From a Lost Planet.
By PAUL A. GREEN.
CHLOE ENJOYS BREATHING today. She inhales the refreshed air, capturing oxygen in her taut diaphragm before slowly expelling it, vibrating the syllables of her personal mantra just as Linden has advised. The phonemes just float out of her mouth. Her body’s at peace now. She’s glad to have Linden as a mentor, especially in such a rapidly changing world.
This is the final exercise to prepare her for the pressure of the day ahead. She pads across the living room carefully, avoiding the tendrils that have snaked across the sisal matting during the night. She flicks aside a frail green webbing across the bathroom door before slipping off her tunic and entering the shower cubicle. Today she has water…
All too soon it’s time to dress and begin the long descent down fifteen storeys to the pavement. On the sixth floor she overtakes old Mr Ballard, swaying on his stick, and mumbles a greeting but otherwise the stairwell is empty.
The story goes on in a white room. Andrew sits at a small red formica-topped table, scattered with cigarette ash and paper, in front of the only window, which overlooks a dank little canal. Its bushes are much favoured by drunks. He is reading Norbert Weiner’s Cybernetics but all the time he is slipping into a fantasy of gunfire, a rain of star fire, even the verboten dream of Churchill’s nuclear bomb exploding over Berlin in 1941. The Lancaster, like some great droning stag beetle escorted by waspish Spitfires, approaches the Reichstag. It’s the playback of German fire-music raging over Docklands. Violence like this will keep the drongos in filthy macs out of his bedroom. His spirit is now a globule of bitter gold. The chickens are soon coming home to roast.
‘Spit-roasting the Leaderene will make very little difference. There might be temporary shock and awe but it won’t alter the economic infrastructure.’ He puts the bomb back in the shed reminding himself to disconnect the battery later.
Gary sits down on the edge of an old crater, a typical back garden feature these days. His dream of eating the rich has faded. At the age of 65 his cells aren’t replicating too well. He doesn’t like the fit of his skin anymore. Punk fantasies have faded like old VHS pop videos. Dystopia was crusty underwear and a pain in the belly. The posh postcodes are already diverting the water and soon they will be rerouting food exclusively through the safe spaces. Food is carried almost exclusively in white unmarked vans to confuse the Ram Jam gangs who are still quite picky about their preferred targets. Meat Men rule Bread Men in the gangsta hierarchy.
‘Are you Ingrowing today?’ Clive hears this interrogation every morning in the anxious murmur of his fellow travellers on the cycle path as they trundle slowly towards their office block, rapidly becoming a monument to its imminent disappearance. Today as he swings his trike into the former executive car park he can see operatives have already started dismantling yet another storey.
From the wooden scaffold they are lowering a rusty girder which has been deformed by the process of wrenching it from the concrete. Like the shards of fractured glazing it can be melted down and repurposed – the work of the Ingrowing is always in progress.
Even as a child, Helen knew she was a mineral girl. Other infants in the playgroup hugged floppy woollen rabbits or prattled to their plastic Barbies, but Helen would kneel in the corner transfixed by the glint of sunlight on the tinplate of a toy robot. As a teenager she wasn’t traumatised by the zombie movies her peers watched during sleepovers. But she was haunted by an obscure science-fiction novel in which metals lost their rigidity, so that that bridges collapsed and rail tracks buckled while aircraft fuselages ripped open in-flight.
She now has a recurrent dream in which her family’s high-rise topples and the creaking shell of her Beetle contracts around her. She opens her laptop and checks the battery. She must write it all down.
Abandoned on the wrong planet, David must fight the deadly Smoke Dragon to find the Tunnel of Quemeth that might lead him to Princess Druna. Libelled by his CIA colleagues, Brad must redeem his good name by tracking down a Mongolian warlord intent on poisoning the water supplies of San Bernardino. After his wife Mandy has an affair with her social worker Gwen, Barry struggles to keep his cafe afloat and save enough to send daughter Kelly to a private school. In 1950s Britain gay schoolmaster Rex risks all to find romance with a young curate, while attempting to cope with the expectations of his ailing mother Flora. Veteran Cockney safecracker Reg is determined to prove his skills with one last bank job but is himself targeted by Albanian cyber-criminals. To save her world from nuclear annihilation, Lucy (16) from St Albans and her ex-boyfriend Tom (18) must outwit The Lice-Man and Beetle-Woman.
Michael knows he is biodegradable. Nevertheless, he is standing, naked, hands tied behind his back. He is aware that there’s a woman standing behind him, also naked, because he can extend his fingers and feel a vagina. She’s already whispering her lines about ‘appeasing her solitary petal’ so he senses she is well-prepared. Hopefully, she will be called ‘Amelia’, as pre-arranged.
On the far side of the darkening lounge, a young blonde woman with frizzy hair known as Monika kneels on the crimson lozenges of an expensive carpet. The crawling vegetation of the previous night has left traces of mud again, staining her pink trouser suit. She holds on tight to the glowing blue nodule on her necklace that confirms her location and addresses Lou and Martin who are coupling on the leather sofa. ‘They kept chasing us. After people had been executed the bodies were put on the balcony in plastic bags. I hid under the stage, of course. I’d taken the knobs off the trapdoors, so that no one could find us but they came in and rummaged in the costumes, shooting everywhere.’
The twilight vista of the flooded resort fills Caroline with a strange calm, the serenity she feels listening to a quartet playing works by Orlando Gibbons. She drifts along the deserted cliff top path, wondering what happened to those tiny strips of quarter-inch ferrous oxide tape she used to slice and discard while editing out stutters from an interview with some prominent economist. A montage of bad breaths. The studios were fogged with cigarette smoke in those days; and there was the lunchtime escape to the drinking club in Portland Place.
Raindrops trickle across her bifocals. The lights of the town seem to be shrinking, swelling, pulsing. ‘A circlet of God’s silver tapestry spread across Nature’s Night.’ Even bad poetry is better than no poetry at all.
Malcom knows he’s a has-been. He has been dreaming of dinosaurs, their triumphant return, a grand wilding where they would trample through the ruined towers and leave fresh mounds of their carboniferous shit to empower future generations. Now he’s awake, huddled in his dressing gown, but still too tired to read Yeats to the owls. And all owls have vanished in the smoggy night.
He wishes he wasn’t so skinny and weak, too weak to dig for root vegetables. He could barricade the door with big tomes, he supposes. ‘Don’t Let Them In!’ An old ’80s hit, nasal males intoning paranoia over throbbing Moogs. He went to those events with Cressida, who suffered from nosebleeds. He still wears her black vest sometimes and will never wash it. But he’ll throw out that dead TV, down the hatch, down all fifteen storeys.
Tessa reads the tattered report carefully:
Given that cross-coupling between alpha and gamma activity is involved in cognitive processes and memory recall in healthy subjects, it is intriguing to speculate that such activity could support a last ‘recall of life’ that may take place in the near-death state.’
But her Aunt Peggy, that collapsing mountain of a woman, saw floating orbs containing illuminated vignettes that replayed scenes totally unrelated to her lifeline — like Sir Oswald Mosley ranting in the rain to the pigeons outside a South London public library in 1962. Yet Peggy had spent that whole year running an exclusive care home in Paignton. Tessa doesn’t trust the science of the afterlife. It’s betrayed her auntie. But she is confident that the layers of wool and felt around her own slender torso will retain body heat, now that she has lost her key to the communal woodshed.
It is the finale of the food festivities, a beasting of a feasting on the stage, a feast for sore buttocks and bowels. Womenfolk are keeping an eye out for the planetary spirits. Jupiter is such a bulbous orb. All eyes are itching in the kitchen from the fuming woodsmoke. Jonathan the Hex Master takes a bow to acknowledge the restless audience.
This is the Hex Food, food for your enemies that feeds their bad thoughts. We boil it with roots and gristle until it bubbles and gels. Yes, we add blood, toads and weeds as in the traditional Scottish recipe. The Food will not burn if eaten carefully. You can even play with the Food. There will be time for audience participation.’
They throw the Food at the wall and watch it drip.
Barnaby with the Roman nose writes in straggling longhand:
It is late in the Decadence, and the People know it. We are ghostly in our affluence and spiritual afflatus. In the floodlit gardens across the river, men and women wander in their tight metallic thongs, while Muzaks, cunningly vocoded as prescribed by the Uttering, provide a pulsing soundtrack to the roundabouts and whirligigs. Time is a trap created by language and we have tumbled into it head first. There should be a way out of the body, an exit strategy, we should be able to take ourselves out, for an eternity of sunset evenings.’
He pauses and chews his ballpoint. If only he hadn’t set fire to the living room. A bad ashtray moment. Books, records, photos – all gone. He starts writing again, remembering the warning of an old American writer:
Everything we love is taken away from us, in a skip.’
PAUL A. GREEN has written four speculative fiction novels, most recently Dream Clips of the Archons and a short story compilation An Advanced Guide to Radial City. His poetry collections include The Gestaltbunker (Shearsman Books) and Babalon and Other Plays (Scarlet Imprint). His website is here.