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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac: Virtual WFC 2013

I am the time that is no time • a purple fish in a sandwich bag • You can't keep on doing this: Megan Kerr, David McGroarty, and Neil Williamson read from their stories in Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac from Alchemy Press, edited by Allen Ashley, at the World Fantasy Convention launch.

Dark Matters – Megan Kerr

They call Me the time that is no time. The scorpion’s already stung itself and the goat hasn’t started its vulgar, goatish bounding. For a space, I stand alone. I draw; I aim; My muscles tremble. Everyone sees My mighty rearing body and My arrow poised for flight. No-one thinks to wonder what I’m aiming at. They see My arrow as ambition, aspiration, all the arrogant little plans they cherish in their arrogant little hearts.
     Arrows kill. That’s what they’re for. And no, they don’t “kill the self” or any of that prettified New-Agey bullshit that makes a self-indulgent nonsense of what the little two-legs once strained to understand. It’s not about “following your star” or “believing in your dreams”. It’s about death. Specifically, someone else’s. And still, no-one looks where the goddamned arrow is pointing.


An extraordinary thing happens that dawn. She’d gone home to shower in the mutable purple-skied light of neither night nor day and, still wired from playing in the stars, decides to walk back into town for her early breakfast with Hannah. She lets herself out, fresh and tingling, into the white of dawn before the sun’s fire. The earth clutches itself tight and hard with cold; frost holds the fertile soil in stasis. Port Meadow expands in shimmering floods, echoing the empty sky, she feels herself teeter in the fragile cusp between elation and the last of PMT, and she strides harder. A cantering beat runs alongside the music. The Port Meadow horses gallop in a herd towards the gate and swing round in single file to canter alongside her. All of them have come, speeding past her but more behind them, and they keep it up all the way to the bridge, like an honour guard. As she climbs the bridge, they wheel back out across the meadow. She stands on the apex of the bridge, watching, and laughs with wonder at it.
      She arrives – late, but only by half an hour – and bursts into the steamy fug of St Giles’ café like the sun, saying “So sorry I’m late, but the strangest thing happened, you wouldn’t believe it…”
      She stops, brought up by the unexpected sight of a tiny baby nestling in a carry cot. She doesn’t want to see a baby. She hadn’t expected Hannah to bring the baby – but of course she would, the baby’s part of her now, and wasn’t that the point of this early breakfast, a time to suit both the night-owl astronomer and the new mother?
     She looks away from it, greets Hannah properly, does the awkward cheek-kisses across the breadth of the table, orders their breakfast at the counter because Hannah’s hemmed in by that cot thing, and launches back into her story.
     “All just running alongside me – as if they’d been waiting, like some kind of equestrian escort –” and within her words, the horses and their mystery catch fire, and burn away in conversation.  They’re horses, after all.  Prone to galloping in herds and of course they’d race along the perimeter of their meadow.  Coincidence.
     “I’m so tired,” says Hannah in response.  “I feel like I was up all night.”
     “Me too.”  Kate grins.  “Literally.”
     “You keep the weirdest hours.  I don’t see why you can’t just work normal hours.”
     Kate stares.  “It has to be dark,” she says.  “To see the stars.”
     “Oh.  Of course.  I never thought of that.”
     Has Hannah always been this stupid or has pregnancy and now sleep-deprivation rotted her brain?
     “But you always did keep funny hours.”
     Kate starts to tell her what she saw – how perfect Jupiter looked, and the star – “I know it was just a pulsar, but it looked exactly like a wink –”
     and Hannah says, “Oh, you little cutie-pie, are you waking up?  Are you looking for your mummy?”
     Kate has two puzzling urges.  One is to dash the baby’s brains out: wholly inadmissible and something of an overreaction.  These tendencies towards murder unsettle her.  The other is to gather the baby up, hold it safe, and protect it entirely: more normal, perhaps, but not a response that’s ever troubled her before.
     While Hannah tucks the baby under her jacket, against the briefly exposed flash of pale breast, Kate starts to analyse her reaction and decides against it.  Self-analysis is a fool’s game and psychology’s lost its sparkle.  She wonders, instead, if invisible particles really are pouring through the earth and raining through them both as they eat.  WIMPs: weakly interacting massive particles.  Impossible to see, except by how they bend the light that flows towards us, yet capable of blowing up the universe, the secret at the heart of nuclear fission.  Can they feel them, right now?  A gravitational tug, like the body’s inexplicable yearning?

I watch her dreaming, weeping, raging: Yes.  She must not be allowed to give up.  She can tear, but never break.  I can ease it.  I can help.  I wait for her in the skies, pulsing for the moment she looks up again, unseeing but her eyes drowning in Me.  I will lay the world at her feet.  I will chart her triumph.  When she falters, I will kindle her back to new life and guide her back to her true path.  I will make her magnificent.  I nurture her murderous instincts.  She must fight: she must win.

  The Prize 

The prize was a purple fish in a sandwich bag. The bag was filled with water and sealed with a knot which was crude but tight. The fish hovered, flicking its feathery fins just enough to remain in the very heart of the bag, as if it was afraid to touch the sides. Its eyes were the colour of English mustard, its tail was an inky black. Everything else was purple. It was a peculiar fish.
     It had to be the fish. There were other prizes--mostly cheap-looking plastic trophies, or stuffed toys that mimicked the appearance of characters from a popular children's animated television series. Simon was not interested in those things. Simon wanted the fish, and it was Simon who had thrown the ball, miraculously, into the steel cup, so the fish was his prize.
     Mairead made him say it. "Are you sure? The fish? Are you sure?" It was the only fish, the only living creature of any kind on offer. The stallholder--a girl of sixteen years or younger, who Mairead thought resembled herself as a teenager--seemed surprised to see the little polythene bag hanging there, almost as surprised as she had been by the four-year old boy's improbable throw. Leaning over the counter she passed the bag to Mairead, scrutinising it as she did, and ignoring Simon altogether except to address a grunt of congratulation to the empty space above his head.
     "Yes, sweetheart?"
     "Can I carry him?"
     Mairead held the plastic bag up where the last cold beams of the day's sun could illuminate its contents: the pale murk that clouded the water, and the little purple fish. It was a fragile thing, swimming alone in an environment that was as fragile, or more so. "I'm worried you might drop him, darling."
     "I won't, Mummy. Please..."
     She handed Simon the bag. He took it delicately in both hands and lifted it in front of his face. Simon looked at the fish. The fish looked back. Mairead imagined that she saw something pass between the child and his prize, like the shadow of something moving across the sun. The fish did a little twirl in its bag.
     "What shall we call it?" she said.
     "I don't know, Mummy."
     "It has to have a name."
     The boy looked up at her through the curls of blond hair that hung over his eyes. "It does have a name. It just doesn't want to tell us yet."
     She had been promising a trip to the seaside since the spring. It was Simon's manner to develop transient obsessions, and this had been one. Before the ocean, it had been the Amazon. She had found him in his bed, hours after bedtime, hunched over picture books examining photographs of the dark rainforest and the broad, brown river. Then, as quickly as it had begun, that fixation passed and he had started asking at inopportune times about beaches and tides, rock pools and sand dunes. The summer had slipped by, one cool, wet weekend by one. This, she estimated, would be the last decent day before the autumn, and the last opportunity to indulge him.
     They walked along the promenade. It was five o'clock and the air smelled of doughnuts and chips and vinegar. The beach had emptied, except for a few clusters of teenagers in thick coats with cans of beer. The wind had begun to bite.
     "Time to go home, sweetheart."

Deep Draw – Neil Williamson

“So this was, let me see, spring seventy three? I was still new to the business, but I’d got myself a job as an assistant to a producer named Harold Gravey. That was really his name. For a while the girls in the office tried to stick me with the nickname, Biscuits, because I was always with him. But fuck that, right? It didn’t even work. Anyway, what assistant meant—taking calls, running errands, driving people from airports to hotels to studios. And on the location shoot for Franco’s Wish, I was the kid who got to run around after Sandie Laurence. And, man, she was hard work.” De Luca put on a voice. “Vincent? Vincent! Come here now.”
     His impression sounded exactly like Bette Davis calling for her sister in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. The false note irked me. It diluted the truth so prized by my customers.
     “So, one day we’re shooting exteriors in a vineyard up in the hills off the 101. It’s one of her big scenes and the director’s setting up for a sunset shoot. I’m sent to get her from her trailer, and she tells me: ‘Tell that man’, that was what she called Schiller, that man. ‘Tell that man I don’t want to do this scene today.’ Now I know what Schiller will say. He’ll hit the fucking roof to hear this now. Once the sun starts to set we’ve got maybe a thirty minute window before we lose the light. But I trot off dutifully and tell him. And then he comes to her trailer and they have words, and when he’s gone she calls me in and says: ‘You’ve got to get me to a telephone’. Like that. Wide-eyed and deadly serious. Like she’s in one of her crappy pictures.”
     “What am I to do? I’m eighteen years old, but I do happen to know there’s a house close by. The people that run the winery, right? I sneak her over there in the studio car and she turns on the movie star eyes and, of course, she gets her phone call. Fifteen minutes later we’re back in her trailer. It’s starting to get dark. Schiller’s been over twice and Sandie’s promised she’d be there shortly, but that she’s not ready. Not yet. So we sit.”
     “At least I sit. Not Sandie. But she’s not prepping for the scene, she’s not using the method, she’s not doing mantras or any of that calming, holistic shit. She’s pacing and she’s smoking like a three alarm fire, and every two minutes she peeks through the curtain. And she’s making me nervous too. I mean, I’m just a kid, right? I’m shitting bricks thinking I’m about to have to deal with a highly paid movie star’s full blown nervous collapse.
     “Then there’s a knock at the door, and Sandie composes herself. ‘Let her in and wait outside.’ I open the door to an extremely unhappy young woman. I just stand there like a sap, trying to work out how a woman dressed for working on the farm—there are sawdust sprays on her blue jeans, oil stains on her plaid shirt—and in an obvious fucking rage can possibly look this beautiful. The object of my absorption, of course, just pushes past me to confront Sandie. I’m smart enough not to hang around, but before the door closes I see the visitor dump a grocery sack on the table, and say: ‘You can’t keep on doing this.’
     “Whatever passes between them doesn’t take long. Sandie’s visitor soon storms out of the trailer again and takes off in a Dodge truck. And poof! Sandie appears at the trailer door and announces she’s ready. Anyway, long story short, right? They shoot the scene and catch the sunset and she’s stunning in it. Stunning. The perfect combination of melodrama and real emotion. How she managed to bring those marshmallow lines to anything approaching life is a miracle. But she did. Exactly what the director’s looking for. Everyone goes home happy, right?
     “Hey what are you doing? You even listening to this?”
     I’d only diverted my attention from him for a second. Just long enough to check the carafe, satisfy myself with the glittering drips streaming down the inside of the glass. “Course I am. Everyone’s happy. Right.”

This is the final event in the Virtual WFC. You can read the complete Virtual WFC 2013 here

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