By Craig Woods
Drawing © Dolorosa De La Cruz
Pages from a handwritten journal recovered at a suspected site of Muskrat activity in a derelict warehouse district in Glasgow. The site had evidently been vacated in a hurry prior to our agents’ arrival at the scene. The identity of the author of these pages is not currently known.
deformed edges of a flattened coin brought me to still spring morning … clearing in dense forest all emerald shimmer … I am standing hand in hand with a teenage girl by the side of a stream … I address the girl with my gaze … a dark curtain of raven hair swaying back and forth alternately revealing and concealing her bronze features … she points to an embankment where a single electricity pylon stands oozing copper corrosion into a stone sky … her spectral voice on the breezeless air: “my name on the horizon…” the girl indicates a shining object by the foot of the pylon its reflective surface mocking the steel tower … she leads me to the base of the monolith and retrieves the reflective object from sodden ground … a flattened coin edges compressed on a runaway time track … I lose myself in the coin’s funhouse distortions but the girl is not reflected there … somewhere behind the pylon an opening in the embankment is visible a dark circular maw from which a low rumble emanates causing my bones to shudder … the girl’s reassuring hand leading me through fugitive waters towards the black hole … crouching we peer inside the circular concrete pipe its floor a flood rushing some fifty yards towards a glowing exit … the girl tells me this pipe carries the stream from one side of the motorway above to the other … there is nothing to fear … she leads me into the pipe and we begin a slow crawl to the other side … roar of traffic … my desperate arms clamped around the girl’s waist as she leads us to the opposite bank … musk smell emanating through her cotton dress, the fierce scent of a wild dog … we emerge in a familiar room my feeble eyes struggling to readjust to the tungsten glow … dusty walls of my apartment the sofa sideboards and television cabinet …all present and correct only their dimensions and geometries have been reversed … the girl leads me to the sofa and crouches at its base … with one slender arm she retrieves a heavy dark object from behind a dusty cushion … rising to her feet she turns to me smiling, revealing a mouth filled with sharp dog-like teeth and hands me a book bound in a red cover … I am almost overcome with the weight of the volume as she relinquishes her grip… I stare in awe at this strange artefact in my hands as the girl retrieves the distorted coin from my shirt pocket with one willowy hand holding it flat its grimy face reflecting a phantom sky … a flex of her hand compels me to pull the book open … on the inside cover is a message scrawled in bright red crayon … ‘I COULD EAT THE SKY LIKE AN APPLE’ … the girl smiles warmly at me and bows her head to stare into the coin’s warped surface … her face not reflected there the image seemingly frozen in that of the inert sky above … giggling coquettishly the girl extends a lascivious canine tongue which caresses the scarred metal then sinks past the boundary of its dimensions and into the image of the sky … the image bends and buckles clouds and ozone seeping out of the reflection and into the girl’s laughing jaws … I squeal gleefully as I watch her eat the sky …
running across grey fingers on to the surface of insomnia we make the burning barrier of other season. The mutilated corpse of a Jensen automobile smouldering blackly fumes of adolescent mutation in the wounded air a smell of rust and radioactive heat. The girl named Pylon leads me from the bones of civilization into a labyrinth of faded arcades sour breeze whispering insurgent mantras through shuttered windows black fairground skeletons corroding against an infernal sunset. Seems I catch a gaze directly for something like a vague black hand to her chest. I address the girl’s good looks excited, bringing her announcements in the first motion. She begins to click her daylights before me holding my stare in a human interval between two tiger eyes, my broodings over her concern twisting flesh into opaque air.
“The body is dumb, the body is meat,” one bronze finger aims for the heart of the ailing sun, “only the summer was sweet.”
Fairground shadows part like oil curtains and two children emerge; boy and girl, unnatural assurance in their gait, feral fire brewing in the pale eyes, thunder from young hearts drumming beneath defaced blue school blazers. These waifs act as our escorts: Ennui, a gangly ashen-faced boy with an effete composure and a voice fragile as wet paper.
“It’s late summer always here. Sad dyin’ sun never done weepin’ at the clock.”
The girl, Pink Pussy, popping gum bubbles between chapped lips, one slender hand clad in a fingerless leather glove caressing a battered softball bat crimson stains of war around its chipped sides her estuary drawl gushing out like livid floodwater from behind windblown violet-tinted tresses.
“Look sharp, guv. Gotta walk the time off ya. Keep close and breathe the sun into yrself, yeah?”
Phantom arcade miles pass ethereally under our feet, remote urban shadows blossoming like ink stains across the horizon’s amber parchment leaking out adolescent silhouettes, lithe young limbs bolstering our progress with stoic purpose, imperturbable intent in the sharp faces. Each boy and girl introduces themselves with the theatrical enthusiasm of auditioning actors claiming their roles in a cosmic epic at some theatre of apocalypse. Each bears a distinctive moniker as evocative as the landscape, names like Bad Apple, Cuntweasel, Iron Hoof, Slay Dog, Skullfuck, Lady Shitblade, Kneecap Nellie …
“Out here our names are our own, guv. Our toys all our own too and we take ‘em home with us when we please. No family names here. No shitty bell gonna ring around here neither. No dead hollow regime to keep us indoors durin’ rainy playtimes. Blood of that old mummy-daddy shit-fest done drained away in the rainy playground gutter. Whole damn playground is ours now and it stretches farther than yr eyes can see. Any old time we like it and any new time too for that matter.”
The kids call themselves Muskrats and cut the endless twilight with the coarse blades of their tongues the agile sweeps of firm young limbs. The first Muskrats had scurried out from an English boarding school dormitory, feral mutant hands turning to clawed fists raised against the God country and opulence that birthed and betrayed them, that sold out their futures to callous clocks and heartless hierarchies.
Somewhere that vast stone school building lies in ruins; white walls blackened, stink of death and urine, phantom smoke billowing from shattered windows to stain the English countryside, torn Union flag draped wet and limp upon the inverted holy cross smeared in blood and excrement. Those original Muskrats clad still in the defaced uniform that was once their shame erupt now in chorus, a joyous and crude distortion of their old school anthem:
“Jolly fighting weather,
And a heady hybrid breeze,
Blades for mums and fathers,
And bullets for the priest,
Shoot and slash together,
Bring the nation to its knees,
Shoot and slash together,
With black holes between yr knees.”
This song resounds in the throbbing temples of sleepless adolescents scattered throughout the dispossessed bedrooms, shanties, hovels, prison cells, dungeons and dormitories of a doomed planet. Febrile foreign faces have flocked to its melody, girls and boys of every colour every culture every tongue casting the shackles of indoctrination into the flames of their transcendence. Hybrid mutations brought them here … unbound data of the feral universe rewriting their psyches, encrypting their biology with the access codes for an existence beyond the enforced boundaries of an authoritarian world … other futures beckoning through the wounds in their flesh, solar flares from skies of psychic rust. The Muskrats chatter garrulously in a language all their own; a compound creole culled from comic books, pulp novels, B movies, arbitrary shreds of popular culture. Traces of hipster jive and prison jargon and Yiddish affectations and cockney rhyming slang all sparkle electrically upon their young tongues, augmented by the vestigial traces of the various cultures each has abandoned.
A tall slender-limbed girl with long oil-black hair and dark Amerindian features leans into my shoulder a voice thick as tar on her hot breath:
“Somewhere back there,” she jerks a pointed thumb back in the direction of the breached barrier blazing behind us, “there are a people with a story about old Muskrat. Old Muskrat watched the birth of the universe from a burrow which was a black hole of course. And while every other holier-than-thou deity and prissy goddess was too busy lookin’ lovingly at their own reflection in the stars, practicin’ their pussy-lickin’ pouts and polishin’ their fuckin’ nails, old Muskrat decides to dive straight into the shit-storm that our galaxy was back then and try mould somethin’ beautiful, right? So Muskrat plunges into the open bowels of the universe, little snout scourin’ a way through all the shit and bile while all the goodly gods and goddesses they throw up their hands in disgust and turn away to stare back into their reflections since their own shit-eatin’ mugs is the only sight them self-obsessed fuckpigs can bear to stare at for too long without lapsin’ into withdrawal.
“So anyways, Muskrat’s diggin’ and diggin’, paws red raw, eyeholes and earholes clogged with the worst kinda filth that not even the most imaginative of aspirin’ writer fellas can hope to imagine at the wobbly kitchen chair in front of the daily headache of his computer screen, yeah? Finally those determined little claws scrape against somethin’ warm and kinda sweet-feelin’, somethin’ good, y’know? So Muskrat burrows that little snout all the way in there, tryin’ not to gag at the muck floodin’ into those eyeholes, earholes and down that scorched little gullet to burn those strainin’ little lungs. Muskrat clenches the good thing between those big buck teeth and pulls and pulls and pulls and finally drags from the swill a great big shiny green planet. The most heart-breakingly beautiful damn thing you ever saw!
“Well, soon as their ugly gold-brickin’ eyes fall on this cosmic gem, every worthless god and half-assed goddess decides they want a piece for themselves. They crash on in there, stompin’ with careless feet across mountains and meadows, trailin’ shit across the green rugs like they owned the fuckin’ place and they start carvin’ the green planet up between themselves, all squabblin’ in their no-good idiot child voices, cuttin’ up land and sea and animals and people into rigid immovable categories, each every bit as ugly and useless as them-fuckin’-selves. Yep, the Heavenly Horde got the segregation con down pat; big crosses of fire markin’ the territories, the psyches, the species into neat little sachets. Just add water, instant deadlock! Pretty soon the whole green planet is sliced up into one big shitty bakin’ tray of mismatched flapjacks, each now cussin’ at its neighbours in the backwards dialect of its respective deity. Ain’t no goodly human or beast gonna tamper with those lines with the bosses’ beady eyes glarin’ down. Ain’t no queenly queer whitey gonna fool around with his black brother; no dogs and birds gonna come together to cook up no beautiful winged wolves, no sir! The lines have been drawn and the lines are irrevocable, on pain of extinction! Muskrat just looks on in despair, can’t fuckin’ believe all that good work been spoiled and cheapened by a bunch of two-bit swindlin’ absentee landlords and louche lettin’ agents layin’ down the law with their clocks and calendars, tyin’ the whole rock to the most crudely cooked-up crooked contract in the cosmos. Breaks Muskrat’s fierce little heart, it surely does. And so Muskrat dies with the anguish of it all, too much to bear, mud barely dry on those raw little claws before they stop twitchin’.
“See, every miserable livin’ creature gotta mark and measure its life in accordance with the stars from then on – those shameless shit-lanterns the landlords got to light their incest orgies and perfidious poker parties – layin’ down stakes with whole fuckin’ planets on the line, sellin’ out entire solar systems just so’s a comely goddess might bare a bit of breast or pull down her pink perfumed panties! A real kick in the teeth for a sorry sold-out rock!
“Well, what that motley crew of heavenly harlots ain’t so hip to is the fuckin’ cancer their little scheme has riddled the universe with! The tumour of time festerin’ on the skin of the cosmos, its big cold crab claws snap-snap-snappin’ fiercer with each passin’ day of this farcical con! And y’know the old universe has a way of compensatin’, yes it does, an immune system that’s kicked in and is adaptin’ as I regale you with this sorry tale. It’s what we’re doin’ here, y’see? We’re the antibodies headed for the bowels of the universe. Us Muskrats gotta stick our little snouts right in to that shit-storm and pull the new world outta the asshole of the old with our fuckin’ teeth! And when we’re done, there ain’t gonna be no more fuckin’ free rides for freeloadin’ gods or goldbrickin’ goddesses, no sir! No fucker with a watch rides this train! Gonna take the biggest baddest eraser to the lines they drew between the peoples and the genders and the species! Gonna rub out the whole fuckin’ nightmare like it never was. Their shithouse is crumblin’ … can’t you feel it already?”
Crows perched in somnolent squadrons around the eaves and angles of the arcades come suddenly alive at the girl’s raised voice, their chorus of caws the most audacious of battle cries. The kids respond with jubilations of their own, feral hoots and hollers which echo like machine-gunfire across the timeless landscape.
Ruined avenues deliver us to a vacant square court of tarmac lined on all sides by rusted mesh fences, fluorescent hieroglyphs of revolutionary adolescent graffiti scrawled across the hard ground. The kids pour into the court through a flap of torn mesh and arrange themselves around the centre in broad circular formation. A pimple-faced boy with catlike green eyes stands in the centre his whole face aglow with impish glee. From a grimy trouser pocket he produces a bright red bouncing ball.
Pylon grips my hand tightly, uncanny strength in her delicate fingers. “Although everything has happened, nothing has happened.”
The pimple-faced boy addresses the throng in the affected tones of a military commander:
“Alright you maggots! Pull yr filthy schnozzles outta each other’s fusty crotches, scrape the wax outta those bat-caves you call lug-holes and listen to the news! This here rubbery sphere is the star at the centre of our damn shithole universe, you savvy? This here is the little red heart of everythin’, the little hot fun-button in the crevice of our cosmic cunt-hole!”
A few of the kids snigger aloud at the crude analogy, eyes wide with animal fury, electric tongues lapping at livid lips.
“Now the problem with this little stellar madam is she don’t sit still. Not for a moment too long. For she’s a whimsical girly this one, just watch.” The boy slams the ball on to the tarmac from which it rebounds into the air above the kids’ assembled heads before sailing down to land once more in the boy’s palm with a hard slap. “You feel that, folks? You feel the whole universe shiftin’?”
The Muskrats respond in playful chorus: “YES!”
“You see how our whole reality bends and moulds itself into new shapes with each time she flies off in a frolic of fancy? Feel the walls of the cosmos stretchin’ out like silly putty as they strain to keep her in its deadeye centre?”
“Well folks, that’s the natural way of the universe – all shapeless and malleable like the biggest and tastiest of fruit jellies, you get me? And I do mean the good kind, not the cheap shite slopped in front of you at the school dinner hall. Not the sour gooey abortions some greasy moustachioed lunch lady could’ve spooned out from between her own withered cunt-lips, no! The fuckin’ good stuff! Am I right?”
“However, gals and guys, fellas and fillies, it ain’t all sweet strawberry roses, no it ain’t! See there’s a cancer out there in our universe! A cancer by the name of Time Itself!”
Chorus of boos and pantomime hissing.
“And Time Itself ain’t gonna rest until the whole shit-munchin’ cosmos is tied terminally to its tired old tick-tock-tick-tock!”
“Dick-Cock-Dick-Cock!” Sporadic laughter.
“And how does our sweet red lady here deal with this threat?” The boy slams the ball against the ground a second time, more aggressively than before, his hand curled in a savage claw which snatches the red sphere from its rapid descent. “She runs! Scurries away to the far side of the universe, causin’ the whole of reality to flex and buckle leavin’ a trail of chaos in her wake – stars explodin’, planets implodin’, big fuckin’ mess! Yeah, like the mind of any common shit-muncher faced with worryin’ symptoms, she scarpers from the knowledge of her illness, too scared to face the music. And who pays the price for her fear, eh?”
“That’s right – we, the bottom-feeders, the lowly oxygen-breathers, the common-as-shit shit-munchers are forced to deal with the storm of piss and wind her pretty little red ass leaves behind on its way to the next denial-driven daydream. It’s us who got our snouts shoved into the rotten tumours of Time Itself. Well, y’know, our cherry darlin’ can’t run forever. Time Itself gonna catch up with Lady Red no matter what and she gotta be ready for the fight. Now who’s gonna make her ready?”
“I can’t HEAR you!”
“CROW! CROW! CROW! CROW!”
The children erupt in a chorus of cawing, the guttural sounds exuding from their young throats more crow-like to my ear than those of the actual birds whose empathetic responses echoing from the inky arcade shadows are almost drowned in the cacophony.
“That’s right, folks. Crow gonna slap our red star awake and pull her to her fightin’ feet before it’s too damn late and the rot seeps into her fiery little heart. But wait!”
The kids fall silent, eyes wide, breath suspended in their gullets.
“Crow gotta catch her first, yeah?”
“Gotta sniff her out, track her right down … How’s Crow gonna do that, eh?”
“WITH A DOG-STAR! A DOG-STAR!”
“That’s right, sisters and brothers. Our friend Crow gotta send the mutt out there … That smart wily old Dog ain’t a bit scared to stick that big old sniffin’ snout in all the filthiest weepin’ sores of the universe, am I right?”
That tireless old hound gonna go hunt down our red lady like a bloodhound on a fox’s trail; flush her out to the frontlines and make sure she’s where she needs to be when the enemy moves in for the final push, yeah?”
“Let’s hear it for the Dog-Star!”
“DOG-STAR! DOG-STAR! DOG-STAR!”
While the chant rages in earnest, the pimple-faced lad slams the red ball upon the tarmac a third time and steps away. The ball descends and travels in a steadily weakening series of bounces towards the north-westerly portion of the circle. Continuing their mantra in flawless synchronicity, the kids keep their wide eyes fixed on the ball’s trajectory. Finally the red sphere sails towards the chest of a tall lean boy with untidy blonde hair and solid Germanic features. He catches the ball in one nimble hand and bellows towards the sky:
The other kids cheer and run in unison to the west side of the court where they arrange themselves in a straight line, each facing the blonde boy who remains in the centre shifting his weight from one foot to the other as though in preparation for a boxing match.
Pylon wraps a languid arm around my waist and lays her head against my shoulder as the game begins.
“Earth, earth … riding your merry-go-round toward extinction …”
I recognise the game in progress as one I had played with my schoolmates on the gravel football pitch during intervals. We had referred to it as British Bulldog but the archaic terminologies of nation states and the hierarchies they represent have no meaning in this limbo of eternal sunset. I recall that my primary school had officially banned the playing of the game on the grounds that its inherent violence resulted in frequent injury and any pupil found to be instigating a session was subject to disciplinary action; usually some form of detention or suspension or, in rare extreme cases, expulsion. The feral children of this fugitive outpost on the remotest fringes of spacetime have already expelled themselves and now leap with gleeful abandon into the violence intrinsic to their youth, sharp intelligent faces visibly thrilled at the wounds that await them.
Back and forth across the tarmac the kids run, attempting to evade the Germanic boy and his Dog-Star allies whose ranks swell with each body they successfully bring to ground in a flurry of swinging fists and sweeping feet.
“One – Two – Three – DOG-STAR! DOG-STAR!”
Cries of pain are invariably brief and usually followed by mischievous giggles, the faces of newly rendered Dog-Stars illuminated with savage pride. Elbows and knees grazed against callous tarmac open in red flaps like toothless mouths lapping at the twilight, febrile young blood fleeing from time to stain the luminous sky with its primal rust.
When the final cry of “DOG-STAR” echoes across the square only Pink Pussy remains unclaimed and uninjured. The girl shrugs and bends in a mock stage bow, her purple-tinted ponytail falling forwards over her freckled face. The pimply boy whose rousing rhetoric had kick-started the game pats Pink Pussy chivalrously on the shoulder.
“Better luck next time, Puss.”
A haze of exhaustion falls over the scene. The wounded fall into one another, each pressing their face to the injuries of their comrades. Hot tongues dart across weeping gashes nimble fingertips caressing the purplish blossoms of bruises sighs of quiet ecstasy escaping from between firm young lips. The boy named Ennui fingers a deep wound in his forearm his skinny body trembling orgasmically. Some of the kids emit low rumbles like the growls of contented dogs, others exuding a feline purr from deep in their heaving chests. In the erogenous throes of mutation these triumphant hybrid announcements reverberate for miles across a land of red shadow.
The pimple-faced boy approaches keen eyes gleaming from within dark rings of bruised flesh drops his trousers to his ankles a nonchalant action unhindered by social convention or any trace of self-consciousness smile spreading wide on his ashen features. Ennui guides the boy’s face to his own with a hand on the back of his head manoeuvring into an impassioned kiss while the other hand frees the boy’s swollen phallus from his shorts.
Entranced by the sexual celebrations unfolding before us Pylon slides a dreamy hand to my crotch where my own excitement protrudes at a conspicuous angle.
“The tongue, the Chinese say, is like a sharp knife…”
I lean into her and our mouths meet lips and tongues lashing with feverish purpose. My hand slips between her slim thighs to where a bleeding sun seems to weep its incandescent fury upon my palm.
“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”
With the willowy grace of one delicate hand she unbuttons her cotton dress at the chest the garment falling open to reveal the cryptic mesh of scar tissue carved there harsh ridges flushed and tumescent each line and contour alive with mutant lust. I press my face to the scars my tongue lapping at their ragged edges thrilling at the sublime texture the rhythmic throb of her wild blood. With each flick and caress of my tongue Pylon sighs in ecstasy eyes rolling back in her elegant skull sharp white teeth pressing hard upon her bottom lip. She has liberated my cock caressing it expertly between thumb and forefinger our movements synchronised in an organic engine of insurgent desire.
The two boys have stripped one another upon the tarmac the pimple-faced lad dragging the end of his cock along the raw edges of Ennui’s weeping wound. Ennui eyes clenched red mouth wide moaning with pleasure a breeze of fractured time billowing around their invincible young bodies lungs breathing other future in dream aeons. old fugitive memories/peafowl cries across the park/lost nights of heartbroken rage/empty wet streets at dawn. The pimple-faced boy spurts molten revolution across red shifting stars, time retreating from their bones in a chorus of crow calls.
Luminous spectres of another’s memory simmer from Pylon’s mutilated flesh, my sperm cascading upon those pulsating hieroglyphs, protein of the universe like glue pasting us to other time tracks. Familiar melody on my back as past and future wash in with the red tide (the heart working her face toward orgasm by blue moonlit shelves/tragic to pull the shades/remembered black colossus in foreign skies/panic in crowded corridors/cats everywhere cats with human faces). Come away gasping the visions descending like threadbare where in city they see our song. Fear running across bottomless knees recalling your haze of summer drizzle dead voice across ruined sandstone eyes jerked in surprise fractured wrist flexing nothing cold coffee on the keyboard. Those already awakened in an avalanche of stone and glass ripped open our thoughts to animal daylight.
Pimple-face waves a languid hand, dust swirling in caustic draughts, scene melting around us as though washed clear by invisible tides, flesh and bone dissolving through vacant walls. A corridor of rotting wood and flaking plaster inclines toward a red curtain. A cord is pulled and a row of seven funhouse mirrors blinks into view. We walk phantom miles into the red carnival tent. A banner above our heads red block letters against gold: THE SEVEN WINDOWS OF ENTROPY. Gold that sears dispossessed bedrooms of tarmac dungeons dormitories of hieroglyphs faces flocked to its black ground – my shoulder with the throng an affected barrier – rubber sphere pouts in the fuck heart of every little beautiful – Muskrat burrows you feel the gag at filthy YES – surface moulds most beautiful damn frolic – miles pass respective eyes can’t believe amber parchment of cheapened shadows – here are names in the teeth – time indoors on rainy malignance – lunch around my waist lays her own withered cunt as the game begins – mind of any common ground under knowledge of her feet – remember – last crow flies from coloured beads in a hazily remembered bedroom – the girl’s breath on my neck playful photo poses on an old piano stool – memory that never was mine – willowy wrist flexing to catch dying stars from spider web float – “It’s me” – face of young pain so intense it ruptures the heart to gaze upon it – azure eyes fading – I was hers but who was I? – insomnia of a neglected power station – my name my face reflected blankly on a soiled mirror in the woods – a girl I knew almost perched atop the sea wall scrupulous voice from behind breeze-blown auburn tresses – The Cat in the Hat on her lap sad shadow leaking from other heart – tried to scream in the centre of the road – blades of petrol to look at the clock – girls and boys stepping into foreign light casting their blazers aside adorning the garish costumes of comic book superheroes – the old distorted school song raging above raised fists – time trembling at the threshold. I step into the curtained room. The kids stand around in circular formation arms interlocking eyes aglow saliva searing upon quivering lips raging blood of the universe reflecting images of war electric fury in young muscles moans of anticipation sex energies going off like fireworks. I approach the first mirror framed in decaying brass an ornate crow emblem carved at each of its four corners.
One: Boy who looks like me on a grey street corner of crumbling tenements and moss-grown brick walls. Ennui and Pink Pussy leaning against a wall, her thin lips popping pink bubbles, he toying with the petals of a bright red flower in his frail hands. Their voices drifting in coarse harmony across tattered air: “Gonna buy some booze for us, amigo?” The stranger’s silence as heavy as forgotten night-sweat..
Two: The three figures crossing the old viaduct by the dirty brown river swigging from cider bottles. (I had played at this viaduct as a child, walked these same phantom miles, long before that whole section of town had been gutted and left desolate.) Pink Pussy treads along the edge with the swiftness and fearlessness of a seasoned tightrope walker. Nearby poplars huddling in the shadow of a summer thunderhead. Only dogs hear the tragedy waiting there in the sky, sad rage of betrayed youth screaming like jet engines tearing stars to shreds with its fury.
Three: Austere siren ruptures the evening. Patrol car draws up and a grey-eyed cop bellows at the three youths: “Get the fuck down from there! You want to get yourselves killed? Your parents know you’re out here and swigging the Devil’s piss, eh? You kids ought to be at home. Don’t you have chores to do or homework to finish? I tell you, if you were my kids you’d be laying your hands flat out for the belt and thanking the good Lord for the privilege!” Boy who looks like me face turns white muscles quiver in fear. He bolts across the viaduct his strides too large for the two younger kids to keep up. Pink Pussy spits in the stranger’s direction, her face grave, the cheeks suddenly hollowed. She swigs the cider’s dregs as the policeman climbs the grassy slope towards them. Through the glass the girl holds my gaze in a void human interval between two tiger eyes. These eyes have known lost daylights. Their sorrow will stain the sky red.
Four: Medical institute. A vast room packed from wall to wall with scores of steel cot-beds arranged symmetrically. Children shackled to the cots, arms and legs pinioned by vice-like clamps, intravenous drips spewing unknown chemicals into young veins. Each bed is equipped with a large loudly ticking clock at its head. I notice that some of the kids are missing limbs or digits. Others bear eye-patches or harsh facial scars or terrible burns. A tall thin man in a white coat and spectacles reflecting blind tungsten light approaches the bed of an adolescent boy. There is no arm protruding from the boy’s crooked right shoulder. Mechanical insect voice crackles from between the doctor’s cool grey lips: “Excellent news, young man. We’ve found a donor. You’ll be back to normal in no time. Just as God intended.” The boy’s face turns ashen and he erupts in a terrified shriek: “Noooo! No no no no no noooooo!!” The grey-eyed cop at the doctor’s shoulder: “Got your work cut out for you here, Dr H. How you find the time to serve your country so thoroughly I’ll never know, but there’s a couple of spare parts out back could use your maintenance.” A weak smile tugs at one side of the doctor’s perfidious mouth. “When the good will is invoked, there’s time enough for all things, dear boy.”
Five: Elsewhere in the same institute a long time ago. A beleaguered-looking nurse her face gaunt and grey eyes reddened is preparing to leave for home at the end of a taxing shift. A well-dressed man in his fifties with the comically podgy face of a TV comedian attempts to console her, childish mischief illuminating his red face: “Nurse… Kinney is it? It seems you could do with a new focus in your work. It so happens I’m putting together a special project of my own here at the Institute and I need a dedicated and professional staff. Conscientious sorts like yourself indeed. Interested?” Without looking at him she replies in a petulant tone: “Sorry, Professor Morrow. I’m afraid I won’t be of much use to you. My plate is well and truly full at any rate.” “Well, be that as it may, I…” “No, you’re not hearing me, I don’t have time to discuss this.” The man’s eyes widen stretching his face into an absurd caricature of enthusiasm: “Time? Why, my dear, that is a coincidence for that is precisely the problem that my work is geared to address. In the long run that is.” He flashes a grin of yellowed tombstone teeth. Uncharmed, the nurse exits without another word. The Professor sighs sadly then shrugs, chuckles to himself. “Plenty more Angels in Heaven…” His wheezing breath harbours a storm cautiously voicing its way into existence.
Six: An enclosed play area. Sandpits, ball swamps and toys of all descriptions. The Professor is seated upon a plastic chair and makes notes as he observes the children at play. A few of the children are amputees, others with less obvious injuries or deformities. The Professor makes no special provisions for the more gravely handicapped. “Now children, did you all remember to do the homework I set you, hmm?” Illicit excitement sparks across the juvenile faces as each one produces from their pocket a smashed wristwatch. The Professor’s animated head bobs up and down repeatedly like that of a novelty nodding dog his face afire with paternal pride. “Excellent work my friends. I think we’re ready for something slightly bigger. Now, who’s heard of the Minkowski Museum?” Those with arms reach enthusiastically for the ceiling.
Seven: Darkness. Then three small handheld candle flames picking out detail. The innards of a large circus tent circa 1910. Freaks of all varieties sleep in their filthy cages. Three geek children make the rounds tossing steel bowls of tepid slop into each cell for the freaks to eat. As the freaks gobble hungrily at the steaming swill, the kids huddle close to one another whispering illicitly. Phosphorescent faces stab at my psyche with remote lances of recognition. Ennui and Pink Pussy garbed in drab rags chattering in the languid drawl of the Deep South: “So, what’s the news?” “Yeah, we got us a plan to blow this here shit-fest or what?” The third figure turns her young face to the light her dark Latin features a mirror image of Pylon a foreign animalistic fierceness simmering in the bronze skin and proud bones. She taps one side of her long nose with a greasy finger and growls from low in her throat, a voice rich with Mexican gun smoke, an unsettling canine rage behind the words: “Siga la perro extraviado.”
The pimple-faced boy’s hand on my shoulder turns me from other time tracks. Rictus fall from siren hands into transparent things. Flushed foreign amber of every shackle. Time as the landscape dubs black hair and native dogs. Pointed thumb here are names of sentient shadow. No family spirit indoors on rainy drained mirror. Shit-fest done the Muskrat gutter. Something we fancy into the bowels. Claws hailed from English filth. Can’t even imagine opulence against warm somewheres. Smoke billowing at shattered mouth. Others with vacant square god looks on hieroglyphs of spoiled black ground. Kids swindling with torn mesh arrange the clocks and calendar formation. Selling out the throng in affected comely goddess. Cunt-hole immune system that’s been at this crude analogy we speak. Lapping livid lips for the bowels of stellar madam. Old ball on tarmac teeth. Themselves in broad late centre. Pylon grips wily old weapon at the savvy fun-button. Music plays at her silky heart weeping to a forgotten sky …
setting sun always setting finds our tired feet aching across an old sandstone bridge. Spread out before us another bridge and another bridge and yet more and more bridges beyond the faded viaduct running parallel against forlorn estuary mist. The pimple-faced boy flicking a switchblade in one hand the other fidgeting at the torn lapels of his blazer. Seems I dig out an old turd of memory from the bleeding rectum of the universe:
“Did we hang out? Back in school?”
A smile older than time narrowing his sharp eyes. “It’s all the same, guv. I was waiting in other faces, other names. All schools is every school just like all cities is the same city, you savvy? Every grimy town same old industrial ghosts same old vacant hustle-bustle centres and secret shadows the same friends the same enemies the same old towers smokestacks factories broken warehouses and dingy tenements. The smoke don’t choke the folk in on the joke and here’s why …”
Soft hand pointing to the nearby traintracks where a heavy black train thunders past … my life in all its boundless possibilities spread out in infinite dimensions … I am viewing my myriad existences through the crystalline prism of fractured time …
army of pylons wails a lamenting love song to a sky of torn dreams – there is warm water in the ruined warehouse – Tilt worn cloth back to leaves and follow the chalk hearts when the night is too sharp – Don’t say be tender upon the cool sky – read my viscera out on your school desk – Hoisting the rag is a jar of crystals in your adolescent indiscretion – Show you mine if you linger upon that soft forgotten morning – I’m not so good you will quiver on the white page of her death like that – Don’t wait up for my bleeding paw in the desolate factory –
You thought her mouth like a child to your coloured sweater – tell me how to blow a hole in the light – Brought your court dumb to teen whispers – Imagined the light of snow promising to leave – it was the two of us at the shattered gate – Sour sky and the midnights of her notebook – little bitch you might think of me just wouldn’t freckle up my own pants – Deadly rifle shoulders made a pillow for my erect penis – I can buy my own swallowed air – Clock struck mouth suspended before the same pictures passed his feet – pointed to a cake pulling out a bat at the kill and saving countless lives – Sad forgotten colossus bestrides the wish you made for broken toys – night tears your hair like a wick when the billboards whistle – A distant sound of jet engines and the chance to pull me off – still pretty like the first bomb – Stupid to dream with those clothes? – Assume that you still like to light shards of time into me either – Sad forgotten path – Blood-red light on the road looked back at the girl – she was growing cold – coquettish silence – Words of love and your name I can pay by the sour sky …
backs of houses narrow cul de sac singing quietly of nerves splicing memory and fantasy. happy dogs off the leash soil blankets and bottles in surrender to the faintly heard melody of a distant piano. amateur theatre voices scrape shallow pots of dialogue in a sickly orange glow. rust of october in ephemeral celebration. dusty teen guitars contract the virus of despondency from psychic residue of sharp rainswept dog-walking evenings and blue dreary masturbating afternoons
percussive breath of wind through flyover railings …sacred icons rot like fish on the treacherous shore of the corporate beach …below a narcotic sky the snow imprint of two young figures …hallucinatory shape of betrayed desire …scar tissue upon her forearm … traced lightly … inscribed promise of our symbiotic future …
empty wet streets at dawn …echo of distant voices…superimposed on his memory to die among the fading film images dream fingers trace the hope-filled doll-face just made love our inert fragments myriad mannequins – “It’s me”… forgotten laughter in wet city street
shades pass boldly into government machines and whither dismally with emerging towers … red hole in the sky simmering with adolescent lusts … revolution cooks up its incendiary dreams here … the authorities can weep through my own midnights …musk stink emanates from the psychic flashpoint … red stars sliding …
Here, my mind and body torn to countless cryptic fragments, I am finally whole … Girls on bicycles are already down … men and women dissipating in the noon sky … raindrop falls on sad girl face you know … wretched adult chuckles renting young mouths suspended on suburban porches … signal to timeless crumbling textures lend my desire bare after that … the ball hits its final bounce.
I recognise the view from the next bridge. The Old Town where I grew up, now freed from time and space, expands boundlessly. The dilapidated tenements and decayed warehouses have been reborn as incandescent playgrounds. Endless concrete steps descend towards the dirty green river … Pylon’s soft embrace around my waist her lightness there sadder than October skies.
Burnt-out shell of a cop car crouches like a dead insect by the furrowed embankment. I’d been here some months previously with Iain Stewart and we’d discussed the Odessa Stairs scene in The Battleship Potemkin. I recall I’d been writing a screenplay at the time. The smell of fire and blackened ghost of the police insignia on scorched metal remind me now of a scene I’d intended to write but never got around to: An effeminate vagrant is pulled over by a particularly self-righteous policeman who upon finding a ragged mute prepubescent girl in the backseat of the car figures the driver for a child molester. Cop beats seven shades of brown out of the vagrant and attempts to rescue the girl. She rewards the cop for his trouble by setting his sanctimonious mug on fire with an aerosol can and a lighter. The kid it turns out is some kind of big shot crime boss got the brain of Capone crammed in her little cranium. She barks orders at the vagrant who staggers back into the driver’s seat bloody and dishevelled. The car ploughs over the burning screaming cop and out towards a blood-red sunset.
The journey is arduous and the kids pass the time exchanging smutty jokes and banter, their yells and giggles maintaining a purposeful rhythm for our straining leg muscles to maintain. We find our way to a makeshift apartment block built into an abandoned mental hospital armoured with four looming turrets. We enter through the base of the southeast turret, rooms and apartments spreading out from a spiral stairway of stone steps. The stairwell is illuminated by a series of dimly flickering candles set into alcoves and stone shelves carved into walls hung with slingshots, crossbows, a multitude of firearms and other weapons.
“These old places, guv. The enemy likes ‘em for a time. They outgrow ‘em and move on. To vermin like us, every empty place is a fortress, every abandoned relic a weapon to stab back into their ugly tick-tockin’ hearts!”
My clothes are soaked as though from phantom rainfall and a forgotten journey through wet underbrush. Ennui grabs an inch of my sodden shirt between thumb and forefinger.
“Pylon can weep us all to the other side of the cosmos guv and that’s for true.”
It’s then I notice that Pylon is no longer with us though I have no memory of her departure. As though reading my thought Pink Pussy reaches for my cold damp hand squeezing it affectionately in her clammy fist.
“The girl got other shit to cry over. More than one sad place out there on the causeways …”
I am asked to strip. Unquestioningly I slip out of my jacket, shirt and trousers with a minimum of fuss. As I slide down my under-shorts one of the boys flicks playfully at my exposed member with an insolent finger. A wave of crude but good-natured laughter ululates throughout the stone tower. Naked I carry my wet clothes in a tidily folded bundle. The boy named Bad Apple materialises on the stairwell and pulls on a heavy rope descending from the unseen ceiling. A system of pulleys grinds into action and a wooden platform is lowered through the centre of the stairwell until it comes to a clumsy halt at my eyelevel. A blue blazer and freshly pressed dark trousers in my size are folded neatly upon the platform. Bad Apple motions for me to lay my wet clothes flat on the wood so they may dry. Ennui lifts the fresh blazer from the platform and passes it to me in a forthright hand.
“Time to dress for war, guv.”
I retreat with Ennui and Pink Pussy in to a damp dimly lit apartment; dull odour of mildew and marijuana smoke, candlelight projecting ballets of shadow upon the thick stone walls. Posters, photos and scraps torn from newspapers, books and magazines clutter the walls in a chaotic collage. Likenesses of revolutionary figures from the Spanish Civil War to the modern day Middle East greet me from between controversial artworks, pages of text by scandalous novelists, theorists and academics. Pages from The Red Shift pepper the images with lucid slogans and dream-like epithets. A sepia photograph of Jensen Chance is framed in a lattice of dried roses and crow feathers. Promotional posters of bands associated with the contentious Crow Wave movement are littered throughout. I recognise the experimental Glaswegian noise band Domestic Dispute, vocalist Ampersand Youth staring imperturbably from beneath her iconic peroxide fringe. Pink Pussy punches the switch on an old battered TV set and a vintage 1970s blue movie flickers into view. The two adolescents laugh gregariously at the explicit images, outmoded fashions and archaic production values. With a dust-caked cocktail shaker he has retrieved from a grimy knapsack, Ennui prepares a cocktail of unknown spirits into a mixture he calls ‘Ampersand’s Fist’. The concoction is of a milky brown colour with the consistency of cold white tea. We down the drinks in single gulps the taste sharp and bitter like distilled nitrogen.
With the onset of fatigue we begin to doze off huddled together in our musty sleeping bags the red sun still visible through a gap between frayed curtains. To my side I notice that Pylon has returned and lies sleeping soundly the book with the red cover clutched to her chest dark eyelids flickering with the violent beauty of unknown dreams a voice light as a noon dust murmuring from between her proud lips. With delight in my lap it is no surprise that her words are lost to me lacing the volatile atmosphere with pacifying threads of melancholy desire. Silence flows from her wounds … feel the storm in flaking walls and a sad message go softly … her face dissolving while the picture is made … blood flowers pretty as the first bomb …
Dawn comes with a swift breakfast of tea and beans heated over an iron stove and the sour brackish smell of polluted rivers. Pylon has shifted outward and away to other avenues but I have cherished her unwavering gaze.
We are packed and primed for war. The turrets have delivered us to the centre of this infernal landscape; a dead Ferris wheel silhouetted like a rusted steel spider web against the crimson sky. Pink Pussy unsheathes her softball bat and swings at a phantom ball.
“This is what we might be callin’ the frontline, guv. A whole shitload of faces, a shitload of names pass in and out this way and not all of ‘em’s good. We’ll be takin’ the heat outta here. Time to make like the red ball and redraw the battle lines somewheres closer to where the enemy sits and shits, eh? We gotta make that somewheres real risky for a fat cold crab to start click-click-clickin’ its cunt-clippin’ claws!”
A breeze whistles mournfully through the big wheel’s oxidised joints. Beyond, the clock-bound world trembles in its odious armour of hidebound hierarchies. A thunderhead of adolescent savagery brews at its boundary, poised to burst in a hail of iron fists. Spectral adolescent shapes leak like oil from remote urban shadows, stoic young figures erect and attentive, eyes raised towards that steel disc. Sad winds shift other memories, machinery of fire over pubescent wails, tiger heartbeats drumming as the chant echoes out across the scarlet horizon:
“DOG-STAR! DOG-STAR! DOG-STAR!”