The Chalk Man

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I write this in a dimly lit room, stark walls surround me, no windows. If my script is large or chaotic it is because I have left my glasses in the room next door. I allow not even a mug of water in my presence. I have discovered a myth, or something more, perhaps, and I do not want the subject of my study to see me; not yet.

Lost legends have him as the Chalk Man, less a name but a descriptor; given for his white and ashen skin. Which is wrong, as it’s not skin, but bone. Bone so old that it crumbles, leaving a fine powder of dust, akin to chalk dust, on whatever he touches. Man is also wrong, as he is of no gender, nor even human, but, for lack of appropriate terminology, we will use the pronouns referring to the masculine throughout this text.

The lost legends — that are now found, if only to myself — are, by a human understanding, ancient, as the Chalk Man hasn’t been spoken of, written of, or likely even thought of, for centuries. His existence slowly being lost from the collective consciousness one life at a time. By the Chalk Man’s point of view, however, they are practically modern, having been written within the last millenium.

His purpose, in those legends, is ill defined, if simply not mentioned at all, which is a shame because his purpose is a very important one, that contains many roles. He is a king to some, a servant to others, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy, an angel, or a demon. His job, as it were, is to appear as the honest reflection of us all. A confusing, if not mysterious, job description I am aware. Let me try and make more sense of it.

Have you ever caught your own reflection and for a moment thought someone else was looking back at you? Perhaps you saw a monster, or a stranger, or a royal, or a saint. Just for a second. That was the Chalk Man. Or at least, that is the Chalk Man at work, and he has been doing this work for a very long time.

It is presumed that the Chalk Man was present when we were still walking around on all fours. Indeed, it is likely he was there when our ameba ancestors were first beginning to divide. He watched us, they say, the legends that are both ancient and modern, from his reflective surfaces, waiting for the day when we would gain a level of sentience that could recognise our own image.

Some of the legends, that I have hunted down in hidden cities that no longer have names, argue that the Chalk Man did more than watch; that he, just once, stretched out a bony arm from his reflective kingdom and altered the course of man; that it is due to him that we are so different from the rest of the animals that we share this planet with. What it is the Chalk Man did to achieve this is not written, and so this theory is to be taken with a pinch of salt…or chalk dust, as it were.

The first recorded encounter with the Chalk Man came some time after, when one of the ancient civilisations, the residents of one of those cities without names, first started writing things down. One such text wrote of an encounter whereby a local woman went to drink from the underground river that fueled the city, peered into the inky water, and saw the Chalk Man staring back at her. The woman, a weaver by the name of Oma, cried out, but did not flee. Instead, once her breath and heart were once more under her control, she crawled back to look at the water. Once more she saw the Chalk Man, bony and white, her own reflection nowhere to be seen. He did naught but watch young Oma, who, after deeming him not a threat, went to gather others to show them the chalk figure in the water. By the time she brought the crowd to the water’s edge, he was gone; her own reflection returned to her. It would only be later, after multiple appearances, that Oma’s story would be believed.

The reason why the Chalk Man simply watched Oma, and especially why he watched her in his own form, has been much argued over the many years by the forgotten scholars that once studied the Chalk Man. Some claimed that by seeing the Chalk Man as he truly is allowed Oma some gaining of knowledge outside of our understanding, and caused some great shift in her life, and on mankind as a whole; and indeed Oma did go on to live a remarkable life. Some claimed that he fell in love with Oma, and stole her reflection for those few short minutes to take as his Queen, only to find a reflection was no substitute for the real thing; this too, may well be the case. For myself, I think the Chalk Man was simply studying, seeing some final aspect of mankind’s heart so he could then go on to do his true work.

The work, as one of the old texts described it, was: “Purveyor of understanding and dealer of truths”. This is the most accurate description I have found. Simply, the Chalk Man shows you what you need to see. If you be good, but lacking in courage, you may see yourself momentarily in a reflective surface as a hero. If you be evil, but lacking in morals, you may see yourself as a monster. You may see an angel when you need hope. You may see a devil when you need fear. You may see your mother when she needs you to visit. And on it goes. The Chalk Man knows what you need to see and shows it to you. Often, after a viewing, you may find some of his bone dust on a shoe, or you shirt. This is the way to know if was a true showing. Or, so the texts say.

One text, the latest I’ve found, goes one step further. It claims that behind every reflective surface lies a kingdom, his kingdom, and if you do not heed the truth he offers you that he will reach out and take you there, never to return.

The next question, and the one most pressing to my own research, is why was knowledge of the Chalk Man lost? Why has he left our collective consciousness? Many of the the legends I’ve found barely describe the Chalk Man whenever they reference him, so sure were they that the reader knew of whom they spoke. So how is it that he is not even a mythological figure today? I do not know, but I expect to find out soon for I think he watches me.

Twice now I have had a glimpse of something else in my mirror. First, I am sure it was his own figure, white and silent, then the second time I saw myself, only with unbroken skin where my mouth should be. After both instances I searched the area for dust, and both times found it.

I have collected the dust and added it to a small vial, to be sent to the university along with this manuscript. I hope to send it this very afternoon. This will of course require me to leave my matte room and pass my own reflection, be it in a window or pool of water. I am ready. I have my questions. If I see him again I will not look away, but will instead ask why he withdrew from our world — as I am sure now the lost knowledge of his person was at his own design — and if he is likely to return. I hope he does, this world could do with a good hard look at itself.

One final note. It occurs to me that perhaps I have been…foolhardy, cataloging this history, if indeed the Chalk Man does want to stay hidden. So if you are reading this, it might be best to steer clear of mirrors for a while. You never know when he might be watching.

++++

Thanks for reading,

Damian

Crossing the Divide

cake_wormhole_by_alienphysique-d5n64pmPhoto Credit: Alienphysique

Chaos bloomed behind me. A literal ending of the world. I paid it no mind. I instead stood at the threshold to the divide and stared deep into its turquoise depths and considered all the possibilities laid out before me. I could go anywhere. To any point within the known universe, or, if I was brave enough, into the unknown.

I went to the one spot I was always going to go. I went home.

+

I stepped out of the cold of the divide and into the heat of a thirty five degree day in Melbourne, Earth. Brown grass crunched beneath my feet, scratching my skin. When had I lost my shoes? I wondered, more with curiosity than any feeling of concern.

‘Bernice,’ a voice said from behind me. I turned, my mind still a whirl after passing through the divide, and saw a woman looking at me, a house behind her. Her forehead was creased with worry and her eyes leaked tears over her dark skin.

‘Nora,’ I said with a smile, not really sure who she was but happy to see her.

‘What? Where?’ she started, but her words became drowned in a sea of heavy tears. She rushed towards me and threw her arms around my shoulders, burying her head into my shirt. I put my arms around her.

‘My sister.’ I said, the fact returning to me.

She pulled back and looked into my still smiling face and in a rush asked, ‘What the fuck happened to you? Where have you been? Are you okay?’ A blinked against the barrage of questions as a flurry of knowledge drifted down from somewhere in the upper reaches of my mind like an autumn tree losing its leaves. The knowledge settled and returned me to me. I was Bernice Jarrin, I had crossed the divide.

I looked into Nora’s eyes feeling more like myself. It must have showed because some of the worry fell away from her face. ‘Yeah. Yes. I’m okay,’ I said. ‘As for what happened, I…’ I trailed off, not sure how to explain it.

‘Why don’t we go inside,’ she suggested. ‘Get away from this heat.’

‘Actually, can I take you somewhere?’ I said. ‘There’s something I can show you that might provide context as I answer your questions.’

+

‘I don’t know what I’m looking at?’ Nora said, her voice echoing through the large and mostly empty warehouse.

‘It’s…well, it doesn’t really have a name yet. I’ve just been calling it the UD. Unknown Device. I, well, I built it.’

She ran her hand across one of the three curved pillars of brass, then gave a hard flick to the dome on top, causing it to let out a hollow ding that hung in the room. ‘You built it but it’s unknown?’ She asked.

‘No. Well, yes. I built it, but it’s not my design.’

‘So who’s design is it?’

‘I don’t know.’

She turned to look at me, eyebrow raised, all sass. It was good to see her usual manner had returned after the short car ride. ‘You realise how unsatisfying these answers are, don’t you?’

‘Right, sorry. It’s from a design I found.’

‘That’s it? Bernice, I swear to god, you are the worst story teller.’

‘Sorry. Sorry. It’s been a long…how long was I actually gone for?’

‘Just over a week,’ she said, some timidity returning to her voice. ‘The police thought you might have been killed. Either that or you’d ran off somewhere. We should probably call them. Let them know they can call off their investigation.’

‘Umm, it might be best to hold off on that for now.’ I said.

Nora whipped her head toward me, eyes penetrating, and I felt the desire to rub my hands together. ‘Why? You planning on leaving again?’

I did rub my hands together. ‘Well, possibly. It might be necessary to-’

‘No, I don’t want to hear any wells, or possiblies, or mights. Tell me straight where the hell have you been?’

‘Luyten b.’

‘What? The exoplanet?’

‘That’s right.’

‘How is that even-? ….and it imploded. It’s been on the news.’

‘Really? For how long?’

‘A couple of days.’

‘So, the crossing isn’t instantaneous. Interesting.’

‘Bernice! What is going on?’

‘Right. The machine, the UD. It’s, for lack of a better word, a transporter.  But it’s also so much more than that. It took me to Luyten b, I watched the world implode. It was…beautiful, terrifying. I, I really don’t have words for it.’

‘I don’t care about the description, Bernice. What do you mean it took you to Luyten b? That’s impossible. That’s…holy shit, I need to sit down.’

I dragged over two old stools I had found by a dumpster when I was first putting together this workspace, and, after a look of reluctance, Nora sat in one. I took the other and spoke.

‘I’m sorry, I really am doing this badly, I know it sounds crazy, but that’s why I wanted to show you the UD, so you could see that this is real. This device, it created a divide between here and Luyten b. All I had to do was step through and I was there. The planet was habitable, just like they thought it might be. I could breathe and it had this kind of odd grass that felt like silk against my feet. Well, at least until it all imploded.’

‘How? How can this device do that?’ She said, pointing at the statue of brass. ‘That’s science fiction, I mean…how?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know? You built it!’

‘Yes, but from a set of instructions, the science of it is…unexplained.’

‘Okay. So where did these instructions come from?’

‘Space.’

‘Space?’

‘Originally, although that’s not where I got them from. I found them in one of Marie Moreau’s notebooks.’

‘Okay, and who is she?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘Seriously, Mona? I’ve told you about her a million times.’

‘You talk about a lot of old people!’

‘My thesis was based off her work! My career is based off her work! I went to France last year to visit her ancestral home!’

‘Oh, the one who went crazy.’

I sighed. ‘Yes, but that’s the least of what she-’

‘Wait. If you got the instructions from one of her notebooks how come no one’s ever discovered this before?’

My cheeks flushed. ‘Because no one knows this particular notebook exists. I noticed an image of a book hidden in one of the many paintings she did of her garden. So, last year, on my trip, I had a look, and sure enough in the hollow of this elm tree was a notebook–

‘And you stole it?’

‘I discovered it!’

‘Bernice, come on. Shouldn’t it go to her family trust? Or some scientific society, or something?’

‘I am her scientific society. There is no one else on this planet who knows her work as well as I do. Most academics simply think of her as crazy, dismissing her work entirely. Trust me, the best hands the notebook could possibly be in are mine.’

‘Okay, putting aside your theft for the moment, how is it that you don’t understand the science? If you have the notebook wouldn’t it explain it?’

I blushed again and looked away, knowing Mona wouldn’t like what I was about to say next. ‘Well, the notebook’s a bit hard to understand. It came from later in her career so a lot of it is more, ah, raving, than coherent thought, or written so messily that it can’t be read. But the instructions were clear, as were the descriptions of how she got them.’

Nora gave me one of her classic hard looks. ‘So, let me get this straight. You found the notebook of a woman who was clearly losing her mind, in which was the blueprint for a device that the crazy lady said she got from space, and you decide to build it? Not to mention go to a planet that you thought was habitable. You realise how dangerous that was? How irresponsible?’

‘Yes. Well, no. More risky than irresponsible. But being a scientist is about taking risks.’

‘Controlled risks, that you tell your sister about. Not hide up in a secret warehouse somewhere like some mad doctor. I thought you were dead, Bernice. Hell, if this device had been designed for something else, if anything had gone wrong, you could have been.’ Her voice had risen to a shout, and there were tears in her eyes. Her breath was coming fast and I realised mine was too. I took a deep breath and apologised.

‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘I…I should have told you. I just, I didn’t know how to. It was all so crazy and exciting and…I was selfish. I’m sorry.’ I climbed off the stool and hugged her. After a second she returned it.

‘You’re all I have, you know. Ever since we lost Mum and Dad…well, I thought I was alone.’

‘I’m sorry.’ I repeated. ‘It was dumb.’

She pulled out of the hug and looked at me. ‘But you’re planning on using it again.’ She said, more statement than question.

‘Not without you.’ I told her, meaning it.

‘You want me to go to an alien planet with you?’ She asked.

‘Yes, I mean, sure, why not? There are still a number of planets that have been discovered that scientists are confident are habitable. We could visit any one of them. Be the first sisters in space.’

She wiped a tear from her eye as she shook her head. ‘Bernie, you know how crazy that sounds. You don’t know that this device will even work a second time. And what if the scientists are wrong? What if these planets aren’t habitable.’

‘Like I said, the UD can do more than just transport. Moreau wrote that it also provides a protective barrier around you that contains the properties of wherever you’re transporting from.  Basically, a little pocket of Earth. And I think that’s just the start of what it can do. It’s not as dangerous as you think, Nora, trust me.’

‘And if I say no? What then? Will you still leave?’

‘No,’ I said, but with a moment’s hesitation.

‘Fine,’ she said, hearing it. ‘But we’re doing it right. Bring supplies, plan ahead, and get you some shoes. And I need to know everything I can about this device. Just explain it in as non-crazy-smart person as you can. For starters, how does it even work?’

‘Like this,’ I said, and placed my palm wide over the dome. With a twist clockwise, turquoise bloomed around us.

++++

Thanks for reading

Damian

Up For It

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The procedure was experimental. Well, maybe experimental isn’t the right word. Unproven. It had been proven now though, all thanks to my agreement to be a case study, but there’ve been some complications. No, side-effects is probably a better word. Oh man, I never used to care about words. 

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on my thirtieth birthday. Literally on the day. I blew out the candles of my birthday cake in the hospital cafeteria and let me tell you they are not exactly festive places.

Sclerosis, if you’re Greek’s a bit rusty — and mine used to be non-existent — means scars. The multiple scarring the name refers to takes place within the central nervous system. On the nerve cells themselves. The protective coating that surrounds the neurons actually shears away. The hard truth is there is currently no known cure.

When I found out the reason I’d been having trouble holding cups lately, not to mention my bladder, was due to multiple sclerosis the doctor also told me that it affects roughly three times as many women as men; as though knowing I shared this disease with all my fellow double X chromosome sisters was somehow comforting. It wasn’t. It just further proved we get the rougher end of the deal. When he mentioned that there was a more radical treatment available though, that got my attention.

That’s what my procedure was, a treatment. Not like a mad scientist harnessing lightning from the sky kind of treatment, but still, it was a bit out there.

Look, I’ve never exactly been a model student, or employee, or person, really. I’ve had a few scraps with the law and done some things I’m not proud of, and maybe haven’t achieved a whole lot, but that didn’t mean I was ready to roll over and let this disease have my body. So, when the Doc said ‘stem cell transplant’ I said ‘sure, I’m up for it’, without really bothering to think it through. Honestly, to my non-medical school trained brain it seemed pretty straight forward. You have these stem cells, which are kind of a blank slate capable of turning into any other type of cell, repairing or replacing damaged cells in the process. So, a donor offers them up for whatever reason, my crappy nerve cells get repaired or replaced, and I’m free to spend my thirty first birthday not in a hospital. Simple.

Maybe simple’s not the right word. Straight-forward. Anyway, not so straight-forward, it turns out. Although even the doctor’s didn’t know that.

My donor’s name was Rupert Hellings. The hospital insisted I meet with him beforehand. Personally, I would have preferred to have taken his stem cells and been on my way, but he was a nice enough guy. Bit older, real academic type. Professor of linguistics at the University of Melbourne, whatever that entails. His wife had had multiple sclerosis and, while it wasn’t what killed her, he said he wanted to help others avoid what she had gone through. Like I said, nice guy; although he had this habit of always cracking his knuckles, drove me crazy.

Anyway, the procedure went fine. Stem cells were transplanted and I stopped having issues with vertigo and motor control. For all intents and purposes I didn’t have multiple sclerosis anymore. Good, right?

Then it started. The side-effects. Little things to begin with. Like I started correcting people’s speech. ‘It’s Holly and I, not me and Holly.’ Things like that. I just couldn’t stop myself. I would hear someone say something incorrect and I would have to correct them. I’ve never been that type of girl, and my friends aren’t the kind of people that like being corrected, or who have much of a grasp on the nuances of language. Basically, I was correcting them a lot. Like, constantly. They stopped inviting me to things, and I could hardly blame them. I was getting fed up with it too.

Then it got worse. I would see a word, just any normal word, written on a sign or a poster and I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it. I would become captivated with it. No, not captivated. Obsessed. I would think about the different sounds that made up the word. How it could be used in different contexts. I would begin to wonder about the history of the word and have to look it up, which would inevitably lead me to some new word I would become obsessed over. It was weird, it was wrong, it wasn’t me.

When I started cracking my knuckles, it all fell into place. I realised I was cracking them whenever I was lost in thought, usually over some word or another. Like I said, cracking knuckles drove me crazy, but for some reason doing it now felt right. Then I thought of the only other person I knew who cracked their knuckles in that way, the only other person who was likely to get obsessed over words, and my gut dropped.

What could I do? I knew what what would happen if I went back to the hospital. They would be fascinated by the whole thing. The idea that a stem cell recipient might take on the personality traits of the donor? C’mon, I wouldn’t be leaving that hospital anytime soon. They’d want to do so many tests and experiments on me that every birthday for the next thirty years would likely be spent in that hospital cafeteria. I decided instead to pay my donor a visit.

+ + + +

He was sitting at his desk when I stormed into his office. Universities, it turns out, are pretty easy places to just walk into. He looked up in shock, then pleased recognition at the sight of me. He didn’t stay pleased for long.

‘You’ve infected me,’ I yelled.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘Your knuckle cracking, your word fetish. I’ve got all of them.’ I realise I probably could have been a bit clearer in my language but to be honest I was furious and scared. My body was being taken over. To his credit he figured it out pretty quickly.

‘Wait. Are you saying you’ve somehow taken on some of my mannerisms through the stem cell transplant?’ He asked. Smart guy.

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying and I want you to undo it right now!’

He ignored this statement, too caught up in the implications of what I was saying. He stood and started pacing around the room.

‘That’s amazing. My traits are expressing in you. Part of me is in you,’ he said thinking it through. ‘If its existence can be proven then…’

‘Then you and I would never leave a hospital or laboratory ever again,’ I finished for him. That got his attention.

‘Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ He returned to his seat. ‘This is all a lot to take in.’

‘You think? Try being on the other end of it!’

‘Right. Tell me, what is it exactly you’ve been experiencing?’

‘Words, man. I can’t stop thinking about words. I’m bloody fascinated by them. Like, right now, I can’t stop thinking about the word fascinated. Why do we use it? What’s its history?’

‘Oh, well that’s very interesting actually-’

‘Stop,’ I say. ‘I don’t want to hear it. Well, I do, but not right now. The point is you need to think of a way to get you out of me.’

‘I- I don’t think I can. My stem cells aren’t even my stem cells anymore. They’re your nerve cells. Even if we did go to the hospital I doubt they could reverse it. They wouldn’t know which neurons had been altered, and from the sounds of it it’s affecting your whole central nervous system, all the way up to your brain. I’m sorry but I think you’re stuck like this.’ He gave a tight lipped smile and raised his eyebrows apologetically. It didn’t do a whole lot to comfort me.

I collapsed into the chair opposite him and put my head in my hands. Was it even my head anymore? It didn’t feel like it.

‘You know, it might not be all bad,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, not really caring for whatever pleasantry, no, platitude, he was about to give me.

‘Well, you said you were fascinated by words, even wanted to hear the history of the word fascinated. I take it that means you’re getting at least some level of enjoyment from the study of language?’

‘Yes,’ I said, feeling ruefull, because the truth was he was right. It had alienated me from my friends and made me feel less like myself, but I had also never had such purpose before.

‘Okay. Good. Well, you could always apply to study here. I run the Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics. I could ensure you get a place next semester.’

Me, study? I had certainly never thought of that before.

‘And you would teach me about words?’ I asked.

‘I would,’ he said, smiling.

+ + + +

I took the professor up on his offer. I mean, what else was I going to do? Part of me feels like I’m almost his daughter now, anyway. No, daughter’s not right. Clone. Either way, I decided I’ve just got to be up for it, see where it takes me. Or, at least I think I did.

++++

Thanks for reading

Damian

Mary’s Memory Box

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Mary kept a box inside herself in which she kept all her unwanted memories.

It started when she was nine, on christmas day. After running into the lounge room to see what presents Santa had brought her she had slipped and hit her head, and so her parents had rushed her to the hospital. They’d spent the whole day in the waiting room only to be told she didn’t have a concussion, or need stitches, but rather just a bandaid and some pain killers. It had been the worst day of her short life, all brought upon by her over excited running and falling, and she’d made the decision that she didn’t want to remember it ever again.

She’d been in her bedroom at the time looking at the small wooden box where she kept all her stickers. The box had a small lock attached and so could be opened by no one but her, which meant the stickers only came out of the box when she chose. Why couldn’t she do that with her memories, she’d wondered, and so the memory box had been created.

At first it had resembled the sticker box exactly, but over time it had changed and grown, and, now at twenty nine, Mary envisioned her memory box as being made of walnut, gilded with gold and silver filigree that wrapped itself around the box’s exterior.

The locking mechanisms had been upgraded as well. In order to ensure no memory slipped out, or in, by accident, Mary had added layers of puzzles to the box that she had to navigate in order to allow herself to open and close it. She had to first mentally move the filigree in a specific order, which caused a chunk of wood at the front of the box to slide away, revealing a twenty five digit combination lock. Once the code was correctly inserted the lid would open revealing a second lid, engraved with an intricate jungle scene. A number of buttons were hidden in the scene which she would then have to press in a specific order. Finally, she would whisper a secret sentence to herself, and only then would the box open, and only for the length of time it took for her to stuff her unwanted memories inside.

The box worked perfectly. Ever since that day of its creation all those christmases ago, Mary hadn’t been able to recall her trip to the hospital; all she had in her head was a blank space and the knowledge that she’d hidden a memory away. Her parents had assumed she must have hit her head even harder than they’d expected, calling the doctor that had seen her a quack; but Mary knew the real reason was her memory box.

In the years that followed more and more memories had been added to the box. From the time in high school when she’d gossiped about her best friend Genevieve to the cool kids, sharing all her secrets, to the the time she’d gotten so drunk at a party in her third year of uni that she’d not only vomited a black-orange mix of sambuca and cheetos all over her soon to be ex boyfriend while trying to kiss him but had also broken the home owners dishwasher when she’d used it to wash her vomit covered dress, and then had finished the night by crying and screaming at all her friends until she’d passed out.

It wasn’t only youthful indiscretions she used the box for though, adulthood brought with it a score of memories that Mary cut out and locked away. The job interview she’d started crying in, the shame she’d felt when her ex, Alex, caught her cheating, the regrettable joke she’d made in front of the korean client her company had recruited, which had lead to her being fired, and another night of drinking, breaking things, and saying words that hurt the people who loved her most. Every one of these memories made it into the box, and once the lid was closed, Mary, happily, couldn’t remember them anymore.

Other people still did of course, but with the forced forgetting these people seemed callous and moody to the now unaware Mary, and inevitably, with her thinking them undeservingly rude and them thinking her unremorseful for her actions, the relationships ended.

Now she was having a problem, though. The box wouldn’t close.

She was sitting tearful and hurt in the small bathroom, her swollen eyes closed as she tried to force the box lid down. It refused. She had gone through the regular unlocking sequence without a problem, had mentally sawed away the unwanted memory and placed it in the box without issue, and yet when, in her mind’s eye, she tried to close it, the lid became jammed at the last moment. She furrowed her brow and tried again, imagining an invisible force pushing down on the lid. It refused to budge, as though something in there was blocking its way. It was ridiculous, Mary knew, the box couldn’t over fill. It was, in theory, infinite.

A pounding came from the other side of the bathroom door.

‘Mary,’ her dad cried. ‘Honey, let me in.’

She ignored him, leaning forward over her knees to stick her fingers in her ears and really concentrate on closing the memory box.

The problem was that with the lid open one of her past, forgotten, memories might slip out, and Mary couldn’t allow that. She needed this box closed, and she needed it closed now.

‘Mary,’ her father yelled again. ‘You’re not doing that thing again are you? That repression thing? Please, open the door. Or, at least, just talk to me.’

Mary clamped down on her sniffling externally while internally she pushed even harder on the lid of the box. It moved a fraction of a fraction downwards, validating her efforts. She gathered her resolve and pushed harder still.

A memory slipped out.

It was from when she was eleven. She’d been angry at her mum for refusing to buy the toy she wanted and so had instead secreted the toy into the pocket of her mother’s coat without her noticing. The plan had been to retrieve it once they were home but, as soon as her mother had stepped through the stores sensors, lights had flashed and alarms had rang. A security guard had approached her mother with all the zeal of a want-to-be-cop who had finally found a criminal and swept them both away into a tiny room in the interior of the shopping center. The man had been unnecessarily aggressive and suspicious of her mother even though it was obvious who the real thief was, and had kept them there for over an hour before finally letting them off with a warning and a demand that they pay for the toy. Her mother hadn’t said a word to Mary on the drive home, simply giving her a look of such disapproval and disappointment that made a sick feeling grow in her belly. When they’d gotten home all her mother had done was give her the toy and say, ‘here, you wanted this so bad you might as well keep it.’ Mary spent that evening in her room trying and failing to ignore the toy. Everytime she looked at it the sick feeling in her belly grew, until, of course, she’d decided to put the memory in her box. After that she’d played with the toy without a worry.

Now the memory swept out and escaped into the ether of her mind, re-affixing itself to where she had cut it from all those years ago. The action weakened her, made it harder to focus on closing the box, two decades worth of regret sweeping back in an instant. She knew if she didn’t close it soon more would escape, and so she gritted her teeth and continued pushing.

‘C’mon, you’re twenty nine, now. You can’t keep doing this.’ Her father said from the other side of the door. Mary felt the box close a little bit more.

A second memory escaped.

Mary, at sixteen, in full flight of a hormone and alcohol fueled rampage, yelling and screaming at her parents as tears and mascara dribbled down her cheeks. They had caught her sneaking back into the house through her window after leaving the same way earlier to spend the night with two friends and a boy three years older than her. The boy, Alessandro, had supplied the three girls with as much spirits as they could drink, and the night had become one of binge drinking and eventually fighting when it was revealed Alessandro had been making out with all of them. She’d come home angry and confused and when her parents had apprehended her she’d exploded in a rage she didn’t know she’d possessed, using all the knowledge she had of them to say the things she knew would hurt the most.

The memory shot away to return to its rightful place, but Mary kept pushing.

‘Say something to me,’ her father continued. ‘Don’t push me away. Don’t push this away.’

Mary screamed internally, forcing her well of mental strength to dip deeper, and used everything inside her to push down on the box. With a click the latch caught, and her memories were once more trapped inside. She felt immediately lighter, her tears slowing down as she allowed the emptiness to fill her.

‘Please, love,’ her father said. ‘I’m in pain too.’ And the box exploded.

Memories burst out like confetti inside of her, whipping around her mind in a tornado of pain and regret and sorrow. She threw her head back, eyes going wide, as she re-lived all the moments she had forced away for so long. Her tears came back in an instant, starting with a dribble and turning into a full downpour. Every mistake she’d made, every act of stupidity, and cruelty, and selfishness, found their way back to the appropriate dendrite, the cells flashing with renewed connection as Mary became whole.

One memory, the latest, the one that the box had been so resistant to close over, played inside her mind.

She’d been drunk again, passed out at a bus stop in the middle of the city when two police had found her. They’d looked in her phone for her parents number, and her mum had come to collect her. Her mother had given her the usual spiel from the driver’s seat, asking Mary why she could never learn from her mistakes, why she always pretended everything was okay, why she never talked to them about her issues. Mary had lashed out, swearing and screaming, demanding her mum pull the car over and let her out. Her mother had eventually capitulated, stopping not far from Mary’s apartment, and Mary had managed to stumble the rest of the way. Her mother never made it home. A sleep deprived truck driver had hit her as she entered the highway and she was gone before the ambulance had even arrived.

The next day Mary had slept through her father’s many phone calls. Awaking in the afternoon to read the messages and rush to the hospital, where, after finding out the tragic news, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and promptly opened her memory box.

Mary’s wailing caused a spike of panic in her father. It took him four tries until his shoulder burst the bathroom door open. Mary fell into his arms, apology after apology falling from her lips.

+

Six months later and the box was still gone.

On the advice of her therapist Mary had made a list, a physical one this time, on which she wrote down every one of the memories that had been locked away, all the parts of herself that she had cut off and hidden.

She’d been staying with her father ever since the accident, back in her childhood bedroom, and managed to find her old sticker box in the base of the wardrobe, hidden behind bags of clothes. She cut up the list into little strips of memories and placed them in the box. It would take time but she planned to make amends for every one of them.

She didn’t know if she’d ever get over the loss of her mother, or be able to forgive herself for her death, but she also knew that she was healing. Things made sense now, while shame and regret were not good feelings to have they allowed her to see the whole picture and work to not repeat the same mistakes.

She snapped the little lock off the sticker box and in thick black marker wrote on the lid;

MARY’S MEMORY BOX
(never to be locked again)

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Thanks for reading

Damian

The Fox’s Beard

The Fox's Beard Audio Cover

I wrote this short story a little while ago and it’s up there as one of my favourites. It’s a fairly standard fable, which is what I like about it, as well as having an unlikeable protagonist, which, while can be challenging to get an audience behind, is quite fun to write. It’s message is pretty simple, namely the tried and true warning; ‘be careful what you wish for’, which is always fun.

I’ve wanted to do an audio version for a while because I like reading stories aloud, and I think this one, with its humour and narration, really lends itself to that format. Thanks to Movie Maintence Presents, this now exists.

You can listen to the audio here, or find MOBI, EPUB, and PDF versions to download below, for those of you who’d prefer to read the story yourself rather than hear my voice. Simply click the appropriate image, then ‘download’ in the new window that opens.

I hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening/reading

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Talk soon

Damian

The King of Rabbits

1.Louis-Bonarparte

I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story. Not mine, admittedly, but true nonetheless.

It’s about a man, a man who wanted to be king, who would be king, king of a land not originally his own. This man, he wanted to be a good king. Wanted to make a good impression, and earn respect and trust from his new citizens. Wanted his name, Louis – The King of Holland, to be known and spoken of for years to come.

But there was a problem, there’s always a problem for guys like this, and for this guy the problem was his brother. You see Louis’ brother was a real big deal, a king in his own right, and a conqueror. A man whose name was already known across the globe, and feared. There’s even a good chance you already know of him.

His name was Napoleon.

Told you.

As you might have expected, it was Napoleon who acquired for Louis his new stewardship. You see, Napoleon felt that the Batavian Republic, as it was then known, was too independent for his liking, and, being the man that he was, decided to replace it with the Kingdom of Holland, and place ol’ Louis on the throne, having him serve as nothing more than a French prefect of Holland. Big brothers, what are you going to do?

However, as you and I both know, Louis had other plans. Small plans, admittedly, and well meaning, but plans Napoleon would be none to pleased about. Plans, in fact, that would lead to conflict and strife between the brothers, with Napoleon eventually forcing Louis’ to abdicate the very throne he’d given him.

All comes later, though. The story I’m telling you today comes right at the start of Louis’ rule.

While big brother was off paving the way for his eventual monarchy, Louis was learning all he could about his his soon to be adopted country, making every effort so that when the time came he would be sure to impress his new citizenry. He decided that he needed to show the Dutch people that he was one of them, and that even though he was of French descent he would always but the needs of the Dutch first. Before he could do all that though, he needed to learn their language.

Of course, it couldn’t be just he who learned Dutch. His wife, Hortense, would need to learn the language to if she were to be their queen. His court, chosen by Napoleon and made entirely of frenchmen, must also learn Dutch.

Lessons began immediately, and equally as immediately, problems began to sprout. The first came from Hortense. You see, she already didn’t think much of her husband, their marriage being more one of necessity, and while she had gone along with her husband’s ideas thus far, he soon found her breaking point when one night in the quiet of their bedchamber Louis told her that once they were ensconced on the throne he planned for them to renounce their French citizenships. Hortense flat out refused. Refused to renounce, refused to learn Dutch, refuse to even stay in Holland for a minute more than she had to.

Louis, however, despite being understandably crestfallen, pushed on. Which is where the next problem comes in, because Louis was having trouble with the language. For all his good intentions they unfortunately didn’t make him one lick smarter. Certain people, you see, spoke of Louis as having a touch of the “lunacy”, which is probably all you need to know about the scope of his mental faculties. He was a good man, and for the most part capable, just flighty and restless. The kind of man who would later change his capital city a dozen times over, sometimes in a matter of weeks, and, well, a mind like that can have a spot of trouble with the necessary discipline of learning a new language.

Time was running thin and the date of his ascension was fast approaching, but Louis, goal firmly planted in his mind, continued with his studies as best he could. It was just the kind of guy he was.

Inevitably and eventually, as all days much, his day came; the day when he’d address his new people for the first time. A podium was erected, proclamations were made, and the Dutch people arrived to meet their new king.

Louis was nervous, as you’d expect. He had a speech, and it was a good one, short and simple, beginning with the most basic of statements, ‘Ik ben Louis, Koning van Holland.’ I am Louis, King of Holland. If he said nothing more than that, then all would be well.

He stepped up. Cleared his throat. Thought of his wife. Thought of his brother. Felt fear rise in his belly. Looked out at the gathered crowd, his people, and felt determination push that fear back down. He opened his mouth, and said;

‘Ik ben Louis, Konijn van ‘Olland.’

Close, but wrong, because what he said was, ‘I am Louis, Rabbit of Holland,’ and from that day to this that’s how he’s been remembered, as Louis, The King of Rabbits.

+

Thanks for reading

Damian

 

March 8, 2017

P1050624

Bear’s Den is a folk rock band from London. The combination of folk, rock, and London was more than enough to ensure my interest in the band, not to mention their great name, but then I stuck around for their subtle, rumbling tunes, that become more enjoyable on subsequent listens. Today’s blog song is their tune New Jerusalem, and is one of my favourites.

My last post was all about what fantasy stories mean to me and a bit of my history with them. This was supposed to be introduction to another bit of writing, some almost flash fantasy fiction, but then quickly became a blog post in it’s own right. Good for it. Anyway, that leads me today where I will share the almost flash fantasy fiction. In fact, I’m going to do it right now before this introduction gains it’s own life and we go through the whole cycle again.

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I think it’s time I was leaving. I don’t want to work at this job anymore. I’m not really sure I ever did. Now, I know I don’t. It’s not that it’s a bad job or that I work with bad people, it’s just that it’s slowing making me sadder everyday. It’s getting to the point where I find myself thinking about if I were to be injured and how great that would be because then I would have a legitimate excuse to not show up tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, or even the next week if it was particularly bad (but not in a serious or long term way, or in any kind of way that meant I was limited in what I could do).

Worse, the weekday, workday, sadness has started infecting my previously cheerful weekends as well. Two days doesn’t seem very long when you have to work five, which actually feel like ten. Sunday’s a ride off because it’s really pre-Monday at this point. Which leaves me with Saturday. One day where I do my best to not think about having to make that trip into work. Or face another email regarding something I no longer give even the smallest shit about. Or kill time just for the sake of killing time because all I really want is for the clock to read four pm. One day spent waiting for the week ahead which I know if shown on a graph would display a steadily increasing red line of sadness.

What’s even scarier is that the red line of sadness has on occasion flickered into a greyish-blue line of nothing, just…nothing. When that greyish-blue line is present I am dispassionate, disinterested, and indifferent to all the good things and the bad; and I know that if the red line changes to the greyish-blue line for good, well, then I’ll never leave. So, I really do think it’s time I was leaving. While I still can.

I don’t know where I’ll go, or what I’ll do, but I know wherever it is I want it to be somewhere where the fantastic can happen. Somewhere where I would never eat an overpriced apple cake, that I don’t really need anyway, just as a means of reclaiming the five minutes it takes me to do so.

Maybe I’ll go hunt dragons. Strap on some heavy armor, run through the wild, and bring down one of the beautiful and terrifying beasts. Feel the sweat pour down my back as the bright sun gleams off the battered metal that clothes me. Breath through intense exhaustion as the scaled animal, that just might be a god, and I go head to head. Or maybe I’ll help them hatch their eggs. I’ve never really been much of a fighter anyway. I could build a giant nest for them and light a fire underneath to get the temperature just right. Then when the eggs hatch, I could help care for the young, feed them, teach them, sing to them. A dragon nursemaid. Why not? It certainly sounds fantastic enough.

Or perhaps I’ll go somewhere cold, but not from air conditioning turned too high. Rather, the kind of cold that will penetrate down through me to a microscopic level so that even my individual proteins will feel like they’re shivering against each other. I’ll go to a land that is defined by its cold. One that has an endless winter. I’ll find, no, build, a small cabin where I can hide and be alone. I’ll grow a beard and chop wood and have a small fireplace I can sit next to with a blanket and a mug of something that burns as it passes down my throat. I might let one person join me there. A lady who is kind, and loves me, and happy to drink by the fire as I tell my tales of past adventures, and she tells me hers. We’ll have a pet wolf, of course.

Or maybe I’ll go talk to some ghosts in the southern states of North America. Visit a part of the country that’s part Caribbean, part French, and part something else entirely. A place of music and magic. I’ll take a paddle boat down the Mississippi and eat gumbo as I converse with a voodoo Queen, dead over two hundred years ago. I could learn her songs, stamp my feet against the moist ground, and raise an army of the dead; then ask them to help the living. I could possibly conquer all the Americas with an undead voodoo army but charity seems a better use of their time. Mine as well. At least I’ll know my efforts are being put to a good, human, use – not just helping a company continue to be a company.

Or maybe I’ll take to the ocean. Grow some callouses and be a pirate. Feel the solid wooden boards beneath my feet and know how fragile they really are against the might of the sea. I’ll drink rum with the women and men that make up my crew, learn every part of what makes a ship, speak in nothing but nautical terms, look at the stars at night, and forget about things like light pollution, and social media, and office attire, and alarm clocks. I’ll sail through tropical archipelagos and come across a school of sea serpents that writhe and wriggle from the water as the try to destroy my ship. I’ll fight them off then find a baby serpent trapped under a rock and realise they were just parents doing what they had to to care for their young, as so many of us do. I’ll befriend the baby, help make her strong, and journey across the many waters so she can reconnect with her estranged parents. It’ll be hard to say goodbye, but I’ll do it, and I’ll be richer for it.

Or perhaps I should become a King. There must be some fairy tale land out there in need of one. I’ll rule with an iron fist and a gentle heart, and a sword of immense power; naturally. I’ll care for the fairy folk under my rule and lead them to great victories over the creatures of dark magic. I’ll battle their powerful leader, a demon warlord from the forgotten realm who, rumour claims, was once a man; no doubt one kept too long in middle management. We’ll go one on one in a final fight, winner take all. Except when the time comes I won’t fight. I’ll drop my magic sword and give him a hug – because that’s all those middle management types really need. The evil taint will leach away from him and his horde, and peace will once more reign across the land…until the next time

Or maybe I’ll befriend a troll and go on a long cross country adventure with him to the land of giants. We’ll sleep beneath the stars and walk until our feet feel ready to drop off. We’ll visit little villages along the way and in some we’ll be heroes and in others we’ll be villains. We’ll drink too much ale and discover a lost magic forgotten millennia ago. Forgotten by all but the giants. We’ll make our way into their giant city (both for giants and giant in size) and we’ll feel small. But not small like someone unseen and lost in the corner of an office somewhere, simply small in stature but big in heart because our adventuring has taken us somewhere new and exciting. Too exciting in fact, because the leader of the local mafia will take a liking to us and before we know it me and my trollish friend will be caught up in her crew. Except it’ll turn out she’s not really a mafia Don but the deposed Queen. We’ll give her the forgotten magic and she’ll restore order to the land and name us knights of her royal order. The smallest knights that ever served.

Or perhaps I’ll get lost in a world of rain forests where the people resemble a kind of sloth-human hybrid and communicate through singing. I’ll live in a village made of tree houses and vines, and that exists so high up in the canopy you can’t even see the ground. I’ll eat exotic fruits, drink rainwater fresh from the sky, and learn that the diverse and chaotic jungle is actually one big organism interconnected in ways I’ll never understand. I’ll take a lover, build a house, raise a family, and protect them from the dragonfly people that occasionally attack our village. It’ll be a good life, one where I’ll never think of red lines, or greyish blue lines, or graphs of any kind. I’ll grow old in my tree house home, and die, and my children will weep as the lower my body to the unseen forest floor to decompose and take its part in the endless cycle.

Or perhaps I’ll get possessed by a fox demon. A friendly fellow who speaks in a cockney accent and makes my beard bigger and more luscious than it’s ever been before, but, as is usually the case, his gifts will come with a price.

Or maybe I’ll learn to talk to the spirit of cities and discover that they don’t think much of us humans.

Or I’ll meet a witch who’s sick of people no longer being afraid of her kind. One who seeks to change public perception back to one of terror.

Or I’ll visit the lost city in the clouds who think a world made of earth is purely children’s tales.

Or I’ll come across a magic snail who’s lost his shell.

Or I’ll live forever and have centuries pass as days.

Or maybe I’ll do all these things.

And maybe I just have, and you have too.

There’s so much to do, so much to learn, so many places to visit, so many entities to talk with, so many adventures to go on, and so many stories to read.

So I really do think it’s time I was leaving.

++++

Talk soon

Damian