Her cold, abyssal eyes showed no emotion. She placed her hands atop his and leaned in towards him.

He had awoken bathed in cold sweat but by the time he had showered and was sat on the bus the weight of the dream had been dusted from his shoulders by the fresh sunlight of morning. He went back to Yvette’s alongside the garrulous crowds of commuters. But he was no longer fazed or afeared. He felt imperious; apart, but possessed of a singular knowledge.

 

VII

He visited Yvette again and again, even after the restoration had been completed in the office and he was back on a work schedule. He found the time. He began to research, under her direction, science and the relevant disciplines. As well as the modern books that she advised, (“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”) she outlined several esoteric works on middle ages surgery and alchemy for him to read. These came into his hands only through arduous pursuit. He spent long evenings in local and tertiary libraries making notes from books too ancient to be withdrawn. He would arrive home in the early hours, his mind still piecing together the summoning of spirits, aether and the humours. But these things did fit together. It became apparent that these were not the wild fancies of a few heathen mystics and conmen, they were part of a comprehensive, though incomplete, school of natural philosophy from which science had diverted rather than evolved. He became increasingly convinced that it had been diverted along the wrong path.

He took the treatment again and again. The wonders that were laid before him as he gazed into the pulsing blood never lost their luster. They showed times, places, events and people beyond the imagination. And as the blood was galvanized by that strange engine; his own self was similarly charged. The travails of life were reduced to their appropriate size in the face of a new world that stretched far beyond the previously observed horizon. At work he had a new zeal and a sharpness of mind. The work was a trifle; a chore compared to his new vocation. He completed it in a fraction of the time afforded to him and adopted what was now available, utilizing it for further study. Nothing seemed insurmountable. He was being noticed now not only for his abilities but also his drive and resolve. Members of senior teams began to sniff around, piling on blandishments and dropping hints about bigger and more gainful roles.

But there was still something that stopped him from committing fully. A deep rooted anxiety and diffidence that stopped him just short. Even in the accumulating fervour, he lacked something that the rest of them had.

Sitting with Yvette by the guttering fire one evening he turned over an idea that had been stalking the corners of his mind.

“Did you read the book by Aquinas that I recommended?” she asked, “If it is truly straw, as he claimed, then it is a most magnificent kind…”,

She stopped and watched him.

“Are you OK?”, she enquired and placed a hand on his knee.

“Have you ever considered what might happen if we were to introduce the blood back into the host?” he said.

For a long time there was nothing said. The fire continued to smoulder and a thin smell of smoke filled the room.

“Of course I have” she said, at last.

“I’m willing to try”.

She got up without a word and began to tend to the fire.

“Daddy believed that it would be the culmination of his work. He attempted it on rats. But nothing became of it. Of course, that is how it appeared. Who can know really what effect it can have had on them?” she said, without turning.

“But they survived?”.

“Yes”.

She poked listlessly at the ash in the fireplace.

“Well then. I’m still not sure whether the blood should be still manifesting its charge or whether we should wait for it to return to its intert state…”.

She whirled round, the poker in her hand blithely pointed towards his face.

“Why? What do you hope to achieve?” she demanded.

“It’s your work, Yvette. Our work, in as much as I have played a small role in it these few months. It’s your father’s work. You said it yourself, he saw it as the culmination…”.

“And why should it be you?” she demanded, and a small rain of ash fell from the dirtied poker as her hand began to shake. “You have been my guinea pig more than anything. It is my work. My father’s work. Our work. Or is it because, really, you only want to benefit from it yourself? To profit from the gifts you think the procedure will offer?”.

“Yvette, I…”.

“No!” and with this she flung the poker into the hearth, her grey hair falling loose into her face. “You think that I have not submitted to the process as we have it now? You think you are the only explorer in those outer reaches? Listen and know, my boy, you are not the first!”.

He stared into those ferocious, rheumy eyes in silence. At last he spoke;

“What is it you saw in the blood?”.

She pushed the hair out her face and laughed. It had the dry rattle of dirt being thrown across a coffin lid. She plucked the poker from the gathering fire and thrust it back into its holder. She sat across from him on the sofa and dusted down the front of her skirt.

“The engine that I use is not the original. Everything gets smaller in time, of course. Daddy’s original was the size of a whole room. And the results were different; far more violent. Far less stable. The last time I used it was after Daddy left us. It is tempting to seek answers in powers that we do not understand, projecting onto them, in blind assumption, the ability to grant us answers. The issues of blood that were used were far greater, originally, and it somehow magnified them even beyond that. I saw it dance and boil and roll like a sea. It did not trace out images but, instead, took on their forms. The currents that ran through it were like cables, twisting it into shape and holding them there. I saw him, my father, on his knees and screaming without a sound. But it was not like an image at all. It was if he were there, sentient, tortured and soaked in my blood. My blood. I reached out to take his hand…”.

He waited for her to speak. But she only closed her eyes, a second too late to prevent a single tear from escaping and falling into her lap.

“Well, that’s that” she said at last. Jennings fumbled with his hands.

They spoke for a long time but always around the edges of meaning. Childhood, fate and ethics were skirted and generalized. For them intimacy lay always beneath ice and there was no fire to warm it and no dark in which to hide what might be brought up from beneath. Not even at an end of things.

He watched her by the light of the fire as it spat cinders into the faded carpet. The curtains were drawn tight against the chill evening air. The sounds of buses and footfall on the street outside had dwindled and died. This strange knowledge they possessed; only to be found within these four walls in the world of the living and only in pockets of black air inside a few buried and lost alchemist’s skulls in the world of the the dead, it separated them from others as surely as the rift that separates those two worlds. He felt as if they were the only two people left on Earth. And he knew that she would not deny him.

 

VIII

Jennings sat down at the table and rolled up his sleeve. He winced at the bruised puncture marks that stared back at him. He felt his equilibrium go and looked away, but still did not find his mind at peace. The sound of Yvette readying the engine was vague and distant as he stared into the battered grain of the door that stood beside the Welsh dresser. The lonely ticking of the grandfather clock had become a too-slow throb. He only came around to himself as she placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Are you ready?” she asked. And it was like the voice of a priest at the bars of a cell. Sorrow, resignation and selfish relief.

He placed his arm on the table and gritted his teeth.

The machine pumped like a bitter heart jerking the blood through its copper veins. The smell of ozone filled the air and the constellation of black wounds on his inner arm sang with discomfort as the hair was pulled to stand upright. He watched the machine work and so did she. They stared blankly at the workings only to avoid one another’s gaze.

She busied herself preparing the needle. The blood in the drum gave off its abnormal blue glow. He stared deep into it as the light waned. He was waiting for her to say something as she gripped his arm and positioned it. But she did not say a word. Not as she guided the needle towards his flesh and not as she threaded it into the vein. He looked away, overcome with a thick nausea. He began to speak but no noise came out. He tried to say her name but, already, his eyes were turning back in his head and he found himself sliding into the oily and absolute darkness.

He came to sprawled across the table and with his mind floating in a horrible state of dissociation. The room was pitch black. He found his lips moving and his tongue twitching in his mouth. Involuntarily he spoke her name

Yvette… Yvette?”.

He got uneasily to to his feet and groped his way into the kitchen in search of the matches. The countertop was covered in some grainy substance that clung to his fingers. He found the matches and struck one. In the little pool of light that it cast the room seemed strangely drab and he rubbed his heavy eyes. There was complete silence and this, particularly, unnerved him in a nameless way.

He called her name again. The match guttered and died and the acrid smell made him feel more uneasy again. His nostrils flared in the dark. The damp and dusty smell of the room was gone. As was the smell of lavender that always pervaded. The smell of her. As he lit another match with an unsteady hand he caught something lying on the floor. It was the the iron padlock that held the door by the Welsh dresser. He turned the meagre light towards it and found it wide open.

He stepped hesitantly into the dark aperture. A set of stone steps lead down into a blackness that the light of a match would not penetrate. He stood there for a long time lighting match after match. He had always assumed that the door led into Yvette’s private quarters. But no person would live in a frigid cellar such as this. The walls were spotted with dark threads and spots of mould and the stairs were uneven and without a bannister.

He couldn’t reconcile why he stayed so long staring into that abyssal gloom until the sound that was growing in volume became loud enough to attract his conscious attention. And yet it was still too quiet to place. But it grew. He recognized it at last, turned and, dropping the match, ran for the door. It was the sound of some huge volume of heavy liquid sloshing back and forth across whatever unseen paving lay at the bottom of the steps.

He stumbled across the living room, banging into furniture as he went. The noise amongst the awful silence was not enough to drown out the unnatural, and still growing, sucking sound of that malicious tide which he could still hear beating inside his head. He felt his way down the hall and to the door. As he groped for the door knob he considered for one terrible second that it might not open at his command.

He pulled it open and slammed it behind him. The sound echoed in the dead dark hallway. But it was the only sound. There was no thunder of feet above or foreign voices calling them to heel. He felt his away along the staircase. The scratching of the match as it was drawn across the strip and the tiny hissing explosion as it caught set his heart racing with their clamour. But this was arrested as a further noise crept upon his shaken consciousness. On the landing above, something began to scrabble around in the dark.

He turned the weak globe of light towards the stair as the source of the noise came around the turn. It was a woman in form. Young, athletic, nude and entirely soaked in crimson, shimmering blood. But it did not move like a human. It began to skitter down the stairs like a spider or a lizard, its limbs at right angles to its body. Out of its face, huge eyes stared. Wide and white as porcelain. The pupils were huge and venomously hateful; this thing had perhaps never seen light. The staircase shook as it made its way towards him. He saw the broad pupils catch the sputtering light just before the match went out. He felt the air rush forward as a dripping hand reached toward him in the darkness. He screamed. And the creature screamed back.

 

IX

He pulled the door closed behind him and walked slowly out into the street. It had the shape of the world that he knew but, also, the unreality that he had expected. The rows of houses, the empty streets, the abandoned pavements; they were all covered in a thin layer of pale grey dust. There was not a single living being nor sound. He only knew he still heard by the tread of his soft footsteps. There was no scent in the air and no breeze to brush his clothes or skin.  He stood in in the middle of the road and looked up at the sky. It was a roiling mass of crimson clouds. Some silent maelstrom seemed to be churning the entire atmosphere. There were occasional flashes of lighting within the banks of scarlet cloud but no thunder ever sounded. It was so quiet, so horribly quiet, that he could hear the blood pulsing in his veins.

He walked down into the city centre. He passed the cafe where he had stayed a while the morning that he had met Yvette. He looked through the huge plate windows. It was an empty room. The sign above the door had vanished. The walls and pillars and glass only remained. He looked further down the street and found the same strange emptiness outside and within each building. It was like walking along the bones of a skeleton, each thread of flesh, of life itself, had been picked clean from the world. Only the underpinning remained. He looked down the thoroughfare to the street just over. He saw his work building. It, too, was an abandoned crypt.

It was neither night nor day in this world. A huge moon glowed in the vibrant, crimson sky. It gave off a waxy blue-tinged light the colour of cold, dead skin. But the light was too bright and, almost too disturbing to properly apprehend, caused no shadows to be cast from anything on which it fell. The world was a perpetual and sterile dusk, dredged in the dust of ages. He ran a finger across a wall and rubbed the soft matter between his fingers. It was as if the sky that he had looked upon were only a veil that had been scorched and had fallen like scattered ashes.

He wondered, vaguely, what might lay inside these forsaken shells of the former world, set against that blood red sky? What atrocities of form and aberrations of orthodoxy might rock back and forth within, only waiting for a witness to rouse their natures and begin their crazed dancing? He was not afraid now. In this way he had gotten what he had wanted. He had it, the thing that had held him back for so long; the abnegation of that ultimate terror. After all; why would a man fear death when the existence that he inhabits is something so very much worse?

As he came onto the main street he saw the only sign of life (or something approaching it) towards its opposite end. Near the top of a tower block on the opposite side of the river, a light burned in a solitary window. A tiny square of eerie and pulsing blue. He walked down the middle of the wide road, his eyes never leaving the pinnacle of the tower. In that still and silent tomb he moved towards the light and, even when it began to burn his eyes and the blood began to throb in his neck, he did not let his gaze fall. The world did not breathe and the footprints that trailed behind him were like etchings in cold stone.

Runway

onehundredandeightytwo

Pine blinds.
Forty floors up.
Level with the sun.
They always let the light in.
There was no escaping from the light.
Air conditioned skin.
Rough and dry as lake ice.
Cold like the sound of a compact disc.
You always looked a little ill.
Ashen around the eyes.
But it was all artistic.
There was nothing wrong with you.
The bullet holes were all drawn on.
With fifty dollar mascara.
They sparkled in the sun.
Like spiderwebs soaked in dew.

You rolled out of bed.
And told me.
That you had to catch a flight.
A flight to where?
Anywhere.
But I was not the kind of man.
Who can appear at a check in desk.
Barely dressed.
In pain.
But not afraid to die.
March across.
Some field of grey concrete.
And step onto a plane.
Under an azure sky.

I waited whilst you hailed a cab.
A cigarette hanging between dry lips.
And the sun bleaching my hair.
Everyone turned to stare.
They must have wondered who you were.
Did you ever wonder.
Who it was you were?
You faded into shadow
Stepped into the car.
It’s a beautiful thing
To remember.
The sun is only one more star.

Now all I have.
These dreams of you.
Tight, faded.
White t-shirt.
And Union City Blues.

 

At Last (Death of a Polar Bear)

onehundredandeightyone

I

I was sitting on the sofa and watching TV when I noticed it. The flat was bitterly cold. My girlfriend had moved out about six months prior and, without the extra money, it had come down to food or heat. I don’t remember what it was that I was watching. Some documentary or a repeat of a crime drama. Something from terrestrial TV. I was under a blanket and having a final cigarette before bed. On the hand that held the cigarette the knuckles were starting to ache from the cold. When I exhaled it cascaded out in huge plumes, the tobacco smoke mingling with my visible breath. Under the blanket, my other hand was wedged between my thighs.

I felt it as an itch on my neck, halfway between the ear and the shoulder. I leant my hea to one side to rub it away against the collar of my work shirt. As my skin brushed the limp cloth a terrible pain shot out like something with teeth. I lurched and dropped the cigarette on the sofa where it rolled into the groove of the seat cushions. Jumping onto the cold floorboards I flung the cushions aside and found the smouldering butt, dropping it into an abandoned cup of coffee, and patted down the embers that were smouldering on the fabric.

I sat on the icy floor, my heart racing a little. Delicately I sought the throbbing area on the side of my neck. Even to touch it brought near-agony. It was about the size of a 50 pence piece and raised up by about half an inch. It felt warm to the touch and I could feel a pulse beating quickly within. What the hell was it? Perhaps an ingrown hair, an impacted follicle? Perhaps it was an allergic reaction? But none of these things gelled. That morning there had been nothing there. I had used no new shower gel or washing powder, anything that might have caused it. Maybe that was the issue? The amount that I could shower and do washing had become something that I had to ration to make ends meet. Maybe it was an accumulation of that greasy, cold, dirty feeling that comes on the poor with winter? It was not pleasant to think of myself as poor.

I stood up and looked at the mark in the mirror which hung behind the sofa. The mark was a deep plum colour. It looked as bad as it felt. My shoulder twitched as little shivers of pain radiated out and into the nerves. I leaned in to the mirror. At the centre of the mark was a spot that was almost black. Only the reading lamp was on and I tilted my head to allow the light to fall on it better. The black spot moved. My chest felt empty as I watched. I turned this way and that. But it had definitely twitched. I considered that it might have been a convulsion of muscle. I considered this for a long time before the mirror which hung behind the sofa. But I knew what I had seen.

I sat back down and stared blankly at the television. I no longer felt the cold. I felt the itching in the side of my neck and a breathless kind of fear. I looked out of the window beside me, drawing back a corner of the curtain. An icy chill came off the glass. The nearest hospital was 5 miles outside of town. I had no money for a taxi. A hollow variety of hope was fending off logic and I could not bring myself to ring an ambulance.

I went into the bathroom and pulled the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet wide. stared at the bare shelves as I brushed my teeth. I closed the cabinet door and went to climb into bed. One of the drawers in the nightstand was open a crack. Inside was a strip of Tramadol pills. She had used them when her period was bad. The temptation was to drop a couple and drift away into sleep, dumb and anesthetized. But I had to be up at 6:00 to make it for work. It didn’t matter to them if you had a growth on your neck or an eye out, you didn’t get paid if you didn’t clock in. And if you didn’t clock in 177 days out of 180 you were clocked out for good. I plucked the strip of pills from the drawer and they rattled like tiny bones in their happy, hermetically sealed little pods. The itching in my neck was very bad. I lay down on my side and closed my eyes.

 

II

I can’t say that I slept but I drifted. Half dream and half memory, I thought of some TV advert that I had seen that day or that week. In it a cartoon polar bear crawls in a desert. Big blue drops of sweat roll down his forehead. He sees an oasis on the horizon and his eyes light up. The advert cuts to him reclining on a sun lounger by the oasis, sipping a can of cola through a straw with his face beaming behind a pair of huge sunglasses. He dips his sunglasses and winks at the camera.

I’d seen a video recently about the melting ice caps at the North Pole. It was footage of a pallid, emaciated polar bear staggering across the jagged rocks of the coast, looking for food. Pawing at the seaweed in the tidepools. And was sure that people watching it had picked up the phone to set up their monthly standing order to donate to the charity that had posted the video. And I was sure that another set of people had made a note to try a new and refreshing cola drink. And perhaps a subset of these people were in both camps. But I didn’t have the money to donate to polar bears or buy cola. And I didn’t give a fuck either way.

I was jolted awake by a pain in my neck that made me vomit over the side of the bed. I tried to place a hand across my mouth and the bile ran between my fingers. My hand went, instinctively, to my neck and I pressed against the growth. The pain flashed again and bright red flowers of light exploded across my vision in the dark room. I rolled off the bed and stumbled, disoriented and barely breathing, into the bathroom. I pulled at the cord to turn on the light and found that I barely had the strength to engage the switch. I hauled on the cord and the light came on, the cord swinging wildly and clicking against the wall. I was almost blind with the pain, my eyes took time to focus as I squinted at the blurred mass of pale colour in the mirror’s surface.

The growth was larger, darker and, to my horror, there were long, black, thread like marks radiating out from it. My fear was that whatever infection was in the growth was spreading out into on my bloodstream. Heading towards my heart. I turned my neck and inspected the blackened veins. And then one of them curled in on itself, the blunt end of it touching and stroking against my skin. I tore at it and it came away in my hand. Open mouthed, I looked at it as it lay twitching in my palm. It was about four inches long. It was not a vein. It was some kind of insect leg.

The bile rose up in my throat again but as I tried to vomit into the sink I staggered backwards and fell against the wall. I could feel the other legs wildly tapping and writhing against my flesh. I reached and pulled away another, fighting a revulsion that made me once more vomit down my bare chest. Two came away in my hand. I tried to hurl them away from me but they were so light they only floated down and fell on my leg where they spasmed. I kicked my legs, trying to loose them, and smacked my foot against the cold porcelain of the sink

I sat in a daze. I could feel the feverish movement of the insect-like legs where they emerged from the skin. I could feel their ends dancing on my neck. I felt a sickening lurch of movement in the growth. The pain was intense but it lurked beneath the shock and I was barely conscious of it. I pulled myself to my feet by the edge of the sink. The plaster burst and the sink came a little way away from the wall. I forced myself to look. The growth was still horrifically dark and the black spot near its centre had become larger. The black spot flickered this way and that beneath the bruised and shining skin.

My hand trembled as I reached towards the growth. But I could not bring myself to touch it. My mind raced. Another jolt in my neck and the sound, more a feeling in the tiny bones of the ear than something external, of the flesh and muscles being wrenched and torn settled it in my mind. I went into the kitchen and pulled a knife from the block.

The tiles were freezing against the soles of my feet. The whole living room and kitchenette were horribly cold. The wind whipped outside. I turned on the gas hob with a hand that shook so desperately I could hardly keep the knob depressed. I held the dull blade of the knife to the blue flame with both hands. The smell of scorched metal filled the bitter air. I took the black and slightly smoking knife back into the bathroom.  

Standing before the mirror I drummed my feet on the cold floor. Every muscle in my body was taught and soaked with adrenaline as I tried to summon the courage, or perhaps just the abandon, to take the knife to my flesh. My teeth were set as I watched the insect legs twitching at their points of articulation. I brought the knife slowly towards the growth and tried to plan in what way I would approach this little impromptu surgery. As the hot steel got close to the skin I was seized by a pain that crippled my intent as much as my ability. My hand dropped to my side and the knife dropped from my hand. It clattered and skidded on the tiles with a silver scream.

A scream was more than I could manage. My breath was caught somewhere between my chest and throat. The thrumming light of the bathroom’s single bulb seemed to be pulsing in a spot just behind my eyes. I caught a reflection of those eyes in the mirror. Amongst the chaos and terror and isolation they were the sad, helpless eyes of a child.

A jet of sallow looking blood shot from my neck and began to run down the shower curtain. I looked towards the wet sound it had made with disbelief. A few gouts of more vibrant, circulatory blood dripped on the cold tiles. Small wisps of steam floated up from them in the frigid air. A wrenching feeling in the growth brought me to my knees where my hands slid in more blood. I brought them up to my neck. I could feel it beating against my palms. The legs swishing this way and that, soaked in blood and pus, were still, somehow, the thing that terrified me the most.

 

III

I only screamed once. Something about holding my silence, laying there on the bathroom floor in the depth of a winter night, allowed me to disconnect myself from the reality of what was happening. Who would not scream, after all? But when the thing finally pulled itself loose from my flesh there is nothing of flesh that would not scream. It was the feeling more than the pain, because the pain was instantly lessened. Dialled down from a high pitched whine to a low throb. It was the feeling of the skin unfurling and the pressure, built and then released, as the thing hauling itself out of my body that broke me.

I shuffled away until my back hit the wall. It lay there on the white tile, pushing itself around in an issue of blood and ichor. It made no sound but the tiny maddening sound of its legs skittering on the wet tile as it tried to find purchase. I put my hand to the wound on my neck. There was a trench of flesh there, a hollow, the size of a chicken egg. It was raw and slippery to the touch. But I did not seem to be losing any more blood. Whatever had been growing in there had made itself a little cavern of muscle and sinew away from the other workings.

It picked itself up from the small pool of mucus and filth in which it lay. I got my first proper look at it as it stood on shaky legs that seemed too fine to support its buk. Its body was around the same size as a closed fist, and of the same irregular outline, supported on those thin legs that were like those of a spider or a daddy long legs. It was gelatinous and a mix of pale yellow and blue. The organs and viscera quivered and pulsed within its semi-transparent body. As it turned its eye fell on me. It had only one eye, set in the lower front end of one side of its body. It was like a fishes eye. Or maybe an octopus. A great black pupil within a protruding bulb of a cornea suspended in a clear liquid. The pupil flicked this way and that. Taking my measure. It was like being caught in a terrible black beam. It seemed to pin me to the wall. A hideous shudder went across my shoulder blades. At the onset of the moment it raced across the tiles with frightening speed. It flew past me and out of the bathroom. I jerked my legs away from it in disgust as it passed. Tiny little specks of red blood followed it into the hall.

I sat up against the wall and pulled in a juddering breath. A flash of light brightened the bedroom as a car pulled out of its spot and drove out into the night. My breath floated before me in tiny clouds of vapour. Looking back I imagine I must have been in shock. But the numbness of the fight or flight response being turned in on itself still felt more like life than the months of emotional numbness that had preceded it.

I stepped out into the kitchen, following the breadcrumb trail of blood. I found the thing crouched in the corner. It was smoothing itself down with its insect legs. It reminded me of a fly resting on a window sill. I looked around the room, measuring up what I might use to kill it. I had a very strong urge to kill it. I looked up at the clock on the kitchen wall. It read a quarter to four. Keeping an eye on the strange creature, I gently lifted one of the kitchen chairs. As I drew nearer to it and the shadow of the chair fell across its rolling eye it jerked and scuttled to the opposite corner of the kitchen. Its legs made a tinny patter on the tiled floor. I aimed to crush it under one of the chair legs whilst I had it cornered. My fear was that it would escape out into the rest of the flat. That it might end up under the sofa or the bed. Somewhere that I could not keep my eye on it.

I watched it for a long time. It just sat there cleaning itself. Sometimes its eye would fall on me and the pupil rove all over, judging what I was likely to do. I waited a long time. It was very cold in the room and my fingers and toes were beginning to numb as I stood there in the pair of tracksuit bottoms in which I normally slept. But I did not want to leave it to fetch more suitable clothing. I did not feel as if I could look away from it for a second.

I was waiting for it to turn. For its eye to face away from me. It became apparent that this was not going to happen. Whatever intelligence it possessed (and the extent of this was a gnawing anxiety in the back of my mind) was sufficient that it knew, or sensed, that I was a threat and not to take its eye off me any more than I intended to take my eye from it. There were a handful of loose coins on the table behind me. It was my bus fare for work in the morning. Very delicately, I reached behind and picked up a coin. Weighing it in one hand I placed the other on the back of the chair. I tossed the coin into the kitchen where it struck one of the cabinet doors with a clang.  

The thing whirled round. And it hissed. It hissed like nothing from this Earth. I picked up the chair and lurched towards it. My numbed feet came down like slabs of concrete. I was bringing the chair leg down on it when it turned to face me once more. It raced out from under the descending shadow of the chair leg and brushed against my ankle as it rushed into the living room. In a moment of panic I hurled the chair into its path hoping to crush it or trap it, shouting a curse at it as I did so. It ducked sharply out of the way of the falling chair which clattered on the floor. The sound of feet being planted on the floor in the upstairs flat distracted me and I did not see where the creature hid, though when I looked back it was no longer there.

The chair was still rocking on the wooden floor of the living room. A heavy and deliberate thudding came from upstairs as someone stamped their foot in anger. I could hear muffled but aggressive remonstrations coming through the ceiling. I looked at the clock in the kitchen. It read a quarter past four.

Turning my attention back to the living room I tried to look for a trace that would lead me to where the creature had hidden. Tiptoeing across the room I picked up the chair and set it back in its place at the table. I drummed my feet anxiously on the floor. Perhaps if I could not kill it I could at least get it the hell out of my flat? I wedged open the inner door that led into the small porch before the front door. Then, creeping over to the ceiling to floor windows at the front of the living room I unhooked the latch and pushed the part that opened as wide as it would go. A gust of freezing air pushed me back to where the tiles of the kitchenette met the wooden flooring. I had no idea if it could climb a window. I hoped that it could. And also, very much, that it could not.

I walked over to the TV cabinet. And I kicked the hell out of it. I listened very carefully for the sound of the creature. I went over to the sofa and kicked that, also. Once, twice. Strike three came from upstairs as feet slammed on the floor. I barely noticed. My nerves were pulled tight as piano wires. The freezing air blowing into the flat was turning the anxiety within into a desperate mania. I kicked the TV cabinet again. And this time there was a rustling in the wires at the back.

My breathing was heavy as I backed into the kitchen. I opened the door to the utility cupboard and reached in without taking my eyes from the TV cabinet. I pulled loose the iron. It had a nice weight in my hand. Wrapping the cord around my forearm I went back over to the TV cabinet. I kicked it again. Nothing. I kicked it harder. Still nothing. I reached behind and smashed the back of the cabinet with the flat of the iron. The thing came running out of its hiding place and headed towards the sofa. I hurled the iron at it as it went past. As the iron smashed into the floor, missing its target, an answering volley of banging issued from the front door.

“What the fuck are you doing in there!? Do you know what time it is?”.

I froze, breathing very quickly and very, very quietly. I was quite sure that he must be able to hear the pulse that was beating in my throat.

“Get out here!”.

BANG BANG BANG.

“Get out here, you weird little fucker!”.

The creature could have danced across the floor in a top hat and tails and I’m not sure that I would have noticed. There are alien looking creatures that burst out of your neck in the depth of a winter night and then there are six foot, skinhead psychopaths banging on your door. One of these is a more digestible horror.  

“Don’t fucking let me hear you again!”.

BANG.

Get out”.

I whispered it like a curse but there was just as much of the sad begging of a cur to it.

“Get out!”.

I began to pull out the sofa. As delicately and quietly as one can pull out a three person sofa. The perspective afforded by my terrifying neighbour trying to kick my door down had taken some of the edge off my fear of whatever it was that lurked behind.

But it was gone. I followed the line of the skirting board. There was a large dark rift running down it. Pulling the sofa a little further from the wall, and conscious that the thing should not come skittering out from beneath it, I stepped closer to the dark smear. I reached down. The skirting board came away from the wall with the slightest pressure. The thing had gone inside the walls.

 

IV

I stood back and tried to plot the layout of the walls and floors of the flat. A gust of paralyzing cold came in through the open window and I reached out to pull it shut. I vaguely noticed that the sky was beginning to lighten. The wall which held the cracked skirting board ran up to and met the wall that adjoined the next flat. I found my mobile phone on the table to use its torch. But, stood in the freezing flat in the first doleful light of morning, I made sure to check my messages first.

Pulling back the skirting board with the tips of my fingers I shone the light in as best as I could. A shadow fluttered as some clod of dust or hair was disturbed by a draught within the walls. I dropped the torch and jerked away, swearing under my breath. But there was nothing there. The inside of the wall was alien enough, filled with the husks of insect bodies and flecks of plaster and insulation, but it held nothing more sinister than that. So, it was gone. Now all I had to do was ensure that the point of egress did not become one of ingress.

Searching the flat I found nothing that would do the job. I was beginning to panic. What if it found its way back in whilst the gap was open and unattended? I would need to find a temporary measure. I tried moving the sofa against it but the shape of the arms stopped me from getting it flush to the wall, no matter which way I turned it. None of the kitchen chairs were heavy enough. I caught my dim reflection in the black expanse of the TV screen. The image was of some fish belly-white corpse floating up to the surface of a still lake. She had taken the plasma TV when she left. A friend had lent me the cathode ray relic that now sat on top of the media unit. It had taken the both of us, my friend and I, to get it up to the flat by the single set of stairs.

With the sofa moved and the TV unhooked in the back, I tried to find a good grip on the monolithic hunk of plastic and glass. My knees creaked as I tried to take the first of the weight. I could barely get my arms around the front of it and onto the hand holds on the side. I tried gripping it from above. As I shuffled it towards the edge of the media unit I was extremely conscious that, if it slipped and fell, my feet were likely to be crushed or my toes sliced off by the sharp underside. I got down on my knees in front of the TV. I came face to face with my reflection in the black expanse of glass. The ghoulish figure that stared back at me from what seemed an abyssal depth only inches away was very pale and had its hair in disarray. It was a sick looking creature with dark circles around its eyes. I turned my head and looked at the wound on my neck. In the dim reflection of the TV screen it really didn’t look too bad.

I tried to edge the TV off the unit and cushion its fall against my chest. It was an abysmal failure. The thing toppled off and smashed on the floor as I fell backwards. The crash it made echoed across the disordered room. I heard feet stamp on the ground in the upstairs flat. I sat, frozen, my legs splayed in front of me and all the hairs on them stood on end. The banging upstairs continued for a couple of minutes and a lump built in my throat and choked me to the point where my pulse ran like an animal fleeing a gun. I heard two muffled voices, one raised in fury and one pitying. In time the voices died away.

I dragged and pushed the TV, inch by inch, over to the wall. The front of it sat perfectly against the skirting. I tried to push it with one foot and could not. A wave of relief washed over me. The thing was not getting back in. Not through here. I didn’t give a fuck where it went, as long as it never came back. The brightening sky threw a wan light into the living room. I turned off the overhead bulb and looked in the mirror. The gouged flesh in the side of my neck looked grim in the natural light but the pain had been dialled down to a weak background noise. I would need to get some kind of antiseptic for it on the way back from work. The thought of going to a hospital had been put aside. The clear light of day is worthy of it place amongst the cliches. You don’t walk into an emergency ward and tell a nurse that an existential horror came climbing out of your neck last night. Trust me, you don’t tell fucking anyone.

Looking at the sickening mark that it had left, however, I realized that if I were to avoid it becoming a topic of conversation I was going to need to cover it up. I went into the bedroom and found a sweater with a collar that, when turned up, did an adequate job. It would look a little strange but it would have to do.

The sun fell across the bed and tumbled onto the back of my legs. It was deliciously warm. I would need to set off for work in a couple of hours, there was no use getting any sleep. One usually feels better in the numb, unreality of a day after a sleepless night then one does in the thick torpor of one after a few hours. I sat down on the bed in the broad shaft of sunlight.

I thought, again, about the advert with the desperate polar bear. Forget jazz and forget rock n’ roll, advertising is the great American artform. To take an animal suffering on the wastes and use it to flaunt sugar water is an act of malicious genius. Or perhaps that wasn’t the case at all? Perhaps it was the documentary maker who took inspiration from the advert and used it to further their environmental cause? Maybe I had seen the advert before I had seen the clip of the bear? Maybe the whole thing was a test. Two picture cards set before me to see which one I would react to the most? What do you see? A token of a dying planet. A diet beverage which doesn’t compromise on taste. Were either of them real and who could you believe if they told you which came first? I lay back, only for a second. There was a pain at my temple. Some knot in the vein. I closed my eyes. But only for a second.

 

V

I awoke in blind panic. The midday sun streamed over me. Outside was silence, all the cars and children away at work and school. Groggily I became aware of an alarm sounding from my phone in the other room. And then I felt the light dance of spider-like legs on my throat and the pressure of something pushing, writhing, on my neck. I screamed. It was OK to scream now. I threw myself from the bed tearing at my neck and landed half on the bed and half on my ankle. I screamed again. My fingers dripped with some slick fluid from where I had touched the creature that now lay thrashing on the bed covers. I let out a desperate, anguished moan rubbing at the raw flesh on my neck. The thing had been trying to fucking burrow back in.

Whatever dark and uncertain fear that had smothered me was now torn and ravaged by the white hot light of actual terror. I pulled one end of the blanket and tried to wrap the creature in it. My ankle gave as I lurched forward and my cry was mingled with the sinister hissing of the creature as it saw my intent. It skittered up onto the pillow and turned its grim black eye on me. I grabbed the lamp from the bedside table and, using my good foot, hurled myself towards the thing. It scurried away and down the side of the bed. As I limped after it a web of acid pain flashed in my injured leg.

It was in the living room. It had settled on top of the TV pushed against the wall. Fleetingly I wondered how it had got back in. It could obviously squeeze its strange soft tissue into all manner of tiny apertures. It stood wiping itself with its front legs in that awful vermin-like way that it adopted. All fear had become fury. I was frozen, wounded and on the verge of losing the job that barely kept my head above water. All because this thing, whatever the hell it was, had used me as some kind of host.

Tears of frustration in my eyes. I screamed at the creature in the bland light of that lonely afternoon.

“What do you want? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT!?”.

And it blinked its black eye. The wet penumbra around its pupil rattled as the lid flicked across the glistening surface. Its legs, like dry witches hair, twitched in disinterested response. The flesh in the side of my neck burned. I limped back into the bedroom and came out with the bedsheet I had torn from the mattress. A couple of cold tears ran down my cheek. I spat on the floor. I I wrapped the sheet around my arm and stepped forward, dragging my numb ankle behind me.

 

VI

The river was low. It had been a cold, dry winter. Thin, brown reeds poked above the surface of the water. As I stood at the railing the road behind me was quiet. I looked to my left and right. The old man who had passed by with only the faintest interest in the occasionally writhing bundled sheet that I was holding was still heading along the pavement. I maneuvered the sheet over the railing, keeping it at arm’s length. Some animal sense in the thing, some smell of fear or predatory intent, awoke and it began to thrash wildly. Further up the road a car’s tyres squealed and its horn blared. I dropped the bundled sheet into the slow but powerful water. And I watched it float beneath the bridge. By the time I had managed to avoid a small stream of traffic and cross the road on my good leg it was only a pale blur rolling on the swell of water and disappearing around the bend in the river.

I got home and collapsed on the askew sofa. The whole room was in turmoil; the TV overturned and tiny shards of glass leaking from within. The table was overturned and cigarette butts littered the floor from where an ashtray had been hurled. I took the cigarettes from my jacket and tore the cellophane loose from the packet with my teeth. My heart was racing but I could not identify the feeling that made it run. My mind was a mess of unfinished thoughts reeling around in gales of vague anxiety and elation. The flat smelled of stale smoke, vomit and the remains of the cold night air. My hand shook as I brought the cigarette to my lips. I became aware of the ticking of the kitchen clock as its insect twitches sounded steadily between the chaotic thumping of my heart. It was half past two. I looked at my phone on the kitchen table.

It was half past three before I had concocted an excuse for not being at work that seemed reasonable. They were not interested. I was advised that I was being issued with a final warning. As the evening drew in around five I turned on the heating. I turned on the lights. I ordered takeaway and dropped three Tramadol for a warm and gooey dessert. It was glorious to be warm and fed and comfortable, all at once, for the first time in several months. I was exhausted but happy. I could go back to work tomorrow and make amends. Perhaps I could find a cheaper place, a flat share maybe? There was something about the terrible events of the last twenty four hours that made me feel a strange optimism. My life had seemed to be circling the drain for a while now, surely this was the final vicious bump? I could rebuild something now. And I had had a unique experience. Something significant. Surely providence would oblige me for meeting this test of character? This is how the human mind works. It believes in the narrative and the Hero’s Journey. I went to bed and dreamt that my brain crawled out of my skull and climbed the bedroom wall on legs of vertebral arteries where it lurked on the ceiling, watching me as I slept.

 

VII

I did not awake until the noon the next day. And I never made it out of bed until around three A.M the following morning. I dragged myself from the covers still in the depth of a fever so great that it had destroyed my senses. I tasted fever and saw fever and heard fever roar like a crippled beast. I crawled across the floor. Actually crawled across the floor on my stomach. It doesn’t sound real, like something you’d see only on television, but that was all I had the strength to do. I crawled through the dust in the doorway like an animal dragging itself to water. I managed to pull myself up to reach the phone that I had, in my pride and indulgence, left on the table the night before. Its battery was dead and I plugged it into the charger. I slumped back against the couch and waited.

The phone came on in time and all the little lights blinked as a slew of missed calls came in. There was a message informing me that I had been left a voicemail. And the voicemail spoke through the fog and smoke of fever and, in muffled tones, told me that I must attend a disciplinary the following day. At three A.M, rinsed with sweat and racked with ague; that day was today. The floor was cool and I lay my cheek against it. It felt good to sleep and know that there was nothing waiting for you in the morning.

I kept the windows open and I kept the wound clean. I walked around the flat wrapped in a blanket. The cold was bitter. I took the mirror down but I knew what was left in its surface. A shrouded figure stumbling to the window and back. Its skin as thin and sallow as isinglass. Sometimes muttering or breaking into tears. Sometimes calm. All too fucking calm.

I waited for it to come back. I would sell it on. Or I could tell a journalist and show him my proof. Someone would pay money for this unique creature. They would want to cut it up and figure it out. It would come back if I waited. I didn’t have all the time in the world, but I had some time. I lay down on the floor and closed my eyes against the cold. It belonged to me, this crawling, ugly and unkind thing that fed. If I waited it would come. And I would be saved.  

 

Now available on Instagram/Opium dreams/Betamax

tetsuo

I am on Instagram! Amongst the narcissists, hawks and blithe, callow excuses for poets that litter it I will be spreading my good word of bitter irony, slivers of beauty and pitch black humour.

It’ll largely be the same work that I post here but embedded to images (as above) and with some minor edits on older poems (also, as above). There will be a few new little bits of writing to go alongside the posts, though, so if you enjoy what I do here you may want to check it out (and proffer me some likes and shares and exposure and blah blah blah).

https://www.instagram.com/harry.c.mcintyre/

I’ve put off using Instagram for a long time but now I’M ALMOST CERTAIN that within weeks I’ll be living in one of the Kardashian’s houses (they all have books out so I assume they’re some kind of literary dynasty, right?) and be extremely rich and famous and happy!

 

Pneumatic

onehundredandseventynine

It’s a red eyed show that they put on.
Grease paint and the smell of dust.
Drift to the upper ring.
Where scarecrows in couture.
Watch on with sooty grins.

It’s a rheumy and draughty house they run.
The doors are battered in.
The windows boarded up.
Rain still sidles through the eaves.
And drips into your cup.

It’s a crooked and dusty court they hold.
Ouija boards and tumbling bones.
All the evidence they demand.
The judge is at the barbers.
And his wig is on the stand.

There’s a zeppelin.
In the sky.
Iron its ribs.
Silk its skin.
In the keel.
A telescopic eye.
But here’s the really funny thing.
In the eye.
There is a lens.
And on the mount.
There is a reel.
But the film ran out.
In 1910.
Nothing left.
We must conceal.

Mandolin

onehundredandseventyeight

Twenty one thirty.
By the VCR clock.
Still light.
Girl’s eye blue.
And peach in the sky.
Things are true.
Only.
At dusk and in the dawn’s light.
Up in your room.
We kissed with thin lips.
Smoked cigarettes.
That still felt like significant events in the day.
Watched the movies we had out to rent.
American films.
Horrors.
Which always started in dusk and ended in dawn.
In corn fields.
Or on dusty roads.
There were no ghosts.
It was the survivors who were haunted.

You used to say.
It was the great American art form.
And as trailers ran.
For films that we would never see.
Cigarette burns still in the corners of the print.
I’d wrap us in a linen throw.
Place my hand on your cooling skin.
You looked like a survivor.
Blonde.
And dirty under the nails.
The knife only half driven in.
Bloodied by the wilting sun.
Coming in at the window.