Tale #28: The Wolf In The Woods

There was a woman who lived in the woods, and she had lived there so long it was all she knew. And yet occasionally she dreamt of other people and other places and worlds beyond her knowledge.

Each night a wolf came to her house, and rattled the windows and raged against the door and tried to force its way in, but her house stood firm. Each morning the woman checked the locks and tightened the latches and made sure everything was as strong and as tight as could be. And this went on for some time.

But one evening in the depths of winter the wolf rattled the windows and raged against the door and scratched so deep into the walls that eventually it found a way in. And it burst upon the old woman and knocked her to the ground and thrust its face towards hers. Its tongue ran hungrily over her lips and her cheeks, licked away the salt from her eyes, wormed its way into her ear, wormed its way deeper and deeper inside.

And it pushed itself through what it found there and into her mind and pushed out things she knew and swirled the rest around until all was confusion and all was noise and nothing quite made sense no matter how much she thought it should.

In the morning she looked around but the wolf was gone. She wanted to weep, and did not know why.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on May 25th, 2016
2. This story was exhibited at Nunn’s Yard Gallery, Norwich, in December 2018.
3. Alongside The Wolf In The Woods

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Tale #27: The Three Sorrowful Sisters

In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, and with her lived three daughters. And she raised them as her own.

These sisters loved each other very much, which was just as well, for they had no-one else. They were forbidden from leaving the house, for, as their mother told them every night before she put them to bed, there was a beast outside that roamed the peaks and which fed on the flesh of women.

And so the sisters sat together by the window every day and looked out over the hills below and the lands beyond and told each other stories about what the world outside was like, and the people who lived there, and the strange and wondrous lives they lived.

On the day of the eldest sister’s 18th birthday, there came a knock at the door, and their mother opened it up and in stepped a man, tall and handsome, or so their mother said, with hair as black as his suit and skin as white as his teeth. He told the sisters he was a Lord, and that he was looking for a wife. And as the sisters were the most beautiful women in the lands, one of them would have to do.

The eldest sister said it should be her, for it was her birthday, and indeed had she not always dreamed of this day, told variants of it to her siblings as she gazed out through the windows, waiting, patiently, for a prince to arrive and sweep her away to happiness and to love, whatever it was that happiness could be. Whatever it was love might entail.

And so she stepped outside with the man, and he took her into his carriage and closed the door behind her and together they went to his castle high up in the mountains, higher even than the hut in which she had lived all her life, so high not even the birds flew above, so high the clouds passed below.

She was allowed to roam freely around the castle, but was forbidden from leaving, for her husband told her that in the mountains there lived a beast which fed on the flesh of women, and it roamed where it pleased and could not be caught, and as such it was not safe for her beyond the castle’s walls.

And so she sat on her own by the windows of the castle, a different window each day, and always alone, for her husband was rarely there, and when he was he kept himself to his private rooms and his secret chambers, preparing, he said, but for what he never explained. From the windows she could see nothing but rock and clouds below and the pale sky forever unchanging above. So she told herself stories about the house that she had left, and her sisters that lived there, and the stories they were telling each other, stories which were always, somehow, about her and the life she now lived.

In time she came to be pregnant and for a while this brought her happiness, yet as the day approached she grew sadder again and sadder still. For what would life be like for a child in this empty castle, this mausoleum above the clouds. Her husband she saw so rarely she began to think he had been a dream, or a ghost.

She gave birth alone, and through the night she lay there in her bed, blood-soaked and bloodstained and as cold as wet rags, her tiny daughter screaming in her arms. In the shadows in the corners of her room from time to time she caught glimpses of her husband’s face, but when she turned to look, turned to speak, turned to show to him his newborn child, each time these apparitions turned out to be the moon at the window, or reflections of herself in the dressing table mirror, pale portraits upon the wall, memories, echoes, hopes, fears.

When she woke in the morning she was alone. Utterly, hopelessly alone. She walked the halls of the castle, ran along the corridors, screaming and shouting out her daughter’s name into the emptiness, the dusty stillness. The name only she knew, that only she would ever know. There was no reply.

In her despair she opened the front gate and started out down the mountain path. There were many paths but they were all the same.

The beast came up ahead of her and knocked her down and ate first her heart and second her flesh and lastly whatever was left until there was nothing of her but bones. And the beast piled them up and made its domain ever higher.

__________

In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice, and with her lived two daughters. And she raised them as her own.

They were forbidden from leaving the house, for outside, their mother said, roamed a beast that preyed upon women, that ate them up until they were gone.

And so they sat in their room, and held each other quietly, and whispered stories of their older sister to each other, and dreamt, each night, that she was safe.

On the day of the middle sister’s 18th birthday there came a man to the door. He knocked on the door and stepped inside and said he was a Lord who had recently been widowed, and that now that his mourning was over he would have himself a wife. And the second sister said let it be her, so that it would not have to be any other. For she loved her younger sister with all her heart, and hoped this would protect her from whatever fate had befallen their elder sibling.

And so the middle sister climbed into the Lord’s carriage and went with him to his castle in the clouds. He said to her that she was forbidden to leave the castle, for there was a beast that fed on the flesh of women who were foolish enough to roam the hillsides. And she believed him, for where else could her sister be.

In time, she gave birth, just like her sister had. And she too, just like her sister, stepped outside the castle’s walls the next morning in search of her newly-stolen daughter.

And she too was eaten, from the heart out, piece by piece, mouthful by carefully chewed mouthful, by the beast.

__________

In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice and her heart as hard as stone, and with her lived a daughter. And she raised her as her own.

The girl was forbidden from leaving the house. Forbidden too, from talking about her sisters. But she remembered them each night, listened to their stories in her dreams, and each morning she woke with tears in her eyes.

She told no stories herself. And she told them to no-one.

On the day of her 18th birthday there came a man to the house and he took her away and did to her what it was his intention to do.

And at the end, like all the others, she fled the castle in search of her child, and came face to face with the beast on the path. And there was no way past.

__________

In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice, her heart as hard of stone, and her lips as red as a late summer rose. A man came to the door, and brought with him three little girls, sisters in their way. She thanked him for his work and took the children crying from his arms.

And she raised them as her own.

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Notes:

1. Written on June 29th, 2016
2. The title is a sort-of reference to The Three Incestuous Sisters, by Audrey Niffenegger, which I liked a lot when I read it
3. Although this story has nothing to do with that story at all, beyond having a similar title, and containing some sisters

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Flying Directly Into The Sun









































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Notes:

1. Written between November 9th and November 11th, 2006
2. This was written to accompany an instrumental album by Luke Elliott
3. With one chapter for each song
4. From an outline by Luke
5. It was presumably the longest thing I’d ever written at the time
6. Although now it has been surpassed
7. On occasion
8. And was also probably my first accompaniment
9. To a concept album about space
10. But not nearly the last

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There are maps of our memories, there are paths within our dreams

Chapter 1

how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how didi i get ehere how did i egt here how did ieget howdherit ehre

***

suffocating, screaming, pleading make it stop make it stop make it stop but it never stops

the pressure and the pain
building
until it feels
like I’m going to burst

as i die i wake

***

Sometimes I wonder if the only paths that exist are the ones that I have walked down. If it is the mind that makes them real.

***

I am where I am supposed to be, at the address they gave me. There’s nothing here apart from a row of condemned houses, the windows boarded up, the drainpipes and the streetlamps all coated in an undrying paint to deter you from climbing

breaking

entering

***

I find a dead bird in my garden. A sparrow, or a starling, maybe.

I’m not sure of the difference.

Its head is turned to one side, a single droplet of blood ready to burst in its slightly open beak, and its chest has been ripped open. Whatever was once inside has gone.

***

I spend the afternoon writing the report. I tell them what I saw.

I have no idea if it is what they want to hear.

I am never given any indication, of anything. Whatever I tell them, the pay is always the same. Sometimes I have to wait longer for the money to come, and with it the next address.

I cannot tell if this is a judgement on what I say.

***

A dog is barking at me, straining on its leash, lips curled back in a snarl that reveals all of its teeth. Its owner holds him back, feet planted wide, both hands holding grimly onto the leash.

A fisherman at sea in the middle of a storm.

I watch the dog, its powerful jaws, its hate and desire, wishing that the lead would slip through the man’s fingers and the beast would be free to leap at me, its jaws biting my wrist, grinding their way through to the bone as I try to hold it off. The ligaments sever in my arm, my hand goes limp. The dog knocks me to the floor and goes for the throat.

I never scream or cry. Calm acceptance, no fighting, no attempts at escape. Everything soundless, slow, beautiful.

I see myself from above. The blood spreads around me as if I’m giving birth.

***

I post the report and come straight home. I lock the door, close the curtains, sleep before the sun even begins to set.

***

In my dreams it is a city. The streets are more tightly packed, the buildings sometimes older. The river is gone, replaced by a plain that stretches off beyond the High Street.

There is a castle, and passages beneath it, narrow cobbled paths spiralling in on themselves.

There are streets I do not know.

There are hills and there are holes.

The core stays the same, the familiar still there within the expanded whole. At the frayed edges of my memory I know it all, every street and every turn, but only after, when I awake. While I’m there I’m either lost or oblivious.

And always alone.

***

A new letter, containing:

a new address (in the town in which I live)
five ten pound notes
a return address (in a town I do not know)

Everything is always different. Everything is always the same.

***

I walk along streets I’ve walked a million times before, alleyways and pathways, fields, abandoned gardens, car parks. I count the cats I pass, the broken windows, the bent and dented streetlights, the crushed concrete bollards held together only by their twisted metal spines. I wonder what it would be like to hold a sickle to my throat, the curve of its blade a perfect fit against my neck. I pull it quickly across, a single rotation that cuts a thin smooth line all the way around. Blood flares out. I fall to my knees.

***

The address leads me to what is little more than an empty garage, its doorway rolled halfway up when I arrive.

There is nobody here.

An old mattress is leaning up against the back wall, oil stained and damp with a faint covering of mould. An extension lead marks out a trail across the floor, ending violently in the centre of the room, the plug severed, bare wires splayed out like veins. They point towards a solid lump of refined bitumen, a dark crystal, complex and angular, waiting to melt.

It looks soft, liquid, and I can scarcely believe it is not. I place my hand on it to test its solidity, half expecting my fingers to slip into it, like bones dropped in tar.

I dream of their eventual fossilisation, excavation, discovery, museum display.

***

I am lost in streets I do not know. Leaves pile up in drifts along the pavements, concealing the kerbs as they spread out towards the middle of the road. There are no cars to disturb their slow progress. No people to kick them apart.

Above me a moon as bright as the sun.

***

My bedroom is cold. My sheets feel damp, as do my clothes as I put them on. Later, as I walk to the postbox, the low sun strobes through the railings into my eyes.

I imagine it triggering an epileptic fit. I drop to the ground, my body convulsing freely in the loneliness of the street. No one comes to help. My letter slips away in the breeze, a final ponderous butterfly before the end of the year.

***

The post arrives with a new address. I do not know what day it is.

***

Snow outside. Deep, silent. The everyday boundaries of the town obliterated by its spread. Garden indistinguishable from pavement, pavement from road, road from field.

Without these lines
I feel lost
every step
a
possible
transgression
from the public
into the private.

***

The address is a road I do not recognise. Its position on my various maps is inconsistent, sometimes absent. The sun sets and I have still not found it.

***

I look at my footprints in the snow. The journey lines I trace out on my maps every evening are here made physical, echoes of my movement, my speed and my weight. The further back they go the harder it is to discern which are mine and which are not. My past lost in a confusion of information.

***

I slip and fall and land heavily on my back. The snow surrounds me, holds me in a thick embrace.

I can see the moon, a delicate sliver of crystal beyond the frozen sky.

My breath rises up towards it.

I can feel the warmth seeping out of me, down into the snow, into the earth.

I make no attempt to move.

***

Chapter 2

A map is not just a representation of space but of time as well. The date is as important as the names. Without both you will never find your way.

***

He kept searching. He kept walking. At night he would study his maps, again and again. Occasionally he would absentmindedly give his globe a spin and watch the world rotate before him. He imagined himself a traveller on the static surface of the moon, looking always at the ever moving earth above.

***

He can watch the town grow by looking at his maps in chronological order. Between the earliest ones there are the greatest gaps in date, sometimes over a century or more, and there are vast disparities in the methods of representation. But despite this he feels he can see the town as it was, barely changing from century to century, a few houses here, a church or two, roads and farms that probably date back even further, pre-Roman, pre-pre-Roman. A thousand years of gradual change in a handful of images.

The maps get more accurate as time passes, but more homogenous. They become more frequent, and yet with this decrease in the periods between them the rate of change accelerates, as if each map must contain a certain amount of new data, the publication of the new map forcing the changes, rather than the other way round.

New roads appear, new buildings, canals.

The railway comes.

The river becomes a constant, instead of a snake twisting slowly across the landscape, across time. Eventually the sea is reclaimed, first as marshland, then eventually as farmland. The town expands, contracts briefly between the wars, expands on and on.

Through it all some things stay the same. The roads into and out of the town (one north, crossing the river where it narrows invitingly; one east, which follows the river towards the sea; one west, towards the city; two south, not towards but from the villages there) seem fixed. The churches, once they appear, do not move.

The school itself has not moved for 400 years, but it does grow, keeping pace with the town, while simultaneously the fields around it shrink, a constant creep of houses encroaching across the borders.

The railway goes.

***

He has other maps. A series of detailed layouts of the High Street, each shop marked with its occupant, in ten year increments from just after the war to a few years ago, the final map showing a sudden increase in units marked “vacant”. He has plans of the park, from its construction in the 19th century through various renovations and re-landscapings over the century or more since.

There are charts of farm boundaries, boat moorings. Power cables, phone lines. The drainage network, where over the years you can see the old brooks and streams get pulled into it, eventually being buried beneath new houses and new roads, the town slowly forgetting they were ever there.

Public footpaths,
ancient roadways,
bridleways,
cattle lanes.

Tiny badly-labelled maps from flyers showing the directions to Indian takeaways, kebab shops, out of town furniture warehouses, local museums, boot sales, school fetes, birthday parties. Routes of fun runs, cycle races, summer carnivals, remembrance parades, fundraising santa sleigh-rides.

He kept photos — his own and those of others — organised by location and then date, so you could see the slowly changing faces of the town, its buildings and its people. He took photos too of old paintings of old places. There were printouts of each new iteration of the aerial photographs on google maps, and even the entire town at street level (in black and white, to save on ink).

***

Each day he traced out where he had walked during the day on a sheet of acetate. He marked his route in a blue marker, homes and shops entered were marked with red numbers, and the full details listed at the empty edges of the sheet.

He kept these sheets clipped together, grouped a week at a time, the build-up of routes slowly obliterating from view the map fixed beneath as the days and the overlays stacked up.

He aimed each week to walk every road of the town. He could, if he wished, see where he had gone on any given day from the last seven years. If he had laid them all down together the sheets would reach the ceiling.

An ice core representing almost a fifth of his life, and encompassing the entirety of the town.

***

Even with all this he could not find the place he had been tasked to find. Maddeningly, the name cropped up from time to time, map to map, but nowhere consistently. Sometimes it was the provisional name of a road on a new estate that by the next map had been renamed. Later a shop, from before he was born, the proprietor’s name on an old advertisement. The name of an old house long since demolished.

He could find places which contained part of the name, places which were phonetically similar. He walked to every one, and what he wanted was not there.

***

His favourite map was one depicting the Friars’ Path, the old route between the friary in the centre of the town and the abbey just north of the river. The map showed the abbey and the friary separated by the sweep of the river. It showed no other buildings, although a small line marked the bridge across the river. It was not aligned along the north/south axis, but instead had the abbey at the bottom of the page and the friary at the top. The winding path of the river was shown as a straight (but tapering) line, its widest point at the top left hand corner, narrowing down to a tiny sliver as it crossed the page towards the bottom right corner of the map.

The route was marked out in green. It started at the friary, crossed the river at the bridge, and then made its way to the abbey at the bottom of the sheet. But the path was not straight. Between the friary and the bridge, and then again between the bridge and the abbey, the path swerved left and right seemingly without reason, back and forth across the emptiness of the page, as if a length of cotton had been thrown onto the map and left to lay where it fell.

The map revealed a path through a labyrinth without depicting the labyrinth itself. Of the old roads that the friars walked and the obstructions they avoided, there was no trace.

The map as echo.

***

He printed out a new copy of the town map, this time making the width of the page match the circumference of his globe. He took the globe out of its stand and wrapped the map around the equator, so that the east road out of town met the west road. He cut the top and the bottom half of the map into ribbons and folded them down towards the poles. As the strips of the map overlapped each other they formed new networks of roads,
new paths,
a new town.

The river formed a sea that stretched across a third of the northern hemisphere and covered the pole. Fields and gardens were lost in the south, creating an endless tangle of housing estates that formed a tight maze of streets as dense as a thornbush. The two roads that led out of the town to the south formed a loop that surrounded and contained the new maze.

The remains of the ancient wall near the site of the old friary, which previously marked out a large U shape, now formed an equilateral triangle that entirely sectioned off the old ruins, protecting or perhaps imprisoning them within its boundary.

***

He taped the edges of the map down and looked at this tiny new world. His house still existed, but now he had new neighbours. His garden was gone, and the field behind it.

There, at the centre, where the two edges met and the east road bled back into the west. The two truncated names merged to form the address he had been looking for.

***

It was late, and the town was empty. The sky was clear above, the stars bright in the freezing winter air. Frost crunched under his boots, and he walked slowly so as not to slip. He went to the west road because it was marginally nearer.

***

He looked at his globe. This was the point. It looked no different from usual, the road stretching away in a straight line towards both horizons. The frosted tarmac a white scar in the dark.

He closed his eyes and stepped across the threshold.

***

Chapter 3

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Notes:

1. The original version of the was written between November 2010 and November 2013
2. And this final edit was made in April 2016
3. This also has the same final sentence as The Three Doors And The Fourth
4. I’m not sure what this means
5. But anyway that’s why I have posted both of these today

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Tale #19: The Three Doors and the Fourth

There was a woman who was married away by her family to a man she had never met. Their wedding was brief, and he left as soon as the vows were complete, for he had a great many interests to attend to, few of which, if any, could be delayed or delegated away.

Once he was finally free for a while from his obligations, she travelled the great distance from her home in the city to his in the mountains, alone and unaccompanied by any except for the taciturn driver of her husband’s formal carriage. Even when she arrived at her new home there was no-one around to greet her.

She approached the house and knocked on the door and when there was no answer she knocked again. When her third knock went unanswered she opened the door herself and stepped across the threshold.

She was greeted apologetically inside by her husband, who looked resplendent in the uniform of his office. He told her much about his life and his ambitions, and showed her the many rooms and halls of the house. But there were three doors he forbade her from opening. “Enter them,” he said. “And there would be no turning back.” But of what lay beyond he would not talk.

The next day he left to attend to the important matters of his office of state, as well as to his business affairs. And his pleasures, too, no doubt, although what they might be his wife had no idea, for he had confided in her little beyond the pleasantries of everyday acquaintance. And so she was left alone in the house.

It was too cold outside to venture far, and too remote for visitors to arrive uninvited or unannounced. She wandered the halls and the corridors of the house alone, sitting occasionally in front of a fireplace or beside a window, reading perhaps a book or studying the art that hung forgotten on the walls.

Eventually to overcome her boredom she sought out the first of the forbidden doors and stood before it. She knocked and when there was no answer she knocked again. When that too went unanswered she opened the door herself and stepped across the threshold.

She was greeted brusquely inside by her husband, who looked tired in the drab grey of his business attire. He told her much of his life and achievements, as he walked with her from room to room and through the halls of his house. There were two doors he forbade her from opening. “Enter them and there would be no turning back,” he said. But of what lay beyond he would not talk.

The next day he left to attend to his interests of business. And to his pleasures, too, no doubt. Although what they might be his wife did not dare to know. And so she was left alone again in the desolate house.

There was too much snow outside to venture far, and the roads were unsuitable for all but the most important journeys. So she wandered the halls and the corridors of the house alone, sitting occasionally by a fireplace, reading perhaps a book to pass the time.

Eventually to relieve the boredom she sought out the second of the doors forbidden to her and stood before it. She knocked. There was no answer, and so she opened the door and stepped across the threshold.

She was greeted inside with fury by her husband, who looked haggard and unwell in the faded velvet of his evening wear. He told her much of his life and regrets as he pursued her from room to room. But when she came to one door he stood in front of it and forbade her to enter. “There would be no turning back,” he said, but of what lay beyond he would not talk.

The next day he left to attend to his pleasures, the details of which his wife knew more about than she cared to know. And so she was left alone in the desolate tomb of his house.

The glaciers pressed in against the walls of the house and there was no escape. She sat in her bed and stared at the walls. Before her stood the third of the doors.

She stood before it.

She opened the door.

She stepped across the threshold.

__________

Notes:

1. From May 2015
2. A variant of Bluebeard, by Charles Perrault (among others)

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