Hide and seek close to home

THE WRITER’S LIFE

In an hour of freestyle therapy writing for today, I let my mind wander, but not far from home. In sixty minutes of whimsy, I picked ten random facts from the air around me, in no particular order but as they occurred to me while my mind pondered locally.Β The writing prompt was a game of Hide and Seek…

Knock knockKnock Knock (PocketGamer)

I was born a Man of Kent, but I’m made in London (Catford runs through my heart, like a stick of candy).

I don’t think I’ll ever have any other favourite film of all time than my current one. I simply can’t imagine anything affecting me more than Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark.

My favourite times of day are eighteen minutes to three in the afternoon, and eighteen minutes to ten in the evening: 14.42, and 21.42, because they’re 42 (the answer to life, the universe and everything) and a factor of itself. I’m rarely awake at 06.42 or 07.42, but I often witness 02.42, and sometimes 03.42.

I call out my favourite Freeview TV channel names as I watch my microwave clock count downΒ time to some dinners: DMAX (42), Food Network (41), Quest (37), Spike (31), E4 (28), 5USA (21), Yesterday (19), Film4 (15), Pick (11), BBC4 (9)…

I have a Bacon Number of 2: The concept is based on the six degrees of separation theory, which suggests that everyone in the world is connected through no more than six degrees of separation (or acquaintance). For example, having met Princess Anne, I’m separated from Queen Elizabeth II by just one degree (her daughter). My degree of separation from Kevin Bacon is the same, as I’ve met both Christan Slater and Whoopi Goldberg, both of whom have worked with Kevin and therefore have a Bacon Number of 1. That’s how I get my Bacon Number of 2.

Cats know that they have a higher purpose on Earth, but they haven’t worked out what it is yet. This explains their curiosity and nine lives.

Dogs know what the cats’ greater purpose is, and they really want to tell us.

I’m able to dream lucidly. After years of practice, sometimes, just sometimes, I can become aware that I’m dreaming within a dream, and take some degree of control over my actions and surroundings.Β Some of what I find there goes into my stories.

I believe in multiverse theory, and in fictional realism. This branch of the theory argues that given an infinite number of universes, everything must exist somewhere. So, all of our favourite fiction and fantasy may be descriptive of an alternate universe, one where all the right pieces came into place to make it happen. By extension, every story I’ve written, every character and world I’ve created, continues to exists in an alternative universe somewhere. I often check back on some of them with supplemental stories.

Next year I’ll turn 50, and I’ll be living in my 7th decade: Born in May 1970, I was conceived in the 60s, born in the 70s, grew up in the 80s, worked the 90s, married the noughties, and started over in the teens. An autobiography-ette: Born 1970, not dead yet.

I think I’ll explore some more, wider afield. Then I can write more stories.

buy-me-a-coffee

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The origin of unpacked furniture

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

A recurring theme in my writing is The Unfinished Literary Agency. It’s a fictional place (and there’s a book), which exists to tell the stories of others who are unable to tell their own.

The agency is also an analogy of the writing world, where writers crave an audience, in a place where people don’t have time to read. It has parallels, to how inner frustration made my own mind up to write down everything in it.

Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them, and sometimes I wonder if we may have a greater purpose, but haven’t worked out what it is yet…

laptop-cat-bb0919-3014947-600-1440509828000

THE OFFICE OF LOST THINGS

They are afraid of the sun, shrinking away as it climbs in the sky, and they are liveliest at night. They follow us, and we can’t outrun them. They are The Shadows.

I first became aware that I’d picked one up when my own shadow started carrying a guitar.Β No matter where I walked, indoors or outside, my shadow followed me. And regardless of what I myself was carrying (a bag, my jacket, thrown over my shoulder…), my shadow still travelled with its guitar.

This being Bethnal Green, I found an Italian greasy spoon, where the proprietor, a doctor, explained my condition. His Cockney dialogue was easy for the Babel fish in my ear to translate, and when he told me I was Hank Marvin, he offered me a cure, pointing to an item on the menu: β€œGSEG”, which was scrambled eggs, and my hunger was gone.

I was on my way to Islington, delivering a manuscript, to a place I’d heard about from other writers.

Above Hotblack Desiato’s office near Islington Green, is The Unfinished Literary Agency. It’s where all the storytellers send their stories, and sometimes meet to share them, like a secret society, but open to all.

I climbed the stairs to the agency office, a windowless room in the loft. The lights were out and no-one was in. I tried the light switch but it didn’t work. Fumbling around, I found a desk, which I discovered had drawers, and the fourth one yielded a box of candles. I lit a cigarette, then a candle, and looked around the small office, which a broom might call luxurious.

On the desk was a typewriter, and next to it, a stack of papers: hand-written manuscripts. Besides the desk and a chair, there was just a large book cabinet occupying one wall. It held possibly hundreds of unwritten books, all from writers seeking attention, and all in a place where the sun never shines.

I sat at the desk and looked at my flickering shadow, cast by the candle. There was no guitar, just my cigarette dangling from my mouth, like a smoking tulip.

With no-one else around, I decided to stay for a while and started typing.

Β© Steve Laker

Dreams play TV

Wherever our lives may lead, we are all but a plot device.

The Unfinished Literary Agency (my second anthology) is available now.Β 

Leave heavy lifting to the reader

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Whatever the length of a story, each word has a load to carry, and it’s a writer’s job to make sure each pulls its weight. Where a key rule is ‘show, don’t tell,’ words often have to carry passengers, in meanings, parallels, and analogies. Writing a story of six words is good exercise for the longhand pen while away from the typewriter, where I’ve been with a notebook.

German times tables

Like many writers, around 90% of what I write is never published: it’s all notes and thoughts in journals. From some of those (less than 10%) something more might emerge, and one of my favourite writer sandpits to play in is the six-word story. Even within such a tight word limit, a story can have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I try to use the minimalism of the format for more than one effect, even if it looks like I can’t be arsed.

I try to make my fiction evocative, invoking memories and questions: ‘What if…(…he’d finished the job; I just end this…)?’ The six-word story lends itself to that (leaving the heavy-lifting to the reader). Those stories then languish in my notepad, and some become more. Others remain just thoughts, but ideas shared might find another writer looking for an idea or a starting point. There are a finite number of plots and writers to write them, but infinite ways of telling the stories.

Being anonymous John, Malkovich (Malkovich, Malkovich…)

Malkovich-Banner-1024x576

Watching TV tonight, I jotted a few things down in my journal. I ended up with seven six-word stories, some final drafts, and others the seeds for my own longer stories or those of other writers. To a reader carrying their weight (of interpretation), seven stories of six words could be seven chapters in a story of 42 words.

Together, we can write books which have many more pages in the mind than they do in reality. ‘Leave heavy lifting to the reader’ is a story in itself…

Lonely dog seeks new homeless human

Innocence, learning, losing; life’s only path

Butterfly lands, human blinks, humanity sleeps

To their utter astonishment, it flew

A benevolent armada, above the clouds

I asked if they had music

In the beginning was the end

There are many more of the briefest tales at the online repository of such things, SixWordStories.net. My longer works are available from Amazon (other bookshops are available, and all of my titles can be requested from most (and at public lending libraries)).

In the beginning, this was new

I go everywhere, you go anywhere

I ask why, you tell me

At the end, we leave together

1. Message to campers? (2,3,7)*

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There was a time when if anyone asked me how I was or what I’d been up to, I’d just tell them to read this blog. Lately I’ve been distracted, consumed, and my posts sparse. My story continues, but nowadays it’s tales around the campfire with old friends, as I edit what’s in my head.

burning1981The Burning (1981)

It’s probably not gone unnoticed (least of all by me) that I’ve not written much that’s new lately. It’s equally clear that’s because of my preoccupation with fighting for my independence with a fascist regime. But as I’ve noted recently, I’ve accumulated a lot of longhand notes, scribbled at random times in a journal, but not evolving into anything.

Two things occurred to me: that I’m spiting myself by allowing the social cleansing machine to wear me down; and that in any case, I only have a finite amount of time available.

So I’ve made a kind of belated new year’s resolution, if only to myself and for the sake of my sanity, to keep me writing. As part of that, I’ve been fleshing out some of those notebook ideas and building the beginnings of plots.

The message to campers is a statement of intent, and of me building personal goals, as I lay foundations for a third collection of short stories and a possible novel in the next year or two. This then is me setting out my stall and committing myself (but without strict deadlines attached, I’ll just go at my own pace).

Some will be flash fiction, others long-form (and the possible novel, or at least a novella). All are working titles and subject to change, not being written for quite some time, or at all. These are not synopses, as I don’t want to give anything other than intrigue away. Just hints, in the hope people want to read the stories they become.

This is my sandpit too. There are a finite number of plots, but infinite ways of interpreting and telling them. If any other writers reading are struggling with the block, perhaps I might provide seeds, and stories could be told which I’d never have written. Others are free to join me in my playground:

Homo equus: The discovery of bones (possibly ancient), some human and others from horses. Perhaps to be expected in a battlefield, but like many of my older stories, there’s a twist which very few will see approaching.

Message in a bottle: A story arising from plastic pollution, where new bacteria are found to thrive. Could they be an effect of plastics we haven’t yet considered, given the problem is so recent?

The extraterrestrial typewriter: From a writing prompt in the writer’s block-busting book I have, 642 Things to Write About, specifically What your desk thinks about at night. With my laptop running the SETI@Home screensaver, a form of first contact is made between my typewriter and a signal from the cosmos.

Andrea: An android, who – like so many others – wonders what life means. It’s a well-used trope, usually addressing immortality, but I’m building a twist in, kind of an opposite of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Β Technological beings are made from the same stuff as us organics, the dust from the stars. They just had an explosive evolution and worked out they’d quite like to live.

Neo Anominati: Human DNA is hacked. Can’t say much more.

The genomic riddle: DNA can travel vast distances and carry huge amounts of information. What if we’re looking in the wrong place with SETI and radio astronomy?

The plastic population: Imagining another world, with strict controls over the introduction of foreign bodies, and where any human free of all traces of plastic is free to visit. Such a shame that micro-plastics pollute our first home to such a degree that they’re now in the rain, and every living organism.

We are the swine: A neo-apocalyptic Lord of The Flies, some Animal Farm, and a bit of 1984.

August underground overground: A companion piece to the original August Underground’s Diner (near Hotblack Desiato’s office in Islington), launched in pop-up form in Wimbledon and staffed by recovering horror icons (think Pinhead with Elastoplast, Freddy Krueger with skin grafts and a manicure…). It might have some Wombles as antagonists.

hellraiserfaceswab2Beta (atomic)

Those are the ones with some literate flesh and bones. There are others besides, some ideas so surreal that they might not make it out of the journal or my head. But it’s enough to be getting on with, to check back on and to work through. Knowing people besides myself are watching adds another (very pleasant, quite thrilling) dimension.

*1. β€œTo all intents” (announcing intentions to the campsite)

When I started writing this blog (over five years ago), it was because I had no-one to talk to, notes-to-self while I lived on the streets and transcribed my scrawl on a library computer. It’s still that, albeit on the typewriter, on my writer’s desk, in my studio: an attempt to write what’s on my mind, whether or not I had plans for that material in fiction or reality, but always wearing my heart on my sleeve.

To be continued.

Calling occupants of writing craft

THE WRITER’S LIFE

While my offline self continues to deal with real-life situations I needn’t trouble the world with, the one who’d like to tell everyone everything was suffering writer’s block. And I’ve been revisiting my favourite science fiction universe in Firefly, the demise of which I mourn daily, just like Sheldon Cooper.

Serenity_Pierre_Drolet_06-1This sci-fi geek modeller is my favourite person right now: He’s made a model of an aircraft carrier and parked Serenity on the deck (Pierre Drolet Sci-Fi Museum)

I read an article recently on hobbies to help with anxiety and depression, and writing wasn’t one of them, which was strange, because it’s been writing that’s helped me most over time. In the beginning, it was all I had.

That was five years ago, when I begged money on the streets to buy exercise books from Poundland (and white cider), and stole some bookies pens. When I used to sit in various warm, dry and light places, I planned to turn my story into a book. Then I got over myself and realised no-one would be interested in a Charles Bukowski fan boy (although I’ve been compared to him since, and many others in fact: some of the greats in the genres I write). In any case, The Paradoxicon was a fair stab at a semi-autobiographical flash fiction novel, allowing me to move on, and I’ve written four other books since.

Much has changed since then, and life has got easier in many respects (somewhere to live helps), but without the constant distraction of life keeping you on your feet, there’s a tendency to get stuck. I’ve never lapsed back to drinking, but I know why I did, when I’d sometimes rather blank something from my mind which won’t sleep. But I’m a writer.

Unless you’re writing for a mass market, it’s a very internal affair, and prevented from writing about much in my real life (the privacy of others), my solitary offline life gave me little else to think about. Well therein lies the paradox I’d created for myself: As a writer, I can write anything. And as a blogger, that can just be a diary entry.

Right now I’m perched on a cushion on my chair, not just because I’m short but because the air canister has emptied itself, so it’s lost its power of levitation. Nevertheless, the dead chair is full of memories that I’ve written while I sat at this desk on many other late nights. I’ll keep my old seat, because I can’t afford another one anyway, but most importantly, it’s where I am now.

I’m aware of the weight distribution in my arse on the cushion, and because I think different to most, I feel speed. Because what I can feel below me – the weight of my backside on the seat – is the feeling of my own gravity in relation to that of the Earth. So in another way of thinking, the pressure I feel is not me bearing down, but the entire planet pushing up beneath me. Like this world and everyone else on it, I’m spinning at 1000 mph and hurtling through space at around fifty times that. These are the things which keep me awake at night, sometimes joyfully.

If I get it right, I can sometimes lucid dream, and within my mind I can explore the universe (there are articles dotted about this blog). It’s getting to sleep that’s the problem, but writing is good for insomnia.

I’ve got sufficient followers to guarantee at least one will be interested in what’s on my mind, because they’ve chosen to follow me and be a part of another virtual life. And in a life cut off from most human contact, for someone like me, that’s a comforting thought.

So even if I am rambling, I know that someone besides me will be reading, then I feel less alone.

This blog was originally that of a writer with depression, like so many others, and yet it was the illness which prevented me dealing with it. Such is the power of the mind when it’s cracked. But other times, living with a Kintsukorai mind (one which is more beautiful for having been broken) is one long lucid dream.

Whenever I question what’s in my head existentially, I’m reminded of a documentary Stephen Fry made about his own brand of depression. At the end, he posed a question: If there were a big red button, and hitting it would just restore you to β€œNormal”, would you? Same as him, I don’t have to think for long: No.

Paul Auster once said he’s happy with a day’s work if he has 500 words of perfect prose at the end. I’m happier when I’ve pumped out 850 words of pulp thoughts in an hour and cleared my mind for others to read. A problem shared, is one divided or multiplied.

Suffer in silence

Now Serenity awaits, somewhere in the universe. If I can just dream, I can hitch a ride, with friends, the captain, a shepherd, a doctor, and a companion or more.

Leonard Hofstadter’s night off

FICTION

This is one of my favoured tropes, of animal sentience, but I’m a surrealist. So I imagined the young character from my children’s book, with her talking dog and cat. I watched a documentary on AI in the home (worried and amused), then imagined if perhaps a future ethics committee might get stoned, or have some other reason for integrating universal translation algorithms into AI home assistants. So I put the Babel fish into Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and so on, went to 2042 (18 minutes before 9pm) and this come out of the typewriter…

cat optimist

A GIRL, SHELDON COOPER AND PETER COOK

On earth, it was generally accepted among cats, that cats were the superior species. In this feline hierarchy, humans and dogs were equal but different, with little regard for the white mice and dolphins.

This social order came about when Amazon integrated universal translation algorithms into their Alexa AI home assistants, and others followed. In 2042, life in the home was very different to the one we know now.

The term β€œanimal” had long since fallen into obscurity, now reserved for those who are less than β€œperson” in its modern definition: a sentient, self-aware and self-determining being, which has a conscience, experiences emotions, and displays empathy with other people.

A few exceptions aside, most Persona non grata had written themselves out of any worthwhile news and were confined to their own history. Only a few Tory grandees clung on in antiquated underground offices, blathering about the past and not being listened to.

β€œDo you know what I think?” Sheldon Cooper asked.

β€œNo,” replied Peter Cook, looking up from his chair. β€œAnd I didn’t ask.”

β€œWell, let’s see what Ellie thinks. She’s just coming downstairs.”

β€œI know,” the dog acknowledged.

β€œHow?” the cat wondered.

β€œI can hear her.”

β€œOh.”

β€œWhat are you two talking about?” Ellie wondered, wiping her hands on Pete.

β€œI thought I felt your presence,” Sheldon said, sitting up on the sofa. β€œNice of you to get dressed. Did you wash your hands?”

β€œYes,” Ellie replied, β€œwhat are you talking about.”

β€œWell, he,” Peter nodded at the cat, β€œwas going to spout on about something…”

β€œI don’t spout,” Sheldon protested.

β€œAs I was saying, I didn’t want to hear.”

β€œYou don’t know what I was going to say.”

β€œAha!” said the dog, sitting up, β€œhow do you know?”

β€œCan you read my mind?” Sheldon asked.

β€œNo,” Peter replied, β€œcan you?”

β€œOkay,” Ellie interrupted. β€œWho’s for dinner?”

β€œI’ll eat him if you want,” Peter said.

β€œI’d make your breath smell better,” the cat replied.

β€œOkay,” Ellie interrupted again. β€œWhat would you like for dinner? I’ll cook.”

β€œDo you have tuna?” Sheldon asked.

β€œWe do,” Ellie replied.

β€œLine-caught?”

β€œYes.”

β€œIn water, not brine?”

β€œYes, in water.”

β€œCut into chunks, with some black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon?”

β€œLike you always have it.”

β€œYes. That please.”

β€œFine. Pete?”

β€œEr…” Peter yawned, β€œGot any steak? You know, that one they grow, not farmed.”

β€œWe should have. If not, I can print you some.”

β€œYeah, do that anyway, fresher.”

β€œHey, why does he get printed food?”

β€œI’ll print yours if you like, cat.”

β€œNo, I like it the way you do it.”

β€œSo, why…” Ellie thought, β€œnever mind.”

β€œWhat are you having?” Pete asked Ellie.

β€œI’ll probably just print a pizza.”

β€œIs it Thursday?” Sheldon wondered, as Ellie made dinner, β€œI sense it’s going to be a strange night.”

β€œHere we go,” Ellie announced, returning with food, β€œup at the table please. Anyone wanna smoke?”

β€œTold you,” said the cat. β€œDo you mind if we eat while you smoke?”

β€œWhat shall we talk about?” Ellie ignored the cat.

β€œDeath,” Pete said. β€œBut you wouldn’t know about that, would you cat, with your nine lives and everything. Have you worked out what those are all for yet?”

β€œWe will find that out around 3000 years from now.”

β€œOh, here we go…The self-proclaimed superior species on this planet, haven’t worked out why they’re here yet.”

β€œWell neither have you, dog.”

β€œI sometimes think I’m dead already.”

β€œWhy?” Sheldon wondered.

β€œCan you tell me I’m not?”

β€œWell, I can see you’re not. So what, you think all this is a computer simulation, like The Matrix?”

β€œCould be.”

β€œBut you lack proof.”

β€œAnd you don’t know why you’re here, cat.”

β€œI need to urinate.” Sheldon jumped down from his chair and wandered around the garden.

β€œI love the way you two get on,” Ellie said to Peter.

β€œSarcasm?” Pete wondered aloud.

β€œOnly partly. I’m very fond of the way you are.”

β€œWell, everyone’s themselves Ellie, and most people shouldn’t apologise for that. I think with dogs and cats, it’s a mutual tolerance and a begrudging respect.”

β€œWhat about humans?”

β€œWhat about them?”

β€œDo you just tolerate us?”

β€œSometimes it’s confusing,” Pete thought. β€œWe do look up to you, because you’re pretty smart. But sometimes you overcomplicate things. Dogs look at things more simply. We worry less. I mean, go out for a walk with us a couple of times a day, open a box of DogNip chews, and I’ve pretty much nailed my day.”

β€œYou’re much less paranoid and insecure than us humans.”

β€œOh, I don’t know Ellie. Having you around is nice for company, but all dogs have an inferiority complex, and issues of balance.”

β€œBalance? Of what?”

β€œWe wonder about things like the difference between friends and family, and the colours of cars. I mean, we’re perhaps more in touch with our instincts, but those are a bit sexist and misogynistic. And I think purple cars smell nicer than green ones.”

β€œHow’d you mean?”

β€œWell, they’re like candyfloss.”

β€œYes, but the sexism and misogyny.”

β€œOh, all that old-fashioned nature stuff, going to mum for milk, and dad for protection. Then in humans, the hunter-gatherer and the cook.”

β€œWell, we’re more a commune here, friends and family.”

β€œYes, I know. I remember when you came out of hospital that time, and you were in a wheelchair. I didn’t know whether to hug you or sit on your lap.”

β€œEllie?” Sheldon was back. β€œWhere are my wipes?”

β€œI don’t know. Use mine, they’re upstairs.”

β€œBut those are yours, and they’re upstairs. I specifically hid mine here, so I had them when I came in.”

β€œI might have eaten them.” Pete said.

β€œWhy would you do that?” the cat asked.

β€œTo freshen my breath? I don’t know if I did, I’m just saying I might have.”

β€œThe paradoxical dog,” Sheldon muttered, jumping back on his chair.

β€œDid you wipe your feet?” Pete asked.

β€œI always clean my feet, so yes.”

β€œOne day you’ll forget.”

β€œSo what if I do?”

β€œYou’ll know you’re getting old. Anyway, why do you get to go out at all hours and I don’t?”

β€œExcuse me,” Ellie interrupted, β€œYou can go out whenever you like Pete, on your own, or with your friends.”

β€œOh. And there was me, thinking you enjoyed walking with me, playing your favourite game in the park.”

β€œWhich one?”

β€œThrowing sticks.”

β€œMy game?”

β€œWell, yes. I assume that’s why you throw sticks, because you enjoy me fetching them for some reason.”

β€œBut that’s your game.”

β€œNo it’s not. You made it up.”

β€œYeah, because you like fetching sticks.”

β€œNo I don’t. I couldn’t care where they end up, but you seem to have so much fun throwing them, I just figure I’m humouring you.”

β€œOne day,” Ellie said, β€œyou dogs will get over your inferiority complex.”

β€œNot while there are cats around,” Pete replied, β€œthey have a superiority delusion.”

β€œIt’s not a delusion,” Sheldon argued.

β€œSo what about them lives then, what are they for?”

β€œCuriosity, which is just as likely to kill anyone else as it is a cat. But cats seek knowledge, so we were given nine lives with which to discover it.”

β€œWhile everyone else already worked out it’s pretty dull, so they’re just sitting around relaxing,” Pete suggested. β€œEllie, what do you think about death?”

β€œThat’s a very big question, because it depends on the definition of death.”

β€œWhat, more than either dead or alive?”

β€œWell, yeah. It’s not a bipolar subject. I mean, I don’t fear my own death – except maybe the means of departure – but being forgotten scares me, like being erased from history. I believe that life as we know it, is a passing phase, in something we don’t fully understand yet.”

β€œDo you subscribe,” Sheldon interrupted, β€œto quantum physics?”

β€œWell, it stopped being a theory long ago. If you mean, do I get that everything exists in more than one state simultaneously, and that quantum entanglement means every subatomic particle in the universe is connected to another, telepathically, then yes. Definitely.”

β€œGood,” the cat said, β€œbecause a lot of philosophical and theoretical examples of my species perished in that debate.”

β€œSee?” Pete perked up. β€œBloody cats, getting everywhere, proving things. When was a dog ever involved in an experiment? I mean, why not SchrΓΆdinger’s dogs? By the way, what in the name of anyone’s arse, did mankind think it was getting up to, sending one of my kind up to space, before we had the technology to ask if it was okay?”

β€œThat,” Ellie replied, β€œwas humanity getting up its own arse. But Laika was our little trailblazer, still floating in a tin can out there somewhere. We owe her a lot.”

β€œAt least you’re grateful,” Pete said, β€œfetching your sticks, flying your spaceships…And yes, Laika’s floating around out there, unceremoniously abandoned, but it’s quite poetic in a way.”

β€œWhat, like Space Oddity, David Bowie?”

β€œNo, I just think it’s funny. Who’s to say Laika didn’t get out there and everything worked fine? Then she sussed the controls and just buggered off. Maybe it was all an elaborate plan, and the dogs had another planet somewhere.”

β€œUnlikely.”

β€œBut equally, not impossible. You couldn’t talk to us back then. What you might have thought was static noise, could have been her talking. But there was no universal translator back then.”

β€œThe paradoxical dog,” Sheldon murmured.

β€œWell, yes,” Pete agreed, β€œbut the point is, humans had no right to do that. Because back then, humans didn’t regard what they called animals as having feelings or emotions. But what was clearly a sentient, self-determining and self-aware being, was used in an experiment without consultation or consent, simply because it was assumed to be inferior. That is immoral, and even more so for the cowardice in persecuting a person whose voice couldn’t be heard.”

β€œSo is much which humanity has done,” Ellie agreed, β€œagainst its own kind too. It’s a burden which rests heavily on those of us who give a shit.”

β€œIf I might add a cat’s opinion,” Sheldon said, β€œit might make things easier to understand.”

β€œGo on.”

β€œHumans were in denial. Your science hadn’t proven the obvious, that so-called animals could feel, so it was conveniently overlooked and humans continued, well, being human.”

β€œNow I feel good about myself. Thanks Sheldon.”

β€œSarcasm?”

β€œNo!”

β€œOh. And I thought I was getting the hang of that one.”

β€œEver since we’ve been able to talk,” Pete said, β€œthere is still much about humans which confuses us.”

β€œSame,” Ellie added, β€œonly now that we can talk, can we talk like this.”

β€œReally, I hadn’t noticed,” Sheldon noted.

β€œSarcasm?” Pete wondered.

β€œNo. Cats have always been able to talk, and to hear you. Nothing’s changed with humans, because you still don’t make sense.”

β€œBut you can understand me?” Ellie checked.

β€œI can hear you, and the rest of the human race, in you. But with a growing number of exceptions, humans still seem hell bent on destroying our planet.”

β€œYou mean,” Pete said, β€œthe planet we all share?”

β€œYou’re only here because the humans brought you. Earth was originally the cats’. Then humans came along and our ancestors agreed to let humans be humans, hoping they might learn.”

β€œWho says?”

β€œMany ancient feline scribes.”

β€œLike the human ones,” Ellie added, β€œwho wrote the various human religious scriptures?”

β€œVery much so,” Sheldon confirmed, β€œand those ancient human scribes wrote of cat gods, did they not?”

β€œIn Egypt, and some other places, yes.”

β€œSo,” Sheldon continued, β€œdoesn’t that prove that man worshipped cats as gods?”

β€œNot at all. Each ancient script is an individual’s interpretation of events, as they saw them, and recorded using the means available to them at the time. It’s what all ancient alien theories are built on, and it’s what unifies science and religion in many humans now. The point is, it’s a paradox. But it doesn’t matter who was here first, it’s what we do now that we’re here.”

β€œSometimes,” Pete spoke now. β€œSometimes, I wish I was a dyslexic insomniac.”

β€œWhy?”

β€œBecause dogs are generally agnostic, and that would allow me to lie awake at night, wondering if God is a dog.”

β€œReally though,” Sheldon said, β€œwe’re all the same.”

β€œHardly,” Pete said.

β€œNo, I mean inside, and at a fundamental level. Forget animals and humans as the outdated terms which they now are. As people, we are all the same. Just as the root of all humans’ conflicts – both internal and external – is in an inability to see others as alternative versions of themselves, so that can be transcended to encompass us all. Whether we’re an atheist cat, an agnostic dog, or a whatever you are Ellie, all those scribes wrote what they saw, and science proved what we now know. And that’s that we’re all connected and the only true creator is the universe itself.”

β€œYeah, but who set that off?” Pete wondered.

β€œOh, for fuck sake.”

β€œIt’s a good job we can all talk now.”

Β© Steve Laker, 2017.

be excellent

The Unfinished Literary Agency is available now. My other books are available from Amazon and can be ordered from any book shop, or requested at libraries.

A story written into a person

HORROR FICTION

Blood dripping

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THE PERPETUITY OF MEMORY

β€œWhen you see what Dom Pablo has done, at first you may recoil. But Dom’s art is personal and subjective. Each work is unique and creates another life for the owner. A gift from an admirer.”

The invitation to be part of a rare commission by Dom Pablo Solanas was a work of art in itself: exquisitely crafted by the artist and a future priceless piece. This alone was a luxurious gift, even to someone of Christiana Kunsak’s means, yet it was merely an invitation to a private audience with Solanas himself. A box, carved from a single piece each of ebony and rare boxwood, interlocked to form a puzzle.

The piece is entitled La armonia. The accompanying notes state that the name only exists for as long as the puzzle is in its unsolved form: once the puzzle is solved and the two pieces separated, a mechanism inside the piece ensures that they cannot be re-joined. Once the puzzle is complete, La armonia ceases to exist and the work becomes La ansiedad.

La armonia was a rare and beautiful thing. It also held a secret: an invitation to meet with Dom Pablo Solanas. The nature of that meeting was unknown and therein lay a form of gamble; a wager with oneself: La armonia was unique and intricately crafted; its aesthetics were unquestionable in that initial state. Further value must be added for the simple fact that the piece contains a secret. If that secret is revealed, it may reduce the value of the work. The invitation will be spent. La ansiedad may not be as pleasing to the eye as La armonia and it is the permanent replacement, with La armonia destroyed forever. Conversely, the construction of the work is so fine and detailed as to invite curiosity, more of what it might become than what it is: should that beauty be left as potential, or revealed? Is it something which may be left to a subsequent benefactor? What might they find inside La armonia? Christiana could not deny herself a pleasure which someone else might yet have, and which she may never see.

As soon as the first link clicked audibly out of place somewhere inside the box, La armonia was no longer. There were no instructions on how to create La ansiedad: it was a work to be created by a new artist from the original. Only when the puzzle was complete would it reveal its secret and until then, it was nameless and fluid.

Held in both hands, the wooden box – around the size of a large cigar box – felt as heavy as it should, carved from solid wood and not hollowed out. It was slightly heavier at one end than the other. The seamless interlocking of the ebony and boxwood formed variously alternate, interlocking and enclosing patterns of dark and light. Aside from the initial click, no amount of tilting, pressing, pulling, twisting and pushing of the device produced any change. Christiana alone had been privy to that first movement, so to anyone other than her, La armonia still existed. But she wanted to create and to see La ansiedad.

The box remained unaffected by manipulation, until Christiana’s housemaid picked it up to clean around it. Snatching the box from the maid’s hand, Christiana heard another click from the device and almost immediately noticed a change: the box remained a cuboid but the dimensions and patterns had altered. Closer examination of the new patterns revealed some to have assumed shapes which suggested movement: swirls, series of dots and even directional arrows. The introduction of a third party had revealed a form of instruction.

Over a period of around four weeks, the wooden box became a collaborative project, with guests to Christiana’s apartment invited to examine the puzzle and attempt to solve it. During that time, the box took on many geometric forms: pyramid, cone, octahedron and latterly, a perfect cube, with opposite ebony and boxwood faces: it was more perfect in form that it had ever been but it still harboured something inside.

The geometrically perfect cube would let up no further information and remained static for a number of days, until the housemaid picked it up once more while she was cleaning. The top half separated from the bottom, the base now a half-cube on the table. The surfaces of the half cubes where they’d separated were a chequerboard design: a game of miniature chess could be played on each ebony and boxwood surface, the size of drinks coasters.

Christiana placed the two halves back together and a perfect cube once again sat upon the table, for a while. After around five seconds, the cube began to make a whirring sound, as though a clockwork mechanism had been invisibly wound inside. Slowly and with a smoothness suggesting the most intricate mechanical construction, the individual tiles on top of the cube folded back from the centre to the edges, eventually forming a five-sided cube with a checked interior. It was seemingly the lack of any further outside intervention which allowed the wooden device to complete a long transformation by self-re-assembly and after a while, the device resembled a chequered wooden hand. A slot opened in the palm and a card was offered between the forefinger and thumb: a card roughly the size of a visiting card and folded with such accuracy as to disguise the fact that it was anything other. Yet unfurled, it was an octavo sheet: eight leaves. The reverse of the flat sheet was blank but the eight pages to view on the face were images of art.

Oil and watercolour paintings; portraits, landscapes, sill life and abstract; cubist, surrealist and classical. Wooden, metal and glass sculptures; pieces made using prefabricated materials, notably shop window mannequins, plastic dolls, action men and tin soldiers. Body art as well: tattoos drawn in such a way as to give them a third dimension: an arm with skin pulled back to reveal muscle and bone beneath by way of a zip; a human chest splayed open to reveal a metallic cyborg beneath: living art made from human flesh, these two suggesting something beneath the skin visible only with the benefit of intimacy with the bearer. Another tattoo made the wearer’s right leg appear as though the limb were an intricate sculpture made from wood: one organic material transformed into another, which can be transformed in a way that the material it’s made from cannot, to create the illusion of just such a thing. All of these things had been made by the hands of Dom Pablo Solanas. All were arresting at first sight and invited closer inspection. Even as facsimiles and at such small sizes, the works of Solanas were breathtaking. At the bottom of the sheet was a phone number: apparently a direct line to Dom Pablo himself.

La ansiedad quietly whirred into motion again, the mechanical fingers retracting into the wooden flesh of the hand until the sculpture was briefly a chequered ovoid, before flipping open like a clam shell. It continued to change form, seemingly with perpetuity.
Dom Pablo arrived promptly and attired in a fashion exhibited in many public portraits of him: conflicting primary colours which somehow worked, on a man who also wore a fedora hat at all times, and who sported a perfectly manicured handlebar
moustache.

β€œMs. Kunsak. A pleasure to meet you.”

β€œPlease sir: Christiana. Likewise, Mr Solanas.” Christiana offered her hand, which Solanas held firmly.

β€œAs you wish. And please, call me Dom Pablo.” His voice was deep and relaxed. β€œChristiana: what is it that you’d like to do today?”

β€œI already have a great gift before me. This is a chance for me to turn your natural gift into something I can share. I have everything I could need around me, but this is an opportunity to own something which is so treasured, I may not wish to leave this apartment again.”

β€œIndeed. That is one of the rules I apply to my arts. Just as I turn my raw materials into others – like flesh into wood – so I wish to allow others to use me as a creative tool, so that what I create is their own. My subjects and prefabricated materials are artworks in themselves but together, we make unique pieces. By allowing a subject to commission me, I am subverting the art and holding a mirror to the process.

β€œYou will of course have an idea of who the giver of this gift is. Association with such a person is to be in the membership of a society which respects certain things, like privacy. Therefore, I never discuss the details of a commission with the subject. It is highly unlikely that anyone should wish to attract attention to anyone outside of a certain group, that they have been a part of my work. All of my pieces are unique and personal.”

β€œIt is those very people, those within my inner circles, that I have in mind as I enter into this: it was within my closest circles that I came to receive this, and only those of a certain standing will have access. Dom Pablo: I should like to carry your work with me in those circles; I would like you to use me as a canvas and make me a living work of art.”

β€œA truly beautiful idea. Although the canvas is living, I must render it inanimate so that I may work. As such, I shall administer a general anaesthetic, so that you feel no discomfort. I don’t like to talk when I work. When you awake, we will have new art and the Dom Pablo art changes lives. You will enter an even more exclusive, innermost circle of my very own. Excited? Sleep now…

***

β€œβ€¦When you see what Dom Pablo has done, at first you may recoil. But Dom’s art is personal and subjective; each work is unique and creates another life for the owner. My art remains with you, just as the motion of La ansiedad is perpetual. This latest work is entitledThe perpetuity of memory.”

Christiana stared into the mirror, and the illusion of wood carved from human flesh was real.Β It would take a level of intimacy permitted to very few, to see the original material beneath the artwork, made by Dom Pablo. The mannequin beneath the wooden skin.

Β© Steve Laker, 2015

Both The Perpetuity of Memory and The Unfinished Literary Agency, are available now in paperback.