21. Ether

“Did you get it?”

Mac doesn’t answer. Flakes of snow land on his face and stick to the fur lining of his parka. He lies still, just a few feet away, but doesn’t budge an inch. The wind whips across the tundra, and sheets of white ripple over the ground like waves on a stormy sea.

“Hey Mac. Mac, c’mon man. Did you kill it?”

He moves slowly, still looking to the distance, but finally pulls back the bolt on his rifle. That’s it, our last bullet. Our last hope too.

“Mac, I-”

“Yes.” He looks over at me with a face like leather, chapped from the wind and cold, tanned by the sun and sea spray. He doesn’t smile, which is just as well. A face like that reminds me of a broken in shoe: comfortable, but ready to burst at the seams if you stretch it too far.

“Yea, well you fucking better have, because-.”

“Go get it.”

I look him over, up and down. Power games, thinking he’s the big man just because he managed to blast a sleeping animal, but I’m just too hungry to play. I need that seal – I need its blubber, its meat, its flesh and bones. I need it all. I’ve got a cudgel in my hand and I’m over the small, snow barricade we dug a few days before, running towards Mac’s trophy.

Did he shout something? Could be the wind. Christ it’s cold, and howling so hard now I struggle to keep in a straight line, but I need this animal butchered and bagged before I get competition. So hungry, and I wont be the only one that feels this way. In a world where there’s so little land and most of that land is ice, you’re fighting mother nature just as much as you’re fighting your own. That logical voice in your head that keeps your human nature from taking over, from making you rip off your clothes, eat your supplies and howl at the moon ’til the frostbite gets you.

“Pssh, bastard,” I mumble. The kill’s good, right through the brain, I can use just about the whole animal from this. Mac’s not perfect, he’s quiet and smug, but he deserves a bit of credit. I’ll give him first pick of the meat.

“Hey,” I turn back, shouting, “Sniper Zaytsev! Get…”

Mac’s finally got a bit of colour in his cheeks. His mouth’s open, his eyes rolled back, his head hangs by its spine from the mouth of a polar bear. Then its gone, inside.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit!”

It’s looking this way. Fuck Mac, our last bullet. Up on its back legs and the size of a yeti, all muscle and fur and big teeth still dripping with its first course.

The ether we use to keep the engines running, up in the cold. A long shot, and my hands are numb but my heart’s ready to explode as I fumble for it at my side. The bear’s back on all fours and running, grunting like a maniac. Got it. I pull out the cork with my teeth and throw it at the fucker.

Got to move fast. It’s pawing at its face. I pull a flare from my side and twist off the striker. Once. It’s got a roar on it, like thunder, like the heavens opening. Twice. Come on. Come on. It’s coming at me again, so close I can see the saliva foaming at its mouth. But it’s lit!

The bear snarls, roars, pink light reflected in deep black eyes. But it’s too late for it to stop. I throw the flare at it with arms that are limp and it’s up in flames. Blue and orange and hot, like a huge cotton ball it burns bright. It runs in circles in a panic, its deep roar now a squeal, then a choke, but I’ve got to see it through. With a roar of my own I run at the bear as the flames give way to black, singed skin and strike it on the jaw with my cudgel. It cries out, but I’m getting the power back. My arm smashes its skull until it’s just cracked, charred bone stuck in a brain and blood jelly.

“Holy Shit. Fuck, oh fuck.” I’m shaking and panting, but the beast’s blood is already starting to cool. Fingers of red slow down on the ice, congeal, crystalise. “I’m sorry Mac. I know…I know we never had much to say. But I don’t know where to go from here. Oh fuck Mac, I needed you.”

Forgive me Mac, because these tears aren’t for you. Alone and adrift on a flooded planet, with three corpses for friends. I think you’re the lucky one.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

20. Doge

“Meat, Doge, and a replacement for this.”

Keikos dropped a mechanical device onto the table that Doge ignored, instead locking intense, blue eyes with the Hekathon.

“That’s no way to ask for a favour, Keikos. Remember whose territory you’re in.”

Keikos grunted without a reply, yet after some discomfort glanced once up and down the sun-baked street. Doge appeared satisfied with this response, and for the first time looked down to acknowledge the trinket, his eyes only leaving Keikos’ at the last moment.

“Ah, yes. This device is for navigating underground, quite easy to acquire for a Chesh’r, but more difficult for a foreigner.” He paused to glance at Keikos, this time more casually, “certainly an interesting piece of equipment for a soldier who spends half his life on the water and half on the archipelagos.”

Keikos offered nothing, so Doge smiled and continued to speak, this time eyeing the object more closely. “Something to do with your little castaway last night?”

The soldier’s features flickered briefly before resuming their original stoic mask. The noise of the port seemed to flare, and the sound of children running past caused his sword arm to tense.

“Relax, Keikos. I know you in Dekan think security is non-existent on our side of the strait, but it isn’t so bad they can’t spot a lone foreigner with a torch in the dead of night. They just aren’t paid enough to fight a nikaiakon full of Hypersian commandos. So I ask you,” Doge handed the repaired article back to the Hekathon. “What’s in it for me?”

Two sacks of vegetables and a reed basket of bread loaves presented themselves on the table.

“You can keep the cloth, Chesh’r.”

“You know what I meant,” spoke the merchant to the soldier’s back, as he walked away towards the jetty. Doge settled back in his canvas chair, snatching one of the bread loaves. “I’ve seen much more of the world than you have,” he muttered quietly, “and naivety can only carry you so far.”

pt.1 | pt.2

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

19. Light on the Shore

The light on the shore was puzzling. Earlier in the evening a sentry had alerted his commander to movement on the opposite coast and now, after dark, Resios led a cadre of skirmishers over the Hypersian strait.

A torch fluttered weakly some way up from the beach, faint yet visible among the stiff grass and sand of Dekan-Hekwat. Its implications lay uncomfortably on the troops. A bandit, or even Chesh’r squad, would be foolish to move so openly in view of the distinctive Hypersian watchtowers that lined the coast behind Resios, punching through the rocky earth like a corpse’s fingers. An ambush was possible but would be equally poorly reasoned on a night so clear the moon drew every edge in chalk and silver. He stroked Lekos’ right cheek, who in turn repeated the move to the next oarsman until their course shifted to further up the beach.

A warm gust of wind accompanied the skirmishers as they touched shore and rolled into the water, those at the rear disassembling the craft as those in front kept watch. Taking their nikai the skirmishers broke into four groups of two and dispersed. Resios took Prixalis on the most direct route, ready to co-ordinate the rest of his squad visually when they were in position. With sand, still warm from the day, beneath his feet, he pressed his body close to the bank and moved quickly towards the light. When near Prixalis dropped prone to keep watch on their vanguard as Resios crawled on.

Through the bentgrass a tall, thin body lay motionless beneath the torch, one hand outstretched towards an object that appeared to be a shell. On the ridge above him the dark faces of Resios’ squad appeared in sequence, their attention shifting between the body and his own face as they waited for instruction. He found Medomai among the heads and gestured for him to move forward, Resios also rising to his feet and taking his weapon with him. He batted away the shell, then looked at his compatriot.

“Find anything?”

“Nothing,” returned Medomai, his voice so deep the sound seem to come from the earth beneath their feet. “It’s just him.”

Resios moved his hekasiteros to the person’s stomach, aiming to pull him onto his back with its hook. Instead of finding the dessicated features of a corpse, the man opened his eyes and gasped. Surprised, yet composed enough to check Medomai’s weapon and prevent him decapitating the prisoner, the man began to gabble in a language completely foreign. Medomai snarled, and looked ready to  fling him into the water.

“Ba-Chesh’ret!”

“No.” The starving man’s eyes were imploring, and Reisos firm. “This isn’t Ches’r,  and look at his skin. It’s dirty, but pale, like nothing I’ve ever seen.” On the ridge the commandos’ expressions had changed from warriors to spectators, entranced by the alien in their midsts.

“Lekos, Keikos, gather the others and prepare to return to the fort, this man is our prisoner. Prixalis!” He shouted behind him, “bring him some water.” Kneeling, the refugee spoke just one word. “Za.” Gesturing to himself with a piteous grin, eager to explain, he repeated “Za, Za.”

Medomai grunted, “this is Dekan-Hekwat, Za. Fortunately for you we found you before the Chesh’r, else by now you’d be in chains and on your way to a life of forced labour. Or the sacrificial altar.”

The man appeared stupidly grateful and continued to smile as his eyes rolled back in his head, falling asleep.

pt.1 | pt.2

Tagged , , , , , , ,

18. A Conversation

It’s eight minutes past five on a Friday afternoon when Adam finally enters the Costa Coffee, adjacent platform five, at Newcastle Central train station. He manoeuvres through the door to a backdrop of warm, equinox sunlight, channelled down ceilinged platforms as it falls below the horizon, and gives a quick smile of acknowledgement before queueing to order his drink. A little over five minutes later he’s sat down and hurriedly removing his hooded jersey.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,”  he offers, with no qualifying explanation, any guilt quickly hidden by his top as he pulls it over his head. When his outdoor clothing is completely removed Adam relaxes, and gives a broad smile that immediately turns the conversation from an interrogation over his tardiness to what it was supposed to be: a meeting of friends.

“That’s ok. Why were you late?”

“Oh, nothing really, you know how I can be. I was just working and lost track, I got here as quickly as I could when I realised the time.” He ran his fingers over the indents of the Costa logo on his cup, then the handle and finally traced a finger around the rim. Seemingly bored already of answering questions, he offered his own, “So then, Emily, how are you? I feel as if it’s been forever since I’ve seen you!”

“I know! Well, it hasn’t been so long actually, but I suppose last time we met it was brief. We haven’t had a chance to spend any real time together in a while.”

Adam continued to smile and nodded, then looked down to tear a corner from a brown sugar sachet. He spoke as he poured, “well, no-one could blame you. You’ve just come back from Belgium right, on an EU internship? If I was there I’d have had little time for social networking.”

“Yea! It’s been brilliant, well, mostly. I’ve already had a taste of the kind of bureaucracy I can expect later and it’s going to be so annoying. There’s also so many acronyms, it’s like learning another language!”

Adam looked up long enough to laugh, then stirred his drink. “In addition to French, and German night classes? They’re certainly getting their money’s worth with you.” He returned the wooden stirrer to the table, then continued, “Remember when we took that road trip to Cornwall, and we’d spoke the whole way about how much we were looking forward to sausage sandwiches,” he took a few sips, “but when we arrived we realised we didn’t have any fuel for the stoves? So we had to eat bread and butter and cold tinned beans.”

“I know! Such a depressing start to our little adventure. In fact, I have something you’ll enjoy.” He looked at the photo Emily had presented on her phone and smiled. “You’re even wearing the same top now.”

“I know, it’s uncanny, like a reverse Dorian Gray. In the picture I looked sharp and tanned whereas here I’ve become more tatty.” He suddenly moved farther back in his chair and tensed then relaxed his shoulder blades, as if relieving a cramp, then moved forward again, resting his elbows on his knees.”Remember Steve, and those gloves he wore the entire journey?” Adam spoke to the right of Emily and used his hands to mimic Steve’s outlines, as if addressing his spectre standing over her shoulder, only glancing at her to confirm her attention was still with him, “I wonder if he still has those. It’s funny to think he does.” Adam smiled briefly and tried to hold eye contact, but this time it didn’t last. His gaze drifted from one feature of the room’s architecture to the next, and before long he settled on the floor. He gently squeezed the tip of one index finger.

“How have you been up here?”

“Ah, it’s been OK. What can I say really? I don’t know what to say.”

Silence.

“Things will get better for you.”

Adam didn’t look up to see her leave to catch her train. It took fifteen minutes before he threw the last cold mouthful of coffee down his throat, donned his jersey, and walked into the Newcastle evening.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

17. Posts to become a Versatile Blogger!

Hats off to Rylee for doing what the rest of WP should have done months ago, and nominating me for a Versatile Blogger award!

Versatile Blogger Award

In all seriousness though I’m very flattered, and all the more so because I’m a big fan of The Lime. Her blog provides a full spectrum of reading entertainment through fiction, poetry, opinion pieces and bits of fitness banter. Ok, I guess I could say about 80% of blogs out there cover those topics, including this one, but she still has that extra something that sets her apart from the rest.

So then, this award. It isn’t too hard to come by, in fact all you need to do is be nominated and it’s yours, but I still think it’s a good way to get to know people you’re linked with and a nice way of showing other people you appreciate their writing.

The rules are:

  • Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your acceptance post.
  • Share seven (7) FACTS about yourself.
  • Award 15-20 other bloggers the versatility award.
  • Contact your nominees so they know you nominated them.
Sounds easy enough! Ok then, here we go. My facts…
1) As my nomination was from The Lime, my first fact will be fitness related. I’ve completed 5 cycling tours in Europe; one has crossed the continent from North to South and another from West to East. The North to South one was from Calais (very Northern France) through Belgium, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine, Switzerland and Italy, ending in Chiasso/Lake Como (Swiss/Italian border). The West to East was from Paris to Budapest, going through France (obviously), Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary (obviously). I’ve been accredited in a book another cyclist wrote while travelling from Britain to Italy on a cycling trip for some advice I gave him for the journey.

Also, my best running time on the treadmill is 5km in 20minutes, which I first achieved about 9months ago. It had been my objective since I started running at 18, and I achieved it at 22! I can’t do that now though, I’ve put on too much weight, but I’m clawing it back :p

2) I fenced for two University teams, and my proudest moment was beating an epéeist who fenced for the Dutch junior squad (I believe that actually was at a match in St.Andrews as well Rylee ;) )

3) One day I hope to be able to earn enough to make a standing donation to the Volunteer Development Poverty Children’s Association of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I went there twice in my gap year as a volunteer teacher and met the initial founder before he died in a traffic accident, and it made quite the impact on me.

4) As a general rule, if something is Freshly Pressed, I’m not going to like it.

5) I was attracted to Literature growing up because of the type of person it produces. I like people who aren’t sheep, which is why I can get a little turned off when I see people refer to “we” bloggers or “bloggers unite!” as if we’re all in the same boat. I like places like WordPress so I can get away from that kind of thinking!

6) I find creative writing very difficult, but at the same time find good books, film music and theatre hard to come by. When I do find these thing however, I am often bowled over. I’ve never written anything I’ve been completely happy with.

7) I thought the film “Monsters” was terrible, and felt betrayed by UK critics for making it out to be a viable indie alternative to Hollywood. I actually felt it was just the type of movie Hollywood would have produced had they been given only a $50,000 budget.

Ok, so then, for my nominees. I’ve no doubt that these people already have this award, but I like them so they’re getting it again! In no discernible order then:

Fantasy in Motion - Insightful posts from a would-be fantasy author explaining the mechanics behind his writing. Also has a good amount of fiction to read through, and has recently published an e-book!

Broken Doll Collective - Great bits of photography and writing from a clearly very creative and talented individual.

Comedy Confessions - Haven’t heard from her in a while, but then again I’m hardly one to talk. What she has written is funny stuff, so I hope she keeps this up. Maybe this will inspire you to keep going?

Kevin MacNeill - A fellow cyclist and writer? ’nuff said.

Reverend Gwyon - Interesting, fragmented and unusual poetry.

I Just Write Something - an author currently writing a novel online with frequent updates. A pleasure to read as and when they appear.

Word by Word - Frequent book reviews that can point you towards your next read.

I understand that I am supposed to send this to 15-20 people, but there actually aren’t very many people I follow! Thanks again to Rylee :)

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

16. Book Review: The Outsider, Albert Camus

Even though I read plenty of good books all the time (check me out, eh?) I’ve never seen much of a point in writing a review on WordPress for a book that was:

a) First published many decades ago and,

My edition of The Outsider, Albert Camus. Purchased in store from Waterstones.

b) Is already an established classic.

If it checks these two boxes then it should be on everyone’s to read list irrespective of my thoughts on it. That said, yet another review can’t exactly hurt either, can it? And seeing as I can’t be bothered to write creatively tonight, I’ll share my thoughts on the off-chance it will pique someone’s interest.

I starting reading The Plague, also by Camus, a couple of years ago, but lost the book after the first few chapters. It wasn’t until recently that I came across it again while browsing Waterstones, and decided to pick up both another copy of The Plague and also The Outsider, a book I’d heard a little about and knew to be a family favourite.

The Outsider is a rather compact book and with some effort a person could read it in one day. It’s a first person account of what I assume to be an “existentialist” protagonist as he drifts through life. I say assume as I’m not entirely sure what the phrase “existentialist” means, and out of respect for the reader I wont google it and pass off the knowledge as my own, but I feel I have a good enough idea. Suffice to say he “exists” in the moment, and his thoughts lack many of the trappings of conventional ideology. This means he appears stoic in the face of all events, which often makes him appear cold, although it is worth underlining that there is nothing inherently evil in the philosophy itself. It is just “being” or “existing.”

For instance, the book opens with his mother’s death, which he attends with no demonstrable sadness. We understand our protagonist kept his sick mother at his house for as long as possible but eventually lacked the means to financially support her and sent her to a state-run care home. This is understandable, however other characters subtly note that this point does not appear to distress him to the standard that society deems necessary. Even though his actions are perfectly rational, people take umbrage at his casual demeanour, and would instead prefer him to express guilt or show remorse over his decision. Instead his response is the literal truth: he couldn’t afford to support her. If he could have, he would have kept her at his house, but he couldn’t, so he sent her to a care home.

Through this mechanism our Outsider shows the first of many irrational social conventions. On the one hand what he says is true: he can’t control his decision to send his mother away as he couldn’t afford to keep her, and as it so clearly wasn’t his fault, then why should he feel guilt? The answer, we quickly realise, is solely because society accepts it for no other reason than that is how things are done. In this way we see just how the Outsider lives up to the title, although I would argue that not even he realises it until the end of the story, and thus many may come to see the monsters to be the mob who eventually condemn him for his placid refusal to play the social game. That is likely Camus’ point. Our Outsider is a man who tells the truth, who sees things as they are, and that makes him dangerous to a culture based on hypocrisy.

Despite this relatively victimless example (his dead mother doesn’t mind, does she?), the Outsider is party to some more serious offences. I wont exactly tell you what they are, but his responses really will get you thinking over where your allegiance lies, or even if you find yourself indifferent.

In total, this is an excellent book. Readable and liable to have you thinking. I’m currently halfway through The Plague which is a bit more of a mixed bag in terms of accessibility, but this one is a good pocket read to take in on a day off. In fact, if you have any thoughts on it yourself, I’d love to hear them!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

15. In Plain Air (VI)

There’s something predictable in human terror. I hypothesise that if I were to don a white lab coat and find enough volunteers, I could arrange a scale from nought to ten corresponding to frightening instances and guess reactions at each stage. At level nought, just a handshake on the terror scale we reach four and we’re told we have cancer. At level six a loved one is abducted, then we’re thrown from a plane for seven. At eight we look outside the shower and for the first time in our lives it doesn’t vanish when we turn to face it, but its fingers stick against the opaque curtain. Nine

Tagged , , , , , , ,

14. In Plain Air (V)

Here I am again, this time with the moon so high I can see my room in ink blots. He’s in the bathroom, but it’s so tiny, I’ve no idea how he can fit. He’s watching and will soon unfold from the cubby-hole to meet me. I could try to climb out the window, but I know it will just stretch on forever, as hopeless as trying to crawl back into my mother’s womb.

I can’t face him.

He’s coming now. I saw him move. The moon melts from his grin and the air is thick. I’m drowning. So just shut my eyes. Surprise when I feel his hands around my neck.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

13. How To Increase Your Page Views

Posts about Blogging increase your view count and thus exposure to other bloggers out there. Through my own experiences I have found that the following are useful checkpoints on the way to success:

  • Be Self-Conscious. Write about your blogging experiences, how to be a successful blogger and challenges bloggers face.
  • Use Pingbacks and Comment extensively.
  • Photography can work too.

Here is an example of how to increase your view count, the number of clicks you receive and your referrals.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

12. In Plain Air (IV)

I circled the wreckage once in pursuit of the figures but only met disheartening barricades of plane, cargo and fire. People shrank through the smoke when I tried to approach them despite seeming desperate to find other passengers and safety. At other times I fancied I could see a sole survivor look straight at me, holding my gaze, before turning and running back into the flames. With my circuit complete I again stood looking at the hill where I had first watched this catastrophe unfold.

I was frustrated with my lack of success and unsettled being near the plane at all. There was a quality in the sounds it made, a bleating of heated metal and aching joints, that paired with its dangerous position on the hill made it impossible for me to believe that it was not malevolent.

I pulled out my phone with the objective of calling for help. No signal, then one flickering bar as I left the valley. Emergency calls only. I dialled three nines and heard it ring, but an automated operator answered before I had a chance to speak:

We understand from your location that you wish to report the plane crash. Don’t worry, we are aware of the problem, and special teams have been dispatched to assist you shortly. Thank you for your concern.

I had to talk to another human being, one close to me, and strode to higher ground in an effort to gain more phone signal. As the air cleared again I heard a familiar whispered cry to my left.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,