Short Story (Part 5 Finale): When The Tide Comes In

In our last installment Aphelia was downed and stranded in the no man’s land of the battlefield where she encountered one of the enemy who showed her a strange mercy. Taking Theran’s lifeless body with her, she finally reached the embattle company of soldiers who are waiting for the artillery barrage to open up an escape route from the hill where they’ve dug in.

So a warm welcome to you dear Readers. It was a push, but I finally just sat here and bashed away at the keyboard until some kind of ending materialised. It represents, at the least, some sense of closure to this little escapade. It’s not quite what I expected or wanted, but instead took a life of its own. Whether that’s for the best I don’t know, but as with many literary works it probably needs several re-drafts before it comes to fruitition.

For now, all I can say is that if it entertained some of you out there, then it was worth doing.

And if you have no idea what this is all about, you can go back and read the previous parts here:

  1. Short Story (Part 1): When The Tide Comes In
  2. Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In
  3. Short Story (Part 3): When The Tide Comes In
  4. Short Story (Part 4): When The Tide Comes In

Now, without further ado, the finale!

(PS – sorry if there are a few typos. I almost certainly missed a few in my push to get finished).


5

Hear that?” asked the soldier next to her. Aphelia cracked an eye open, the pain in her neck and shoulders a relentless dull ache even after her rest. From afar the concussive blows of raining artillery thudded through the expectancy. The soldier stood up and went to join his sergeant. Together they stared out over the barricade into the no man’s land between the entrenched hill and the horizon.

“You think they’re coming?” asked another soldier hopefully.

“They’re trying to move up from Pallasad,” Aphelia answered.

“Even if they do, I don’t know if we’ll make it through the gap,” said the sergeant, lowering his binoculars and looking down at them. “They’re certainly putting some serious ordinance down though.”

“Better chance than staying here sarge,” said the first soldier beside him.

“Probably,” muttered the sergeant. He climbed down, took a breath and bellowed. “Listen up and pass it on! We’re going to make a break for it in the next couple of hours. The artillery are making a passage for us. Command says to wait for the signal. If you’re not ready, we leave without you!”

Aphelia listened to the men bustling about even though they had nothing to prepare. It was, she reflected, simply a way to take their minds off of waiting, just as the ‘funeral’ for Theran had been. She had resisted at first, but the sergeant had patiently explained that there was no way they could make a run for safety with a dead body in tow. In no uncertain terms he told her that she needed to see sense, and that they would give him a warriors send off.

Just as they had done for dozens of his own men.

“This hill,” he had smiled sadly, “Is a graveyard. He’ll be as safe here as anywhere.”

Aphelia had relented and now, as they waited for the flare to go shooting into another clear cold night, she stared at Theran’s tags dangling from their chain. Inscribed in the tiny metal rectangles was his name, blood group and his service number. At the bottom it also stated his religious affiliation. Aphelia rubbed her thumb over it and wondered why he’d never said anything about being a believer. Oddly he’d never seemed enthusiastic about the Cleric’s exhortations. Perhaps he had not shared their faith in a final, sudden deliverance.

And the truth was that she would never get a chance to find out.

Brooding about it wasn’t going to help, but in the chill of the trench there wasn’t anything else to do. So she waited for the flare to go up. It couldn’t be much longer. With a huff she got up and joined the sergeant, standing up to get a view out across the plain below.

“What’s taking so long?” she asked.

“You hear that?” the man asked her. He had an odd expression on his face and she shook her head.

“No.”

“The artillery isn’t firing.”

Aphelia frowned. He was right, and she hadn’t noticed. As she read the expression on his face, she read the fear that was in his eyes. The artillery wasn’t firing, and there had been no signal.

There was nothing out happening out there..

“Oh shit,” she whispered.

He nodded and took another looked with his binoculars.

“Aren’t you going to do anything?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, his voice strangely calm. “I’m going to sound the alarm.”

“What?”

He lowered his binoculars and looked at her. “They’re coming.”

“Who? The support?”

“No,” the sergeant shook his head, a sardonic smile on his face as if she had cracked a facetious joke. “The Tide of course.”

*  *  *

The horde was a frenetic carpet of impish mayhem surging up the hill, manic and unrelenting. The small bodies simply absorbed the withering hail of fire from the gun nests and rifles. Aphelia stood beside the sergeant with a rifle from the spare supplies and fell to firing, reloading, firing. On and on it went as the horde pushed came closer and closer with their cackling, grinning faces.

Over her head the mortar teams launched their deadly projectiles again and again, the whistle of their trajectory became blisters of light and thumps of dirt as the explosives tore the into the masses on the hillside.

Wouldn’t the damn things never relent?

She had seen them attack Bastion like this, but their numbers were easily dispersed and broken. They had often relented before losing themselves completely, but now there was no end to them. The creatures were without guile, and came en masse without any other plan than to simply swamp the defenders. But the disarray often left gaps in their formations so the waves came staggered, like the waves of an ocean, over and over until the high tide began to recede and the numbers dwindled.

Yet they were persistent, not more than a dozen feet from the barricade and falling over themselves and their own dead to reach her. Another empty clip. They were at the barricade. Reloaded, and empty again, she jumped back and the line of men began to fall back from the first trench to the second, firing.

Every step back was contested, every inch spattered in green blood as the defenders slowly contracted tighter and tighter, stepping around the barricades and tightening the cordon.

The enemy did not relent, but came on wave after wave.

A cry for ammo came up, then another.

“I’m running low too,” said Aphelia to the sergeant. “How long before they give up?”

The man’s breath was coming in ragged gasps as he wiped sweat from his eyes. “This isn’t like normal. We’ve fought them off before, but they never came this hard.”

Tidlings hopped over the barricade and he shot the first, stabbed the second with his bayonet. Aphelia popped the next and it went spinning back over the top with a cry like an injured dog.

The sergeant shouted to her, “It’s like they’re here to finish the job.”

Behind them the mortar team raise a cry – they were out of munitions. . The tidlings fought on, scrabbling over and around the sides of the defences and even as adrenaline and determination to fight on to the last breath they knew it was hopeless. They were being overwhelmed. Once they started to fall it became a cascade, men disappearing under the waves of creatures with muffled cries. One or two saved their last grenades for themselves, and as the dull crump! Of detonations sounded, Aphelia felt the claws clutching, the teeth biting and she was swallowed up into the horde with one last scream of defiance.

Her rifle was pulled from her hand, the other gripping Theran’s tag, the chain wrapped around her hand. As she struggled against the thrashing bodies the last thing she glimpsed was the rictus skull of the Moon’s face grinning down as the Tide dragged her into the darkness…..

*  *  *

Where am I?”

“INSIDE,” answered a hollow voice.

“Inside? Inside what?” Aphelia asked, her mind floating in cool detachment.

“INSIDE.”

Aphelia felt a pulse of meaning, a notion resolving into knowledge. She was inside the Tide, within its consciousness and it was like an ocean. Somewhere in the vast expanse of mental water she floated between worlds. “How did I get here?”

“WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN PART OF THE SAME OCEAN.”

“I don’t understand.”

“WE ARE WHOLENESS.”

“What does that mean?”

“WHAT WAS SEPERATE IS WHOLE. CONVERGENCE.”

And then she felt it, a tremor in her soul: there were the high walls of Bastion, her gaze from below rising to see the tiny human figures raining down bullet and grenade. She began to scale the wall; she was attacking as part of the horde. Her mind rode the tidling as it scaled the walls, and all around her the bodies of her kin absorbed the hail of death and destruction and even in pain they did not grieve for their own deaths. They merely returned, energy and nutrient, their death sinking into the soil and feeding life.

For their life and death was part of a cycle that came from a transcendental being. The Tide was neither hateful, nor merciful. It simply existed in a desire to survive and it showed her the day when it had reacted, the day the drill had bitten into the layer of the planet where it lived. It was an organism that had lived on the planet since the dawn of life, and Aphelia sensed that it had been some sort of cosmic spore that grew like a great tapestry through the crust of the earth.

There were times when it had been wounded before, but where it had often retreated from further pain into safety, this time the drill came again and again, deeper and deeper. That cold, biting metal pain had been unlike anything that had touched it before and instead of retreating further, it triggered a surge of primal rage.

It lashed out and attacked.

Aphelia understood it then. It had nothing to do with good or evil, and everything to do with simple self defence. It had protected itself, and the more humanity had fought back, wounding it further, the more the Tide had lashed out with the responses that formed its survival system.

And for all that it was alien, it had been here before humanity and had simply existed for so long it could remember the slow moving of continents, the pain and fear of a fall of meteorites, the joy of seeing life flourish again and again after extinctions. It was a gardener, even an experimental biologist that tampered and evolved strains of beings. Behind the beast was an inquiring mind, an alien sentience that, when she touched it, threatened to lose her within its wildly different perception and thought.

It had seen humanity arrive and been amused and curious, but within a brief span of a few thousand years humanity had suddenly broken with nature and become detached in its little bubble of civilisation.

Within a few hundred years, the blink of an eye to something that watched millennia pass, humanity had come to threaten its existence. Yet even as Aphelia understood it, she lamented that it was tearing down the walls of her home. It drove forth in a final act of destruction, intent on the peace of total annihilation.

“There must be another way!”

“WE SHALL BE WHOLE. WE SHALL BE ALIVE.”

Aphelia experienced the helplessness of the defenders as a mirror to her own inability to intercede. Men and women fell and they too were absorbed. She sensed their souls, like hers, within the ocean, old and young alike. They were all here from the soldiers on the hill to her own family; mother and father, right there, so close as they floated in limbo. She reached out to say something, but instead found herself in a real ocean, the ocean of a childhood memory where she bobbed on gentle waves under the Sun with her mother and father.

Good times….

There were other memories too, but they were conflicted, like waves moving against each. Here she was in Brighton, the southern coast of England, where she was playing with the stones on the beach. But the memory of her mother and father was on a sandy beach and the realisation made her mind bifurcate; two perspectives, one soul….. A soul in limbo, and a thousand other fractal reflections echoing through eternity; everything was possible, but limited within the essence of who she was. A million different worlds, a million different situations, but there she was like a shining diamond twinkling in the sea of possibility, her facets all sides of the same person. Aphelia looked across at Ellie, and Ellie looked back, a million reflects stretching out behind each of them like endless reflections in a mirror.

Startled, both images saw the other panic and flail as if drowning…..

A voice spoke then, but not the hollow mind-speech of the Tide. It was the beaked stranger: “It’s time for you to go back now.”

With it’s words came serenity, and the part of her that was Ellie asked. “How?”

“You know the way. You have always known the way. Trust the gifts that you have been given, keep moving and do not fear.”

Ellie moved, but as she turned away a hand caught her. She turned, floating, to see herself as Aphelia. In Aphelia’s hand was held the glimmering silver of Theran’s service tags, and the dead navigator reached out to pass them. Ellie received and a voice spoke across the gulf between them: “Look after him.”

Then she was flying, tumbling, headlong like a rush to reach a door in the dark. She knew it was there, knew that she would throw it open and there would be light….

The door opened.

And she tumbled to the cold, hard floor of a dimly lit toilet.

*  *  *

You okay?” said a familiar voice. Ellie looked up to see Merrietta standing over her, a concerned expression on her face.

“Merrietta?” Ellie asked, throat dry.

“Nope,” said the big woman and Ellie took in her black garb, the little pin badges and punk patches sown onto her jacket. “You need help?”

“Please,” said Ellie, grasping the woman’s outstretched hand.

“Had a bit too much, eh?”

“You could say that,” Ellie nodded. She was holding something in her hand, and the awareness of what had just happened was making her head spin. But she was clear-headed enough to keep it to herself. “Think someone spiked me,” she offered as a diversion.

“Bastards. If you see ’em let me know,” and the big woman clenched her fist up. “Good job I saw you stumble in here. Even better that you didn’t get proper roofied either.”

Ellie nodded, getting her feet under her, then lurched to the sink where she splashed water on her face. The Tide was already fading in her mind, the war and the cries…..

But the chain that was wrapped around her hand, and she gripped the service tags hard enough to bite her flesh. They were real. She couldn’t let go, not just yet. Sensing the other woman’s gaze on her she pocketed them and said, “That’s better. Think I got it out of my system before it could take full effect..”

“You sure you’re okay?” the woman asked. She looked dubious.

“Yeah, feeling much better,” Ellie replied, and she wasn’t lying. She really did feel a whole lot brighter and turned to smile at the giantess. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” replied the woman, then frowned and cocked her head to one side. “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so,” Ellie replied with a shake of her head even as she could recall so many stories of their times together in that other world. Still smiling, Ellie shrugged. “Maybe we met somewhere before. I’m Ellie.”

Merrietta’s double smiled back and held out a hand. “Claudia.”

They shook hands, and Ellie had the feeling that they were going be good friends in this world too. “Do you like rum?” she asked.

Claudia smiled. “Who doesn’t?”

“I need a drink.”

“You sure?”

Ellie laughed. “After that close call, I think I can take just a little one.”

Together they headed off back to the bar.

*  *  *

Ellie paused at the entrance of the bar and scanned for any signs of the stranger that called himself Crow. In her hand she clutched the service tags as she held to the memories that were fading to something like a dream. With them she held an image of the feathered trouble maker. He had been in the bar and sent her into the other world where she had met the doubles of this life.

And perhaps even a double of Crow; the Tidecaller she had met was so familiar, so alike but yet so alien. Was his double a creature orchestrating a war against humanity? It begged the question of what Crow’s purpose in this world was, and why he had sent Ellie across.

It would be nice to tell Claudia about it, to confess everything, and although she found believing it easy, once she set about explaining the story would be transformed into something total insane. Right now it was inside her mind, and the tags in her hand made it real. Which also meant that Crow would appear, somewhere, at some time. He too was real.

She was sure she would find him.

“Two glasses of rum,” Claudia told the barman. He nodded. Claudia glanced at Ellie and grinned. “Make them doubles.”

A minute later they sipped rum and stared around the room, making small talk about the place. Claudia had been here several times before, knew a couple of people involved. They were the grand children of the locals who had fought the factory owners back in the day. Back then, pretty much everyone in the village had worked here, or in the dairy farms.

Then the factory folded. There were rumours of murder, and the workers unions had collapsed.

“These parties are like the last gasps of rebellion. Seems these days everyone just wants to get their face on social media and get paid for it doing it too.” Claudia threw back her rum. “All smoke and mirrors if you ask me.”

“So, do you work around here?”

Claudia gave Ellie a grin. “Only the best mechanic at the village garage. I can fix pretty much anything.”

Ellie grinned back. Of course you are.

“You?” Claudia asked.

“Just pointless office work. Pays the bills, you know?”

“Don’t you want to do something else?”

“Guess I never really though about it much.”

“Perhaps you should,” Claudia suggested. “A person needs a purpose or they’ll lose themselves.”

Ellie nodded, turning the glass of rum. It was true. For all the horror and death in the other world, there had been purpose, a sense of life’s value in the struggle. Going back to stale little office with its stale little people was suddenly its own little horror……

Claudia interrupted her thoughts. “Just a minute,” she said, heading for the toilet.

“Sure.”

Claudia wended her way to the door and Ellie turned back to the bar. “Two bee – ”

“Hello my little owl,” Crow said and cocked his head. “Do you have my shiny?”

Ellie stared at the dark orbs of his eyes as they regarded her and shivered. “Wait. Just one question.”

“Ah, you wish to know why?”

Ellie nodded.

Crow leaned back. “You probably think that you’re special.”

“Does this sort of thing happen to people on a regular basis then?” Ellie asked him back.

Crow chuckled. “Who knows the dreams of men and women? Perhaps your should be called homo oblitus, the forgetful ape.”

“I never dreamed of other lives.”

“How can you tell? Do you remember dreaming about frying an egg this morning?”

“I…..” Ellie’s voice trailed away. Maybe I did, she thought. But it didn’t matter. “That still doesn’t answer the question. Why me?”

Crow stared at her for a time, then shrugged. “Do you think that war is always so obvious?”

“Depends what you mean by war?”

“I mean the continuation of life.”

“And the Tide were the continuation of life?”

“As you saw, they are part of the life of that world.”

“And how is that relevant to this world?”

“I suppose it is a question of what will you fight for?”

“I fought for my friends.”

“And if there was a war here, a war that threatened your friends, you would fight it also?”

“I suppose I would, but this world isn’t the same, you said so yourself. Aphelia had a black and white choice, but this world is a dozen shades of grey.”

Crow grinned. “Is it? What if it is as simple a choice as life or death?”

“I would know.”

“Know what?”

“If someone was threatening to kill me.”

“Are you sure? Right now there are people in this world drilling into the earth and altering the planet perceptibly. This is a necrophilic culture, thriving only through the use of long dead things, turning their liquid bodies into fuel by which they convert more of the living world into dead objects for you to possess in your isolated lassitudes. Humanity had made the world conform to its designs, and as the whole world becomes a gilded cage where the rich and powerful perch above the many who are left to scrabble over the crumbs that fall from the table above.” Crow crossed his arms. “In the other world, you fought for your friends, you fought to the last. Why will you not do the same here?”

“You’re mad. The enemy was clearly in front of Aphelia. A horde of monsters. Where is the clarity here?”

“Perhaps it is clear, yet you refuse to see. Now, I have answered your question, and I want my shiny.”

Ellie clutched it tighter. “If I give this to you, will I forget everything?”

Crow shook his head. “The details perhaps, but the understanding? Deep down, are you the same person that went in?”

Ellie smiled. “I don’t think so.”

“And you always did know which way to go. You knew your way here, even though you didn’t want to come. You found your way back from between life and death. And now you’ve met Claudia, and you already sense that your life might find a new track.”

Ellie nodded. “I think your right. Nothing can be the same.”

“So follow your heart and fight on.”

Ellie held out the service tags. She had no need of them. In the other world Aphelia had found peace, and for Ellie she did not need the memories. She needed to act, to change. Crow smiled and accepted.

“I’m glad we understand each other. Now, how about I top your glass up?”

Ellie shook her head and put her hand over the glass. “I think I’ve had enough adventures for one night.”

“Ah, no matter,” Crow said with a shrug, then looked past her to the doors, “Ah, here comes your other half.”

Ellie looked over her shoulder, expecting Claudia, but it was Jon. He was radiating heat and elation, his hair a sweaty mess hanging over his badger mask. For a brief moment Ellie felt a stab of grief. She gasped a small breath and turned to look back to the barman.

But Crow was gone, His presence was like smoke slowly dissipating as Jon sat down on a bar stool next to her and drew her attention. “Hey, where’s you mask?”

“I must have dropped it in the toilet,” Ellie said, making to stand, but as she did so Claudia came back in holding the owl face in her hand.

“Did you drop this?”

“Who’s this?” Jon asked.

Ellie introduced them, and Jon shook Claudia’s hand. “Great party,” he said.

She shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“How about we get another round then?” Jon asked, undeterred. Together they ordered some more drinks from the barman who was watching them. For some reason Ellie had to suppress a little shudder, but for the life of her couldn’t remember why.

“So how’d your mask end up in the toilet?” Jon asked as they sipped some beer, “And how’d you two meet?”

Ellie glanced at Claudia, and for a moment there was a recollection, fading like a dream into the soft clouds of her memory. By the look on her face, Claudia felt it too. “It’s strange, but I feel like we’ve known each other years,” said Ellie.

“Yeah,” said Claudia, holding out the mask. “Perhaps it was just destiny, eh?”

Ellie smiled, taking the owl visage from her. “Yeah, something like that.”

And in the back of her mind, Ellie swore that she heard the rustle of feathers, like a bird taking flight.

Perhaps it was a crow.

Or maybe an owl.

The End


Well, that was a mission and a half – I hadn’t intended for it to end up like some kind of novella but that’s just the way it goes.

At this point I’m just glad to have finished, and now I can spend a little time thinking about what was right and what was wrong, but that’s a post for another day. It could certainly do with a proper edit – again, thank you to the guinea pigs who read through this draft.

Right now, I think it’s time to finish the edits to Red Star Rising and then I’ll try and get the reworking of the Mind-Thistle Run to you. I’ll also look to add a tab where roaming internet travellers can access the back catalogue of stories.

Anyhew, if you made it this far, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read through.

DJC

© 2020

Short Story (Part 4): When The Tide Comes In

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Part 4 coming in. Sorry for anyone waiting – doubly so because this is actually going to be the penultimate chapter. And I know that it’s more than a touch unpolished. Ultimately it’s more like getting ideas down for later. This story likely needs development in terms of plot and character, but as some would have it, “no work is without merit.”

So if you haven’t read the previous parts, you can check ’em here:

  1. Short Story (Part 1): When The Tide Comes In
  2. Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In
  3. Short Story (Part 3): When The Tide Comes In

Not sure what people make of it. Constructive criticism always welcome, or perhaps you’d like to see it in a more developed form? Let me know in the comments.

Cheers.


4

Aphelia looked down at Theran and smiled sadly. Shifting him had been like trying to move a sack of rocks. Now he lay on the grass pale and still, a piece of shrapnel lodged in his temple. There was not a lot of blood beyond what had leaked onto the sheepskin collar of his flying jacket.

She’d lost people before of course, they all had, and she had grieved for them, standing in the biting cold of the airfield as they saluted those killed in action. Last night they had lost at least four more squadron members, yet losing Theran was different. They had been so close, had loved each other certainly even though they had never been lovers. There was a partnership that went deeper than desire, and Aphelia wanted the empty space she now found insider her to be filled with something that reflected that; loss, rage or something, but instead she was suffused with a cool, calm melancholy.

Perhaps it was because she was a long way from safety, and a part of her had sealed it away until she could release it. So instead of digging for grief, she had instead laboured through the quiet of the night to haul the man from the downed biplane – she still had no idea how she had managed to land the thing without flipping it tail-over-engine – and when done she had slumped over him and passed out long enough for the sun’s light to touch her.

With the dawn there was warmth; not enough to remove the biting chill of night that still clung to her bare face, but a brightness that entered her soul as she looked up. Climbing up onto the wing of the downed plane she looked over the distance to the far, snow capped mountains and just for a moment there was nothing in the world but herself and the rising Sun, the pale sky ripening to a deep blue as lone clouds scudded along in the early breeze.

That was when she also been able to fully appreciate the scenery all around her. In the light of day it had taken her breath away despite being far into what must have been enemy territory, but also far beyond the retreating battle lines. This was the Tides land, a land that had been pounded with artillery, bombed and flamed and scoured until the troops and tanks had been pushed back by sheer weight of numbers. But of the scars, there was little beyond the dimples of craters now covered in a new skin of green grass, shoots and foliage. There were trees that had survived, not mere burnt skeletons but which were whole and budding! The land was repopulating with foliage like scar tissue growing over old wounds and bespeaking recovery.

Turning around she looked upon Theran. He lay on the grass as he had before, his still form clearer now that the Sun had risen, and all around him amongst the green she saw little white flowers pushing up and opening.

Aphelias, her namesakes.

The first flowers of Spring.

*  *  *

Despite the flowers, despite the beauty, Aphelia couldn’t stay. A part of longed to just sit down and stay, yet the fighting spirit in her wouldn’t allow it. The enemy would find her in the end and then she would be killed. So instead she would strike out towards the entrenched battalion who couldn’t be more than a dozen miles from her location.

She would take Theran with her, so set about building a sled to carry his body. There was splintered wood from the airframe, and the undercarriage had come away in one piece as the plane hit the dirt. Perhaps she could wheel him away.

As she worked the land was tranquil and quiet, so it was a surprise to her when she was disturbed by the sudden arrival of a trio of strange creatures. They were centaur-like, but their bodies were more bovine than equine, built more for labouring than for speed. Their torsos were covered in a rough, brown hide that bore long, multi-jointed arms in three pairs. Upon seeing her they emitted snorts and whistles of surprise, but they did not attack. In fact, they seemed more annoyed at the presence of the downed aircraft and quickly became engrossed in inspecting the biplane, prodding it and testing it’s resilience as they communicated to each other with shorts grunts.

Perhaps she could slip away…… but she wasn’t finished building the sled.

At that moment the creatures reached a consensus and suddenly attacked the biplane with co-ordinated vigour, pulling it apart with frightening ease. They ripped through the canvas and tore the wood frame to splinters. As they did so Aphelia dragged Theran’s body clear in fear that they might perpetrate some similar atrocity, but the act attracted the attention of one beast which trundled towards her.

Aphelia stood her ground. She would be damned if she would leave Theran’s body to the carrion things of the Tide and immediately drew her knife, fearing to use her pistol because of the noise. As the thing came closer she waved her arms and shouted, trying to shoo it away. It paused, and the three yellow eyes blinked in surprise. It snorted and grunted and reached forward, not for her but for Theran’s body. She slapped its grasping hand away, and the creature emitted a snort that sounded like annoyance. It’s three eyes regarded her, then poked a finger at her, grunting. She backed away, pulling Theran with her.

Still the creature came on, treating her as a hindrance rather than a threat. As it reached out she slashed at its arm with the knife, but the skin was thick enough to absorbed the cut, so instead she drove it full force into the hide bound arm. The creature bellowed and slapped her away. The blow was light, and she was pumping adrenaline as she screamed and charged, swinging and stabbing. This time the blow knocked the wind out of her and she crumpled to the ground, with a sob.

She wanted to shout, wanted to stand, but could only wheeze out the words, “Stop…. Leave him alone….”

The beast had picked Theran up with ease and was inspecting the deadman, almost muttering to itself. Aphelia drew the pistol now, aimed at the creatures lower chest and squeezed off a pair of shots.

The thing squealed, dropping the dead body and backed away, its hands touching the wounds as it stamped its feet. Yet, to her despair, it appeared to be relatively unharmed, and the other two were now coming to the aid of their companion.

It was the shadow that passed over them all that saved her. The three creatures paused, and everyone looked up at the wheeling carrion mount of the Tidecaller. It circled with avian grace and swooped down, landing lightly with a hop. It looked like a giant crow, and as it fluttered its wings and bent its head down, the Tidecaller dismounted, barking an immediate command that made the three beasts back away.

Aphelia watched him approach. He – if such a thing could be called a he – was robed in feathers like a cloak, their colour shifting from black to green to purple. Woven amongst it were thin vines sprouting small shoots and flowers. In a gnarled, feathered hand he bore a wooden staff while his face was as much a crow as the great carrion mount he had arrived on.

“You?” gasped Aphelia, the fuzzy image of the stranger in her dorm rising to her mind. But the creature did not reply, and instead cocked its head to one side. Aphelia braced herself. Was it looking at the stretcher? She sensed that it was, and was surprised when it commanded the attending creatures to bring her – of all things – the parts she might need.

Then the Tidecaller tipped his head and she understood what he was indicating: that she should continue.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. The figure said nothing.

For a moment they stood regarding each other, Aphelia feeling studied by the dark orbits of the creatures eyes. Nearby the centaur things stood patiently while the carrion mount preened its feathers. The Tidecaller cocked it’s head. Was it amused? It gestured with a hand for her to continue, and in the absence of anything else Aphelia worked to finish lashing the sled together.

The worse thing about it was not a feeling of threat, but rather the sense that she was a child being observed by a teacher, as if this thing were going to grade her efforts. Still, it didn’t take her long to get it sturdy enough to bear Theran’s body, and lashing the harness she’d made from the parachute strapping over her shoulders she looked to the Tidecaller who nodded and gave a whistle.

In response the centaur things returned to breaking down the plane and the Tidecaller beckoned for her to follow, dismissing his mount with a gesture of his staff as he lead the way at a walk. The great carrion mount cawed with blood curdling fervour and took to the air with great beats of its black wings.

Taking a deep breath, Aphelia followed her strange intercessor, all the while wondering why this creature was taking her towards the entrenched soldiers….

It’s enemy.

Her comrades.

All she could think was that there was some sense of honour in the thing, some intellect that guided its actions in an alien manner she couldn’t understand because if the situation had been reversed she was sure that no mercy would have been given.

It didn’t matter. They would still be enemies, and whatever boon this thing perceived she deserved would not stop the war. So she trudged on, straining to haul Theran’s body over the grass as she promised herself that she would still fight to the death for humanities survival.

The march was hard on her neck and shoulders, but finding a rhythm she pushed on through the landscape as the day passed. Several times she heard the approach of creatures, some of them oddities like the centaurs, others equally strange and some mere tidlings, frenetic and giggling. But the Tidecaller waved them away, and the beasts would fall back and continue on their way without another word. Hours later, as the Sun arced overhead, they reached a strip of land bearing the clear ravages of conflict. On one side fertile grass, on the other a barren, bare earthy….

Like a border between two worlds, and perhaps that was why the Tidecaller stopped short of the divide.

Aphelia almost walked straight into the creature. With aching muscles she straightened and looked to where he was staring. Far off she could see the hill, the matchstick fortifications and the little ants toiling to reinforce their position.

The Tidecaller turned to her and tipped its head before walking back in the direction they had come.

“Thanks,” Aphelia muttered, “I guess.”

She watched the figure strolling away, wondering at the land of greenery and sunshine that was its domain. Envy curled inside her, because all she had ahead of her now was a trek across a blasted landscape. As she picked up the sled once more she heard the Tidecaller whistle once again, a high, piercing note.

She spared the thing not another glance, even when she heard the far cry of his carrion mount. Had it been shadowing them the whole way? She shrugged mentally and set her mind to the task at hand. She set to the burden again, noting the worse thing about taking a moments pause was how much heavier it felt when you started up again. Aphelia took a deep breath, and trudged towards the distant hill.

From somewhere behind her she heard the rustle of feathers and the caw of the Tidecaller’s mount as it landed, and all she could say to herself was, pity the bastard couldn’t have given me a lift.

*  *  *

The Sun was well on its way to the horizon as Aphelia pressed on through the pain and cramp in her neck and shoulders. It had produced a tight headache and terrible muscle pains, but she wouldn’t give up on Theran’s body. She would hold on to it until she was ready to let him go, and so she stumbled on into the waning afternoon, through the wasteland of scorched earth. Smoke drifted across her path and on the left she saw the remains of an armoured vehicle, half sunk in the dirt and bearing the marks of the Tide’s burrowing creatures.

Her mind a blank from strain and weariness, the sound of voices approaching was almost startling alien to her ears. Then the realisation: human beings! She stumbled, finally, as much from relief as exhaustion. The entrenched soldiers had sent out a patrol to meet her and they immediately took up the sled between two of them, while the other two draped her arms around their shoulders and bore her weight.

Into the gathering twilight they shuffled back towards the Hill as the Moon peeked over the distant horizon, a giant mottled peach.

Later, under it’s pale glare they would bury Theran in the makeshift graveyard on the hill and Aphelia, too exhausted to weep, would fall into a deep sleep, Theran’s service tags wrapped around her hand.

End of Part 4


If you’ve made it this far you must be digging it, and so all that remains is for you to move straight on into the finale, Part 5: When The Tide Come In

Peace.

DJC

Covidoverload: Thoughts On Coronaconspiracies

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The world is a bizarre place, filled with unknowable oddities and questionable realities, and adding to this is some of the strange posts that pop up from friends on things like Facebook. I’ve seen anti-vax Bill Gates stuff, the 5G effect with a side order of microchipping coming to a brain near you, the establishment’s deliberate over-estimation of deaths from what is ostensibly nothing more than a “mild flu”.

Then there’s the alt-medicine soap boxers who say that we don’t know anything about the virus so “I’ll just jump in here and say that viruses aren’t a thing” while a ton of ill informed invocations of Orwell get dumped into my feed without recourse to how power hierarchies manufacture our consent on a daily basis.

The internet has, as James Bridle says, opened the door on a new dark age of superstitions.

But don’t get me wrong – I completely agree with the idea that we can’t trust those in power, but what worries me is the impervious nature of these theories to anything resembling reasoned argument, and the way in which they invert the reality of a situation.

These ideas are literally turning everything on its head, and I might question as to whose benefit?

For example, the narrative that their grandad pegged it from lung cancer but the bureaucrat wrote Covid19 on the death certificate. Are they really trying to amplify the death toll? Why would they lie? It’s just the flu, after all.

Well, first thing is that the system is most likely underestimating deaths at this point. Cases such as care homes aren’t going into the system, at least not yet. And this isn’t just a flu, it’s way more deadly, and way more contagious, and when introduced to a medical system that is run on a capitalism business model that has stripped everything down to the bare requirements, the system gets overloaded.

(This is the same mentality as the office I worked in. Reduce staff to save money. You run a skeleton crew, but when someone goes sick while someone else is on holiday, the system falls apart).

When the curve rises too quickly, the hospitals can’t cope – then someone has to decide who goes into one of the few ventilators and who doesn’t. That would also be the ventilators that the government asked Dyson (a billionaire Tory donor by the way) to build. Meanwhile it’s clear that the EU reached out many times to the UK over this issue, but our government didn’t even return the call.

Back to the death certificates then – we might ask then where did this death certificate narrative come from? The answer appears to be that it originated from a right wing doctor who’s worried that we’re being terrorised into giving up our freedoms. She’s also an anti-vaxxer and a pro-lifer.

Once these narratives enter social media, they replicate like a virus through people’s feeds and help trigger symptoms of social unrest such as the protests in America where you can play spot the Gadsden flag.

One report claimed that after a week of such protests in Kentucky, the figures of Coronavirus infected rose dramatically. No surprises there then. Perhaps this virus is here to finish off the losers of the civil war? Let’s follow the breadcrumbs some more to the anti-governmental groups like the Oath Keepers who are ready for a show down with the shadow government of satanic paedophiles who are backed by the Democrats and who want to undermine Trump.

These are folk who have pledged whole-heartedly to the QAnon and Pizzagate stories, and when such narratives become deeply rooted you can surely believe that they are willing to manufacture the evidence to support their claims. So when someone asks “what reason do these people have to lie?” I think we can bridge the gap and acknowledge that humans are really good at lying for a variety of reasons, especially to back up their opinions in face of facts they don’t like.

And here’s a big wave to those Google researchers who spend hours searching for the answers that prove that everything they claim is true, and a big hello to all the real paedophiles in positions of authority who had the support of high ranking bureaucrats (ahem, Jimmy Saville).

Anyhew, when it comes to providing evidence that’s cherry picked, David Icke is a real master of it. He can make a narrative and find whatever information backs him up, and it can be as random and wild as you like because the internet is filled with “evidence”. It reminds me of the book Foucault’s Pendulum where the book editors are working on manuscripts from alchemists and occultist and realise that their “sources” are literally each others books. 

(Counter to this farming and framing of whatever suits your purpose, I was taught that a good scientist should always work hard to disprove a theory, and if it holds up to the rigours of testing, then you know you’re on the right track).

So here we have the strange fractal elements of the right wing in the US – the rural right wing who are anti-government and their poster boy Trump, facing off against a satanic illuminati pro-Democrat element of government while within government the two main parties are essentially different sides of the capitalist coin.

It’s so painful to wrap your head around it that it makes your brain hurt sometimes. So what these right wing folk want is the right to be free to go shopping for capitalist goods while fighting the system that is filling their supermarket with cheap goods for consumption. It’s wanting the cake and eating it without getting fat.

Oh, and making sure that the baker isn’t Jewish.

I suppose that I can at least give them credit that they know if you fight the state you’ll end up like Koresh, flushed out with tear gas and flamethrowered by Bradley tanks.

But how about over here in Blighty?

Are we going to have our liberty taken away?

What amuses me most about the posting of a hostile take-over and the end of civil liberties is the irony of sitting on your phone/computer/iPad and doing nothing but recycling social media posts – if you’re sitting at home posting on social media, then you aren’t really fighting the state: the wage slavery, the consumerist mentality, the urbanisation and privatisation of public spaces, the austerity and bare bones services while tax dodgers and billionaires drain us dry like the parasites they are. 

So just try organising an anarchist revolution and you’ll see how quickly the state deploys its violence against you to protect itself.

A good example came from a few years ago when there were several court cases brought by female activists against the government because men that they entered relationships with were actually undercover agents. Some even had children with these men before the agent just disappeared. The core of the cases were that sexual relations had been had under false pretense – basically rape.

That is the reality of (at least sections of) MI5 – they are quite willing to work against the public if that public threatens the gravey train.

On top of secret police we also have other aspects of a police state: we have the deaths of Ian Tomlinson who was standing in the street when a police officer struck him, resulting in his death. That officer was suspended and never given prison time for murder, which is what it basically was.

And what about Jean Charles De Menezes who was executed on a train? Ahem, and I quote:

In July 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any named individual police officers in a personal capacity, although a criminal prosecution of the Commissioner in his official capacity on behalf of his police force was brought under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, on the failure of the duty of care due to Menezes. The Commissioner was found guilty and his office was fined.

Fined? Just fined. An innocent man was murdered.The mind boggles.

I actually remember this incident quite vividly because I saw one of the very first reports where an eye witness stated that de Menezes was put on the floor and executed by a shot to the head. She never once re-appeared on subsequent reports.

(Side note for conspiracy fans, our current Labour leader Keir Starmer approved a decision not to prosecute any police over the controversial shooting in February 2009).

And what about the Integrity Initiative? A group funded by the Institute for Statecraft and who appeared to be a charity. A little digging turned up there address was an empty office and that they were farming lists of journalists who worked for the billionaire mainstream press. Nothing shady there then. They also appear to have their fingers in the pie when it comes to the very odd case of the Skripal poisoning – an event that has a D notice on it from the government which prohibits journalists from investigating the case and reporting on it.

A D notice is a DSMA-Notice, or a Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice that “requests” something not be divulged in the name of national security. That would be the  same D notice, one might add, that got served to the Guardian after the Snowden incident in 2013 and where they had the hard drives smashed up. Apparently the state has been spying on us, but found that most of us are just sending each other porn. Remember that?

The Integrity Initiative might also have something to do with Philip Cross, a Wikipedia editor that never takes a day off – even for Christmas – and who specialises in editing prominent left wing/socialist pages like Jeremy Corbyn where he removes information, but who is apparently nice enough to make positive edits to friends like journalist Oliver Kamm who worked for The Times. 

It’s unclear whether this is one man, a bot or a profile used by multiple persons, and it’s unlikely you’ll find out because Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia’s owner and overt fan of war criminal Tony Blair – claims that there’s nothing fishy about it even after several people posted him the evidence.

So when people invoke 1984 they usually do so without realising that the dystopia wasn’t a prophecy but simply a reality. They even bought Amazon Echo for their house and let it listen to them, data mining your life. Data is the new crude oil, after all. 

But I digress. The reality is that you’re not supposed to see the reality of a police state, and most of the time we’re too busy posting on social media, watching porn and buying cheap Amazon commodities while the media diverts our attention to the “others”, those pernicious enemies who are a different race, ethnicity, ideology or whatever.

It sows divisions between us and I might make the claim that conspiracy theories are themselves another tool to do so – after all, the jews are importing muslims to destroy white people and western civilisation! 

So yeah, I think we might consider that these sorts of stories are worth quite a bit to institutional power – it turns away public attention to something else, and blames someone else. For example, it’s possible that the 5G conspiracy originated with Trump in opposition to Huawei’s involvement in US infrastructure – essentially another anti-Chinese conspiracy – but I think the strangest element has been how you can just let the bubbling cauldron spill over as the volatile admixture takes on new and strange cocktails cooked up by the internet. 

Let’s look at how you can get Covid19 from 5G emanations.

This notion appears to arise from alternative health that is grounded in books such as Bechamp or Pasteur?” by Ethel Hume (and others) which rejects Pasteur’s findings regarding viruses as something that is transmitted. Instead, according to Bechamp, the body generates illness when it moves out of homeostatic balance due to poor diet, poor health and even those negative waves from 5G. All illness originated from within.

(Side note: Bechamp may actually have been on to something close to the understanding of the microbiome, and also in our evolutionary past virus DNA played an important part in the development of life).

From that starting point there is, of course, a truck load of homegrown variations and explanations and oh my fucking god! It’s so tiring trying to unravel the knots these people will tie you in if you go down that rabbit hole.

It’s clear from history that viruses are a thing, and have been defeated through proven methods. The fact that capitalist interests have distorted aspects of medicine is also not in debate, but the idea that the whole establishment is in league to screw you over is absurd and again turns reality upside down because the experts and institutes are often in conflict with the government – and in academic circles it’s not just medicine that is in friction with government – all of academia is conflicted by the capitalist business model and the pursuit of knowledge.

Again, the real problem is the prevalent socio-economic model that wants medicine subservient to profit and which has caused all sorts of terrible knock on effects. One that I recall clearly is tuberculosis – remember that? It’s still around – and the way in which it spread in prisons in Eastern Europe and Russia. The treatment’s price meant that supplies was sporadic, and so prisoners got only half the doses before being released (many were only held for short periods because they were not guilty of anything than wrong place, wrong time) – the result was that TB had a chance to adapt and then spread to the families when the prisoner returned home.

Thus drug resistant TB came to be a real problem.

So, the question now is whether we should refuse the academic body of knowledge of decades of research in thousands of papers in favour of a few dissident voices? For some reason the thinking is that the few must be telling the truth because they are being side tracked. Or is it that they are actually wrong and they are encouraging dangerous behavior?

Let’s have a little look at my favourite kinds of crazy, and a somewhat ironic criticism that Chinese herbal medicine is somehow backward, superstitious or hokum. That’s right, if you think it’s crazy to gargle with a tiger’s testicle (making sure the tiger isn’t still attached) to cure Covid19 then how about the alternative US remedy? Try putting droplets of bleach up your nose and in your eyes! That’s right, you can buy MMS – miracle mineral solution – and gargle with it according to Jim Humble, a man who by his own account lived with aliens on another planet.

Sounds legit, right? Oh, did I mention I just made the tiger testicle thing up? It might, or might not, be true. I don’t know.

Or how about the story that the French government had to put out a statement saying that cocaine doesn’t cure Covid19.

Really? Sounds like a cure to me…..

Well, I’ve been rambling a while now and what I really just want to say is, I get it. I get the appeal of the narratives. I myself read Icke’s Biggest Secret when I was a fledgling, and I understand the feeling of revelation, the sense of knowing something that makes the world easier to understand.

But my second thought was to go away and check the data. It was this, along with my interest in shamanism, aliens and archaeology that lead me to study anthropology. So in a sense I can say thank you to conspiracy theories for giving me narratives that were different to the mainstream, but even these narratives are not enough because they themselves mystified power while providing an ego boost. Real academic work should demystify reality, not shroud it in ever greater layers smoke and mirrors.

That in itself should tell us something about the reason why governments like conspiracy theories – because they obscure genuine analysis of power structures in favour of shape shifting, interdimensional repitilians wearing humans like space suits…… although I can totally see the appeal that some of our leaders might be inhuman baby eaters.

The reality is that our governments have handle the situation with epic ineptitude and complacency, using the media to divert attention away from the systemic flaws of capitalism and their own social Darwinist, laissez faire attitudes towards a pandemic that the World Health Organisation warned them would be serious.

Oh, and that would be the WHO who is underfunded and who was routinely ignored, not the WHO who are a front for billionaire Bill Gates so he can get you all microchipped and turned into robots. As I said earlier, not sure why these Bond villains would bother enslaving us when were all sitting at home regurgitating endless memes on social media instead of a organising a revolution for fully automated gay space communism.

Finally, and most importantly, this is not a dig at everyone who indulges in these narratives – I have friends who do, and I know that they are well intentioned, caring and concerned. They are looking for answers that clarify the world because it is reassuring to be in the know, and they hold to ideals of liberty, peace and love.

Nor are they wrong that authoritarian power will seek to capitalise on a crisis even as the global system goes into shock (and just look at oil prices!).

So perhaps it’s for the best that people have been kicked out of a rut and many have found a sense of agency within their communities, or have found time to reflect on where we are at this point in history, and still others have had their true worth revealed as they work on the front lines.

Like many who might wait for the aliens to come down, or the revolution to rise up, or cosmogenesis and angels to appear, I hope that out of this mess there is a better future coming closer every day.

Peace.

DJC


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Short Story (Part 3): When The Tide Comes In

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Continuing the story, Aphelia has a conversation with a familiar (and rather odd) barman before taking to the air on her resupply mission. Sorry if it needs a little more work – you’re really my beloved guinea pigs for these drafts.

Be sure to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t:

  1. Short Story (Part 1): When The Tide Comes In
  2. Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In

And if you want to let me know what you liked, or didn’t, then throw in a comment.

Enjoy!


3

Aphelia lay on her side in her dormitory bed, unable to sleep. Across from her, Merrietta lay on her own bed, limbs draped over it’s edges as she snored. Between them was the bottle of rum, half empty and resting on the bedside cabinet they shared. She hadn’t drunk a lot, just enough to warm her against the oncoming chill of night and put her into a light doze.

Yet the knowledge that the mission bell would ring had kept her awake, the anticipation of its chimes making it near impossible for her brain to shut down. Instead she stared at the label on the rum. It was probably one of the very last bottles left in the whole world, and the thought stirred a shadow of a memory. It flitted through her mind. There had been a bar….. somewhere. It was indistinct. There was a stranger who had served her rum and beer, but didn’t want the money she had tried to pay with.

“It’s not shiny enough,” the bartender had said.

Perhaps it had just been some sort of dream. Aphelia drifted through soft, floating memories of another place…..

She was riding in a car through the afternoon sunshine, all rolling hills and woodland. The coming of Spring was in still in the air even as the Moon swung into view; low in the sky, round and pregnant. Theran was driving, but he looked younger and as strange as he looked, the landscape itself was baffling her because there were no signs of war, no craters or skeletal trees, no blasted scars marring a tortured landscape. It was a world untouched by the hordes of creatures that had swept in relentless waves over the face of the civilised world.

It almost lifted her heart, but where she should have been happy, instead she was resentful about something. Yes, she was annoyed because there were going to some old factory and a party where she was supposed to wear a mask. She wanted to go somewhere else, but Theran had insisted and passed her a likeness of a bird. The memory shifted and she caught an image of herself in a mirror: the head of an owl, big eyes in an oval face. She blinked and looked around. She was standing at a bar lit by strings of little lights hung from the walls, incense coiling in the air and a muffled thud of music from somewhere nearby…..

Someone said a name. “Ellie?”

She blinked. The barman had his head cocked on one side, giving her a strange look. Despite the empty, black eyes and the bleached bone of his skull, she was sure that she knew him. “You?”

“Me?” replied the bartender quizzically. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Who are you?”

The stranger cocked his head. “I seem to remember having this conversation before. You can call me Crow, but I think you already knew that, hmmm?”

Waves of memories suddenly crashed against each other in her mind, a tidal collision that tossed her soul on the crest of the wave. Ellie shuddered and put out a hand to steady herself on the bar. This place was so familiar, how was it that she felt that she had been lost in some other world, lost in some sort of nightmare about a war?

“I was dreaming…..”

“A dream? Indeed,” replied Crow. “Want to tell me about it?”

The initial swell of conflicted memories subsided, like a wave pulling away from the beach to reveal freshly washed stones. Each one was a little piece of a life Ellie knew, but mixed into were other memories that she could simply reach out to and pick up.

Each one was a recollection from those eddying currents of that strange dream world….

“Go on,” Crow insisted. “Tell me what you remember of the other place.”

“It’s not real. Just a dream.”

“I thought it was a war. You’re aircraft was downed, but you survived.”

“Yes…..” Ellie wasn’t sure. She shook her head as if to clear the confusion.

Crow continued, “You remember the details clearly enough, don’t you, Ellie?”

“But this is where I belong,” she retorted. “I know this place.”

“Humour me. Tell me of this other world that you dreamed about. All you need do is reach out to them.”

She knew she shouldn’t, and as much as Crow was insistent, it was her curiosity that won over: her name Aphelia and she had been a teenager when it had all started. The first signs had been worrying news broadcasts that talked about a possible toxic spillage, but it was quickly apparent that there was something else going on. The government had a project that was digging a super deep mine to extract the crystals that lived at great depth in the mantel of the planet, drilling deeper and deeper until something bubbled up out of the ground and attacked the machinery and their operators.

The old footage had become required viewing by the time she joined the military effort, a scene filled with the same scrabbling madness, the flailing limbs and manic faces as the creatures who had engulf the biplane. They surged forth, perhaps from a hollow world as some had it, or perhaps they were aliens or the product of a dozen different, bizarre theories. The scientists had analysed what they could, and determined that the things were biological, but like nothing they’d seen before. Given their number and swarming behaviour, they had been dubbed The Tide and they were numerous beyond imagining.

The bizarre goblin gaggle of limbs and laughter had been joined by great lumbering beasts like golems of living rock that had been like living bulldozers, and a myriad of other bizarre things that digested concrete and steel, things that killed themselves throwing their bodies into the engines of jet planes while the tales of deep sea terrors like the Kraken had come to life as great tentacled beasts dragged shipping to the ocean floor.

And flying above the ever entrenching Front had come the Tidecallers, the only creatures that might have been thought to have some sort of human equivalence to intelligence. They were humanoids, shrouded in armoured plates of dark bone or bark who flew astride great feathered, fire breathing carrion mounts. Despite their best efforts, the military had never caught one of these creatures, nor had they ever attempted to communicate with humanity.

The war raged on, and after the shock of the initial assault waned, humanity had retaliated by bombing huge swathes of the tidlings, striking against the greater beasts with their heaviest weapons and searching for ever more ingenious ways to attack the creatures. Yet there had been no end to them and eventually the system became so strained by internecine warfare that it had recycled every last piece of civilisation in order to survive, turned every citizen to a soldier.

Aphelia had been a trainee pilot when the war started, and that had earned her a place in the auxiliary pilots corps, eventually bringing her into the primary force as crews dwindled. A few short years later she had arrived at Bastion which had now held for three years, its foundations apparent proof against attack from below, and time and again had survived the enemy where it had broken through the Front. Yet the Tide never relented, and the Front was a forever shrinking cordon.

“How long will they hold?” Ellie asked Crow.

Crow shrugged. “Days? Weeks?”

She wanted it to not be true, but she had been part of the fight long enough to know that it was hopeless. The Tide couldn’t be stopped, no matter how many you killed; they just kept coming. They were monsters, devils that had escaped the bowels of Hell itself.

“I prefer the term anti-bodies,” said Crow conversationally as he wiped the bar, then placed a glass and a bottle of rum beside it. “Drink?”

She nodded, silent as she tried to process all the material passing through her mind. “B-but what about this life?”

“This life?” Crow mused as he poured. “And what is this life you talk of? The life of a British urbanite? Did you really live in some small, dirty estate on the edge of the big city? A place riven with division against ephemeral enemies that you are either unaware of or cannot comprehend? A world where you can access information at the press of a button, yet still ignorance persists? It is a world of blurred lines and uncertainty, a world that surely must be some fevered dream compared to the war, where there is no need to sift through the endless flow of information buzzing between fuzzy lines: you fight the Tide, you fight for life. How could that not be real?”

Ellie stared at him, and Crow smiled. Was he right? The memories stood in stark contrast, and she was drawn more easily to those of fighting; they were so much simpler to comprehend, the people so bold and courageous in their struggle. They gave their heart and soul to arrest the onslaught. What was real was the war, the coming mission, the comrades struggling against the Tide.

And so Aphelia grabbed the glass of rum and threw it back.

Crow cleared his throat. “I haven’t been completely honest,” he said. “You see, this isn’t a case of one thing being real, the other not. It is foolishness to simply dismiss one as a dream, the other as real. What exists are mere tangents of your soul.”

“Tangent of my soul?” Aphelia frowned. “What does that even mean?”

Crow sighed and picked up the bottle of rum. “Let us assume that can accept that there are other realities?” Aphelia nodded. “Then why would it be so hard to think that your being, the essence of your soul if you will, exists in tandem with them?”

Aphelia shook her head. “That’s doesn’t make sense. If a person has a soul, then surely they have one only.”

“I never said you didn’t,” said Crow as he poured himself a drink, “But think of it like this. If you stand in a river, are you not both above and below the water.”

“Yes….. I suppose I see what you are saying, but why? Why would you show me this other world.”

“Well,” Crow replied, appearing slightly embarrassed. “There is a little matter of payment.”

“What?”

He leaned over the bar and poked a finger at her. “I want my shiny. You still owe me.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? I have no money here. We are at war.”

“Oh indeed you are. Remember that before you surrender to the inevitable.”

“I’ll never surrender!” Aphelia snapped.

Crow chuckled. “Spoken like a true warrior. Perhaps you’ll win the day after all.” Then he threw back the rum and disappeared. The glass hung suspended for but a second before tumbling to the floor and shattering, making Aphelia start awake. She looked around the dormitory, but it was empty. On the floor lay a shattered glass, and the sound had stirred Merrietta too.

“Wha – ?!” the engineer mumbled, rolling onto her side. Her one open eye focused on Aphelia.

“It’s okay,” Aphelia said to her with a sad smile. “Just an accident. Go back to sleep.”

*   *   *

The night had drawn down as the Moon had risen, full once more and there was not a cloud in sight. The temperature had fallen off and frosted the small windows of the dormitory where Aphelia, shaken by the strange dream, had briefly dozed off only to be awoken by the mission bell. The pale light glowed through the patina of ice and she saw that Merrietta had already upped and gone.

She dressed quickly and went in search of her friend in the hangars. It didn’t take long to find the ever smiling engineer doing pre-flight checks on the instrumentation, fuel and under wing mounts.

“You are awake!” smiled the giantess. Her breath made great plumes in the air. “You come back safe my little flower, dah?”

“Little flower?” Aphelia frowned.

Merrietta shook her head, smiling in bemusement. “Your nickname. It’s what I always call you.”

“Of course,” Aphelia smiled. She wondered why this had slipped her mind; her parents had named her after the first flowers of spring which were blooming on the day of her birth. “Where’s Theran?”

Merrietta shrugged. “He was standing out on the strip earlier, waiting for us. He’s eager always to be up in the air.”

Yes, thought Aphelia, he is. He enjoyed the freedom of the air, being above it all and getting a chance to rain fire down on the enemy. He still hoped, still believed that the Tide could be turned. Aphelia sighed. The fight was keeping the creatures at bay, but how long could they keep it up?

It wasn’t a thought to dwell on, especially now that she could hear the Cleric preaching to the work crews in the adjacent hangar: “….. and there will come a day when the enemy falters, a day when their numbers will thin, and if we have been too easy on ourselves in this purgatory, then what good shall it do us? We strive for our very survival! So rally your spirits! Those that do not fall will know that they have been blessed to carry on the light of the human spirit! Fight on, for who knows what tomorrow will bring!”

As the loading crew began to affix their payload, a familiar voice called out, “Ready for the off?”

Aphelia and Merrietta turned to see Theran strolling up. He was grinning with a maniac gleam in his eye.

“What’s so funny?” Aphelia asked.

“Oh, nothing much. Just that there isn’t a cloud in the sky.”

It was true, and all she could say to herself was “Great!” as she rolled her eyes. There was nothing they could do about it, Aphelia reflected. It was in the lap of whatever benevolent powers were watching over them to give them safe passage. There were soldiers on the ground relying on them, and they had their orders.

“Good to go!” shouted one of the loading crew. Theran gave him the thumbs up.

“Looks like we’re all ready,” he said. He checked his watch. “No point hanging around. Let’s get this over with, then we can get ourselves loaded up with something a little more explosive.”

With a grin, he hugged Merrietta and climbed up into the cock pit, and with one last embrace Aphelia bid the engineer farewell and followed Theran into her seat. Theran gunned the engine and the propeller became a blur. A moment later and it was chocks away.

The plane taxied to the strip and joined the other half dozen biplanes waiting for the off. Theran and Aphelia waved to the other crews as they waited for the signal, Aphelia’s leg twitching with nerves. This was always the worse part, waiting for take off out here on the strip. Once they were in the air they would be above the world and she could busy her mind with the navigation.

She didn’t have to wait long. A flare shot up and the biplanes set off, trundling down the grass runway, bumping along as they gained speed, then with a little wobble Aphelia’s stomach lurched and they were climbing up into the sky to join the Moon.

*    *   *

The drawback of a clear sky was also the only benefit: they could see you, but you could see them. At least that was the theory.

It started as an itching on the back of her neck as she hunched over her map and compass, out of the wind with a small torch focused on the details. They were on course – and there wasn’t a one in her squadron who would have doubted her intuition on that whether she had a map and compass or no – and after an hour and a half’s flight they would make deployment in maybe another half hour. But something was bothering her, and she started to scan the skies for a threat.

Nothing.

She leaned forward and shouted her fears to Theran. He nodded and radioed the others. No one could see anything, but the unease amongst the squadron was growing palpable. You could feel it, that sense that someone was watching you……

Another ten minutes went by.

Aphelia shivered and cursed. To take her mind off it she set about checking for a course correction which she knew she didn’t need to make.

And that was when the roar of flames churned the air in a blazing streak, lighting the night sky around them.

A giant avian shadow sped past and disappeared back into the night as the squadron peeled away from each other in emergency manoeuvres. One of their number was burning, the wood and canvas biplane ablaze. Aphelia craned her head and watched in horror as it spiralled out of control, heading for the earth. The crew had jumped but everything was burning, and they were nothing more than blazing candles hurtling toward the ground, parachutes brief wicks fluttering into petals of embers blown on the breeze.

And somewhere out there the great bird wheeled and made another pass.

Aphelia’s heart pounded, every second an agony of expectation as her eyes scried the darkness for their attacker, and when the night lit up again she flinched, her scream swallowed as Theran jammed the stick over and they rolled away. Her head wheeled and she saw a flash, and as they exited the roll her eyes were drawn to the plane that was descending on them, it’s crew jumping from the burning wreck. This time they were lucky enough to make it out before the flames engulfed the plane, but as the doomed aircraft slashed past on the left the fuel tank ignited.

Their own plane gave a little jolt, and she saw Theran slump forward. The nose dipped and they went into a dive that threw her back even as she reached forward to grab his shoulder. Her hand caught his collar and with all her strength she hauled him back from the controls. He was heavy, but with one hand holding his collar, she used the other to take the spare controls and level the biplane out.

Breathing hard, they were stable and Aphelia spared a quick glance around for pursuing danger.

She couldn’t see anything, but the tension wouldn’t relent and the ache of her muscles was beginning. She didn’t have long before she’d have to let Theran go, and she prayed that he was just unconscious. If he woke up in the next couple of minutes…..

But if he didn’t then she better get prepared. They were flying low now, and she needed to get her orientation. Her thoughts turned to the target. They had been quite close to the drop, and she might still manage it. She closed her eyes and breathed. They were close, very close. She had a release on the payload, and she could still make the drop.

If the worse came to the worse she might be able to ditch nearby and take refuge with them. She flew on, flinching as something lit the night, but it had dropped behind and she was moving away from the horror, skimming the wasteland towards the troops.

A flare went up, and she allowed herself a tight smile. With all her strength she guided the plane towards the entrenched soldiers. They were dug in and barricaded on a hill small hill, and as she skimmed the top of it she could see men waving.

The pain in her arm was almost numb now, but she was going to make the drop. Releasing the payload as she buzzed past, there was a moment of relief and triumph waxing in her heart.

She had done it.

The only question now was whether Theran would wake up? For all she knew he could be dead – pleasepleaseplease don’t be dead – but there was no way to tell without climbing forward, and the failing muscles in her arm told her that in a minute she lose her grip on him.

She banked around, intending to try and land as near the troops as possible. After all, there was a relief mission attempting to break through for them. If she could reach them, she might still make it back to Bastion.

At that moment the engine spluttered and Aphelia’s eyes went to the fuel gauge and saw that it had hit empty – whatever had hit Theran must have hit a fuel line or something.

She fancied that she could hear cruel laughter a moment before the engine died and she was suddenly gliding down through the night and into a no man’s land lit by a bulbous, glowing Moon.

End of Part 3


Find out just what happens as the tide comes in for the penultimate chapter!

Read Part 4: When The Tide Comes In now!

DJC

Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In

mystery-2169794_1920

Last week our intrepid party-goer Ellie met a rather curious bar-tender and found herself in a bit of a pickle as she hit the bathroom floor. The question is, where did she wake up?

(What do you mean you didn’t read last weeks installment? What are you waiting for, it’s right here: When The Tide Comes In Part 1)

And so the story continues……


2

Ellie remembered a bathroom floor.

Had she managed to throw up?

She was groggy, but the cold air blowing in from the car window was bringing her around from some nightmare about an old aeroplane. The car bucked and bounced through a pot hole. Jon must have found her and they were on their way home….

Next to her she heard voices speaking low.

“Jon?” she murmured, still half gone.

Damn, it felt cold. Didn’t he have the heating on?

Her eyes cracked opened in search of the window winder but instead found the cramped interior of a truck. The sound of its heavy engine surfaced through the haze of her thoughts as a sudden wave of cold morning air swirled in under the heavy canvas covering. The chill snapped her fully awake; she was wedged between two soldiers, and her head throbbed with a persistent ache. She reached up and probed the bandage gingerly.

“What the f – ?”

The truck bounced through a deep pot hole, nearly pitching her to floor but for the strong hand that held her steady. She looked into the face of the soldier next to her, weariness and resignation haunting his face. He nodded at her and went back to staring at the floor.

Ellie took a deep breath and closed her eyes against the vertigo rising up through the soles of her feet. There had been a bar…. the pill….. Was she still tripping? Dreaming perhaps? But it was all so real as she looked around at the soldiers, eyes glazed and staring at nothing, rifles held across laps or stood upright between their legs. No one seemed to have the energy to speak beyond a few mutters of gratitude for the pack of cigarettes being passed around like a form of communion, and she wasn’t about to refuse this small salvation from absurdity. The soldier next to her struck a match, lit up and offered her the flame.

She nodded her thanks and a moment later sat back with eyes closed against the weightlessness of her mind. She felt like a dandelion seed desperately clinging to its stalk while the wind howled and raged…..

*   *   *

It was the voice, not the name it called, that roused from the vague respite of slumber.

“Aphelia?”

Ellie stared into Jon’s face, but the schism in her mind was prepared this time. The man standing over her wasn’t the same Jon she knew: he wore a flying jacket similar to hers, his hand gripping the overhead rail as he looked on her with grave expression. Despite the knowing that it wasn’t him she couldn’t hold the name back, “Jon?”

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “It’s me, Theran.”

“S-sorry…. I…..”

“And who’s Jon?” Theran asked with a smile trying to cover his worry.

“No one, I…. I just got confused.”

“Not to worry. We’re nearly back.”

“Good,” Ellie replied, closing her eyes again. She took a deep breath to steady herself, and searched through her mind for the thread of reality that told her this was all a dream, but instead there was only a void, and she was floating between two memories: both were hazy, like dreams, and she didn’t know which one to go to any more. When she tried to retrace her steps, the place she wanted to go to receded further away until the memories she tried to coax from her brain just seemed like faint after images; she’d been at a party, with other people somewhere, and there had been a stranger in dark clothes. He had given her something and she had woken up here….

Or she had been in a plane crash and just dreamed about a party. That was the more probable explanation. As she wrestled with her thoughts the truck started to slow until it halted and soldiers began to stand, shuffling about and jumping out the rear.

“Like the fucking Matrix or something….” she muttered and opened her eyes to find Jon – no, Theran – staring at her with concern.

“What’s the Matrix?”

She frowned. “You know, I can’t remember. It’s a…. book, maybe?”

“The medic said you might have a mild concussion,” he said.

Ellie shook her head. “I don’t think that’s the problem….”

“You’ll be fine,” said Theran with a wide grin. “Which is good, because we’ll have to be back in action for tonight.

“Tonight?”

“Aye, can’t be flying without my navigator.”

“Navigator?”

“I swear, you must have bumped your head harder than I thought,” he chuckled and jumped down from the back of the truck. “Come on, it’s not much of a trek back.”

Ellie got up and followed Theran to the rear of the truck, hopping down onto a hard packed, gravel strewn road. As she stood in the morning light there didn’t seem too much out of the ordinary. The land here was a mossy heathland, purple heather and soft clouds scudding across the chill sky. The confusion she had felt was like a lurking discomfort, but every time she passed through it her mind became clearer: how could she have forgotten that she was Theran’s co-pilot and navigator? They had flown over a hundred night missions in their time together. Last night they had been on the return from bombing the hordes of creatures collectively known as the Tide when an engine failure had forced them down. They had been lucky to ditch on their side of the Front.

“Stand clear!” someone shouted, snapping her out her recollections as the truck ambled off in an arc, heading back the way it had come; it was heading back to retrieve more of the soldiery as they fell back. Ellie watched it dwindle away, passing an approaching truck laden with more retreating troopers, then she turned to follow Theran up the road –

– and gasped.

“What’s the matter?” asked Theran. “You look like you’ve never seen home before.”

They were a good mile off yet still the edifice’s tiered walls rose immense against the sky, bristling with artillery emplacements and gun platforms. The bulk of it was sunk into a rocky cliff face, and access was across a bridged chasm and through a heavily fortified gatehouse. This was the last redoubt of human courage, the hardened spirit of survival made from concrete and steel. It’s walls were thick enough to resist anything that the Tide had thrown at it, and it’s cannon barrages could pound any attack for mile upon mile, thinning their numbers with each step forward.

For a moment she stood amazed, as if she really hadn’t seen it before, but the fortresses name sprang instantly to mind, as if it had been there all along like a book forgotten on a shelf just waiting for her finger to run the length of its spine.

Bastion; last redoubt of a beleaguered humanity.

Aphelia was home.

*   *   *

Via the bridge and through the gatehouse, Aphelia and Theran made their way through the armoured bulk of the fortress for over two miles until they reached the enclosed airfields on the other side. Row upon row of assorted biplane stood waiting, engineers and crews working on those that had made it back and those that were to fly soon. These represented the last of their airborne capabilities, a hodgepodge of retrofitted civilian aircraft, trainers and purpose built scout bombers.

It was a scene so familiar that Aphelia wondered how she could have ever been confused about where she belonged. It was her workaday world, the reality she had lived for years as she and Theran bombed the advancing Tide over and over, sometimes flying three, four, even five sorties in any twenty four hour period until they bought themselves respite for a week, maybe two. Even so, the Front was a constantly shrinking series of trenches as humanity slowly retreated from the apparently unending numbers of the enemy.

The weight of that knowledge settled on her then, the nudging worry that the enemy was getting closer and closer, day by day. Yet somehow this place had become a mental fortress against the creep of an inevitable end. It’s walls were high and thick, impervious like its defenders.

So too did they had food, water and enough raw materials and manufacturing capability to last many more years. The notion that they could hold was reinforced upon them every day by the sermons of the Clerics who rallied spirits with their exhortations to not lose hope, to fight on, for the enemy must have its limits and it was humanity’s task to rain fire on the unholy creatures until those limits were found, until their numbers ran dry. It was a burden that Theran embraced with casual enthusiasm, dragging Aphelia in his wake day in and day out.

And right now he was gearing up to take them straight back out there, despite ditching in the field and with a navigator-cum-co-pilot who might have mild concussion. It had clearly caused some sort of strange bifurcation of her thoughts when she had bumped her head, but she was fine now, wasn’t she? As her comrades in the hangars hailed them with cheers she was certain the fugue in her mind had passed off.

“Aphelia! Aphelia!” roared a woman who looked like she could wrestle a bear. The ground veritably shook as the giant engineer Merrietta came running and scooped her up in her arms. “Dah! When I heard you had were down I feared the worse, but here you are with a head wrapped in bandages.”

“It’s nothing,” said Aphelia.

“Nothing? Pah!” snorted Merrietta and poked a finger at Theran. “I told this buffoon that the kite needed more work. Now he has lost us a plane and nearly lost us you.”

“Hey,” Theran held up his hands, “It wasn’t a complete waste. I managed to radio in the movement through the Gottane Valley.”

Merrietta nodded. “Dah, they are squeezing us tighter and tighter. I hear most of the troopers made it out.”

Theran smiled. “So, one plane for how many soldiers?”

“I’ll let you have this one then,” replied Merrietta and crossed her arms, returning her eyes to Aphelia. “More importantly, if you hadn’t made it back, then you were going to leave me that bottle of rum, dah?”

Aphelia grinned. “No chance of me not coming back while there’s still a drop of that left. I could use a glass right about now.”

“That,” Theran interjected, “Will have to wait until after we make a report to the captain.”

Aphelia groaned as Theran began to drag her away, and all she could do was give Merrietta an apologetic shrug before falling in line with Theran as the engineer waved and went back to her tasks with a rueful smile.

In the middle ground of the hangars stood the aerial command bunker, and together the pair descended through cordons of guards and officials, down corridors lined with bare bulbs hanging from cords. They were directed to a briefing room where Captain Nerrund sat amid a whirl of paperwork; he was the eye of a storm as his three secretaries organised, tidied and redeployed orders and communiques before they were lost to the constant threat of over-spill.

Theran knocked and the whirlwind paused. A moment later they stood before Nerrund who had suddenly become an isle of calm peering over his steepled fingers with faint gratitude.

“Good to have you back. You were instrumental to our successful withdrawal.”

“Thank you sir,” Theran saluted. Aphelia followed suit.

“And,” Nerrund continued, “I can see you’re ready for more.”

“Of course sir.”

“What about you?” Nerrund asked Aphelia. “You have a head wound?”

“Just a bump,” Aphelia replied. “I’m fine.”

Nerrund sighed. “I’ll have to take your word for it because tonight you’ll be flying resupply.”

“Fly by?”

Nerrud nodded and Aphelia groaned. “Fly by” meant skimming the ground and dropping supplies literally on top of the friendlies. While she had never missed a target, it was the most stressful kind of mission because you couldn’t make a mistake.

That, and the fact that there were Tidlings that could jump high enough to reach the plane. She’d seen it happen before: a crew in front were intercepted by dozens of creatures resembling giant, multicoloured frogs. They came arcing through the air like a jet of water, splashing over the plane and causing it to plummet. Theran and Aphelia has pulled up just in time to escape a similar fate.

“Who are they?” Theran asked.

“We have an outpost in the Chencorn Pass that was cut off. They’re still broadcasting, and the main flow of the Tide is heading past them on the east side. We’ll try and give them enough time for us to move the 7th Artillery Battery up from Pallasad and clear a path for them. So once you resupply you’ll be flying straight back out and pounding the Tide to stem the flow on the eastern side.”

“Very good sir. Who’ll be flying cover?”

“Sorry,” Nerrund shook his head. “You’ll be flying without escort.”

“That’s madness,” Theran retorted, then remembered himself, “Sir.”

“It’s unfortunate, but nothing I can do. We’re low on numbers and I need them covering the artillery.”

“But – ”

“Those big guns are sitting ducks, while you have the advantage of speed over the enemy.”

“No good if we fly straight into them. It’s a full moon out there, and they’ll see us coming if they’re looking.”

“Of course,” sighed Nerrund, trying not to bristle. “I don’t like it any better than you do, but we’re stretched and there’s a whole battalion of troops out there. I have to weight the risks – a half dozen resupply planes against the loss of an artillery battery and a battalion of men. I’m sorry, but I can only do what I can do. You’ll have to pray that it clouds over.”

“But sir – ”

“Dismissed!” snapped Nerrund in a voice that brooked no argument. Everyone stiffened. Theran’s jaw bunched and he looked like he was chewing a mouthful of bees as Nerrund added. “You’ve got six hours to rest, so I suggest that you make the most of it.”

“Yes sir.”

The pair saluted and made to leave.

“And Aphelia,” Nerund called after her, “Get that head of yours looked at.”

“Yes sir.” With a casual salute she pulled the door closed behind her and found that Theran had disappeared. She sighed, and went to find Merrietta.

It was time for that glass of rum.

End of Part 2


Check out the next episode as our heroine has an (un)expected visitor and takes to the air in Part 3: When The Tide Comes In

Hope you’re all keeping sage and sane out there.

Peace.

DJC


Short Story: Like the Buzz of Crickets in High Summer

mummy

Ever wondered if the 3D printing an ancient Egyptian priest’s vocal track to hear what he sounds like might be a bad idea? Me too…..

According to the scientific report in Nature: Synthesis of a Vocal Sound from the 3,000 year old Mummy, Nesyamun:

“Only those able to verbally confirm that they had led a virtuous life were granted entry into eternity and awarded the epithet ‘maat kheru’, ‘true of voice’14, as applied to Nesyamun himself throughout his coffin inscriptions. In these texts, Nesyamun asks that his soul receives eternal sustenance, is able to move around freely and to see and address the gods9 as he had in his working life.”

Taking the idea, and a few liberties…..

Like the Buzz of Crickets in High Summer

Dean ambled into the room, whistling as he flipped what might have been a melted lump of plastic into the air, caught it and repeated the motion.

“What is that?” asked Simone, his supervisor, as she peered over the rims of her tortoiseshell glasses.

“Little job from the unwrappers,” Dean replied, smiling. It was his little pet name for the researchers in C Block who were studying the museum’s cache of mummified Egyptians. He handed her the plastic. “The machine accidentally printed a duplicate.”

“Accidentally?” Simone scowled, examining the 3D print.

“Yeah.” Dean shrugged. “I’d just box up the first and put in the post for Dr. Read when the machine started printing another.”

“All by itself, huh?” Simone gave him the look that said he wasn’t being totally honest.

“No, really,” said Dean earnestly, holding up his hands. “Not my fault. I got Mick to give the systems a debugging.”

“Great,” grumbled Simone. She returned the print to Dean and swiveled back to her computer screen. “You still haven’t told me what it is.”

“It’s the larynx of an Egyptian priest.”

“Very funny.”

“No, seriously,” Dean enthused. “They took his body for a CT scan over at the infirmary. He was so well preserved that they were able to model it.”

“To what end?”

“Well, they think they’ll be able to simulate his voice,” Dean grinned and he put it to his lips and blew a discordant note. Simone shuddered. “What a lovely singing voice he must have had,” Dean chuckled, and blew again.

“Cut it out!” Simone snapped. “It’s giving me goose bumps.”

Dean smiled with devilish delight. “What? Like this?” He blew again, hard, and the sound rose to something like the buzz of crickets in high summer…..

*   *   *

“Can you be more careful?” asked Dr. Read without looking up. He had his face glued to a mag-light as he skillfully unwrapped a layer of bandage with his tweezers.

“What?” replied Tania, the assistant. She held up her hands. “I didn’t touch anything.”

Dr. Read huffed….. carefully. “Well some one just jogged the table.”

“Wasn’t me.”

He was about to issue a retort, but he thought he saw the corpse twitch. Dr. Read peered closer, then sat back and rubbed his eye. Just a twinge, no doubt. He was dog tired after long hours of careful examination. With a sigh he looked over at his assistant and asked, “Well, who was it? There’s no one else here?”

“Jeez, take it easy doc,” said Tania, knowing full well that the epithet irritated him. It was damn disrespectful, that’s what it was. “I wasn’t anywhere near you. Felt more like a lorry going past or something.”

“Or something?” Dr. Read’s mouth twisted up in distaste at his assistant’s casual dismissal.

She shrugged, gave him a smile, then looked at her watch. “You look hungry. What do you say we grab a bite of lunch.”

As if on cue his stomach emitted a confirmatory protest and he sighed with the world weary burden of a man who must succumb to the grim hand of natural processes. He put aside his tools and together they adjourned to the office and sat at their desks. He found his wife had packed him the obligatory cheese and pickle sandwich, and he wasn’t in the slightest envious of Tania’s extensive salad bowl that appeared to have pomegranate and seeds liberally sprinkled amongst its foliage.

They set to eating, and as he ate he felt his vigor return somewhat. For want of anything else to say he asked Tania how long she thought it would take the 3D print to take.

“I expect the tech bods will have something for us this afternoon,” Tania mused.

Pleased, Dr. Read brightened. “Amazing, isn’t it?” he enthused. “The actual vocal tract of a priest.”

“Guess so,” shrugged the assistant. “Not sure about it’s value, but it certainly makes a nice story.”

“Nice story?” Dr. Read was faintly incredulous at her lack of enthusiasm. “We’ve accomplished something never done before.”

“I mean, I get it,” his assistant replied, poking at her lunch. “But he had a human voice. He probably didn’t sound much different than any other person. What interests me is the difference in composition of the natron used in his desiccation.”

Dr. Read shook his head. “A sodium compound will vary depending on its origin.”

“Yes, but if we can identify the origin, we’ll have a better idea of where his body was originally mummified. It’s certainly not typical of the area where – “

She was interrupted by a sound from the next room. “Did you hear that?”

Dr. Read shook his head as Tania got up and headed next door. His hearing was a little weaker these days, wasn’t it? Not that he was going to actually admit it, what with his wife always nagging him to go and get it checked. Given her usual chatter he wasn’t missing much, but he supposed that…..

“Er… Dr. Read?” his assistant called, and he gave himself a smug smile. Heard that fine, didn’t he? He shouted his reply around a mouthful of sandwich: “What is it now?”

“You better come see this!”

With a disgruntled sigh he got up and shuffled to the door, muttering, “I really don’t know why I put up with – “

He didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, his jaw hung slack as his assistant turned her head and asked him, “Doctor? Where’s your mummy?”

*   *   *

Officer Perch frowned as he jotted the details into his notebook. “So, let me get this straight; you lost a mummy?”

“That’s right,” said the doctor’s assistant. “It was right here when we went to lunch, then poof! Gone!”

“And the doctor?”

“He had to go and lie down,” the young woman explained. “He was a little distressed.”

“I’m sure,” said Perch with arched eyebrows. “Not every day that the dead take a walk now, is it?”

She laughed, the sound hitting some nervous high notes. “No.”

“And is there any chance that someone could have stolen it?”

“No,” and the assistant shook her head with vehemence. “No one could get in or out without us seeing.”

“Well,” Perch replied, his frown deepening, “How the hell is it supposed to have even left the room? The window perhaps?”

The assistant didn’t look convinced, but Perch wanted to check it. The windows, however, were all shut and locked. Perch chewed his lip and considered that he was having his time wasted, that perhaps someone was playing a hoax and hadn’t realised that the police would turn up. After all, who would really want to steal a corpse? The question prompted another: “What would you say the value of this mummy is?”

“Priceless,” explained the assistant, “It’s irreplaceable.”

Perch shook his head. “That’s not what I meant. Does it have any black market val – “

He was cut off by someone hurrying towards the office. “Officer! Officer!”

With some small consternation Perch stuck his head out the door, the typical querying look of the English bobby on his face. Outside, one of the – what was he? a curator? – a curator was hurrying towards him. “Oh thank goodness! You’re…. er, partner?”

Perch held up a hand. “Colleague.”

“Ah, your colleague said you better come and take a look at something.”

Perch sighed and turned away, trying his radio. “Emerson?”

There was no response, just the crackle of static. With tired resignation Perch told the man to lead the way and together they made their way down the hall and through a door into another part of the museum. They descended some stairs and the decor became decidedly more modern and office like. As they traversed another long hall Perch spied Jenkins waiting anxiously, guarding a turning taped off with blue and white incident tape.

“What’s the problem Jenkins?”

“Better take a look chief,” replied Jenkins in a voice hinting at nerves.

Perch sighed and moved past him, then heard Jenkins speak to the curator. “If you could just wait here, sir.”

A short way down the generic grey carpet tiles appeared sullied. Sand. There was more and more of it as he moved along the hallway until he reached Emerson who awaited him. She smiled in that way that suggested she knew a joke no one else did.

“What have you got to report?”

“Well chief…..” and she had to repress a chuckle. “I can’t rightly say, but someone’s gotta be pulling our leg.”

“If they are,” Perch grunted, “Then they’re going to very sorry to learn a nasty lesson about my lack of amusement.”

Emerson nodded and lead him across more sand to an office with a door half open and a yellow drift of the same spilling forth. “Take a look chief.”

Perch poked his head in. “What the Hell?” The room wasn’t just a mess; it was filled with sand in dunes that crested across desks and ran in slopes over the furniture. The outline of a chair jutted forth like some lost ruin.

He entered and made his way – with a little difficulty – across the floor without a thought about the fact that he was entering a possible crime scene. At his passing the sand shifted from the chair to reveal something dark on the floor. Bending down, he retrieved a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, the lenses cloudy with scratches. As he pulled them loose more sand slid away and he saw something pale. He brushed at the sand, already fearing what he was about to uncover….

The bone was fresh, clotted with sand that had turned pink.

And it wasn’t just one. Perch retreated to the door as quickly as he could, dizziness threatening the edge of his mind.

“Get forensics in here and tell me what the fuck is going on!” Perch bawled in Emerson’s face. She saluted with a half grin, half grimace and got on the radio. When there was nothing but static, she shrugged nervously and hurried away.

*   *   *

An hour later Perch watched as a team in white overalls sifted through the sands. There were two skeletons, but also something else. One of the team approached Perch with a baggie, waving it at him. It had something pale in it that might have been skin.

“What’s this?” asked Perch.

“Looks like an insect shell,” the forensics man replied.

Perch perused it. “Looks like a giant grasshopper.”

The man in the overalls nodded. “Probably some kind of locust.”

“Well, where did they come from?” Perch demanded.

The man shrugged. “No idea. Not from anywhere around here.”

Perch felt the dizziness returning, and needlessly order the man to “carry on”. All of this was highly irregular, and if not for the bloody aspect of the bones he might have thought it was just a joke. But they were human bones and the two workers who’s office it was couldn’t be found anywhere.

The conclusion? To Hell with conclusions! They invited madness. Perch would stick to the stolid conviction that there had to be a reasonable explanation: the Mummy had been removed somehow – sleight of hand no doubt, he’d seen it on that show The Mentalist – and the bones were probably stolen from a somewhere……

It all sounded totally ridiculous, but then again so did the Zambian space project, but he’d been reading that there had been just such a thing back in the 60s. Anything was possible…….

He played it over in his mind again. There must be a thread somewhere, but which ever way he turned it, it still all sounded ridiculous……

“Er, Chief?”

“What is it Emerson?”

She gave him a sardonic grin. “The professor is ready to talk to you.”

“Where is he?”

Perch nodded and made his way back to C Block. In the same room as he had talked to the assistant he found a man that fitted every preconceived idea of the word “professor”. He was aged and balding with the intellectual look of an old bird.

“Professor Read?”

Doctor Read, please,” said the man with a tired smile.

Perch nodded and jumped in, “We’re in a pickle here doctor. Your assistant gave me the details, and I’m having a hard time comprehending how any of this is possible. I expect you heard what we found?”

Read appeared baffled. “Found? My mummy?”

“No,” Perch replied with a shake of his head. “We’re talking about two fresh skeletons and a room full of sand. If I were a superstitious man then I’d be inclined to believe that there was something, oh, I don’t know, supernatural afoot. But as this is the 21st century, I am not. This is certainly a ruse, and I will get to the bottom of it. And whoever thought it was funny to partake of a little grave robbing will find it less funny when they’re in the dock for….. well, for whatever it is we charge people with for that kind of thing.”

Dr. Read’s face was an expression of brittle confusion. “Grave robbing?”

“Where else would they get the skeletons from?”

Dr. Read scratched his head and looked out the window. Perch eyed him and wondered if there wasn’t a touch of dementia there. He was about to say something of the matter when another museum employee sauntered into the room, a big pair of headphones on and completely oblivious to the police officer in the room. He was young, shaggy haired and a slight fuzz on his chops. The plain overalls had a menial cast to them, and Perch watched as he emptied out letters from a satchel in the corner, then left a couple of missives and a small box. Without another word he departed, as oblivious as when he entered.

“Who was that?” Perch inquired.

“The internal mail,” Dr. Read replied, “I think his name’s Dave.”

Perch nodded, feeling suspicious now. “What’s in the box?”

Dr. Read shrugged and moved to retrieve the box. Perch watched as he unfolded the loose flaps and an almost wan smile crossed the old man’s face.

“What is it?”

“It’s a 3D model of our mummy’s larynx,” said Dr. Read, pulling out a piece of plastic that looked like a nightmare albino root vegetable.

Perch was intrigued, despite himself. “And what is the purpose of doing that?”

“Well,” Dr. Read replied, puffing up with a touch of pride, “We should be able to get an idea of how his voice sounded.”

And with the twinkled in his eye of an excited school boy the doctor blew a discordant note on it.

“What a lovely singing voice he must have had,” remarked Perch.

“Perhaps I blew too hard,” mused the doctor and tried again.

“Well, you certainly succeeded in making my skin crawl,” said Perch. “Perhaps we should focus on the task at h- “

But he didn’t get any further, for Dr. Read was already putting the thing to his lips, and a strangled noise resonated through the air, the sound rising to something like the buzz of crickets in high summer. A sudden wind sprang up from nowhere and a soft pattering of grit touched Perch’s face.

“What the f – ?”

The wind leapt suddenly and the sand swirled. Dark, chittering shapes flew through the air before him. Over the rising din he heard the sound of the doctor, a harried wail as he glimpsed the doctor pointing. Perch spun around, mind racing, and a large shape loomed out of the obscuring whirlwind.

A dark voice spoke then, and as the figure pulled Perch toward it with a clawed hand he saw where the bandages had frayed and tattered to reveal fresh, wet flesh beneath. As he opened his mouth to scream, the last thing he saw were the two gleaming eyes set in that new meat of the creature’s face, dark and ancient, and filled with malice at having been awoken from slumber.

The End….

DJC


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Short Story: A Wolf Has To Eat (Story Dice Challenge #1)

So here’s a quick story in response to the Story Dice Challenge #1 – and I really didn’t let myself spend too long on it. Somehow it all just came together in my mind, which is quite pleasing in and of itself.

wolf-4561204_1280

Well flay me alive and wear my skin like a ceremonial robe! Has it been a whole week already?

It’s actually been quite a time of it lately. I’ve been writing some new stuff, editing some old stuff and generally not letting myself get too stressed with stuff.

So here’s a quick story in response to the Story Dice Challenge #1 – and I really didn’t let myself spend too long on it. Somehow it all just came together in my mind, which is quite pleasing in and of itself.

Enjoy!

(NB – just for clarification, the interpretations of the dice were open, so for example I took “Trojan Horse” to mean getting inside a fortification by trickery etc.)


A Wolf Has To Eat

The Rector of Darrabock was surprisingly relaxed for a man with the jaws of a dire wolf poised to tear his throat out, and not just any wolf either. This black horror was the feared beast known as Smurl, a beast of alchemical manipulation and thaumamechanic engineering.

“There is no way to breach the wards of Darrabock,” said the Rector with barely a quaver in his voice.”They are infallible.”

The horror before him snorted. “I don’t have time for exposition Rector,” said Smurl. The stud-like protrusions that dotted his skull began to glow with a baleful blue light. “Witness.”

The knowledge sprang unbidden into the Rector’s mind: yes, ever were the vices of men the weakness of any defence, for Darrabock was built to withstand siege and magical assault upon it’s walls, not to withhold against the desires of the men who manned those walls. The Rector saw saw the boat pulling up to the pier, and his men assisting the comely maiden onto the landing. With her they saw only her small pet dog held upon a leash.

An illusion of a subtle making, not crude magic but the shaping of a cloak within  Smurl’s mind. The guards saw nothing but the woman and her dog as they muttered appreciation of her form; full hips and red lips. The Rector was a canny fool, they remarked, to fetch up such a prize.

So Smurl passed through the wards and defences like a blade slips between armoured plate. 

With ease.

“And what is it that you want?” inquired the Rector, beginning to sweat.

“I have come for but one of your magical treasures. Let us call it simple payment.”

“Payment?”

“Aye.” Smurl chuckled. “For a lesson taught, and folly revealed. You are in my debt Rector.”

“Indeed,” replied the Rector as he pulled at the collar of his robe and wiped the sweat from his brow. “So you intend to let me live?”

Smurl nodded with an evil smile. “Unless you wish to compound your error?”

The Rector shook his head quickly.

“Good. Live and let live I say. I require one thing, and one thing only: the winged boots that you have hidden in your vault.”

“How could you know – ?”

Smurl cut him off with a snarl. “I tire of your questions.” 

“Of course,” said the Rector, swallowing. “Let me take you there at once.”

“Excellent. Let us make haste Rector, for my appetite is growing by the minute.”

 

*   *   *

 

“How long must I be your prisoner?” ask Princess Innista of the dragon Phalagyras once more as she sat upon the cold flagstones.

The dragon turned a laconic eye upon her. “As long as the war of succession continues.”

Innista licked a paw. “Surely they must be done with their bitter murder by now?”

“Who can say?” replied the dragon with a yawn and stretched out upon his hoard. “Such are the endeavours of men, to war without end.”

Such was the ritual observed every day as Innista waited; it was all that she could do, for when she had come to the cusp of womanhood she had been cursed. During her coronation she had donned the tiara of her station, and the dark hex had been released, shrinking her body and causing her to sprout black fur. Where once there had been a princess, now there was but a lithe cat as black as midnight. In the confused panic that followed she had been whisked away by one or other of the warring factions seeking the throne, and it was they who handed her to Phalagyras for safe keeping.

The great red dragon had borne her away to the ruin of his flying keep, a great stone edifice set upon enchanted clouds where none could steal his treasure. For Innista there was nothing to do but await the day she might be allowed to return, and as a cat that burden was eased by the feline proclivity of expertly napping for long periods of time.

She dreamed of her mother, and the orchards of Heronreath.

Of her other pursuits it was only the stalking of mice and birds that brought her any great relief from the boredom of being a prisoner. So too would it provide the only luck she had ever received in the dragon’s castle, for one day years ago she had been prowling the wild corridors of the sky keep when she chanced upon a mouse garbed in a leather jerkin and leggings, booted and armed.

“Who are you?” Innista had asked, more curious than anything else.

“I am the brigand Schlondyke!” cried the mouse, “And I see that you are no ordinary cat.”

“And you no ordinary mouse. How come you to the sky keep, brigand?”

“By secret means known to mouse folk. I come seeking to plunder the dragon’s hoard!”

“Ha! You shall have to cross my path first,” Innista teased.

“So be it!” cried the mouse and they had duelled until she disarmed him with a swipe of her paw. Before he could escape she had snared him and dandled the poor fellow by his tail.

“Mercy, oh mighty mouser!” cried Schlondyke.

“And what does mercy buy me?”

“Spare me and I will grant thee whatever boon ye desire.”

“A boon?”

“You have but to name it,” replied Schlondyke, “And I shall discharge the debt in return for mine life.”

Innista considered a moment. “How can I be sure that you will hold to our deal?”

Schlondyke doffed his hat and said, not without umbrage, “I am a mouse of honour, m’lady, and you have bested me in single combat. I so swear by the life that is now yours, ask of me what you wish.”

Innista thought for a moment, then explained what she required.

That had been three years ago…….

 

*   *   *

 

Smurl alighted upon the outer wall of the sky keep, and sensing danger, the nodes in his skull began to glow with baleful fervour. He could taste the dragon in his mind, smell the brimstone of its breath even upon the fresh air without. Smurl knew he must make haste and discover the dragon’s bane, the only tool that could remedy such a scaly problem lurking within the shadowed halls of the castle.

It would not be long before the dragon senses his presence in return.

So with great bounds he crossed the wild lawns and took off down passages long forgotten, through halls where small seeds borne by the wind had taken root into riotous gardens unseen by the eyes of mortal for generations, up stairs thick with dust and through forgotten chambers filled with old books, armour and moth-eaten tapestries.

Closer and closer, the air tinged with the tang of dragon’s gold and lurking hints of a feline presence: yes, the princess was close, and thus the reward…..

Smurl was getting ravenous now.

On silent pads the dire wolf now came to the old throne room, yet despite Smurl’s soundless approach, the dragon stirred.

“Come out dire wolf,” rumbled the dragon.

Smurl stepped forth into the chamber. “I am here, oh Phalagyras.”

The dragon did not reply, but unleashed a torrent of fire. When it abated there was no sign of the dire wolf upon the cracked and blackened flagstones.

“So much for the famed Smurl,” chuckled the dragon, and made as if to sleep once more.

“Are you always so careless?” called Smurl mockingly. The dragon hissed and cast about until Smurl stepped from behind a mighty pillar. “You should have a care dragon, for I am indeed the infamous Smurl.”

“You are fast, I give you that,” replied Phalagyras, “But you’re teeth are no match for my fire. Come hither and I will even give you thy cruellest bite!” and the dragon bared its scaled neck.

Smurl padded forward, his head glowing all the fiercer. “You are unwise to tempt me,” said Smurl.

The dragon chuckled. “There is but one weapon that can kill me, and you do not possess the hands to wield it.”

“Who needs hands,” grinned the wolf, “When one possesses a mind such as mine?”

Behind Phalagyras there was the tinkle of falling coin as something was dislodged, and as the dragon turned its head it beheld Scalebreaker, the only weapon that could defeat him. The mace soared, held in the grip of Smurl’s mind and smote the dragon full on the head, crushing his skull.

“Such is the arrogance of dragons,” snorted Smurl in contempt. “To hoard the very treasures that might slay them.”

“Y-y-you have killed him,” said a voice, and Smurl turned his baleful gaze upon the black form of Innista.

He grinned with wolfish delight. “So I have princess.”

“W-who are you?”

“I am the boon that you requested.”

“I requested no such horror as you,” she replied.

The wolf shrugged. “Did you not send diminutive brigand with a missive, requesting help?”

Innista nodded, still uncertain.

“It was this brigand that sailed to Nulle Isle and found me.”

“But the Nulle Isle is just a story.”

“Nay,” Smurl shook his head. “It is very real, and a place to which I was exiled until a long ship came searching for me, captained by the fabled brigand Schlondyke.”

“Captained?”

“Aye, he told me that he had plundered a dragon’s hoard to fund his venture – “

“That sneaky rat!” cried Innista, cutting in despite her fear.

Smurl cocked his head. “Indeed. He told me that he owed his life to a princess who had been bound by a most powerful curse. By his life’s honour he had travelled the lands in search of one who was brave enough to defeat the dragon Phalagyras. He showed me this letter, written by yourself, and signed with a cat’s paw. It stated that the reward for your restoration to the throne of Heronreath was land and title.”

“And is that why you have come to rescue me, to take land and title?”

Smurl shook his head, eyes burning into her.

“Perhaps you seek the dragon’s hoard then?” asked the princess, backing away.

Smurl chuckled. “One can neither eat gold nor titles, princess.”

Innista swallowed. “Eat?”

“Aye,” Smurl smiled as he padded forward, licking his lips. “A wolf needs to eat.” The nodes on his head began to glow, and his eyes blazed with the same light. “This will hurt.”

Innista had backed away until her furred ruffed up against the wall behind her. There was no where to run to. Smurl opened his jaws wide and Innista felt a sudden force holding her still. The tiara became heavy on her head, so much so it might break her neck such was its weight. Black threads like evil smoke curled from it and rushed in a swirling vortex into the mouth of the wolf who seemed to swell in stature.

She blinked.

It was gone, the malignant hex that had changed her was lifted, consumed by the black horror before her. “You ate my curse?”

“Aye,” Smurl smiled, licking his lips. “I am a hex eater, and that was a savoury delight. I am of a mind to seek the one who wove it.”

Innista looked down at herself. She was once again a young woman, and now took her leave of the sky keep astride the great dire wolf, returning to claim her rightful place at the court of Heronreath.

And none dare gainsay her, for fear of the famed dire wolf Smurl who accompanied her, his eyes ever hungry and searching for the next meal.

THE END


Well dear Readers, I hope you enjoyed. I certainly had fun writing it. Sometimes the exercise of just writing something random and free from constraint is a welcome relief.

And although I went over the 1000 words by almost double, it didn’t feel like it.

Now it might not be perfect…. but I promised not to spend too long on it, and I think the best thing about these exercises is that you can add it to a pile of ideas and recycle them later when you’re doing something more involved.

Anyhew, if you did enjoy then please let me know and give it a like down below.

Thanks!

DJC


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Story Dice Challenge #1

dice1

As we kick off February and take a quick flashback to Christmas. It’s been noted that I’m notoriously difficult to please when it comes to gifts, and please don’t buy this writer any more books!

That pile is big enough as it is! And unless you’re going to pop a very nice electric guitar in my stocking, probably best to just buy me a good bottle of Port.

However, this year I did receive something of a surprise novelty: a set of Rory’s Story Cubes, specifically the “fantasia” set. These have been quite a bit of fun. The basic premise is to tell a story using the nine images rolled.

Begin with “Once upon a time” and tell a story that links together all nice face-up images. Start with the first image to grab your attention. Use three cubes for the beginning, three for the middle and three for the end of the story. There is one rule: there are no wrong answers.

A Day Out In Brighton

Taking a saturday off, I went for breakfast in Brighton with my wife and son while I left the blog on auto publish. We got there nice and early, and to distact my son from causing too much trouble while we waited, I had pre-emptively packed the dice.

So we experimented with the set and after a trial run to get the idea, we rolled for a proper turn and came up with a story.

I liked the rolls so much that I made a note of the dice, and I thought it’d be fun to sit down and write a short story based off them.

So, The Challenge

Write a short story (doesn’t have to be more than 1000 words) comprised of the following elements:

Beginning:

Wolf

Trojan Horse

Winged Boots

Middle:

Dragon

Black Cat

Tiara

End:

Ship

Quill/Ink

Mace

I gave myself five days to write a draft as quickly as possible, and then to write whatever revisions I felt were necessary.

I’ll post the results next week.

DJC

Crumbs For Crow #4: Were You Ever Really Here?

smoking crow
© Larry Vienneau.

With Or Without You

Oh, how many times have you been caught thinking, “I wish I’d never been born?” It’s like the motto of the civilised peon when confronted with their inevitable slavery, so cunning in its artifice that the chains are mere smoke and mirrors, a world of bread and circuses filled with sound and colour all signifying nothing as they clamour for some sense of meaning.

And just what is that, I hear you ask? Nay, beseech! So throw open thine ears dear sinners, for a quick look in the mirror tells me that you know, that you understand, even if it is deep down underneath the veneer of personality that you believe is you. After all, you are the mere spectacle of personality playing out like a shadow on the puppeteer’s canvas, are you not?

No no no, dear Crow, I hear you cry, I am no mere robot, no mere simulcra of personhood but a thinking, feeling being, unique amongst billions of mortals.

And after all, a robot would just get up each day and do that same thing over and over, wouldn’t it? Like insanity, it arises with a surge of espresso voltage and it pantomimes through the rigorous daily motions without meaning or purpose.

Yet when you look in the mirror as you brush your teeth and think about the day, the working day that will be similar to yesterdays and the day befores,  you can be certain that there must be meaning, there must be purpose. In all the possible realities that could have been, yours is the life that was granted to you…..

“What’s that?” I hear the cry! The heaven’s open and a deluge descends, a pattering of  softly thudding rotten vegetables descending like multi-hued hail. Oh, do not shoot the messenger! I was not born to arrogance, merely practiced it well in the shadow of your soul’s light!

Yes yes, I hear the rancour in your cries as you wrinkle your nose at my underhandedness: “Oh, how unfair you are Crow!” Verily, how can any compete with the reality of such false narratives when we all know the world is a complicated onion of meaning and purpose, a society of spectacles that intersect our little bubbles of reality where they glide into one another through the medium of online media…..

Where we are nothing more than echo chambers to our own conceit.

Yes, even I fall victim to my own mind, stabbing myself and cutting away like a sacrificial victim until I peel the skin of perception back and wonder at the raw flesh exposed to a new reality.

“And what reality shall we pretend is real today, dear Crow?”

Shall we pretend that the Cosmos may grant gifts of fairness upon the masses? Shrug if you must, but as you wonder at the life you are given, and it’s apparent lack of justice, harmony and common sense, you must embrace the concrete – YOU were chosen, YOU were given a life.

So what more could you want? Check your privilege humanity!

Don’t sit there in the doldrums and complain, for this really is a special place despite the way the darkness might settle on the land. You are here, and you should relish it as such because, if one were to pick apart the cloying bullshit of quantum physics, you might very soon conclude that you were never really here in the first place!

“But Crow, here I am?” I hear you say.

I? Is the “I” not a construct of the shared reality that you inhabit? One I for how you see yourself, one I for how others see you, and one I for how you might really be. The three I’s of perception that has granted you the misguided belief that in the intersectionality of perceptions you are somehow an event in the Here & Now™, and that’s where you’re going to stay, not delving into some prosaic and mystical origin of time and space, the beginning place that’s nothing more than a pretence of nostalgia looked at through a kaleidoscope of “peak reality”.

It shifts in broken beauty that has nothing to do with truth.

And you wonder what it might be like to let it go? Like a balloon, rising, rising….. what will happen if you let go? How far is it to fall?

I too was once like you: mortal, dependable, stricken with a burden of purpose and meaning. I had a past and an identity, until I was driven forth from the incestuous comfort of belonging. Nor was it as simple as a commitment to something as disingenuous as truth, for what is truth but the footfalls of the Fool beyond the moment when he takes his first step?

“Ah, Crow,” you said, “Does the first step not crossed the world?”

Spare me. I’ve heard it before….. somewhere.

Would that we could all stand atop the mountain, with one foot outstretched and ready to plunge into the canyons of enlightenment, eh? For what did you find at the peak? Just empty air, while down there in the layers of soil and rock is etched the very crystallisation of history.

Your foot sinks into the rich soil of the past, marks it and thus is your position within the world noted for the millennia to come, yet you will not be present to see the lasting effect of this moment. It is like a coalescing butterfly flap that churns the world to chaos, but you will be gone.

But at least you have your hindsight, a short kind of memory that a mortal has for events of one lifetime which makes it seem like it was all so many golden days, those halcyon moments untarnished by anything like the affliction of personal responsibility that you’ve now burdened yourself with.

So you wonder to yourself if it would have made much difference if you’d never been there in the first place? You can flip the switch, like a light bulb or an electric chair, and bright illumination springs to mind as you wonder what makes you hold to the past so dear. I see it in your eyes, that you believe that you possess it. That in itself is the laughable notion. The past belongs to no one, is subject to only the distortions of the present. It wasn’t how it looks, it didn’t feel like it does now. Was it really more intense? Did it have less context?

But you were never really there, were you?

And of course you tell yourself that without it you wont be something, that you wont be you if you sacrifice that splinter of history caught under your finger nail, that you won’t be that special you who thinks and feels and is the eye of the storm. Ha! Special. Is that what you think you are? Oh indeed! The individual, the keystone of everything, the one, the neo, the one….. over and over we tumble into our own minds, a maelstrom of champagne bubbles popping to no purpose beyond God’s hilarity.

Why is it that only hilarity ensues when you claim that you matter?

Excuse me while I puke, for I seem to be a little dizzy, a little light headed……

Get a grip. This isn’t just an exercise in getting the fuck over yourself. You might think that you’ve cracked the whole “you can make it if you try stuff”. But when you’re licking the icing off the top of the cake, are you reall just licking the boot that stamps on a human face over and over, forever.

How does it taste?

“Why do you even pretend to care, dear Crow?”

Hahaha! Why? Is it possible that you have conceived of the pin prick? The needle that is about to pierce the bubble of your reality? I poke not for my own pleasureat your discomfort! Think now upon the very notion of how many universes exist without you, without your footprints in their history, without your bubble floating in their spheres!

Just how many discarded realities have you already created? How many decisions that lead to nothing, to no one, to the simple and inevitable conclusion that you perished in ignominy, that you were turned to mincemeat by the gears of a combine harvester, that you were incinerated in a freak case of spontaneous human combustion, that you mysteriously vanished while hiking through the snow laden mountain passes? Or perhaps you were the chief executioner in a fascist state who was lynched when the filthy peasant masses rose up in glorious revolution?

Or perhaps you simply fell and banged your head.

Aye, how many times a day did that happened? How many realities did you create because you perished, and how many more because you were never really there? That’s right! There are potentially limitless realities in which you died, but even more prescient are the almost infinite number of realities where you never even came into being in the first place.

I suppose that might be a comfort to some, to those who didn’t want to live in a reality where they were best friends with Tony Blair.

Or Robert Mugabe.

Or Vladimir Putin.

Yet amid the cacophony of white noise that permeates these thoughts there is a little boat of solace that floats on the ocean of chaotic interference. A thought asks “what is it not to exist?” It is not pain, it is not pleasure, it is not knowing. It is simple…. not.

So, allow me to give you the ol’ sly wink as I scratch my back side. It’s really nothing to get worried about. The universe is, after all, a big place and even the realities in which your life plays out don’t amount to much more than the tinniest of farts in an oceanic jacuzzi of cosmic dimensions.

I’m not unsympathetic, it’s just that the whole notion is absurdist comedy; what matters? What import anything? Is it hard to find purpose and meaning? I don’t care. Who knows? I might even throw you a bone. Here it comes! Are you ready? Just think, if there is a reality in which you never existed, then perhaps there is a reality in which you always exist. Maybe you are the Platonic archetype of all your other selves, the bow that breaks the wave-front of existence and all others follow in your footsteps, perhaps you could be made immortal by science and medicine, or maybe the sum of your thoughts and feelings will be preserved when they are uploaded into a permanent machine body or turned into a sentient cloud of nanites…..

Maybe you never age beyond the best years of your life and you live in that tiny percentage of realities where humanity survives until the end of time itself……

And as the serpent eats its own tail, you have to wonder if this is that reality, or if it is perhaps a reality close to you. How far away immortality in an infinite sea of realities? How far away the good life? How far away a reality where history passed by without you making any difference whatsoever?

A reality where you were never really here in the first place……


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The Dark Crystal: Fantasy, Animism & Subversion

dark crystal promo 3What might one say of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance? Lovers of the original, like myself, appear to be blown away by it, and even those who didn’t like the original movie have nothing but good things to say about it. So if you haven’t watched it, don’t waste time reading this and go check it out by whatever means necessary….

I am naturally assuming that you’re a fantasy fan at this point, and that even if you haven’t actually watched any Dark Crystal, you’ll still know that there is a beloved place in people’s hearts for Henson’s movie. So much so, that when you see something that was beloved to your childhood being revived, there is a fear that maybe it wont live up to the desires you’re cradling in your heart, the desire to see the old magic you once felt revived.

Yet seeing what little I did of the painstaking attempts to accurately recreate the world of Thra, a little light of hope was kindled, and when the time was right I sat down to watch the whole thing over the course of a couple of evenings.

And once again I was totally enthralled by the world of Thra.

It wasn’t simply the beauty of its crafting, nor the spectacular settings, nor the fantastic puppetry that brought the characters to life, no, it was also the grotesquery of the villains, the horror and subtle implications that underpinned the nicely paced and plotted story. It spoke to me at a deeper level, igniting that little spark which lives deep down where my inner child dwells, just waiting to be amazed and terrified by the awe and mystery that wild flights of the imagination can induce.

And that is perhaps why the first episode caught me off guard, needling me when I had lowered the defences that we all learn as we grow older. It was the sudden shift to horror, to a spectacle that went beyond just straight up murder to something worse. When the Skeksis drained the essence from the Gelfling guard I was…. deeply disturbed.

Because Mira isn’t just slain by physical violence (one assumes that the lack of blood might be a good reason to give it a PG certificate), but rather her soul, her vital essence, her living connection to the world of Thra is drained out of her and consumed by the villains.

This prompted visceral disgust in my gut. If one’s soul is the essence of our being, if it is our connection to the universe, was this not a crime worse than just murder? Was this not a perversion of the natural cycle of birth, life and death because her energy could not return to cosmological substrate of creation? As her soul cannot return to Thra, one assumes that she became nothing, that whatever made her unique was assigned to oblivion.

Reflecting on why I felt this way became a thing of curiosity, and two days later I posted a reply to a Reddit thread regarding the series. I offered the notion that the original movie, and fantasy at large, had certainly informed my world view as a child, that it had contributed to my animistic view of life – that is, the sense that all living things are connected through some fabric, be it spiritual, quantum, or just as physical matter recycling through birth, death and decay.

Fantasy is filled with quests throuh natural worlds, through rolling forests with their myriads of strange, exuberant flora and fauna, and perhaps that’s why I came to love the woodland with its trees and fungus, it’s birds and insects. Out on the local heath in the tall Summer grasses with the crickets singing…..

And up on the hill, watching the clouds….

By the ocean, listening to the sound of the waves lapping the beach….

It all seems to have…. soul.

So I suppose it is no surprise that I find myself at odds with the very society that spawned me, that I would spend most of my adult life resisting it in some fashion or the other; from avoiding the exploitation of a corporate career to being given dirty looks when saving a worm from the pavement, from the dystopian unease that sometimes grips me when at the supermarket to the long term goal of getting off grid.

NB: I lived in a yurt for five years now….. and if you stick around I’ll tell that story another day.

So the question arose: if these natural, animistic representations had a profound infuence on me as a child, and if animism is a core component of the Dark Crystal’s cosmology, might such notions be considered subversive? After all, an animistic approach to life surely stands in stark contrast to what might be considered the society’s dominant ideology…..

THE WHAT? (A HISTORY LESSON OF SORTS…..)

industry-1752876_1920What I mean by this is the guiding outlook that has come to dominate the world, the attitudes and approaches of human superiority and the maintenance of authority’s wealth and power.

For example, how do the captains of industry, the CEO’s of global corporations, and the rulers of nations maintain what they have acquired under the civilisation project over the past 6000+ years? How do these institutions view the natural world?

So…… a brief history (or rather, “a hideously over simplified historical narrative of the rise of the dominant ideology”).

Let’s go back to the roots of the modern era with the start of farming and civilisation. These newly forming city states shifted society away from the traditional hunting and gathering societies who were low impact, more egalitarian (judging by extant tribes and communal burials) and had a deep knowledge of their world: they lived within the natural cycles of their local ecology, had a knowledge of game animals and gatherable plants, berries, nuts etc. They also worked to lunar cycles – I think the earliest known lunar calendar is 32,000BC – and they typically only took what they needed each season.

But with the first city states and the rise of farming the new urban cultures cleared the land and raised walls against the natural world, separating themselves by increasing developments in hierarchy, technical specialisation (such as priesthoods, architects and military), and urbanisation.

Key to maintaining this burgeoning hierarchy was an abundance of resources to feed the new administrations, their religious experts and the soldiers who expanded territories under state sanctioned conquest. However, over-reaching the boundaries of their local resource limits made these city state vulnerable to collapse, and in conjunction with warfare, climatic shifts and cultural factors many did indeed fall into ruin.

Meanwhile the rise of state religions helped build legitimacy for the ruling order through new myths and ever evolving pantheons of gods and goddesses that embraced a new solar logic, but which retained hidden lunar motiffs. Over time Pantheism would be eclipsed by Monotheism, but the essential purpose remained the same: to legitimise man’s stewardship over the earth, his “dominion”, thus placing man (and I mean man) above nature, in charge of it, to do with it as he would.

Integral in this shift was the creation of paradises and heavens for good behaviour. Heaven is not of the Earth, a far cry from hunter and gatherer religions that tied human life cycles to the land. Instead of the ancestors returning in cyclical rebirth via the earth they now resided in heavenly abodes and there they stayed.

If they didn’t go to some hellish underworld that is…..

Eventually these beliefs would form the underpinnings of capitalism in Europe where the hereditary land system (under feudalism peasants had rights to their own piece of land) was broken up by Enclosure and the work force was transformed into itinerant labourers for the benefit of land owners. The new Protestant work ethic held that the reward for a back breaking life of toil was a place in heaven. This formed the stage for the burgeoning of the industrial revolution.

At the same time the influence of the church on how society viewed the world was being challenged with new philosophies that mirrored the rise of industry. The likes of Descartes and his contemporaries began to refine the workings of creation into an image of the machine, thus rendering what was left of Nature as nothing more than a bio-mechanical object.

The nascent sciences embraced objectivity, the cold detachment that probed the working of nature via acts like live vivisection, and with it came incredibly high levels of technical specialisation – the progress of civilisation’s technical mastery until it had built the atomic bomb and iPhones more powerful than the computers that sent men to the moon. God as the prime motivator was moved aside and the beginnings of psychology took root, perhaps best summed up by Descartes’ motto, “I think, there I am.”

With the rise of science and industry, and the consolidation of the first world’s nation states into relatviely stable rival blocks (often at each others throats), the scene was set to fully make Nature into a soulless resource. The emergent global networks of civilised hierarchies began to extract resources at a much increased rate and shifted it out of sight by exporting all the problems to their colonies.

The final wave came with the rise of late stage capitalism that has now succeeded in taking control of most of the global centres, from Europe to the USA, to China and Russia (state capitalists masquerading in the costume of revolution). These massive blocks of world power have consistently degraded the world to build up their armies, their industries and placed an unprecedented amount of wealth into the hands of a minority who have waged a campaign to utterly disenfranchise the poor from any rights to their own lands via state bureaucracies, the rule of private property and corporate ownership of resources.

We now live in a world where mass resource exploitation is essential to capitalist production, from wood for furniture and paper, to the vast mines of ore and minerals for steel and microchips, to the trawling of the seas and the farming of the land. Nature has been effectively enslaved, devalued and striped of its right to exist as a living thing for itself. It is now something to be owned by private institutions.

This process of commodification sees its final expression in the opinion of neo-liberal capitalists who claim that if nature can be turned into a product, and someone owns that product, then they will care for it. For example, this has been proffered as a solution to air pollution: if someone owns the air (the air your breathing for free!) then they will clean it up. The same for other essentials such as water – companies such as Nestle are infamous for their claim that water IS NOT a human right. It is a product, and you should have to pay for it.

When social responsibilities to the air are only seen through a profit orientated lens, that is not progress, it is a form of insanity. It is the final act of Enclosure, barricading the natural world behind a wall of money.

That is what I mean when I say dominant ideology: a form of human supremacy over the living world, and not just of humans over plants and animals, but also the civilised human over the rural human, of the rich urban banker over the coffee shop worker.

It is a pyramid of importance with nature right at the bottom.

THE BAD GUYS…. (FANTASY REPRESENTATION)

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Obviously the above is an attempt to squeeze 6000+ years of history into a partial narrative, a sort of story that eschews the usual back patting of the myth of progress and which would require a series of books to cover.

But it will suffice for the purposes of my argument as we now turn our attention to the portrayal of villainous traits in our pop culture.

I think we can safely say that many are the villains in fantasy (and sci-fi) who wield the power of authoritarian regimes and empires that can only survive through resource harvesting, although more often the depiction focuses on their use of force in the form of secret police and military, as well as the structural violence of impoverishing the populace.

They are warlords and sorcerers or galactic tyrants and ominous corporations. They are are demons, necromancers and other power hungry, anti-social characters.

The two genres have also often invoked images of environmental decline in relation to the machinations of these overlords, often in conjunction with a love of death and violence – these tyrannical overlords are anti-life. Look at Donaldson’s Lord Foul and his Sunbane which cycles nature through the seasons so rapidly it causes it to break down, or the Land of Mordor which is a wasteland. Or the dominion of Rakoth Maugrim of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy.

Or R. Scott Bakker who goes overboard with his No-god who employs a horde of psychotic rape monsters who have scoured the northern lands of Eärwa, or the draconic power in Priory of the Orange Tree that has burned the lands of Yscalin where the lavender grew. In Erikson’s aborted Kharkanas prequels there is also subtext of how the Tiste Andii people have depleted the land of resources.

Going further back, there is the aspect of kingship that can be found in Arthurian legend which ties the king to the land, and when his health fails the land declines, found as a theme in numerous books like Tim Power’s The Drawing of the Dark. If the Fisher King fails then the West will fall to the evil sorcerer Ahriman.

Science fiction has also represented the decline of modern society in regard to civilisation and the environment, from Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up and Philip K Dick’s dystopias to Wendig’s Wanderers (see last weeks review). Judge Dredd’s Cursed Earth immediately springs to mind as well, the human populace enclosed in mega cities and subject to the harsh, totalitarian rule of the Judges. Beyond the walls of the mega city is nothing but an inhospitable, radioactive wasteland filled with mutants.

And when tyrants get pissed in sci-fi, they can often deploy weapons that don’t just scour all the life from a planet but destroy the whole world à la death star levels of annihilation. They don’t bat an eyelid at the wanton destruction.

So it’s no surprise that when it comes to the Dark Crystal we are presented with the Skeksis. They are wonderfully grotesque, twisted and morally revolting. As the unelected heads of society they also employ the same tactics as modern day authoritarian systems of governance:

  1. They hide behind notions of tradition which infer that the status quo is a good thing, that it is stable and just.
  2. They are hierarchical, placing themselves as superior to the populace they govern.
  3. They will ultimately employ violence to get what they want.
  4. They disseminate false rumour about those that might reveal them (whistle-blowers will be persecuted).
  5. They demand tribute without actually doing anything – such as dismissing the farmer’s claim that his crop are blighted. Instead of being interested the take a family heirloom as tribute because….. well, tradition.
  6. They are abusing their position of trust for their own ends and….
  7. …. and are in fact draining the life from the ecological infrastructure of Thra.
  8. They appear to have committed genocide against the Gruenaks (“I thought we had wiped them out”) as well forcing the Arathim from their ancestral home.
  9. They then try to play the Arathim against the Gelfling to hasten the death of both groups.
  10. They are completely callous to the suffering they cause (and are in fact often seen revelling in it).

Moreover, they are the ones ultimately responsible for the Darkening: it was a Skeksis who chipped the Crystal, a secret that they have kept to themselves (much as, say, the fossil fuel companies kept their impact reports to themselves for decades). They do not care for the world, they stand beyond it, outside of the concerns of those that live in it.

Of particular note is the scientist. What does he do? He contrives to find an ever better way to drain the life from the Skeksis’ subjects, the Gelfling, and he also performs the unnatural splicing of two living creatures to manufacture an obedient super soldier. The science presented here is not the myth of wondrous advancement, but the ominous manipulation of matter and energy into ever greater use to the hierarchy – not so much an honest inquiry into the workings of the universe, but rather the exploitation and violation of spirit and life.

These villains mirror the worst aspects of our own real world authoritarian/hierarchical power structures and their questionable morality. It is their callousness that is ultimately responsible for the decline of both fictional and non-fictional worlds, a decline which will ultimately lead to the same result: Thra and the Earth will become barren, lifeless worlds.

BUT WHAT IF…..? (ANIMISM)

dark crystal promo 1But what if, instead of this callousness and separation we were to look at the world through a different ideological lens? What if, instead of pretending to be separate and in charge of the natural world, we were to embrace an alternative, contrasting way of being in the world? Of recognising our part of the whole natural, living web of life?

Animism is not a new concept. It has often been used in fantasy and spirituality to explain how a person is connected to everything, the most obvious example being Obi Wan when he gives Luke the explanation of the force as an energy field that binds everything in the universe together, be it a rock or a tree or an X-wing.

But animism in practice entails a slightly more complex appreciation of the world than simply asking if a rock is alive or hugging a tree, and has a physical quality that doesn’t deny the needs of the body (as opposed to Yoda’s “luminous beings need not this crude matter”).

As Tim Ingold highlights:

“Life is the temporal process of its ongoing creation. The world of this ‘animic’ understanding is home to innumerable beings whose presence is manifested in this form or that, each engaged in the project of forging a life in the way peculiar to its kind. But in order to live, every such being must constantly draw upon the vitality of others.

A complex network of reciprocal interdependence, based on the give and take of substance, care and vital force – the latter often envisaged as one or several kinds of spirit or soul – extends through the cosmos, linking human, animal and all other forms of life.

Within this network, the generation of animate form in any one region necessarily entails its dissolution in another. Vitality must be surrendered here so that it may be reconstituted there.

For this reason, no form is ever permanent; indeed the transience or ephemerality of form is necessary if the current of life is to keep on flowing. All of existence is suspended in this flow. Borne along in the current, beings meet, merge and split apart again, each taking with them something of the other.”

The Perception of the Environment by Tim Ingold (2000)

It should be clear that there is a foundation of animism to the cosmological order within the Dark Crystal: life as a flow, a balance of vital forces, and the merging or splitting of being. The world is alive with “innumerable beings”, a world in which we are specifically shown examples, such as Deet’s connection to the natural order when she feeds the Murlocs and where we are shown the sharing of being through the Gelfling’s dream fasting.

Indeed the Gelfling civilisation feels more in tune with nature than our own ancient civilisations – there is an almost organic feel to places like Stone-in-the-Wood with its woodland setting and mushroom-brewery-waterfall (I seriously don’t know what to call it) and houses made within the trunks of trees.

There is a gentleness to their society, and although they acknowledge the existence of violence, it is something not to be revelled but is seen as an act that diminishes society – we are shown the Crucible in the centre of Stone-in-the-Wood, “a tall cylindrical forge…. where The Stonewood Soldiers placed their weapons after each battle to be melted down believing that once a battle was over they should discard aggression to help those that were injured.”

pachamama1And then there’s Aughra….

She appears to me as an earth mother figure, a sort of Pachamama. She errs when she is beguiled by the orrery the Skeksis gift her, and swaps her duty of care to the crystal for the wonders of the universe. This might be regarded as an allegory for the neglecting of the natural world around us, either by setting our sights on a heavenly reward, or perhaps the stars as destinations, or even as simply the distraction of entertainment.

Yet the plight of Thra as it tips out of balance brings her back and she is distressed that she can no longer “hear the song of Thra”, the song that emanates from the network of living beings in both substance and time. Aughra sees the imbalance of forces, the detriment to life and the threat that this entails.

Once she reawakens her connection to Thra, her third eye is once more able to observe the flow of time, and so she attempts to guide the flow of events towards a restoration of harmony. She does not force them. She advises, she gives warning but she never makes anyone do anything, such as when Seladon is going to the castle and Aughra warns her to no avail (and which results in another disturbing scene suggestive of a gang rape – PG, really?).

Lastly, Aughra is attuned to the rise of the resistance and, during the convergence of characters via a spiritual networking, she intervenes as Thra’s avatar. It is like a natural reaction where the cosmological forces of Thra have acted like an immune system, the Gelflings becoming a counterforce to the effects caused by the Skeksis.

Speaking of which, what is one to make of such beings as the Skeksis? Firstly, they are intricately involved in the animistic principle as beings whose essence has been divided, yet their life force is entwined with their other halves (the Mystics) so that one cannot exist without the other. They are essentially linked through a spiritual bond.

But…..

The Skeksis also act in defiance of the animistic principle. They wish to live forever and so they thwart the “surrender of vitality” that would be teturned to the natural cycle of time and instead only take living force, both from the land (via the crystal) and then from Gelflings directly (extracting their essence). There is no reciprocity, there is no respect.

The effect of this is to render the Chamberlains appeal to Rian during their carriage ride hollow. When the Chamberlain says that life must feed on life, he is being disingenuous because the Skeksis do so outside of the natural order and in fact subvert it for selfish purposes.

Moreover, they do not wish to be recombined with their split selves. Their whole existence stands in opposition to the animistic principles of life force as ever changing, as mutable. But they are not only placing themselves outside of Nature, they are also placing themselves outside of time as well through their desire to live forever. To attain immortality they will sacrifice all life to their aim and deny the transformative process within the cycle of birth, life, death, and decay.

Yet ultimately the Skeksis cannot exist outside of the system of life indefinitely. Once they have killed and drained all the Gelfling, once they have drained all the life from the planet, they must eventually succumb to death. But this fact does nothing to change their behaviour as they are completely hostile to the acceptance of mortality.

They are in a state of total denial.

This couldn’t be more like our current political and economic rulers. The fear of losing their authority, the fear of change within a closed system that will eventually lead to the complete demise of the very system they are so invested in. In this respect, the Skeksis and our leaders are self defeating. Only by acknowledging our need for balance and harmony can we hope to resolve the dilemma.

Nature is the very foundation of the pyramid I mentioned earlier. Without its life supporting systems everything, society, knowledge, imagination will perish.

Such are the dangers of placing oneself outside of Nature, where as animism as a natural philosophy embraces our position within the cycles of life, makes us part of the whole world without recourse to pseudo-spiritual guff.

THE POWER OF IMAGINATION

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When I think of where fantasy really shines, it isn’t in the depiction of another patriarchal, medieval feud between royalty that’s like old Europe but with a dragon. Rather it is where flights of the imagination can really take us off to explore brave new worlds.

So for me Age of Resistance really excels as a work of the imagination. Great care and thought has gone into crafting something wonderful, something that asks you to witness both the wonderful and the terrible, and as it draws you into its reality you are awed by its power.

Of course, there is no conscious need to watch it as a mirror to our own struggles, no need to try and see analogy when we are simply invested in its wonder. I certainly didn’t sit down and watch it with the idea that I would write this article. I was enveloped in the narrative and it was only as I talked about the experience of viewing it that these ideas bubbled to the surface.

But that is what prompted me to ask how much had I been influenced by the original movie, and by extension the fantasy that subsequently appealed to my burgeoning imagination. I suspect that it fed a sense of wonder that inversely brought about confusion and unease with the world around me, and through those chaotic years the need for answer which ultimately lead me on my own quest that took me into anthropology.

Anthropology (the study of humanity) has a maxim, that it serves to “make the exotic familiar and the familiar exotic”. It too requires a stretching of the imagination to understand different cultures and their world views, and through doing so see the strangitude of our own culture. It is, in essence, much like fantasy, the stranger in the strange land travelling amongst new worlds.

And as they say, travel broadens the mind.

In the broadening we awake our imagination to greater possibilities, and as we travel in world’s such as Thra we are absorbed into its cosmological reality, a reality that gives us the power to compare our own world with that of another, letting us see that maybe some of our attitudes, some of the things that we take for granted, might be strange or maladjusted when viewed from without.

Given that, the question might be asked how The Age of Resistance isn’t subversive to the dominant ideology of our civilisation?

At this point the cynic might point a finger and say that fantasy is a pretty niche genre, and that, amongst the deluge of media we are fed, the message of one or two alternatives might be lost. That is likely true, just as true as the fact that fantasy might be nothing more than escapist entertainment – the orrery that distracts us from the reality around us.

I could go further and say the media requires subversive ideas to not only refresh its creative palette, but because the system at large needs to cater to a diverse audience, and if a media system wishes to claim that it is “free” then it must include counter narratives, just as long as those counter narratives never actually threaten the structures of power.

But…..

We are living at a time of greater uncertainty, a time when the new generation is increasingly aware of what a difficult future they face, and these young minds are not necessarily completely submerged in the dominant ideological narrative. They have embraced modern media, yes, but that has allowed them access to levels of information and perspective that older generations didn’t have. No longer are we just watching “the news” but are able to find alternatives, new ideas and possibilities, new ways of doing things.

And it is the effect on the developing imaginations of this generation that is the key point, because Age of Resistance is categorised as child/young adult viewing, and if it works the muscle of the imagination that in itself is subversive to the institutions as they stand.

The powers that be require thoughtless, unimaginative people to fill their ranks of power, and without resistance they will simply continue to satisfy their own selfish needs at the expense of the whole world. The old institutions will themselves resist the change required, just as they are doing now.

In reply, let us not dismiss fantasy as foolish, or silly, for it grants us a chance to think differently, to envision different realities where alternative ideas might prove to be more beneficial than banging our heads against the same old brick wall.

As Ursula Le Guin said of sci-fi but which I think equally well applies to fantasy:

Science fiction lends itself readily to imaginative subversion of any status quo. Bureaucrats and politicians, who can’t afford to cultivate their imaginations, tend to assume it’s all ray guns and nonsense, good for children.

Good for children.

Need I say more?

DJC


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