Issue Three - Published Spring 2003
A4, 68 pages, colour cover, b/w internal
Everything you ever wanted to know...
Issue Three - Published Spring 2003
A4, 68 pages, colour cover, b/w internal
:One For Sorrow, Two For Joy:
Magpie seethed as a bunch of guys in ski-masks came blundering into the
museum she was already in the process of robbing.
And she fumed as they deactivated the alarms, removing the cats-cradle of infrared beams that she had been circumventing with a series of tightly executed somersaults and backflips. These bozos just barged through like they were in a 7-11. Where was the fun in that?
Crouching in the shadows she watched as their flashlights pierced the gloom. Suits of armour glinted under the beams, along the spears, paintings and statues. One of the bozos – the leader? – dropped to his knees and opened a black sports bag. Pulling out a laptop he read the data it showed him, its screen casting a dull glow over his mask.
‘Okay, telecommunications are down. Even if the guards see us, they can’t radio for backup of trigger any alarms.’
‘They still got guns,’ said the skinny guy standing beside him.
‘And we got these.’ Head bozo waved something that, from Magpie’s viewpoint, looked like an electric razor. As removing someone’s moustache wasn’t usually much of a deterrent she guessed it was actually a taser.
‘We’ve got ten minutes to find the Star,’ said Head Bozo. ‘Move out!’
The bozos ran off down the corridor, the skinny guy reading out directions from a schematic of the building.
Magpie straightened up. The Bozo Brigade didn’t need to worry about the security guards, she had already locked them in a store cupboard; without their radios, but with a deep crust pizza and donuts. Hey, she didn’t want anyone starving to death on her account.
What the Bozo Brigade should be worrying about was the cop who had been sitting out front of the museum in his unmarked police car for the last half hour. The cop who, when he found he couldn’t radio for backup, would no doubt come charging in, ready to bust their sorry asses all by himself. He was that kind of cop.
Detective Steve Simmons. He’d been trying to catch up with her ever since she’d started her crime spree three months earlier. He’d come damn close too . . .
:The Very Error of the Moon:
Tony Gillardi leaned back and smiled as the silver disk grew.
The view was familiar, but there was still something magical about the approach. Human beings could leave the planet of their birth, reach out across the dark depths of space and walk on other worlds. That was pretty damn amazing. Especially considering the first people to do so had still been using slide rules.
The man beside him shivered, and for the first time it hit him that Gabe looked like shit. "You okay?" Tony asked.
Gabe offered an uninformative shrug. "Got a bug, maybe. Not exactly the most thorough physical."
"Yeah. I hate rush jobs. You know, if you like you can just stay in here while I make the pickup...."
Gabe shook his head. Grinned. "I want credit for this milk run, too."
Milk run. Tony had done his share of milk runs, simple pickups, no real work required beyond piloting. Technically, this job fit into that category, except this time they were picking up a sick or injured man. Tony didn't like it. He'd been rolling the scenario over in his head, and couldn't imagine why they hadn't been given more information about his condition…if nothing else, they could have brought drugs the lunar base didn't stock.
At this point, he'd almost be relieved to find a mangled corpse, a crewman killed in an accident that everyone wanted to hush up; that would explain the lack of background information. But they'd sent Gabe along too, presumably because he had EMT training, so perhaps there was not yet a death to worry about.
"Besides, I've never set foot on the moon, just the station," Gabe added. "It should be interesting."
"Lousy trip to be a tourist," Tony said. "I doubt you'll have a chance to take a walk outside." He didn't mention that maybe Gabe shouldn't be exposing people in a closed environment to whatever bug he'd caught. It was too late to quarantine Gabe, unless they turned right around and sent a different ship, and time was a factor. Tony simply trusted that any bug mild enough to make it past the physical screening was not going to cause serious problems on the lunar station.
"Maybe this way's better," Gabe said. "I get to brag to the folks that not only did I walk on the moon, but I didn't go around gaping like a rube. I can leave that for my next visit."
"Yeah, sure. I'll give you the non-rube tour."
The lunar station relayed instructions for their approach. Tony resisted the impulse to tell them he knew where he was going. Procedures were important, a guard against carelessness in an unforgiving environment. Besides, he really shouldn't mouth off to people already under stress.
Tony eased them into the docking bay. Gabe was qualified to assist, or take over in case of emergencies, but he displayed a distinct lack of interest. Tony sympathized: he'd been sick in low-gee himself, and it hadn't been much fun. In any case, piloting was really a one man job.
Trish Yu was waiting for them on the other side of the airlock. Tony had met her on a couple other occasions, and once he thought he'd maybe seen an expression cross her face. But now she was visibly agitated. "Hello," she smiled, jerky and insincere.
"Hi, Trish. This is Gabe Lollier." They seemed as disinterested in social pleasantries as Tony. "What's happened up here? Information was not exactly flowing freely."
"Will's dead," she said bluntly.
Tony nodded. He wasn't surprised, but he was a little dazed by a theory become fact. It had been nearly a decade since the space program last claimed a life.
"He was murdered," Trish said.
"Murdered?" Tony repeated dumbly.
Even Gabe perked up at the word. "How?" he demanded, and Trish gave him a look that was equal parts fear and disgust.
"He's this way." Trish spun on her heel, and didn't look to see if they were following.
Gabe tried again. "What about everyone else? If he was murdered...."
"Dan's missing," Trish said tightly. "I don't know if that means he's guilty or dead. Fred's locking down nonessential areas. Larry's running some tests on...tissue samples."
"I'm glad you all split up," Tony said. "A tried and true horror movie tactic...." He barely suppressed an hysterical giggle, which would no doubt have resulted in an even more withering stare from Trish. Murder. Jesus. No wonder this was hush-hush.
"I don't know," Trish hissed. "I just know it wasn't me." She opened the door to the staff lounge . . .
:Baby, You're a Vampire:
Each time the sun rises in the morning I force myself to stare directly into
the strength of its intense light. There is a sense of relief in the fact that I
am able to do so, and yet this self-awareness cannot obliterate the darkside;
the ferocity of the fires which once destroyed everything that meant something
This day is no different from any other. After I avert my gaze from the sun's rays my retina smarts from the residual glare. It is as though I am attempting to burn away a memory, like melting a negative from the frame, but recollection itself always proves to be more mental than visual. After a time my eyesight readjusts to my familiar wifeless room.
Just like any normal person I run a bath and then get some breakfast. Residual water soaks into my bathrobe as I sit munching muesli before the television. The news glosses over me as being spectacularly unimportant. It is impersonal, unlike my story which has often been subject to analysis; and will be again now that I've finally decided to hide nothing from the press.
At ten o'clock I am expecting a journalist by the name of Marika Coleman. She writes for a national quality newspaper which I've admired for many years. I trust her opinion as a seemingly thoughtful and unbiased reporter. Not only that but she is the only one I know whom I can influence if it comes to it.
The reasons for this confession are mixed. After five years of unemployment I really need the money. The insurance company are still running investigations into whether I am entitled to receive a payment from my policy. There is also a desire, however, to release the truth from amongst the ambiguity that has been written about me over the past few years. Even though I am sure the public will only be ready to accept the fiction over the facts . . .
"Do you believe in fairies, old man?"
The disembodied voice rose out of the shadowy arms of the broad leather armchair with only the barest hint of mischief. But Frank was up to something.
I could tell.
Frank - Sir Francis Dervish to you, very probably - sounded almost complacent in his evident satisfaction with life as he sat in the early evening dusk of his library. And who could blame him? I dare say I would have felt pretty smug and self-satisfied, too, watching the sun set over my own woods and meadows out of the splendid Seventeenth-Century picture windows of a palatial country residence, which had been in my family since not very much short of the Second Crusade. Indeed, on a previous visit, Frank had shown me the illuminated memoir of his crusading great-uncle twenty-or-so times removed, who had first purchased the manor on which the property stood out of the money he had stolen in Byzantium, all recorded on parchment in the minuscule hand of a monk of Clerkenwell those centuries past. When times were good and fortunes were still to be made, as his Dervish ancestors would almost certainly have had it... And peasants like yourself knew your place in the natural order, as Frank would sarcastically have added after his fifth Martini...
We had been out on the Downs most of that afternoon, up by the little cluster of Stone Age tumuli at the back of the stone-walled deer park on one of the neighbouring farms, watching the summer haze settling like thistle-down over the eccentric onion-domed church of Combe Dervish village (another family folly), and drinking bottled beer icy cold from a metal tray Frank had cleverly winched down into the old family well. The sun had been hotter and brighter than we could remember for June - Global Warming, and all that - scraping the dry farm tracks shockingly white in their girdles of ripening blackthorn and their sheaths of tall yellow grasses, stroking the fuzzy curves of the land till they glowed more like the recumbent body of a huge green Goddess than ever. Crickets sang in the stunted herbs around the base of our lookout point like sleepy Carusos who had mislaid their gondolas, while bullfinches chattered away raucously on the deer park's edge and bumble-bees staggered drunkenly from one wall-side foxglove to another. Thick maple saplings on the far side of the ditch struggled to reach for the sky, while axes clattered and thumped dimly off in the middle distance, bringing with them the faint scent of wood smoke; and silent red tractors danced their immemorial fertility rites on the Goddess's exuberant flanks. It was, in short, the kind of day when history hung gravid over the landscape like the pattering flocks of jackdaws, and where the passage of time seemed so confused we could almost have reached down into very heart of the thousand-year tumuli to stroke the pale, bleached bones of history with our own bare hands.
Yeah, Jack Horner, that's me.
But Frank was evidently in no mood now for silent reveries.
"Did you really never hear fairies calling you in the garden when you were little?" -- he persisted. "I mean, angel voices... fairy voices... whatever you want to call them... It's a common enough phenomenon, especially among young children. Like childhood memory of past lives. I used to hear them constantly. Over there under the ornamental porch of the gazebo, or over on the far side of the kitchen garden, up in the woods on the hill... Not even my schooling quite managed to drum them out of me."
"Well, you know, you did have a certain advantage on me..." I raised a barely visible arm to indicate the strangely violet-grey sweep of the lawn as it galloped down over the well-camouflaged wall of the ha-ha to the neatly manicured stream that rose by the side of the house from the Dervishes' very own sacred spring.
But it was true. Even in suburban North London, the voices had come to me, especially at the far end of my parents' old Victorian garden, where parts of the original orchard had been left standing by the Nineteenth-Century developers - a long noodle of fine, tall trees so much more ancient than the upstart green lawns and Camellia beds that surrounded them - an island of life-affirming resonances hemmed in by a twin row of red-brick terraces. There was a plum tree down there I particularly liked to visit, along by my father's neat rows of Brussels sprouts, and an alarming old asbestos chicken coop that had been turned into a tool shed. And strawberries. There were always mountains of strawberries.
I used to play in the dirt at the base of the tree, looting the sweet, ripe fruit, and searching for fragments of the Victorian clay pipes which were still quite common then; like the archaeologist I never became, despite my best efforts at the second-rate Oxford college, where I later met Frank.
"But yes, I heard them," I conceded. "It was like someone calling my name -
someone close and familiar, like my mother, only nearer... More delicate, more
refined, more heart-rending perhaps... clearer. Like the reflection of winter
sunlight in a stained-glass window, or the flickering tails of a school of
salmon in a mirror of rushing melt-water... As if the voice had been distilled
down to its purest, most ineluctable essence..." I paused, unsure whether to go
on. But eventually, as the pressure of memory built up in me, I added: "The
other thing about the voices was that they did not come from any particular
direction. They seemed to form straight in my head, so I could never tell which
way I should turn to answer them. I remember one time I was so convinced they
were my mother, I rushed up to the house, all out of breath, to find she had
gone to the shops and left me in the care of my granny. I must have been about
I rubbed my temple as I strained to remember . . .
:An Interview with Simon Clark:
Simon Clark (b.1958) is one of Britain's finest horror writers, author of
such highly acclaimed novels as 'Nailed by the Heart', the post-apocalypse
'Blood Crazy' and the official sequel to John Wyndham's 'Day of the Triffids',
for which he picked up the British Fantasy Society's Best Novel Award. Described
as a 'master of eerie thrills' by Richard Laymon, others have commented that
Simon Clark's fiction demonstrates how horror should be written, "shocking but
First off, I asked Simon about his development as a writer. "I think I must have a story-telling gene. My family have always been great yarn spinners with tales of murder and haunted houses constantly washing round my childhood home. From an early age I told tall stories to my schoolfriends. A favourite of mine, when I was around five, was to tell everyone I owned a squad of killer robots that I kept in the attic at home. It struck me that must be pretty convincing when I looked out of the living room window to see one of my friends running by the house while shooting terrified glances at the roof. So, it wasn't a case of wanting to be a story teller: I couldn't stop myself if I tried."
As a teenager Clark attempted a novel (which "lies in the bowels of my study hidden from view") called 'Hobscross'. "It involved a rock guitarist recovering from a nervous breakdown in a little cottage near a weird standing stone called Hobscross. The title was inspired by the name of the haunted street in 'Quatermass and the Pit', Hobs Lane 'Hob being the familiar name for the devil', the ever knowledgeable Professor Quatermass helpfully explains (or was it his assistant?). I was just typing 'The End' late one night when I heard John Peel announce the death of Elvis. Hell, that's enough to put a shiver up my spine in its own right." The following year (1978) Clark published his first short story 'A Trip Out For Mr Harrison' which was broadcast on national radio. For Clark this story was just the beginning.
Simon Clark grew up in Yorkshire, a landscape that has interfused itself into his work. "I found my writing had more spark if I set my stories on my home turf," he tells me. "Landscape is a great inspiration." For instance, 'Judas Tree' (1999) flowed from his childhood visits to Greece, where the exotic atmosphere and terrain got under his skin and stayed there. "I've visited Greece since and always longed to set a novel there in the hope that the mysterious aura of the place would feed through into the book. I believe it has done, and re-reading 'Judas Tree' can send that tingle of old down my spine."
That morning, the bus to West Bromwich was packed. Matt sat next to an
attractive young woman in a black denim jacket. She smiled at him. Her eyes were
a very pale blue. He looked for the little p badge on her chest, and let his
eyes linger there. It was early and he’d woken up alone. They always caught you
‘You’re not a morning person, are you?’ she said.
‘Not really.’ Her eyes lingered on his face for a few seconds. ‘You look more awake than me.’
‘I’ve been up a while. No incentive to sleep in when you’re single.’
‘Tell me about it.’ For a moment, he felt her knee press against his. She lifted a hand to adjust her hair unnecessarily, then lowered it towards him. Palm open. He reached in his pocket for change. Nearly four pounds. That should do it, as long as he didn’t try to touch her.
The coins disappeared into her handbag. She yawned and stretched. “Better wake up,’ she said with a near-giggle. ‘You wouldn’t want me falling asleep on you.’
‘Oh, I don’t think you would.’
She blushed. ‘Well, here’s my stop. Have a lovely day.’ Her fingers brushed his knee as she stood up. He settled back in his seat and closed his eyes. The smell of her perfume lingered, but only in his memory.
It had started at least a year ago. The adverts had started appearing in the small ads section of most newspapers, usually opposite the lonely hearts page.
"Not every hooker goes all the way… or even halfway. Suppose you’d pay £60 for full sex, £40 for a blow job, £20 for a handjob… well, why not keep going down the list? £5 for a snog, £2 for a deep kiss, £1 for a social kiss, 50p for a smile, 25p for sustained eye contact. Take the fear out of flirting. You can pay to have a pretty girl kiss your cheek, ruffle your hair, laugh at your jokes – maybe all night, maybe just while you’re waiting in the checkout queue. Visit picapros.com to discover our philosophy of romance. Look out for the 'p' symbol on the badge, and be ready with your change. Because we don’t give change. We don’t give anything."
Most of the women who worked for picapros had normal jobs as well. But wasn’t everyone self-employed these days? If work was only casual, why not make money from what you did casually? It didn’t end there. In the office, there’d be the usual icy silence punctuated by eager business calls. The only people on the sales team who’d bother to speak to Matt in the coffee breaks would be wearing the little m badges on their lapels: micromates. ‘Hi man, how are you? Had a good weekend? Those headaches still troubling you? You know, my wife knows an acupuncturist…’ 50p a minute for ordinary conversation, £1 a minute for anything codifiable as friendship. Another small step in the deregulation of being human.
Matt supposed it had been getting to him for quite a while. His estranged son badgering him for gifts and extra cash as tokens of fatherly affection. His estranged girlfriend demanding that every access concession she granted be paid for – the week he’d taken little Sean to Disneyland had resulted in her gaining a new patio extension. She’d even invited him to their first barbecue, but he couldn’t afford to make new friends. The adverts talked about losing fear, gaining confidence, making pain a thing of the past. But it left him cold. None of it meant anything. And with that terrible numbness came the need to pay for more, to fill the void with something normal. Even feeling rage would be better than feeling nothing at all.
1. The Offence
The desert. High noon.
A barren waste, scorched by a blazing sun rendering all life impossible.
And yet, a man strides majestically across the white-hot expanse of sand. He is naked, but the heat does not seem to affect his unprotected feet, nor does his bald head suffer from the intense sunlight beating down without mercy. The man’s body is a stark white, as if his skin is impervious to a suntan, or as if he has not been outdoors for a long time, and was now called for some mysterious duty.
The man keeps walking briskly, apparently determined, as if heading straight for an oasis that isn’t there and exists only in his mind, a mirage only he can see, for this is a lifeless wasteland where nothing breaks the monotony of sand reflecting the harsh sunlight.
Then the man suddenly halts and closes his eyes in intense concentration. For a while nothing happens. One might assume the man is petrified, has miraculously been turned into a statue.
Suddenly, at his feet a few blades of grass spring up through the sand. It is clear the man is responsible for this unexpected appearance of vegetation, and this is only the beginning. The frowns of concentration deepen on the man’s face, and the process he has set in motion continues with increasing speed.
More grass appears, until the man is standing in the middle of a steadily expanding circle of green vegetation. Then, right in front of him, a small shrub is pushed up through the surface, quickly followed by a few others. As the tide of green plant life washes over the desert, flowers bloom and add a variety of colour to the white sand and the blue sky. Soon the man is almost engulfed by luxuriant vegetation, and small trees appear, rising above the shrubs, their foliage reaching up. Still the man maintains his concentration, unmoving and seemingly unmoved by what he is accomplishing.
Before long the entire desert has been transformed into a steaming jungle, and to make the metamorphosis complete, rain clouds appear, obscure the sun, and drench the soil with curtains of water, which in its turn speeds up the growth and expansion of what has now become an unstoppable tidal wave of green life.
Finally the man opens his eyes, and sighs. He must be exhausted, understandably. Slowly he succumbs to his fatigue, drops to his knees, and sinks away into the humid soil, as if he were standing on quicksand. Mere moments later there is no trace of him left, but the jungle, his legacy, remains and keeps gaining ground.
:The Whole Circus:
The nearer you were to Chaos, the more numerous and glaring its symptoms. It
was hard to believe that only a decade ago it was still known as Orlando,
entertainment capital of the world. Always State of the Art, the city had been
the first to go fully automated. Too late New Orleans, Miami and Las Vegas saw
Orlando’s error. They were now suffering the same fate. They would likely never
achieve the state of electronic and social bedlam their forerunner had, but they
were nonetheless places you would not want to take your children.
To Shelley, who knew all too well about symptoms, Chaos was home. Even now, as his captor led him along the tubular passage, he experienced that strange sense of connection, that feeling of needing only a terminal to bring it all into glorious focus. He saw it mirrored in the eyes of the people he passed. The lust for life had been replaced by a shimmering cognizance to do with the phantasmagorial splendor of electrons and currents and information bombardment.
Surrounding the flow of foot traffic in the tunnel, screens displayed nonsensical, indecipherable, illogical messages. In the ceiling, light panels dimmed and intensified, dimmed and intensified, contributing to the routine surreal quality of the scene. The lower half of a hominoid robot strode by, drawing scarcely a glance as it journeyed to someplace remembered by its legs. Pieces and parts of things, not always inorganic, cluttered the base of the walls. Homing spheres, seeking to deliver certified messages that had long since lost their relevance to anything, hummed by, occasionally colliding with a public access monitor, someone’s head or shoulder, another sphere. A random scream, or peal of laughter, echoed and shuddered along the passage. And all this in an auxiliary tubeway outside city limits.
As Shelley felt the mysteries deepen around him, reminding him that they were approaching the moving tube, direction Anarchy, he craved his Psycho. Ian, his captor, had promised it to him in periodic, small doses, but he’d yet to see the first drop - except as depicted in the frequent, passing flash ads, whose scare tactics were far more effective when you were on the stuff. In the heart of Chaos you would have to search hard to find such propaganda. Out here on the fringes, it was all you could do to escape the picture of the eager human face, the poised dropper, the single luminous teardrop of Self-replicating Pschedelic Chemical Organism freefalling towards a bloodshot eye. The image itself was actually quite delicious; the footer is what got you: PSYCHO WILL FUCK UP YOUR MIND.
Shelley knew it had fucked up his. Why else had he allowed himself to turn rat against Silver, Prince of Psycho? On one side of the scale, a life sentence; on the other, a death sentence. He had chosen the latter. Did he despise Silver for what the man represented, what the man commanded? Did he despise himself for being the dependent on Silver’s candy that he was? Was he so repelled by the idea of the foreign organism taking up residence inside his body that he wanted to die? For reasons beyond the grasp of his layman and depleted gray matter, the duration of the high and the lifespan of the organism did not agree. The high on average lasted some fifteen hours per the standard dose of one cc, while the organism continued to grow indefinitely. There was an antibiotic which, when combined with an electrochemical application of some sort, was said to rid the body of the invitee. But a single treatment ran fifty thousand dollars.
Shelley had no money, which was why he had been put in the position in the first damn place. Silver, whose labs generated the purest strains of the city’s supply, had dangled Psycho, and Shelley killed three men for him. The job had gone down up north, in Ocala, where there remained some semblance of law. The three men had been Ocala’s biggest pushers, but they were still three men. Shelley had been an easy arrest. Electronic eyes watched him commit, electronic eyes watched him go into a tube, human hands apprehended. Officer Ian, as the man introduced himself, had not been soft. He had manhandled Shelley, inserting a device below the base of his cranium into his neck. The device was activated by Ian’s voice; when he spoke in other than an even tone, the pain tore through Shelley’s nervous system. It had been easy to give in to the officer’s demands.
But the device had not been the reason Shelley had acquiesced. Coercion was as worthless on him as self-analysis. And no matter how much of the latter he did, he kept returning to the single most disturbing of possibilities - that he was simply amusing himself. PSYCHO WILL FUCK UP YOUR MIND.
:Sex, Death & Skinny-dipping:
:How Scooby Doo ruined the modern horror movie:
Stephen King said, “If you love horror movies, you’ve got to have a love for
Coming from the writer/director of Maximum Overdrive, that’s an informed opinion. But the discriminating horror fan still hungers for a movie with the singular vision of Se7en, the suspense of Ole Bornedal’s Nightwatch (NOT the American remake) or the intrigue of Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water. Sadly he’s usually left hurt and depressed by the myriad sequels, clones and remakes churned out by ideas-poor hacks, most of which don’t even merit so-bad-it’s-good status. So it’s to no one’s surprise that the beanbags responsible for the latest entries in the Halloween and Friday The 13th franchises continue to flagellate a dad horse, and that Halloween: Resurrection and Jason X are contrived, brainless affairs whose sole raison d’etre is to bring the viewer ninety minutes closer to death. But these type of movies – which are just an excuse for scenes of gratuitous sex, violent death and skinny-dipping teens – have become synonymous with the genre. Why?
By 1979, John Carpenter’s Halloween had become the most profitable indie film of all time, grossing two hundred times its original budget. This story of an escaped killer returning to wreak havoc on the small US town where he murdered his sister fifteen years earlier, if not skull-crackingly original, was a well-crafted exercise in knee-jerk suspense. Suddenly, every two-bit huckster was a producer promoting a movie “in the tradition of Halloween.” This grindhouse mentality allowed such cultural gems as The Burning, Madman, Hell Night, My Bloody Valentine, Sleepaway Camp, Campsite Massacre, Mountaintop Motel Massacre (for which the ads read: “Please do not disturb Evelyn. She already is.”) and Slumber Party Massacre to sparkle. First and most prominent, though, was a movie called Friday the Thirteenth.
How good is the first entry in this series? Apart from the elaborate fates met by the cast, its only source of interest is the extent to which it ‘borrows’ from Carpenter’s movie: title, basic premise, opening sequence, surprise ending. But while Halloween looks great on a $300,000 budget and 21-day shooting schedule, Friday looks cheap and is acted without panache by an unknown cast (although a young thesp. named Kevin Bacon went on to better things). Kudos to director Sean S. Cunnigham, who told Fangoria magazine he was seeking “good-looking kids who you might find in a Pepsi commercial. They also had to be able to read dialogue.” And emote. Can you say ‘blood from a stone’, brethren? I knew you could . . .
:Mauve on Black:
If Seyaya had never seen the stars, then she’d never have had the idea to
grow the spaceship. And she only saw the stars by doing the one thing that no
one in her whole race ever had.
By staying aboveground at night.
The day had started normally enough. She spent most of it hard at her job - tinkering with and modifying fliers. Trying to improve their performance. She was skilled enough in the physical side, but it was the psychology of the task that she truly excelled at. Fliers were the simplest of beings, intellectually. Yet were full of emotion. It was that which made them perform to their best, and it was that Seyaya fine-tuned.
Joy too great, a rough ride waits. No fun had, the ride is bad, was the principle she always stuck to. So she tried to instil in the mauve, translucent creature, not a savage liking of its task, but a quiet pride instead. A profound sense of fulfilment at how swiftly and how gracefully it could bear a passenger around.
Once she was certain it understood, she took it outside to the launch-pad, mounted it - clasping the soft ridge of cartilage behind its head - and let it bear her upwards.
Knew immediately she’d got it right.
The journey was wonderful. The city swept beneath her like a great mauve tide, so quickly and smoothly she could not make out the teeming millions on its streets. Other mounted fliers had no need to get out of her way - her own one simply swooped around them, to admiring yells.
Fully satisfied, she asked the thing to go back, and it complied.
It was late afternoon by now, and she was getting rather tired. Could see no point in starting on another beast. She could only teach it half-way; it would forget what it had been told by dawn. And so she knocked off early. Walked to the edge of the launch-pad, sat there with her slender feet dangling over the edge, and stared out across the World.
They were out on the edge of the city, here, so there was much of it to see.
Hills rose, some of them so narrow you could almost see right through them. And another city could be made out, off on the horizon. A constant stream of mounted fliers went from here to there and vice versa, and she wondered if any of them were her own modifications.
No. For Creation’s sake! Forget work!
Seyaya tried to turn her mind to more profound, metaphysical things.
Gazed up at the sun, and watched it undulate for a while. That was the thing breathing, scientists had by this time concluded. Sucking in the carbon dust that swirled through all of space, consuming some of it. But turning the rest to oxygen, the same way that the World did.
Where the World used that gas as a protective layer its inhabitants could breathe, however, the sun drew it inwards to its centre. And ignited it in a vast, hollow chamber.
Like almost everything else, it was mauve, translucent. The enormous flame inside it was almost certainly pure white, looked at directly. But the light became distilled to a very faint lilac, on its passage through the creature’s flesh.
A great dumb beast with a fire in its belly - strange to think it was the giver of all life . . ..
I braked hard and quickly downshifted. The cars’ tires skidded and for a
moment I was afraid that they weren’t going to grip. Luckily, the treads still
had life in them and I was able to regain control and come to a stop - though
narrowly avoiding the intersection… I cursed at myself for not seeing the red
light sooner as a stream of yellow-and-black cabs soared by in front of me.
I glanced at my odometer. It read 90,000. I shook my head in dismay. The Beemer was only three years old. It never occurred to me to have the tires examined. The miles tacked on so quickly – largely due to the trips from the Apple to Baltimore. A distance that made flying seem foolish while driving, cumbersome.
A light rain began sprinkling onto the windshield. Turning the wipers on, the
glass smeared - opaque with the two days worth of grime that had settled onto
it. Pressing the washers on, they tried valiantly to cut through the muck.
A truck’s horn thundered behind me. The light had turned green a moment before and the driver, like most in the city, was in a rush. In response, I stepped hard on the accelerator. The wheels spun for a moment before propelling me forward.
I wasn’t in the mood to go back to my apartment. Not yet. Not tonight. I was likely the only person in the city who felt they had too much living space. Going back to a cold, empty apartment on a cold, empty night was not something that I relished.
It was three years ago tonight that Kathy had been killed. I shook my head in
dismay. Three years.
She had stopped at a nearby convenience store on her way home from work to purchase aspirin just as a teenager was holding it up. Kathy distracted the boy as she walked in. The owner used the opportunity to reach for a shotgun beneath the counter. Like the robber, he had no experience using it.
By the time the gun-smoke had drifted to the ceiling, the three of them were dead.
So instead of heading back to the apartment, I continued driving. It was well past midnight and the traffic was light. I utilized the side streets and drove deep into the bowels of the city. I had no idea where I was going - but considering that I was on an island, I felt my chances of becoming lost were slim. Regardless, I found myself in a spider’s web as streets changed from numbers to names and began intersecting at odd angles. Skyscrapers gave way to low-standing warehouses as both people and cars began to dwindle in number. A desolate part of town.
A figure suddenly darted past the car’s headlights. I pumped the brakes. This time, I wasn’t as fortunate with the traction. The tires failed to grip the wet pavement and the car began to hydroplane. I spun the wheel to straighten the vehicle out, but in my panic I turned it the wrong way and caused the car to slide completely around. The Beemer glided to the opposite side of the street before slamming into the curb.
Two explosions followed and the car jolted to a stop.
I threw the clutch into Park and killed the ignition.
I was breathing heavily– feeling like I had just been jogging. Getting out of
the vehicle, I looked around. No other cars were around. I cringed at the
thought of what this could have turned into if it was the middle of the day. My
car would have been bouncing off other vehicles like a Pin ball.
The street was void of people. Whoever had darted in front of me must have been carrying a sack of rabbit’s feet not to have gotten hit.
The car’s tires were less fortunate. To prevent erosion, the curb had been reinforced with a steel plating. Both right tires had been sheared, causing the car to list heavily against the concrete sidewalk.
Reaching into my jacket, I pulled out my cellular. Pressing power, the phone was silent - the battery dead.
Rummaging through the glove compartment for the car charger, I came up empty.
Opening the trunk, I removed the tire iron - just in case someone passed by who had less than honorable intentions.
I sat down on the car’s hood, lit a cigarette and waited for a passing cop, taxi, or even more rare - a good Samaritan.
So I waited.
I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes had passed and not one car had driven
It was late but it wasn’t that late.
Eight million people and they’re all inside watching television.
There were two pay phones nearby, but, like most in the city, they were broken.
All of the nearby buildings were day businesses. The few retail stores that peppered the street had likewise closed hours ago.
While I didn’t have any maps in the car, I still had an idea of where I was. If I walked in a southwestwardly direction I would eventually reach the piers and the Seaport. Hopefully, I would be able to find a working telephone there.
I wrapped the tire iron in my jacket. I locked my car and alarmed it, which, for a moment, seemed silly. But the way my luck was heading, I didn’t want the Beemer to end up in a chop-shop.
I walked for several blocks. There were no street signs – testament that even items bolted down were fair game to the vandals. The street narrowed and the entire area, free of beeping horns, shouting children, and noisy businesses was eerily quiet as my shoes echoed hollowly off the pavement.
It was as if the city that never sleeps had simply called it a night.
A light mist began trickling past my ankles. This lifted my hopes that the docks were close by.
As I continued, the street became rough and uneven. I was surprised to find that the pavement had given way to ill-fitted cobblestones. Looking down through the fog, some of the cobbles had been worn in such a way that made them appear as if they had been set some time ago.
I stopped at the next intersection. Fortunately, the street signs were there. Shaped like a Y, Euclid branched to the left while Decatur to the right. To my surprise, no traffic lights or stop signs were in place to meter the vehicles.
Decatur sounded vaguely familiar. Did I know someone who lived or worked on this street? Considering my only option was to flip a coin, I chose Decatur.
The fog crept up to my knees. A good sign - though, the mist was making it easy
for any would-be muggers to hide in.
A nearby street light caught my attention. The pole was short – not much taller than myself, and the bulb was doing a feeble job at throwing the light. Looking at it closely, a flame flickered underneath the glass case. A gaslight? I had thought, because of fire codes, they were illegal.
Walking further, I arrived at another side street. Looking for its name, I saw it painted onto the side of a nearby house in small black letters. Danube sloped downward to the left and out of sight. Like Decatur, Danube sounded familiar as well.
I looked around at the surrounding buildings. I was certain I had never been here before. Still, as I peered down the street, I just knew that it would lead me to the docks.
Decatur wound like a snake. The street was no wider than several strides – I could not see how a driver, even using the smallest of cars, could manage the tight bends. The brownstones appeared residential and no more than two stories high. The occasional porch light that had been left on was the only indication that they were inhabited.
A flag fluttered gently on a nearby balcony. Alternating stripes ran diagonal while a large, white star was emblazoned in the middle. It, too looked familiar . . .
:Orcs and Holes:
Police dogs, on the whole, are not usually known for their timidity. Armed
with a certain amount of intelligence, teeth like steak knives, backed up by jaw
muscles a shark would be proud of, lightning reflexes and two pairs of running
legs in case things go pear-shaped, they are well equipped for the average
dark-night-what's-that-strange-noise scenario. Add to this the rather ambivalent
knowledge that your testicles are stored "off-site", as it were, there isn't
much a canine law enforcement operative has to fear.
So when Constable Cordite, a typical British police dog-handler, educated, as so many of them now are, to degree level, watched his dog Zeus disappear up the road with his tail between his legs and his ears flat to his head, he immediately suspected something was terribly wrong.
And being, as previously stated, not too slow on the uptake, he rapidly followed suit. Being hampered with just the one pair of running legs, and with his baby-makers definitely present, he took a more circuitous route, interposing large concrete objects between himself, the unlit park and the thick bush from which the noise was coming. As he ran, the PC vowed to return during daylight hours to investigate. This manoeuvre, although not yet in the police handbook, nevertheless saved Constable Cordite from a difficult meeting that would certainly have spoiled an otherwise promising career.
It was Uhlug-uhr's birthday. He was seven years old, not bad for an orc. In human terms that made him about seven. Mentally. Physically he was eighteen, the kind of eighteen that has been getting served in pubs since it was twelve, the kind that hasn't been spanked by its parents since it came home with a stunned bear under its arm.
As a special treat, and as everyone else seemed to have forgotten, Uhlug-uhr had decided to raid the shaman's cave. He was strictly not allowed in there, on pain of pain, by the only two orcs in the tribe who could say no to his face and still have teeth left afterwards; the shaman himself, who summoned demons with huge claws and napalm breath when threatened, and big Dung-Dung, the chief's bodyguard. It was said that Dung-Dung, uncle Dung-Dung to Uhlug-uhr, once mistakenly entered an ogres' lair whilst drunk. A week later he re-appeared, wearing an ogre skin tunic, ogre skin trousers, ogre skin shoes and carrying a live ogre in a sack, demanding to keep it and promising to walk it and clean it out.
Uhlug-uhr wasn’t quite up to this standard, but then Dung-Dung had been nearly ten, so he had plenty of time yet. Besides, he wasn’t yet considered anywhere near an adult, and was even excluded from today’s tribal meetings. So, with nothing to lose and much to prove, he began to execute his cunning master plan.
Today, as every other day, his four foot seven frame (that’s width and height)
was dressed in a leather tabard with leather trousers, simple leather boots and
a boiled leather hat. His trousers were held up with a leather belt and leather
thongs had been used to sew him into the tabard. On his belt hung a leather
pouch, which held a few personal belongings, and a small knife with a lizard
skin bound handle. His reflection in the water bucket showed him to be mainly
brown in colour, with a broad ursine face and forty one whitish teeth, and two
yellow ones. After a long drink he added a confident grin to this classic
ensemble and stepped from the cave.
On the other side of the lair, the rest of the tribe was busy planning an ambush on some squashy humans. Uhlug-uhr could just make out the chief, sitting on an ancient dragon skull throne. Behind him stood Dung-Dung and to his right sat the shaman. What he was sitting on, no one cared to notice, in case it got upset. The rest of the tribe were spread out in front, hanging on every word the chieftain spoke and occasionally shouting such things as "Kill them, Kill them all!" to show they were listening.
With his betters out of the way, Uhlug-uhr grabbed his chance, crept out of his cave and sidled towards the shaman's residence. Making sure no one was home, mainly by shouting into the cave, "Anyone home?" Uhlug-uhr slipped quietly in.
His eyes lit up with excitement as all kinds of objects were illuminated by the reddish glow from a globe on the wall. Before going in any further, Uhlug-uhr checked behind to be sure no one had spotted him. The rest of the tribe who weren’t at the meeting, the very young and the very old, would still be sleeping, so no danger there. When all seemed to be clear, he strode further in, barely managing to control his excitement. What to look at first? Everything looked so interesting.
The cave was long and thin, more like a tunnel blocked at one end. The rock was smooth, slick like it was damp but felt dry to the touch. The floor was immaculate, completely bare and touched only by the legs of the many tables and benches. The Shaman’s bed and personal belongings were within a niche carved into the wall on the orc’s left hand side, or the right, depending on which hand you used.
Every other surface was covered by, supported or suspended a bewildering array of objects. Weapons, books and scrolls, ironwork, bones and teeth, chests, skins, bottles in stone and glass, statuary, cages with living and dead inhabitants, jewellery and so on, more than one young orc could comprehend.
Almost overwhelmed, Uhlug-uhr nearly gave up. But no, he thought, it’s my birthday and I’m going to enjoy myself. One thing at a time, as the chieftain always said. If you are going to kill seven dwarves, you have to start with one. He walked over to the nearest bench and began to browse.
A large axe was soon singled out. After all, he was a warrior. But the weapon refused to move, being somehow stuck to the bench where it touched. The young orc soon got bored with that, and moved on. An ornate box sat near by, just sat there, almost audibly begging to be opened. Uhlug-uhr opened it. Closing it rather quickly and moving on swiftly, he tried not to think about the huge, scaly hand that had been reaching for him. He didn't at all dwell on the four glowing eyes, or the stench of freshly dug earth that had oozed up from within.
A small dagger presented itself to his exploring eyes. Normally, such a puny weapon wouldn't have been of interest, but he badly needed to take his mind off things.
He turned the weapon over and around, examining the blade, engraved with strange symbols. A red stone was set into the hilt, which seemed to move slightly as he touched it. Holding the dagger firmly, he pressed the stone. The dagger transformed itself into a fine sword, cutting the head off a nearby statue without the slightest effort. The statue’s head looked up at Uhlug-uhr, said "You'll regret that." in some ancient language, then crumbled to dust.
The orc was ecstatic, a fine weapon for a young warrior, and no heavier than it had been as a dagger. After a few practice swings, Uhlug-uhr pressed the stone again and it returned to being a dagger. Satisfied, he tucked it into his belt and carried on looking . . .
No humans saw the barrier open, but the reactions of nearby animals more than
made up for their absence. Dogs barked and howled. Cats spat and clawed. Birds
exploded into the air and circled overhead, unsettled.
While down below, in the city street, the air rippled and warped as old Mr Forbisher, the proprietor of the bookshop, watched three figures emerge from beyond.
All three could pass for human, at least on first inspection.
The three Knights of the Song stumbled along the pavement, one each side of their weakened colleague.
Mr Forbisher scuttled forward.
“How goes the war?”
“Badly,” answered Trevyian. “We were lucky to get here.”
Forbisher nodded and looked through the melting air where dark shapes swooped and glided. Slowly – too slowly for his liking – the barrier began to reform.
The Knight in the middle raised his head and smiled weakly, his lips parted but no words emerged.
“Radial’s song is almost gone,” said Lexxa. “We must rest.”
“Quickly, then,” said Forbisher as he looked up and down the street, then turned to open his shop. The Knights squeezed inside and the old man closed the door and locked it before retreating deeper inside.
Outside, the barrier swelled open again and dark shapes began to slip out.
Lexxa looked at the shelves packed with books, the tables displaying special items.
“It looks so ordinary,” she said.
“There are treasures here,” the old man told her. “If you know where to look.”
The three Knights followed him through the shop into a small corridor. Mr Forbisher pushed a door open to reveal three beds with piles of boxes looming over them. The bookseller looked embarrassed.
“They are not the greatest beds in this world, or any others.”
“It’s the books that count,” said Trevyian as they steered Radial to the nearest bed, which immediately creaked beneath his weight. He looked up, hand straying to his throat.
“We know,” said Lexxa. “You’ll be well soon.”
“Where does he want to go?” asked Forbisher.
The largest of the Knights moved his hands, indicating mountains and a column.
“The Pillars of Cirecia?”
Radial nodded and lay back. His eyelids fluttered, fighting sleep. Trevyian shook him. “Stay awake, my friend, until the book comes.”
Mr Forbisher pulled a book from beneath his jacket.
“It’s here,” he said.
Lexxa grinned. “How did you do that?”
The old man shrugged. “Tricks of the trade.”
Radial held the book up above his head and started to read, a few seconds later he was lost in sleep.
Forbisher turned to Lexxa. “And you, my dear?”
“That’s easy,” she replied. “The Lagoons of Porinthios.” She held out her battle-scared arms. “Oh, to float in those waters while the waves gently whisper in my ears.”
The shopkeeper produced another book. “I had thought as much.”
Quickly, Lexxa took the battered, old volume and lay down. She started to read out loud.
“Do you have to do that?” asked Trevyian.
“It helps to make a picture in my mind.”
He shook his head. “The book does that for you.”
“You do it your way and I’ll do it mine, okay?”
Trevyian sighed. “Okay.”
Even the old man was smiling. “And for you?”
“The Jungles of Charesque.”
Mr Forbisher tutted. “These are supposed to be restful retreats.”
The Knight shrugged. “I enjoy the tranquillity of the jungles, the rich tapestry of - ”
“No fighting,” the old man said, wagging a finger.
“I’ll try not to,” said Trevyian, looking round. Lexxa was already gone, lost to the waters of Porinthios. He lay down, grimacing slightly at the aches and pains in his legs and back, then took the book from the old man. He was in the jungle before he had read the first paragraph.
Mr Forbisher smiled, then frowned. The Song Band, which protected the front door of the bookshop, was singing out a warning.
“Oh, dear,” he said softly. “Oh, dear, oh, dear.” . . .
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Appeared in Prism February 2004
Issue three already, and another improvement as this magazine hits it stride. Eleven short stories, an article, an interview and some cartoons plump out the 68 A4 pages.
"One for Sorrow, Two for Joy" by Stuart Young kicks us off. A young cat burglar named Magpie, of course, breaks into a museum, but finds the place already occupied. Several very caring gentlemen have also broken in to revive a goddess. There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and the cat burglar turns out to be the heroine. Not bad for a start off.
"The Very Error of the Moon" by Megan Powell follows. Imagine what would happen if a werewolf became an astronaut and went to the moon. I can't help thinking more could have been made of this story, but it's an interesting idea and not a bad read.
When you see a story called "Baby, You're a Vampire", you know pretty much what you're in for. The way it's handled by Andrew Hook lifts it above the average. It's written with feeling and is actually quite sad.
"True Stories" by Cyril Simsa is one of those wordy, atmospheric pieces, a character study with not much plot. It seems to work though, and will probably set you thinking, usually a sign of successful writing.
Next up is an interview with horror writer Simon Clark. It's of the
autobiographical type, not the tips for writers type which I prefer, but still
"The Whole Circus" by Darren Speegle is a futurist techno-thriller, with androids and designer drugs and I didn't really get it, probably more my fault than the author's.
Skipping swiftly over some nonsense about the revised laws of robotics, we came to an article by Steve made-up-name Eldritch entitled "Sex, Death and Skinny-dipping". Steve takes a big stick and gives crappy horror films a good hiding. Well done, mate, I'm with you all the way!
My favourite this issue is "Mauve on Black" by Tony Richards. On a world at one with nature, a young being longs for escape, so she grows a sentient space ship and heads off into space. Very stylish, original and completely satisfying, this story makes the issue, nice one Tone.
"Virrago" by Michael Penncavage reminds me of the beginning of that novel, you know, 'east of the sun, west of the moon' jobby. A bloke in a bit of a mood goes for a drive, finds himself in an alternative dimension and finds he likes it. It's well written, but not sufficiently original for my taste.
"Orcs and Holes" tells of a young Orc's adventures in our world. It's a stunning read, sublime, witty...What? Well, I wrote it actually, but ...What? Ok, I'll shut up.
Ian Hunter's "Dream Havens" finishes us off in style. Warriors from across realities converge on a book shop to seek R&R literally in the books. Nicely written and a twist ending to boot, good stuff.
On the whole then a good issue, and I'm proud to be associated wit it. (But don't mention the cover.)