Recollections Of A Summer

The Path

We used to lay down paths behind us as we walked. There was no one to stop us from going where we pleased.

Instead of stones or breadcrumbs we would use the coins we found washed up on the beach by the old pier, spilling out of the rusted machines below the tideline.

We laid the coins down as went through the woods, as we stepped over fallen trees and crossed broken bridges, as we followed half-forgotten paths all overgrown with brambles, the paths we had walked together since we were little, the paths we would have walked forever if we could, if things had never changed between us. If we had never changed those things.

We walked all the way down to the hidden clearing and the cold, shadowed lake that you couldn’t see from anywhere until you came to it and it was there, and we would take off our clothes and step into the water and swim off from the edge, swim all the the way out to the centre.

And we waited there together for whoever might follow our way.

The Jetty

She always called it the pier. I said it was the remnants of an old dragon, its vertebrae fused together to form this truncated path to nowhere, out into the sea. The boat tied up at the end of the pier I imagined was its skull, or perhaps the lower half of its jaw.

I never could decide if it died on its front or its back.

Its wings had been lost to the sea, I said, a faint echo of them painted out in kelp at the line of the tide. The vast caverns of its heart lay hidden, buried deep beneath the beach.

My sister wasn’t listening. She climbed out onto the boat and beckoned me to follow. I watched her swaying there.

“Jump”, she said.

I didn’t want to.

“Come on, jump.”

I did.

The Hut

Rain clattered like stones on the metal roof and we were glad of the shelter.

My sister took some cards from her bag and for each picture she turned over one of us would tell a story, our voices raised slightly so we could be heard over the din. My stories were based on things we had seen and things we had done. What hers were based on I do not know.

As the sun began to set she put away the cards and took out a candle and lit it with the last of the matches, the only dry ones in the box.

I took the candle in my hands and held it as gently as if it was my own heart.

Outside, despite the rain, on the horizon we could see a single blood red star, and beside it a bloated yellow moon.

The Stairs

1… 2… 3… 4… 5…

She had seen it from the cliff top, the dead or dying whale, and wanted to see it up close.

6… 7… 8… 9… 10…

And so I followed down behind as she bounded down the narrow stairs cut into the rock.

11… 12… 13… 14… 15…

Tentatively. 

16…

Counting each step.

17…

One

18…

by

19…

one 

20…

I couldn’t bring myself to look ahead. The steps seemed to fall away vertically below me if I did, gravity welling up almost visible before me, drawing my body forward, forward, to topple and tumble and fall and die.

21… 22… 23… 24… 25…

And I couldn’t look over the side, down to the beach, although I did, I did. I didn’t mean to but I did, and each time its body down there in the sand loomed larger, nearer now, more bloated, deader somehow, deader than before and deader than ever, deader than everything.

26… 27… 28… 29… 30…

I couldn’t even look up at the grey skies in case I lost my footing and slipped.

31… 32… 33… 34… 35…

So I stared intently at my feet, at the tips of my shoes and my careful steps from step to step. Right foot down. Then the left foot next so both were side by side. Then count.

36…

Right foot. Left foot. Count

37…

Right foot. Left foot. 

38…

Right. Left.

39…

Right. Left.

40…

Careful never to hurry.

41…

Careful never to miss a count.

42…

Hoping the stairs would never end.

43…

That I would never reach the sand.

44…

Never have to look up.

45…

And see it.

46…

47…

48…

49…

The Stream

We sat facing each other from opposite banks. Socks balled up in our shoes and placed by our sides, our trousers rolled up to our knees, our feet plunged down into the cold and clear of it.

The water was deep from the rains, the stones we’d placed suggestively as steps in earlier days now almost completely submerged. The waters ran so strong around our ankles the dirt was scoured from our skin, and it billowed out downstream like clouds of blood from old unhealing wounds.

I smiled. She smiled. In the afternoon sun we had never felt so alive.

The Sky

She walked ahead of me across the fields, out under the starry sky. I could see her only as a shadow, a deeper darkness in the dark of night that disappeared when I looked straight at it, so to follow her I had to keep looking away, glimpse her form only out of the edges of my eyes.

I stumbled over something, or into something, tripped and fell, the fall more terrifying for not knowing what had caused it, for not seeing where I was about to land.

When I picked myself up and looked around I could not see her at all. I looked away in every direction, concentrated on every periphery, but saw only darkness, uniform, yet without form.

I called out to her.

I cried.

The world span so fast every star was a blur across the sky and you could feel the whole galaxy turning above you.

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Notes:

1. This was written in April 2021
2. To submit to a thing
3. It was rejected.
4. Also as it’s all taken from An Escape
5. It was really written between 2014 and 2017
6. Please don’t hate me
7. Recycling my past is all I have

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The Dinosaurs

A big dinosaur and a little dinosaur were walking through the swamp together.

“God, you’re so small,” the big dinosaur said to the little dinosaur. “So small and tiny and pathetic.”

Although he only said that last part to himself rather than out loud. You never say those bits out loud.

“And you’re so big,” the little dinosaur said to the big dinosaur. “So big and huge and amazing!”

The little dinosaur was so excited he even said that last part out loud. He couldn’t help himself. Everyone knew it was true. Big dinosaurs were brilliant. All the stories said so. Big dinosaurs went on exciting adventures and had all this amazing fun together and all their friends were beautiful and they lived in the biggest caves and everything. It was so cool.

The only stories anyone ever told about little dinosaurs were ones where everyone was miserable and dying and ugly and dead. Who’d ever want to listen to those?

“I wish I was as big as you,” the little dinosaur said. “I wish I was bigger than everyone!”

“Well, you just need to put the work in,” said the big dinosaur, magnanimously. “That’s what I did. I didn’t get this big by lazing around all day doing nothing! I did it by working my bloody arse off!”

“I work hard,” said the little dinosaur. “I catch and eat a fish every single week!”

“That’s not work,” snorted the big dinosaur. “I eat a thousand pounds of swamp grass every single day! That’s the sort of work you need to put in if you want to move up in the world. No fucking lazing around in the sun for weeks at a time. ‘Oooh, oooh, look at me, I’m metabolising my food!’ Pathetic. You don’t see us big dinosaurs napping on the job. No, we fucking digest our food while we eat it. We don’t even stop eating while we talk. I’m eating right now! See! See!”

The big dinosaur bent down and took another big mouthful of swamp grass, spitting great lumps of it in the little dinosaurs face as he fantasised about shouting at the stupid pathetic lazy workshy little arsehole. Fucking little bastard! As if you could ever be as big as me! Bigger! What a fucking cheek!

The little dinosaur ran away and cried a bit probably and then resolved to improve itself in the face of adversity, because that’s what little dinosaurs always do in the stories. So much bloody crying. And resolving. Always resolving. Resolving to do this and that and the other and whatever. Fuck them. Little shits.

Anyway the next day the big dinosaur came back and found the little dinosaur was already in the swamp. The little dinosaur was lying on its side and its stomach had burst open and blood and swamp grass and even a little bit of undigested fish leaked out of it all over the marsh.

“Hah!” the big dinosaur laughed down at the little dinosaur. “Less than day of hard work and you’re already sleeping on the job. Typical!”

Later on a group of medium dinosaurs appeared and fought with each other over who would get to eat the little dinosaur but no one was watching by then because honestly what would be the fucking point.

___________

Notes:

1. Written on March 7th, 2021
2. While still in bed
3. Before getting up
4. I did not feel well
5. Please forgive me

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Building

My father was building things in the garden again. It’d been a while. Once he started he would not stop, no matter what. Not until it was finished. Not until he’d made you look, made you comment, made you evaluate its worth.

Whatever it was. Whatever it turned out to be.

That was the problem, really. You never quite knew what was coming. You never quite knew what you were in for.

Sometimes they were things of quiet beauty, wistful sculptures, delicate carvings, a phrase etched in chalk, as fleeting as thought. Abstract structures as moving as anything Henry Moore ever carved out of dead stone.

Other times they were impracticalities, intrusions, wastes of materials and resources, space, time. Not just his time but ours as well, as we were forced in vain to try and conjure up some validation of his over engineered creations, his cumbersome designs, his broken visions. If you can’t even tell whether it’s a bench or a cage or a new gazebo you’re evaluating, it’s pretty difficult to form an opinion as to his success.

But then there were the nightmares. The horrors only he could conjure. Once he spent six months building a hole. A hole in nothing. Just a hole. Floating there. Inert. Unbounded.

Another time, My mother lost her mind one summer, trying to visualise some casual violation of geometry he’d forced into being. Now she rejects every dimension beyond the three.

And I myself spent six years lost in the fractalising inner spaces of a shed he’d misconceived. Six years! No one even noticed I was gone. I only survived because the roof lekaed incessantly, and the snails proliferated down there in the damp and the mould.

So now I try not to look out of the windows of my room. Try not to listen too closely to the sounds of his tools. Try to escape the looming presence of his coming words.

But this year there’s no escape. There’s nowhere else for me to go. Except to make my way out into the garden, and into his domain. To stand there by his side, and answer that question.

“So, what do you think?”

I can already feel the tears rolling down my cheeks as I try to think of something to say. Already feel that anxiety building in my long since emptied heart as he ushers me through the door, and into his new dream.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in December 2020

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There Was A Forest Here. It’s Gone Now

When I was about five, I got lost in the woods.

I still remember the panic rising in me as I realised I was alone. This all consuming terror that filled me up until all I could do was run and scream and weep.

Flashbacks of the clothes I was wearing, shimmering blue nylon shorts, some plain coloured t-shirt, cheap white trainers, neon socks.

Yet is any of that true? If I was sent back there, to watch from afar, would that be what I was wearing. Would the sun be as bright, the trees as dense, the woods as empty…

And would my screams be as loud as they are in my dreams? If I was passing by, would I even register that that child – that child that was me – was even, in that moment, in distress? Have I externalised, in these long years since, what was always then internalised, taken those silent screams, those blinked back tears, and given them voice, amplified them in the hauntings of my mind.

Eventually I found my parents. Sprinted into their arms across the clearing. Wrapped my arms round my mum’s legs, wept into her dress. Lost myself in the folds of it, the depth of it, the warmth and the comfort of her endless kindness.

As we made our way back to the car, I looked up finally, my tears wiped away on my mother’s clothes, my eyes too young for glasses, my vision as clear as it would ever be. 

I did not recognise my parents at all.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in September 2020
2. The title’s a Silent Hill reference
3. (obviously)

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Gifts

That market stall was there again. The one that sells broken junk from other dimensions.

Sometimes in other dimensions too, 4 or 5 or 7 or 9 of them, extending out in all these directions beyond what we could see, beyond what were even directions really, but something else, something beyond our understanding, so there’s no hard edges, nothing you can hold on to, no possibility of containment, so your hand passes clean through after you’ve paid.

And the shopkeeper laughs as you realise you’ve just wasted your money on something that might as well be a hologram, or a ghost, or a memory, a thought.

It’s only then they offer you the use of their spacial manipulator, so you can get it home, and of course there’s a fee for that, a large fee, a very large fee, an astronomical fucking fee. But you pay it anyway. You have to. You don’t want to, but you have to. You don’t want to think you’ve wasted your money on some shit you can’t even take home.

So now of course I’ve got a whole shelf of things like that at home, shimmering and undulating and ululating and shivering, pulsing and trembling as the aspects of their intersections with our limited world shift and move as they through the universes they inhabit, utterly unconcerned with ours.

They’re never the same. Not even for a second. From my limited understanding of the mathematics involved, it’d be impossible for them to ever be the same again. No rotational symmetries. Not even the usual 1. None.

So sometimes they’re beautiful, so beautiful they make you want to cry. Other times they’re so alien there’s no comprehension of them at all in your mind. Visual noise that hurts to look like.

Somehow pictures never capture them at all. As if they don’t even interact with light, not how we understand it, anyway.

Although, in that case, how our eyes catch these glimpses of them, I do not know.

But they didn’t have anything like that today. Everything was three dimensional and solid and safe.

That’s not to say there was nothing interesting amongst their wares, just that there wasn’t anything so immediately, obviously, horrifyingly, enticingly , irresistibly wrong, either. At least on first glance.

“I haven’t seen you here before?” they said, with a questioning look.

They say this every time I come in. I think they’re trying to undermine my confidence. Not that it needs much undermining.

But I’m used to it now. And I am distinctly unmemorable. It’s the same everywhere I go. “And your name, sir?” After a while it barely even feels insulting.

“What’s this?” I said, pointing to the inert half of a strangulated pulsometer. It’s always good to ask a question you know the answer to first. Sometimes they lie. Sometimes everybody lies. At least this way you can calibrate their honesty.

“It’s the inert half of a strangulated pulsometer,” they informed me, correctly. “Not a very interesting piece on its own. If you’ve got a throbbing crystalline heart, it’s probably worth the price, but otherwise…”

They shrugged extravagantly, in the theatrical style.

“My heart’s throbless, unfortunately,” I said. “And diffuse in structure.”

I moved my attentions to the other pieces on display, picking up a jar filled with some sort of mimification jelly and pulling faces at it to test its responsiveness. It could cope with smiles and laughter, but turned my screams and scowls into giggles and blushes. It was very cute.

“How much for this?” I asked.

“The Caricreature?” they said. “It’s quite expensive. Very expensive. Very expensive indeed.”

They laughed expansively, in the evil style.

“Oh that’s a shame,” I said. “So how about that?”

I pointed at something entirely at random. It looked like a polyp. A polyp from some strange realm, obviously, not a polyp from ours. Totally different styles and textures.

But it looked like a polyp all the same. I assumed it was some sort of seed, from which something terrible and confusing might sprout or spurt or seep.

“That’s not for sale,” they said. “That’s lunch.”

They picked it up and bit it in half. Chocolate oozed out from inside, mingling with the blood from the raw flesh of its shell.

“You want to try,” they asked. “Highly addictive. Like a Tunnock’s Teacake.”

I shook my head, and picked up the mimicking thing again.

“So, how much was this again?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333%.”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of what?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of your soul,” they laughed, in the ominous style. Well, in the ominous and evil style. And the theatrical.

To be fair, there’s probably no other way to laugh when discussing the purchasing of souls.

“Ah, that’s not too bad,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I can afford that.”

I chuckled to myself, as I transferred that tiny sliver of a sliver of a remnant of my heart to their eager paw. The good thing about percentage pricing is that things get cheaper every time.

“And, actually, I don’t mind spending a little extra today anyway,” I explained. “It’s a gift.”

“A gift!?” they shouted, suddenly startled. “Is that really appropriate?”

“Er, yes?” I said. “I mean, I haven’t even told you who it’s for yet.”

“It’s the principle of the matter,” they said. “Haven’t you seen Gremlins?”

“No,” I said. “Anyway that’s just a film. It’s not real. It’s just a film. A film!”

They did not agree. They tried to take the jar back, but it was too late. I’d already paid.

That market stall was there again. The one that sells broken junk from other dimensions.

Sometimes in other dimensions too, 2 or 1 or 3/4s or 0 of them, contracting down in ways that made no sense, limited this way or that, or occluded by our reality completely, in ways difficult to understand, so there’s no depth, or width, no possibility of escape from the constraints of their limits, no possibility of life, of synthesis and fusion.

And the shopkeeper sympathises with you as you realise you’ve just wasted your money on something that’s as inert as and useless as some semi-solid lump of xenon.

It’s only then they offer you the use of their hologrammatic projector, so you can expand their appearance into enough dimensions to perceive, and of course there’s a fee for that, a small fee, a tiny fee, an infinitesimal fee. You don’t mind paying it, not really, you just wonder why it wasn’t included in the original price, why they rang it up separately like this.

So now of course I’ve got a drawer full of things like that at home, three dimensional projections of these zero dimensional shapes, sitting as still and dead and pathetic as they can, existing, if they can even be said to be existing, in their own limited dimensions, utterly uncomprehending ours.

They’re always the same. They never interact with anything. From my limited understanding of the physics involved, it’d be impossible for them to ever interact with anything. Simplified chemistries, based upon a periodic table without periods.

They’re never beautiful. They’re never repulsive. They’re just this constant unending blandness of conformity. It’s painful to look at, sometimes. Like a generic supermarket food brand made flesh.

A simple picture captures everything about them. You don’t need to see the real thing. What’s the point? They have no substance of their own.

Although, in that case, how I ever managed to carry them home, I do not know..

But they didn’t have anything like that today. Everything was three dimensional and solid and real.

That’s not to say there was nothing uninteresting amongst their wares, just that there wasn’t anything so obviously, depressingly, dispiritingly, abjectly, all-encompassingly bland, either. At least on first glance.

“Nice to see you again,” they said, with a welcoming look.

They say this every time I come in. I think they’re trying to bolster my confidence. God knows it needs it sometimes..

But it’s lost its effectiveness now. Compliments wither through use. It’s the same everywhere I go. “It’s so nice to see you.” After a while you don’t even hear it.

“What’s this?” I said, pointing to… something. It’s always good to ask a question you don’t know the answer to first. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. At least this way you can assess their knowledge.

“It’s the irregularlly fissioning half of a strangulated pulsometer,” they informed me. “Not a very interesting piece on its own. If you’ve got a desiccated liver, it’s probably worth the price, but otherwise, you know, not so much…”

They shrugged extravagantly, in the theatrical style.

“My liver’s wet, unfortunately,” I said. “And filled with blood.”

I moved my attentions to the other pieces on display, picking up a jar filled with some sort of mimification jelly and pulling faces at it to test its responsiveness. It could cope with screams and insults, but turned my laughter and smiles into endless haunting despair. It was distressing.

“How much for this?” I asked.

“The Caricreature?” they said. “It’s quite cheap. Very cheap. Very cheap indeed.”

They laughed expansively, in the evil style.

“Oh that’s a shame,” I said. “So, how about that?”

I pointed at the one thing I couldn’t take my eyes off. It looked like a polyp. A polyp from our dimension, rather than a polyp from some strange dimension.

It looked out of place among the marvels of their wares. I had no idea what it was for. Maybe they’d had it removed during some recent medical procedure.

“That’s not for sale,” they said. “That’s tea.”

They picked it up and bit it in third. Blood oozed out from inside, mingling with the chocolate from the crumbling, delicacy of its shell.

“You want the rest,” they asked. “Disappointing. Like Turkish Delight.”

I shook my head, and picked up the mimicking thing again.

“So, how much was this again?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333%.”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of what?”

“33.3333333333333333333333333333% of your soul,” they whispered, in the ominous style. Well, in the evil and ominous style. And the terrifying.

To be fair, there’s probably no other way to whisper when discussing the selling of souls.

“Ah, that’s higher than I’d have liked,” I said. “But I can just about afford it.”

I moaned to myself, as I transferred that great wedge of my heart to their trembling hand. The trouble about percentage pricing is that it seems cheap at first. But it isn’t long before it’s not.

“And, you know, I don’t have any choice but to spend big today,” I explained. “It’s a gift.”

“A gift!?” they laughed, suddenly amused. “You’ll regret it!”

“Er, what?” I said. “I mean, I haven’t even told you who it’s for yet.”

“It’s the heart of the matter,” they said. “Haven’t you seen Gremlins?”

“Yes,” I said. “Oh, god. Is that a warning? Are you warning me? What is this thing?”

They would not say. I tried to hand the jar back, but it was too late. I’d already paid.

_________

Notes:

1. Written in early August, 2020
2. This was surprisingly annoying to format correctly
3. Mostly because the formatting here is slightly different from the format in my word processor
4. And also even know it’s still probably unreadable if you’re on mobile
5. Or your browser screen is slightly less wide or slightly more wide than mine.
6. So, er, maybe it’ll just be easier if you read it as a pdf
7. Words I’d never thought I’d say there.
8. But such is the horror of modern life, etc
9. So here’s a link to it as a pdf: Gifts (pdf)
10. Now let us never speak of this again.

__________

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.