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.)

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Giftmas 2018 – Seeing With Pollen

Giftmas

Every year Rhonda Parrish organises a blog tour to raise funds for the Edmonton Food Bank in Canada, and this year I was asked to participate as one of a happy band of writers creating a story advent calendar. Each writer hosts a story on their blog, and readers can contribute to the fundraising via this Canada Helps link.

Every $1 raised goes straight to the food bank, and every $1 can buy three meals for those who need help. If you’re in Canada you can receive a tax receipt for your donation, and due to the exchange rate between American and Canadian dollars, US donors will get fantastic value for money.

This type of cause is very close to my heart. As most of my readers know I spent three years after I was kicked out of home at sixteen either homeless, no fixed abode, or vulnerably housed. At times I relied on food banks to have enough to eat. Food banks provide a safety net for vulnerable families, to make sure they can get food. The goal for 2018 is to raise $750, which translates into 2250 meals.

None of the money goes through any intermediate account. Every cent goes straight to the Food Bank. You can donate at the link below;

www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/2018-giftmas-blog-tour-to-support-the-edmonton-foo/

In conjunction with the blog tour, Rhonda has also set up a Rafflecopter with some fantastic prizes, including your name in a Beth Cato novel, free critiques, magazine subscriptions, signed copies of books, and free audiobooks. You don’t need to donate to enter, but it would be great if you could signal boost the fundraising.

You can find the story before mine, by Julie E Czerneda, at Rhonda Parrish’s blog. Tomorrow’s story is The Last by Premee Mohamed and can be read at Premee’s website.

Donate, share, signal boost, and I hope you enjoy my story Seeing With Pollen.

 

Seeing With Pollen

 

Throughout summer the eyes of the boy and the girl bloomed. Petals of red and azure edged hidden pupils. They walked in walled gardens and glasshouses of humid air, skin scented with honeysuckle and brushed with pollen. Faces tickled by the kiss of bees and the whisper of butterflies.

Autumn came. Petals curled and fell to the ground to be trampled into the lawn. Food for worms. Upon the frosted grass irises shattered like glass in the cold.

Winter clawed across the fields, dragging itself on broken plough furrows.

Stumbling through the woods the boy and girl leant upon each other. Neither had eyes. Just brittle stems and rose thorns that lay upon their cheeks and scratched their skin.

In the darkness of tree trunks they held each other close and curled away from the world. Away from the breath of wolves and the shout of snow.

Winter was long and spring came slowly. When the ice melted, the boy and girl bloomed flower buds from their eye sockets. They saw each other as if for the first time, and as the bees returned to skim across their lips they fell in love once again.

END

Donate To Edmonton Food Bank

 

2018-GiftmasBlog-Tour

Seeing with Pollen was originally inspired by the artwork of Canadian artist Hazel Ang.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 2

Fourteen days and fourteen stories down. Nearly halfway through.

Last year I wrote stories based on images from the 17th century book, A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne by George Wither. (You can see those, and the stories from previous years, by following this link https://stevetoase.wordpress.com/tag/flash-fiction-challenge/ This year I decided to give myself a bit more flexibility and go back to writing about anything that inspired a story.

Here are the next seven.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 8

One by One

Each bee in the hive needed to be exorcised individually. Smoking the colony to drowsing, the priest took worker and drone out one by one. Passed them through the steam of holy water. Placed them to one side and moved onto the next. Minuscule and cold, the 60,000 homeless demons searched for new lodgings.

The priest was so caught up in the half remembered ritual he did not notice the demons crawl through the pores of his skin. Did not feel them scrape out hovels in his marrow. Did not hear all 60,000 screaming obscenities inside his chest, until he could hear nothing else.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 10

My fellow writer Premee Mohamed gave me a title of ‘The Mars Portal’ on Twitter. Here’s the story I wrote in response.

The Mars Portal

Marked with blood and the rust of swords, the door to the Son of Juno was closed with wax the colour of torn muscle. Lighting the lambswool wick Castonadi melted the seal, watching the impressed woodpecker pattern drip to collect on the floor and harden once more.

The door crumbled and Castonadi stepped across the threshold of shattered stone, into the room beyond.

The god sat alone, surrounded by sheaves of corn, his helmet by his side, spear across his lap. Castonadi knew he had to walk slow. Place each foot with care. Above him the woodpeckers circled with no tree to alight in, and somewhere in the distance a wolf shuddered the crop with its howl.

Castonadi had to stop himself from reaching out to touch the god’s face, streaked with corrosion from his rotted armour. Instead he took the spear and held it to the sky. The god raised his gaze.

“I need that.” he said. “In case they arrive with ill intent.”

“No-one’s coming here,” Castonadi said, and drove the spearpoint into the plough furrows. The wood fell away and erupted into a bushel of corn. “Tend your crops and mend your fences. This place is forgotten and the better for it.”

The god nodded, and Castonadi walked toward the door, turning his back on the bringer of war.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 11

Breath

Gaunt and gauze-like, ghosts do not have the purchase to cling to their places of death. Instead they tangle themselves in the breath of those who mourn them the most. Allow themselves to be inhaled by those who loved them, nestling in damp, moist lungs. Until they are exhaled and flutter like pennants of forgetfulness, singing torn memories to those who can no longer hear.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 12

After the Last Song

The King of the City’s Night wore strands of frozen beer in his hair. Shattered bottle glass for fingernails. The glamour of mirrors wedged into cracked eye sockets. When he spoke his voice was not heard but felt in his ribs and lungs.

After the nightclub lights came on and the cloakrooms emptied, he walked the city streets. Ran fingernails of shattered bottle glass down the necks of those sheened with the sweat of others. Sipped memories and love and joy. Took something the revellers didn’t know they had but they would forever miss.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 13

A Charm for the Lost

If you have lost your way home, follow these instructions.

  1. Take from your pocket a single stone with a chalk line running through its heart. Always carry such a stone with you for this purpose, but only one.
  2. Place the stone upon the road in front of you.
  3. Sprinkle the stone with;
    One pinch of salt
    Two crushed flowers from Lane-Wort, found alongside
    corpse-roads. Make sure any stems are completely
    discarded and not used in error.
    A single eyelash plucked from your left eye, while the
    stone is in place.
    Three splinters from a crossroad gallows.
  4. Once this has been carried out cover the stone with moss and ignite. The smoke will bias in the direction you are seeking.

Beware, that this method is fraught with risks.

If the stone used has many veins of chalk then you will become lost on the county’s green lanes until your own bones become dust.

If you drop many stones upon the road, by the end of the year your body will be quartered and displayed on the entrance to four royal towns across the nation.

If the stalk of the Lane-Wort grazes the surface of the stone, the dead of one year and a day will find you wherever you may journey, and scratch their crimes into your skin.

There are many ways to be lost in the world and sometimes it is better to walk further and find the road home than exchange one lost for another.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 14

Kulning

Stood in her white cotton dress the girl sang the cattle call across the valley.

The living cows did not know the notes, but the dead heard, and recognised the tune. Shivered themselves from the soil. Stamped their clay marked hoofs across the fields.

When they reached the girl the cattle from the graves and middens tried to get her attention, but they were like so much dust in the air.

Turning her back she walked away, leaving the herd alone in the mist drenched field.

To read the stories each day, you can visit my writer page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stevetoase1/ or come back in week to read the next seven stories.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 1

For the past few years I’ve spent the time between November 21st and December 21st scrabbling for story ideas to post a flash fiction piece every day. Thirty one pieces in thirty one days. This year is no different. Every year I wonder why I do this to myself. This year is no different.

There are a couple of reasons why I keep up this tradition. Firstly, it’s a great way to lock in the writing each day discipline. Daily writing doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m very much a creature of habit, and I’d rather those were good ones like writing. Secondly, over the years Flash Fiction Month has developed a small but loyal audience who come back each year to read the daily stories, and for that I’m very grateful. Thirdly, it’s a way of playing with ideas that may develop into a short story or more. In effect it becomes an incubator for all those ideas I jot down on my phone and never do anything with.

If you’d like to read the stories as they go up, you can follow the link to my Facebook writer page

Here’s the first week of stories. I hope you enjoy them.

Day 1

Remnants

After they chopped down the movie prop, they left wooden stumps to rot in the coastal fret. Splinter and split in the salt air.

Magic isn’t always intentional and the wood remembered what was amputated. The curl and flex of osiers. The friction of willow hurdles against each other. The scent of smoke and charring wool.

Slowly, over a generation, the timber unfurled, knitting itself together out of memory, and when the first people came to wonder at its reincarnation it clasped its door open, ready to welcome them in.

Day 2

Keeping Up Appearances

Pasted on grins were the latest thing. The season’s gimmick. Held in place by a new organic glue, they let Simon get through the holidays, joyful expression intact.

Feasting finished and relatives returned home, he stood in front of the bathroom mirror. Peering at the packet, he followed the instructions to remove the paper thin smile. First he used water, then soap, and finally a mixture of white wine vinegar and salt. Nothing worked.

Late that night he woke to a sensation of creeping across his cheeks. Half asleep he groped around for his phone and used the camera as mirror.

Fibres at the edge of the pasted on smile stretched out, knitting to his skin as if ridged with a thousand tiny needles. Running to the bathroom he tried to wrench the mask free. Ragged paper enveloped his fingers, sewing through the bone and holding his hands in place.

The only way left for Simon to express himself was via his eyes, and they were doing anything but smiling.

Day 3

Flutter

1024 cocoons waited upon the console. Once the upload was complete 1024 butterflies emerged, the data stored in copper designs etched into their wings.

With a shudder of verdigris they took flight, brushing against others to transfer the code along the network.

Some fell, caught by gusts of wind or battered by rain. Others were netted by hackers transfixed by the intricacies of their wings, not noticing the other colours the butterflies still wore. Colours that warned of the brush of hairs still covering the insects abdomens. Hairs that burnt skin and flourished visions of personal hells.

Most of the butterflies made it to their destination. Sipping nectar from the upturned blossoms, they delivered the data to its destination and rested before death, their life’s work done.

Day 4

Gnaw (with apologies to Ray Harryhausen)

Measuring the length of a person, the ancient teeth were too large to lift from the dig. The excavators left them in the trench, smeared with silt and plaster.
Overnight, the rain came down, seeping through the dirt and flooding the vast canines. Found its way through cracks in the dentine.

From inside the teeth, skeletons shattered through the enamel. Birthed to a new world. Rainwater filling empty eye sockets hidden for so long.
In skinless hands the skeletons grasped splinters of tooth. Tore aside the metal fencing. Clattered down the Tarmac.

Reaching the first house the vast figures smashed their way in, finding the sleeping family within. Down the street the pattern was repeated as they opened each building, one by one.

The skeletons lacked stomachs to feast on those they captured, but they still had teeth, teeth that could gnaw and grind, and soon their bare ribs were smeared with a fine paste of skin and bone. Skin and bone that was not their own.

Day 5

Velvet and Wood

In the corner of the courtyard stood an empty chair, across the stone flags three mattresses just as vacant. Carol stood in the doorway for a few moments longer than normal. She knew they were there, watching her. Invisible. Could smell the perfume of coffins on them. Mould stained velvet and wood rotting even through the varnish.

“There’s nothing here,” Mark said wiping his forehead, and she knew that he would not tolerate her “ways” for much longer. She shrugged, let him take her fingers in both hands, and lead her back into the streets of people and cardamom and coriander.

In the courtyard the chair juddered away from the wall then fell back. On the mattresses the sheets lifted a touch, then dropped once more. Many years had passed since anyone had sensed the dead of the city. Now someone knew they waited, they needed to wait no longer.

One by one the sleepless fell in step behind Carol. Their path away from the scent of mould stained velvet and rotten wood. With broken fingernails and shattered bone they traced their names in Carol’s skin so that she would remember them and their lives would be spoken once more.

Day 6

Float

Drowned men sing no songs. They cannot recall the melodies in the salt scoured grasp of the sea.

Instead they grind out the air trapped in their bones and whisper the names of their loved ones. Push the bubbles of words into seaweed to float up to the surface where it might pop upon the waves for the mourning to hear.

The sodden strands of bladderwrack wash up on the beach to be ground against rocks and under the feet of children, where all words are lost in the crush of sand.

Day 7

Litter

The tree grew dogs. All breeds. Some sprouted from amongst the roots with stiff ears of bracket fungus. Others curled upon themselves amongst petals, wet stamen noses pushing out into the world.

One had tangled fur that snagged on low hanging branches, others long backs that unfurled as they grew from puppy to dog.

Soon they reached the time to loosen from their stalks and run through the woodland on coppiced legs.

These dogs were made of timber and thorn, and when they yawned the tree rings that ran through them were visible in the back of their throats.

No matter whether they were filled with oak galls, or shuddered with blossom when they walked, all the dogs knew one thing, and that one thing was this. They all knew that they were very very good boys.

Newsletter Giveaway

FOTWT

As some of you know, I also run a newsletter every couple of weeks. The format is pretty simple. It contains updates about my work, a bit of waffle about stuff I’ve found interesting, the occasional bit of archaeology, or art, but mainly it’s a delivery system for free flash fiction. Every newsletter includes a flash fiction story, just long enough to read on the train or while you’re having a coffee.

At the moment I’m having a bit of a membership drive. Anyone who is on the subscriber list on the 9th May will be entered into a draw to win the t-shirt at the top of the page.

The design is by William Cunningham and is from my story Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale in the anthology BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS edited by Cameron Callahan.

To be in with a chance to win the t-shirt all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter at www.tinyletter.com/stevetoase (remember to check your spam filter for the confirmation email). That’s it. I’ll do the draw on the 9th and in the meantime you’ll get some hopefully enjoyable, definitely unsettling, flash fiction in your inbox.

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 4

IMG_2372

These are the last of the stories in the Runs on the Board book. Tomorrow I’ll share other pieces of flash fiction written for the project. Out of all the pieces I wrote inspired by the cricket matches we watched, I think that 53.71704 N  is my favourite. It combines cricket, myth, and landscape. It also influenced the way I frame my newsletters.

 

Beating the Bounds

Law 20.1-Wisden 1963

“If flags or posts are used to mark a boundary, the real or imaginary line joining such points shall be regarded as the boundary”

 

These men from across the county, wearing white knit mummer’s guize, are of the travelling parish of the three trees. This is a fragile ward able to be dissolved by rain, or worn through by the fading of dusk.

Sometimes, the parish is found below chiselled stone moors or pressed against the inside of a walled garden. On other summer days it weighs down on the corrugated earth of a thousand years. The boundary is vulnerable, soft and porous and must be walked to remember its course.

Like Yeoman Warders, in Pathé’s newsreel gaze, these men step out in ones and twos with willow under their arms. Pausing, they let linseed soaked wood rest between white flags. Each second motionless pins the boundary to the grass before the walkers set off once again.

Moving anti-clockwise they pass the black faced house, whose sightless windows flicker with white numbers, while one man faces eleven. By the ground tethered sail they wait while pace plays out and the grove at the centre is defended. On the far side of this smallest of parishes they walk tight between fence and flags. Not once do they cross the stuttered line, all the time marking the circuit with spiked steps. The men in white knit mummer’s guize return to the lime-washed hall, where they wait for their turn to stand in front of the three trees.

END

Distracted by Shadows

Law 41.6-2000 Code

“While the ball is in play and until the ball has made contact with the striker’s bat or person, or has passed the striker’s bat, no fielder, other than the bowler, may have any part of his person grounded on or extended over the pitch”

 

Waiting by the pavilion the shadows attached themselves to the spikes of players walking out to take the field. Each time the sun emerged from behind strands of cloud the shadows became young once again.

They played their own game, leeward of these men whose height did not change with the lengthening of the day. The players ignored their tissue paper companions. Except when the shadows lay across the footworn pitch and the unchanging men turned to statues, as if waiting to catch the shadows moving on their own.

Staying still the shadows wove themselves into the grass. They kept their arms solid and their legs planted, even as the afternoon stretched them across the cracked ground. Then, when they heard the snick, the shadows ran for the ball, elongated by the shifting sky.

END

53.71704 N

Law 9-Wisden 1963

“The popping crease shall be marked 4 feet in front of and parallel with the Bowling crease. Both the Return and Popping crease shall be deemed unlimited in length.”

 

Kneeling on the worn turf he brushed thin whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases and reincarnated the line once again.

Reaching the return crease the line became too faint to see, picking up speed as it headed toward the boundary. Outside the ground it coasted across the moors, drawn on by the scent of the sea. Listening to the songs of fallen rocks before slipping under the water.

The crease continued. It could have floated on the waves, or plunged through the water where nets and lines draped from boats. Instead it sank to the sea floor. Drawing itself through Doggerland the crease marked across long drowned valleys and long forgotten forests, now only remembered as archaeologist’s survey data.

Making landfall on the island of Nordeney it passed to the north of the hospital. None of the ambulances noticed the fine, thin, mark under their wheels.

Travelling across North Germany the crease continued east, passing through the heart of forests so dense only trees whisper folktales about them.

In Belarus it touched the northern shore of a small lake, watched from under the surface by three reed dressed sisters with sand coloured eyes.

Making harbour at Portage Bay on Wislow Island the crease mixed its flecks of whitewash with the cooled, grey dust of Makushin Volcano.

Through Canada the crease stayed in open country, to the north of Hwy. 37. The road markings whispered to stay with them. To press itself to the tarmac where they hid when the season of darkness came, but the crease paid them no heed and carried on its route.

Outside Edmonton dawn turned the sky rust and corroded through to the day behind.

From the western side of Lake Michikamu the Toad Man whispered,

“You will always stay here in the Lake.”

The crease shuddered fit to blur its edges, but kept on moving.

Avoiding the  grasp of fish jaws and blind ocean dwellers the crease made landfall in Ireland. In Muckloon it saw the shell of George Moore’s house and heard from deep inside the hill the song of Drithliu, a sound like trees burning in autumn.

Crossing the Irish Sea the crease found itself at the junction between the M65 and M6, where it nearly ended up heading toward Lancaster. Realising its mistake in time it continued on, back across the county border.

Passing through Luddenden Foot, where there is a full moon every night, the crease felt on safer ground and accelerated on.

Breaching the ground’s boundary the unseen line came to rest against the return crease, where the groundsman applied the last brush of whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases, reincarnated once again.

END

 

Corridor

Law 31-Wisden 1963

 

A light flickers in the panelled ceiling above me. No, not one. Two. Three maybe. The rhythm is syncopated, slightly uneven. Just when I think I’ve nailed down a pattern it throws in an offbeat. The candle dim glow doesn’t quite reach the walls. I know there is no entrance behind me in this corridor, nor an exit in front.

I can just make out three doors in the long wall to my right and, if I squint, one to my left. I walk along, running my hand over the frames and the doors themselves. All feel in need of sanding and several thick coats of varnish. No-one takes care of this narrow ginnel.

An inquiring mind gets the better of me and I open the first door, by my right shoulder. The scene is warm, not the height of summer, the sun dressing the field in a fine webbing of heat. The grass is empty apart from the echo of footsteps crossing the outfield toward the pavilion. I follow the sound. The scene changes. Now the view is from inside the changing room. Outside I can see my team-mate (at that moment I can’t remember his name). Next in the batting order he takes his position and taps his bat against the popping crease. I try to close the door, but the wood is warped, or the frame has shrunk. A little pool of light leaks through onto the corridor floor and I step to avoid it.

Though doubt sets in I open the second. There is nothing to see. The view is scrubbed out. The emptiness of a scoreboard waiting for the white to appear. There is only noise, the repetitive echo of the fielder’s appeal. I was wrong. There are no options left through this door. I lift it closed, preparing for this one too to be warped against my efforts, but it shuts easily. Moments later, as I step away, it swings open once again and I can hear that appeal looping on itself.

The third doesn’t wait for me to turn the handle, instead drifting open. The scene is from my perspective. I am unbuckling my leg pad as if all the games ills are stitched into its gambeson-like surface. Once undone I drop it into the kitbag and rub my shin before leaning on the window frame to watch the rest of the game I will no longer take part in.

My curiosity is depleted. Little is left, yet there is a little. With a pause to take a breath I open the single door on the left. The view is toward the boundary. The flattened patch of grass beyond the line of flags tells me all I need to know. The scene through the door pivots and is now staring at the white coated umpire whose arms grow vertical as if hydraulic. I have no intention of closing this door.

Turning, I stare deep into the gloom at the end of the corridor. A single red pixel appears in a sea of between-station noise. With four doors open around me I wait.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 3

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The original inspiration for my approach to Runs on the Board was Italo Calvino’s Time and the Hunter (UK/US), which led to me writing Willow;

Willow

Law 25-Wisden 1963

“The ball shall be held to be “dead”-on being in the opinion of the Umpire finally settled in the hands of the Wicket-keeper or the Bowler or pitching over the boundary”

 

With a gardener’s steady hand he planted the willow shallow in the short grass. Roots take well here. Branches sprouted in all directions, each bearing a single red fruit, skin like bruised pomegranate. He chose one curving bough and watched it arch to the left. Those rejected crumbled to dust on the breeze until the one remaining fruit settled in the grass. Seed to windfall in a glance.

END

Using this as a starting point it gave me to approach cricket from a different direction.

 

Hawk-Eye

Law 47-Wisden 1963

“The Umpire shall not order a Batsman out unless appealed to by the other side”

 

There are no Hawk-Eyes here. Only a vulpine gaze dusted with half a century of pollen, scored by the track of a thousand overs worth of leg break and off spin. Behind oval pupils the ball plays out again and he makes his decision. The players wait, a choir of appeal, their chorus scrubbed by distant traffic. The umpire raises his finger above his head. Applause ripples from the fielders, surrounding the retreating batsman like heat haze.

END

The Gamemaker

Law 23-Wisden 1963

“The ball shall be bowled from each wicket alternately in overs of either 5 or 6 balls according to the agreed condition of play”

 

Suspended dust hung from twine thin light that somehow found its way through the sawdust glass of the windows. The Gamemaker lifted the workshop door shut, breathing in the linseed oil and cork air. He shrugged off his old fleece, hanging it on a nail, instead slipping on his axle grease coloured, once white, coat.

The radio struggled to find a long-wave signal in the heat-haze. With a shake of his head he let the words fade in and out, delivering updates in stretched, cracked voices.

His latest creation sat in the middle of the bench. A wooden slotted drum balanced on a lathe turned stand. Reaching his glasses from a pile of shavings the Gamemaker peered at the recently dried timber, thirty layers of varnish pinning light to the woodgrain.

Nodding to himself he ran a palm over the drum. With his other hand he turned the polished brass handle, a series of hidden tooth and nail gears rotating the cylinder. A slight breeze born of still air spun out from the centre. Satisfied, the Gamemaker dragged across a stool and sat down, stretching out his back and hands. Life returning to stiff tendons.

From behind the radio, still singing with faint Raudive voices, the Gamemaker pulled an old manilla envelope. He read the crossed out address on the front. For a moment a memory of a brick, wood-fronted, hut by a white flagged line made him smile. Unfolding the seal-flap he pulled out the thirty paper strips inside.

Holding the first up to the light he was surprised the half century old paper survived. In places red marks and grass stains risked obscuring the sketched figures. For a moment he thought about cleaning the strips, then shook his head. Marks and scars are earned and should be worn with pride.

Each figure was faint, the pencil scored lines in the paper marking the shape as much as the sun faded graphite. Satisfied he placed the first in the zoetrope, pressing the strip into the thin slot running around the inside edge of the barrel.

Pausing, he poured a cup of tea from a lukewarm chipped pot, drinking the brick red liquid in quick mouthfuls. Through the slots the figures waited, unmoving. Resting.

Drink finished the gamemaker lowered his stool and grasped the zoetrope’s handle. The players came to life. The bowler’s arm released the only intentional colour on the paper strip. The batsman met the fleck of red, sending it careering to the upper edge of the Zoetrope. From the base of the device came a sound of applause across a sun-bleached ground. He played the strip five more times. Each revolution the bowler released the red spark at a different moment, the batsmen streaking it toward a different point. After the scene had played six times the Gamemaker took out the paper strip, flattened it before placing it back in the envelope and slid the next paper strip into the device.

END

 

Pearmain

Law 5.2-Wisden 1963

“Except in the United Kingdom, or if local regulations provide otherwise, after 200 runs have been made off a ball in First-class matches, the captain of the fielding side may demand a new one”

 

A battered Pearmain of a thing the ball sat half hidden in the grass beside his feet. Every so often a confused, drunken wasp crawled slowly over the surface and finding no flesh to feast on took off again.

Holding the ball high the boy eclipsed the late afternoon sun.

Shivering with the disappearing light he tried to rub life back into aching arms. The game had been long that day with overs of four, five and six balls running into each other. As much time spent searching in the field scrub for the ball as bowling it down the stamped grass, makeshift pitch.

By the end no-one was quite sure if the boys who lived up-field or the boys who lived down-field were victorious. It mattered little. The joy was in the pitch and the bat and the sprint of the fielders.

Having done service in a millennium of overs, leather scuffed to bunting edged the surface of the ball. The boy grasped a scrap and pulled it loose. Coming away in his hand the fragment dislodged a length of seam, drawing it free from the stitching. Dropping the first piece to the ground he noticed a second strip had come loose. With a compulsion usually saved for scabbed knees he grasped the leather and pulled it free. Instead of tightly wrapped string underneath he glimpsed the shellac shine of fresh red leather. Curiosity gripped and he tore away the next strip then the next. Gold leaf print of the fresh ball caught the tail end of the day’s light as he peeled away the last of the skin from the old ball, revealing the new underneath.

Fresh, unscarred and unbowled the Duke County International felt just right as he walked out to the crease. Glancing across the ground he saw those boys from up-field and down-field standing at slip, mid-wicket, extra-cover.  Now, many years after those long summer games, they all played on the same team. These days the aching arms were already there before the game, but the joy was still in the pitch and the bat and the sprint of the fielders. He smiled to himself and prepared to bowl the first over of the game.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 2

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Here are the second group of stories I wrote for the Runs on the Board commission. (To find out more, please see yesterday’s post.)

 

Never Play Chess With A Cricketer

(With apologies to Henry Normal)

Law 17-Wisden 1963

“The umpire shall allow such intervals as have been agreed upon for meals, 10 minutes between each innings and not more than 2 minutes for each batsman to come in.”

 

Kasparov would have won the chess game if the cricket player hadn’t thrown away the board, placed the chessmen on the green baize of the card table, and insisted the Russian could only change the position of his pieces after every six turns.

Kasparov waited for his opponent to hit the timer to mark the end of his turn. Instead the cricketer picked up the small double faced clock and threw it out of the window.

Halfway through the afternoon the cricketer called for tea, dropped cake crumbs all over his opponent’s pieces and sipped noisily from his cup.

Every time Kasparov attempted a flanking pawn advance the cricketer called it wide and removed one of the Russian’s pieces from the field of play.

When the grand-master picked up his Queen to move in for checkmate a draught extinguished the candle and the cricketer announced that day’s play at an end due to poor light.

After twelve days the game was declared a draw when Kasparov had to return to the docks before his boat left for Russia.

END

Between Galaxies

Law 5-Wisden 1963

“The Ball shall weigh not less than 5½ ounces, nor more than 5¾ ounces”

 

Each bowled ball was a red dwarf, long burnt out in the spin of energy as the bowler released it toward the wicket. Each conversation and pavilion debate was an echo, like thousand year old starlight travelling between galaxies.

END

 

Moonlight (Grey Fox 1)

Law 12-Wisden 1963

“The Batsman may beat the pitch with his bat”

 

The grey fox walked onto the empty field, stepping through the pools of moonlight. He did not bite at the glow like his younger brethren who chewed up turf and dirt, leaving divots in the once pristine earth. Instead he turned and brushed the white light with the tip of his tail, pinning the crease to the grass and waiting.

END

Uncertainty

Law 13-Wisden 1963

“The choice of innings shall be decided by tossing on the field of play”

 

Uncertainty sits by the pavilion, raincoat not blocking out the scent of sun-cream on his skin. He holds a thick yellow book. One hand is smooth and tanned, the other dry and creased. Drought cracked. Around each wrist he wears a single stitched band. Underneath his nails are snags of turf.

The batsman recognises Uncertainty’s eyes first, the same colour as skies that have haunted many games he has walked out for. The type of sky that can scorch the ground to dust or drown it for a season.
He walks over and Uncertainty smiles the easy smile of an old friend. The batsman leans forward on his bat, keeping it just out of reach.

Uncertainty puts aside his copy of Wisden. The batsman catches a glance before the cover closes. The pages are blank.
“Will the game go our way?” The batsman asks.
Reaching into his pocket Uncertainty brings out an old, tarnished coin and tosses it into the air. As it lands upon his left hand he covers it with his right, never showing it to the batsman. Instead he gives the same non-committal smile he has for the past 40 years, gets up off his seat and walks into the pavilion.

END

Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 1

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In 2013 I was commissioned to work with photographer Lucy Carolan on Runs on the Board, a Cultural Olympiad legacy project based around the Grey Fox trophy, an over 50s Cricket tournament held in Yorkshire.

As I had no real prior knowledge of cricket, my approach was to interpret the language of the game through my own filter of myth, folklore and magic realism, relating each story back to the laws of cricket. (If you want to read about Runs on the Board from the perspective of a passionate cricketer I’d recommend reading the quotes from Nick Ahad, the writer for the second 2013 creative team, here in this article).

As with many things the stories are no longer online, so I’m sharing them here over a series of posts. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Planting Time In Season

Law 10-Wisden 1963

“Unless permitted by special regulations, the Pitch shall not be rolled during a match except before the start of each innings and of each day’s play”

 

“Our groundsman puts a lot of time into the ground.”

Collecting moments during the week the Groundsman saves them up for when he walks over the outfield, and the worn turf between the creases. He keeps them warm in his shirt pocket. There is no pattern to the moments he chooses, though each is selected with care. An instinct that comes through many years on the roller. Making his way from the pavilion he carries five minutes from a bank queue and half an hour waiting in for a delivery. In the weeks when he has not collected enough seconds to plant the ground he rings around the players. They donate time spent on hold or waiting to get the barman’s attention. With an orchadist’s touch he lifts each moment out, moves a blade of grass to one side and slides it into the soil.

After he has mowed the grass and rolled the pitch the groundsman stands on the boundary satisfied, watching the sprinklers water the outfield, the moments planted shimmering in the spray.

END

 

Vestigial Chicken Feet

Law 4-Wisden 1963

“All runs shall be recorded by Scorers appointed for the purpose”

 

The grandchildren of Baba Yaga’s hut crouch on the edge of cricket grounds throughout the country. Out of sight their vestigial chicken feet cling to the soil. Some bred with local buildings, sheds and outhouses. Now their skin is brick and lime planking rather than barked lengths of knotted fir trees. Baba Yaga’s twice turning hut was scented with kvass. Its descendant’s timber is soaked with the steam of steeped tea. All have flickering eyes that record every batting stroke and catch played out in front of them, and they never forget.

 

Baba Yaga’s hut is almost as well known as Baba Yaga herself. Standing on two chicken legs the hut would turn to face the woods when Baba Yaga was flying the world in her mortar and pestle, pivoting back around upon its mistress’ return.

END

 

Willow

Law 25-Wisden 1963

“The ball shall be held to be “dead”-on being in the opinion of the Umpire finally settled in the hands of the Wicket-keeper or the Bowler or pitching over the boundary”

 

With a gardener’s steady hand he planted the willow shallow in the short grass. Roots take well here. Branches sprouted in all directions, each bearing a single red fruit, skin like bruised pomegranate. He chose one curving bough and watched it arch to the left. Those rejected crumbled to dust on the breeze until the one remaining fruit settled in the grass. Seed to windfall in a glance.

END

100% About Motorbikes

“Love what you do and do what you love.”

Ray Bradbury

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Growing up I had two real loves; the paranormal and custom motorbikes. I’ve been very lucky to be able to earn a living writing about both. In fact I got my first writing break in custom motorbike magazines, writing reviews for Back Street Heroes (under my nickname Hermann) when Blue Miller was the editor. After that I started writing event features and had my first bike feature published in 2011.

It’s been a few years since I did any articles about the biker scene (my son was born, and as the stay at home parent it was harder to get out and cover events), but that’s all changing. This month I have my first event feature in 100% Biker (now under the familiar editorial guidance of Blue). You can read my article about Biker-S-World, Salzburg in the latest issue, available at most newsagents in the U.K. and online from the 100% Biker website.