Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Beast

(The Beast - The Only Ones)

As he picked his way down the hillside, the rain started again. The patches of bare rock were already wet, and his boots skidded and slipped, so he held out his arms a little, like a tightrope-walker, trying to keep his balance. There were miles to go before he reached the camping barn, and he hadn't seen another human being for two hours. A fall would be a very bad idea.

He passed a gathering of four Herdwicks, who contemplated him as they chewed. He stopped for a moment, and said baa to them, as he always did when no-one was around to see him. They said nothing back, just chewed some more, and he was about to turn and walk on when as one the sheep leapt away and off up the hill.

"Be like that then," he said and turned back to the path, and that was when he saw it. About twenty yards away was a scattering of boulders, and it sat on the highest one, looking at him.

He stood and looked back at it, the shock turning into a mixture of fear and wonder. The cat was the size of a large dog, and jet black, the rain beading glossy on its coat. 

"What the hell are you?" he said, and he hadn't realised that he had said it out loud until the cat lowered its wedge of a head at the sound and stared at him some more. Puma or a leopard,he thought, and he couldn't quite remember if either of those went for people, but he suspected that they did. It didn't show any interest in getting closer though, just sat on its rock, looking at him.

Very slowly, he reached to his side and pulled his camera from the case. Don't go now, he thought. Not now. It stayed where it was, and he brought the camera up, zoomed in, focused, took one shot, worried that he was trembling and it would have blurred, went to take another, and it was gone.

He almost dropped the camera, scared that it was streaking up the path towards him, but it was nowhere to be seen. He flicked his camera to display, checked to see if the photo was a disaster. It was clear, sharp, in focus.

He stood there for a moment, leaning over his camera to keep the rain off it. Then he hit the delete button. Are you sure? Yes. The picture was gone. He swallowed, put his camera away and walked on, not breathing until he was past the boulder. Nothing leapt out at him. If he had the photo, he wouldn't be able to resist showing it to people, and if he showed it to people they would talk to other people and  that meant newspapers sending photographers in helicopters, and landowners sending men with shotguns. He closed his eyes for a moment, and could see it, as vivid as the photo. He opened them again and walked on.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Come In Alone

(Come In Alone - My Bloody Valentine)

John wouldn’t have gone into the cave if you’d paid him a thousand pounds, but at the age of ten shame was more powerful than money, so into the cave he went. The others said that they had all done it, and he didn’t know whether he believed them or not, but he couldn’t be in with them if he didn’t do it too.

There were stories about the place. It was haunted. There was a demon there. A boy had died there and then he came back and took anyone he caught in his cave. A witch, a monster, a smuggler who starved to death and afterwards fed on the living: different characters but the same moral: don’t go in the cave.

So he went with them down to the beach when the tide was out, because you couldn’t get to the cave when the tide was in, and the others all stood at the bottom of the cliffs. He hesitated for a moment, looking at the climb up, and then Davey made a chicken noise and John knew that he had to move before the others joined in. If he didn't do this now, he would stay a little kid for years, not fit to hang out with the older ones. He scrambled up the slippery stone, towards the dark shadow twenty foot up the cliff face, nearly slipped, clung hard against damp rock and hoped the others were too far down to see his tears.

The entrance was low, and he had to duck his head to get in. It opened up past that, the others said. He had to go in, because there was something written on the back wall, and that was the test. If he didn’t tell them what it said, they knew he hadn’t gone right in, and the humiliation would be worse than death. John fished in his pocket, pulled out the torch that Davey had insisted he use. It gave out a weak, dying yellow light that didn't chase the shadows far.

John walked into the cave. He could hear his own breath, hear his own heart. The passage led him further into the rock, and he walked in and realised that he couldn’t see the sea any more, or hear the waves. The cave opened up, a big chamber around him that his torch could not fill. He walked towards the back wall, breathed deep, tasted wet stone. It didn’t matter any more. He had done it. He had shown them, would find the message written in faded marker pen, go back down and be one of them. He grinned, and the fear left him. His footsteps echoed back at him.

“Hello,” he shouted at the top of his voice, and the echo shouted back, "Hello."

“Echo,” he shouted again, and the echo shouted back, "Echo."

“John,” he shouted, and the echo shouted back, "John."

“Is anyone here,” he shouted, and the echo whispered back, "Yes."

Sunday, 14 October 2012


(Blackout - Anna Calvi)

For no reason that he could understand, he began to hate the light of day. The sun hurt his eyes, and even when it was cloudy its light reflected off ceilings and through curtains and made him angry. No one cared when he did his job as long as he submitted the code on time, so he turned his world inside out and began to live at night.

He shared his world with the other night people. Some fed machines that spat sparks, or waited in call centres for other night people to call them and complain. Others fidgeted in glass prisons on garage forecourts, eating lunch at two in the morning, or waited half-asleep at taxi ranks in cars that smelled of other people's nights out. They dreamed of holidays they couldn't afford, and people that they couldn't touch. Some cleaned and cooked, repaired and serviced; others stole and schemed and loved and fought, or just stared bored out of windows into the darkness.

After a few months, this wasn’t enough any more. He started to resent the piercing fluorescent flicker of the bus station, the spectral glow of petrol forecourts, the way that neon signs fizzed and crackled their light at him. He started to avoid these places, and spend his time in backstreet cafés lit only by tired incandescent yellow, but there were not many cafés like that, and even they seemed too bright after a while. Besides, he had to walk through endless streets of orange glow to get there.

Eventually an idea came to him, so he sat at an internet café with the monitor turned down almost to black, and put an order in. The glasses made a real difference, for a while. They were for people with sad and terrible eye conditions, and they were tinted so heavily they shut out almost everything, with thick sidepieces to stop the light from stealing in. It was true that he could hardly see where he was going, but it was worth it. He noticed that people were different towards him too. When he ordered a coffee or some food, they spoke more softly, as if he was a child.

It was only for a while, though. His eyes seemed to adjust, and dim shapes became brighter shapes, and the darkness the glasses brought just teased him, offering the promise of a true blackness that they could never bring. So he made his decision, and he bought books and he bought gauze, and he bought sterilising fluid and he bought scalpels, and he brought some very strong drugs from a man behind the bus station, although in the end they proved not to be strong enough, not nearly strong enough. He still wore the glasses after that, but only to hide what lay underneath.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

My Autumn's Done Come

(My Autumn's Done Come - Lee Hazlewood)

The wind changed overnight, and with it the season. When we went to sleep, we threw covers off and kicked restlessly against the heavy, humid air. When we woke, we pulled the covers up,  and smelled wood smoke and dead leaves.

Autumn arrived overnight, but it came on quick. The mornings were cool and fresh, and the nights were cold and clear. Each day the leaves seemed to be yellower than the day before, and when barely  a week was out they were falling. Children kicked through piles of them at first, but soon tired of it, tired of everything. They slumped around in the house on sofas, slept in, complained, but we didn’t see what this meant.

We noticed it in the houses first, then in each other, and only then in ourselves.

Slates weakened and slid from roofs, paint began to flake and peel, wood softened, crumbled, shifted. We did repairs and shored things up, but it was hard when arms tired, and legs ached, and we gave up and went inside to shoo the children upstairs so we could like on the sofas and go to sleep. They stumbled up the stairs, pale ghosts.

We saw it in others first: a neighbour who lost his hair and then wore a hat to hide it, a loved one who turned grey, the bend in people’s back’s, the thinness of their limbs. Mirrors were avoided for a while, but there were always the  chance of an accidental glance, and then we saw a ghost, the aged face of a mother or a father long dead, and then we blinked in surprise and the ghost blinked back.

Now we don’t see many of each other any more, and we don’t see much of ourselves either, because there isn’t much left to see.

And winter is coming.

(Bonus version: My Autumn's Done Come - The Tindersticks)