the pursuit

Let us go then, let us flee
Hand in hand for destiny
Shadows dancing, cobbled straits
We run, or surely death awaits
your face by moonlight soft as snow
Carved by Michelangelo
Frantic footsteps close behind
Echoes of a troubled mind
Curtains tight like insomniac eyes
As nightmares start to crystallise
Hunter slows, now comes our chance
We share a fleeting, feather glance
Then gunshot splits open silent air
And cleaves through hearts like a knife through poetry
Falling, falling to the stones with a dull splash like toppled inkwell
Looking up from deep-sea city lights shimmering through your hair
coughs and finally I ask you whether
I can have your smile
etched upon my eyes forever…

***

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On a Halloween night in the 80s… (a poem)

As time dissolved at the arcade
All through the night he played and played
Through pixel dungeons fought and flayed
til the owner pulled the plug

his neon kingdom overthrown
Astride his bike he heads for home
The roads are dark he’s all alone
the trick or treaters dreaming

Pumpkins line the streets for miles
Crinkled faces, seedy smiles
Sharpened teeth like crocodiles
So soon they’ll start to rot…

Through the graveyard theres a quick route home
With ominous oaktrees, paths overgrown
He manoeuvres softly o’er gravel and bone
So as not to break the silence

Then he hears a whisper close and slight
Lets loose a whimper- cocooned in fright
he pedals so hard his bike takes flight
and he falls into a grave..

he hits his head and vision swirled
and stumbles on some underworld
then before his eyes great wings unfurled
Nevermore! Nevermore! Nevermore!

and when he rose from that grave place
with body stiff and blood-streaked face
he smiled and felt the nights embrace
and went to find a victim…

***

The real me

In fleeting words
Like hummingbirds
The real me
The real me

On mountain high
Neath twilit sky
The real me
The real me

A bar in shadow
Jazz piano
The real me
The real me

When someone farts
And laughter starts
The real me
The real me

When face is stuck
In a good book
The real me
The real me

Through all of life’s complexity
It would bring about such ecstasy
If I could be
Eternally
The real me
The real me

the phantom painter (surreal flash fic)

Dearest Theo,

It has been far too long! What is it, almost two months since last correspondence? I Hope all is well with Ellen and the twins, and that business over at the publishers continues to run in all its usual proficiency. Apologies but preliminaries must be cut unusually short– i have the most astonishing story to tell you of the events of the past few days.. contain it any longer and I fear I shall be sent quite mad!.. Recently I’ve been working exclusively by night, as I’ve found most of my best works are those emphatically dowsed in darkness and shadow. Thus my  studio is now almost completely black but for the light of a single candle, and the faint mist of the moon and stars through the high windows. In this light the objects and oil coated canvases seem to take on some new and otherworldly aspect which is leeched by the light of day.. tis something you catch a glimpse of in works of Rembrandt.. objects and figures so tenderly draped in shadow and caressed in light that they radiate beauty no matter the subject. Consequently then Ive spent many these past days in an abyssal, positively ursine sleep.. waking only in the nocturnal hours, only for my art, and feeling somewhat as if Im perpetually teetering on the edge of a dream.. Every thought and feeling seems to echo, to pulsate, to send ripples out into my own personal cosmos, and those dim unconscious wanderings that are usually so easily silenced, are now raucous, even threatening to take sway.

Although at times more than a little discomfiting this delirious state has done wonders for my art, a truly seismic change (which I hope to soon put before you), and no doubt i shall continue to drift in this stupor so long as my painterly endeavours continue to exude such an inveterate vivacity. But alas there is something yet more pressing — before this metamorphosis of mine art and mind I had been content enough with painting still life, but after my nocturnal turning I quite suddenly became set on testing my newfound gall on models, figures, and so sought out my muse. initially, I struggled beyond all mannered expression to find someone willing to come down to the studio at so exclusive and unconventional an hour, and most the stragglers who found willingness demanded such extraordinary monetary recompense that I had no choice but turn them down. I considered tracking down a working prostitute but felt it not only morally contestable to offer payment for such but also to then expect such a transaction to be somehow transformed into beautiful art. So after considerable searching I eventually happened upon a similarly manic-minded artist friend who pointed me towards a very singular fellow who was agreeable to lending his presence at such hours for a reasonable fee.

My friend had informed me beforehand that the man was mute, which I found rather endearing, but he had revealed little else of him. Having now met the man and spent some time with him these past few nights i can tell you he is without doubt the most enigmatic of personages I have ever encountered. Not only is he mute of voice but in all expression, of any kind, and yet there is an invisible, silent intensity there.. of immeasurable magnitude, like that which one feels when observing a truly great portrait of a figure who bears no expression.. but who is nevertheless radiant with some unseen aesthetic, some perhaps .. atomic energy. He is strikingly handsome, as a Michaelangelo, certainly on a par with cousin Jane –which as is well known, is no mean feat. And that stare.. by God! it is surely like lingering in those slowed down moments just before the lethal pounce of a great beast..

Last night curiosity got the upper hand of me, and after having drawn a few charcoals, which I find akin to the shaping of smoke with the tip of a finger, I told the man that he could leave a little earlier than usual (for the same fee of course). He took up his coat and left silently, but then I was struck by an irresistible urge to follow, and to find out more of this enigma. So I soon found myself stalking the city streets in the pitch night.. the streets of Amsterdam were so staggeringly beautiful I almost wept — the stars prancing and pirouetting on the surface of the canal, while the cobbled streets shifted and shimmered with lunar mists, and the cathedral spires pierced the sky like ethereal stalacmites.. it was, in no everyday usage of the word, divine. But as ever i digress.. I pursued the mute some way through the silent streets, a small few other phantasmal wanderers adrift in my periphery, and saw he made his way toward the gates of the city cemetery. Understandably hesitant, I followed him into the darkness, and thought, more than once, that I’d lost him amongst the clustered silhouettes of trees and elaborate headstones.. but then caught sight of his fleeting form and resumed pursuit.

i couldn’t help but think of the gravestones as being like withering teeth, and that I was moving deeper and deeper into the gullet of some slumbering titan.. lost in such dreamy thoughts I again almost lost sight of him, when I glimpsed him clambering over the cemetery wall. he climbed over the seven foot stonewall with a grace and ease that seemingly verged on the superhuman.. I followed this phantom, with the grace of a seal and fell over the other side a minute or so later. small wonder i landed in time to see him enter one of the buildings a little way up the street lit by a flickering streetlantern. Apartments. I approached the dilapidated looking place, and saw the main door was still unlocked.. I entered, and moved towards the dim light upstairs and saw he had left a door slightly ajar.. I should have turned away then, but was somehow unable to suffocate my curiosity.. I knocked only lightly, a whisper of a knock, and when there was no answer I pushed open the door and entered. I was astounded. His room was filled, crammed, with glorious works of art… hundreds of sketches, less but still a great many paintings.. some larger and more intricate, others more like studies of shape and form, they were all strewn about haphazardly. the paintings were mostly shadowy figures, though some were of buildings, castle ramparts, manses, and one striking work of a ship in the midst of a great biblical storm.. then one particular work caught my eye, clearly a more recent addition, still resting on the easel.. as I gazed on it i felt a terrible upsurge of Nausea take hold of me … like that moment when one realises they’re still asleep even when they’re most certain that they had woken up…. 

The painting was of me. sat in this very room, face half masked in shadow… and the likeness was so exquisite, so perfectly rendered.. why such a work could only be the creation of innumerable hours, and whats more it could only be a painting by an artist looking directly upon a model.. but how?! I had never before set foot here! Had i at some point sleepwalked to this place and sat for this man to paint my like? Madness! Id have had to come down for hours, days, for such an image of greatness to emerge… what a wonder it was! what a wonder I was! I could not but think that looking upon this image brought about the very same feeling as that conjured in the breast of Narcissus at the edge of the pond.. then, Just as I was overcome with this paranoiac onslaught of thought I heard the door close softly behind me and there stood the phantom himself. “Ah, my muse arrives” he said.. “please, do resume position. I’ve to make some final touches”. He points to a chair in the corner of the room, lit only by pale candlelight from one side.. and I saw all was configured exactly as in the painting…. words escaped me…. I couldn’t speak…. I wouldn’t. And so I wordlessly sat in the chair as he delicately dipped his brush, and began paint…

Dear Theo, it occurs to me to ask– have you ever heard your own voice whilst in the midst of a dream? Do try your hardest to keep up with writing me, I so often lose all sense of time without your words to keep me aground.

Ever your loving brother,

Anthony v B, september 5th 1633

Continue reading “the phantom painter (surreal flash fic)”

Louis Zapruder: Time Traveller (sci-fi flash)

‘you know you’re the first reporter they’ve let in here for nearly 10 years? It’s been that long I’d assumed they weren’t going to let anyone see Zapruder now other than close family and friends until he finally, you know, bit the dust’ said the nurse conversationally, ‘then again I suppose if they were going to let anyone in it would have to be someone with a little… notoriety’, she added with a flirtatious wink.

The nurse walked through the meandering hallways of the facility, escorting the reporter, a handsome man who dressed like an undercover detective, with slicked-back hair, sharp features and a voice rougher than sandpaper. The two of them approached another of the security doors spaced throughout the ward. Armed guards patrolled all around the white-walled corridors in their pure-white body armour. Some of them stood so still that they were almost invisible until they shifted stances and their shadows jerked spasmodically about the walls. The nurse showed her ID to one of the guards, and the guard wordlessly opened the secure door.

‘Well maam, the world needs to know what finally happened to the last of the legendary time-travellers’ returned the reporter, ‘Most of them are lost somewhere in the vast maze of space-time, Zapruder is the only traveller the government have managed to trace for centuries. They’ve managed to keep his whereabouts quiet for a long time, but now things have changed. There are too many underground meddlers, deviant scientists, too many who have access to the scientific archives and are unaware of what their heavy-handed dabbling with time and space can lead to. They need to know the repercussions. Even the greatest geniuses of time-travel throughout history, past and future, became wise to the extreme dangers of temporal distortion of any kind. Zarkov, one of the original scientists who was there at the very beginning of it all, described it best. He said that before time came to be wielded by man, it was like an almighty river, and this great river was the original timeline. But as man began to alter time, to shape it to his own will, the sides of the river began to breach into masses and masses of tiny tributaries, an infinity of vein-like streams, branching out and eventually seeping into one another until they became so muddled that there came to be still bodies of water. These are places where time is so clogged, that entire histories end in nothing more than singular moments… fixed and unmoving for all eternity.’

the nurse stared at him wide-eyed, her mouth opening and closing faintly, as if all the questions in her head were jammed before she could choose which to ask. Long moments passed. Still tangled up thinking on his words, it took her a few moments before she could speak.

‘I.. I.. I once read this crazy theory. It said that whenever we experience deja vu, that uncanny feeling we experience is actually the distant echo of an alternate timeline, a timeline where time had stopped at that exact moment. In one of those lakes of time you mentioned I suppose. It said that the closer you get to that blocked timeline, the more likely you are to be dragged into it’s field… to feel its steady pull, slightly slowing each and every moment until eventually time simply stops… and remains stopped forever’ she said, and her face momentarily showed a look of terror ‘whenever I experience deja vu now, I always have this strange feeling of being on the brink of infinity, as if I’m experiencing my last few moments’.

‘There are a great many theories on time out there but the fact is, the vast majority of them are wrong’ replied the reporter, quickly, trying to set the nurse at ease. ‘In fact, oddly enough, the original scientists like Zarkov and Tremblany were the closest to a truly mathematical theory of time. You need to remember maam, the timelines in which we’re situated are among the safest of all, the least scarred. The tributaries of our timeline are so small and insignificant that they are almost unnoticeable except to the most sophisticated machines which are programmed to seek them out’.

She smiled gratefully, before bringing him to a stop. He saw there was a faint film of tears in her eyes, and he cursed himself and his trigger-happy tongue. They were stopped in front of some double doors, above which a sign read: DEMENTIA WARD.

‘this is as far as i can go’ said the nurse.

‘Okay thank you. It was nice to talk to you’ he replied

‘and you Mr Nash’. She turned and slipped away into the bleached corridors.

Nash went through the double doors and into the ward.

As he entered the large room, he was momentarily stunned, barely noticing the many patients who wandered around dazedly, muttering and humming tunes of the distant past and future. The ward was decorated in such a motley patchwork of styles, it was as if in here, time itself had imploded, and all the fragments from past, present and future had been cobbled together like the shards of a broken mirror. One part of the room was adorned in ancient Greek decor, with stone columns and graceful carved statues of deities. Another part was decked out to look like a saloon bar of the Wild West, along with all the old cork-stopped bottles of liquor and the splintered, weathered woodwork. Elsewhere there were more futuristic motifs: shifting, simulated landscapes and ghostly figures were projected by tiny machines which buzzed about like flies. Nash also noticed some strange glowing metallic items which were covered in symbols, and he could not decide if they were the objects of some vastly ancient tribe of man or from some immeasurably distant cosmic future.

in the ward there were 8 patients that he could see, 4 men and 4 women. He scanned the men’s faces but knew instantly that none of them were the man he had come here to see.

He heard a voice coming from somewhere at the back of the ward, a woman’s voice, a strong and authoritative voice, which had more intent, more inflection to it than any of the other voices around him. He made his way towards this voice, threading through the many rooms as if through a museum, each room an exhibit of a different age, a new era of human past or future. As he moved towards the voice at the back of the ward the lights grew steadily dimmer, then their hue began to change, from white to blue, first a pale, icy blue, and then steadily to electric blue, thrumming as if from a gigantic neon sign. The light made Nash feel he was getting colder, moving through some arctic cavern, even though the whole ward was the same temperature. Nash saw that the blue light seemed to emanate from one room, the same room from where he heard the woman’s voice.

He hesitantly pushed open the door, which was slightly ajar, and drew in a sharp breath.

The gigantic room was decked out to simulate the control room or bridge of a space shuttle. There were flickering control panels all about, screens displaying spatial geographies and various modules with vacant seats where a crew might sit. On the far side wall was an enormous TV screen on which there was a moving picture of outer space. It was so realistic that for a brief moment Nash felt the floor begin to sway ever so gently, his body aligned with the image as the ship steadily drifted through space.

And then he saw the woman in the corner of the room. She was stood next to a bed and  continued to speak freely, openly, as much to herself as to anybody within close proximity to her. She continued to talk absently as she went about her routine, checking the wires and the screens which were attached to the bed which was turned away from Nash to face the large screen which displayed the moving image of space.

Nash could jut about see the profile of the man in the bed, his face lit up by the many stars on screen, and he immediately knew that this wizened figure was the man he sought. The man of legend, the last-known time-traveller in existence, who had traveled across millennia, who had explored and altered and conquered timelines innumerable. The man was Louis Zapruder.

After a few dazed seconds, Nash knocked loudly on the door causing the woman to jump, almost dropping her tray which she carried on her arm like a waiter. She made her way brisquely towards Nash, frowning menacingly, as she neared him Nash saw that she was powerfully built, and her frame was barely contained by the grey uniform she wore.

‘What are you doing wandering around here unescorted? Almost gave me a heart attack you did’ the burly woman said, seething. She shepherded him back out of the room with her wide build and closed the door to Zapruder’s room behind them both.

‘Another nurse showed me here, said she couldn’t come in and so left me at the door’ answered Nash, a little more intimidated than he’s have liked to admit.

‘well I suppose it’s not all your fault. There’s so few visitors allowed here it’s no wonder that the protocol is so shoddy. Are you the reporter everyone’s been talking about? The hotshot who only writes about the big celebrities? I’m Mona by the way, chief nurse of this ward, nice to meet you’ she said, with the barest hint of a smile.

‘Carson Nash, and to you too’ he said quickly ‘when can I speak to Zapruder? I’ve been given authorisation to speak to him and I’d like to start as soon as I can’

Speak to him?’ she barked, incredulously ‘no one has spoken to Mr Zapruder since he came here I’m afraid, he speaks only to himself and to people who are not yet of this world’

‘what do you mean by that? sounds like some mystic bullshit to me’ he said, immediately regretting his words and gazing off like a guilty schoolboy

‘I assume you have some idea of what dementia is as seen as you’ve come to write a story about someone suffering from the illness’ she smiled a little more broadly now, seeming to enjoy being the one to talk down the big hotshot reporter she’d so much about the past few weeks.

‘I’ve some idea… trapped in the past, stuck in a loop, not fully aware’ he said, clearly wanting to move on from the topic

‘Mr Zapruder’s case is a little more complicated than that. What do you suppose “the past” means for a man who spent most of his younger life thousands of years in the future?’ she asked.

‘Okay his past then, the past as perceived by his inner world, by his own psychological chronology’ he replied, somewhat skeptically.

‘But there’s a problem isn’t there – his past has not yet occurred… do you see the paradox?’

Nash remained silent, thinking it over.

‘You’re right in saying that ordinary dementia sufferers are stuck in a kind of loop of the past’ she continued, ‘they see images from their younger years, from the chronological past, over and over. But Mr Zapruder’s younger years are way off in the distant future, and so he doesn’t see images from the past over and over… he sees the images from the future over and over. He’s reliving moments right now which will not happen for another 5000 years.’ Said Mona, her gaze now distant, awed.

‘Well can I still go in and see him? I need to write something about his condition at least, the world has a right to know’ said Nash.

‘Go ahead’, she replied ‘just don’t touch any of the wires or screens on his bed and don’t block his view of the screen, he likes to look out there, it seems to remind him of better times, of times yet to come. – oh and if he says anything about seeing the light, come and call me, he sometimes gets agitated after saying that for some reason and I might need to sedate him’

‘OK’ he answered simply.

She walked off towards the museum part of the ward where the other patients were, and Nash opened the door to Zapruder’s room, this time closing it gently behind him.

He made his way over to the bed, walking slowly, reverently, as if afraid to break the concentration of a Buddhist monk in deep meditation. Zapruder’s eyes were open wide, they were intelligent, brilliant emerald eyes, eyes still youthful and full of wonder, somehow separate from his shrunken, withering body.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr Zapruder’ whispered Nash, expecting and getting no answer.

Nash sat down on a chair placed next to the time-traveler’s bed. Nash found it much harder than Mona to keep talking without an answer, and preferred rather to sit in silence, to simply share the presence of this great man. Nash looked around at the many objects which rested on the tables around the bed. Mementos brought by friends, many new articles bearing his name.

Zapruder remained still and unmoving, and continued to gaze at the large screen. Nash looked over at the screen that kept Zapruder’s attention, and gazed at the stars for what seemed like a long time.

Then, as he gazed silently at the screen, he heard a faint voice behind him..

‘do you see the light?’ whispered Zapruder, his voice as delicate as the finest sheet of paper.

Nash looked around at him, stunned by the sudden emergence of his voice.

‘did you say something Louis? Something about the light?’ asked Nash

Zapruder continued to stare at the screen, silent. But he seemed more alert now. More aware. After a few more moments waiting for a response Nash again looked over at the screen and at the stars gently rolling by. He stood to go and fetch Mona, but caught something in the corner of his eye, something on the screen. A small light had appeared in the center of the screen, a little brighter than the other stars, gradually getting bigger. It started as only a minute spot of light, but it was growing with each second, getting slightly larger and brighter, like some glitch on screen, some programming flaw.

‘the light… see the light…’ muttered Louis again

‘yes. I think I see it too’ said Nash, hypnotised by the growing shimmer

After a few long moments the light seemed to take on more of a shape, more complexity, and Nash realised then that it wasn’t expanding at all, it was getting closer. Was there an asteroid programmed to appear on screen? Was this the white light that was causing Zapruder distress? As the seconds passed the object came nearer and nearer until it filled up almost 80% of the screen with it’s burning white light and then came a sudden flash.

At that exact moment the lights in the ward flickered off and on, and Nash could feel the floor of the ward rumble. Ripples appeared on the surface of the water in a glass on Louis’s bed.

‘impossible’ Nash muttered

But as he looked back to the screen he saw that there was now a crack in the dead center, a crack which was arcing outwards, like an invisible spider were weaving a web.

Just then Zapruder grabbed Nash’s hand, and looked straight into his eyes,

‘You see the light?’ he said urgently ‘then we must go from here’

Then the window to the room blew inwards and swept them both out into space.

***

 

marooned (impressionist-style poem based on Ben Gunn of Treasure Island)

stirring swirling lapping waves rushing flushing airways saline torrents congest coughs coughs face eclipsed buried harsh sands hands seething writhing bloody stumps bloody clumps sand silt streaming screaming veins gaping eels feels way sway swaying ashore sore eyes sand barbs bawls shallows shells shards coarse coursing veins visions fission distant muskets musk blood cough cough cacophony clamour clambering futile mutinies unfurling sails drawn dawn awning skies scarlet spatterings brushtrokes violets violence voices silence murmurs murders marooned doomed terror unfurling sails wails curling alone lost isle defiled landscape escape scraping crawling scrawling forwards towards luscious bush hush hush ushers utter dark stark silence islands sussurant hissing waves craves light slight light falls foliage verdant verandas phosphorescence essence enchanted pillars parasites pirouetting behemoth moths churning cirrus clouds cosmic dust must hide eyes watching bloody scent drawing clawing carving bark hark hunger slumber lumbers rasping clasping gasping grasping growth thunder undergrowth grumbling thundering stumbling flash lightning flash flare glare glancing glistening listening watching waiting hidden faces flash faces black white lattices markings dark things wings moth markings scars scoring flash moorings more eyes dread deadeyes striding nearer fear fiend foe find friend end near friend near fear ebbs foe flees please please panting wanting waiting .. waiting … waiting

Continue reading “marooned (impressionist-style poem based on Ben Gunn of Treasure Island)”