Monday, 17 November 2008


Anna-Mix moved quickly, her carpet-bag pulled tightly against her hip. The carpet-bag was blue, and wriggled now and then. She clutched it at the top like an outsize purse in a single hand, even though it was large enough to fit a child inside. A string of yellowed fake-pearls rattled around her neck, and her dress, long and white, floated on the air around her.

She moved along old paths, fast paths, paths that weren't hidden from sight but somehow went unseen amongst other people. She crossed the park in eighteen seconds, leaving behind her joggers for whom the traverse took several minutes. There was a scent of bonfires in the air, and a crispness like an October morning in the north, and then Anna-Mix had stepped off one path and onto another and the park was gone, a fleeting memory of much space condensed into something intense. The new path wound by the river, lengthened by the presence of flowing water and unable to cross it. Anna-Mix quickened her pace, aware of something in the water that was just as aware of her. An old pact was being remembered, and a decision being taken about whether it was too old to be honoured.

Another moment of transition, another couple of seconds back where everyone was, where people could see her as clearly as she could see them, and then she was on yet a third path, one that threw tiny sparks up behind her wherever her feet trod. She glanced behind her now, every few seconds, scanning for a hunter. There would have to be one, because there always was. She would outrun the hunter because she had no choice.

Just for an instant the path wavered and faded and a busy road emerged from the background trying to instate itself and she felt her grip slip. Something twisted, and her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes stung with acrid tears and she almost reached for a hand that wasn't there, a suggestion of a friend who would stand her aside from the chase and hide her until the hunter had gone by. The siren of an ambulance wailed and she heard a voice shouting.

'For the good name of paediatrics you must die!' screeched a man nearby and she believed him.

The path faded. The sparks from her steps hung again in the air, tiny burning embers, emissaries of a hell long unseen, and the ambulance stayed its course, Anna-Mix frozen between its headlights.

The carpet-bag wriggled and Anna-Mix blinked. The path reappeared like an elastic band snapping back and the siren of the ambulance wailed away somewhere else. She turned, and looked behind her again, and although there was no-one watching, no-one waiting, she turned back to her path forwards and started to run.

In the Excess Cafe, Dax walked through the door, and looked over to the table where the writer sat, tasting the rage in the salt.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


The chickshaw was a rickshaw drawn by chickens. The little cabin was made of bone, harvested from one of the huge ocean mammals and hollowed and thinned until it was large enough to allow two people to sit comfortably inside it. This one had a long, thin horn rising from the roof, which meant it had come from some relative of the narwhal. It was yellowish, the colour of a nicotine addict's fingernails, and was nearly frictionless. It made it difficult to feel when you touched it; there was a hardness there, but no texture, nothing to report back to you about what you were trying to touch. Sitting in it was a little like floating.
A team of eight chickens pulled the chickshaw, paired up into a column four birds long. They were harnessed together like huskies, but had wooden stays to keep them in line and stop them veering off randomly into the crowds. The birds were large and black, with little yellow and red dots in their feathers, and burning red eyes that stared madly around them. When they started running they put their heads down and forward and you could see their wings shuffling around as though preparing for flight. They had spurs on their ankles that were covered with little leather hoods like the jesses that birds-of-prey wear; I'd heard that some of the teams were also fighting birds.
The chickshaw ran fast, almost scarily so given the size and density of the crowds that lined the streets and spilled out into the road. This was normal at this time of year; autumn was only in its first month and the evenings were quite light. Up in the sky the day-squid lingered well past its winter bedtime, its green-tinged tentacles lazily tasting the clouds as they formed around it and broke away. The crowds gathered at bars, long low buildings that were little more than a storage area for the drinks, a counter and some often broken stools, and a shutter to close up when the paying customers left. They gathered outside the public buildings, standing on the grass lawns but never treading on the flower beds, talking quietly, and constantly in motion as news gossiped its way from one end of a street to the other. The chickshaw hurtled past them, people's faces becoming pale blurs. I would see people drift aside as the chickshaw started on a new street, leaving enough room for it to get through, and if I leant out of the little cabin and peered behind me, they would be drifting back again, filling up the empty space.
The chickshaw halted outside the office, the chickens just suddenly stopping running and skidding to a halt. I clambered warily out of the cabin, having already discovered that the lack of friction meant that I could lose my balance and crash down amongst the chickens very easily. As I pulled my foot clear, the chickens had started running again before I'd put it down on the ground. The chickshaw disappeared around a corner with the click of claws striking stone and the rattle of a wooden axle underneath the cabin, and I looked up at the office of Dr. Monsanto.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Disco Midget

He swears that his parents ruined his life from the day he was born. He was named Aladdin, which he says he hates so much he won't change it. He insists that his parents use his full name when he talks to them, to remind them of what they saddled him with in life. We all call him Dink, although he's told me before when he's drunk that he longs to be called Cap'n Al.

He also claims, but less often and when there's only his friends around, that his mother deliberately stunted his growth. I've met his mother, and she seems to be a lovely, blameless woman with literary tastes, but she does smoke like she's preserving salmon. She smoked all through her pregnancy, and instead of craving coal and margarine she craved Glenfiddich and Grey Goose. I can see why he says that, but then I also know that his father used to put horse hormones in his food when he was a kid. I've not found a good time to tell him that.

We were away on business, stuck in a hotel in the middle of Leeds when I found out his secret. Dinner had been in the hotel restaurant and had been competently cooked, if slowly served. After dinner we'd gone back to our rooms, and arranged to meet for breakfast the next morning. I had finished checking email on my laptop and was minded to soak in the bath with a novel for an hour before bed when the brochure touting the hotel's features caught my eye, and I noticed that they had a little nightclub. What the hell, I thought, it wouldn't hurt to check it out.

I walked into a small room with a mirrored dancefloor, a silver disco-ball suspended in the dead centre of the ceiling, listening to the DJ playing something by Rush from the seventies. My foot was tapping, which I'd have stopped if there'd been anyone there to see me, but the room was empty. I wondered if I should get a drink from the bar and wait to see if anyone came along, or if I should just scarper before the DJ could get excited about having an audience.

Then the track ended, and the theme from Saturday Night Fever started, and something moved on the dancefloor, and I just caught the movement at the corner of my eye. I turned, and there was Dink, all four foot six of him, striking a pose on the dancefloor. He was wearing an off-white pant-suit with faded black trim and rhinestones that had lost some of their sparkle. The top was cut deep to the waist, revealing a pale, hairless, concave chest and a medallion the size of the palm of my hand. It swung and glittered in the light from the disco ball as he posed, and then he kicked off in time with the music, a miniature John Travolta strutting through the song. My mouth dropped open in surprise.

I came back to my senses before Dink came to his, so he never saw me. I scurried off the dance floor and over to the DJ booth and spent the night there, chatting to DJ Samantha Panther and watching Dink, the only dancer all night in the disco, cutting his moves on the mirrored dancefloor.

I put the pictures up on flickr the next morning from an anonymous account.