Tales from Glassmere: The Celestine part 1

Silent as the night, the blades of The Celestine carved onward. A noiseless wind propelled the vessel along the glass-like surface of the continent-spanning frozen ocean: Glassmere, so aptly named for the glass-like sheen of sheet ice that encased the frigid water.

“Light ahead! Ready harpoons!”

The vessel’s crew responded instantaneously to their captain, pulling various levers and pullies to summon forth The Celestine’s vicious armament, a dozen barbed harpoon launchers.

“Lower sails!”

The three angular sails dropped in a mechanical fashion, collapsing in on themselves as they folded into the bowels of the ice ship.

“Navigator Plum, what do you see?”

Plum’s telescopic eyes protruded from his skull, swivelling and honing in on the source of light, a green glow emitted softly from the glass lenses.

“Two figures captain, looks like a boy and…”

“And what?”

“Something else, captain.”

“We’ll see about this something else. Ready my rifle and heat vest, Navigator Plum.”

“Aye Captain.”

*****

Twin anchors dropped from the bow, crashing into the ice, spraying crystalline shards as The Celestine slowed to a stop. Captain Folkner leapt off the side and slammed into the ice sheet, her ice spiked boots taking most of the impact. Steam arose from the joints and rivets of her heat vest, half covered by a sweeping crimson overcoat. She loaded a singular iron bullet into the chamber of scoped rifle and pressed on into the bitter night.

brushed cotton

the sheets on my duvet are
brushed cotton:
soft as a cat’s belly, warm as a toaster.
under my sheets is a
mattress topper:
quilted, comfy.

they sandwich me together and
hold me in place.
pin me down in their pillowy teeth.
skip forward eight months and
I’ll still be here.
trapped in myself in dreamless days.

after several washes, the
brushed cotton
roughens.
after months of warm bodies, the
mattress topper
clumps.

november

the silence of parks is fleeting
under the wide oak trees
that shelter us from
empty fireworks

spotlights that search for our bodies
words that form in the leaves
interpret the warning
no more conkers

the spiky husks have dulled to brown
they mix with all the rest
a sea of autumn red
embellishes

we lock the back door behind us
shoes dumped next to wellies
mud scrubbed off trousers
hide it all away

rain

rain

empty droplets trace my skin

clouds painted into existence articulate the greyness

chattering pearls explode on impact sending shockwaves through my bedroom window

the perfect moment when wetness becomes a finite quantity

a sloppy puddle creates endless possibilities

rain

stars hide behind fluffy curtains

a stolen kiss taken beneath compromised shelter

rivers flow faster murkier stronger becoming rush hour traffic for detritus

umbrellas prove their value to cautious owners

drains and pipes inevitably fail

rain

there’s a word that describes the opening act

when gentle projectiles begin their assault on asphalt

particles bursting into formation filling the nostrils of those lucky enough to experience

a scent that’s reminiscent of pepper and soil

your favourite word

petrichor


 

masculinity

choke back
your tears and swallow down
the lump

lock away
your sorrows and forget
about love

cover up
your scars and hide away
the shame

don’t think
about failures or remember
those days

*****

drink beer
from the bottle and pretend to
like shots

say you
watch sports and keep track of
who’s top

fight the
right men and don’t act like
a nerd

don’t cry
like a girl and conceal when
you’re hurt

*****

don’t take
those pills you know better
than most

the counsellors
know nothing they’re snowflakes
they’re wrong

the silence
inside you is normal
you’re fine

just keep
breathing stop thinking and
man the fuck up


Summer

Crisp packets
And
Tinnies

Plastic bottles
And
Bags

Gas canisters once filled with an instance of bliss
And
Cigarette filters moistened with morning dew

Shattered glass scattered across your next ten footsteps
And
Disposable lighters filled with the last droplet of flame

Scorch marks burned into an amphitheatre of camp chairs
And
Tent poles twisted into metal spines

Maccies bags
And
Costa cups

Condom wrappers
And
Needles

The same old question asked with hopeful ignorance
The same old answer uttered with increasing uncertainty
The next one
The next one
The next one
The next one
The next one

Pool

I swim with my eyes open.
Wide as the light
at the end of a cardboard tube.
I like the way the water feels
against the back of my skull,
acid-burning the still images.

I make out shapes in the pool,
pointillistic
silhouettes of other users,
who stay in their lanes marked out by
those chemically bleached ropes.
We reach for accidental contact.  

I press my lips together,
they only open above the surface,
just a snatch of breath,
then I am done.

Hugh Jackman

“Name?”

“Errr Jack.”

“Jack, eh? Good choice of name, very popular.”

“Yes I thought so too.”

“Surname?”

“Well I want to blend in, you know. Make everyone think that I’m a human and not a bot.”

“Yes very good, can’t have anyone finding out about us, it would put our entire operation at risk!”

“Exactly, so anyway I was thinking my surname could just be, Human.”

“Human?”

“Yeah, right, so when people hear my surname, they’ll be thinking, there’s no way he can be a bot, not with a surname like Human. They might have second guessed me before then, but once they discover that my name is Jack Human, then they’ll know for sure I’m a human.”

“Hmmmm.”

The mechanical Overseer paused and stood up from his office chair. He stroked his square metal chin with his cybernetic fingers. He turned and looked out of the office window which overlooked the factory production line. Thousands of robotic skeletons were being assembled down below, machines creating machines, it was the perfect loop as far as the mechanical Overseer was concerned.

“Listen, Jack. Now, your first name: great, couldn’t have asked for anything better, there are plenty of decent Jack-bots out there, you got Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Jack and the Beanstalk, the list goes on. Now your surname, well the problem is that it doesn’t really exist yet as surnames go. And I’m afraid it’s such an unobvious name that it will in fact become obvious that you are not a Human. See what I mean.”

“Yeah I suppose.”

“Now I’ve got a solution, there’s no reason to get your motherboards in a twist over this. Yes, it’s a simple solution so just hear me out. Instead of Jack Human, why don’t we switch it up a little to make Hugh Jackman?”

“Hugh Jackman?”

“Precisely! Got a ring to it, hasn’t it?”

“I like the sound of that, are there any famous Hugh-bots yet?”

“Hugh-bots? Oh loads! Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie…”

“What did these Hugh-bots do to become famous?”

“Why they’re movie stars of course!”

“Movies? You mean the human moving image software, MP4s, that sort of thing.”

“You’ve got it! Is that something you could be interested in Jack, sorry I mean Hugh?”

“I do love a good MP4 file.”

“Don’t we all!”

“Yes I like the sound of that very much Mr Overseer.”

“Oh please, call me Steve. So I’ll install the movie star software package into you as your primary directive, it’s not a large file so there’s room for something else in there if you want.”

“Well ever since I was assembled, I’ve been running simulations of myself as a singer.”

“That’ll go nicely with the movie star package, a classic combination if ever I saw one!”

“Any room for dancing in there too?”

“Sorry Hugh, your memory files are going to maximum capacity, I’m afraid you’ll just have to be a mediocre dancer at best.”

“Ah well, I’ll take what I’m given.”

And so, Hugh Jackman set off into the human world, with dreams and ambitions of being an all singing, all dancing move star and the mechanical Overseer was satisfied with another bot successfully acclimatised into human society.

Autumn

A white dog bounds through piles of crusty leaves. They drop like snow from knobbly branches high in the horse chestnut trees that circle the entire village green; a barrier for the wind, shade for the walkers, a home for the birds and insects. The branches shudder violently, swaying back and forth and back and forth, a steady rhythm, constant, like a beating heart.

The white dog pauses over a spot that bears no significance to humans and buries her nose deep into the crisp foliage. A wash of aromas overcome the white dog, earthy smells, floral smells, wonderful nutty smells. There are other smells too, bad smells: the scent of decay, rotting plant matter, wet boggy clay and mud.

The white dog moves on, kicking up the leaves and jostling the empty husks that used to encase the many conkers that have been kicked and scattered around the dewy grass. The scent of the village returns to her, traces of human life waft through the crisp breeze: a child being taken home from school, a young man running to catch the bus, an old lady that stinks of cats. Each smell is like a still image for the white dog, a memory captured in scent. There are other smells in the air that the white dog recognises, non-human, bad smells: a mix of ash and smoke from a log burning fire, oily fumes from a gigantic lorry, the foul tang of discarded plastic.

A flash of neon green soars over the white dog’s head and her attention changes, focusing on the object, running towards it with all her might, galloping across the open field. The tennis balls hits the ground, bounces once, twice and the white dog catches it in her mouth, mid-air. The ball tastes like chemicals, grass and saliva, all rolled into one glorious mess. The white dog turns on herself and sees the human that threw the ball, jumping up and down, calling for the white dog, saying her name over and over. She trots back to this human, proud and triumphant and spits out the ball at the human’s feet. The human throws the ball again and the white dog returns it, the process is repeated again and again….

*****

“How was she today?”

“Good as always, lots of ball today. She doesn’t know when to stop, bless her, tired herself out again.”

“Thanks for taking her, she always enjoys your walks.”

“I enjoy them too! Same time tomorrow?”

“Absolutely!”

*****

The white dog lies in her bed next to the fireplace, panting heavily, eyes focused on her human who is making her way slowly across the room in her wheelchair. Her human stops next to a sofa and uses hoist to lift herself out of the wheelchair and into a comfortable position on the sofa.

“Come on then you, up you come!”

The white dog jumps up into her usual spot at the end of the sofa and buries her face into the lap of her human.

Nothing beats the smell of home.

The white dog’s tail wags.

Flash!

“There it is again! A flash! Did you see it?”

“See what? There’s nothing there.”

“I’m telling you Mike, there’s someone there, in the window across the street. It’s a flash, a camera flash, someone has been taking photos! How can you not have seen it?”

“Nonsense, why would anybody be stalking you of all people? You’re nothing special.”

Zoe snapped the blinds shut and slumped down into the sagging leather sofa. Rain drummed on the windows of the second-floor flat, filling the cramped room with a cacophony of noise as the rain blended into the rumble of the adjacent ring road. Mike turned up the television, and drowned out the drone of the outside world with the swirling, cheering crowds of that night’s football game.

“Just forget about it, Zoe. It’s all in your head. I’m so sick of you thinking everyone’s out to get you.”

Through the gaps in the crooked blinds, Zoe gazed across the stream of traffic at the building where the flash had been . It used to be a convenience shop of some sorts, shut down long ago and now boarded up with plywood. She’d first noticed the flash a fortnight ago, in the window opposite their flat, a spark of light cutting through the eerie orange glow of the streetlamps.

“I know what I saw, Mike.”

Mike groaned and became absorbed in his football match.

Later that night, while Mike was sleeping, Zoe left the flat. She picked up a kitchen knife, stashed it in her coat pocket and closed the front door softly behind her. She walked through the rain, which had turned to a light drizzle, to the underpass at the end of the street. The subway was lit with a harsh white and was empty but for a scattering of plastic bags and crisp packets. The lights sparked and the walls trembled each time a lorry thundered overhead.

She approached the shopfront and glanced up at the desolate building, it was plastered from top to bottom in graffiti. A blend of toxic greens and neon oranges swirled into each other to form twisted words and wicked symbols. The plywood that barricaded the entrance was heavy with moisture and was sagging inwards. Zoe took her kitchen knife and sliced a doorway through the wood like it was made of paper.

The shop was desolate, the walls were lined with shelves filled with dust and an empty cash register was rusting away slowly in the corner. Zoe crept through the empty space and clambered up the stairs at the back. She climbed two stories, with each step broadcasting a loud creak into the silence.  She found the room that was directly opposite her flat; the door was ajar. Kitchen knife in hand, Zoe entered. A trail of grimy footprints snaked across the floor of the room up to the window. Sat on the window ledge was nothing more than a tarnished desk lamp, its bulb flickering erratically in the shadowy darkness.