All through and around me, pale flood rains fell in vertical lines. Feeding off the amber bubbles dotted in intervals in the air around me, I could just about make out what stood directly in front of me.
A large, weathered hexagonal stone structure, full of arches, with a spire jutting from the top.
Directly in front and a little above me, a huge white disc, with two thick lines pointing out from its centre.
To each side of that, two fossilized cherubs, playing harps.
They stared straight through me.
Narrow streams flew off the tips of the two black lines inside the disc. Rivulets overwhelmed the gaps between the cobblestones, cascading off the ground behind, around, in front and beneath me, but touching no feet.
I moved a little towards the disc and stopped.
A curtain of white flashed across it and vanished. Numbers were dotted around its inside.
I’ve seen this before…
Moving forwards once more, I heard the water now pounding into a hard surface above me. No streams passed below me. I must have been under a roof. I waited there, looking out, listening.
A deep rumble vibrated all around.
Still stone. But to the left I noticed a celestial glow. I moved around and approached its source. It emanated from a cathedral across the road, illuminated by blaring spotlights throwing their glare onto its faded structure from the overgrown weeds in a muddied graveyard around it.
Its bell chimed.
As I watched the cathedral, a single spotlight suddenly flickered, cracked and died.
The first line.
I had to venerate the cathedral with my stare, and the longer my vision kept upon it, the more that something submerged- like a face from a dream, or a melody from a song- became distinct to me. Eventually, a little detail became apparent, and words pitched their significance into my conscience.
…the lark at the station
They had a masculine taste.
Choosing to move forwards, I found myself floating above the treacle-coloured cobbles, following an instinct. The trail of blockheaded buildings, lit by the dandelion flashes overhead, felt distantly familiar, but their name, place and connections had been poured from me.
Soon, a glowing horizontal banner of lights appeared above the street.
This I know.
I passed through and moved further. The cobbles gave way to concrete, and then to a wide open space with white rectangular lines drawn across its edges.
A barrier fell. I stopped.
A brilliant trail of colours crawled along behind it, cloaked in a deafening mesh of noise. People inside were sleeping. I saw someone- a woman- with blond braids and purple shirt, had fell asleep, their head against a glass frame. Somehow, in their sleep, they were still maneuvering, trying to occupy every inch of space.
I was here.
A little while ago…
But definitely here.
My vision shook and fell beyond the barrier.
With the mesh gone, all I heard was the encompassing muddle of rain.
I could see the parallel steel of the railway tracks. I looked far to my left and right, and saw them joining somewhere.
I searched their tracks.
There it was. By the barrier nearby, lying in a still deepening puddle, was a small tooth.
Is this…is this….
I desperately wanted to pick it up, but as the barrier slowly lifted, I knew I had to look somewhere else. Still, I stayed by the railway barrier, standing up now, and watched the drops cling and then drop off the frame of each one, into the puddle, where the tooth was lying.
The bike shed.
I turned to my right and saw it, by the closed black bars of the station, Inside, amongst the dozens of frames, I was drawn towards a thin-framed, gold-chained model, slumped against a diamond fence. Within its rusted basket was a yellow-paged book, held open against the wind at a specific page by coloured paper clips, and nudged against the bars at the bottom of the basket.
I could see the open page. Handwriting I knew. Characters highlighted upon it.
In frustration and love, Danielle
But you’ll have to be up with the lark.”
Seeing this brought forwards new memories. And these felt more intangible but familiar- Danielle.
Calm, smiling, trusting. Tall and dark.
The address, the number, the smells.
Slashed winded apartment stairs with paper stuck upon the walls.
Those were the last things.
A calm fragrance- pink blankets and cashmere mixed with sunlight.
A trail emerging from back where I came.
I drifted again, back through the streets still being shorn by rain. It looked different coming back. So it stirred its different respective thoughts- the calm air and burble of a fleeting high-pitched melody.
I turned left at where I’d began and continued down.
These new houses, though crooked and unfamiliar, still lined a definite trail to a final point, one which scattered images too far beneath me to make out. I hoped this strange bookmark and new name would be enough to remember it.
After I turned down a coniferous lane, next to a smaller, open-air car park, and emerged in a narrow street with only a handful of houses, rain hammered onto windshields and scattered black trash bags.
I felt close.
I drifted along still. At the end, I stopped. This was it. A tall, old house, with French bay windows and a chipped, embracing brick wall were left to history behind a yellow and green tape banner. A strange new man- dressed in a yellow reflective vest and a broad black cap- was interviewing someone upon the doorstep.
I know you…
Fully and clearly. The first.
His head had wilted into his hands. He could not raise it. Red mossy hair seeped out from his hands like drying bushes above the lip of a valley. His voice was nothing but the bob of bawling and searching breaths.
I knew him. I knew his name. It started with an “S”. It had two syllables like rocks banging together, but it did not flash fully within me.
I passed through the shut door, and explored. I had to go upstairs.
I did, past the peeling, black-and-white posters advertising long-passed gigs, and little scratches of paper ripped from the wall.
On the landing, one door beckoned to me. The letters “DTTS” were carved into it, the wood chipped still on the floor beneath it, and a deep hum behind it- a low, disturbed hum. A mumble, arrhythmic, like an antenna pointed into space and interrupted by something cracked and unknowable.
A voice. A voice like the scratch of the world’s first gramophone.
I went through.
A blank, restless screen.
White projected endlessly.
In the corner, the crackle of a tape recorder, in mid-flow.
The sound was all sparks and hiss. Whistling, stuttering and indistinct.
A voice. Bubbles of language I didn’t understand or remember.
I stayed there, my vision sinking. Searching the dark for the familiar. But all I saw were sheets of white and a voice.
Impulsively, I moved forwards, into the projector.
A black human outline appeared on the screen.
Short and thin with long, tufted hair falling over their face and down their arm.
I tilted my headless vision to the left.
The shadow tilted its head.
I tried to raise a hand I didn’t have and waved hello.
It waved back at me.
I put my face in profile.
It did too.
Little droplets of self rippled inside- the shape of my name- three syllables, an…‘s’, an ‘a’, fluid like two rivulets forming…my age…21
The roof of my mind filled up with them, more and more, and burst, until all the knowledge from some point before inundated my being.
…skin. The railways tracks. The train I used to catch. Chichester. The house. The long mornings discussing with someone. The ancient, defaced books I kept. The empty streets of the town at night, perfect for putting headphones in and drowning…
I became coloured in, reunited with myself.
I used to be a person.
Samantha, age 21.
I felt I had always known it, but only now, looking at the shadow, did I become aware of it.
The crackling hisses and indistinct mumbles on the tape gradually took shape into English. My field of vision was covered and wet like dew with ideas and visions, myriads of colours and shapes, thoughts and memories- returned.
The tape voice became real. Deep but feminine. I stayed still and listened.
“…memories reached you. Let alone if you still have any language capacity to understand basic English. Who knows what you will carry along with you over there?
But well…where do I start? I could tell you all the details about me- my name, my life, what I look like, all the important things from my history- but if you don’t carry your own memories along with you into that place in some form, I will still mean nothing to you.
But yes…I am 30 years old. We stayed together here, after school. We talked about two years ago, and how to make it better. You never seemed to get over it. We talked about everything to get over it- everything we shouldn’t have- everything profane and infernal, we recited it like it was sacred. Your…”
Tape hissed, flapped, and stopped. The machine rolled on, projecting only me upon the white.
I gazed around in the dark, just about seeing curled posters and accidental mountains in the wallpaper. I moved forwards again.
A second, taller, short-haired shadow appeared right beside me. I watched it approach until it was right next to me.
Breath upon my neck.
A delicate, childish hand on my shoulder.
I turned around and tried to face them, but the shadow on the projector lied- there was nobody visible there.
But it was there. There were arms around me, a finger caressing my hair, and the same warm breath.
A monsoon of cold and warm recognition.
“It worked, Samantha,” it whispered, and I knew that only I could hear it. It was still deep and feminine.
“Yes Samantha. So happy you joined me.”
“…had turned to custard.”
The reader flipped the paper to the back of the documents, and tapped them into order on the surface of the desk like a newsreader. A collective “mmm” filled the top floor of the pub room, like everyone had tasted something delicious at the same time.
One friendly younger member of the group wondered whether to speak first, but stopped. The reader thought that the “mmm” hadn’t been quite as definitive as he’d liked. Sure enough, as he glanced from side to side, taking in the expressions, nobody seemed to have the confidence or an overwhelming desire to speak, and the unearthly black silence weighed for quite an uncomfortable length of time. It sent a shiver down his spine.
He smirked hopefully towards no-one in particular as he waited for the first reaction. He wondered if it was the calm before the storm or just empty silence. He already feared the reactions would probably be more out of pity than help.
Most were smiling with eyes shut and fingers to lips in a monk-like pose. He grasped onto the side of the desk and moved his chair forwards.
“Well, yes, very…very interesting…” came the first reply, from the leader of the group, “well I thought that it was generally very interesting…you really got into…got into the head of someone who’s been put…or rather that puts themselves under that kind of pressure to receive what he justifies as merited validation from others.”
The leader leaned over the desk and pushed back his reading glasses to read from his notes.
“Just some some tiny little nitpicks though,” he said, “you seem to use some superfluous words. For example, I thought when you said: ‘quite’ twice’ during one section. And when you say ‘reading glasses’ you can probably just say glasses. After that you have ‘read’ which is fine- if you have read you don’t need to say glasses.”
The reader scribbled on the paper in red pen and muttered “thank you.”
He gave a sharp intake of breath and looked hopefully towards the other members. One person, sitting Buddha-like at the edge of the table, was wondering when he would have the chance to speak, and now he leaned forwards and talked.
“How about the characters?” said the reader, “did they feel real?”
“Well, they were not properly defined,” said someone, “I thought that the narrator took precedence and we didn’t get enough information about the others.”
One of the older, more experienced critics inhaled sharply and leant forwards.
“If I may be so bold,” he said, “it is riddled with mistakes. You are repeating adjectives all over the place. And there are many places within the text where you suffer from a novice writer’s disease, often known as ‘adjectival obesity,” where you believe that the important shades of meaning within the text must be filled in with meticulously precise adjectives. For example, at some point, you mention something like a huge deafening calm or something like that…you can just say ‘a calm.’ That’s fine in and of itself, the listener will fill in their own information within their own minds..”
There was another gap before anyone could react. The characteristics of the people around the room seemed to be very scattered- they were either fit as fiddles or old as the hills. He gave a huge deathly sigh and leaned back.
“You use too many clichés,” said someone, “and your writing is full of shifts in perspective. At one point I think you shift to one person at the start of the paragraph and then back to the author in the next sentence, which is still in the same paragraph. You can’t just shift perspectives like that…it confuses the reader.”
“Well I rather liked it,” interjected one of the female listeners, “I liked the ambiguity. It had a lot of potential. What I felt was that the narrator likes to imagine all of these different perspectives belonging to different people, feeding the author’s sense of unease under self-inflicted pressure, and that came across well.”
“Yes but it wasn’t clear,” came the reply, “to me that’s a classic 101 of bad writing.”
“I liked it,” said one of the others, one of the spring beans, “but you need to keep your punctuation under control.”
“It’s very interesting though, I liked the punctuation, it gave it a loose feel-”
“It’s just too all over the place though. You never know who’s speaking. And I’m pretty sure you repeat some of the descriptions.”
The author sat back and sighed. He wrote a few notes on his paper in red ink.
“No, it’s good,” said one more of the regulars, a person whose stuttering and cerulean eyes locked onto him, “it was very rough. There were all those mistakes above. But I thought the style was strong enough to carry it,” she blinked, “it was rough, but throughout I was enthralled by this person. You know, the whole story was about one person’s quest for validation and it really rubbed off on me. I liked it.”
The author smiled at her understanding and corona-like smile.
“Thank you,” he replied to her.
“Yes well,” said one of the regulars, “I do think the idea and the story was good. It’s just too bad that everything around it had turned to custard.”
Doodling the Heavens, Chapter 1
As Marie passed underneath the mossy railway arch, an enchanting muddle of birdsongs echoed off its eroded red bricks, mixing with the clomp of her trainers. On the other side, she paused to take in the full expanse of still, cloudless sky, and feel the warbles and chirps swell around her in their unmixed delight.
She took out her chunky grey mobile and squinted at the text once more. “Meet you outside my house at 8. It’s on the far end of Highcroft Lane, with the white Mondeo. Can’t miss it! 🙂 Miko”. She laughed as she stuttered on her way, and checked her phone every five seconds.
She stepped into the middle of the empty road, and took in the sights as though in an unannounced dream. On one side of the road, a luscious, green field lay behind a broken wooden fence, lined with pikes and barbed wire, where a strong, dark oak tree presided.
On the other side, she noticed how every garden had spectacular arrays of flowers, each with their own rich colours and scents, and had their own little features: plastic peacocks, palm trees, ponds, decapitated statues…one garden had stakes planted in a golden ratio spiral. She closed her eyes and ran along them with arms outstretched.
Marie smiled as she made it to the end of the road, where there was nothing but a thick wall of trees, and definitely no white Mondeo. She stood in the road, looking around, scratching her head, and read her message once more, in her best English.
“Meet you outside my house at 8. It’s on the far-”
A nearby strum above from an acoustic guitar made her jump. She turned around and looked up. There, sitting on the highest branch of a tree, was Evelina. She drummed the body of her guitar, decorated with flowers and drawings of hummingbirds, and grinned lazily. She had unravelled her incredibly long and thin hair, which dangled down to Marie’s height like a thin curtain.
“Bon-jour Marie,” she said, her exotic and unplaceable accent ringing in time with a strummed D major.
“Um…” she muttered, looking down, “Guten tag?”
Evelina laughed with her mouth shut, like a snare drum burst.
“No, I don’t speak German,” she said, calmly fingerpicking a melody, “just music.”
Marie directed her gaze back up at Evelina, and meshed her fingers together.
“Do you…um, I forget where is Miko’s house?” she said.
“Well,” Evelina swirled her finger next to her temple, “no panic. It is close.”
“It’s through this path under here,” Evelina pointed to the bush below her, “directly opposite. White Mondeo. Can’t miss it.”
“Uh…thank you?” mumbled Marie.
“Speak nothing of it,” replied Evelina, as Marie parted the thick undergrowth and walked along the dirt path speckled with sunlight.
Behind her, Evelina’s sang a cappella, climbing up and down the scales. Marie stumbled down the path, taking off her glasses and cleaning them with the cloth from her back pocket. As the shadows left her, she put her glasses back on and looked around. The street seemed to be the nearly identical flipside of the one before. She panned over it with deep breaths, taking in the scents of the trees and the liquid improv of a nearby robin.
Directly in front of her, a white Mondeo was parked in someone’s driveway. She was walking towards it when her pocket buzzed. Her hands shook as she pulled out her phone. Holding it still in front of her face, she saw it was from Miko. She refused to press anything. She shook her head and sighed before forcing herself to push the “open” button.
“don’t come,” it said, “u hav to go :’ (”
“Where are you?” she replied.
Marie gulped. Her whole body shook as she walked past the car.
“Miko?” she called, and waited. Nothing.
The front door was flung wide open, and past it, Marie could see piles of detritus- splintered wood, stacks of documents and folders- on the carpet in the hallway. She stopped on the doorstop, which read “Bienvenue,” and breathed in sharply.
“Miko?” she spluttered, louder this time, a short burst of laughter trickling from her throat.
She rang the doorbell.
She waited for a minute, in the open air, but nobody came. When her breath came back, she tentatively stepped inside, over the threshold, and marched over the scattered documents.
As she gazed over the walls, she felt her breaths sharpen. Strips of wallpaper had been ripped out, and vacated picture frames were either hanging on by one nail or gazing at the floor. The telephone chord had been gutted from the wall, and as she walked along, she ducked to avoid a naked lightbulb, which had been pulled down waist high.
“Miko?” she called again.
She looked at the wall by the stairs. A little blue trail had been painted with a delicate brush, and its still wet texture gleamed off the sunlight from the landing window. She gazed up and followed it up. It seemed to depict, as it ran around the paper, a river, complete with fish leaping out from it- with bare, cartoon outlines, freezing in mid-air and gazing with goggly, Picasso eyes.
Above it, a trail of realistic flying saucers and clouds swooped over what seemed like crude, childish drawings of mountains, stars and planets, rising from the water below. Marie smiled, and felt her blood settle within her body again.
She held onto the banister and calmly ascended, foot by foot and step by step. As she did, she gasped as the picture became ever more elaborate: a man with lines on his coat coat like neurons seen through an X-ray, which expanded beyond his body and spread like roots into the sky; houses built to resemble animals rested along this azure trail; and little “ZZZs” of their sleeping populations floated out into mid-air, running parallel with the stream. One flying saucer hit the letters with a clunk and started falling, which made Marie giggle. She felt light-headed and strangely humbled, but then she reached the top of the stairs, and stopped dead.
There, on the ceiling, the river’s flow was interrupted, and stretched out into the contours of a massive lake. The surface of the ceiling had been indented, as though a concave dome had been carved into it.
The dome, which was filled with intricate layers of blue mimicking the textures of the sea, also had a simple portrait of a girl in it. She seemed to come from a Japanese comic book, all thick dark outlines and large eyes. Marie gazed at her for a long time, struck by a precious sense of familiarity: the figure had short, brown hair, a daisy planted in its right hand corner, a simple smile and rectangular glasses. She gasped: it was her.
“Miko?” she mumbled, but still nothing. She followed the river flowing past her own face, and towards a cream door, with “Come in” written in nursery school crayon. The river disappeared behind its hinges. She blushed and beamed, pressed down on the handle, and pushed the door open.