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Category: Prose Fiction

Space is Our Destiny

Four mates from Perth, captured in an alien prison! However will our brave Aussie battlers escape this pickle? Stay tuned kids, for the fantastic finale filled with adventure and derring-do!

“A steak and cheese pie,” said Gibbo, “then a can of Fosters, and then I’m gonna kiss my wife.”

He poked his head through the bars. The vile two-headed alien guard was out on a lunch break. They had maybe two minutes. Willie had gotten a plum job working in the chemical baths, and he’d managed to knock together a stick of dynamite. Marvin –using good old Aussie ingenuity–  had built the wiring and detonator from random junk lying around in the prison yard.

“Uh huh,” said Damon. Tick tick tick went the pickaxe. They needed to weaken the wall just enough for the blast to take care of the rest. “Not the missus first?”

Gibbo went red. “c-course not,” he said. “Pies and beer and other manly stuff. Riding horses in the desert and whatnot.”

“Uh huh,” said Damon. “Sure. I bet you-”

The dynamite went boom, and took most of the cell’s outer wall with it. There was a distant whistling, then a pitterpatterthud of reinforced concrete redecorating the prison yard.

“Strewth,” said Willie. “Give us a bit of warning next time.”  

Marvin nodded. “Ayep,” he said. That was the only word he ever said. Marvin was a bitter of a nutter, to be honest. No sane man was that good at making things go boom. The explosion had done exactly what it was supposed to – not just tear up the wall, but leave a generous hole in the outer electrofence. The prison perimeter was paper-thin: with the wild jungles of Gorthumax for kletons in every direction, where would escapees even go? Well let me tell you, those pesky aliens didn’t figure on plucky Australians!

“Peg it, lads!” shouted Gibbo. They pegged it, thoroughly: sprinting pell-mell out of the prison while sirens blared and lasers blew holes in the concrete all around them. Marvin got out first, then Damon. The other men stumbled around a bit, before the first two lads hauled them through the gap. Within seconds, the brave Aussie battlers had disappeared into the jungle, where they knew the cowardly guards wouldn’t dare follow.

***

“So let me get this straight,” said Damon, “using tree bark, a broken wristwatch, and some shiny beetles, you’ve configured a distress signal that will call the Australian Space Navy to our exact coordinates, so long as we can get to the top of Bloodcreek Mountain, at which altitude the signal can pierce the stratosphere?”

“Ayep,” said Marvin. He held up the device. It looked like a ball of mud with a bunch of LEDs stuck in it.

“Strewth,” said Willie, “I bet you a two-headed alien couldn’t make a machine like that. Bunch of blouses, all of them. Those subhuman two headed aliens don’t stand a chance if we all stick together and buy war bonds! Tell your parents today!”

“That’s right,” said Gibbo, “the war effort needs the help of ordinary folks back home. Just a few dollars will help us to buy guns, tanks and ammunition needed to finish what we started with those two-headed freaks. Space is our destiny!”

“Space is our destiny!” said Willie. “Stewth!”

***

Bloodcreek Mountain was an extinct volcano. The crater was an ancient holy site for the savage aliens, with dozens of armed guards all around. Whatever will our fine lads do against such barbarians?

“Okay,” said Damon, “so they plan is that we distract them with shiny lights and trinkets, while Marvin sneaks up through the trees to the top and activates the beacon?”

“Ayep,” said Marvin. He was very stealthy. He had a necklace of ears from all the aliens who hadn’t even seen him coming. Not that they needed ears in hell, right? Space is our destiny, not their destiny.

While Marvin sneaked his way through the dense jungle around the lip of the crater, the three friends walked casually out in front of the guards. The foul aliens drew their guns and spouted their incomprehensible babble, but Gibbo held up a wristwatch and said “see? Shiny! It can tell you WHEN you are without even needing the sun.”

The alien dropped their laser blasters to come closer, at which point

POW

KKRAKK

WHAMMO

SPACE IS OUR DESTINY.

SPACE IS OUR DESTINY.

“That wasn’t part of the plan!” roared Damon as the other aliens shrieked and charged, swinging their bladed forearms. All of them exploded at once – it was Marvin! Standing atop the highest hill, with the sun behind him, wielding a grenade launcher. Chunks of body fell everywhere around him.

“Ayep,” he said.

The beacon was lit, and the good old Aussie Space Navy were quick to respond – flying in from orbit to save our brave lads in the nick of time. Remember, no man who goes to war is ever left behind! This is our glorious cause! How can you help? Buy war bonds and always remember, space is our destiny.

ICU

“Coma is such an ugly word,” said Becca. “I prefer corporeally challenged.”

She tried to curl her hair around her ring finger, but it passed clean through with a liquid little scccchig. Force of habit. Human body gets very accustomed to, you know — physicality. Heft. The human spirit may be divine etcetera etcetera but it has all the physical integrity of cotton candy in a hurricane.

“That was a joke,” she said. “You can laugh now. Annie? You can laugh, okay?”

Annie was crying. Not pretty TV-crying, but a makeup-ruining, throat-stinging burble. She was trying to talk, but the words kept getting stuck behind the tears. She was talking to the body.

Becca’s body, of course, said nothing. She barely even recognised herself – she covered in bruises, with some sorta life-support jammed down her throat; squatting on her face like a clear plastic spider. The whole room was a bustling misery of beeping, and tubes, and antiseptic-reek.

“It’s my f-f-fault,” said Annie. She sat on a chair beside the hospital bed, almost bent double, leaving graceless little mascara smears on the sheets.

Maybe it was her fault if you wanted to get all technical, but accidents are accidents – you might be able to blame a woman for losing control of the steering wheel, but not for a patch of black ice on the road. Ain’t that a shitshow? Mother nature gets a bit too chilly, and all of a sudden you’re upside-down in a barren cornfield. Buh-bye to corporeal existence, hello to food from a tube.

“I wish you could hear me,” said Becca. She wanted to make another joke, but she couldn’t find the words. She wanted to hold her friend’s hand, and tell her it was okay. That wasn’t how it worked – that was against the rules. Once you pierce the veil, you can’t go back. It was something she knew in her soul, in the same way a living breathing human knows where their hands are, or when they’re hungry. She reached out anyway, and lay her hand across Annie’s.

The woman jerked back. Her eyes were wide, and tear-filled. She shivered, and rubbed the back of her hand, then muttered something under her breath.

B-but, there were rules

That –

It-

Fuck.

Becca puffed up her spectral chest. “HEY ANNIE HONEY IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, YOU’RE GREAT. YOU GOTTA GO AND BE GREAT OUTSIDE THIS ROOM, OKAY? HAVE SEX WITH A CUTE BOY AND MAKE FRIENDS WITH A DOG. I DUNNO, I’M NOT THE BOSS OF YOU JUST GO OUT AND LIVE YOUR LIFE THE SAME AWESOME WAY YOU ALWAYS DID.”

A piece of paper fluttered, and fell to the floor. The lights flickered on and off. Becca’s echo bounced off the walls –the real walls– but the words were lost. Annie was sitting bolt upright now, with her mouth wide open. “Please Becca! I know you’re in here, and you’re mad!” she said, “forgive me!”

“I, uh -” said Becca. Okay so, time for plan B. They’d found her grand-dad’s old morse tapper in the attic when they were kids, and spent afternoons pretending they were heads of state sending Important Telegrams. Becca pulled her arm back, then punched the wall with all her might. It went [size=small]tap[/size]. She hit it three more times, then paused, then twice more. Short short short short, short short. Hi. She rapped out the morse code for chill.

Annie’s chin dipped, and she counted the hits out loud. “Chill,” she said. She bit her lip. “You’re cold honey, I know. So cold. Don’t go into the light.”

God DAMN it.

“You’re taking the whole ghost thing pretty well hon,” said Becca, “but you need to take it a bit less seriously. It’s not like I’m dead or anything.”

She cocked her head. “Give it a few hours.”

The words weren’t received, of course the weren’t. Force of habit. Probably for the best. She grabbed Annie’s hand, and squeezed. Annie didn’t pull back this time. She smiled, just a little, through her tears. Her eyes lit up a little.

“One squeeze yes, two for no,” she said. “Are you angry?”

There we go. Good on ya, Annie! Squeeze squeeze. Annie shivered. A line of goosebumps ran up her arm. A few errant hairs stood up on end.

“Do you blame me?”

There was no squeeze for OF COURSE NOT, so two squeezes had to do; two hard squeezes. Annie’s hair looked like it was trying to make a break for the ceiling. A few strands were going white. Right, foot off the gas; too much ghostiness and her friend would end up looking like Doc Brown.

Not a great summer beach look.

“Are,” said Annie. She stopped, and didn’t quite sob. “Are you coming back?”

Well, shit. The machines beeped their beeps and the tubes pumped their fluid through the grotesque plastic affair on Becca’s face – her body was still alive, but it had gained that waxy corpse-sheen. She knew she wasn’t going back in there, in a way she didn’t have words for. She knew, but telling somebody else would make it real. Somewhere between one soul and another, truth got mediated. Somewhere between one soul and another, ideas stopped being ideas and started pushing against reality. Two squeezes, then gone – bought the T-shirt, rode the roller-coaster, buh-bye Becca.

In all the stories, ghosts held on because they had unfinished business. They had somebody wicked to haunt, or a friend to console. Becca knew one thing, looking at Annie’ tear-streaked face: she’s never forgive herself until Becca was gone; while her presence was in the air, so was guilt, and shame.

“Becca?” said Annie.

One squeeze. Becca took a deep breath. She smiled, Annie’s eyes were wide now.

“I know you can’t hear me,” she said, “but I’ll see ya later, I hope. Be good.”

Two squeezes.

“Goodbye,” said Annie.

There was light –  

perfect and beautiful light.

The God Squad: Inside the Secret Society of Salt Lake City

It was some real fucked up shit; me screaming in Sumerian while flying through the air, wielding my laptop like a club; me, the last thing standing between a 4000 year-old god and the entire population of Salt Lake City; me, a wicked-cool Vice reporter whose closest thing to demon-slaying experience was dropping a mescaline/MCAT hybrid in the backstreets of Harajuku.

Let’s back it the fuck up, man. I was on the Sundance beat; watching cool movies from Africa and shit, smoking weasel dust with bicycle mormons – pretty pedestrian stuff. I’d just gotten out of this very bae French movie about incest when I ran into this San Francisco hipster type; old guy, technicolour robe, tattoos in cuneiform on his forearms, which of course I immediately recognised.  

“Yo man,” I said, “you holding?”

He bowed. “I hold the secret to ultimate pleasure.”

“Oh cool, disco biscuits?” You’re never too cool to get high with a fun old dude – this is a life lesson I’ve learnt and now I tell to you, my reader. Old dudes basically invented getting high, and you should treat them with respect.

So this old dude, he just walked off, and I followed him – he seemed to be on some powerful shit, you know? So I followed him, then he goes into a vine-trellised alleyway and just walks clean through a fucking concrete wall with a blop. That was kinda the noise he made – organic, liquid; one second he was there, then he wasn’t. Blop. So I followed, because whatever shit I was on was pretty amazing and I wanted to keep the good times going.

I walked through the wall with a blop – there was a holy moment of trickling cold, like praying beneath a spring of young meltwater. Then I was through, standing in a stone alcove, looking down on a circle of cool old dudes in tie-dye robes. In the middle of their circle was a burning altar made from film cameras, wine bottles, and carnival masks.

“MARDUK, MARDUK SUM EH-AH AKITU,” they sang as they danced in a circle. Marduk of course, is the ancient Sumerian god of the festival: sometimes called the Dancer on the Sun. In the earliest days of human civilization, upon the banks of the Euphrates, people would pray to Marduk by putting on plays, and celebrating by telling stories in the firelight. Marduk: the Saint of Sundance. It all made so much sense: all the fucking movies made him powerful – all those stories flying around in the open air. The sunbaked Utah flatlands probably reminded him of home.

I tasted iron, and spices. The air crackled with something like electricity, but more vital – more alive. From the bonfire rose a dark figure wearing a crown of peacock feathers. The old dudes gasped, and screamed. This didn’t seem to be the dude they were expecting. It had too many teeth, and its eyes were empty. Its clothes were beautiful, but ill-fitting.

Shit went wild. Old dudes starting popping like water balloons filled with guts.

“TIAMAT,” cried the leader of the old dudes. He leapt forward with a gold-tipped spear. Tiamat shrugged, and snapped her fingers – with a cricky-cricka-crack of snapping vertebrae, the old dude-leader’s head spun all the way around.

In less than ten seconds, every old dude was dead: their funky tie-dye ensembles stained with the many colours of the human body – reds, pinks, greys and browns. I was alone in the room with Tiamat. Her eyes glowed red. She turned to me and said “you are not worthy of death” “you are totally awesome and up with the times, and we’re gonna have a final showdown later.”

Then she vanished into a cloud of perfumed mist that stank of oranges and decay. I was about to leave, when something grabbed my ankle – it was the old dude from outside. His pale eyes rolled in little oceans of blood. One of his legs was twisted entirely the wrong way, and the other was missing. “Tiamat ha-he mus,” he said, “Tiamat utika, ha-he mus. These words will weaken her, so you can –  can –”

Then he died. It sucked. Pour one out for my cool old dude. For a moment there, I was done – this was like the third craziest shit I’d ever seen. I took out my laptop, and found it was ruined – the screen showed  jumble of coloured blocks, like somebody had covered the damn thing in magnets. I sat beside the old dude’s corpse, and I cried because I’m sensitive. My whole article was gone, and also a lot of people were dead. I know you’re not supposed to get sad when people die, because you’re cool and cynical and whatnot, but it’s easier said than done. Your humanity is always there, lurking below the surface, threatening to pierce the veil of irony.

It’s pretty fucking upsetting, honestly.  

I got up, then went back through the wall of blop, and arrived to a scene of carnage. A great storm wracked the sky, and ancient two-headed dragons swooped down to snap up passing tourists and critics. Out of the alleyway and into the street, Tiamat stood with her arms open wide.

“FEAST,” she cried, “FEAST, MY MINIONS. PROFANE THE FESTIVAL OF THE SUN DANCER.”

She was taller now, and glowing a faint blue. As I watched, a bolt of lightning came down and earthed itself in her chest. She smiled, and grew taller.

“Tiamat ha-he mus!” I said, “Tiamat utika, ha-he mus!”

She glared at me. She stuck out her hand, and I staggered back as a blast of wind nearly knocked me off my feet. “Tiamat ha-ha mush!” I said. No wait, fuck. Tiamat he, uh –  

Fuck it.

I held my broken laptop high, and screamed “I WORK FOR VIIIIIIIICE” as I charged. The storm raged around me, but it meant nothing – I was protected by the old dude’s magics. The sound of cheap plastic casing colliding with a god’s skull is hard to describe – like a tearing in the fabric of the real; like the best idea you’ve ever had and will never remember; like lightning that knows how little time it has left to live. Tiamat reeled back and shrieked. I hit her again, and the dragons fell from the sky. I hit her one last time, and the storm broke. There was nobody there.

I stood, surrounded by the corpses of unhip old theatre critics, and I was the coolest man on earth.

sleeping dog/paper tiger

It’s not much, except it’s everything: love, money, health etc.

I got a real story: real witching hour claw-your-door-down shit. Something to put blood beneath your fingernails and battery acid in your veins. I can’t tell it though, because as soon as I do, it disappears in transmission between you and I. Poof, gone: nobody on the line except a storm of white noise. All the monsters of my imagination are nothing but pencil scratches, and a smacking of lips and teeth.

Lemme try, for propriety’s sake.

Boy goes out into a field. All the grain is burnt, and still smoking. Heat makes the air shimmy and shake. He’s sweating. There was a scarecrow in the field, but now there’s a man. He’s burnt, still smoking. He’s making noises, because there weren’t much else he could do – not voluntary shouts or anything, just a dying vocal ooze drooling out from between his lips.

The man is important to the boy. I forget the details: dad, big brother, uncle? Don’t matter. There’s a kid who can’t handle it, and nobody left in his life to share the load. The last man who gave a shit is now a strip of barbeque chicken. There’s ligature marks on his arms, his ankles, his throat; they’ve left queer little tan-lines where the rope kept the fire off him for just a little longer.

Boy’s crying, because that’s what weak little boys do. Boys ain’t been taught to hide from their feelings.

Dad’s body on the scarecrow’s old perch: smells like pork. Makes the boy’s mouth water, which only makes him cry harder; that little detail is gonna keep him up at night for the rest of his life.

Dad’s got his arms spread like Christ on the cross, except he ain’t ever coming back. His hair is burnt away. There’s something carved into his chest, but the boy can’t bring himself to read the words. He knows what they are: knows his family were never welcome around these parts.

“Dad dad dad daddy please dad dad dad,” he’s saying while the tears choke him up and make the sound come out harsh and low – almost a man’s voice. He’ll be tasting salt for days. He knows what it smells like when they burn a man alive, and he’ll be tasting that in the deep asshole of night for the rest of his life.

“Dad,” he’s saying blah blah etc etc. You know, I think he mighta been an uncle? Doesn’t matter, mate. Doesn’t matter. It’s all –  

It’s just a story, haha. It’s not real. I’m messing with you. Yeah.

Just a story; something to keep you up at night, so for once I won’t be alone.

The Door the Devil Won’t Open

Andrew Borden died twice.

It‘s a lie, but it’ll have to do.

He first died in 1890, in the Spring: fell down a ravine while walking home through warm, wild rain. Slipped in a patch of mud; scrambled while the earth broke up beneath his feet; screamed the whole way down. Died of exsanguination, less than an hour later. It should have ended there, with his shattered body emptied of life: splayed out in the mud like a puppet with the strings cut.

An hour may as well be an eternity to a dying man. It’s one thing to consider death in abstract, but to have hell’s hot breath raise the hairs on your neck? To be grabbed by the throat and made to stare into the coal shafts goin’ down and down in an eternity of roiling smoke: that’s another beast entirely.

With the last of his dying breaths, Andrew Borden cut a deal. He wasn’t ready to burn, so he said the old words, then walked out of that crevasse with barely a scratch on him. The old words ain’t the devil’s words, mind – devil weren’t even born when the old words got wrote. To keep your wicked old soul outta Lucifer’s hands, you sell it upriver to something darker, and infinitely more strange.

When Andrew got home, Abby fussed over his ripped clothes. He took her hand and looked into her eyes, then said something Lizzy could not hear. After that, Abby did not speak again for quite some time. She lost something that day; didn’t go pale nor any less talkative, but there was no light in her eyes from thereon after. Lizzy saw her mother walk the exact same path every morning through the house: the same almost-trip in the kitchen; the same neurotic tug of her hair as she passed the grandfather clock below the stairs – too precise to be mere routine. Tick tick tug tick.

It were all fine for a while, far as Lizzy could tell. Not pleasant, but it had never been pleasant; Andrew Borden was a mean drunk, and worse sober. She loved him as her father, but hated him as a man.

Since he came back from his ‘little fall’ in the ravine, he spent a lot of time in silence, staring into the middle-distance with his lips and tongue forming vulgar and alien shapes. Sometimes he’d stop in front of the hearth and speak the same words in German – a language he spoke only rarely, and never in company. Same words every time:

“Hasse tür ja ja,” – the door, yes, the hateful door. The grammar was wrong, like a child’s.

On an autumn day in ‘91, less than a year before – Lizzy approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. He was getting pale, and thin: less present, somehow.

“Eine tür, Vati?” she said. “Im Kamin? Im Feuer?”

“No,” he said. “The door is not here any more. It is inside.”

He would say no more.

Came the day everybody knows, and it didn’t dawn no different from any before; same Abby scooting around the place in her curious worn-down rut, same Andy looking sick, shaky and rageful. By that point, Lizzy had developed a habit of trailing her fingers across the wallpaper as she walked – searching for the telltale bumps and cracks of a hidden door. She was on the way to butcher a chicken for dinner, and had a small hatchet in her hand.

Lizzy was worried about her father, despite herself; he was a violent and frightening man, but he was still her father. She’d found no door, but some small part of her refused to take it as just another sign of Andrew’s madness.

Andrew was sitting in his favourite chair, staring into the fireplace. It was unlit. His skin was waxy. He was saying more silent words again. Lizzy tried to read his lips, but couldn’t: it wasn’t English, nor German. She cleared her throat, and his head whipped around – there was something bestial to the way he moved – all instinct and fear.

“Kill me,” he said. He wasn’t pleading, or scared – it was as if he were asking her to do the laundry. She laughed, then bit down on her lip. She didn’t want her father sent to a lunatic asylum upstate, but he frightened her then in a very different way than he’d frightened her before. Andrew laughed in return – a hacking, inhuman kikikikiki.

“Hasse tür,” he muttered, “ja ja.”

“I can’t find the door, pa,” she said. “I looked everywhere.”

Andy Borden stood. Abby swept into the living room; passed the grandfather clock, tugged her hair. Lizzy tightened her grip on the hatchet.

“Hasse tür,” said Andrew. “Hasse tür hasse tür hassetür hassetür hassetür hassetür.”

His tone was calm, but with a certain mad urgency. His left eye twitched. The words were running together now, and Lizzy heard a second voice squatting on top of her father’s. The same words but not quite: Hastur ia ia, Hastur. Hastur Hastur ia ia.

Andrew Borden died a second time, standing there in front of his hearth. It was a quiet death: he lost whatever tenuous hold he’d had over his body. His carcass slumped, but remained upright and smiling; in that moment, his vile passenger took the wheel.

Andrew Borden’s corpse opened its mouth. Human vocal cords were not made for the language it tried to speak – a string of choking glottals came out. A second voice came out of the air: I am come again through the open door.

Abby Borden was stuck now, pacing in a circle. Her eyes were glassy.

“Master,” she said.  

Lizzy Borden loved her father, but he wasn’t there anymore, and she knew it. The light in his eyes were dead: such a small change, but total. She leapt. There was no plan – she didn’t even remember the hatchet in her hand.

Abby screeched, and threw herself in the path of the blade. The wet impact sent a shudder up Lizzy’s arm. Her mother’s body smashed against the wall, then slid to the floor, her neck  twisted just a little too far around.

Hastur fell on her, both hands around her throat. She swung blindly with the axe, and it smashed into the corpse’s stomach. Hastur reeled. He was screaming, and she was screaming. Her second blow split his eye clean in half – viscous fluid erupted outwards: splashed onto her face and ran down her neck. The ruined eye dangled out of the socket on a single string of muscle. She swung at his face – bones and teeth shattered as his jaw tore away from his face. His tongue flapped wildly.

He growled, and clawed at her – she swung again and again. She swung until there was no more movement, then swung a little more. When she was done, Andrew Borden’s body was a pile of meat on the ground.

Lizzy dropped the hatchet, then went upstairs to the bathroom to clean her hands. It was over.

She didn’t cry.

She sat in the bathroom, and waited for the world to arrive.

firebreak

I got a goddam story for you: some real witching hour claw-your-door-down shit; something to put blood beneath your fingernails and battery acid in your veins. I can’t tell it though, because as soon as I do, it disappears in transmission; poof, gone: nobody on the line except a storm of white noise. All the monsters of my imagination are nothing but pencil scratches, and a smacking of lips and teeth. Paper tiger, meet scissors.

Lemme try, for propriety’s sake.

Boy goes out into a field. All the corn is burnt, and still smoking. Heat makes the air shimmy and shake cha cha cha. He’s sweating. There once was a scarecrow in the field, but now there’s a man. He’s burnt, still smoking. He’s making noises, because there weren’t much else he could do – not voluntary shouts or anything, just a dying vocal ooze drooling out from between his lips going like-a hnnnnnnnssss, hhhhhhhffffff like one of them kids whose throat muscles don’t work right.

The man is important to the boy. I forget the details: dad, big brother, uncle? Don’t matter. There’s a kid who can’t handle it, and nobody left in his life to share the load. The last man who gave a shit is now a strip of crispy barbecue chicken. There’s ligature marks on his arms, his ankles, his throat; they’ve left queer little tan-lines where the rope kept the fire off him for just a little longer.

Boy’s crying, because that’s what weak little boys do. Boys ain’t been taught to hide from their feelings.

Dad’s body on the scarecrow’s old perch: smells like pork. Makes the boy’s mouth water, which only makes him cry harder; that little detail is gonna keep him up at night for the rest of his life.

Dad’s got his arms spread like Christ on the cross, except he ain’t ever coming back. His hair is burnt away. There’s something carved into his chest, but the boy can’t bring himself to read the words. He knows what they are: knows his family were never welcome around these parts.

“Dad dad dad daddy please dad dad dad,” he’s saying while the tears choke him up and make the sound come out harsh and low – almost a man’s voice. He’ll be tasting salt for days. He knows what it smells like when they burn a man alive, and he’ll be tasting that in the deep asshole of night for the rest of his life. He turns, and runs, and don’t stop running. Not for a day, nor a week – he don’t ever stop running, but he never outruns the smell of smoke.

“Dad,” he’s saying blah blah etc etc. You know, I think he mighta been an uncle? Doesn’t matter, mate. Doesn’t matter. It’s all –

It’s just a story, haha. It’s not real. I’m messing with you. Yeah.

Just a story; something to keep you up at night, so for once I won’t be alone.

why wise men die under open sky

She went under the earth without a sound. Funny that; how everybody is listening on the one day you’re least equipped to speak. Listening hard, as if you’re to open your eyes at any second, tell them they were wrong, and let the ache release its grip from their ribs and throats. On the day they buried her, not a sound was heard – not even birdsong.

Only, she didn’t die, as such. As a germ of her soul fell through the pine, it took into itself a mouthful of dirt, and another. Greedy, feasting on worms, bones and char as the world turned in the far-and-away. The part of her that left her body behind called itself Ophiadne; the snake woman, for she coiled and uncoiled around the roots of the world, choking or giving breath as she saw fit, drinking deeply of the souls that fell down through the cracks. With their joys and sorrows, she strove to fill the hole the silence had left behind.

From her came others, shat out and taken on forms of their own, to suckle at that monstrous teat, and fail to grow strong. There was Jula; the Empty, Sawat; the Cavernous, Egritta; the Blasphemy of Stars. All grand names, struggling in the shadow of the snake woman, feeding on the scraps she left behind until they were little bone twists topped with gasping mouths, ribboned with their many grasping hands, staring eyeless and screaming tongueless against the tyranny of the mud and stone.

All starved, but were denied death. The tendrils of their dreams twitched through the veil and into the dreams of mortals, who woke screaming about a wasteland of souls, and a baroness who ruled the roots of the tree of life. A painter woke one morning unable to paint, and took his hand in a fit of rage. A poet, truly lost for words, cut out his own tongue. There were more, but they matter no more than raindrops on dirt, run together in a shallow trickle of lost souls, a million deep. The draught of gods, or something like them. A draught of which there is no cup deep enough, nor will there ever be.

When they feed, the sky weeps openly, as if a great flood could wash them away. If you would die in the rain, hold on. There are things worse than death, as Ophiadne herself learnt so long ago.

The Vigilant

Orpheus lacked backbone. He turned back and in doing so, committed the great sin: doubt. He was the original sucker, from whom every lost love is descended. The ur-loser, whose statue in the hall of heroes is made of cardboard and gaffer tape. Eurydice was behind him the whole time, but he doubted her and he paid for it. You told me his story while we lay naked in a field where yellow flowers grew in ragged rows. They pierced the evening mist with their colour alone: little lamps to light the way home.

We were very drunk and very happy. The farmer was neither when he found us, and we learnt new ways to run. I almost twisted my ankle in a rabbit hole when I turned to check on you. Judging from the farmer’s shouts, he got about five seconds away from giving me both barrels. I doubted you, and the hammer of god tried to knock a shotgun shell full of rocksalt right up my asshole. You grabbed my arm on the way past and dragged me with you, always surging forward.

We laughed about it later. I took one thing away from that day:

Never turn back, never give up: doubt is for suckers

It came and went so fast: the cancer, among other things. You wanted to be fired out of a cannon but we couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t abandon the principle of the thing, so I had you cremated, stuck the ashes into a firework, then snuck back out to the field-where-we-lay and lit the fuse. Yellow sparks, of course. They stole the sky for you, and lit the way home. Your ash rained down over the field, nourishing the flowers.

I came back a year later and they had grown huge, so I took one home. Planted it in a little plastic pot and left it outside the bedroom window to catch the sun. Not that it needed it: it was a little light of its own.

When that flower died I went back to the field and took two more, and planted them together in the yard. I figured something in the plastic killed the first, and a more natural solution might help. I watered the new flowers every day, but they died too. I took five more, and planted them at different spots around the house to see where the problem lay. They wilted; their lights went out.

That hasn’t stopped me. I doubted you once and nearly got my ass shot off for my sins. If there is anybody with the will who can give Death Itself the middle finger, it’s you. You’ve always been right behind me. You are my Eurydice, and I will not turn back.

I open the door every morning to get the paper, and you are not standing there waiting for me. It won’t stop me trying. I will not turn back. I have love, backbone, trowels and fertilizer. With filthy hands and sore eyes, I will leave you a trail of flowers to light the way home.