When I say I am repulsed by banality I actually mean people's capitulation to it; the readiness with which we accept the proscriptions of news broadcasts and soap-operas, lifestyle shows and self help guides: that which tells us what we should want and how we should define, which is always, always with reference to some dehumanisaing, utilitarian framework, be it capitalist or otherwise: you should want the car, you should want the house, you should want the credit rating, the dinner parties, the dying quietly before you can become a drain or burden on society.
When I speak to people on the bus or on the street and they barrage me with passive complaints about government, about society; about their wives, their husbands, their parents, their children, what I immediately perceive is a desire to say or express something else: a need to scream, to rail at the quiet, grey horror they perceive in their own lives, but which they have been discouraged from expressing. It's like living in a society exclusively inhabited by sufferers of PTSD, quietly and unthinkingly brutalised from the youngest age into suffering in silence, going with the flow; doing and thinking and saying only what is proscribed, what is allowed or convenient. Woe betide any that should break that status quo or breach the unspoken contract.
This is banality; it's the quiet surrender to what we assume is and should be, and I despise it; it is the most insidious form of human abuse; one that we have so enshrined within our systems, our traditions, our histories, that it is almost impossible to comment on, because it's almost impossible for most to perceive. The only way to do so is through a kind of extremity; you have to know ecstasy and despair of an intensity that could easily break you; dissolve sanity, and come through them; piece the fragments of yourself back together according to your own designs and desires, in order to have even a hope of even seeing it for what it is, much less defying it.
And all the while culture will try to drag you back; it will insist that you should be afraid and ashamed and repentant and disgusted with yourself...not for any genuine ill that the refutation of banality might evoke, but because by that very factor, you become grit in the machine; an irrtant to be expelled, a potential infection. There's a kind of glory in that; an anarchist sense of exultation that we must celebrate; that we must express and expose to others, particularly younger generations, with evangelical zeal.
I can think of no better place to do it than in stories.
I remember the games. Back when the distinction between dreams and waking was so thin...when so much was possible.
The games we'd play...little dreams, little theatres; pockets of ephemeral reality, so vivid we could taste the blood and snow, feel the rain on our faces, the swords and fire in our hands. Most forget, or convince themselves that they do, remembering too painful, the world having shamed them into certainty.
I...I still play; I've never forgotten, when back gardens stretched into fairy tale woodlands, when a patch of dirt could be a desert or the desolation of an alien world...when stones were mountains, trees lunatic sorcerer's towers.
But now, I play alone. None of them remember, none of them want to; would likely not admit it, even if they did. No matter how deeply they want it.
Children's games; pretending to be what we aren't, what the world insists we are. Look! I am not here, in the same back garden where the dead child played, where it still does; a ghost in the grass, amongst the connifers, the plant plots...behind sheds, absconding through the secret gaps between fences into other realms; other gardens, wholly other states of being.
Still here. The other...the one the world wants me to be...he isn't; has always felt hollow, more ghost-like; the shirts and smart trousers he wears to the electronics store where he works...a costume, more a game than anything he remembers.
I never asked for him; never wanted to be him. Time I put him to bed; a life for a life, a sacrifice to the ghosts of yesterday.
These games...in the sun, in the rain; sitting upon the grass, feeling the damp soil beneath my fingers, smelling it. Something skittering over my hand...feathery and many-legged, something I close my eyes against, not wanting to see.
I sit, in the same space, another time; body protesting, too big, too cumbersome, the perspective changed so much, this might as well be an alien world; one that the ghost child certainly wouldn't recognise.
Things have changed, since then; the playground altered; mud-pits dug out to become fish ponds, plant-plots replaced by ornamental rockeries, stretches of lawn by pits of stone and gravel and coloured not-quite glass. Some sort of gazebo, a table and chairs beneath, where nobody sat, even when the ones who made it this way were alive.
But I still remember. The games and ghosts...still here, no matter how much they try to bury them, to smother them beneath empty, unasked for difference.
That child, who they murdered; that I let them. So much since has been an attempt to resurrect him; to remember him; a casual necromancy, digging through the toys he used to play with, the dog-eared, ripped and weathered comics in the loft. I want him back...more than these misty rememberings; I want to feel it again; reality so thin and flimsy, fear or want could rip it wide open, monsters behind every twilight tree, every shadow a nursery of demons, waiting for night and for his dread to call them. I want to be in that world of anything again, always have.
Child, they call me; the few, who I never truly wanted; the women that the world gave to me, that it insisted I chase. They've always been better at infanticide; at murdering the children, burning them, scattering their ashes. Always relief, after the tears, when they've gone, when even the scent of them has been exorcised.
Not one wanted, not one loved.
I try, contacting the boy I betrayed, when the loss of the child inside almost drove me mad; made me bizarre and bitter; the games turned to lies and cunning and cruelty. A man, now; his ghost here, too, the most beloved; the one who knew, who likely still remembers, at least a little.
My texts and e-mails go unanswered, many of them; the ones that mean something, unsent. I can't. Even if he does remember, what would it mean to him?; Just the games we used to play as children, how silly, how nostalgic... how strange and magical we were, compared to the rest, denied, for sanity's sake.
I remember. I remember making the wind blow with a gesture, a thought. I remember causing cloud to coalesce over the sun, for rain to fall. I remember the snow storm we once called down, laughing as the rest fled, as the teachers attempted to herd us inside.
Old, old magic; forgotten, that I can't do anymore, no matter how much I try, how hard I try to recall the means of it.
Even if he did come, if the ghosts sang to him, as they do to me, he wouldn't stay; wouldn't help me remember the magic. The first taste, the first tingle of it at his fingertips...he'd be gone, back to his wife and children, back to his home and job and television.
Because betrayal works both ways.
Only the children, the ghosts, can show me. Nothing that calls itself living, nothing that wants to be more.
I follow, I call to them, every day, in every way I know how; sometimes through the night, whispering the silly songs, the nursery rhymes and playground-limericks...
They see; eyes in the windows, in the evil, orange light; idiot eyes, pretending that they don't understand, that they don't want it, too. They don't come to me; don't speak to me or say hello in the street. That's all right; none of us ever have anything to say, anyway.
At work, Gary's office. They way he moves...as though there's machinery somewhere beneath the rumpled, salmon shirt, the mismatched tie. Clearing his throat, smiling...apologising before he's said a word.
"This isn't, like, a telling off or anything, Giles...we're not allowed to do that anymore. I'd just like to...talk to you about a few things, ask how you're getting on, you know?"
I can't help it; my eyes drooping, my shoulders sagging, the sigh leaving me before I can murder it.
He draws up, at that. Fat, pig-eyed, empty. Why am I here? Why do I even listen?
"...am I boring you?"
Time was, the lightning in my belly at this encounter would have made me sick. Nothing, now; only the ashes, swilling and swirling.
"Yes. Yes. You're so boring, Gary; so fucking boring..."
Blinking, those pig-eyes, those tiny, baby's ears...never having known this, before.
"...what do you think..?"
I rise, staggering out of my chair, slouching against his desk, holding myself upright, so tired, so fucking bored.
"You know, just like the rest of them. You know. That's why I'm here, isn't it?; You don't like to remember. I remind you, just by being here..."
"I...think you'd better leave, Giles. I don't know..."
"Stop it. Stop fucking lying. It doesn't work on me. I can hear them, I can smell them, even though you won't admit it..."
"Get...get out now..." Jowls trembling, chins and tits aflutter. Piggy eyes dark and glassy. "...I'm calling security."
Pens. Paper weights. Chairs. Staplers. So many ways; I might as well gouge his eyes out, for all the use they are to him. Perhaps that will help him see more clearly.
No. I'd lose the garden, then; the parks, the streets, where the ghosts play. I can't. I leave, laughing.
They call. I don't answer. They knock, they send letters. I ignore them. People come to the door; barking, deaf-blind, shadow-things; I barely hear, even when they hammer so hard, they shake the door on its hinges. Angry, angry letters. Soon, the phone and water, the TV and lights...all stop.
It's...fine. I don't want them.
I want this; the quiet, the soil, the grass; the rain on warm stone, on rampant weeds...the scents and textures of them, the ones that play here knowing them all so well...all around me, now; little girls, little boys; not merely smears on the air, but almost solid, almost enough for me to reach out and pull through...
Pangs in my belly, dust in my throat. It doesn't matter...none of it. Some dreams have to die to make way for waking...that's just the way it is.
It doesn't hurt, not really. Too far away, like it's always been; a bag of bones and itches. I won't miss it.
They come through the rain, dancing, laughing, screaming...shimmering things, silver skinned, as though made from moonlight. I remember them...remember them all; every stuttering, uncertain face; every smiling, weeping one of them...and they know me.
Black eyes, gaping, their scrutiny scalpels, lancing and paring, scraping bone. Why? Why do they hate me so much?
A new game and old. I fall, back in the grass, the soil, seeping away in the rain. They laugh, the old and young ghosts; the ancient children, whose stretching, splitting, broken masks are all mine. They laugh, as teeth and tongues take place of knives, as they take what I don't want; matter, meaning, life.
A new game, the stars so bright tonight, the rain luminous with their sacrificial light. The children rise as I do, though I rise further, away, away, from memory, from disappointment; from all possibility.
From the things I have called and made flesh, theirs still steaming and flowing, not quite solid. No longer ghosts, no longer mere memory; more, as they've always ached to be, caged inside; the bone asylum that they break and shatter, whose shards they stomp and dance on until it is ground into the dirt.
They scatter, laughing into the night, new games to play, new play-mates to call.
Tomorrow, the world will be a new playground, one that I will never know, whose games I'll never see. Only the stars, the darkness between, the relief of being adrift amongst them, and the silence of dreamless sleep.
Born in Blood began somewhere in the early days of promotion for Strange Playgrounds. Nicky Hardy, whose work you will find strewn throughout this website, and who is responsible for establishing it, produced a number of promotional photographs based on the project, which, in the way of art, transcended their original intention to the point that they became the inspirations for their own stories.
From the outset, it was clear that Born in Blood was going to be a different sort of project (for one thing, the stories of Strange Playgrounds weren't so considered or intended to be part of a whole; they were compiled after the fact, from at least a decade's worth of writing); the images Nick had created were so stark, so aggressively nihilistic, the entire tone of the project was set by them; this was always going to be a far more sombre work, without the abstruse hope that often occurs at the conclusion of Strange Playground's tales. Here, blood and pain and despair would become their own Edens; states of extremity that humanity cannot endure, but cannot escape. That sense of the ineluctable; the sheer impossibility of denying despair, became the foundation; the running thread throughout every tale. What transcendences occur here do so only in the most abominable ways, and always, always through a descent into pain and disgrace beyond easy comprehension.
The first tales were largely minor scraps and scribblings; bleakly poetic little notes and nothings that will appear in the final collection amongst the larger tales, as well as featuring in some form or another in the visual volume that Nick himself is compiling (another departure from Strange Playgrounds, in that this project is split across multiple volumes and in various mediums: alongside the short story collection, which will contain the tales in their entirety, a series of visual volumes, including Nick's work alongside select extracts of the stories they inspired). All that was asked, to start with; something inspired by the truly distressing visual work Nick had created (kudos to his models, by the way, who have all proven themselves incredibly game for the experience), but, as is the nature of such beasties, it soon took on a shape and vitality of its own, what were supposed to be little more than sentences and paragraphs swelling to whole short stories, short stories swelling into what might be considered small novellas. Ultimately, the project has proven so fruitful that, not only does Nick have a back catalogue of over a thousand images, I have several folders full of my scribblings; more than enough for several volumes or collections.
Not only that, but, as was the case with Strange Playgrounds, Born in Blood has accrued its own back-mythology and consistent symbolism as the stories have progressed; almost all of its stories involving some form of dissolution; of the self, of the mind; of the body...of entire worlds and states of being, despair and insanity becoming means by which reality can be undermined, terminally ruptured; the notion that not even death can provide release becoming a central one; that there is an "after life," of a sorts, but one not promised or imagined in any of the mythologies of humanity: A condition inspired partially by Lovecraftian nihilism, but also by mythologies such as those underpinning the Shadow Man and Legacy of Kain video game franchises, the state that awaits all souls, no matter the pain, no matter the despair, they have suffered in their waking life, is a wasteland of confusions and encroaching insanity; of inevitable decay, devolution and a descent into mindlessness; a cosmic sewer and insane asylum, a dumping ground that may be one that God left unfinished when He departed this sphere of existence or that He never had a mind to finish; the by-product of some hallucinogenic or fever dream; perhaps little more than a splash of the vomit that follows.
From this condition arises Abarise, a state that comparatively few souls find their way to; a kind of sanctuary against impotence; a place where those born to be the run-off or by-product of whatever diseased engine we call "being" may find some semblance of bleak respite, not to mention the meaning, though it may not be in the manner that they imagine...
This in turn informed the shape and consistency of the stories; not to mention the lay out of the project (though still somewhat tentative, one of the ideas we are currently playing with is having the short stories "cut up" and scattered throughout the collection in the manner of a dismembered body, obliging the reader to piece them together as they go). References to Abarise occur throughout, sometimes tangentially, sometimes overtly; one or two of the stories feed the concept directly, whereas others derive from back-mythologies that run concurrently; far, far older than Abarise itself, deriving from stories that were written years before the project even began:
Elias Kirchner, Nathaniel Roseblade; characters that readers of Strange Playgrounds might recognise; consistent characters that crop up now and again in my work. Here, they have a fair few stories dedicated to them, exploring the bizarre, love/hate, cat and mouse game they play with one another across a string of states and realities, not to mention the effects that their play tends to have upon those they encounter.
It has been one of the most interesting creative experiences of my life, thus far; occassionally so intense, I've been forced to take a break from it; to ensure that I have other projects occurring concurrently that I can skip to when I need a change of tone (the nihilism of Born in Blood is infectious and pervasive), the work itself consuming entire days, my body protesting wildly when I realise it exists and probably requires moving, feeding etc.
I sincerely hope that the finished products prove similarly affecting on their audience, that they feel every black mote of despair, taste every scarlet drop Nick and I have poured into it.
Strange Playgrounds was a suitably odd beasty; asked now, I wouldn't be able to tell you quite where it came from. The stories that comprise it come from all over the place; derivations of novels and novellas I started when I was too young to know any better, revisions of revisions of re-writings of stories I started back at university (the title story was, originally, an attempt to re-write Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and the Pendullum, to make it an entirely sensory experience, without any explanation or clear resolution, which I still feel dilutes Poe's otherwise glorious short story).
How it came together was almost a matter of happy accident; suddenly, I found myself with a folder full of work and nowhere for it to go. At that time, I hadn't even realised that were consistent themes and threads between them; they simply were, in isolation from one another. It wasn't until I started arranging them into one document that they began to somehow sing together, as part of a much, much larger work, that consistency became apparent.
What I find particularly fascinating now, looking back, is what they reflect: stories such as Storm Song, the disparate halves of which were written by two very different people (who happen to share similar face): the first half in the throes of love, the second in its ashes, stories such as The State of Lovers, which initially began as a joke between myself and a friend about how wonderful it would be if one could emulate Victor Frankenstein, taking bits and pieces of one's perfect mate and stitching them together. The original forms of the story are so far removed from what it eventually became...semi-comedic, graphic horror-erotica, in which the idealised man is not, as in the finished tale, merely dreamed into being, but cannibalised and stitched together from fragments of pilfered and murdered men, the end result something shambolic and tormented; never good enough for the pair who squabble and bicker and eventually end up murdered by their own lover/child. As those who have read the story know, this is a far cry from what it ultimately became; so much so, that it may as well be an entirely different piece. This came about due to frustration with that original tale; it worked, technically, but it didn't express what I wanted it to; it felt...dishonest, somehow, so I re-wrote and re-wrote and abandoned and left and forgot and came back to until, eventually, The State of Lovers came about; an examination of what the desire for perfection reveals about us, what the need for ownership and control over our own ideals betrays. I like the piece that appears in Strange Playgrounds; of all the stories that do, it is often the one I enjoy reading over the most, if only because it comes from a place of genuine emotion, of true despair and yearning and desperate, desperate desire.
What surprises me perhaps the most, looking back, is how different I am now, both as a person and as a writer; most of those stories were old by the time Strange Playgrounds as compiled; stories whose writer(s) had, in a very real sense, passed on and been consigned to the graveyard of shed or murdered selves. I do not write as I did then anymore; the stories that will appear in the up and coming Born in Blood are, whilst ostensibly similar in imagery and concept, far removed in terms of theme, style and implication.
Strange Playgrounds, I like to think, is a fairly redemptive piece of work, taken as a whole; despite the darkness, the filth; the human extremity into which the stories dip, most have at least a strange hopefulness, at their resolution; a potential for change or transformation, celebration in the mire. This is particular interesting given that many of these tales were produced in the throes of a clinical depression that lasted around ten years, as though my imagination was attempting to project possibilities of its breaking, to operate in a place where it could see some potential, even where my conscious mind could not.
Born in Blood, by contrast, is almost entirely shorn of hope; there is nothing redemptive in its stories or in the ovaer-arching mythology that most of them feed into. Dead worlds, broken states; apocalypses and extinctions, murderers and abusers and victims, victims, victims...these stories are expressions of a despair that I, as their writer, no longer feel (certainly not to the same degree), but understand. They are metaphysical hopelessness; a statement that there is no divine poetry, no justice; no pattern or meaning to being, save what we impose upon it, and that, in that, the abusers are blessed, the victims damned; the truly despairing condemned to that condition, forever and ever and ever. Not an endorsement of that status quo, you understand, but a suggestions that it is perhaps closer to the actual state of waking reality than the dark fairy-tale quality of Strange Playgrounds.
It's been an interesting experience, walking them again; seeing them more as a reader now than the man who wrote them. Not stories I'm sure I'm capable of writing, any longer, but ones I'm glad some manifestation of me did, at some point in time.
Popularity and fame are no guarantees of inspiration or good work (a casual assessment of any W.H. Smith book section or the "best sellers" list in your celebrity gossip rag should provide more than ample evidence of that). Some of the most popular, the biggest selling, even the most critically celebrated pieces of work do not maintain their status because of any inherent quality or because they say anything of note, but because they happened to chime at the right moment with the right sub-culture or with the right socio-cultural circumstances. Others are simply examples of very good marketing (REF: Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight series).
On the other hand, there are those works which are celebrated with good cause, those craftsmen who achieve particular status because what they produce is simply that good.
Neil Gaiman is unambiguously of the latter tribe; a writer whose work almost universally feels effortless, as though raw inspiration bleeds from his mind onto the page with the slightest passage of his fingers, the merest whim or thought.
This is, of course, an illusion; the man himself has been quite candid in various interviews and articles about how slap-dash and inconsistent, how tortuous the process can sometimes be. That illusion, that magic trick, is arguably the most important in the writer's arsenal, perhaps any artist's; making what they sweat and agonise over, what is broken, abandoned, redrafted; shattered and pieced back together, feel like a seamless and magical effect; a product born whole, rather than disjointed and deformed, requiring myriad surgeries before it can walk or even breathe on its own.
All of Gaiman's work, from Sandman to Neverwhere, from American Gods to his Doctor Who scripts, radiate this quality; a dreaming sense of wholeness, of purity, that only someone who has similarly sweated and agonised can understand the achievement of.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception. If anything, it exemplifies the quality; the work of a writer who has been at his craft for a long time and is firing on all cylinders; a fey, sweet, frightening, fantastical, distantly erotic, strangely perverse tale of the transition from child to adulthood (and how that in itself is a kind of fairy-tale; an illusion we weave about ourselves and in our own heads; an insistence to the world of how big and brave we have become), about how memory is as much a story as it is record; dream and history, intermingling until there is no discerning the two.
Narratively, the set up could not be simpler; a man returning to his childhood home, finding ghosts and echoes there of a self he has forgotten, or struggled to forget, for sanity's sake, his memories a strange stew of troubled coming-of-age trauma and the most unlikely fantasies, the story sifting from moments of parental neglect that borders on the abusive to Narnian transitions into fantasy-scapes and strange other-places, all of which seem to be barely a step or shudder away from waking reality; a mythology in the time-honoured traditions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Kafka's Metamorphosis. Flung back into memories that seem as much dream as experience, the anonymous protagonist relives tragedy and heartbreak (the death of his beloved kitten, his own strangeness and isolation from other children, his increasing distance from his family), magic, miracles and fantastical absurdity (the family of what might be witches, but are not, what might be spirits or demi-gods or elemental forces, but make no specific claims on any condition, the eponymous "ocean," which is little more than a duck pond, but simultaneously deeper and vaster than any ocean in the waking world, an other-worldly worm that becomes a demonic woman, that makes him its victim and puppet, for a time), all co-mingling in a wonderful stew, every mouthful of which suggests new possibility.
In many respects, it is more sedate than much of Gaiman's previous work; less overtly fantastical than the likes of Neverwhere and American Gods, in which the fantastical elements are decidedly solid and certain; here, what is actual and imagined is a meaningless dichotomy; a misconception that doesn't even apply: effectively evoking the manner in which we all perceive the world as children, before absolutisms and certainties are brought to bear: as a place where every shadow is pregnant with monsters, every corner a potential turn into dreams or nightmares.
It's a joyous work, achingly nostalgic, without being sentimental; grim and uncompromising without being overt.
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the finest works Gaiman has ever produced, and well worthy of every plaudit it earns.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane can be purchased here:
The strangest thing...the most beautiful. Almost synonymous, in my experience. Nothing stranger or more beautiful, nothing more known to me, than him.
I can't remember, now; where it began, who he or I was when we first met. Not that it likely means anything...past, present, future; delusions of perception, as I have learned, like distance, like absence. By any normal measure, he is far, far from me, now; further than any ocean, than any ship might span.
Yet, I feel him here, so close to me; as intimately as when we first lay together, when I first tasted his spit and blood.
He'd come, if I called; would burn whatever life he's accrued or constructed about himself...murder his lovers; his wives, his children, bring the towers and churches down around him. I've seen it; heard the music of it, a thousand times. Splintering glass and grinding stone, screams and flames and skies ripped open, spilling insanity...I've seen, fallen in love with him over and over and over, at the apocalypses he has made for me.
And yet, he always runs. Always. The most ancient game; one older than any that God or the Devil play, Heaven and Hell as ephemeral as anything else. We've seen those end, too; myriad celestial wars, the angels and demons clinging to one another in rapturous hatred, falling all around us; comets of blinding light, of pulsing darkness, mating, dissolving together to form wiser children.
I don't know where he learned it, why I consent to it. Perhaps because...there is nothing else; no more worlds to walk, no more pleasures or atrocities to taste, except those we make together. Maybe that's it...why it's so easy, for both of us, to break everything we dream, to shed love and self and go naked where there are no stars, where nothing has come to be.
This place...just another playground; one I watched cobbled together, from the first speck of grit to the last spire...everything; genesis and revelation, little more than a theatre for my distraction.
Beautiiful cities, once; states that very, very few of the humanities we have encountered aspire to. Most murder themselves or experience some extinction event before achieving such art, such Utopian splendour. Towers that spiral, like great sea-shells, seemingly formed from a similar substance, the nacreous lustre of their interior repeated on their outer surfaces, originally designed to capture the radiance of this world's stars and suns...diseased, now; fractured and seeping dust, the only light they snare fevered, pulsing scarlet; the hues of infected wounds, of sceptic lesions.
Spires that once defied any and all notion of architecture; inconstant, shifting edificies, their exteriors constantly rippling and rearranging, facades akin to a serpent's scales or a bird's feathered hide, every moment a new configuration, a new suite of patterns and colours...I saw the first of them raised, the people flocking to it, gathering around its base as though it were some form of idol, offering it their awe, their adoration.
How quickly it all became banal to them, as miracles always do, repeated often enough. At the end, few of them would have spared a passing glance for the structure or its siblings, except the rarest of them; those I found, those I inspired, in their turn. Rare souls. Playing games of their own, now; far, far beyond the world that birthed them. Maybe they will be like us; their absurd parents, trailing their idiot theatre across state and probability. Maybe they will be more; maybe they will find or make what we cannot.
This city...Deleria, they called it; a place after my own heart, where the people were once as various and changeable as the architecture. Stillness was sin, here; complacency a kind of ugliness, a discourtesy. No surgery required; they'd long since passed beyond the need for that, towards the end: a few moments having their molecules rearranged, and they could be anything they wanted to be: twin androgynes walking naked through the streets, sporting their skins of pearlescent scale, drawing admiring glances, the air thick with signs and symbols of ethereal appreciation, the wounded ones, the exsanguine, the flayed children, the anatomists; a particular trend, one that I followed from inception; of going open and wounded, slit down the middle and pinned back, sporting animated interiors, furnace, clockwork or insect-hive entrails, of being flayed raw, more naked even than the rest, displaying the intricacy of their most intimate anatomy to the world. A small following, but one fast gathering approbation, when the end came.
My scarlet children, my beautiful ones. I followed them, sometimes, walked in their shadows, feeling the beads of their moisture break across my face; followed them to the secret, abandoned places; the sections of Deleria they believed no others knew, that had been left over during one of the city's many, many metamorphoses...watched them scar and burn themselves, one another; watched them make love through pain, pierced and suspended from hooked chains, immersed in fire, knowing that they would never die, that their flesh, however broken, could not fail, enhanced and engineered as it was.
Even they couldn't sustain; not forever. Roseblade...he would have loved them, would have ingratiated himself; made himself Father or teacher or monster to them; something to love, to revere or despise. I wish he did; wish I could have seen...
How high do I have to stoke the fires, lover? How much more beauty do you want to see me grind to ash and shit?
Here! Nothing; a look, the shell-like spire with its shimmering, nacreous skin, already partially collapsed, crumbling, flaking away beneath my eyes. Here! A gesture, the ground trembling, parting, an entire district slipping into the paroxystic earth. Something screams, something flails; a rare child, a ragged, blackened survivor. No more; not unless they find some way to sustain in the darkness below. Even then...
What will it take? Do I have to crack this world in half? Do I have to scatter its dust and fragments across infinity..?
Ha. Nothing I haven't done before. For you.
Maybe...maybe this time, I'll come and find you. Would you like that? Would you like me to break the rules, change the game?
A tremor, coruscations running through the broken surface beneath my feet. It ripples, it screams, the light it once emitted stuttering and sickly as it collapses away, the rupture already vast, widening by the breath. I do not fall, suspended above it, watching as Deleria convulses, the city once so certain of its longevity, believing that beauty alone -not art, not technology-, would suspend it, even beyond the breaking of the world.
Perhaps, were it not for me.
Spires shattering against one another like tinted glass, structures of crystal facets and bubbling, organic curvatures, structures that appear two dimensional from one angle; almost disappearing, only to swell and deepen when viewed from another, all crashing down, the engines that sustain their distortions of reality failing. It won't be long before one of them causes critical damage, not only to Deleria, to this world, but the reality that hosts them both; tearing its essential seams, undoing the flimsy laws that bind it together.
I wish I could be here to see that, to watch it tear and flail; try to sustain itself, to watch suns swell red and dissolve into darkness, listen to worlds scream as they are eclipsed, consumed.
But he won't wait; that's not how we play the game, even now. All it takes is a gesture, a whispered word; one I haven't spoken in a hundred lifetimes; one that makes my mouth bleed, my organs rupture, my bones splinter.
Happily ever after. The end of the fairy tale.
Deleria dies...just another dream undone by unwanted waking, another potential played out. I ride its fires, into the storm, wreathed in them, this flesh withering around me, the pain of it...nothing, compared to the fires I have known, that we have shared. Sludge on the bone, bone itself charring, becoming ashes...Do you see, Roseblade? What I do for you, how eagerly I wish to please? I know you can hear me, even through the storm, the vacuous dark beyond...I know you love this, seeing me disgraced, undone.
Sing to me, sweetheart, even if you don't remember when you wake, sing to me in your nightmares, and I'll find you...I swear it...
George Lea, 02/05/2016
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.