The real John Xero|
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|Tuesday, January 30th, 2007|
|Tuesday, November 28th, 2006|
There are as many ways for a man to die as there are days in Forever but, ultimately, it makes no difference, they all end the same way.
|Wednesday, September 20th, 2006|
|That Ochre Landscape
When I think of my late father there is one memory that inevitably comes to mind, first and faster than any other; one scene that, for me, is
my father, inescapably. I cannot help but see him that way.
It is not the moments he bounced me on his knee, though with a surety I can say that he did, I can remember that far back, if I try. It is not his face hoving in and out of view when he stayed by my bedside for days, nursing me back to health from the wasting fevers that took me. It is not the time he held me and sobbed into my hair when my mother had been lost to consumption, nor even her weak choking that very moment she died in his arms, though I was there to witness that terrible thing too.
No. Those memories are there, certainly, but when I think of my father what comes immediately to mind is that ochre landscape, where all the colour seems frozen in oranges and yellow-browns; all except the wet red splattered up his saber and across his stern face as he stands there in the sand and bright sun, with the man who would have saved me, my love, lying dead at his feet.
|Saturday, April 15th, 2006|
|Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006|
|The White Lady
From my letter to the council
In the end I found the White Lady in the Northern lands, and seeing what she had done to the people there, how she had enslaved them and bent them to her cruel will, I realise she has become worse even than her step-mother.
Though the natives of that land may be stunted in growth and grotesque in form (so that at first I thought them to be demons or imps of some kind), over time I found them to be kind-hearted and honest folk on the inside. They had led a simple life before the Lady came, almost at one with the ancient forest around them, living in groups in crude, wooden hovels. They would live nameless until their seventh year, when the eldest amongst them named the child for his temperament; now, under the lady and her huntsmen, they have no names, or rather, they are all named the same - dirt or 'dwarvi' in their own tongue.
She has them all toiling in her new mines from dawn to dusk, and who could say what she seeks down there? Each day they bring up gold yet still she curses them, and each day they fail to appease her she has one of them beaten, often so badly he cannot work for the next seven-day.
I managed on one occasion to persuade the group who were nursing me back to health, though that might have meant their deaths had I been discovered, to sneak me into the mines that I might ascertain what it was they were being so harshly subjugated for.
What I saw in those mines has been branded into my mind forever, a scar in my beliefs in humanity. Those poor homunculi are tied together as they enter the mines, a man's height between them, and sent in with crude picks. In those tunnels it is as if one has stepped into another world entirely, one of utter darkness, more complete than any night, until guttering, stinking torches are brought forward and then the rough walls and low, craggy ceilings suck in the light and it seems as if the whole dreadful place is writhing around you, like the inside of some great worm. Very soon, as the work begins, the harsh dust and foul smoke in the air bring on a hacking convulsive cough, but should any one of these slaves pause for too long in a fit they are beaten or whipped in punishment.
This very same cough persists once they have left the mines and the weak gruel, their only nourishment, does nothing to sooth their throats so their nights are broken by violent spasms as they choke up great clots of black phlegm. Through the day all they hear besides their own labouring is the droning voice of the White Lady, sustained and distributed through the entire network of tunnels on some arcane magics, to which they must keep rhythm.
"Hi!" She screeches.
They draw back their picks.
"Hi! Ho! Hi! Ho!" Nothing but her shriek and the strike of metal on stone for company for they are allowed no conversation amongst themselves. They return unguarded to their hovels each night, they have not the strength or will to escape and so they are nothing but the Lady's things anymore.
I fled that land as soon as my health allowed but I must return, I must do something for those poor wretches, and I fear for their sakes and ours what may happen should the Lady find whatever it is she so urgently seeks.
|Tuesday, November 8th, 2005|
|New World Order
"We all have to make sacrifices for the New World Order, Benjamin...
"I'm totally cutting down on those little crunchy, sugary, rainbow things they sprinkle on cakes and ice cream."
|Monday, September 19th, 2005|
|The Other, Ourself
By others, we judge ourselves.
Well, let justice be done, and the guilty cast down.
Your company won't change, I'll wager.
And let he who is innocent cast the first stone,
In others, we see ourselves.
And no one likes to look at themselves in a broken mirror.
So for those too afraid to approach the pieces,
Seven years bad luck,
[Spur of the moment poetry... and an example of why I dont write poetry.
Verse 2, line 3 is the one that holds the most meaning, but I can't get it right...
I think I'm going to start posting some of my unfinished poetry on here, because I like some of it, but not enough to call it a finished poem...]
|Sunday, September 18th, 2005|
It has come to my attention that there have been threats levelled against a certain young Elfling thief should she attend this year's conclave.
Let the word be spread that she is under my protection. Should any individual take action against her despite the conclave's amnesty I will ensure their censorship by the council. They will also be subject to various unspecified harms at a later date, by my discretion.
|Operation "I don't believe in fairies"
"Is everything in place? Is Operation 'I don't believe in fairies'"
"Yes Sir, Operation 'I don't believe in fairies'"
"is ready to roll."
"Good. This is the White Queen to all points, initiate Operation 'I don't believe in fairies'"
"And next time remind me to pick an operation name that doesn't make Mary clap every time we say it."
Night: choir, gentle, soaring
Slowly panning across a wide, open space. Refugee camp of some kind, row upon row of sleeping people, in makeshift beds, ragged blankets. From the far end we see figures moving quietly from sleeper to sleeper, leaning down as if checking on them, then moving on to the next. Camera pans onwards at the same rate figures are moving so the two will meet in the middle. As we come closer we see that the figures are moving from bed to bed efficiently, calmly, quietly slitting throats as they go.
|Wednesday, September 14th, 2005|
|Greybeard and Jalopy
Once upon a time, down an old, tree-lined street, there lived an old, life-lined man. Down this street every morning would come the schoolboys in their blue blazers, grey shorts and scuffed knees, full of high spirits and porridge. The old man had lived on this street for a very long time and he had seen the lime trees rise and spread and split the old pavement. The children knew the old man as well as anyone these days, every morning they saw him, calling him Greybeard on account of his beard, grey as it was. The old man watched them pass as he tried to start his car, standing in front of it cranking the starter handle - the same routine he'd kept at every morning as each year heaped upon the last. Greybeard and Jalopy they called them, the old faded man and his old faded car.
The children knew the old man as well as anyone, any person, but not as well as that old jalopy of an automobile knew him, and the old man knew Jalopy better than he knew any other person alive. But the car, with its dulled red paint and its burnished bumpers, didn't start as well as it should these days and the school children would laugh at the old man as he wearily wound the handle. Every morning he would lift the bonnet and sigh, and see the same problems that he knew he would see and never thought to fix, he just thought of how he wouldn't need the old thing a whole lot longer.
Soon enough the old man grew weary of the extra ache in his back from the constant bend and stretch of starting Jalopy and with a sigh and heavy heart he pulled the dust cover over the vehicle. He shut and locked the garage door and held a hand against the rusted metal, memories slowly tugging the corners of his mouth to a sad, tired smile. Now when the children passed him in the morning they didn't tease and joke, he right walked right through them for the bus down the street, and his shoulders hung heavy and subdued.
Greybeard missed Jalopy's company, as eccentric as the old car could be, so he found a specialist on his trips into town, a clean man in grease-smeared clothes who knew the old and secret ways of automobiles. And he scrimped and he saved and he talked to Jalopy, because with a car that old you have to coax the answers from their time-tested frames. And he worked when he could and he worked when he couldn't, and the lime trees rose a little more, proud of their fresh green, and soon came the day he knew it was fixed. He pulled open the garage doors and put his hand on the handle. And cranked it.
But Jalopy stirred not, nor sputtered, nor jerked into life.
Now the older things get, the crankier they get, any car owner will tell you that, and Jalopy was very old - as I've mentioned - though not as old as Greybeard. And the older something gets, the more of themself that people put into it, the more personality it gets. Jalopy stirred, a sound like a sigh in old suspension, and Greybeard looked up. Then again came the sigh, from nowhere it seemed. Jalopy stirred, the crank handle swung a little as if in a breeze. As Greybeard watched it swung a little more, and more, and more till it was turning right round, and faster it went, and harder, till the engine just jumped into life! And Greybeard saw that it wasn't just Jalopy that needed fixing, he had his part in it too. He wasn't cranking as hard as he could, or as hard as was needed to work. He'd been watching Jalopy and seeing it slowly go wrong, but never thought to look at himself.
And as Jalopy shook with its engine now running, and rattled and jumped on its wheels, the old paint fell away in flakes, peeling like leaves from a tree, and the bumpers plinked, and dinked and pinged, like an old radiator coming to life. And Greybeard's eyes opened wide.
The children didn't notice next morning when he didn't pass them on his way to the bus, their heads lost in playgrounds and conkers and balls, but they noticed the loud burst and rattle of Jalopy coming to life, a sound they'd not heard in months, and they noticed they hadn't heard old Greybeard struggling and moaning. And from ahead, from the drive, emerged a different Jalopy, the red paint dark, clean, rich and new, the bumpers as fine as the day they were made; and behind the wheel, high and proud as they chug-chugged along, sat a new, beaming Greybeard.
|Monday, September 12th, 2005|
|Tuesday, September 6th, 2005|
|The Folk of Norwich Town #1: The League of Characters
The Folk of Norwich Town#1
: The League of Characters.
Norwich plays host, in that openly embarassed but secretly proud way, to several 'characters', named to me once as 'Norwich Characters'.
For example, Tony, frequently found on St. Benedicts Street breaking from whatever conversation he may be having at the time with his invisible companions to ask for a light, a cigarette, cash, if you'll take the time to buy him a beer. I'm aften tempted to take his money and buy him fruit juice, but I think there are certain things in this life you don't mess with. Urban Legend has it that Tony used to be a professsor up at the University. He ventures away from St. Benedicts too on occasion, all over the city.
I've been not ignoring him for enough years that he acknowledges me now if we pass in the street.
Then there's the chap with the sheepskin jacket and walking stick, who makes his rounds of the city shops. Likes Daleks too, I found out recently. I saw him with another old chap in tow the other day, maybe an apprentice, someone to help with the rounds now Norwich's retail base is expanding.
Some, but not all
, of the Big Issue sellers are Norwich Characters, the singing seller for example, though I see him less now.
Who knows what called them to this walk of life? Some have obviously given up a normal way of life, through choice design or some other, harsher device.
They are the folk who stand out from the crowds, those of Norwich who people recognise apart from the throngs of everyday folk.
And they hold a special, but essential, place in the city's psychic defense network.
The League defends the character of the city.
Tony, and others, converse with the city's spirits. Its urban intelligence, spread through the parts and features of the street. So they are
talking to no one, no one but the shapes everyone leaves behind. They keep the character of the city itself true to itself, it is their job to hold off the encroaching uniformity of the outside world, to keep Norwich apart while the world grows closer, smaller.
Don't be too surprised if one day someone takes time out from muttering to the postbox, a skip or a lamppost, and turns to you. And instead of a favour, cash or cigarette they ask instead for your help. And in the clearest, calmest sanest voice you could imagine, not a whisper of alcohol on their breath.
|The Folk of Norwich Town
This will be a series of mostly fictional short splurges of imagination inspired by people I know and see around Norwich. The secret life of the city as it appears to my brain.
I possibly have to much spare brain waving around as I wander the streets alone... :)#1
: The League of Characters
|Friday, August 12th, 2005|
Please be quiet, or at least keep your voices down a little, your stupidity is distracting me.
|Thursday, July 7th, 2005|
The princess twirled in front of the mirror, enjoying the delicate crackle of the petticoats beneath her beautiful, bright pink dress. She stopped to admire the boned waist that made her look awful thin, but in a pretty way, she thought, and did rather emphasise the frilled balcony of her breasts. She stepped forward to reveal just a hint of a striped white and pale pink stocking sliding into her pretty shoes, though how they had got the leather so shiny and perfectly pink she should have no idea, but it was a wonder.
Happy with the look, she smoothed down her dress and reached for the plain wooden box on her dressing table, placed quietly to the back so it was out of the way of mirror and make-up, but still within easy reach of her delicate, pale fingers. The simple catch came open with little to no thought at all and holding the lid back she removed the black rubber and plastic from within. Then she set the gas mask on the tiny chair she herself had sat on earlier to apply her eye makeup.
She picked up her stuffed dolly from where it usually sat beside the wooden box, watching her, and hugged its limp form to her rosy bosom. Its own black dress and white petticoats contrasted sharply, but nicely, with hers, and she kissed it on the forehead, and on the little red cross on its black nurse's cap. She turned to her bed, still pristine and perfect from when the maid had made it this morning, and tucked the little doll beneath the sheets in the middle, so just its face, paler even than hers, was free to rest on the lacy, white pillows.
"Now Moxxy, mummy has got to go out," she told the doll lovingly, "you remember what to do if anyone comes a-knocking at my door? Though why they should at this time of night I wouldn't know."
"Of course I do, Molly," the doll patiently replied, though its mouth did not move, being, after all, only a line of neat stitching.
"I ask that they should go away, I decry the inappropriateness of anyone being in the princess's room at this time of night and that really they should leave me quite alone till the morning."
And then, in an exact replica of the princess's voice, the dolly added, "All in your darling voice of course."
"Oh you are brilliant at this," she smiled in delight and clapped her hands quietly, excitedly, "Now I really must away."
She took up the gas mask and pulled it on, only a tiny one, only to cover her mouth and nose. She couldn't breath common air after all, not air that had touched the voices of common people. Her long lashes and dark, black-lined eyes stood out stunningly between the mask and the glossy, black curls of hair on her head, and she topped it all off with a little nurse's cap of her own, pink, with a tidy black cross in a neat white circle.
She reached beneath her bed and pulled out the battered old bag she kept there, a medical bag of creased and cracked brown leather that her parents would never have let her keep had they known. But the maid was blind so as never to see her perfect, royal flesh, even in error, and Molly had said the bag was for royal make-up and she was never to touch it. Then she opened the window with it's white wooden frame and stepped up and out and into the night and the stars.
Five stories up she stepped onto the ledge, the window drifting gently shut behind her. Then she tiptoed quickly along and onto the red kitchen roof, holding her arms out for balance and a giggling laugh inside her lungs where no one would hear it. Along the red-tiled roof she danced until she reached the end where it met the walls and looked down into the streets of the city itself. Then she walked right off of it.
Her oh so pink dress billowed out beneath her and she descended slowly, sailing the night air, twirling, exposing her striped stockings; till she landed gently on the cobbled street beneath, her dress settling in a busy rustle. Then she set off into the dark and dangerous city, her petticoats a chorus of nervous shushing as her wide heels clip-clopped through the streets.
Few passers-by there were that looked twice at this vision in gasmask and pink; in the city it didn't pay to be too inquisitive, not this late, not towards the night denizens, of which she most certainly was. And the other denizens knew her of old and left her be, though she looked so pretty and pure, but for the mask of harsh rubber. So she danced and she searched through the arches and gates, and along the streets of stone, till she lighted on that which she sought. A man on his own, dejected and hurt, rejected and sitting in pain. The bottle beside him was lacking in wine, and he looked sorrowfully at it as if wishing his mind could be so empty, or the bottle less so.
The princess sat her battered old bag on the ground, and pushed at the clips to the sides. They undid with a snap, suddenly, surprised to be free and the wings of the bag opened wide. She ummed and she aahed for a short skip in time, and looked through her bottles of glass, coloured glass in all shapes and all shades, that at times she'd collected when no one would know or notice her pilfering hands. Her mind decided, she reached down and pulled out one of deepest red, with a long neck that spiralled three times round before it met its stopper.
She approached the poor man, his mind lost in woe; she unstoppered and offered the brew. He looked at her slowly, his mind cloudy and dull, his eyes blurry and not wholly true; before him stood a saviour, an angel of mercy descended and proffering drink. Her voice seemed, to him, sealed by a vow of silence - made real, black, and binding her mouth; not so strange in the city by night. So he reached for the bottle and the hope that it would take away some of what he was feeling inside. It took all and he slid to the ground.
She returned to her bag and sat it beside him, laying him out in the road. With movement deft of practice his shirt came undone and she revealed his chest to the stars, soft muscles of youth relaxed beneath the gentle strokes of her hand. Beside the bottles were the trays of instruments, precious things and pretty things full of sharp and precision and shine. She had bartered for these with things normal folk didn't know were to be bartered with, but it would be worth it one day, when her work was complete and her wooing of God could begin.
Then she set to work with calmness and skill; a dark task, maybe, for one so young, but her mind was made up long ago. She opened him up in a way more than flesh, but in a way that would do him no harm, and she gathered the parts that she needed herself and then closed him back up again.
Though the mask made her voice all unheard but the vowels, she spoke to the stranger lying lost in oblivious daze, "You'll feel better without these, and when you awake you'll know peace. I have taken your heart strings, so whatever it was that was ailing you, will no longer pull upon them and tug at your heart. When I return to the palace I will string them, with the others, to my great harp, which waits patiently for the day of my grand serenade, when God will take note of my name."
|Tuesday, July 5th, 2005|
My dear, that upon which your knee is now resting,
Are those upon which I would rather it didn't.
|Friday, June 10th, 2005|
|Beast I: In Too Deep
The brown suit with its dark red decals was perhaps one of the council’s brighter moves, the shit didn’t show up as much. It was about the only consideration they’d shown the sewer teams and typical of their budgetary decisions these days. The teams needed new haz suits, yes – having to hang your boots upside down each night to drain the fetid water was neither right nor healthy – but putting money into a redesign was pointless when they wouldn’t put money into basics like the lighting or ventilation systems. Well maybe they’d rethink that now, Cain thought as he glanced back at the officers behind him. They were peering through their masks into the flickering dark, their torches almost useless against the stuttering bursts of bright, actinic light from the failing fluorescent strips that only made the shadows that much blacker. Even with the engineering their eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough to the rapidly changing illumination.
Like those policemen, Cain was a post-human – a descendant of the project generations ago to produce specialised races more suited to certain jobs. His particular breed were often derogatorily called ‘loo-mans’, they were the sewer workers, the shit-kickers. They had no career options, no life plan available but what was prescribed to them.
From the bomb-blasted landscape all-new cities had risen, designed and built entirely from the ground up – and down, the sewer systems were grand and elaborate. And who better to maintain them than those who would live there? Everything was to be by design in humanity’s bright new engineered future. They didn’t realise then just how susceptible humanity’s gene structures would be to mutation in the aftermath of the radiation wars, no matter how much they tried to protect us. And post-humans, whether functional like Cain’s kind or cosmetic, were more vulnerable than most. It seemed designer DNA was weak, unstable, not built to last.
Cain’s mouth was sealed by a type of mucus his engineered lips secreted, making sure he breathed through the thick mass of altered-hair in his nose that filtered out harmful agents in the air. He wasn’t sure whether a century ago the gene-crafting had been intended to cut out the smell too, but it certainly didn’t now, in the same way they needed suits now because his generation’s skin was too porous – but that just created another dependence on the world above, the need for clothing. Within the underworld they were allowed to govern themselves, to a degree, but the council kept them in line by regulating their food, their power supply and their access to the world above. The mutating gene structure changed his people with every generation, but the one thing it would never change was the curse of being born untouchable.
Under the usual scents of animal and industrial waste a new, foreign smell distracted Cain from his bitter thoughts and he indicated for the policemen to stop. His torch was set to a wide spread and he swept its diffused light over the surface of the waist-high sewage water; even through his nictating membrane he could see better down here than they could through their crystal masks.
The world above had found itself a new problem. Beast. Except as with everything in this brave new world it was only an evolution, a mutation of an older problem. Beast was the latest drug craze to sweep through human-kind’s youth, specifically designed to shut down the brain’s higher functions, its ability to reason, to think. It called to the archaic structures within a user’s DNA, to a time when humans were just another animal struggling to gain supremacy in the food chain. They would gather at some rich kid’s house, somewhere with a big private garden and surveillance equipment, neck a load of beast and let themselves go. For the next 5 hours they would fight and fuck and forget about the world; then they would watch it all on the come down.
The problem with beast was in the O.D. You overdosed on beast and it reached inside you and twisted your DNA for good, pumped you up and dumbed you down. The city’s carefully controlled environment suddenly had wild animals that hadn’t been counted on, and worse – wild animals with cunning.
The sewer society was not immune to drugs and their problems, but whatever it was that allowed beast to work had, by pure chance, been removed when Cain’s kind were engineered. The first they knew of it was the beasted humans making their way into the underworld, driven there by the hostile hunts above. They weren’t by nature overly violent, but by the time they reached the sewers they were desperate and hungry; they slaughtered anyone they encountered.
“Here,” he said, the sub-vocal mike buzzing against his throat, sending a coded Bluetooth burst to his companions’ earpieces.
He scooped something from the water in his gloved hands and showed it to the nearest officer, who immediately backed up in revulsion, steadying himself against the stiff resistance of the water he was unused too.
“It’s not as if you can smell it though your re-breather.” Cain shook his head, “look, it’s got the crystals in like you were looking for, and blood where they’ve sliced his colon. It doesn’t smell like normal crap either.”
“It’s pheromone laden,” came the reply. “There’s some compulsion to mark their territory when the change hits them. The drug turns the kids into fucking animals, I don’t know why they do it.”
“But you have to hunt them down, right officers?”
“They ain’t human anymore; it’s only a matter of time before they hurt someone.” He remembered the loo-man deaths wrought by them and added, “Someone important.” Cain saw the shift in the ripples on the water’s surface he’d been looking for and he smeared the handful of shit across his chest. Through their crystal masks he could see his companions’ faces screwing up in a mixture of disgust and confusion. As Cain stepped back against the wall one of them began reaching for his holstered weapon, but it was too late and the surface of the water erupted violently.
What emerged had been human once, but it was a changed thing now. Its shoulders were hunched beneath the new growths of hair and its muscles bulged beneath skin that was coarse and dark. Its fingernails had become claws that punched through one of the officer’s body armour and his chitinous skin beneath. Lengthened teeth bit upwards and tore his throat open in a fountain of blood even as he tried to twist lithely away.
For all of their engineered muscle mass, speed and martial training, caught unawares the officers were nothing beside the beast’s ferocity. The council put money into the police force, ensuring their genes never strayed too far from the way they were designed, the council’s safety all too often depended on them, but it made no difference here.
As the dying man sank into the water in a growing pool of red the second officer’s knife was already jabbing towards the turning beast. He activated the blade as it would have sunk into the creature’s hide, discharging a burst of electricity enough to fell it, but it was too fast. It dived under the arc of the swing and forced both its hands beneath the officer’s breast plate, lifting him as it thrust upwards then spreading its arms wide, ripping him apart from the inside.
Cain flinched as it turned towards him, but rather than attack it took a coupe of slow strides through the water until it stood before him, looming over him despite its hunched back. Its large nostrils dilated as it leaned forwards, sniffing him; he tried not to shake too much as its human eyes looked him up and down.
Then with a grunt it turned and left, wandering back down the tunnel, there with one neon flicker, gone the next.
He waited for his heart to slow then began to grope around beneath the water; the bodies would need to be taken back, evidence of their demise. As he manhandled the bloody remains he spoke to their corpses, answering their question.
“They do it to get away from the adult world you impose on them. People have been doing it for years, the more the rational, government-sanctioned world imposes and restrains them, the more they let go and lash out. When the weekend hits even normal, rational people working their normal, rational jobs drown themselves in alcohol, looking for an excuse for all the irrational things they need to do to even their lives out; or they wreath themselves in a fog of cannabis smoke so they don’t have to think about all the ways their lives are controlled. And that’s just the ones who stick to the law. Beast doesn’t just alter or subdue the rational level of these kids’ thoughts, it removes it. It’s their outcry at society, we may have risen above nature in our technology and culture but at our core we’re still animals. And the currency you paid for this ‘high’ culture and society was freedom, well these kids demanded a refund, they knew the price and they traded in their civilised minds for new freedom.
“You removed my kind from humanity generations ago when you made us the new untouchables; when you made us separate from you even in our genetics. If these children want to seek sanctuary in our domain then we grant them that. We hold no animosity towards them for acting in their nature. They have found a way out that we don’t have.”
|Saturday, May 28th, 2005|
It was he who was to be tempered by compassion, but instead it is he who grows distant, cold, harsh. He, the leader, the one; it was he who was to grow in heart and judgement: the judgement to know when the hard decisions had to be made, the heart to know when the decisions were too hard.
But we see it is his soldiers who grow closer, we see the heart within them grow where it was meant to wither and harden. They train and they grow, what was to be his weapon will become his conscience, and they have not the mind to truly judge their own compassion.
The plan is failing, old friend. The weapon is flawed, the hand that is to wield it wavers.
Have faith. They will learn the truth of his judgements, just as he will learn the beat of their hearts.