Sunday, 23 September 2012

Northampton Waterstone's


Love this pic. I'm sitting next to a shelf full of ETAs (Extremely Talented Authors). Wall-to-wall Magrs and Lovering (and Art Critic Panda!) - little surreal to be sitting next to their work, having just been out drinking with them. 

Tim and Emma (Manager) at Waterstone's were absolutely lovely. Had a good waffle about the olden days of Dillons Bookshop. Many fond memories.





Spot the difference?

Yurs, there may have been a moment of endorsement madness going on ;)

Happy days.

My books are currently in stock in Northampton, so head on over!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Women's Panel Photos

Thanks to the lovely Suzanna Raymond (artist) for these snaps of the Women's Panel at the weekend.






Northampton Library, L-R: V. G. Lee, Jane Reynolds, Meself, Sophia Blackwell - moderated (i.e. kept in line) by Morgen Bailey.

Was a most fantastic time, looking forward to booQfest next year. Think they've started their own picture gallery. Includes a cheezy-blinky-grins group photo for NGBG's 1st birthday.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Memories of a booQfest

Navigator Percy Rabbit meets Art Critic Panda
Sorry for the silence. It's been a fairly full-on few days.

This weekend was Northampton's first LGBT Literature Festival: booQfest.

The first of many, we hope. Thanks to the incredible efforts of Matt, Dan, Colin, Michelle, Ian, Morgen and many others. What they have achieved in such a short space of time, on such a tight budget, has been truly humbling.

Not just what they have created physically: booking the venues, accommodation, printing the fliers... but what they have achieved on other levels: the thoughts provoked and the friendships made.

The following is a brief run-down of my weekend. But join the booQfest Twitter feed or Facebook group to keep up to date and get a head start on next year's event. There's also a wrap post.

For me, it began on Friday night at the opening party. Jeremy Seabrook gave a poignant account of the Scene growing up in Northampton, and the lovely Will Davis (Twitter @WilDavis2012) read from his novel The Trapeze Artist, as well as his free online series: How Not to Survive.

He very kindly gave me a signed copy on swapsy, so hoping to bump into him when I pop down to London next month.


More signed books to add to the collection.
The Friday night after-party was extremely good fun. Thanks to Jane (and daughter Vienna), Morgen, Matt, Scott, Col, Ian (the 'alcoholic cupcake specialist' @BakesWithBite - seriously, check that out!), Dan, Rob, Joe, Mark, Gary, Paul and Jeremy - and anyone else the sheer quantity of alcohol may have wiped from my brain... s'all a tad hazy...

Oh, and of course Paul and Jeremy's Panda.

Never forget Panda.

I bunked in with Morgen for the night, over at Hotel Ibis. Got up silly early, rushed home, had shower, rushed back and started my day at the Durngate (where I did work experience aged 16) with a cup of strong coffee at Gary Russel & Joe Lidster's 'Meet the Author' chat. After which, I headed downstairs to listen to award winning Jane Lovering's reading. Great discussion about that kookie Vampire State of Mind.

This was followed by an incredible performance by the extraordinary Clare Summerskill, who delivered extracts from her book Gateway to Heaven, documenting the lives of lesbian and gay people and the fight for equality between 1940-90. She really was outstanding. Very privileged to have seen that.

I did a mad dash from there over to the library to catch the end of the sci-fi panel where Paul, Joe, Mark and Gary entertained a captivated audience with tales of writing for Doctor Who, Torchwood, and all the things I started to wish I had watched more of recently.


L-R: Mark Michalowski, Joe Lidster,
Paul Magrs and Gary Russell.
Felt rather bad ducking out after that, just as renowned poet Fay Roberts rocked up, but I needed to check into my next hotel and - more than air - I needed sleep.

After a shower, a nap and a nibble of complimentary chocolate cookies, I made my way back to the library and arrived just in time to assist Colin in welcoming the legendary Alan Moore. He's perhaps best know for writing V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Watchemen. He's also a Northampton native, and an avid gay rights activist, having founded AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) in reaction to Section 28.

As with Clare Summerskill and Jeremy Seabrook, I found myself blown away by his delivery. He read from The Mirror of Love - a poem documenting LGB history. Funny, brilliant, at times extremely sad. 

I also learned quite a bit about Northampton that I didn't know - in that we're a county of outlaws. I rather like that, before then I just assumed we were a county of shoes. I think I like outlaws better. But then, even outlaws need shoes... 

Talking of which, I'd rather like his: shiny purple winklepickers.


Matt Toresen introducing Alan Moore
Saturday night was a rather more reserved affair - we headed out for pizza, joined by performance poet Sophia Blackwell and some of the members of Northampton Gay Book Group, then back to the hotel for a few quiet, but entertaining, drinks. Panda was particularly on form.

Sunday was showtime. Poddled over to Waterston(')s (they ditched the apostrophe yet they still keep using it - how does this work, people? How does this work?) for an 11am signing

You know that Black Books episode: 'Nobody wants to buy a book at this time in the morning'? - yeah. It's true. Most people were sleeping off the night before, authors included. And, no, Graham Linehan didn't walk through the door wearing an 'I Heart Books' T-shirt, more's the pity. But Emma, the manager, was absolutely lovely, and it was an incredible experience just being there - sitting at a table next to a bookcase filled with people I'd just been drinking with. Wall-to-wall Paul Magrs and Jane Lovering. Just a touch surreal.

After that I was up for a panel discussion at the library. Led by Morgen, it featured Sophia, V. G. Lee, Jane Reynolds and myself, chatting about L&B issues in literature. Really good fun. As Val said, we could have gone on for at least another hour given the chance. It was lovely to learn more about them, and to discover so many shared experiences as writers regarding process, critics and dealing with rejection. It was also extremely touching to see Jeremy and Paul (and Panda?) in the audience, supporting the girls. 

After that, I did another interview with Morgen and gave a reading from Georg[i]e. Was a day full of firsts and experiences.

To be honest, I was just blown away by the atmosphere, and by the quality of the speakers. I know I've already said it, but what these guys have managed to achieve has truly been incredible. And the sense of fun and friendship that's gone with that has been brilliant. As they said on the opening night - it's a festival for everyone. 

For authors like me, just starting out, it's pretty tough getting your foot in the door. To be offered an opportunity not just to appear alongside such well established writers, but to do so in a safe environment where you feel both supported and encouraged, is truly a rare and career-enhancing experience.

I came home on Sunday night and found myself overwhelmed by tiredness and rather a sense of sadness. It was such good fun, I wanted it to carry on. Then I remembered that this is really just the start of something fantastic. I hope to be fully involved in finding the funds for next year, and in establishing this as an event of national (and perhaps one day, international) renown. 

Now, enough waffling. I need to go write.

[NB: You can now see pictures of the Women's Panel here and Waterstone's signing here. Plus 2012 event album. You can also check out Jane's write-up and Paul's.]



Monday, 10 September 2012

Moon Music

Just returned from a fun writing workshop across town. Needed the mental break. I have been completely unproductive recently. Bit crud. This was a lovely, casual workshop run by my friend Morgen. If you're in the Northants area and fancy joining a creative writing group, she's the lady to talk to. Everyone welcome.

We got through three exercises.

The first was a word association prompt. You start with a word - in this case 'hot'. From that, you write down word associations.

(click to enlarge)

So, in my case:

Hot - dog - food - drink
                - bread - butter
                - eat - drink
Hot - cold - snow - winter
Hot - sun - newspaper - print
                - moon
Hot - shower - water - rain
                      - soap - clean
Hot - good looking - woman - man - modern monkey [NB: Placebo song]
                                - sexy - sex - rude
                                - cooking (what you got?) - oven
                                                                          - microwave
Hot - mama (red hot) - papa
                                  - jive - music
Hot - damn - swear
Hot - or not - no
                   - isn't - won't

Think you get the idea?

Then you pick five: sexy, moon, winter, music, woman

And write a story in ten minutes or under, including all five words:


Moon Music

The first sip of summer wine, sweet against my tongue. A woman's shadow falls across the Havana moon, swaying softly to the sound of salsa. The maracas, crisp like rain against the auburn, dust-lit streets.

For one second, I am there.

One second.

Stretched into a hundred, million more. An infinity of balmy, sweat-drenched hours beneath those cotton sheets.

The music fades. My blood cools like an ice cube dropped into a drink. The paper umbrella closes and I open my eyes to see that it is winter.

It was winter before I closed them, why would it be anything but winter after?

Yet still I find it hard to comprehend.

A faint ghost sounds against my ear as though a string quartet were hiding behind the crescent moon.

Of her - nothing remains.

The air smells of dank leaves and oak moss. The sweat of her skin melts to silver dew on the lawn, and a shiver runs through me.

No everlasting nights, no sexy samba, no more moon music.

Instead my memories goad me, like menacing Mardi Gras masks. They sneer through teeth sharp enough to draw tears.

*

The second activity involved picking two photos from a folder. One picture of a man, one of a woman. Haven't got those to hand, but you could do the same with a Google of Flickr search. You then fill out a character sheet for each. Mine ran:

Name: Josianne                                                                                      Nick
Nick Name: Josie                                                                                   Nick
Nationality: Polish                                                                                 British
Age/Job: 21, works in a bar                                                                   32/pianist
Hair Colour: Brown                                                                              Brown
Height/Weight: 5'6/10st                                                                         6'/13st
Favourite Music: Eclectic                                                                     Jerry Lee Lewis
Favourite Food: Pierogi                                                                        Fish & chips
Regular Saying: For Heaven's sake!                                                      Sound as a pound
Relationship (to other character):             Work in the same bar          
Children: 0                                                                                        Estranged 9 y.o. son
Siblings: Two older sisters                                                        Older brother, younger sis
Religion: Christian - not practicing                                                       None
Aspirations: To go to the US                                                                 To fall in love
Quirks: Stalks her ex on Facebook                                      Has to flick light switch twice


That in itself is helpful if you're having a tough time getting a character rolling.

The next bit involved picking a couple of prompts - just one-liners like 'His mother doesn't speak to him' or 'she ran over next door's dog'. You can then pick one, or both, of the prompts and try to contrive a situation for the characters.

My story ran:


"Nick, you have to help me!"

He finished playing the piano with a flourish. "Ah, you're on your own there. Two left feet me, always dropping glasses."

"No! Not with the bar. I've been invited to go to one of those... what do you call it?"

"Quiz shows?"

"Oh! For Heaven's sake - no. You know. It's a party, before you get married."

"Oh. Who invited you?"

"Leslie. The one who does crossword at end of bar."

"So, what's the problem?"

"Well, I don't know what you supposed to do. How you act."

"Don't they have hen parties in Poland?"

"Hen party?"

"You know - party before marriage. I thought we sent enough of ours over?"

"Oh. Sort of, yes. But I don't know what to do. What they expect."

"Ah, you'll be sound as a pound."

"As a pound?"

"You'll be fine. Just enjoy yourself. Don't drink too much, and don't go home with any men you don't know. For my sake, please."

She slapped him playfully.

"But that is just it."

"What?"

"The men."

"Eh?"

"They are all men."

"At the hen do?"

"Yes. Leslie said I would 'make their night'."

"Hold up a second, love. This Leslie - what does she look like?"

"She? For Heaven's sake, no! Leslie, he is a man. You know - this tall," she held up her hand, "blond."

Nick's face darkened.

"You mean a stag do? Think I'd better have a word with this Leslie."

Prompt: She has been invited to a stag party

*

Finally, a good ol' traditional line prompt. This is where someone starts a sentence, and you write a story from it.


Prompt: As Claire finished tying the bow on the present...

...she was proud of herself - hip mother, down with the kids.

Condoms weren't the only thing she'd bought her son for his sixteenth birthday, but she felt it was a good in-joke. He'd probably blush and go 'aw, muuum,' but he'd understand it was her way of saying 'you're a man now - just be safe.'

If he managed to make his way through that pack of six, he'd hopefully be over the novel embarrassment of the act and feel adult enough to buy the next pack himself.

Right. That was Joe's birthday taken care of. Now to deliver the cufflinks to the Vicar, to say 'thank you' for feeding the cats last week whilst they sucked up the sun in Alicante.

    -

The morning of Joe's birthday she had an early shift at the Cash and Carry. By the time she got home he was already out with his mates. She didn't see him until the following day.

As usual he'd left his washing in a pile by the machine. She smiled at the familiar routine. On any other day she would have had words about it - but hey, it was his birthday.

She picked them up and shovelled them into the washer.

Something caught her eye.

The cufflinks glinted in the morning sun.

*

So, three pieces of flash fiction - not bad. Haven't done anything like that since the Kigali group

Rough around the edges. Gaping continuity error in the last one - but that's all part of the fun. It's not meant to be polished, it's meant to break through the barriers of procrastination and force you to write something. Anything.

Really enjoyed myself. Nice build-up to the lit fest this weekend.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Book Recommendation: Different Seasons


I recently got around to reading something that has been on my 'to do' list for a very long time.

I'm a huge fan of the film Stand By Me. Since I love the film so much, I've always wanted to read the original story - to find out where it came from.

I'm like that with a lot of things. Some people prefer to read the book first, whereas I tend to decide whether I want to read a book after I've watched the film, on the understanding that a film is simply an interpretation and, if I like it, I'll probably love the book even more because I'll get all the gritty details the film missed out.

Also, it's generally easier to be disappointed with a film adaptation of a book you love, than with the original book of a film you love.

As King himself once said: “Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.”

So, it was with great relish that I Kindled a copy of Different Seasons, which is the collection in which The Body (the original Stand By Me) appears.

I didn't read anything about the collection before starting it, and my hart sank a little when I realised The Body came third, and I'd have to make my way through two other stories first - because that's me, I can't skip straight to the bit I want. It wouldn't be right unless it were a reference book.

Out of impatience, I dived right into the first story without actually bothering to pay much attention to the title. Something about Rita Hayworth. It wasn't until a few pages in that it clicked what I was reading - The Shawshank Redemption! Currently #1 in the IMDB top 250 film ratings and listed countless times in 'best film' polls.

I have seen the film, but truthfully don't remember much about it. The only lingering taste of oranges being that Red, despite being named for his hair, was firmly implanted in my mind as Morgan Freeman.

Enjoyed it.

Next came Apt Pupil. This stunned me. It came at a point where a close family member had asked where the 'darkness' in some of my stories comes from. It unnerved me, because I'd started to feel that what I write is a tamed version of what I could write. And if the tame version raises eyebrows...well.

This particular story holds back on nothing.

I found myself feverishly composing a letter to Stephen King at 4am, expressing my amazement that he'd 'gone there', and asking what his mother made of Carrie. Knew I'd never send it, but helped to rationalise a few things in my own mind. Maybe one day I will build up the courage to slues darkness forth upon the page. Growing up I loved King and Hutson, but even today I'm hard pressed to think of women who come out well in that genre. I think there's still a social 'something' going on there. Or perhaps it's just easier to imagine writing those things than to deal with the consequences of actually writing them. The sort of stories you might write and then hide.

Whatever the cause of my cowardice, it serves to boost my admiration for this particular story. A nauseatingly fine piece of narrative. Turned my stomach a fair few times. Compellingly close to the bone. Called to mind a recent news article announcing investment in a research study into genocide tourism and why people flock to places like Auschwitz, Murambi, Gisozi etc. I wonder whether the study will look deep enough.

I thought about that story for many days after I finished it. 

I like things that make you think.

Finally, I made it to The Body!

It didn't disappoint, though I had the same problem as Shawshank in that the kids will forever be Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix. And they will always be walking down the road to 'Lollipop, lollipop, oh loli-loli-loli lolipop' *pop* 'ba darr darr darr.'

After that came a very strange story: Breathing Lessons. It was almost two stories in one. An elderly gentleman joins an Old Boys' Club where they listen to stories - and the story is one of the stories told there. Although this is the only one which returns to King's trademark horror, it is actually the Boys' Club I remember best: the very strange butler and the slithering beyond the door that is never fully investigated. The horror story seems to wrap itself up neatly, but it's the unanswered questions raised in the club that kept me awake.

Just when I thought it was all over, perhaps the best bit at the very end, where King talks about when the stories were written and how the compilation came about:

Each one of these longish stories was written immediately after completing a novel - it's as if I've always finished the big job with just enough gas left in the tank to blow off one good-sized novella. The Body, the oldest story here, was written direct after 'Salem's Lot; Apt Pupil was written in a two-week period following the completion of The Shining (and following Apt Pupil I wrote nothing for three months - I was pooped); Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was written after finishing The Dead Zone; and The Breathing Method, the most recently written of these stories, immediately following Firestarter.
None of them has been published previous to this book; none has ever been submitted for publication. Why? Because each of them comes out to 25,000 to 35,000 words - not exactly, maybe, but that's close enough to be the ballpark. I've got to tell you: 25,000 to 35,000 words are numbers apt to make even the most stout-hearted writer of fiction shake and shiver in his boots. There is no hard-and-fast definition of what either a novel or a short story is - at least not in terms of word count - nor should there be. But when a writer approaches the 25,000-word mark, he knows he is edging out of the country of the short story. Likewise, when he passes the 40,000-word mark, he is edging into the country of the novel. The borders of the country between these two more orderly regions are ill-defined, but at some point the writer wakes up with alarm and realizes that he's come or is coming to a really terrible place, an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic called the 'novella' (or, rather too cutesy for my taste, the 'novelette').
Now, artistically speaking, there's nothing at all wrong with the novella. Of course, there's nothing wrong with circus freaks, either, except that you rarely see them outside of the circus. The point is that there are great novellas, but they traditionally only sell to the 'genre markets' (that's the polite term; the impolite but more accurate one is 'ghetto markets').....But for novellas which can, on measure, only be described with the word 'mainstream' (a word almost as depressing as 'genre')... boy, as far as marketability goes, you in a heap o' trouble. You look at your 25,000-to-35,000-word manuscript dismally, twist the cap off a beer, and in your head you seem to hear a heavily accented and rather greasy voice saying: 'Buenos dias, señor! How was your flight on Revolución Airways? You like to eeet pretty-good fine I theenk, si? Welcome to Novella, señor! You going to like heet here preety-good-fine, I theenk! Have a cheap cigar! Have some feelthy peectures! Put your feet up, señor, I theenk your story is going to be here a long, long time... qué pasa? Ah-ha-hah-hah-hah!'

I don't think there's a novelist anywhere who can't appreciate that sentiment.

He also goes into how he became typecast as a horror writer. Refreshing to read both his words as an author and the variety of stories he's written. I haven't settled on a genre yet, which is perhaps why I struggle to get very far. What was true in 1982 is true today - the industry isn't built for multi-genre authors, nobody knows what to do with them. 

It seems several authors have had to hide their versatility, only to bring it out as a party trick later down the line. 'Ta dah!' - I could do this all along! Triple somersault, Arab spring.

Aaaanyway, I cannot recommend this collection enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Just like the title suggests, it's a real mixed bag, but with a nod and a wink throughout; all taking place in the same town, you discover the old man in Apt Pupil did his banking with the jailed accountant in Shawshank. Little in-jokes that make you smile as you work your way through.

I don't feel so bad about my genre-drifting issues anymore.

Go read from a master.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Invisible Flowers

Flowers Blood by Yanxchan


In tribute to all of the beautiful gardens I've visited this year, here's a story from my short story collection, Splintered Door.

Each story is written in a very different style, this is by far the most florid.



The Invisible Flowers 
 © Vapid Press

 
Have you ever noticed how you can sow the seeds of discontent? That friendship blossoms whilst love blooms, and compassion falls on stony ground, even as everything comes up roses?

The world is full of flowers.

Tall poppies and shrinking violets.

A vast, invisible garden.

In time immemorial, my great ancestor was the goddess Flora, married to Favonius, the gentle summer wind. I have been charged with tending the garden of mankind. I walk among you, yet you never  see me. I live at the end of your street, work in the office above the shop where you buy your baguette. I go to the same school as your daughter, write the books your son loves to read, and bless the bottle of scotch that your grandmother hides at the bottom of her umbrella stand.

I was born from the white asphodel, seventeen hundred years ago. I have watched so many changes since. Ideas that have matured, tall and strong; others that have grown crooked. My pockets hold more seeds than there are numbers to count them. Seeds of delight, of strength, and of honour; seeds of destruction, chaos and cruelty.

I guard your nature, but it is not my job to weed it. How could I? Who decides whether a plant is desirable or not? Is it simply whether it falls on my land or yours that makes it a weed? All flowers are precious to the insects and the birds. Even Voodoo Lilies, which breed naught but bluebottles, are cherished by the robins who feast upon them.

Not everything is merely the value of its self. Each plant is rooted in a far-reaching ecosystem of ideas and understandings.

The scent of thought is subtle.

On occasion commeth a rare flower. A Witch of Atlas. One born into such loveliness that all the world is transfixed by her. And always, it is a her. 

There seems no reason to it. She can be born of stony ground, barefoot in the desert, or into privilege and position. No specific star announces her birth; no natural disaster follows her death. She simply is.

It is just such a new breed of flower that I saw in her. And in her, I saw my downfall. The end of days.

Seventeen hundred years is a very short time in the life of a god. Not as short as the lives of Man, which run to decades. Or those of trees, which run to centuries. Certainly not to the flowers of thought which spark and bloom and die all within a single second.

But to gods, it is short. To the Universe, it never even happened. And gods must reflect their purpose.

My purpose is to tend the flowers, so I myself must understand them – the intricacies of their life cycle – and reflect it within my own nature. I, too, must grow tall. Reach towards the sun. Pollinate, procreate and perish.

I am divine, but not immortal. She is mortal, yet also divine. She the stigma, I the anther. Fused, we are the sun. All other plants shall strain towards our light, and from it I shall be born again. Unremembering, yet knowing of my purpose. I shall rise once more, as a bulb in spring, to cultivate a further thousand years.

I said before that my job is not to weed. This is true of normal times. But think! Had you a garden of infinite acres, across which a wild meadow blooms, yet only one Jade Vine – well, would you not seek to protect it? Like the Middlemist Red, would you not house it in glass and lavish upon it your every waking thought and affection?

She is singular.

And so I am charged with her care, until such time as we are one.

From the day of her birth, I knew the world was somehow changed. Twice before this feeling came, but each time the promise of spring brought only dark clouds and decay. Those two shoots withered on the vine of their early years, never maturing.

Yet perfection lies dormant in the world. Its fine silk mycelium woven as a cloak of potential beneath humanity. Given the right conditions, unbelievable things may occur. Perfection cannot die, though its patience be infinite.

As is mine.

And neither is perfection pure; her germination a testament to cross-pollination. A dazzling Passion Flower strangled by Bindweed. He held her down, unleashing his seed in a burst of Morning Glory. What he left behind, even the birds would not peck nor scratch. A fertile field turned to wasteland. Barren in the soul; washed away by the flood and void of light.

Each of her petals fell, one by one, even as her daughter grew in height and strength. Eventually she closed in on herself. Those leaves she could no longer raise to protect her child from spring rains, browned and fractured.  Her flesh, like all flesh, returned to the earth from whence it was formed, and went on in its turn to form the shapes of many other plants – those hungry for life. And somewhere, deep at the core of her, that original seed which had germinated, that spark of brilliance that had been her love of classical music, of string instruments, that formed her philharmonia – that spark, released of its roots and branches, rose like a moth towards the moon. A susurration in the summer breeze. A memory of one who had lived and died amongst all this life and death.

Yet this rare Camellia remained. Never did she cry. Never did she taint the fresh waters of Heaven with bitter salt. The sun smiled upon her and she smiled back with equal brilliance. None who looked upon her could love her less than their own lives. For our ability to love ourselves is the measure of our capacity to love at all.

Not all attention is wanted. Creeping Vines that seek others to climb, oppressing them beneath tangled ideas. Stink Horns that spew nothing but foul thoughts and phallic iconography. Bittersweet, with its beauty and its charm masking deadly envy. Worse still, Mistletoe, all the time feeding off the lifeblood of others – drinking their sap dry to feed its own greedy promotion.

Thoroughly unpleasant growths.

At sixteen, my Dancing Plant had attracted the attention of a Venus Fly Trap. One who lures women in before closing its trap. Crushing them lifeless with its jaws. These plants spawn from marshy beginnings. Children of fleshy thirst, at home in the swamps of humanity, nurturing a killer instinct.

His name was Harrison. Her form tutor.

He would scatter seeds of knowledge, tend ideas to fruition, and harvest their fruits for posterity – all the time digesting the lost and imprudent.

Plants feed off decay, the carrion of creation.

Few hunt.

He was a hunter.

Like all others, he recognised the beauty in her, and was drawn.

I watched him setting his trap. Pulling his jaws so wide that all you could see was his smile. Mortal eyes could not focus on the fangs suspended above that second mouth. He crept around her interest in literature. Rooted himself in her bookish world. Provided her with papers and articles. Sunned her with praise and encouragement. Invited her home to his lair, to view his own collection.

She agreed.

She would see him Friday, on her way home from school.

I watched him in the kitchen, sharpening the pruning shears with which he would cut my precious blossom from the Tree of Life.

With meticulous care he laced his bed with brambles, their sharp thorns ready to bloom blood-red roses from her delicate skin. He prepared tea, succulent with Night Scented Stock, to soothe her to sleep. All around the room, his thoughts whirled like humming birds, never still for a second.

I feel no anger, and I feel no pain. Those are your dominions, not mine. The art of life and death requires neither – it is a simple construction, all being told. Fly Traps are ten a penny in this botanical bedlam. Of her, there is only one. No diligent gardener would pull up a Ghost Orchid to save a Nettle.

I reached deep within my pockets and pulled out sweet seeds of sorrow. Standing behind him, I breathed in his scent: citric and zesty, sharp like a razor’s edge. I scattered the seeds above his head and watched as each blossomed and faded. A firework display of endangered thoughts.

He paused, then reached forward to soap his hands. His grip slipped on the tap as he turned it and rinsed.

I waited and watched.

Did this man have no regrets in his life? To grow so twisted upon this rock of ages, had nothing caused his form to bend? Some abandonment, rejection or repulsive act?

None of my seeds took root.

With every moment that passed, I felt her Lady’s Slippers stepping closer. Soon, she would be at the door – standing in his yawning gape.

I could not allow it.

In desperation, I dusted the floor with every species of pepper plant: annuum Cayenne and Peperoncini, baccatum Lemon Drops, frutescens Tabasco and scorching Chinese Habaneros. The kitchen grew alight with heat and colour. Beads of sweat appeared on his brow as each burst into bloom.

Feel these flowers growing. Know that you stand within my private garden. Know that I will break your spine and use your composted remains to feed my own desires. For I am nature, truer than your own.

Fleetingly, it seemed to work. He stood in the centre of my spice field. The crotch of his trousers twitched, his own mind sprouted fragrant red lilies. He wanted to reach down and satisfy himself. The trap would spring too early, his dark seed spent. She would come and go from this valley of death like a lacewing, ignorant of just how close her end of days had come.

Go now, to your bed of thorns. Pierce yourself upon them and return cowed, like a Sensitive Plant, leaves closed across your heart. Fold yourself, oh narcissistic Narcissus.

The peppers withered and dried, and with them his urgency.

A knock at the door.

He readjusted himself and followed a trail of ivory Virgin's Bower to the entrance.

Peering through the peephole, I watched a bouquet of purple flourish above his head. The petals fell invisibly to the floor as he reached to turn the key.

There she stood, my Welwitschia in the desert.

“Come in,” he smiled.

She did.

I scattered a handful of fragile foreboding beneath her feet, but the seeds were crushed before they could flower.

“Tea?”

He offered.

She accepted.

Before my eyes, I saw his Nightshade thrive; intertwining tendrils of death taking possession of this delicate Dianthus.

I tried to plant revulsion in his soul, that he might change his mind and send her away. My propagations proved futile. His roots ran deep; his stem rose slippery and strong.

So little time left.

Imagine your entire rose garden lost to blight, with no hope of ever seeing another bud bloom.

I reached down beneath the earth for that cloak of perfection.

My nails bled with the effort of pulling it forth into the light.

The blood of a god, mingled with perfection, is magic beyond any power known.

The ground shook.

An insidious, insectual buzz began to rise.

Beyond the window, Lightning cracked her tongue and the Erinyes screamed in righteous indignation. 

His face froze. A chill, core-deep; the harshest frost of the human soul.

Feel winter and be afraid.

Not a single thought blossomed in his brain.

I clutched the fabric of perfection, enacting flawless justice.

His eyes glazed. His hand raised to his struggling heart.

He opened his mouth to scream, and a river of blackfly erupted. They swarmed across his face, forcing their way into his eyes, his hair, his nostrils.

As he fell, I released the cloth and the world shifted into its obvious form.

I had tended the garden. I had weeded. I had removed the troublesome plant from my spray.

Triumphant, I turned to Her.

She trembled in disbelief. A feathery chime sounded as from the bells of a Wild Hyacinth.

I held out my hand to her, but she stepped away, frightened.

A second more and her body separated into a thousand perfectly formed butterflies – every colour of the rainbow.

“No!” I cried. “No!”

But it was too late. A river of blackfly on the floor, and an ocean of butterflies in the sky.

All that remained of my rare Koki’o was a simple apple seed.

Of him – a gnarled, silver twig.

I plucked the seed from the floor and studied it in a beam of light from the emerging sun.

I should plant her in new soil; water with love and tender attention.

But where? Who could ever sow such a precious seed in this vast garden of wild imaginings?

In ancient times it was believed that if a woman swallowed a butterfly in a goblet of wine, she would bear a child. If I swallow this seed, would she grow within me? Would I give birth to myself reborn?

I placed her on my tongue, closed my eyes and consumed.

All of existence dissolved.

Within the infinity of everything that is and has ever been, I feel primordial stirrings. The beginning of ends. An energetic whoosh of air as Nataraja lifts his foot high above the cosmos. The wind of creation in motion. A breath before the final dance. The frenzy of a million Dervishic devils spinning uncontrollably through time and space, bringing into being that which has always been possible, yet never realised.

I feel myself soften. The hard edges of awareness fray.

In swallowing the seed, I have become its husk. Within me, something of immense proportions grows. As it expands, it sheds my brittle bindings. It overtakes me; consumes me. All that I have known is broken down to fertilise its unstoppable advance.

Saved by perfection, born of unspeakable beauty – she becomes me and, in doing so, she destroys me.

I could no more resist her than survive the molten Phlegethon. She flows forth to every extremity of the Universe.

As I fade to oblivion, I weep for my end of days. I see myself evolve into something greater than anything I could contain. Like all life, mortal and immortal, I craved this metamorphosis. Every caterpillar holds within its heart an unquenchable desire for flight. Yet, in taking flight, I ruin myself. All I can do is watch the entirety of my potential fulfil itself without me. Discarding me as debris, whilst setting sail for a land that I have always wished to see.

I sink beneath my own sorrow.

I drown. 

*

If you enjoyed that, you might like to check out Splintered Door. Roughly described as 'dark fairytales for adults.' You can pick it up as an eBook at Amazon, Smashwords and Libboo for under two quid. If you head to the Amazon store, you can read another free sample.

You can find more of my free short stories and recordings on my website.