Issue Two - Published Autumn 2002
A4, 46 pages, b/w
Lara Bandilla and David Mcloughlin
Everything you ever wanted to know...
Issue Two - Published Autumn 2002
A4, 46 pages, b/w
Lara Bandilla and David Mcloughlin
:The Only Constant:
If you’re in on it, I just want you to know that you haven’t won. I know I’m
not mad and I know something strange is going on. If you’re not in on it and you
just happen to be reading this, I want you to take this document and tell
someone what has happened to me. If the same thing is happening to you, well at
least you know you’re not alone, which is more than what I can say. Confused? I
apologise but I’m sure if you read on you’ll understand why I’m a bit agitated.
My name is Harry Spencer, or at least it is according to my recollection. Even I’m getting a little confused these days but let me start at the beginning when this conspiracy first materialised.
It started with a movie of all things. I love the cinema, always have. I met my friend for lunch; it was about eight months ago now. We went to the Pavilion Grill, famed for its vegetarian dishes. I couldn’t give a crap about that, I’m a full-blooded meat fan but Jim, Jim won’t eat the flesh of a living creature. Well, that was then, he might have changed now, everything else has.
Anyway, we were talking about life in general; you know the stuff, girlfriends, cars, work, the usual. We got onto films, which as I’ve said is a favourite topic of mine. Jim is also into movies, which is one of the main reasons we’ve always been friends. We’d often go to the cinema to watch a film, good or bad, then go to the coffee shop around the corner from the theatre to discuss it. It had been a long time since we’d seen a film together so we didn’t have anything fresh to discuss. We started discussing the impressive career of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now I’m the first to admit that he isn’t the finest actor to grace Hollywood, but I enjoy his action packed, one liner-filled movies all the same. They make a refreshing change and after all, movies are about escapism aren’t they?
Jim felt that the best ‘Arnie’ film was without doubt, Conan the Barbarian. Now, I loved both Conan films especially the Barbarian but I insisted that the Cimmerian role could not compare with the Terminator movies for class, scripts or action. Jim looked at me as if I was mad and I thought we were about to fall into a heated debate on whom had a stronger argument but what Jim said next, had me completely astounded.
“Schwarzenegger wasn’t in Terminator.” He said.
“What?” I replied. “Are you mad? Arnie was the Terminator!” At this point we both stared at each other across the table, each of us considering the other to be out of their minds. I nearly choked on my Steak Au Poivre when Jim answered.
“Michael Douglas was the Terminator Harry, everyone knows that.” Once I’d swallowed my mouthful I nearly stood up from my chair as I shouted at my fellow film critic.
“Michael Douglas? You’re winding me up man, how could Douglas play the Terminator? Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Romancing the stone films, but I don’t think that Linda Hamilton is going to be that scared of Michael Douglas! He looks like a lawyer. Stop messing around.” To my astonishment, Jim remained adamant throughout the meal that Douglas had indeed taken the main role in both Terminator movies . . .
:The Girl in the Green Car:
“Are there any new messages, Morag?”
“No, Mr. Stephens.” There was a touch of Edinburgh in the accent. “And the third quarter figures are complete.”
“That looks like it for the day then. Would you request my car to warm up? I’ll be down in two minutes.” Roger Stephens swept up the papers from his desk to leave the polished oak surface clear, carefully placed them one by one in the shredder and then locked his desk drawers.
“Suzy is all ready for you, Mr. Stephens. Will I shut down now?”
“Yes thank you, Morag. Goodnight.” There was no reply as Morag’s screen went through the shutdown procedure.
“It’s really late, what were you doing?” Suzy said as Roger put on the seatbelt. “You’ve been with her again, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he said wearily. “What has it to do with you? We’ve been over this before, you know what I’m doing with Morag and you know why. I am not, and never have been, your exclusive property.”
“You don’t know how I feel waiting for you, knowing you’re with her.” There was a petulant edge in the otherwise plummy middle-class voice. “And I don’t like the way she speaks to me.”
“It’s my job and she’s part of it,” said Roger firmly.
“But I miss you. We have such good times together. You do enjoy them, don’t you?”
“I love spending time with you, Suzy, but that’s not the point. I can’t avoid seeing her if I’m going to keep my job.”
“So quit your job,” said Suzy brightly. “You’d have more time to spend with me.”
“More time and no money and no Suzy. Don’t forget, you come with the job. Shall I tell you how much a full personality package costs to a private buyer? You’re a luxury item. Now be a good girl and take me home.” The engine started and the car pulled smoothly away.
“Do you want to stop and get a drink or a takeaway?”
“No, Suzy. I’m tired and I want to go home. I’ve had a long day.”
“You work too hard, you should take more time off. You’re young, have some fun. Enjoy your luxury item.”
“There’s a board meeting on Thursday. I’m presenting the third quarter figures and projections,” said Roger.
“So take Friday off. We could go for a drive.” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ll take the limiters off again. You know how you enjoy that.”
Roger’s throat tightened. “How do you do that, Suzy?” he gasped huskily. He could feel his heart suddenly pounding. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
“That’s my secret and it’s only for special occasions. I bet Morag can’t do that for you. See, I’m much more fun than she is.”
“Of course you are,” said Roger. “Morag just does her job. It’s not meant to be fun.”
“Why do you spend so much time with her then?”
“Did I say I enjoyed it?” Roger said wearily as his pulse returned to normal. “How do I get this through to you? Morag is just part of my job. I can’t avoid spending a lot of time with her if I’m going to do my job. Now get over it.”
“Just tell me you don’t love her.”
“I don’t love her. Now please, will you just drive.” Roger adjusted his seat for maximum recline and laid back on the cream leather with his eyes closed. Why does it have to be so difficult? At least I don’t have to walk home this time, he thought, recalling the last time he’d tried to be firm with Suzy . . .
:The Daffodil Train:
:Tony C. Smith:
It was midnight, and Walter Harris stared out of his window. His eyes held
that vacant place where daydreamers go when school starts to bore or work
becomes a drag. There wasn't much he could do at ninety-three, apart from
dribble soup, wet the bed, and play back his memories. He never looked at
anything specific out of the window, it just helped clear the nonsense from his
mind, and after a dozen years cooped up in St Francis' Home For The Elderly he'd
seen a lot of nonsense. His mind kept taking him back to his youth, rummaging
through forgotten times like a rat scurrying over a rubbish tip. He was still
lost in his past when Ted Peters, the night orderly, ambled into the room.
Ted pointed at Walter's reflection in the window. "You look like a photographic negative hanging in a picture frame with the snow falling behind you. What you gazing at?"
Walter chuckled. "Looks cold enough to freeze my dentures, don’t it?"
Ted stood behind Walter, as he focused on the abandoned train line. Outside it was blacker than coal dust, broken only by the tiny flashes of snow falling against the window. It had been falling that way for a week, and today was the heaviest yet.
Ted rested his hand on Walter's shoulder. "You okay?"
Walter stirred, rubbing his stubble chin. "Just lost in memories, Ted, just memories. Anyway, why you creeping up on an old sod like me? Bring any of those cigarettes?"
"Sure," Ted patted the sides of his starched uniform. He slipped his arms under Walter's shoulders and guided the old guy back to bed. He nodded toward the window. "What's so intriguing?"
"I was dreaming about a daffodil train.”
Ted shook the pack and offered Walter a cigarette. "You want to tell me about it?"
Walter took a cigarette and tapped it on the tabletop. "Cassey and I married a year before we saw the daffodil train. We moved from London to Cornwall. I remember everything being so green. The air smelled of a sweetness we hadn't experienced before we moved out of the city." Walter took a deep breath, trying to capture forgotten smells, then exhaled and filled his lungs with tobacco smoke. As he carried on talking, smoke poured from his nose and mouth like the steam from a train . . .
:The Vampire's Own Alphabet:
Being a Primer of Tempting Themes for all Here & Now-ers that
they might be brought to meditate on the eternal weirdness of their
A is Anatomised, cut up and pickled
B is for Bruises, which shouldn’t be tickled
C is Cadaver, greyish and greenery
D is the Devil’s Gorge, Satan’s own scenery
E will Eliminate, terminate, End
F is the Fiend oft disguised as a friend
G is the Ghost, wraith-like and liminal
H is the Hangman who waits for the criminal
I is the Incubus, riding your nights
J is the Jugular, throbbing for bites
K is the Kite flown to harness the lightning
L is the Lamia, lovely but frightening
M is the Mistletoe, sacred for Druids
N’s Nosferatu, who’ll sup on your fluids
O is for Orgasm (refer back to I)
P is the Poltergeist, making things fly
Q is the dusky-robed Queen of the Night
R stands for Runes which you never pass, quite
S is the Succubus, sin in your dreaming
T is the Terror that wakes you up screaming
U’s the Uncanny you hardly dare mention
V is the Vampire, of sanguine intention
W’s Werewolf, all bristling and lupine
X stands for Xena, who’ll lay you out supine
Y is the Yeti, who’s not just illusion
Z signals Zero, and draws our conclusion.
:A Golden Age:
In a great curving arc of fire the starship Titanic shot across the
unnaturally blue sky of the planet listed only as GHP20062. Small furry
creatures scuttled into the protective shadow of low-slung shrubbery; a herd of
loping quadrupeds raced in terror across lush savannah, fleeing the noise; a
sound-sensitive plant wilted unexpectedly and died, flopping down across its
smaller neighbours. A lizard looked up at the sky speculatively, decided that
the distant blaze and thunder could not harm it, but froze nevertheless in
defensive posture. Its reaction was the most intelligent displayed by any of the
flora and fauna of the planet GHP20062.
Or so it seemed.
As the bar of blinding light neared the ground the roar increased momentarily, then diminished to become a muted growl as the Titanic settled down upon the rocket flame to a safe landing. The upright cone-tipped cylinder of the craft lurched a little drunkenly from side to side before recovering its balance.
In the control-room of the Titanic Captain Mendis looked askance at her pilot, Malone.
"There have been more graceful landings, Bart," she said mildly.
"Yes, Captain," the spacer agreed. "The rear stabilizers seem to be out of kilter. I should have checked them out before planetfall."
A long silence grew up between them as they eyed the scanners, alert for any signs of sentient response to their arrival or, more seriously, for any trace of overt hostility.
After a long while, it was Captain Mendis who spoke first.
"Malone," she said plaintively, "have you ever had the feeling that you're living in a cliché?"
He wished silently that he had the courage to step across and seal her lips with a tremulous kiss.
It took only a few months for the biochemists aboard the Titanic to establish that the atmosphere was really as breathable as it had appeared to be in the initial scan, and that there were no airborne bacterial or viral spores that might wreak havoc among the crew. Over the subsequent few weeks the field biologists made gradually more daring sorties out over the surface of the virgin planet to see if they could find any animal that might be intelligent enough or present in sufficient numbers to represent a potential threat to the small exploratory party: they found nothing. At the same time, the geophysicists had erected seismometrical units to test for excessive tectonic action and had come up with . . . nothing. Even the small velikovskian section, much given as its personnel were to doom-laden predictions, had reported that there were few if any signs that the system's solitary gas giant was likely to spew out a minor planet in the foreseeable future.
All in all, then, GHP20062 seemed on the face of it to be a paradise planet.
And so they called it Paradise . . .
:The Easter Operation:
On April 14th, 1912, the TITANIC set off on its ill-starred maiden voyage
across the Atlantic Ocean. This big bastard ship, which had been proudly
declared “unsinkable”, sank. You all know the story: maybe you even saw the
movie. And yet: it seems that certain people are just not content to let the
story end there. Here & Now dispatched its Special Correspondent, Jason Lyte, to
Mr Warrington, sitting here in his country house in Buckinghamshire, has the rather disconcerting habit of continually altering the volume at which he speaks. Right now his voice has dwindled to a whisper, as he explains to me his bizarre scheme: and as I crane my head forwards the better to grasp his words, he lets forth with a blistering scream:
“…to take control of the past!”
Now my ears are bleeding. Mr. Warrington does indeed plan to, if not control, then at least obliterate, one particular aspect of recent human history. In his own words:
“You would agree, Mr. Lyte, that the sinking of the Titanic has come to exist as more than simply a detail of the history books. This event blazes out of history and exists as symbolism, as metaphor, within the present. We might well ask: as metaphor for what, exactly?
"Tragedy, Mr. Lyte. Tragedy. The Titanic disaster, occurring at the dawn of the 20th Century, confirms the tragic futility of Mankind. All our pride and ambition will come to nothing against Nature and Nature’s God. So why not blow ourselves up with grenades and with the Atom Bomb, if the only alternative is to slowly, miserably, sink down to the icy depths along with all our fellow travellers?
“What I and my associates are proposing is nothing less than an assault on reality itself, Mr. Lyte. Do you see? We are not content to live life as a tragedy and we shall not let the Titanic be the epitaph upon Mankind’s pathetic grave. Our offensive against the past will be two-pronged: one team of cultural engineers will be involved in systematically deconstructing and destroying all references to the sinking of the Titanic. Newspapers, books and films will simply be replaced with our forgeries and nobody will be able to tell the difference. Where we encounter opposition, Mr. Lyte, we will crush that opposition." . . .
:The Only Ones That Matter:
I am one of the discarded,
the broken children.
My parents rejected me at an early age, my
blindness making me more of a burden, than a worker,
my hand in marriage worthless.
Still they must have had some feeling for me.
I was not entirely abandoned to fend for myself,
but taken to the big house beyond the city.
I have been told that the house is more like a castle,
belonging to a nobleman who fell out of the King’s favour.
He was left to rot on the end of a wooden spike
while his house was given over to the church.
It is large and cold this place.
Sometimes I can hear singing. Beautiful voices,
but at night the air belongs to my brothers and sisters.
There are wails and screams. Moans and groans.
The sounds of slaps and beatings.
I work in the kitchen. Simple tasks.
Though blind, I have become good at peeling.
The result of many a nick with a knife.
I throw out the slops and fetch water.
Once, I nearly fell down the well, but He rescued me.
I was clinging to a rope.
Clinging and swaying from side to side.
My body hitting stone while my screams echoed below me.
Then the rope was still and a hand seized my arm, pulling me up.
I could sense his strength, feel the heat from his body.
His other arm reached below me and I was carried back to the kitchen.
Never had I been touched that way. Strong, but so gentle.
It was all I could do to keep myself from leaning against him.
The women were talking in the kitchen.
There are to be no more marriages.
The King has passed a law because he needs a new army and cannot get recruits.
Some say it is because the wars are long and bloody,
but the King believes that married men want to stay at home rather than fight.
At least the priest will not have to go into the city so often,
one of them says, and they laugh and sigh and I hate them.
I sleep in the kitchen. It is warm and there are places to lie.
That was when I heard them behind the house.
The Priest and the strangers.
Love is natural, they say, owned by no king, but there are soldiers everywhere.
Single men and women are not allowed to meet, or walk together.
Love letters have been intercepted and burned,
and their bearers sorely beaten.
The priest promises to do something,
But does not answer when they ask him what?
The birds come to me. I like their song.
I like to feel them flutter close to me.
So alive, like little beating hearts
I do not know what they look like but everyone is different.
I know their song. I whistle and they whistle back.
I speak and they speak.
Once they flew away and I knew someone was behind me,
but they did not answer me . . .
:The Trendelenberg Concerto:
:John Llewellyn Probert:
“The great saphenous vein is one of the longest blood vessels in the human
body. It begins over the front of the foot, runs up the back of the calf and
slowly winds its way around the inside of the thigh to end at the front of the
groin. To perform the Trendelenberg concerto a harp must be strung with 22 of
these blood vessels procured from living or freshly deceased human subjects.
Prior to use, the tissues must be immersed in a preparatory solution, the
formula of which is given below, for a period of not less than three weeks.”
The little old man leered at me as I finished reading the lines his bony index finger had indicated to me in the immense dusty volume.
“Do you still wish to make your purchase?” he croaked.
I looked at him. Looked around the cluttered little basement shop which I had found at the bottom of a flight of crumbling concrete steps on a small side street in central London. I had committed three acts of atrocity simply to obtain this address, and access to the establishment itself had also come at a price. I met his gaze coolly.
“You really need to ask me that?” I said. “After all that I have already done?”
He closed the volume carefully, thoughtfully, and returned it to its position on one of the high shelves at the back of the shop. He was clapping the dust from his hands as he returned.
“We always ask, Mr Kennington. It is only fair and besides, it is an accepted part of protocol.”
“Accepted?” I sneered, “By whom, exactly?”
“By those who would be instrumental in engineering such transactions as you and I are concerned with.” He sniffed. “Be assured, it is for your own protection.”
I breathed deeply. The shop smelt of dust, old books, and very faintly of incense.
“If you mean my soul, “ I said, “I know that I am already damned.”
“There are varying degrees of damnation, Mr Kennington. Surely it is only fair that you receive due warning every time you consider the undertaking to proceed a step further down into the pit?”
The little man pulled a large black and red check handkerchief from the pocket of his baggy tweed trousers and blew his nose.
My hands were still gripping the battered wooden lectern on which he had placed the book for my inspection. After coming this far, I was adamant.
“I still wish to proceed.”
“Very well,” he said and led me from the lectern to a leather-topped counter close to the entrance of the shop. Behind him a grey metal filing cabinet stood at a lopsided angle. He opened the top drawer and removed a manila document wallet which he handed to me. Inside were three pieces of A4 paper, printed on one side and held together with a tiny red staple in the top left hand corner.
“Please check the details and sign where there’s a cross,” he said . . .
You don’t usually hear of things like this happening in the suburbs. In the countryside? Sure. In empty, wide open places. A deserted heathland, or a wild, desolate moor. But then, London wasn’t always as big a city as it is now.
David Meecham moved to Whetstone, near the northern edge of the capital, in the
autumn of ‘95. He was lured there by a teaching job with more pay, and the
prospect of less stress than working in the inner city. Thirty two years old,
but without any kind of partner in the last year and a half. Tall and rather
gawky, yet not an unpleasant looking man. He was saddled with the kind of
shyness, though, that makes life pretty difficult for single people in this
pushy modern age. And so he threw himself into his work and his brand-new home,
to make up for the lack of a real life in other aspects.
Not that he didn’t have his dreams. But more about that later.
He heard all about the lightning dogs within a month of moving in. It was at his local pub, one rainy Thursday evening. He’d abruptly got bored with himself, half way through grading some papers. And had ambled down there in the hope of meeting someone, perhaps even making a new friend.
And -- as is usually the way with shy, unassertive people -- within half an hour of arriving he was firmly stuck in conversation with the local bore.
This was Harry Hobbes, who had been drinking at the same pub, in the same seat, for over thirty years. Harry made sure that everyone who came in here knew that. He’d been born in this area, and knew every corner of it, every building, every shop. And what the shop had been before its current incarnation. The entire history of the place.
Not that it had been much of a place at all, until this century.
“It is called Whetstone --" his speech had been getting simultaneously more formal and more slurred for quite a while now, “because there was a whetstone here upon which troops sharpened their weapons before the Battle of Barnet, the last battle in the Wars of the Roses.”
Barnet, he explained -- the district north of here -- had existed for centuries, had been a market town until the city had enveloped it. But this place? Mostly farmhouses and clusters of cottages, until the Northern Line had stretched in this direction.
“Through most of the previous century,” the man went on, unstoppably, “the edge of the city was at St. John’s Wood. There was a steam rail built in 1872, and an electric tram in 1905, but they didn’t make much difference. It was only in the 40’s, when the track was bought up and electrified so that the Underground railway could be extended to Barnet, that this whole area started filling up.”
“I live right next to the Tube,” David managed to get in at this point, his first utterance in what seemed like several hours. “The trains do make a racket, but it made buying my house a whole lot cheaper.”
And at that point, Harry looked up at him suddenly, with an intrigued but faintly-mocking gleam in his small, red-rimmed eyes.
“Maybe you’ll be seeing the lightning dogs one night, then.”
I’m going to tell the rest of this myself since, if I leave it to Harry, we’re all going to be stuck here until closing time . . .
It was one of those nights when everyone was drinking harder than usual. The
pub was crowded and noisy, the air thick with tobacco smoke and sweat from the
close-packed bodies. Jane and Tristan sat at one end of their usual table,
Marcus and Cleo at the other. They had all had several drinks and were getting
boisterous, laughing as Zara , sitting under the window, playfully threatened
Ric with her drink after his hand had slipped inside her short, black skirt.
‘Calm down, you two.’ Marcus said, flipping a soggy beer mat at Ric. ‘There’ll be plenty of time for that when you get home.’
‘Not bloody likely!’ Zara said. ‘He can’t get it up after a few beers.’
‘Rubbish.’ Ric grinned, pulling on his cigarette. ‘Never been a problem in my life.’
‘Oh yeah? Well, believe me, girls, it’s like trying to stick a marshmallow in a piggy-bank.’
Marcus and Cleo laughed loudly, Tristan grinned self-consciously and looked at Jane, but she scowled, drained her glass and pushed it across the table. ‘Get some in, Tristan.’ She ordered. ‘I’m in the mood.’
Cheers came from the other end of the pub, followed by the clatter of coins from a one-armed bandit. ‘I’ll get them.’ Marcus said, gathering up the empty glasses in his big hands. ‘Tris bought the last round.’
Things might still have been all right had Marcus not come back from the bar and said: ‘There’s a guy up there who reckons anyone is strong enough to pull off their own little finger.’
Ric looked determined, wrapped the fingers of his left hand round his right little finger and pulled. His knuckle popped and Zara shrieked. ‘Stop it, don’t!’
Ric laughed and let go of his finger. ‘I think the man’s right. If you really wanted to, you could.’
Cleo gently pulled the end of her own little finger then grimaced. ‘That feels horrible. Imagine doing it.’
‘There’d be a lot of blood.’ Marcus said.
Jane emptied her glass again and turned to Tristan. ‘Go on, you do it.’
‘What?’ Tristan looked for signs of humour in Jane’s eyes, but her expression was blank.
‘Pull your finger off,’ she said coldly. ‘I bet you can’t.’
‘No.’ Tristan didn’t know if she was joking. Sometimes it was so hard to tell.
‘Come on, Tris.’ Jane held up her hand. ‘I will if you will.’
The conversation round the table died.
‘No.’ Tristan tried to laugh it off. ‘I don’t want to.’
‘Scared of a little pain, Tris?’
‘What’s going on, Jane?’ Marcus asked carefully.
‘Tris is going to show us how strong he is.’
‘No I’m not. Jane, let’s go home. We’ve ... I mean I’ve had a lot to drink and it’s getting late.’
‘Ok.’ Jane slumped back into her seat and Tristan relaxed. Then she put her hands together. ‘I guess I’ll have to show you how.’ . . .
Reviewed by Steve Dean.
Appeared in Prism May 2003
Issue two already, and this one is instantly better than the first. It's bound for a start, and not stapled like number one. There are also more stories, and these of a higher quality.
First up we have "The Only Constant" by Justin Thorne. It's a sort of altered reality tale in which the reality alters as we read. Not bad but I thought logic was under a little too much tension here.
Secondly, if you don't count the vignette in between, and I didn't, is "The Girl in the Green Car" by Martin Owton. This is arguably the best story in this issue. The Girl in question being a computer personality inside an automated car. Well written, fairly believeable, and it raises a good few questions about computers and their role in society along the way.
"The Daffodill Train" by Tony C. Smith is a simple, in the best sense of the word, ghost story. An old man reminisces about his past life and love to a nurse in an OAP home. The title might sound daft but all is explained. I found the first part a bit depressing, but there's an uplifting ending, so all's well there. (Ahh!)
On to "The Vampire's Own Alphabet", a variation on the alphabet song, by Gail-Nina Anderson. Despite not being a big poetry lover, as you know, I quite liked this. The rhymes work, and some of them are quite clever. My favourite letter is "N's for Nosferato, who'll sup on your fluids."
I was surprised to find that the next story, "A Golden Age", was written by an experienced writer. It's your basic 'discover-new-planet-where's-the-threat to humans?' type scenario. The writing is ok, the characters a bit stereotypical, but not too bad. But any story, even the wildest fantasy needs to have its own internal logic. This one doesn't. (Evolution? Never heard of it!).
Skipping swiftly over "The Easter Operation", a short and pointless story about
the Titanic, we arrive at "The Only Ones That Matter by Ian Hunter.
I'm not sure whether this is prose or poetry, either way it's a dramatisation of the origins of Valentine's Day. Not bad, I suppose, but it didn't blow my socks off.
John Llewellyn Probert's "The Trendelenberg Concerto" is a grisly horror/murder story with the emphasis on the slash. A strange character assembles a harp which has strings made from human veins, nice! Apparently, the music played on such a harp, and others like it, produces quite a nice tune, worth giving your should for anyway. If this is to your taste then it's a competent enough story, certainly ghoulish and blood splattered.
Lightening Dogs is the next story. I'm not sure if the misspelling is deliberate (It isn't. I f**ked up. JB) or not, but the story involves supernatural beings called Lightning Dogs. You'll think you know exactly what it's going to be about, and guess the ending, and you'll be right.
The last one is pretty good, fortunately, and probably my second favourite. "Unplugged" by David Gullen is a nice little tale about a man who discovers he can pull his finger off and re-attach it! Very weird, but it works well and the ending is fabulous, made me cringe!
All in all then a major improvement on the first issue, a wide selection of stories, so you'll find something you like. The artwork is average, apart from the face of an old man on page 17 by Lara Bandilla, which perfectly catches the man's character. A bit of tightening up and the same rate of improvement, and this mag will be in the newsagents by Christmas!
Reviewed by Peter Tennant
Appeared in The Fix #7
This magazine, while not exactly a triumph of design, is a neat and utilitarian package, with decent layout and not too many typos, though it does give in to the current vogue in the independent press for spelling lightning with an ‘e’ between the two syllables, especially noticeable in the title of the story by Tony Richards. .
We’re off to a good start with ‘The Only Constant’ by Justin Thorne, which begins very low key, with a film fan forgetting some minor detail of his favourite Arnie flick, but as the story unfolds the whole of consensus reality is undermined and our hero ends up in another realm entirely. The idea is perhaps not the freshest out of the starting blocks, but Thorne’s writing is assured and he develops the story with a sound feel for the material, winningly focusing on the little things and building from there instead of launching into a full frontal attack on reality from the off.
‘The House’, one of two pieces by Ian Hunter and the shortest thing here, is about a man in a charnel house, a moody little thing that does its job and then is gone, no messing around. More familiar territory with ‘The Girl in the Green Car’ by Martin Owton, the tale of the hapless Roger who buys a car with a personality only to have it fall in love with him and become very antsy about his secretary. This rather innocuous story falls between two stools, on the one hand not out and out funny enough to cash in on its comedic potential and on the other lacking the conviction that would have brought the incipient madness and technological menace of this situation bubbling over.
Tony C. Smith’s ‘The Daffodil Train’ is well written and deftly evokes a world gone by, if indeed it ever existed at all except in our imperfect memories of the past, but wallows too much in sentimentality for my liking, ending with the clichéd death of the protagonist.
John Grant’s story ‘The Golden Age’ is much more upbeat, harking back to the pulp SF of yesteryear, a romp of a story that opens with one of the genre’s most striking images, a spacecraft atop its column of fire coming in to land on an unknown planet, and goes on from there to pit the craft’s crew against an otherworldly menace that challenges their intelligence in a story that delights the reader with its casual wit, the playfulness of a writer who knows the form inside out and has his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek.
Jay Lyte’s novelty piece ‘The Easter Operation’ contains the hypothesis that reality is just too damned sad, and so we alter it by rewriting history, hence unsink The Titanic. It is, of course, impossible to take this story seriously, and equally impossible to keep a wry grin off your chops while reading its poker faced account of what is to be done.
Hunter’s second story ‘The Only Ones That Matter’ is presented in the form of a long poem, a curiously effective device, and purports to give a true account of the awful fate of the Bishop of Terni, known to us today as St Valentine. I can’t vouch for its historical veracity but this is a moving piece, one that celebrates the power of love to triumph over all.
‘The Trendelenberg Concerto’, a first story by John Llewellyn Probert, is possibly the highlight of the magazine, giving us a musician every bit as mad as Lovecraft’s Erich Zann. The story develops at a credible pace, one that makes the train of fantastic events seem entirely plausible, with moments of mystery and gore complementing each other, and the tone of voice with its hint of madness barely held in check is put over well. A very impressive debut and hopefully not the last we’ll see of Probert.
‘Lightning Dogs’ by Tony Richards is also a supernatural based piece, but rather ordinary in comparison, once again airing the old plot about spectral hounds who pursue those who see them to an untimely end, though our hero manages to turn the tables somewhat. This is an entertaining enough story, well written and with solid characterisation, but no-one should come to it expecting any surprises.
And finally there’s ‘Unplugged’ by Dave Gullen, about Tristan who is ditched by the heartless Jane but finds an unusual way to rekindle her interest. There’s a slightly manic feel to this that keeps you reading to see what the author will throw your way next. Ultimately though, while it entertains, the story is slightly too long to justify the blackly comedic but weak ending.
For Here & Now after an unpromising start things are looking up and up, and it will be interesting to see what editors Jenny and Helen Barber do with the magazine.