A little time...all I want, all it takes.
Stillness, taste of bitter coffee fading, the creaks of the house, gurgles of the boiler growing distant...aches in my joints, the strange tremor of my heart (a recent development, not even consciously feeling the organ until recently, when it sprouted wings and started fluttering against its imprisonment)...all fading, fading...
This fog, these scarlet, seething clouds. Tumbling through them, but still here, seated on my sofa, eyes open, watching the world through the windows; the scuds of purple and yellow across the blue, blue sky, the passing parents and children, on their ways home from school.
Alien; that state, that desire. Children, family...never wanting them, though not for misunderstanding of the appeal.
Tumbling, soaring; caught up naked and bleeding on barbed winds, tempests furious enough to tear cities apart, to sweep up tsunamis that might wash away civilisations.
That have, and do; the winds carrying stories of them, to the dreaming not-quite-gods, the gestating divinities that swell at the heart of the storm.
So many...all their own creations, like me, dreamed or ached or torn their way through. Unlike me, never returning; not to the dreams that once bore them, that they ached to rip open. Some not able to; having reduced theirs to ashes and tatters, for want of these self-authored wombs. Others having long forgotten, the memories unwanted, unnecessary; agonising to hold onto.
Not as in hate with my world as them, though frustration with it drives me here, again and again. Maybe, one day, I'll take my place amongst them. Maybe, one day...
But not today.
Hardly seeing her come to the door, not recognising her through the storm. A moment of dreaming distance, of utter incomprehension. A look of confusion across her face, of possible offence.
Then smiling, rising, even as I tumble, as I fall; as I plummet from the storm, carried over the infinite, black oceans it stirs and tosses; over maelstroms vast and violent enough to churn continents to powder, in which whole fleets of ships eternally toss, from which rise the children of drowned and dreaming things; great molluscs and nests of seething tendrils, leviathans that coil and mate and devour one another endlessly; that combust into blue and green flame before my eyes, consumed to the skeleton before descending into the depths, where lesser creatures swarm upon them, lending them flesh.
Endless shores, islands, atolls; the horizon boundless, without direction or dimension: the sea that binds us as one, that we all swim, at some point in our lives.
That so few remember, for want of retaining sanity.
As though that assumption ever did any of us any good.
In those depths, too, that reflect the sky in places, becalmed beneath the storm, become the perfect mirror of it:
Drowned stars, pulsing, flickering, the things nestled at their hearts slowly swelling towards states of apotheosis...
Watching them born; tumbling like me from the sky, rising from the depths; some meeting one another in those journeys, impacting, combusting: apocalyptic unions that either murder them at the point of birth or result in something new, that neither of them could have dreamed apart.
Rising from the sofa, fumbling to unlock the door.
A stuttered, uncertain, smiling greeting, an unsure embrace. The woman mumbling, as she comes in from the cold.
“Oooh, it's very bright out there, but it's damn chilly!”
Peeling off her gloves and coat, as I set about making coffee, as I put on my mask and make theatre for her:
Smiles and hellos, sly wit and sharp observations.
Fighting, all the while, to retain focus; not to slip back, to be diverted by the shorelines and islands passing beneath: masses of land to shame any continent on earth: vast plains of broken, black rock, of shifting white desert, of abandoned, alien civilisations.
Broken towers, black and horn-like, seemingly fashioned from bones erupted from the mountains whose heights they crown, a web of shattered bridges binding them, whatever winged or weightless species built them long, long since passed, maybe abandoned, maybe murdered by their own hands: the winds threatening stories of it, that I deny, that I ignore; terrified of being anchored here, shackled by the unfolding history of an entire species (no time for it, not any more).
Allowing the wind to take me, carry me mote-like out, out across the desolation beyond the mountains...
Sighing as she sits, as she glances about the place, fighting to keep the fret from her eyes.
“It's been a while since we've seen you. Everything okay, is it?”
Plains that look to be formed from burned meat and molten plastic, that still quiver and ripple as though alive, as though whatever doomsday engine authored this apocalypse still churns in the darkness beneath. Shattered remnants of the civilisations that once stood here; areas where ruinous structures still stand, torn open to the elements, invaded and undone, where diseased grasses and fungi sprout, things moving amongst them like maggots, scraping whatever living they can from the diseased earth.
Soaring with winged scavengers, things of tar-black, almost molten flesh, their ragged frames seeming barely held together as they swoop and flock, as they scrabble over the tatters of screaming meat they pluck from the plains below.
Not here, not where my fascination lies.
Deeper, further than ever before.
Swilling coffee around the percolator, spooning sugar into one mug.
“You've hardly said a word since I got here. Is everything okay?”
Smiling mask, quiet eyes.
“Everything's fine. It's...been a bit busy, lately; haven't had much time for anything, you know?”
True, true. But also a lie.
Handing her the mug, her eyes still fretful, though the lies are welcome.
“I know...I know you're working hard right now...”
“...but it'd be nice to see you, every now and then. We're only down the road.”
“I know. Like I said; I haven't had much time, lately, and what time I've had, I've been basically sleeping through...”
“I don't know how you do it. How many is it, now?”
“Seven, I think, at the last count.”
“Seven. Bloody Hell.”
Here. Beyond the wastes, beyond sight of the sea; a city, once, crooked towers, broken spires, partially sunken, sprouting at strange angles from the twisted, uncertain streets. Shapes that resemble fossilized creatures, bones and bizarre fungi, sprouting all around, partially subsuming them.
Tumbling, bleeding, a window shattering, as I pass through.
Skidding across the warped and splintered floorboards, setting small fires as I pass.
Pain, coming to rest against a great bookshelf, its contents spilling down over me. A stink of blood and burning, of wet, rotting meat and sewer foulness.
One already waiting, as he always is; always knowing where I'm going to be. Staring down at me with a feline smile.
“You look like shit.”
No worse than I feel; not possible. Broken bones resetting, burns and rents and ruptures healing, organs swelling and sealing.
Feeling like a spider unfurling as I right myself, as I stretch out, orienting myself to this new state and frame.
My friend sniffing laughter, a cat's kiss; eyes half closing.
“I'll never understand why you make it so difficult for yourself.”
Breathing, gasping; hacking up a wad of semi-congealed blood and bone splinters. The air in this place...saturated with filth, with disease; the myriad ills that reduced it to desolation.
“...it's how it's always been...”
“But not how it has to be. Why can you never get that?”
Struggling to stand, using the shelf at my back as leverage. More of its scrolls and volumes tumbling around me, scattering on the floor.
“Some of those are priceless, you know; one of a kind...”
Everything here is one of a kind, no matter how hideous. Us included.
Clearly waiting for some time; clothed, for one thing; having scavenged some purple and gold robe that clings to his scrawny frame, swirling about him as he moves. An air of impatience, fizzing in the darkness around him.
“Where is it this time?”
“I don't know its name; only that it has secrets...”
“Don't they all?”
A sickle-moon smile.
Of course they do.
“You look...worn out, love. Aren't you due any holiday, soon?”
Sinking into the sofa, rubbing hands across my face, pulling my features taught. Beard unkempt, hair too long, Overdue a makeover.
“Probably. It's tricky taking it right now, the way things are.”
“Oh! I know; it's all over the news. Bastards, aren't they? Taking money from the schools and the care homes and what not...”
Bastards. Yes. But clearly not enough; not enough for people to tell them so, to hold them to account.
“We're short staffed right now; people are just...moving on.”
Trying to conceal the fright in her eyes, failing.
“And what will that mean for your lot?”
Shrugging, sipping coffee. Hardly tasting, hardly seeing.
“I suppose we'll have to move on, too.”
Helping me to scavenge some clothes, though it wouldn't be the first time I've had to wander in nothing but my skin.
Almost used to it, by now.
Some remnants and remains in the upstairs storeys, negotiating them a suicidal exercise; the floors and stairwells warped, broken, collapsed in on themselves, the rest not far from capitulating likewise. The entire structure bizarrely tilted, sunken on its foundations, making every step confusing, almost nauseating in its disorientation.
More than just abandoned clothes and personal effects; the rooms infested with vermin; skittering, spider and cockroach like creatures, rattish carrion, their bulbous eyes seeming about to burst from their skulls, their scabrous backs sprouting with amber-dewed spines.
Bones. Piles of rot decorating every bed, every floor, as though those that rested here had gathered to die in relative peace, rotting serenely, uncaring of the scavengers and vermin that make their nests amongst them.
A similar set of robes, their colour vibrant and shimmering, whatever they're woven from clearly suffused with some sustaining art.
Mine sky blue and dusky amber, not quite as well fitting as his, but then, I've grown used to that, too.
So at home, here, so effortless; seeming to almost float up the stairwells, over rents in the floor, pausing at windows, at openings in the walls, staring out over the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Joining him, once sufficiently dressed, the robes seeming to move and quiver against me as though sentient, aware of the fact that I'm not their original wearer.
Below, a ditch of filth, viscous, scarlet matter flowing in a polluted stream, shapeless, boneless things rearing up from the filth, flatworm bodies coiling with tendrils, with lesser versions of themselves, that seem to sprout from their amorphous bodies, slowly swelling until they're of similar size to their host before tearing free.
Watching their vile dance, their grotesque feedings; their hideous songs as they rear up, hooting and hissing to one another...
“Please don't tell me...”
Grinning at me, smoothing lank, blonde hair from his face.
“All right, I won't. It's not like I have to...”
Of course not. Of course not.
Our way...following the stream, as it twines into the distance, overshadowed by looming, partially collapsed structures, choked in places with filth and debris, where the shapeless things gather, scrabbling over clots of matter that they devour, swelling until they become almost translucent, spraying excess from the orifices decorating their backs.
In the distance, an opening; a cavern, into which the stream flows. God only knows what's waiting for us down there...
Smiling, even as he leaps, as he almost floats down, landing with a cat's poise, a dancer's grace.
Smiling as I follow, unable to help myself.
A hideous waking, vile afternoon. Nothing of blood, nothing of dreams; just dull intimations, sighs and suggestions: her own mask far more practised and perfect than mine.
Aching for her to go, screaming for it with my eyes.
And she knows. She knows, but won't indulge me, any more than she or my Father ever have. Not like him, my nameless, dreaming friend; my sibling since before we were born, never met here, in waking life, but every night, there, amongst the dreaming desolations of our species, in the heart of the storm, the depths of the ocean.
“Well, I'd better going; your Dad will be wondering where I am.”
No, he won't. Any more than he spares a thought for me, beyond what he fears might happen to change what we know.
Kind words, as much as I can muster; obsequious goodbyes, empty promises that I'll visit, when I have a moment to spare.
My moments, that I will never let them steal.
Not ever again.
Stinking, spattered; tattered robes glued to our bodies with sweat and blood. The stinking stream frothing around our ankles, the things we pass by, that flop and shriek at us, that spray their effluent at our backs, still calling, as though horrified beyond measure at out tresspass, as though the open sewer they inhabit is the most sacred of grounds.
But not following; wiser than that, by far.
Pausing at the opening, peering into darkness. The stink of the place...echoes from below; the shift and quiver of something vast, scraping stone, splashing in sewage. Grunts and wickers, echoing, distorted and indecipherable.
Markings on the stone; great claw marks, places where it seems to have melted and solidified again, as though beneath some acidic secretion, some flaming breath.
Braver than I, always; already at the entrance, a step away from shadows.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course not. When am I ever?”
A fair retort.
Joining him, standing aside from the entrance, peering around its ragged lip.
“Christ, the stink...”
Closing his feline eyes as he breathes it in, as though fortified by it, luxuriating in it.
“You don't have to come. You know that.”
I know. I've always known. Yet I always follow, always have.
Better than waking; than sleeping only to never find him again. The price I'd pay, should I ever retreat, should I ever let their disease smother the child inside.
No knowing what awaits us down there; what manner of worm ate this hollow from the city's bedrock; what it might do to us, should we meet it.
That ignorance...lighting behind my eyes, in the pit of my belly; a fire to shame any dragon's, that will only swell at sight of it, that I won't be able to contain.
Following, as he steps into the dark, not feeling my collapse in the waking world, the storm that bursts my heart, and chars my mind to cinders.
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.