Sunday, 29 May 2011


The reporter found Geraldinium Holmes in her new studio. She was sitting at a table gazing out of a window that looked over the sewage recycling plant. In front of her was a cup of tea, smelling strongly of Chamomile.
"Miss Holmes?" said the reporter tentatively. The artist didn't respond, so he looked around for the girl-waif who had shown him in, but she had disappeared. "Miss Holmes?" he tried again.
Geraldinium stirred slightly, and picked up her cup of tea by the handle. She sipped from it, and put the cup down with a look of disgust.
"This is dreadful," she said, and the reporter looked around to see who she was talking to. "Fix it."
"Er, are you talking to me?" he asked, his hand already half-way to the cup. "What's wrong with it?"
Geraldinium turned round and saw him for the first time.
"Who the hell are you?"
"I spoke to you at the art exhibition a week ago; I was hoping I could get another interview with you. A girl let me in…."
"The orphan, yes. She has difficulty telling who is a visitor and who should have a bucket of water thrown over them."
"Well, she let me in…."
"So you think that entitles you to an interview, do you? I am busy you know. I have a new installation to create, and hate-mail to answer, and that's even before I go and punish the orphan until she learns how to make tea."
"Hate mail?"
"For Flat 31."
"The flattened kitten?"
Geraldinium shrugged her shoulders and stood up, picking her cup up as an afterthought. "I think 'pressed kitten' sounds better. Flattened makes it sound like I just dropped something heavy on it, whereas pressed sounds more artistic."
"Either way, you did kill a kitten."
"It's art. Although the people writing the hate mail seem to agree with you, so there's a lot of uneducated people out there still. You should see the letters they send me: crayons, chalks, letters written on the backs of recent bills, they're all insane. And none of them can spell!"
"Perhaps they're just getting a little excited when they write to you--"
"I've had evidence of that in the letters too. I have to burn some of them."
The pause turned into a silence that finally the reporter felt he had to break.
"What's the new project called again?"
"Aunty Cat? Is this making up somehow for the squash-- I mean, pressed, kitten?"
"Not Aunty as in your mother's sister, you ninny. Anti-cat. The opposite of a cat."
"What, like a dog?"
"That's a different species altogether. No, a collection of anti-elements held in a magnetic holding bottle shaped like a cat. If you brought it together with a real cat the two would annihilate causing an explosion, much like when you bring two angry, hungry cats together over a small fish."
"Um, is it wise to create art that appears to be encouraging the wholesale destruction of cats?"
"Was it wise to make my own orphan and then employ her? Probably not, but it wouldn't be art if I didn't do it!"

Saturday, 28 May 2011


The levees broke sometime around 6pm, and by the time the party started at 10 the water had reached the level of the balcony. The floor below was flooded and there was no way out, unless you swam, so we carried on with the party anyway. At some point Joan asked about the people on the floor below and we told her that they'd evacuated the previous day.
They hadn't; Dave and Mike had nipped downstairs and boarded up their door when the news had announced that the levees had broken. They'd stayed by the door, listening, until the water was knee-high and then they'd come back upstairs. We were fairly certain that the people below us had drowned.
We were two thirds the way through the spirits and had run out of party snacks altogether when Mike decided to get his wet-suit and scuba gear out and see if he could get into the flat below and check that the downstairs neighbours really were dead. I asked him why, shouting over Dave who was arguing with a pizza delivery company, and he grinned in that way I didn't like and said that he wanted to be sure that justice had been done.
Dave put the phone down and asked me if we had a dinghy. I shook my head, and he said he'd put a raft together out of the tables; the pizza company were willing to deliver to the road, so if he could row over there and back, he'd bring food.
Mike suited up, and I finally asked him what the downstairs neighbours had done that was so bad he'd felt the need to trap them in their flat and then check that they'd drowned.
They promised a Rapture, he said, his face worryingly serious. He reminded me of the priest just before the police arrested him, his hands dripping with blood and his cassock spattered with bits of flesh and bone. They'd promised a Rapture and it hadn't happened, so he was seeing to it that they got their own personal Rapture after all. God might not have redeemed all the pure from the Earth, but he'd sent a flood, and it was undoubtedly intended for those who had tricked everyone else into believing the end was nigh.
I let him go, watching him slip backwards off the balcony into the water, and asked Dave if there was room for a second on his raft.

The Eagalante

Devin adjusted a tiny spring and set the trap back down. It blended in with the forest floor so well that after he blinked he couldn't see it. He squinted, turning his head slightly this way and that, and finally picked it out again against the leaves. He pushed a red golf-tee into the earth by his foot so that he'd know where to kneel and look for it again if it didn't catch anything, and then stood up and near-silently walked away.
The woods were quiet, which meant that there was some bird-song in the canopy overhead, and the occasional rustle of a rabbit or other small game in the bushes. Devin ignored them, as game went they were all too large. He trapped only the smallest of small game: exotic mice, teacup cats, rare cockroaches, and now, the Eagalante. He hoped.
He'd overheard two men talking in low voices about the Eagalante in the pub. He been drinking by himself, sat at a small round table covered in pint glasses, thinking (again) about writing a book about his career and wondering how long it took to learn to write. They'd been quiet, but they were sat at the next table, and when one man had leaned in, and the other had followed suit, Devin had been intrigued. And listening for very quiet noises and tiny movements was absolutely necessary as a hunter of very small game.
The Eagalante, said the first man, had been seen in the woods again. His wife had been out picking mushrooms when she'd been knocked over; when she stood up, she'd not been able to see anything. Then she was knocked over again, and she heard the rushing of tiny feet through leaves. When she looked round, she saw a pair of horns disappearing into the ground. He'd gone back later, he said, and looked around, and he'd found the tracks. The giant horned ant, the size of a rat, the Eagalante, was back in the woods at last.
At last? asked the second man. The first had nodded, but had been stopped from saying anything by the arrival of two bedraggled women, presumably their wives, who announced, unnecessarily, that it was raining outside.
Devin had read up a little, and discovered that the Eagalante was called a giant horned ant, but that the horns were more like antlers, and that it could spit a white frothy, poisonous mass from its mandibles when upset. There were sketches of it, and it looked entirely trappable. Devin decided that it would be his next target, and started building traps so small yet powerful that standing on them entailed a trip to the hospital to get them removed and get a fresh tetanus injection.
As he approached the next trap spot, he heard a grunting sound, like a miniature rhinoceros, and he slowed his pace. Had he trapped the Eagalante?

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A matter of degree

"You may find our prospectus a little different," said Miss Snippet, leading the way along a gravelled path between manicured lawns.
"Ah, I wasn't able to find the prospectus at all," said Hannah, hurrying to keep up. Her high-heeled boots crunched on the gravel, and she worried about the damage it was doing to her patent leather soles. "Whenever I tried to download it, the system would accuse me of being a 'stoolie'. What is a stoolie?"
"I think it's short for stool-pigeon," said Miss Snippet stopping. She turned and looked Hannah up and down, as though fitting her for a coffin. "Have you had your security interview yet?"
"Yes!" Hannah's face flushed as she remembered it. "And they were rude! They made me undress…."
"They should have strip-searched you, retina-scanned you, and done a number of background checks."
"Well… yes! And I think some of those checks were personally invasive."
"Amnesty Internation has a pending lawsuit on the nature of some of them," Miss Snippet conceded in a tone that suggested that were she ever to meet an AI member she'd be having words with them, "but to date they're all mostly legal."
"But are they necessary? This is a university, not Fort Knox!"
"Oh, I don't' think Fort Knox takes security as seriously as we do, Miss Jones." Miss Snippet gazed at Hannah for just a little too long, then turned away and started walking again. "The prospectus contains a number of courses that aren't traditionally offered by universities anywhere. If what you want is a degree in meth, for example, this is where you would come. If we would accept you."
"Methamphetamine production. We've trained some of the world's best chemists, you know."
"But I just wanted to do English Literatu--"
"No!" Miss Snippet walked under an archway, turned slightly to her left and held a door open. "You did not want a degree in English Lit., or you wouldn't be here. You're application form was masterfully written, and the head of your department suspects that you don't even know yourself why you're here."
"But I don't!"
"You're here, Miss Jones, to learn to be a killer."


The gallery was half-full, which was several more people than were usually seen at an exhibition at this end of the city. The opening had been two days earlier, so there wasn't even any free food or wine to tempt people in. They were coming in, it seemed, because they knew who the exhibiting artist was: Geraldinium Holmes.
A young man hovered near her, looking hopeful. She was unscrewing a flower press, her concentration on it suggesting that she was hoping the young man would go away and stop trying to catch her eye.
"Er, Miss Holmes?" said the young man. He sounded nervous, and he started shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"That's Mr. Holmes, actually," said an obese woman with flaking skin making her face look like she'd been snorkelling in parmesan. "I don't know why people can't tell she's a man."
Geraldinium looked up at that, and caught the young man's eye unexpected. She sighed.
"That's my old landlady," she said, gesturing at the fat, flaky woman. I've no idea what she's doing here, she used to regularly wash my canvases with turpentine and tell me that she was just keeping things clean. What do you want?"
"Um, I'm a reporter, with the Daily Meteor," said the young man. He shifted his weight again, and then seemed to be inspired. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a flimsy paper rectangle which he handed to Geraldinium. "My card!"
"It looks like a taxi-receipt," said Geraldium, reading it. "Thank-you. Have a good day, don't let me keep you."
"Oh, no, you're not keeping me," said the young man, failing to stop Geraldinium from interrupting.
"I'm so glad, thank-you for coming."
"No, you see, my paper would like to do an article on you. And… and could I have my receipt back please? It's for my expenses."
"I don't like interviews," said Geraldinium handing the receipt over. "Why would yours be any different?"
"I only want to talk about your work. I think everyone knows about your private life now."
"Well, your twitter feed has been very explicit."
As the young man saw anger rise on Geraldinium's face like a mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll, he realised that he should have asked about the twitter feed instead of making assumptions.
"Twitter feed? Is this some kind of bird joke I don't get? Because it had better be." Geraldinium's voice was grim and held the promise of pain for somebody. The young man handed his phone over wordlessly, the twitter app opened to Geraldinimum's alleged tweets. She scanned down them, her face turning thunderous.
"Who is Lady GaGa?" she asked at the end. "And why would I compare myself to her?"
"She wore a dress made of bacon," said the young man, "and she's very… herself."
"I see. Fine, ask your questions and quickly. I can see I have a twit to hunt down."
"They call themselves twitterers," said the young man, and hastily added, "but yours is probably more accurate in this case."
"What's this exhibit all about, really?" The young man had flushed and was almost stumbling over his words in an effort to finish and get away without causing any more trouble.
"Continuations of what?" The young man noticed that Geraldinium was opening the press at last.
"Previous works. For example, this piece here, Persephone in Decay, continues on from my previous exhibit Cheeseburgher."
"But this is a painting!"
"Cheeseburgher was a rat rotting in a jar of old cheese. How a painting continue a dynamic sculpture like that?"
Geraldinium smiled for the first time. "You actually do know my work! Well, this painting was made using only the contents on the jar from Cheeseburgher," she said.
The press opened at last, and inside was revealed a flat kitten.
"What is that?!" The young man sounded both intrigued and horrified.
"I call it Flat 31," said Geraldinium. "Flat 30 was where I lived with my ex-landlady and her pet."

Monday, 16 May 2011

The pink polecat

There were two gentleman's clubs in town: the Pink Pussycat and the Pink Polecat. The Pink Pussycat was talked about, generally only by a certain kind of man, and there were tourist maps that, without exactly mentioning it, would have a little pink cat icon situated more-or-less where the club was. The kind of man who talked about it was rarely a gentleman, though he was also the kind of man who would visit it. For the steak, he would assert. They do a good steak there, for a very reasonable price. And his listeners, who would also be that kind of man (or occasionally a confused, possibly lost, tourist), would nod sagely and agree in low tones and murmurs that were never so crass as to actually, vocally, commit themselves. The ladies who worked at the club were also not gentlemen, though there were those matrons of the town whose quietly voiced opinion it was that they also weren't ladies. All in all, to those of an inquisitive and thoughtful nature, it was a little mystery as to why it should be called a gentleman's club at all.
The Pink Polecat, which was on no tourist maps at all and who had paid Google handsomely to not be part of their mapping project, was for the other kind of gentleman. This kind of gentlemen was unconcerned by the quality (or the nature) of the food and was disinterested in entertainment of most sorts. This kind of gentleman had a strong Puritan streak, a work-ethic that put illegal aliens in oppressed minorities to shame, and a desire for secrecy that occasionally results in actions that might, by the less intelligent, be deemed murder. Or genocide.
The Pink Pussycat advertised discretely, frequently by word of mouth, and required that visitors were members, though membership could be purchased at a very reasonable price on the door providing the visitor seemed well-dressed, well-mannered and capable of keeping their hands to themselves.
The Pink Polecat didn't advertise at all and had a membership process that first required the applicant to avoid being killed by a variety of amusingly-located booby-traps. There was a probation period, during which time the applicant ran the risk of becoming someone else's experiment, and even membership didn't guarantee survival. The Pink Polecat believed firmly in survival of the fittest.
The curious thing about the two venues then, was that they shared premises.
The Pink Polecat had been first, setting up in a large, manorious dwelling-house on Scooter Street. The previous occupant, Miss Vivien duLac, had been called up to Broadway to chorus with the girls and had skipped town without paying two months rent. Joshua Goddestown had seen an opportunity and stepped in, paying both the back-rent and six months in advance, and had then boarded up all the windows, locked and bolted all the doors, and retired to work in solitude. The townsfolk, none of whom would countenance a gossip, gossiped merrily until three young boys attempted to spend the night there as a fraternity initiation. Joshua summarily evicted them, and they, to spite him, told the town of the fleshpot he was building there.
So Joshua built one, called it the Pink Pussycat, and denied the three boys membership, telling them that it was a lifetime ban.
Behind the scenes though, Joshua and his friends, a small coterie of like-minded individuals, began to design a new town, one suitable for gentlemen like themselves. And so the Pink Polecat acquired a name, a tenuous goal, and the disguise of being a house of ill-repute.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Disney senior

"It's a new channel," said the executive, his grin as wide as his shoulders and less sincere. "We've taken inspiration from Disney Junior and gone with Disney Senior. We expect big things and bigger ad-revenue."
Nita nodded, and turned the page in the portfolio the executive had laid in front of her. It contained full-colour pages of the characters that were proposed as part of the Disney Senior channel, with smaller pages of text interspersed here and there to provide more detail.
"What character would you put on first," she asked, her voice deceptively mild.
"We were thinking that it would very appropriate to start with a true classic," said the executive flipping open a filofax. "We thought we'd have a new headliner show called Grandfather Mickey."
"I see," Nita nodded again. "Have you spoken to anyone in the marketing department yet? Only I think we're a little concerned about the impact your scripts would have on marketing strategies."
"Wuh?" The executive gaped.
"Strategies." Nita enunciated the word slowly and carefully. "Look, your first episode is about Grandfather Mickey going to buy incontinence pants for Grandmomma Minnie, meeting Old-timer Goofy there and the pair of them getting confused. Goofy goes home with the incontinence pants, which he sticks a turkey in and puts in the oven, while Grandfather Mickey goes home with a turkey-baking bag, which Grandmomma Minnie puts on, apparently oblivious to what it really is."
The executive was laughing hard and slapping his knee as though he thought it were truly pants-wettingly funny.
"Well," Nita said patiently, "what are we going to brand as a result of this? Disney don't do incontinence pants, and that's not going to change in the near future. We can't realistically do turkey-baking bags after this airs, or kids will try wearing them, with possibly disastrous consequences."
"We're not targetting kids!" The executive wheezed as he tried to stop laughing and get his breath back. "We're targetting senior citizens. That's why we're calling it Disney Senior and using all the oldest characters." He wheezed into the icy silence that followed when he finished speaking. Only when it became clear he wasn't going to get the hint did Nita speak again.
"We've no experience addressing this market segment," she said carefully. "And, and this is the wonder of cartoons, our characters never age. Mickey will never reach old age, nor will Minnie or any of the rest. Donald Duck is as young today as he was thirty years ago, and that won't change. This idea has no wheels, and is not going to run."
"But let's let the characters age, and capture a new market segment! Old people sit at home all day anyway, they can watch Disney Senior!"
"What are they going to buy?"
The executive's face went blank again.
"Old people are not a particularly wealthy market segment, and they've often either got everything they want, or don't have the money to buy it. There are no parents, or even children, waiting around to help out. So who's going to buy merchandise from this channel? Or advertising on it?""
"Well... can't we go down the selling them wills and things route?"
"That's part of the contract when they purchase access to the channel."

The caverns below La Greche

Roscomboltin, who would love to be Rosco to his friends if he could make any, felt the rope slip. He fell in the utter darkness, panicking. The rope caught on something, jerked, and he bounced on the end of it. Something metallic shrieked, and he fell a couple more feet, jerking to a halt again. Then it was over, and he was swinging like a pendulum, his hands feeling for his hard-hat, trying to get its lamp working again.
He took the hat off and ran his hands over its ridged contours until he found the lamp housing. Then he pounded on it with the ball of his thumb. At first nothing, and then suddenly some broken connection somewhere was remade and a weak yellow light spilled out from the bulb. Relieved he shook it, and the light strengthened.
He put the hat back on and looked around. The nearby wall was a deep pink, reminding him of roses that he'd not seen since coming to the La Greche, but otherwise the cavern just opened out and there was only blackness wherever he looked. When he looked down, he was startled to discover he was hanging mere inches above the cavern floor. He swallowed hard, wondering how close he'd come to hitting it, possibly breaking bones or... or worse.
He unclipped and dropped the eight inches to the floor. It crunched, and when he rubbed his feet he realised that it was a gritty black sand on rock. He looked up, admiring the rose-hued wall again, and his smile slowly faded as he wondered where black sand could come from if the walls were this colour. Rosco put a hand out for the rope, and as he pulled on it it came free from wherever it had caught and fell, coiling noisily on the floor. He dodged aside; rope that long was heavy and he didn't want to be caught under it.
"Well, well," said a voice in the darkness. "A... visitor again. It has been... such... a long time." There was something suggestive in the voice, and Rosco thought it might be hunger.
"Who's there?" He turned slowly through a full circle, peering in the hopes of seeing the speaker, but never seeing more than empty darkness.
"Think of me as... one of the... fallen. Not unlike... you, ha, ha."
Rosco noted the strange pauses, wondering if the speaker was short of breath.
"Well met!" he said, not meaning it at all. "So, is there another way out then?"
"Not... ha, ha, not... that I've found."
"Looks like I'm climbing then," said Rosco, trying to sound cheerful. He didn't feel cheerful though; the hole he'd come down through was probably in the middle of the ceiling, not near the walls, and climbing to that, in near darkness, would be suicidal. But then, staying down here with this strange speaker also seemed suicidal, and at least climbing he could die on his own terms.
"Ha ha, you should look... around first. There are... ha, ha things you should... see."
"I'm probably a better climber than them," said Rosco, but his confidence was ebbing fast.
"Did I... say they'd tried to cli...mb?"
The black sand. Rosco realised that there was more here that he needed to know about before he continued.
"OK," he said, trying to sound friendly now. "So, who are you? Can I see you?"
The light on his hat went out, plunging him into a darkness that was starting to feel oppressive.
"Ha, ha, ha," laughed the voice. "It would seem not!"

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Hell Knight

The best question I've ever been asked is how something like Hell can have enough structure for there to be Knights. If Hell is a howling, incandescent chaos of tortured souls suffering for eternity, who is there to swear fealty to? What can be offered in return for such service? And what is there for Knights to do?
The problem most people have is that they don't realise the full extent of Hell. Each religion has its own version, its own rules on who gets sent there, and what happens to them when they arrive. Many philosophers have created visions of Hell as well, though they may not have realised what they've done, and every human capable of imagination can fashion a Hell of their own. Hell is vast, and there is room for almost everything in it.
The Greeks had visions of Hell as the abode of the dead, with a supreme ruler; the Italians, after Dante, had visions of Hell as a multi-circled domain wherein people were punished according to their sins. Typically, only the Christian religions are desperate to roast people alive and torture them indiscriminately, and though those pockets of damnation are growing here and there, they're considered by most residents of Hell to be a little gauche and underdeveloped. They're the third-world countries of Hell.
This leaves plenty of space of human to instate the feudal society they seem to default to, so there are hierarchies and rankings, class systems and levels of equality in many regions of Hell, and some of those rulers are strong enough to be able to grant titles that are either meaningful or respected in other regions as well. Not all Knights come from such places, but I do. The proof that I am a Knight are the tattoos on my wrists and the way they coil around each other when brought together. The ruler I swore allegiance to is Caledon, who commands Escabon, La Greche, the Maigre Strait and the Citadel of Romance. His plans for expansion are well known, and likely to succeed.
As for what I do, I recruit for Caledon. Not for his armies -- there are enough souls in Hell to fight the wars -- but for his administration. I head-hunt, in the corporate sense. I find people with the necessary skills for the positions that are open and persuade them to join.
Hell is not timeless, as many people think, but time passes at different rates depending on where you are. Mostly time is dense and heavy, and the lower you go the faster time passes, the heavier it weighs on the souls there. But there are places where time reverses and flows backwards, and places where it reveals its fractal nature, and with knowledge a Hell Knight can use them to enter the world where he pleases.
Hell can be both entered and left, so long as you have the right mindset and know what you're looking for. The Greeks had no problem with the living visiting Hell and leaving again, so many of the doorways look like temple entrances and allow passage in both directions. Christians see Hell as a final destination and so their doorways are one-way only and can't be subverted: it's part of the structure of hell. But they make it easy to get in: any door can be turned into a gateway to hell if there's enough Christians nearby.
And so I am a Hell Knight, and I have recruitment to attend to.