Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 4 (and a smidgen)

Here are the final stories of my flash fiction month. As with the previous three weeks each is linked to a location which you can visit via the hyperlink. Hope you enjoy them.

Day 22

marriage.geology.like

The couple decided to hold their wedding outside. Begin their marriage between sky and stone, not wrapped in brick and plumbing. Feel the geology underneath them, the hawthorn wearing the wind like rags.

Every word they said to each other was stitched with love, and time, the time behind them and the time to come. Hands bound with cloth, they sipped honey wine and made honeyed promises, oaths as sweet as anything the bees feasted upon.

Like shimmers from another world they stood upon the outcrop of rock and reached into the future; one year, ten years, twenty and many more.

With hands enwrapped with promises they spoke words that enwrapped them with memories to come and stepped upon their own bonny road toward a world of their own.

 

Day 23

shattered.swimmers.cuts

The swimmers stand on the glittered shore, feet coated in sand sharp as razors. When they swam out to the island, before the sun went down and chilled the land, the sea was soft and warm.

They watch waves erupt to swallow themselves. Soon the ground where they wait will gnaw upon itself. They can already feel it waking to taste the soil beneath them. The sea swirls and shifts, and with arms bare and lungs filled, they dive.

The sea is no longer soft and warm. Now it is brittle and murderous. They try to make progress, but are overwhelmed. The sea of shattered knives cuts the swimmers to the bone and continues slicing, smearing crests of waves with blood and severed tendons. There is no drowning, just muscle trimmed with a thousand cuts until the swimmers are carried beneath the sharpened tide.

Day 24

worksheet.renamed.obstruct

They renamed her in the hope it would rob her of her power. Take the magic from her hair and bones.

Whenever they pinned her identity to a worksheet or receipt, they changed the letters of her name. Misspoke it when gossipping on the street, and whispering before sleeping.

She did not care. While they shuddered at having the syllables of her slide over their lips or brush their tongue, she went to the overgrown ponds and dressed in lilies, swam in reed choked waters, and sat in meadows where the grasses scratched all the names they called her into her back.

Some days, when she lay in her bed as the summer sun scorched the streets, she heard them talk about her. Call her Joanie, or Helena, or bitch (if they were feeling brave), but none of them had the nerve to obstruct her while she knelt in the street collecting gutter herbs or road ash.

None of them had the bravado to misname her when she bought calf hearts from the butchers, and collected blackthorns on the way home. None of them had the guts to criticise her to her face when she fed the stray cats gathered in her garden, that did not quite look like cats.

While they shuddered at her shadow and stayed silent, she spoke kindness to all those who showed it to her, and any chance she got whispered her own name to herself, and smiled.

Day 25

lowest.whiten.comedy

Since starting her comedy career JoJo had bombed many times, but tonight was bad. Really bad. Tonight JoJo had hit her lowest point.

She stood on the stage, staring beyond the dust covered lights to the bored audience. That was the worst. Not the jeering or heckling, but the sheer boredom pressing back from their passive faces, stifling her attempts at jokes. Killing them before they were even born. The corpses of her humour lay around her feet.

She did not need to do anything else. The sacrifice had been made. From the side of the stage the compere tried to get her attention by glances, then sighs, then hands. She shrugged off his interruptions and refocused. Looked for the micro signals amongst those watching. A hand tapping a rhythm here, and an eye twitching in spasm there. Angles made by skin and the cloth of sweat stained shirts. Her words changed from attempts at humour to calls so quiet she barely heard herself speak.

The first portal opened up in the tear duct of a drunk stag sitting by the front of the stage. What came through was dressed in thorns and each one grazed sigils into the dying man’s eyes. The last thing he saw were the words that powdered his muscles, turning him to bone and dust. The second portal started as a single point in the chest of the compere. JoJo watched it grow and whiten, until it was pure light, though that was just the herald for the corruption that followed. What followed that light was tainted with infection and wounds. It paused before JoJo and recognised the names chiseled into her bones, then moved on through the crowd, defusing them cell by cell until they were little more than scrapings of dust on the cheap plastic chairs.

JoJo watched the things clasp together their rewards; the squirming souls of those shattered and eroded. They would not get all the cultural references in her routine, the dwellers from behind the meniscus of the world, but at least they would listen, and wait until she had finished before passing judgement upon her performance.

Day 26

harps.cook.bunny

Constanza sat upon the stage surrounded by instruments with no-one to play them. Even with no other musicians in the room the strings and skins resonated just below hearing as if the ghosts of all those past performances could not stay silent. As if they needed to find a new home in the polished wood and brass that littered the stage.

She tipped her chair back until only balanced on two legs and then back forward, letting her bow find the tune in the cello. Call back all the performances lost over the years in that ancient hall.

Across the room the harps resonated an answer, finding their own voice in the tune she danced from memory.

The animals started to come in as if the tune she played was food. As if it could give them nourishment that they could not find in the desolate world beyond the building. She watched them skitter down the aisles; deer and wild boar. A bunny leading its family over the red velvet chairs.

They came closer as if she was not there at all. As if there was only the music and the music alone would fill their bellies. She knew this was not true, or she would not be near starving herself. Soon her own stomach would be full. There would be plenty to cook tonight.

Day 27

recited.excavated.basecamp

Basecamp was deserted when Sally returned from the trench.
The rest of the team hadn’t had time to become unsettled by the most recent find. She cradled the artefact in her hands, the cuts and cracks in her skin full of clay and grit.

Now excavated, the object was smaller than she expected. She turned it over, watching as the last of the day’s sun caught each facet in turn, glittering with the dust of many deaths.

All the site huts were empty, traces of recent activity everywhere. A cup of tea cooled on top of a pile of paperwork. In another office a cigarette smouldered in a full ashtray.

She caught sight of herself in a murky hut window, just able to see her lips moving, saying the same thing over and over again. The invocation had already been recited, every step from site, like a penitent on pilgrimage. The world had already been changed. She glanced down at the artefact. Now she saw the faces. Now she saw the others. Now she saw the end of the world, and it came from muttered words that she could not stop from repeating over and over and over.

Day 28

amends.dart.frozen

Bill would not make amends for what happened on that night two weeks ago. That walk back from the club at three in the morning.

Seline shuddered at the memory and carried on arranging icewort flowers on the kitchen table. The evening had gone smoothly; good music, good dancing, the floor not too crowded, then it was time to leave. Outside was warm and the moon was high, so rather than get a bus or call a cab they decided to take their time and go on foot.

From the bag by her feet she took out the blood soaked grit and piled it in the middle of the circle of blossoms.

The cat wasn’t doing anything, just being a bit loud. Trying to get some affection. Bill didn’t touch the animal, didn’t even pretend to hit it. Instead he stepped around the other side, cutting off its escape and giving it nowhere else to go when he shouted. The cat shot out in the only direction left, toward the road.

Seline didn’t blame the car driver. He had no time to stop. She had knelt by the side of the cat, but there was nothing she could do except take the collar and hope to track down the owners.

“It’s not my fault. Stupid creature,” Bill had said, showing no remorse. There had been a coldness in his voice. A disregard for death. If he could be so dismissive over that casualty?

From her pocket she took out the five small half moons of fingernails and dropped them on top of the pile of grit.
The words were easy to remember as all good magic was. She felt her mouth go cold and spat into the centre of the circle.

The dart was barely bigger than her hand, frozen, solid and sharp. She picked it up and whispered Bill’s name, his full name, not that it was strictly necessary. The fragments of him would guide the point to its destination, but ritual was ritual.

Opening the window, she watched the ice dart shimmer for a moment then take off in search of a heart to stop. Sat at her kitchen table, Seline remembered a cat no-one else had a chance to mourn.

Day 29

salon.snow.lasts

Cathryn walked into the salon, feeling the blast of heat from above the door. She shook off her coat and let the assistant take it from her shoulders to hang it in the corner with those of the other customers.

“Morning, madam,” the stylist said as Cathryn lowered herself into the chair. The seat was difficult to settle in, but that was her, not anything she could blame on the establishment.
“What would you like today?” The stylist fastened the cape around her neck, smoothing it down.

“Just a trim please,” Cathryn said.

The stylist ran a manicured finger over Cathryn’s antlers, lingering for a moment at the branch of two tines.

“Are you sure? I have some new styles I’d really like to try out on you.”

Cathryn thought about it. She really did only want a trim, but maybe.

“I can do you a discount,” the stylist said quickly. “As long as I can take some photos.”

She had never been tempted by such delicate work before. Maybe a geometric pattern for a special occasion. Her friends who did spend their money on scrimshaw always managed to damage it during rutting of both types.

“Does it last?” She asked, still not certain.

“It lasts,” the stylist said. “I use a special technique that hardens the antler as I work. Am I okay to start?”

Cathryn nodded, the tip of one of her antlers touching the mirror. Beside her a faun laid back in his chair, eyes closed as the junior stylist carefully sculpted his horns, working away with a small saw.

From a small black table the stylist picked up a craft drill and changed the blade. Settling Cathryn’s head in place, she started to work.

The air filled with the smell of burnt hair as the stylist began to sculpt and carve. While she worked it was very hard for Cathryn to see what minuscule changes the stylist made with each cut. Up on the wall were photos of previous work; minotaurs with religious scenes carved into their horns, and minor woodland gods with bonsai forests of their own shaped into their horns.

After several hours the stylist put down their tools and stepped back, moving Cathryn’s head a touch to one side, then holding up a mirror so she could see the entirety of the sculpture; the delicate bridges with willow trees above, a glistening of snow on the branches, below that the figures sat around the campfire that seemed to move as the light caught them, brewing tea in precise teapots balanced in the flames. Further away, a small boat docked against a jetty while two more floated out into the middle of the river.

“Is it OK?” The stylist said, clasping their hands together.

Cathryn couldn’t speak, but as she nodded, the boats seemed to rock upon the carved water, shimmering through the tears in her eyes.

Day 30

after.unburied.magnificence

The trees tasted the power on the air and one by one uprooted themselves from the forest floor.

Unburied taproots became tendrils to drag them down hillsides and across tarmac, onward toward the cities that glistened in the distance. At first no-one noticed, though the ground itself trembled with the magnificence of that shift, that movement of pine and firs down toward where the people still went about their jobs and hobbies as if nothing had changed. After everything was finished, we realised that was the moment we should have paid attention.

The trees arrived at just the right time of year, clustering in toppled piles by the side of the roads, waiting for families to load them into cars and trailers. Waiting for families to take them home.

Once in living rooms the trees were decorated, covered in tinsel and glass baubles in the shape of fruit they would never grow. None of these interested them. Not the red and white candy-canes or the jagged snowmen made by tiny hands. The trees only cared about one thing; the lights and the energy they carried within them.

While the households slept the trees used their branches to cleave the bulbs to their trunks, shattered the fine glass casings, pressed the prongs against their bark, and as the electricity sparked through them they drank the energy directly into their timber, feeling it change them. Outside the streetlights flickered with the drain.

Pine needles smouldering, the trees left their living room perches, and found their way through darkened houses, lighting their own way to silent bedrooms. Twirling in the dark they unfurled the broken strings of lanterns onto the silent figures and watched without remorse as the families twitched and smouldered in their beds. The world had once belonged to the trees and once more the world would be nothing but forests.

Day 31

 yelled.magic.tornado

The stones themselves yelled to cover the screams of the grass and the soil and the earth beneath them. From one side to the other, the circle was crammed with people, their heads turned in worship, no matter what they were worshipping.

Each person carried a little magic, a spark of a spell or curse buried deep in their heart. Not a lot, but enough.

The stones tasted the magic on the air, felt it dragged out of worshippers by the rising sun, held in the sky between the cold and the heat to come.

As the stones screamed and chorused so loud that no one could hear, they spiralled the enchantment into a tornado of devotion that enveloped the sky and the sun and the land and every single shimmer of life between.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 3

Week 3 already? How time flies!

Day 15

alive.radio.takeover

No-one in the village was left alive. All the buildings were still standing, the streets filled with the unmoving dead.

Gail landed the plane on the football field, and did her post flight checks while the inspection team gathered together their equipment ready to inspect the bodies. She watched them shoulder backpacks full of medical supplies and cameras. She watched them struggle under the weight and disappear amongst the trees.

For three hours there was nothing but silence, and Gail lost herself in the cracked spine book she held on her lap. When the radio creaked she dropped the book and looked through the windscreen.

The trees had gone, and the villagers had returned. They were getting closer, dragging the inspection team between them. Over the sound of a thousand rotten feet grinding themselves to paste, Gail listened to her colleagues whimper.

Soon they would complete their takeover of the football field, the plane. Of her. She glanced behind her. There was nowhere left to go.

Day 16

snapped.sting.dome

Covered in lichen the geodesic dome had long since started to rot, stained polygonal panels sliding free to collapse and shatter on the meadow grass.

Niamh knew what lurked inside. They’d heard the buzzing from across the valley and knew that if they didn’t clear out the nest, the insects would soon outgrow their squatted home and swarm for a new place to occupy.

With practiced hands she snapped the protective clothing in place, waiting a moment for the visor to clear. Walking toward the abandoned structure she wondered if the shape had attracted the creatures. Some echo of a memory deep inside their collective mind.

Sweat ran down her arms and collected in the tips of her gloves. She reached up and held the frame as she lifted first one leg, then the other inside, and walked to the middle.
The noise was overwhelming, shifting shadows against the green filtered light.

Undoing her bag, she primed the device that would bring silence to the hive, and barely noticed the first sting near the base of her back. The next few got her attention and, sensing blood in the soil, the insects swarmed until she was nothing but a blackened mound of shifting pixels on the meadow, tiny jaws tearing her apart to further build their nest.

Day 17

funds.stews.reheat

Sam sheltered in one of the bedrooms, no light to see by and no windows to keep out the cold. His sleeping bag was still wet from a bucket of bleach water chucked in his direction two days earlier, already starting to smell of mildew and mould.

The only heat came from the small stove in front of where he sat cross-legged.

His mum had taught him how to make stews when he was a child, him peeling the veg while she chopped them to chunks. “Always chunks Sammy, not too thin. You’ll lose all the flavour otherwise.”

How to put everything together and how to make the best of what was left over. How to let it simmer for hours until it softened and blended.

He didn’t have that luxury now. Hard to find the fuel for his stove in the city. If he did have the funds, the shopkeepers always thought he was going to settle his stomach with the fumes from the cannisters rather than with food cooked above the flames.

In front of him the pan warmed and the stew inside began to reheat.

He hoped the windowsill where he stashed the tupperware container had been cold enough to keep the food healthy. He still remembered the last dose of food poisoning, and how he’d nearly not made it through the week.

He watched the flames, smelt the warming food and thought of his mother once more.

Day 18

formless.shovels.overjoyed

Emily drove the mattock into the ground, watching spoil spray up as the blade bit into the dirt. When she had finished breaking up the pit’s fill, she stood back and waited while the other diggers climbed in with their shovels, letting them load up the barrow before taking it to the spoil heap.

They’d been on site for two weeks and the pit was the only interesting feature. Everything else was land drain or natural so she was overjoyed to finally have something to show in the trenches.

The pit was broad and deep. For the last couple of days they’d tried in vain to recover any finds but there weren’t any to recover. Then the remains started emerging through the dirt.

The skeleton seemed to be made of human bone, but globular and formless, as if fused together. Once the remains were completely uncovered, Emily taped up a drawing board and started to plan each rib and fingerbone, only getting part of the job done before the lack of light robbed her of the ability to finish the job.

The next day the drawing did not match the feature, and at first Emily thought she’d made an error. After dinner the bones had changed again.

Uncertain how to stop the shifting, she reached out and touched the skeletal material, stroking her fingers down a complex knot of bones.

The scorching sensation started in the tips of her fingers and soon spread up her arm like an infection. She looked down at her limbs. Her tendons were bare, fingers and wrist bones welded, both to each other and the bones in the pit. Slowly but surely, she felt herself dragged under the soil, the last of her skin scraped off against the soil as she became absorbed into the net of bone.

Day 19

simply.expansion.touches

The stones were crumbling. Every day more and more turned to dust to be carried away on the breeze.

Harry stood in the centre and looked around at monuments that had stood for millennia now simply disappearing with the breeze. No need for even the most gentle of touches. This was not the erosion of expansion or contraction, but the air itself stealing them from the world.

“Maybe we don’t deserve them anymore,” he said, sitting on the granite covered grass, his head in his hands, palms now stained with dirt and tears.

Day 20

rust.tests.revealing

Carlo had been investigating the infection for three days, crawling about under the tower block, carrying out tests, though he was not sure what he was looking for when he started. He knew now.

He stared at the screen revealing the results. The infection didn’t sound unusual. A series of holes edged in rust. Not exactly uncommon in steel framed buildings.

For three days he’d crawled around, breathing mask on to protect his lungs from dead pigeon dust and forgotten asbestos. Above the mask his skin bare.

He lifted the mirror and stared once more at the holes in his face, each one edged in rust. Inside there was no bone or muscle, just shuddering darkness as something hidden crawled its way through slowly but surely ready to scrape its way into the light.

Day 21

variation.definite.places

Violet had safe places, places she could manifest without becoming trapped in trees or stone. This was not one of those places.

She was definite the ritual had been correct, the projection exact. The visualisation specific.

Her arms did not move when she tried to change position, and she abandoned any attempt. Normally it was easy for Violet to transition from place to place; concentrate on her memory of where she wanted to go, and picture it in her head, hold that idea in her head and enwrap herself with the solidity of the location.

She tried opening her eyes, but they were as sealed in place as her arms. She felt the crust of corrosion inside her limbs at the point where they extended beyond the statue where she was trapped. The statue that had only recently been erected in the square, the variation that had caught her out. She felt the circulation stop reaching her fingers.

Somewhere people started screaming. One of them was her.

 

 

 

 

Original Fiction in 2019

This year has been busy with exhibitions and publications. Looking back, I thing in terms of writing I’ve been far more productive than ever before.

Below is a list of all my new fiction published in 2019.

Tangerines and Wild Garlic in Mystery Weekly Magazine

Tangerines and Wild Garlic is a take on the the outsider story. When Ben invites Sarah to meet his family, she finds herself in the middle of an ancient festival.

Discarded Skins in Gorgon: Stories of Emergence

A lot of years have past since Margaret lost her husband in a fishing accident. As she sees her lover, Spiri, slipping away she takes action.

Traverse in In the Blink of an Eye

Sophie led a group of students on their training excavation in the US, investigating a workers’ camp near the Ilchester Tunnel. As project director, she kept two diaries. Will they reveal what happened, and why the project imploded?

Flow to the Sea in SYNTH #1

Maja works with organic servers, using dead whales to store data. When she is recruited by a government organisation to repair a deep water server, family secrets bubble to the surface.*

*Sorry. Very sorry.

Terminus Post Quem in Mad Scientist Journal

I’m very sad that MSJ is going on permanent hiatus. Over the years they’ve let me experiment and play, for example Terminus Post Quem.

Terminus Post Quem is an epistolary horror story told via an archaeological site report. This was a personal challenge and draws on sites I’ve excavated in the past.

Kiln Fired in Earth: Giants, Golems and Gargoyles 

Extended family grew up in The Potteries (the area around Stoke on Trent famous for its ceramics), and this was a huge influence on Kiln Fired. The story is about bullying, magic, clay, and transformation.

The Silent Brush of Wings in Three Lobed Burning Eye #30

Mila is the butterfly house keeper, monitoring the data stored in the butterfly wings. When something gets into the system it starts a cascade of events that might mean disaster.

From My Rotting Body, Flowers Shall Bloom in SYNTH: An Anthology of Dark SF

(Due 15th December)

In a world where metal has become flesh, and metal flesh, can Stefan survive?

Alignment in StarShipSofa (podcast)

The city in Alignment is inspired by two things; the Plug In City by Archigram , and watching the U-Bahns in Munich, imagining them as domestic rather than municipal space.

Tonight Valerie will find out where the corridors travel after curfew.

The Taste of Rot in Nox Pareidolia 

The City has not recovered from the floods and the unnamed narrator is trying to find his sister in the chaos. As the city rots who will find who?

Petting Zoo at Tell Tale Press

A family day out is not going well as tensions rise between Ben and his father-in-law, Michael.

Recent Publications

Hi. How are you? I’m having a gentle day, easing myself back into work after Worldcon 2019 in Dublin.

This was my first Worldcon, and was enjoyable, inspiring and a lot of fun. Most of this was down to the people, especially the friends I got to spend time with. More of that in a dedicated post.

The past few weeks have been busy for publications.

I wrote an article for Folklore Thursday about how Mad Max within the films can be interpreted as a mythic figure. You can read the piece here and see what you think.

https://folklorethursday.com/creative-corner/mad-max-the-mythic-hero-of-the-wasteland/

Look at this artwork. Isn’t it beautiful?

Earth-Lg

This is the cover for the Earth: Giants, Golems, and Gargoyles anthology, the latest in a series of elemental themed collections from editor Rhonda Parrish. I’m very happy that Earth contains my story Kiln Fired. You can pick it up at the usual outlets, such as Amazon (UK/DE/US)

My first article for Kerrang.com is now available to read, looking at the influence of poetry on the bands lyrics.

(www.kerrang.com/features/the-unsung-influence-of-poetry-on-iron-maiden/)

Once the band shared the article it got a lot of traction (I took the screenshot below when it hit the most appropriate number of shares). What surprised me was seeing it shared by both The Poetry Foundation in the US, and The Poetry Society in the UK.

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My latest published piece is for Daily Grail. A couple of weeks ago I watched Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and started thinking about the parallels with dance in Weimar Germany. Here’s the article if you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the subject.

www.dailygrail.com/2019/08/dances-of-vice-horror-and-ecstasy-suspiria-and-dance-as-a-magical-act-in-weimar-germany/

And that’s me up to date. I have some stuff coming out soon, but can’t say where just yet. More when I can

Transcripts, Cobras and Eagles: Creating My Installation for the Moonique Exhibition

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For the current Moonique exhibition at Dog & Pony I did something a little bit more experimental than usual, and I thought it would be nice to talk a bit about the process.

I knew that I wanted to start with the artefacts of the Apollo 11 mission, and found the transcripts of the audio online.

The next stage was to find a way to alter the texts and process them. During my research I saw a tweet about Jeff Noon‘s Cobralingus system for processing text. Cobralingus is an analogue system which uses 17 FILTER GATES to process a SIGNAL (the original text) and arrive at an OUTLET text. Essentially its a way of mutating text using an analogue version of LOGIC gates.

I used the version outlined at www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/20008/cobralingus-1-game-over

I liked this approach for several reasons. It introduced a certain amount of jeopardy into the writing of each section.  To keep a certain amount of control I ran the process either until the random number generator gave me a SAVE, or I had gone through seventeen iterations.

Cobralingus also, in my mind, replicated a signal breaking down as it was broadcast over long distances, whether that is from the depths of space, the time separating me from the original broadcasts, or just the process of transference between an idea and the final iteration of a piece of work.

I also liked that it was an analogue approach that replicated structures more familiar from digital networks.

AN EXAMPLE

Below is a worked through version used in the installation.

109:53:53 Aldrin:

Now, I’m afraid these materials are going to dusty. The surface material powdery. how good your lens is, but if you can smudges on my gloves very much like a very finely powdered carbon, but really pretty looking.

RANDOMIZE

I’m afraid materials are too dusty. The surface powdery. how good your lens, but if you smudges on my gloves much like a finely powdered carbon, really pretty looking.

DECAY

I’m afraid materia are too dusty. The surf powdery. how god you lens, but I you smudge on my gloes muc like a fin powdered carbon, really petty looking.

INCREASE SENSE

I’m afraid. I’m afraid of this place. Of the erosion. That it will infect me. Wear me away to nothing. Substances in my mouth are too dusty, though my suit seals away the world. The surf in the distance is powdered. How we are gods yawning through the lens. With a gloved fist I smudge the glowing muck. A rising fin of powdered carbon, looking small upon the ground beneath our feet.

DRUG (similiethicone)

I’m afraid like sharks grind their skin against my lungs. I’m afraid of this place. Of the erosion. That it will infect me. Wear me away to nothing. Substances in my mouth are too dusty like mould grows on my teeth, though my suit seals away the world. The surf in the distance is powdered. How we are like gods yawning through the lens. With a gloved fist I smudge the glowing muck. A rising fin of powdered carbon, looking small upon the ground beneath our feet.

GHOST EDIT

We see the bones of long dead predators and breathe through sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. This wearing away. I will be forgotten. Taste my own death in my mouth. Rot. My costume hides me from the world. The tsunami of dirt is in the distance, and the gods are bored. I scrape my eyes to see the ground eroding to nothing beneath the worn soles of my boots.

SAMPLE (109:57:53 Armstrong)

We see the bones of long dead predators and breathe through sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. This wearing away. I will be forgotten. Taste my own death in my mouth. Rot. My costume hides me from the world. The tsunami of dirt is in the distance, and the gods are bored. I scrape my eyes to see the ground eroding to nothing beneath the worn soles of my boots. I don’t want to go into the Sun if I can avoid it.

ENHANCE

We see the discarded bones of long forgotten predators and heave through sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. This wearing away of everything we knew. I will be forgotten I know that now. If I take a moment I can taste my own demise in my mouth. Mildew. My scratched costume hides me from the unforgiving world. The tsunami of human waste and dirt is in the distance. The blind, unspeaking gods are bored. I scrape out my eyes. Stare at the ground that is eroding to nothing. Beneath the worn soles of my torn boots I watch it break away. I don’t want to go into the Sun.

MIX

I don’t want to go into the Sun. If I take a moment I can taste my own demise in my mouth. I scrape out my eyes. The tsunami of human waste and dirt is in the distance. My scratched costume hides me from the unforgiving world. This wearing away of everything we knew. We see the discarded bones of long forgotten predators and heave through sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. I will be forgotten I know that now. Mildew. The blind, unspeaking gods are bored. Stare at the ground that is eroding to nothing. Beneath the worn soles of my torn boots I watch it break away.

PURIFY

I don’t want to go into the Sun. I can taste my own demise in my mouth. I scrape out my eyes. The tsunami of human waste and dirt. My costume hides me from the unforgiving world. This wearing away of everything we knew. We see the discarded bones of long forgotten predators. heave through sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. I will be forgotten I know that now. Mildew. The blind, unspeaking gods are bored. Stare at the ground that is eroding to nothing.

MIX

My costume hides me from the unforgiving world. I scrape out my eyes. The blind, unspeaking gods are bored. I don’t want to go into the Sun. I can taste my own demise in my mouth. The tsunami of human waste and dirt. Heave through sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. I will be forgotten I know that now. Mildew. Stare at the ground that is eroding to nothing. We see the discarded bones of long forgotten predators. This wearing away of everything we knew.

RANDOMIZE

Costume hides from the unforgiving world. I scrape out eyes. The blind, unspeaking gods bored. I want to go to the Sun. I taste my own demise in my mouth. The tsunami of human waste and dirt. Heave sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. I will forgotten I know now. Mildew. Stare at ground that is eroding to nothing. We see discarded bones of long forgotten predators. Wearing away of everything we knew.

SAMPLE (109:27:13 Armstrong)

Costume hides from the unforgiving world. I scrape out eyes. The blind, unspeaking gods bored. I want to go to the Sun. It’s quite dark here in the shadow and a little hard for me to see that I have good footing. I taste my own demise in my mouth. The tsunami of human waste and dirt. Heave sandpaper lungs. I fear this world. I will forgotten I know now. Mildew. Stare at ground that is eroding to nothing. We see discarded bones of long forgotten predators. Wearing away of everything we knew.

OVERLOAD

Tattered silk billowing costumes provide sanctuary from the dripping cruelty of an unforgiving world. With dirty cracked nails I scrape out eyes, one after the other. The blind, unspeaking gods are bored, yawning as they swing around perfumes of larval bees. I want to go to the Sun, let the fires scorch new words into me. It’s too dark here in the shadow of the gods and a hard for me to see if I have good feet, or even anything below my ribcage. With rusted spoons they force-feed me my own demise. The towering tsunami of human shit and sweat and distressed waste skin. Heave sandpaper lungs that send up clouds of white fibres. I cower in the corner from the world. I will be forgotten. I know that now. The mutating mildew. I stare at the ground from empty sockets. Even the land is eroding to nothing. We see discarded bones of long forgotten predators whose names we do not know, but his jaws carry death in every tooth.

SAVE

REASSEMBLY

I chose sections from the transcripts at random to use, mainly looking for phrases that interested me or I thought would develop along interesting vectors. Each one was put through the Cobralingus process, then they were put back into chronological order, replicating the order the original sections appeared in the Apollo 11 transcripts.

This gave each piece a structure, creating new relationships between the different sections. Essentially building transcripts from a shadow world where the mission was off kilter. In total I created three new short transcripts.

RECORDING

Once the created transcripts were finished, I recorded them. This introduced another dimension to the process. Firstly, my source material was a textual rendering of speech, so to return it to speech made sense. Secondly, I was able to use my voice to create intent, emphasis, enhancement and texture to bring another dimension to the words.

At the following link you can listen to one of the final transcript recordings.

 

This was something very different from my usual work which tends to be focused around storytelling, normally in a flash fiction format. I was pleased with how the work came together, creating dissonance and distortion using an analogue approach.

(Thanks to Alexandra Lukaschewitz and Mario Klingemann for their help, and Jeff Noon for putting Cobralingus out into the world.)

Authenticity and Archaeology

(I originally wrote this for my monthly newsletter. If you’d like to sign up to get free flash fiction and occasional diversions into archaeology, follow this link https://tinyletter.com/stevetoase)

 
Authenticity is a slippery word. Often it’s used to disparage (Cat Vincent reposted the excellent rant about Authenticity from Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez’s Doktor Sleepless here. I’d highly recommend you read it. http://www.cunningcatvincent.com/2015/09/19/doktor-sleepless-5-the-authenticity-rant/).

I encountered authenticity as an idea being used a lot in subcultures, where authenticity is often a way to put someone down for not living up to a specific stereotype.

Authenticity is also, unsurprisingly, a big topic in re-enactment circles. Used badly, authenticity is a stick to beat people with, and feel superior. Used well it helps to develop more accurate portrayals of how people lived in past communities. There are always holes due to the scarcity of evidence, but re-enactment authenticity should always be a developing beast. However, it’s not this type of authenticity I want to look at for the moment. I want to talk about monuments.

There is a perception that there is an untouched authenticity to sites like Stonehenge and Avebury, and it is this authenticity that creates a specific connection with place. Yet these places have been very specifically managed and reconstructed to create the monuments we see today.

For example, Stonehenge saw the restoration of the stones start in 1901 with the re-erection of a lintel and sarsen stone which had both fallen the previous year. Over the next few years more stones were erected and consolidated, with some stones being set in concrete to stop them toppling.

Similarly, in the 1930s the marmalade magnate Alexander Keiller was responsible for the excavation and restoration of Avebury, particularly the stunning West Kennet Avenue. Here the stones were raised (some had been buried a metre under the ground), set into their original sockets, and fixed in place with concrete.

Both Newgrange and Wayland’s Smithy (see below) saw similar restoration projects.

(By Msemmett – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35133225)

 
Does this make these places less authentic? If authenticity of place is subject to a purity test, then probably. That leaves us with another problem. When is the moment of purity? When we look at a vast multiphase monument like Stonehenge, which point in its history is the moment of purity? Is it when the first iteration was created, or is it upon abandonment? While it is very easy to condemn modern interventions, I don’t think it should be done on the basis of authenticity.

I think in England this striving for authenticity in heritage is one of the reasons that new developments neighbouring conservation areas are full of houses that are faux constructions of the style they’re supposed to respect, and this can stifle innovation without actually adding anything to the character of the place. That’s not to say conservation areas shouldn’t be defended, but that how that manifests in new housing estates can be restrictive (particularly when there have been cases of developers letting genuine treasures such as grade II listed cinemas degrade until they were no longer a good example of that architectural style, but that’s a rant for another time.)

 
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So what is authentic? Our experiences of these places. The emotions they evoke. Their stories, but the entirety of their stories rather than a single moment. Somewhere like the Devil’s Arrows in Boroughbridge existed in the landscape for several millennia. It was part of the landscape when Iron Age communities were living at Stanwick and it was part of the landscape when the Romans established Isurium Brigantum at what is now Aldborough. (For a more in depth discussion on the past in the past I’d recommend Richard Bradley’s book called The Past In Prehistoric Societies)

We should absolutely care for our heritage, but we should not see it as fixed at one particular moment. Rather these places have passed through contact with many different communities, whether that is the several who were involved in their construction, or those who interacted with them over the last couple of millennia.

Authenticity is as slippery when it comes to the landscape as it is with pop culture, so maybe we need to frame our archaeology in a different way.

Best Horror of the Year 11 and Recent Acceptances

This week I had some fantastic news, finding out that Ellen Datlow has accepted not one, but two of my stories for Best Horror of the Year 11.

The Jaws of Ouroboros first appeared in the Nosetouch Press anthology ‘The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror’, and Split Chain Stitch was published in Mystery Weekly Magazine November. To have two stories selected hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Best Horror of the Year 11 will be published by Night Shade Books in September.

The full TOC is below:

I Remember Nothing by Anne Billson
Monkeys on the Beach by Ralph Robert Moore
Painted Wolves by Ray Cluley
Shit Happens by Michael Marshall Smith
You Know How the Story Goes by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Back Along the Old Track by Sam Hicks
Masks by Peter Sutton
The Donner Party by Dale Bailey
Milkteeth by Kristi DeMeester
Haak by John Langan
Thin Cold Hands by Gemma Files
A Tiny Mirror by Eloise C. C. Shepherd
I Love You Mary-Grace by Amelia Mangan
The Jaws of Ouroboros by Steve Toase
A Brief Moment of Rage by Bill Davidson
Golden Sun by Kristi DeMeester, Richard Thomas, Damien Angelica Walters, and Michael Wehunt
White Mare by Thana Niveau
Girls Without Their Faces On by Laird Barron
Thumbsucker by Robert Shearman
You Are Released by Joe Hill
Red Rain by Adam-Troy Castro
Split Chain Stitch by Steve Toase
No Exit by Orrin Grey
Haunt by Siobhan Carroll
Sleep by Carly Holmes

(Artwork by Audrey Benjaminsen. Designed by Claudia Noble.)

I’ve also recently found out that Mystery Weekly Magazine will be publishing my story Tangerines and Wild Garlic.

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SYNTH is a new dark SciFi anthology series from C.M. Muller, the editor behind Nightscript. My story Flow to the Sea will be in SYNTH 1, out on 15th March, and From My Rotting Body, Flowers Shall Bloom will be in SYNTH 4 out toward the end of the year.

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To finish, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (DE/UK/US) is now available to buy, including my story Discarded Skins. This fantastic anthology from Pantheon Magazine contains over forty stories from authors such as; Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Maria Haskins, Julia Day, C.M. Muller, Carina Bissett and Beth Cato (and just look at that stunning Daniele Serra cover art). You can pick up a copy from the usual places.