Saturday, June 4, 2011


An exercise with Seanna; write a piece starting with 'We chased autumn across North America.' Here it is, in all its first-draft glory.  Wiki the character names if I've been too obtuse.

We chased autumn across North America.  Stepping off the boat in Rhode Island we breathed deep the last rays of summer and caught her, hiding between the salt and spray.  North she had gone, and north we went along that coast which scrawls along the Atlantic.
            The old stones of Boston were already cold to the touch.  Late September rain had slicked the streets and cleaned the city, made it fresh for winter’s snows.  We spent days wandering the harbour and between campuses until Perses caught a trace of her outside Fenway and breathed deep of the blended scents, eastern blood in western skies.  We hired a car and drove out of town.  Three hours later a freak snowstorm caved in the roof of city hall, collapsing red brick into white ice.
            We let New York be; too many life lines crossed, crosshatched between buildings which held their secrets like lovers in the night.  We trusted our instincts and carried on the highways.  Perses grinned as we crossed the Washington bridge; he had been before, would return some day.
            The plan, Perses told me, was to go to places she would have left.  Streets and stones and rules and laws which chase her away, which drive her as a trade wind.  It was better, I thought, than having no plan at all.
            The trees turned red like dawn on the coast, bleeding through the Chicago suburbs until they were washed in crimson.  In the city they were already wearing overcoats and scarves, fortified against Lake Michigan’s promise of chill.  When we stopped they were struck by a heat-wave.  We stayed in the Greek district; the day of the marathon we sat in a cafe and drank iced tea, watching the runners sweat in the surprise weather.  Perses laughed and breathed deep the smell of her, which flowed like Dionysian wine from the superstitions of athletes.
            Iowa and Nebraska would all have been her lands, once.  Under the yoke, they shone with rippling corn as we tore across the 80 heading west at a hundred miles an hour.  We were still driving when the sun set and Psellus accelerated.  She was always easier to find by night.
            And then up, up into the Rockies, past Boulder and into Denver where Psellus had to stay in bed for a week, so overcome with the smell of her.  I walked the streets by day and breathed the crisp, thin air; ate muesli with hipsters, waved to students doing Yoga in the park.  At night I sat with my friend and asked him how he could hunt his own daughter.
            Her time had come, he told me.
            We were holed up so long that the Aspen trees had turned, burning bright yellow across the mountains.  Psellus thought we could catch her in the mountains but we were stopped by a ranger who saw our plates and heard our accents and turned us around.  Two difficult days driving in and out of the snowline followed.  We ate rare bison in an empty ski town and afterwards drank ouzo with the staff who told us stories about tourists and the dangers of the coming snows.  After they passed out we raised our glasses to Pan and turned in for the night.
            There is wilderness and there is wilderness; Utah is forever wild and the fortifications built by a lake of salt will someday dissolve into the desert.  It was the first week of November when we crossed into Idaho.  Psellus made us stop in Twin Falls.  He stood in the base of the canyon and midnight and called her name, over and over, listening to the echo.  The next morning we went north.
            Boise was lost to her; so tamed now that she would never set a foot there but all around were the signs of her; the tall mountains to the east, the morning snow which threatened to white out the landscape and push the people back into her arms.
            A week later we reached the Washington coast.  Rain blew in hard from the Pacific and lashed Seattle with the resigned perseverance of a broken workman, determined to see a task through to completion.  It nearly washed her away but Psellus dragged us south.  He wept in the car and when I asked him why he told me to mind my own business.  We were close, he said.  He could taste her in the beer, feel her in the morning mist. 
            On a beach in Oregon, beside a sand-dune the size of a house, we found her sitting alone.  She had eyes only for a monolith, pushing out from the sea like a seal in a bathtub.  Psellus put a hand on my shoulder and we stopped, only a few steps away.  He moved forward and sat beside her, dusted the sand from his hands.
            “You are a long way from home, Asteria.”
            “As are you, father.  I see you brought Iapetus with you.”
            “Actually, he brought me with him.”
            They said nothing at all for a while.  The wind shook the grass on the dunes and lifted whisps of Asteria’s hair.  Psellus put an arm around her and held her tight.
            We had lunch together in a pub, a hundred yards from the ocean.  A storm came in while we ate and blew itself out before we had finished drinking our coffee.  Asteria made her father proud.  She did not beg, didn’t try to bargain with me.  I know that there were places she could go and as the sun and the sea breezes dried the day I tore at my own heart.
            “Not many of us left.” I said.
            Asteria sighed deep.  “No, but my time is done here.  There’s no wildness left here.  No magic.” She took my hand, smiled at her father.  “I was going to keep heading south, to California, but I lost my way there a long time ago.”
            “I want a beer,” Psellus said.
            We stayed until closing time.

            We took her into the woods of Oregon, as she wished.  After it was done, Psellus gave a cry of anguish.  On a hill to the west, a piece of land gave way and the forest collapsed around us.  I put a hand on his shoulder and kissed his cheek.  His daughter buried, unmarked in the wilderness.  A fitting end, out in the wild.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


You figured that she would say no, but you could never predict her reactions.  So you pack the car with a blanket and basket and drive across town to pick her up.  A kiss on the cheek which makes your eyes go wide, a hug you cannot escape fast enough.  You drive out of the slouching buildings in their dour suits of soot and mist and into the rolling hills where greens are made grey by the dawn’s false light.
            You’re looking good.
            Thanks, so are you.  I always liked your hair long.
Mm, I know.  How’s your mother?
            Fine.  She misses dad, you say.  How is your brother going?
            He graduated last month.  He said to thank you for helping him out last year.
            Tell him to forget about it, you say and then you say nothing for a while.
            You turn on the radio, which makes an uncomfortable silence uncomfortable and loud.  No more sing-alongs, no more playlists.  She taps her fingers on her lap in time with the rhythm but after a couple of songs you just turn it off again.
            There are no breaks in the highway today; a long, smooth river which runs all the way to the ocean.  The drive is broken only by billboards for upcoming fast-food stops, numbered exits, popular wineries.  The place you spent a weekend together last autumn, almost a year ago now.  You think about pointing it out; just drive past it.
            You crest a hill and the ocean and the sun appear at the same moment.  For a second the horizon is lit and doused all at once; the road dips and the sky is grey again.  By the time you reach the next rise the sun is already high.  You pull down the shade, fumble about the dashboard.  She opens the glovebox, pulls out your sunglasses, unfolds the arms and hands them to you.
            Thanks, you say.
            Don’t worry about it.
            There are a couple of caravans in the parking lot, but no other cars.  You pull in a couple of spaces from the walkway and sit in your car, looking through the spaces in the fence at the tiny waves which break onto the cold, hard sand.  She puts her hand on top of yours, perched on the gearstick, and leans her head on your shoulder.
            What are you doing?
            Shut up.
            The only smell is her; the only feeling is her weight, her warmth against your arm.  You start staring down the clock, daring each minute to pass, trying to spin the feeling out for as long as you can.
            It starts raining, just a few drops which turn to a shower, then a downpour which lashes the car.  The sand turns deep grey and the foliage around the car park snap and spray.
            Looks like there won’t be a picnic she says.  She is still leaning on your arm and her eyes are almost closed.
            No, you say.  Looks like there won’t.
            You are still staring at the clock, counting minutes.  After three you turn the engine back on.  When you shift the car into reverse she sits back up, and the contact is broken.  The windscreen fogs, and you turn on the demister, changing the atmosphere in the car.
            You chat on the way back; about books you have read and movies you have seen.  About mutual friends and their lives and dramas.  It is still raining when you drop her home, but the passion is gone, leaving a gentle, misting fall in its wake.  She squeezes your hand and you smile at her.  She puts her jacket over her head and runs from the car to her gate.  And then she is gone.
            You drive home through streets which still echo dawn, waking now to the wet weekend.  You take your shoes off at the door and step into your house.  Your wife is sitting at the kitchen table, dressed in gown and slippers, a mug of tea in her hand.
            I woke up and you weren’t here, she says.
            I planned a picnic, you say.  It was going to be a surprise.  But now its raining.
            She smiles, and takes your cold hand with her warm one.
I've been told I need to work on setting, emotion and characterisation (not that I'm bad at them; that I'm not using them at all).  I'm going to use some short exercises to try to get better at using these things.  I'll post them here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

With burning wings

(a story I wrote for Seanna as part of a challenge, unedited)

Marie first noticed the man at security.  Neat brown hair, tastefully dressed, just a small duffel to send through the x-ray.  On business, she decided, or a tourist.  Not a traveller.  She had checked her large backpack and now had only her daypack with book, iPod and snacks to sustain her through the flight.
            She noticed him again when she stopped at a bar and drank a beer while she waited for her flight to be called.  He was sitting by himself at a table in the corner, a forgotten rum and cola by his hand, eyes scanning the people coming and going through the terminal.  When he looked her way she turned back to her beer.  She felt his eyes stay on her for a moment and slip away.  After a taste of her drink she checked over her shoulder, but he was already gone.
            With a seat near the tail, she was called to board the plane first, and found place on the left side, in an aisle seat.  Around her bags were stowed in overhead lockers and seats tilted then returned to the locked, upright position.  All the rows around her filled while the window seat beside her remained empty.
            Only when the captain came across the intercom, stating that the plane was waiting for luggage to be loaded before takeoff, did the last passenger make his way down the aisles.  His neat hair was now pushed up at the front; as he walked he ran a hand over his part again, leaving a trail of strands some of which remained upright.  He scanned the aisles as he went, meeting the eye of the passenger in each seat as he went until he stopped next to Marie.
            She watched him for a moment as he continued to look at each person on the plane in the last few aisles, then turned to her and sucked a breath in through his teeth.  A stewardess asked him to take his seat, and he shifted his weight from one foot to another and back again.
            “Not a good flier?” Marie asked.
            His eyebrows went up at the question.  He looked at his feet.  Back into her eyes.
            “Actually,” he said, “I am a fantastic flier.  But I am a touch claustrophobic.”
            “Oh,” she said.  “Would you like the aisle seat?”
            “Yes.  I would like that very much.”
            Marie unclasped her seatbelt and shifted over the arm-rest and settled into the window seat, the stewardess smiling at them.  When Marie’s neighbour had stashed his duffle under the seat in front of him she offered her hand.
            “I’m Marie.”
            “People call me Zach.”
            “People call you? What’s your name that they call you Zach?”
            “Ask me later.”
            “Okay,” she said.  “How does a guy who’s claustrophobic become a fantastic flier?”
            “How does a caterpillar become a butterfly? There are some things we’re just born to do.”
            The hostess called for the passenger’s attention and showed them the exits and how to do their seatbelts.
            “Where are you from?” Marie said.
            “Shush, they’re explaining what we need to do in an emergency.”
            “I already know that.  Have you ever been on a plane where there was an emergency.”
            “There’s always a first time.”
            The plane took off.  As they reached thirty thousand feet, the sound of the engines died away.  Marie flicked through the in flight magazine, scrolled through some songs on his iPod, turned to look at Zach again.  He was reading from a beaten copy of Steppenwolfe.
            “So where are you from?”
            “I’m not French.”
            “Well, I am.”
            “I won’t hold that against you.”
            “What’s your name?”
            He closed the paperback and placed it on his lap.  “You aren’t going to leave me alone are you?”
            “Sorry,” she said, “conversation’s the easiest way to pass the time.  What’s your name?”
            “Is that a real name?”
            “What makes a name real?”
            “I once knew a girl named Iona, which isn’t so bad, but her family name was Kyte.”
            “I see.”  He sat up in his chair and looked up the aisle.
            “Who are you looking for?”
            “What do you mean?”
            “You were looking for someone in the airport too?”
            “Excuse me?”
            Maire flushed, her cheeks rosy, the tips of her ears bright red.  “I saw you, in the airport.  At the bar.  Looking for someone.”
            “Was I?”
            “So who are they?”
            Zach sucked a long breath in through flared nostrils.  “You know what the best thing about this place is?”
            “What place?” She looked around.  “The plane?”
            “Your world.  If I tell you who I am looking for, one of three things will happen.  Either you won’t believe me, because you think I am lying or I am crazy.  Or you will believe me, but you won’t tell anyone because you know they will think you’re lying or crazy.  Or you will believe me, and you will tell people, but they will think you are lying.”
            “Or crazy.”
            “Or crazy.  You really want to know?”
            Marie nodded, “now I have to know.”
            Zach cleared his throat.  “How old do you think I am?”
            “Um, thirty five?”
            “Thank you.  I am eighty five and a half thousand years old.  Give or take a thousand.”
            “Uh huh.”
            “You’re with me?”
            “No, I think you’re lying.”
            “Or crazy?”
            “No, just lying.  Go on.”
            “Do you believe in God?”
            Marie raised an eyebrow.  “Do you?”
            “Nope.  I know that God exists, and I have no faith in him at all.  I was created by an angel to serve as a general in the armies of God in the war against the betrayers.  But I left the host and came to earth, because frankly angels shit me.”
            “Which angel?”
            “All of them.”
            “No, which one made you?”
            “Oh,” he said.  “Michael.”
            “Wow.  Is that who you’re looking for?”
            “Goodness, no,” Zach said.  “If Michael were here I wouldn’t need to look for him.  His presence would blind us in moments, burned into our minds forever.  No I am looking for... well, think of them as truancy officers.”
            “You’re a fugitive?”
            “Of a kind.”
            “And you’re keeping an eye out for bounty hunters?”
            “In a way.”
            “And you’re nervous because in an enclosed space, it’s harder to evade capture?”
            He gave her a broad smile. “Very well done, Marie.”
            She pushed herself up in her seat.  “So what do they look like?”
            Zach pushed her back down.  “Easy there.  To you they just look like... well, like people.  But to me, they burn like a torch in the darkness.”
            A meal was served, lunch or dinner, Marie could not tell the difference on aeroplanes.  After the trays had been collected, the lights were dimmed and people lay their seats back.  Marie asked where Zach was going, keeping her voice low between the sleeping passengers.
            “Nowhere, really.  I find that if I keep moving its harder for other angels to find me.”
            “Why don’t you want to be found?”
            “Ever had a job you didn’t like?”
            “Yes, of course.  I used to wash dishes in a cafe.  Not much fun.”
            “I had a job I didn’t like for eighty thousand years.”
            “Eighty five.”
            “Oh, no,” Zach shook his head.  “The last five thousand I’ve been hiding out on earth.”
            “And you’ve never been caught?”
            “Found, not caught.  Not yet.  But there’s always tomorrow.”
            “That must be a terrible thing, always living on the run.”
            “It’s not so bad,” Zach said.  “The middle ages were a lot of fun.”
            “Why are you catching a plane?”
            “I’m sorry, Marie, you’ve lost me again.  What was the tangent there?”
            “If you are an angel, Zach, why are you catching a plane.”
            “Oh,” he pushed his thumbs together and splayed his fingers.  “Do you know how much force it takes to lift an adult body?”
            “Heaps, really a lot.  My wings are huge, and my wings are... well, they’re not like in the church windows.”
            “What are they like?”
            The stewardess stopped over them, leaned low.  “We were talking about your condition up front, sir.  Do you think it would help to sit in the cockpit for a while? With the claustrophobia?”
            Zach looked over at Marie, eyebrows raised.  “Want to have a look up front?”
            They undid their seatbelts and followed the stewardess.  At the threshold, Zach ushered Marie inside.  “Is this normal?” he asked the stewardess.
            “Not really, but if the captain’s opened it it’s okay.”
            He smiled at her and stepped through.  The Marie was talking to the pilot, asking about some of the dials.  As she looked back over her shoulder the captain stood up, took off his hat.  His eyes lit with the fury of a thousand suns.
            “Hello, Zarachay,” he said.

            Jean-Luc hooked the voice recorder up and started scanning the contents.  There was a knock at the door, and Karen came in.
            “Anything strange in your box?”
            “Just hooked it up,” he said.  “What’s up?”
            “Mine’s only got fifteen seconds of recording.”
            “Hey?  It’s been on the bottom of the sea for two years.  Checked for corruption?”  He tapped away at the console, loading the voice recording.
            “I’m telling you.  Fifteen seconds of rapid deceleration then nothing.”
            “Well, let’s see what the crew has to say about- huh.”
            Karen leaned in over his shoulder.  “What?”
            “Let’s- I’ll just play it.”
            They listened to the recording.  Karen sat down, and they listened to it again.  And again, holding hands.
            Karen stood up and walked to the door.  “What do we say?”
            “Two years on the bottom of the sea,” Jean-Luc said.  “Anything could have happened to this data.”
            She nodded and left the room.  He played the recording back one more time:
            Five seconds of static.
            A woman’s voice- “Oh god, they’re so beautiful...”
            A crackle of fire.
            He tapped at the console, and erased the recording forever.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Where I'm going

We look to distant banks,
measure how far we'll get.
To bridges we give thanks
for feet which are not wet.
In this frame of mind
the past is often lost-
until we are defined
by the bridges we have crossed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


When you shave a tiger
his stripes are on the skin.

How many layers can I strip
before your stripes give in?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Contiki Knights v1.0

Dance with a girl in a Liverpool bar.
Celery accent, luminous mind,
Eyes so blue they redefine 'blue.'
Dance for a while then sit down alone.

Dream as a child, muse as a man,
To be Galad, purest of knights.
Incorruptible flesh, soul unswayed,
Beauty can't die, can only be killed.

Learn as a child, hope as a man,
 To be Lancelot, failed and damned.
By flesh led astray, penitent soul,
The perfect knight gone to rot.

Fear as a child, sigh as a man,
To be Pellanor, chasing his beast.
Riding forever on one final quest,
Once started can never be ceased.

Ignore as a child, know as a man
To be the beast Pellanor sought.
Hounded to death by an enemy feared,
Scared and alone to the end.

Dance with a girl in a Liverpool bar,
Walk, though the prospects are good.
Breath steam into hands, brittle and iced;
Go home with somebody else.