Unsuitable for washing machines

FICTION

A product of spontaneous freestyle writing, prompted by a business card on the notice board next to my desk; This story (2500 words) wouldn’t fit on the back of the card, so I put five sheets of A4 paper into the typewriter.

maracatalan05Mara Catalan

THE TRAVELLING TAILOR

Rumple Suits is an outfit surrounded by mystery and unverified stories. A suit by Rumple Bros. is understated, its fine workmanship lost in a crowd, but on closer inspection, a quality of tailoring beyond any from Savile Row, but they don’t have premises. A Rumple suit tells a story as unique as that which it carries in its wearer.

So proclaimed a sponsored feature in this month’s Mobius Literate, an independent publication for purveyors of surreal horror, sci-fi and fantasy. I was reading it on the train home from London Victoria as we passed through Brixton, disappointed that a story I’d submitted hadn’t been included.

I don’t employ test readers, so my new stories are hot from the typewriter. I don’t tend to bother editors, any more than I can be bothered to follow guidelines, preferring to write freestyle and hope I’m asked for my stories. I’m too impatient to wait for publication after acceptance, so I self-publish most of my work and let the reader be judge. Mobius Literate work differently, preferring to scout, hunters of writers and trappers of readers.

There are no acceptance or rejection letters from Mobius, no next-issue previews either. Until a new edition is printed, writers don’t know if they’ve made it in, and readers are clueless on what to expect. The magazine has a captive audience, and a supply chain of fiction from the undead army of authors self-publishing all over the internet.

It’s a cheap publication, usually four sheets of A3 in black and white, folded and stitched to make a 16-page fanzine. The production values are pulp fiction, but the writing quality as unique as a Rumple Bros. suit. The editors are curators of the kind of fiction you wouldn’t find anywhere else. The kind you wouldn’t expect to find anywhere, because only Mobius knew where to look.

Walking home from Catford station, I cut through Mountsfield Park, but I didn’t make Tesco Metro despite the shortcut. I picked up Chinese from Jumbo Harbour instead, glad I did, simply because of my local take-away’s splendid name. On the final walk up my road, I thought of all those cargo starships, docked at the space dock, Jumbo Harbour itself a retail and entertainment complex the size of a small city on 14 levels, just hanging in space.

I threw Mobius Literate on my desk next to the typewriter, took a shower while my prawns and noodles steamed, then watched some New Tales of the Unexpected on Netflix, looking like a tiny Judo novice in my white bathrobe.

I was full after what most people would consider a snack, so I put my uneaten Chinese in the fridge for the next day. My timing was fortuitous, because that’s when my doorbell rang.

Good evening,” said a man at the door, “I’m sorry to trouble you at this hour.” He was smartly-dressed in a three-piece suit – dark grey – and a pastel pink shirt with a shocking pink tie, perfectly knotted and drawing my eyes up to his, which were brown and framed by pink spectacles. He was holding a briefcase. I asked him to come in, in a moment which I felt would precede a polite enquiry of “May I come in?” My doormat had never been wiped with cherry red brogues before. “Should I take these of?” he asked. It seemed impolite to insist on wasting time.

Please,” I said, “come in.”

May I take a seat?”

Of course. Can I get you anything?”

A Gin and tonic, if you have one.” I had. “And a phone number.”

A phone number?”

Yes, I don’t use the internet. I need a number for Paul Jennings. He’s a writer. I gather you’re an agent.”

I am,” I replied, “I’m Paul’s agent. In fact, Paul Jennings is one of my pen names.”

Well, that makes things simpler. I suppose I don’t need the number any more. I must admit, I thought you’d be taller. Anyway, can I ask you about Paul?”

May I ask,” I asked, “who’s asking?”

My apologies,” said the man, “of course you may. Like you, I’m an agent. May I take some measurements?”

Of what?”

Of you, sir.”

What for?”

Measurements of yourself sir, your dimensions and your vital statistics if you like. So we know what to put you in. You strike me as one suited to natural materials.”

Materials? What are you building? Are you one of those undertaker prank characters I’ve read about?”

This is not a prank sir. I represent a bespoke tailoring company, who can help you tell any story you’d like to be yours. I’m here to make you a suit, sir.”

Why?”

Because you look like you need one. And because you’re small. My agency needs smaller models for our new range.”

What, boys? Okay, so how much will this suit cost? How long will it take to make? Do I get to choose the fabrics and colours?”

You are already the fabric and the tones, Paul. But yes, the choice is yours. It costs nothing and I can make it for you tonight. Suit you sir?”

What else was I going to do at midnight, than get measured up for a bespoke tailored suit in my own home. Especially when I had an in-house tailor for just one night?

I chose an outfit of natural colours: a grey-green jacket over a matching open-necked checked shirt; dark grey pants with green socks and brown brogues; and green-rimmed spectacles. As promised, the tailor ran the whole thing up while I watched.

In his briefcase, he had a portable production facility, a factory in microcosm. The case opened out like a make-up case or a tool box, to reveal tools and materials on tiered shelves, like a theatre audience. Other sections folded out from the floor of the case, which concealed a tiny sewing machine and a loom.

Cotton reels unfolded like comets and silver blades cut through the air, as the tailor’s hands worked like humming birds under a lamp in his case. Then like a piano virtuoso, he cracked his knuckles. “Et, voici.” Here you go. He handed my new clothes to me in a neatly folded pile. They were soft, as though fresh from the laundry, but they were new.

The material,” the tailor said, “is the same as my own suit. Here, feel.”

Velvet would have been the first approximation I made, but more delicate, more flimsy, like silk. It felt like new moleskin, barely covering a notebook.

Please,” the tailor said, “try on your new clothes.”

I made myself scarce in the kitchen and got changed. As soon as I put the clothes on, I felt like I wasn’t wearing them, or I’d been wearing the outfit all my life, like a well-trodden pair of shoes which fit on the ends of your legs like feet. My new clothes were comfortable in a way I knew meant they’d only been made for me. I felt at home, yet I could go anywahere.

Sleep in it,” the tailor said. “You’ll wear it in, it’ll adapt better to your shape, and you won’t even know you’re wearing clothes. Besides, this outfit is too rare and valuable to leave laying around.”

Actually I felt so comfortable, so held together within my outfit, that I’d have worn it to bed anyway. Any remaining doubts about sleeping in my day clothes were banished when I noticed my initials monogrammed on the breast of the shirt: P.J. Pyjamas.

The new wardrobe cost me nothing, except posing for a photograph and signing a form. The agent placed a business card in my breast pocket and my heart jumped. I was a little excited he was leaving, looking forward to getting to know myself.

After the tailor had gone, I looked at myself, a Bonsai tree on reflection: lots of growth at the head, stumped by restrictions in the roots planted in a pot, I’d make a good addition to any arty bookshelf.

I loved my suit. It fitted only me, it was made for me. As unique as the story within, it was the cover which bound my life. I’d have to buy another sometime, as this one would need laundering, but for now I really wanted to sleep in my new clothes. I took the shoes and socks of, but otherwise I was in P.J’s peejays.

Sleep often eludes me, as my mind is so full of thoughts and ideas for fiction. But sometimes I’ll take a dream to sleep with me, then in the morning feel like I’ve not slept at all. I remember being awake, then I’ll recall whatever surreal images my dreams paint.

Most people aren’t aware of the precise moment they fall asleep, only remembering their dreams some of the time. I transport to a world of lucidity, where dreams are real and I can interact with them, waking up as I step out of another world.

On the night I slept in my new suit, that place became bigger, as my new outfit gave me the confidence to explore further. I was completely relaxed, feeling protected by the clothes I hardly felt I was wearing, as they became part of me. My suit enclosed me, and I was an astronaut protected by a gravity field, a new life protected in the womb.

The next day, the clothes still smelled fresh, but I’d take a shower like usual. Before I got undressed, I took the tailor’s card from my pocket. Although he hadn’t verbally introduced himself, I knew his name was Fred Nurk. He worked for Rumple Bros. Tailors. Although I mentioned them in the preamble, this was the first time I’d seen the name. I Googled and found all that stuff about them not having any premises, being exclusive and the rest.

I started to take off the jacket but it was stuck. The collar was sticking to the shirt underneath. I tried taking my arms out first, but the jacket lapels were stuck too. I tugged at the sleeves, but they just pulled at my shirt.

I thought I’d try the top two layers at once, so I started unbuttoning the shirt, but the button wouldn’t pass through the hole. I pulled the shirt collar open at the neck, but it tugged at my skin. I tried lifting the shirt and jacket over my head like a pullover, but the shirt just stretched my skin underneath.

I tried the button on the trousers but it was stuck, tried pushing the trousers down but they snagged on my hips. Pushing harder just pulled at my skin. I tugged at the ankles, but felt a sharp pull on my leg hairs, where the tops of my socks would be. I seemed to have reached an impasse, wherein I’d been eaten by my clothes.

I called the number on Fred Nurk’s card and got a recorded message:

Thank you for calling Rumple Brothers. If you would like to become an agent, please press one. For all other enquiries, please hold.”

While listening to regular reminders to continue holding, I flipped Nurk’s card over and saw it was printed on the back:

NOT SUITABLE FOR MACHINE WASHING. DO NOT DRY CLEAN.

In some moment of desperate logic, I had an idea and hung up the phone.

I needed to wash myself, and my clothes would need cleaning at some point. I took a tepid shower, still in my clothes, just like being in heavy rainfall. If I could loosen the glue, or whatever it was in the material which stuck the clothes to my body, then I’d put some old clothes on while I dried my new outfit.

I only close my eyes for the first 30 seconds or so in the shower, just time to rinse my face and hair. Clearing my eyes and looking down, I noticed the colour was starting to run in my jacket. I brushed myself down and the pigment from the cloth stained the water a dark green colour. The water was bleaching my suit.

My new clothes were now skin-coloured.

I felt around the neck of the shirt, down to a crease where it met my skin. My cuffs, waist and ankles were the same. I was one with my suit. I was wearing a skin suit, not like that made by a serial killer from the flesh of other people, my clothes were flaps of my own skin. I no longer had arms, but sleeves of flesh, lapels instead of nipples and trousers of skin covering anything which might have been a functioning anus.

I phoned Nurk again.

This is Fred?”

Ah, Mr Nurk?”

Hey, Paul Jennings, how’s it going?”

Er, okay. It’s about the suit.”

What about it?”

All the colour came out.”

Did you get caught in the rain? Did you take a shower in it?”

I can’t get it off. It’s like I’m sewn into it, but there’s no stitches to unpick.”

Did the skin you were born in have stitches, or a zip?”

Er…”

Exactly, no.”

But I look like a plucked chicken left on the shelf too long. I’ve got flaps of loose skin all over me. I’ve got fucking wings!”

Well,” Nurk said, “wear baggy clothes for now if you want to go out. I did explain that our bespoke tailoring was unique, and now you can see why I can’t offer a replacement. There’s surgery of course, or a quicker solution might be a course of tattoos to give you a complete new body suit.

Anyway, good news. You remember I said we needed models for our smaller sizes? Well, you’re in this month’s Mobius Literate. They’re running a feature on body modification, and another using models who don’t fit the usual stereotype, you know, fat people, thin people, amputees, that sort of thing. Well, we got the centrefold sponsored content ad and you’re in there. I’ll send you a copy.”

And there I was, in the hallowed pages of Mobius. In a sponsored feature, modelling my bespoke suit, as naked as the day I was born.

© Steve Laker, 2019

I’m not sure where I’d pitch some twisted surreal retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes, but I feel better getting the analogies and parallels out there for people to think about. Like all my stories, I hope this one carries more than one meaning or comment, and I hope it stands up to repeated reading.

 

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When my elbow was an airbag

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Burning the midnight oil at both ends of the candle, in this life and the one before it, desperate to ignite some of the methylated spirit which is the ink in my veins, I turned again to 642 Things to Write About (San Francisco Writers’ Grotto). On an otherwise blank page, there’s a line at the top: ‘What did you dream about last night?’ Mine is one of thousands of copies of this empty ideas book, and my entry only one of many versions of events. Recurring dreams are just history repeating, in a surreal retelling of witness statements.

Blood bottles

We don’t remember all of our dreams, although I probably recall more than most. I keep a notebook by the bed, so when I’m woken by a dream, I’ll write it down. I also have a rare and occasional ability to dream lucidly.

Lucid dreaming took me years of practice and I’m far from mastering the art, but when I manage to dream lucidly, it’s quite literally like exploring the cosmos. It’s a journey into the wider space of the unconscious mind. It’s essentially being aware that you’re dreaming within a dream.

Usually a dream will carry you along like a captive audience trapped in your own head. There are jumps and frights to guide the way to an exit, but otherwise you’re not in control. If you can be aware that you’re dreaming, you can interact within your dream and change it. It’s the difference between being in the audience and being the director on the set of your own scientific horror films.

To get yourself onstage, you need that initial awareness. You need to plant a seed. The way I did it was a bit like counting sheep to clear the mind, but by repeating to myself as I laid there, ‘Tonight I will be aware that I’m dreaming,’ or words to similar effect. I find it difficult to clear my mind, so sleep eludes me regularly, despite prescription tranquillisers. In a way, it helps with achieving lucidity, taking my waking thoughts with me as I slip into the other world.

It can take years of practice though, not least in suppressing your emotions so that you don’t wake yourself at the moment you realise you’re dreaming. That’s the opposite of being shocked awake by a nightmare. Conversely, sometimes you don’t realise you’ve achieved lucidity. Often the difference between awake and subconscious can be so subtle that you feel you’ve not slept at all.

You’re never aware of the moment you fall asleep, but you’re neither awake nor asleep in the dream. I learned to sleep like this when I was homeless.

It’s a different kind of consciousness. You’re exploring the subconscious mind, and that’s connected to the rest of the universe. How? Quantum entanglement: The simple idea that at the moment of the Big Bang, all matter was created from a point of almost infinite density. To do that, sub-atomic particles – many degrees of magnitude further from the smallest we can now detect – were ripped apart. 14.6 billion years later, each retains a link to its partner (they’re monogamous), and science has demonstrated that these connections operate over cosmic distances. We’re all in this together.

Essentially, each of us is connected to every single part of the universe at a sub-atomic level. And that’s how lucid dreaming works, as those wires which trail between galaxies get plugged into the universal power supply. The people you’re thinking of are far more likely to be looking up at the stars than those you’d rather forget. You’re more likely to bump into people you like when you dream. Better to sleep.

While you’re slumbering ethereally, you’re in a place of eternity and infinity; one where all knowledge is to be found. Count the sheep and follow the last one.

And that’s how I circle back to what I dreamed about last night.

Dreams are an exaggeration of reality, and the things you take with you become amplified.

While I drifted around in space the day before that which is now, I thought of how what could be my personal heaven might be someone else’s hell, if they fear a truth which might challenge their conditioning; and of how we’re all conditioned by modern terror.

Bic Red

Our rulers and governors would rather we didn’t dream. They made mind-expanding drugs illegal because they don’t want us to explore beyond this planet they’ve engineered; heaven and hell respectively, on either side of the great manufactured divide, pumped full of licensed drugs. The only psychedelic substances we’re allowed are the artificial ones made by big pharma companies, paying little tax in the havens governed by their shareholders. They fear what might happen if we were able to lay our hands freely on natural resources which might expand our minds beyond their blinkered vision, available for reading from the limited library of the right-wing press, or by borrowing someone from the human lending library of people most likely to give you unsolicited advice at a Wetherspoon’s fruit machine.

sun-tzu-statue

Like everyone’s dreams, mine are an exaggeration of reality. I have a feeling we really are in the midst of a third world war without realising we’ve been polarised, because it was engineered by a whole film crew of politicians, producing the living nightmare we see being played out around us.

Maybe I didn’t sleep after all, but I was there. All around the world, then and now. One person’s dreams are another’s nightmares. The only way to stop it is to switch it off.

Like so.

SyringePen-2

This post was brought to you by the letter E, the number 37, and the writing prompt, ‘What did you dream about last night?’

When God was a chicken

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Lately I’ve been spending time with Lenny, the chicken which hatched from a Campbell’s soup can painted by Andy Warhol. I’ve been accused of making Len up, as though the cure for my social anxiety was all in my mind. In any case, we’ve been touring the places I know. We’ve been out in my village, and anyone who saw us will know we’re real.

poulet3_0

As Helen (as she turned out to be) had grown restless in the studio, we first visited the local charity shops. As an assistance chicken, she was allowed in, which eased a burden of pressure on me. Len could choose her own toys, which she did by pecking and clawing at various pieces of plastic tat. She also took an interest in the books, vigorously headbutting a children’s bible. It was a win-win for me: Money to charity, and a happy self-educating chicken to boot.

Len was keen to return home with her toys and book, but we still had shopping to do. As we walked through the village, she was tugging at her lead in various directions she considered to be toward home (she was no pigeon). The zebra crossing on the high street contained poultry for much of the afternoon, as we crossed repeatedly from one side to the other.

Eventually we made it to the supermarket, where I stocked up on food for us both. Len stayed close, perhaps sensing my relief that this was the last stop and we’d be home soon.

Back at the studio, I unpacked the shopping while Len made a bed with her toys and started leafing through her children’s bible. I asked her if there was anything she fancied for dinner, and she headbutted an open page in her book. It was Jesus and the feeding of the 5000. I made us fish finger sandwiches.

While I was cooking, Len read some more of her bible. As I was putting our sandwiches together, I heard a tapping on my typewriter. Craning my head around the doorway, I saw Len at the desk, on this very laptop. I saved what she typed:

I am God.”

Maybe my chicken couldn’t speak to me directly, but she’d found a way to communicate. I had to reply:

What makes you say that?”

My family are dead. I am the only one left.”

Who were your family?”

Those in the supermarket, the Indian, the Chinese and the kebab shop.”

No wonder we’d crossed the road so many times. Thankfully there isn’t a KFC in the village, and Deliveroo don’t deliver(oo).

I am God.”

How do I know?”

I couldn’t ask for proof besides her survival outside the local food outlets, because that would deny faith. Even though I’m an atheist, I at least had a chicken for company. My chicken – imaginary or not – had helped me overcome my social anxiety.

You’ll never know,” she wrote, “my beautiful typewriter.”

Why?”

But there was no reply. My chicken had disproved herself, because I’d asked.

As an atheist, I don’t pray to any false deity made in man’s image, but Lenny the chicken will forever live in my mind.

Kentucky friedKentucky fried | Protect me from what I want (Michel Koven Blog)

© Steve Laker, 2019

 

Andy Warhol looks a scream

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

With my fight for independence still very much ongoing with DWP, and mindful of a personal promise to keep writing and not let them take this from me, I remembered I’m a part-time surrealist, and I’ve not written much which is real or unreal lately.

Initially I thought I’d write a short story about poverty, food banks, and the UK government’s economic genocide. I decided that could wait, after I spotted a writing prompt which might permit me wider thought: ‘A can of soup’.

So I mixed up some paints to tell the real and fictional lives of a writer…

Chicken soup

CAMPBELL’S CHICKEN SOUP

I was hungry and lately I’d had a cold. I fancied chicken soup and CBeebies, or repeats of Doctor Who with Tom Baker and Matt Smith. But my cupboards were bear and my pre-pay meter low, so I decided to use the last of my electricity to heat a tin of Campbell’s soup given to me by Andy Warhol.

This being a piece of art history, the can displayed no use-by date. Given who it was from, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found an egg inside. Instructions too. I was to place the egg in an oven at the lowest possible setting, checking on it every two hours until it hatched.

My cooker is electric, so the lowest setting is 70 degrees. Fearing this might be a little warm, I left the oven door open. An egg was unlikely to attempt escape, but it would eventually hatch. My anxiety dictates I don’t go out much, but I had someone else to feed now, so I ordered some seeds on the internet.

After a couple of days, a yellow chick hatched and began frantically chirping at me. Too small to peck at the seeds I’d bought, I fed it liquidised food from a syringe I happened to have lying around.

It was impossible to tell if my chick was a boy or girl. In any other setting, if it’d been a girl, she’d have been reared for egg-laying, or fattened up for human consumption. A boy would be discarded, often destined to be reptile food. I called it Lenny, or Len, after Leonard Hofstadter, or Helen of Troy.

For the first few nights, I slept in the kitchen next to the warmth from the oven, waking every couple of hours to feed Lenny. In return, she (I’d decided) gave substance to my lonely life, where lately I’d have put my head in her home if I cooked with gas. After about a week, Helen was pecking at the seeds I’d bought.

I let Len live in the oven and left the door open. If she wished, she could have the run of the flat. She grew quickly and after a month, she was of a size which wouldn’t look out of place in a supermarket freezer.

Some birds are born with very large head-to-body ratios (the corvids, penguins, parakeets and parrots), and many are as intelligent as dolphins or the great apes. All birds are born with instincts. The first is imprinting the face they see on hatching as that of their mother.

I was Leonard Hofstadter’s mum, noted psychologist Dr Beverley Hofstadter. As though prompted by that, Len developed some strange behaviour, and I wondered if it might also be instinctive.

Lenny kept getting out of the cooker and pressing the buttons on the front. She started plucking at her feathers, as though preparing herself for roasting, like an old Doctor Who on a carving trolley at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I had a depressed chicken. Was it because mine was the first face she saw when she’d hatched? Or was Helen actually Leonard, burdened with a childhood lived in shadows? I switched the oven off at the mains.

Just lately I’ve been so broke that I’ve had to choose between eating and heating. Now I’ve got Len, I took a doorstep loan and put money on the electric key, so she wouldn’t need the oven to keep warm. It means she can watch TV as well, and she loves CBeebies.

Tomorrow we’ll visit the local charity shops to buy my chicken some toys. We’re out of food, so we’ll have to go to the food bank as well.

© Steve Laker, 2019

It all started when Andy Warhol painted a Campbell’s soup can. I just wondered what happened to what he painted. Can’t tell them apart at all.

Dining on darkened stools

FLASH FICTION

Pulp Pollution

PULP POLLUTION

As a one-time music writer, I’m crapping it, which is what every horror writer wants their readers to do, as they feed them to obesity in a crowded field. When I write fiction, there are parts of me in every story or character I create, but I’ve rarely lived the actual events in the stories. Now I’m seated alone in Green Inferno, a joint which prides itself on being carnivorous. My first observation is that if you’re in the story yourself, it’s not so easy to make it up as you go along.

The place is cavernous and filled with greenery, so that the experience is one of dining in a plastic south American forest, alone. As I look around, it’s hard to make out many other diners for the dense foliage, which eases my anxiety. Anyone walking through the bushes around me could be a customer, a lost tribe member, or one of the dishes. I hear running water but I can’t see a toilet. I turn my attention to the menu, which is the other point of this place.

It’s a meat restaurant, but with its focus on food provenance. All their dishes are locally sourced, and every cut of meat is traceable to an individual. Reared by organic local farmers, each animal was once a friend, and so every dish comes with a story, like Peter Davidson at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing his lifestyle and how that’s improved his finer cuts.

Mine is a shallow hunger, so I browse the appetisers. Among them, I’m intrigued by the pygmy cutlets. The beast once burdened by these isn’t described by species (I assume pork, from a pig), but as a character:

He (we’re told that much) was unwell for much of his short life (not terribly appetising so far). Bullied by his siblings and shunned by his elders, he’d been adopted by other animals. They stop short of actually naming the individuals here, but I gather this little chap had a bit of an identity crisis (I know how he felt).

Another of these pygmy things sounded a bit of an arse: His partner and children had fled his abusive patriarchy, then he’d been ejected by his drift (the collective noun for swine) and become a nomad (and no mates). For years he wandered with lonely guilt, until he died of a broken heart (impaled). In some respects, I could relate to him too.

The stories of the menu certainly make me question whether I should be eating what was once a sentient, self-determining being like me. As a horror writer, I’ve sometimes reflected on the act of consuming dead flesh, questioning if it might be both the most and least respectful way of disposing of a body. On the one hand, it’s everything which was in that living body being taken on by another (so a bit like holy communion). Conversely, it’s power over the body of the lost soul as it’s consumed (not unlike holy communion then).

I decided on a cut from each, whoever they were. While they remained nameless, they’d be just like any other meat on my plate. As food, once the organism has ceased to function, it becomes organic. It’s consumed, drained of its nutrients for the nourishment of the host, then what’s left is excreted as waste: Life as pulp fiction, picked up on airport news stands, consumed in the air, and cast into the bin on different shores, like so much human waste. Perhaps there are beach combers there, and some stories live again, but I was growing distracted in the plastic green inferno.

My stomach was growing cramped, like my surroundings; vegetation everywhere, but not a leaf to eat. And yet, the dishes I’d ordered were once living beings with stories. I owed them enough respect to eat them while they were still warm.

I’m not sure if it was a server or a customer who ran through the foliage behind me. I couldn’t tell if the sound of flowing water was from a distant stream or the glass now being poured beside me, as my food arrived. I couldn’t wait.

I dined alone as always, with only myself for company, pondering publication of this review. The writer who shit himself.

“Door open or closed?” It made no difference, as I passed an effigy of me. It appeared to smile as I flushed it away to some distant beach.

© Steve Laker, 2018

Star Trekkin’ away from Jeff

THE WRITER’S LIFE

When does life actually end? When we stop breathing and our heart stops beating, when our brain dies, or when we’re forgotten, or no longer loved? An hour spent randomly clicking around Wikipedia is never time wasted. It’s a well-known almost-fact that all articles on Wikipedia eventually lead back to philosophy. In fact the theory itself is further recursive with its own Wiki entry.

I’m finding that self-curated tours around the internet, armed with some common sense and a curious mind, can be quite fulfilling. It’s a world where you can go virtually anywhere, with little regard for safety, yourself, or others. It’s a universe of ideas, and full of parallels with the land of the living (undead). Bidding my imaginary room mate (Jeff) a pleasant evening, I headed out earlier onto the internet and into what’s on my parallel mind.

Canteen1Banthapedia

According to the theory of fictional realism, everything which has been written or imagined already exists. At the quantum level, every reality which was a possibility but which didn’t become reality (to the observer), became real and actual in a parallel universe. It’s an idea which makes quantum computers able to open portals to new dimensions and invite demons into our world, but for now, I was just concerned with the virtual universe and microcosm of human existence which is the World Wide Web.

(One of those little QI-type facts you pick up and never forget: The World Wide Web was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who gave it away for free (imagine how different the world would be if it had been capitalised from the start. No, don’t). The story (perhaps apocryphal) goes that the prefix before any URL would be an abbreviation of “The Internet Machine,” which is of course TIM. Berners-Lee – a modest man – resisted this and instead suggested WWW for World Wide Web, which we still use today. But it’s a contradiction: when spoken “WWW” has three times as many syllables as the words it seeks to abbreviate. I don’t know if it’s all true or not, but it does no-one any harm to assume it is.)

Among all the fake news and the hacking of democracy, the internet still serves as a crucible for all human knowledge. There are holes, dents and bits missing from the universal encyclopedia, but that’s further reflection of the collective hands of the one race who made it.

Unable to go out much in my physical world, I thought I’d broaden my virtual horizons. The first thing I happened upon could easily be my transport in that virtual universe, as it was never built and always remained a dream.

Dornier Do X future imagining

Based on the Dornier Do X sea plane, this was a larger future imagining. I’m no physicist but the wings would have to extend way off the sides of my monitor and have six or eight propeller engines each. Still, it’s a romantic idea. I assumed such a splendidly redundant thing was at least plausible, and it only takes imagination to jump on board a big yellow bird: Sesame Street meets Transformers.

Our leviathan landed on a lake, where I found another place which never fulfilled its intended purpose: Fort Montgomery on Lake Champlain was built after the American War of Independence, on the border with British Canada to protect against British invasion. It was discovered by the British when they found it had been built on their side of the border. It was subsequently abandoned and became known as “Fort Blunder,” which kind of sums up the whole British colonialism and latter American imperialism we witness today: Incompetence, written all over the rest of mankind’s history (a bit like war).

fort-montgomery-16-930x620

Landing close to water back on the real world, I saw a sea lion in a world created by humans. I’d normally dismiss anything which exploits an animal for human entertainment, but this guy seems to turn the whole thing on its head (he perhaps has with connections with Lake Champlain):

Assuming the keepers’ calls aren’t connected to any past aversion technique, this is a perfect demonstration of assembled intelligence levels. In Cyrus Song, some of the zoo animals are grateful they’re there, because they get food and shelter, and they can take the piss out of humans.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy noted that Earth was “Mostly harmless.” Perhaps an addendum: “A bit like America: Nice, but full of humans.”

Fuck you

Humans are capable of beautiful dreams and horrible nightmares. All we need to do is keep talking, and listening. Everything that’s happened, and much which didn’t, remains in parallel universes created when someone had the idea. Life ends when we stop thinking.

Random thought: Fairground ghost train + pinball table = roller coaster.

 

In make-up with Max Headroom

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There are three people in all of us (and I’m one of them): The person we think we are; the one others see; and the third, inner (or shadow) self. I’m in touch with that third person, just as I can write from the perspective of others. I can read thoughts, then write them down for people to think about. I can be omnipresent in my virtual worlds, directing the thoughts of those there with me, and that’s where I’m finding myself lately, in an empty room. It’s where I left my ego.

Max Headroom in make-upJohn Humphrys at Frieze

A great philosopher never wrote this:

Imagine you’re in an empty room, with no visible means of exit: How do you escape?

Whether or not anyone had posited that mind experiment before, it was one I’ve posed to myself many times. In any case, I’d first ponder whether the subject might not want to escape. Then I’d propose one of two things: Stop imagining, or use your imagination.

I may not got out much (social anxiety), but I will if someone needs me and they can’t get to me. It’s far easier (mentally) not to go out, and have friends like me, who’ll make an effort when I need someone. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those.

I thought I did. Even as recently as my birthday, I was prepared to put my personal plans to one side to help a friend who said they needed a shoulder and an ear. Even if they didn’t need me on the day, I’d let it be known that I’d appreciate the company (to one who said they’d drop everything for a friend in need), but apparently it doesn’t work that way. I seem to be back living on one-way streets again, but that’s fine.

I’m used to being kerbside, just watching the world go by or hitching a ride, and my birthday told me where I stood: Far from alone in the real world life, but apart from most and not a part of many. I have to choose my own adventure, like the fighting fantasy books I used to read before I had anyone to play Dungeons and Dragons with (back in my teens, but no longer). All the geeks grew up and got jobs. I’m the only one who lost all their hit points and longed to be a teenage nerd again, but when memories are forgotten, they become stories.

Everyone else respected my annual tradition of wanting to be alone, on the one day of the year I can allocate myself to gather my thoughts. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, and the mind grows wiser, as I realised I’m better alone than surrounded by carrion feeders anyway. It seems some I thought were friends (in the mutual, two-way paradigm) are only that for their own convenience, when I have something they want, or when it suits them. A plague of rain and floods on fair weather friends, as no-one needs those, least of all when mental health issues make that one vulnerable (and causes one to refer to oneself as ‘one’).

In the virtual world, a quick scan of the (admittedly, quite a few) messages on Facebook told me more than a night out with all of them would (I wouldn’t have time to get round them all, it’d cost too much to drink with each, and I’d have to travel). There were many notable absences, which stung a bit, but that perhaps told me something too: they’re less likely to be there in the real world when I need them than I thought.

Truth is, people are frightened of what they (and I) don’t understand: my broken brain. Always the elephant in the room, laying eggs for people to walk over, I don’t have the luxury of avoiding me, because I live there. I can’t run away to escape my mind, and no-one else visits it, so I face the mirror.

Ever the cracked actor, this blog has always been both the mask I hide behind and some of what goes on behind it. I’m far more comfortable being someone else, but that’s often the person I want to be, in whom I feel comfortable, but who others can find overwhelming in real life. But in the virtual world, I can be that inner persona.

As a writer who’s been compared to others I admire in the various genres (Lovecraft, Kafka, King and Poe in horror; Douglas Adams for sci-fi; Paul Auster in my more complex writing; many children’s authors; and the surrealists, Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas for Cyrus Song), I’ve decided now’s as good a time as any for reinvention and a change of clothes.

My recent depressive episode coincided with the latest attack of writer’s block. Having worn so many hats in the past, I wasn’t sure which one to put back on. But then that third person in me suggested another way: don’t conform to any. Do something different, unconventional and surprising. Mix things up a bit and come up with the thoughts no-one has (like the two foundation ideas in Cyrus Song). There are a finite number of plots, but infinite ways to write them, each creating a new universe and all talking to me.

Be original: Your individuality is your originality. This could be a metamorphosis, a changing of the chameleon’s colours, or just another crack I’ve found in the actor’s mind, but I’ll see where it takes me and my typewriter as we make up and wake up.

Much of the writing I did in those recent troubled times, and which is in the notebooks I carried around and sat in front of the TV with, is all over the place, like I was. In amongst it all though, there are stories, and some like none I’ve written before. There are elephants in there: floating elephant heads, which walk on their trunks (eight each, like a spider), sucking up eggs and denying the birth of another life, preventing sentience, self-determinism and coping mechanisms.

There’s a plastic population: people who are part plastic (every human); there’s the hacking of human DNA; a quantum computer, becoming one with its creator; nano-drones, right under our noses, observing and interacting with us while we curse a sneeze; the tale of an escaped Schrödinger’s cat, back to tell tales of nine lives spent in parallel universes; and the world’s greatest irony, in a lake beneath the Kalahari desert, where the water is fossilised.

I don’t know what else might emerge. As a writer, I’m going to experiment, play, throw away, and I’m keen to find out. I’m stuck in a room, but I have an imagination. I’ll write more in that third person and occupy the shadow self. Making love with my ego. Like a leper messiah.

Cyrus Song is available now.