Tag Archives: story

Light Pollution

I lie there in the middle of the tramlines, wet tarmac under my back and criss-crossed electric wires way above my head like they’re holding up the amber blunted sky.

The city’s quiet now, aside from a few far-off shouts from people having the kind of good time they want people to know about, and there should be another tram along in a minute, which will be a bit of a problem for me, flat on my back in the middle of the road.

I don’t care much, though. With the cold wet ground beneath me and the warm night sky cradled above me, I could follow those wires forever and find my way out of this city once and for all.

I can’t believe I never saw it before, and I’m afraid to move in case I lose the thread. Instead, I just lie there. With gravel round my ears, drizzle on my face and my path laid out for me, I’m feeling pretty flush.

Human architecture

Another extract from my longer piece of writing. As with Letters, this is written by the main character’s mother in a letter to her.

“The way we left the city was not as I’d hoped, though of course I hoped never to leave. We packed our things by candlelight, taking only what we could carry, leaving the dusty shell of our rooms strange and bare in the warm dark. They will grow cold without us.

There was no time to say goodbye to all the strange and beautiful corners of the city that have sheltered and nurtured me for so many years. Instead, I was ordered to keep my head down and my eyes on the floor of the carriage. It was a strange kind of gift, though it was intended only as a measure for my safety; while I longed to see my city one last time, I felt it instead, right inside my bones like the deepest caress. One last secret, and one that swelled within me like music. My city’s cobbled face; its gentle slopes; the hypnotic curves of its streets, which pulled me into the side of the carriage like a mother holding a child. The night air was chill, and I felt a painful tug in the deepest part of me, as though I were abandoning my city, my home, to the cold and dark rather than fleeing it.

When a fretful child is afraid to sleep alone, it is not the dark she is afraid of, but what may hide in it. So it is with my poor, beautiful city. I am not, and never could be, afraid of that strange and beautiful place, around which the architecture of my heart is built. Rather, I am afraid for it, and of what now hides within it.”

The Pearl Mother

Part of a larger piece I’m working on…

*

“The Pearl Mother,” he said, “is not someone you want to be fooling with.”

He sucked weakly on his pipe for a moment before continuing, his pale eyes hooded with shadows from the paraffin lamp that swayed gently from the ceiling.

“My grandpår used to tell me the story of the Pearl Mother when I was naught but a boy, and how she came to be the chief lady of the Unlit Quarter.

“Smoke folk think of the Pearl Mother as someone who was born and raised in the dark, like the others, but that’s not how it went. No one knows where she came from, that kvinna, but she arrived on the river steamer one night, a-sobbing and a-tearing at her clothes, crying moons about some fellår she couldn’t never be with.

“The oyster divers, my grandpår included – though he was but a young man himself in those days – were readying for the night shift when the steamer drew in, churning up the waters, perfect for waking them oysters up.

“She runs down the plank and on to the docks, where she snatches up an oyster knife and slips it into her eyes, one after the other. Out they come, tock, tock, and she’s not crying no more. Instead, she tips headlong into the water behind the steamer, and they all think she’s a done deal, gone down with the oysters.

“A few of the divers pile in after her, but they’re coming up with handfuls of silk from the nets – no sign of this poor kvinna until suddenly, she breaks surface, gasping in great lungfuls. The blood down her cheeks is gone, all washed away by the river, and in her hands, she’s clutching fat black oyster shells – wide open like mouths, they were. Not one man I know can get in one of them river oysters wi’out a knife, but she’d managed it, bare fingers and all.

“They pull her up on the dock, do the men – some of the wives are off the boats now, on account of the störning that’s going on – and she lies there on her back, tangled in the nets and shells and staring up at the lamps. She’s looking up and blinking like she’s taking it all in, but what’s when my grandpår and the others notice that she’s got two of the biggest pearls anyone had ever seen, just glimming away where her eyes used to be like a pair of shiny juveler. And she’s looking up, and she starts laughing. She’s laughing so hard, she’s shaking and she doesn’t stop for near two whole minutes.

“Once she’s collected herself, she reaches out her hands and asks the dock wives to help her up. None of them’s much keen on touching her but they can’t just leave her there in the nets, so they haul her up. When she’s steady on her feet, she asks them nice as you please which way the dark quarter is. They take her by the elbow, as an elbow’s about as far out on a person as you can get, and turn her round so she’s facing the south road in.  Never mind as she’s got pearls for eyes, she totters off quick as you please into the Unlit Quarter, and she doesn’t come back out.”

He tapped his pipe on the scarred wooden table and sighed, but said no more.

*

Prologue…perhaps?

As mentioned in my previous post, here’s the possible prologue for a new longer piece of work I’m writing. I’m not going to call it a novel – that’s far too terrifying!

Prologue

The restaurant, with its peeling paintwork and dingy sign would be easy to miss were it not for the fish tank that fills the front window and obscures the restaurant’s patrons from anyone loitering outside. In the chill November night, the blue-green glow of the water casts a strange light on the damp pavement; two golden carp roll lazily around one another, catching the light from the street lamp.  A middle-aged man rounds the corner and stops at the door, checking a small embossed card that he pulls from the pocket of his heavy wool coat. He glances around him, then pushes open the door, disappearing inside as the bell above the door announces his arrival.

Inside, the cloying smells of incense and sesame oil fill the air, which vibrates with conversation and the clatter of cheap crockery. Groups of people hunch around the tables, shovelling up noodles and rice and other assorted delicacies with wooden chopsticks.

The man follows the narrow aisle between the tables to the back of the room, turning slightly to one side to avoid catching anyone’s elbows as he passes. Head down, he ducks under a low beam and mounts a dark staircase hidden away in the corner next to the kitchen doors. At the top of the stairs, he finds himself in a small waiting area. The dark wooden floor is polished to a brilliant shine and a low table stands on a vividly patterned scarlet rug. Paper lanterns hang in the corners and give off a seductive, dangerous glow. The man sits gingerly on the bench that runs around the outside of the room. He sees a faint glow behind the frosted glass on the opposite wall but can’t make anything out. Hearing a creak on the stairs he’s just come up, he turns, watches for someone to appear. When no one does, he turns back, meaning to check his phone.

A woman is standing in front of him. Her dark almond eyes watch him, and she gestures towards the now open door of the frosted glass room without saying a word. The man stands and hands his card to her, giving a foolish half-bow that he instantly regrets. The woman ignores him and heads down the stairs.

As the man enters the frosted room, the heavy scent of jasmine and patchouli fills his nose. He feels a tightness in his head, and it takes him a moment to realise he’s not alone. A large man stands in the shadows at the back of the room and, on the ground, a young boy, no more than eight or nine years old, is perched unmoving on a large cushion of turquoise silk. His eyes are fixed on the man and, after a moment, he turns his hand over in a gesture that indicates the man should sit. Seeing that there are no chairs, the man folds himself awkwardly down on to a fat red cushion facing the boy. He feels cumbersome opposite such a tiny creature, but strangely nervous.

The man sits level with the boy, who continues to survey him with eyes like black olives; eyes that give nothing away. He clears his throat and the sound is loud in the silent room, the sumptuous furnishings doing nothing to muffle it. Just as he opens his mouth to speak, the boy cuts him off. He speaks in English, which surprises the man. Evidently it surprises the man in the shadows as well; he pushes away from the wall slightly.

“It is a difficult choice you have had to make; I don’t envy you.”

Suddenly, the man feels choked. He sees empathy in the boy’s eyes, feels the weight of forgiveness on his shoulders. He wants to apologise, to tell the boy it’s not personal and that, were circumstances different, he would never hurt a child. Instead, he takes a half-breath and launches himself forward, one hand fastening around the boy’s thin neck, the other pulling the ivory knife from his pocket. The boy doesn’t make a sound, and he doesn’t struggle. As the man raises his arm again and again, time seems to expand. He sees the arcs of scarlet hitting the frosted glass, the turquoise silk turning black as the blood pools on it. He sees the man in the corner reach for his gun and take aim. He closes his eyes.

*

With a violent start, I wake up. The room is the same as it always is – small, warm and filled with amber stripes from the streetlight outside shining in through the old wooden blinds.

Something’s changed, though. Maybe it’s me.

Daddy / daughter bonding

“I’m not planning anything and I haven’t done anything, before you ask. But, what kind of noise would a person make if they hit the ground after a seven-storey fall?”

“Sort of like a cross between a smack and a thump, really. Like a steak hitting a work-top.”

“But they wouldn’t explode, would they?”

“No, they’d be a funny shape, but they wouldn’t explode.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

My father, the ex-policeman, makes an excellent research tool when stories take a turn for the gruesome. To his credit, he never asks questions. Daddy/daughter bonding at its finest.

Still thinking about those plains…

I’m feeling a bit melancholy and writer’s block-y at the moment. I don’t think there’s a problem, really – I’m just a bit tired and grumpy. Work is heavy going and I’ve found out I need surgery on my knee – a good thing in the long-term, but definitely not something I’m looking forward to. I want to get out and about, get some inspiration, but I’m in quite a bit of pain, so I’m spending a lot of time indoors. Maybe I’m going a bit stir-crazy.

I’m still thinking about that house on the plains (see nyah and nyah). So I wrote this:

The deep of late afternoon; sheets and pillow-cases like pale ghosts tethered to the line.  Wooden pegs held between her lips and skirts snapping around her legs, she snags them one by one and loops them into the basket under her arm.

From the circle of dry scrub that surrounds the house, the silvered grass stretches out and away, rippling like billowed silk when the wind passes through. In all the years she has spent there, the beauty and rhythm of its undulations have never failed to soothe her troubled thoughts.

Straightening up, she turns to go. Her eyes, so accustomed to the bowing and crackling of the grass, take a second to register the pale, rounded shape nestled low in the grass, perhaps twenty metres away. Without knowing why, she feels afraid.”

I wonder if this will grow into a full story eventually.

The Goldfish

The old goldfish was a humble creature. As his once glittering scales grew dull, he drew strength from his heritage and lived each day to the fullest, marvelling at the little things: the way the light caught the surface of the water; the gentle tickle and sway of pondweed.

As he swam on, the goldfish was met by a beautiful sight. There, before him, stood a castle – the most magnificent he’d ever seen. He paused for a moment, mouth open, fins paddling gently backwards, as he took in the splendour.

How far he’d come since those days in the pet-shop! Full to the gills with pride, and wishing heartily that his great grand-fish could see him here in such breath-taking surroundings, he swam on.

As he ducked through the aerator’s bubbles, the old goldfish wondered whether he  might see his family again one day. So many things he had to tell them about his journey!

Lost as he was in these heady thoughts, the goldfish had almost passed it before he saw it. Quite how he’d missed something so beautiful, he didn’t know. For there, before him, stood a castle – the most magnificent he’d ever seen.