Man in the raincoat

Man in the raincoatI can see him now. Standing quietly browsing the book shelves, dressed in brown jeans, shirt and a raincoat. Occasionally taking down a book to peruse. He was someone who didn’t stand out, someone who blended in with the rush of the lunchtime crowd. An ordinary everyday sort of person. I am sure that if I saw him in the street or at the bus stop I would have a twinge of recognition followed by the blankness of not knowing where have I seen him before.

That terrible day is etched in my mind with a permanence that will be with me for the rest of my life.

It was an overcast Tuesday in February and, like most Tuesday lunchtimes, I was behind the counter serving customers. I saw him come in and make his way to the far corner of the shop. He stopped at one of the book shelves and just stared straight ahead without picking anything out for a further look. It was like he was looking but not seeing. Fixed in the moment.

After a few minutes he removed his raincoat, shirt and trousers. No one else in the shop paid much attention as he undressed himself. He then reached for something in his raincoat and began pouring a liquid over himself. A flame erupted as he struck a match. I rushed to stop him but the flames had taken hold by the time I got there. He just stood still as his flesh burned and accepted certain death.

It’s odd how we make our choices. Sometimes we have a thousand options with no clear path and sometimes we just have one choice. I guess his choice was the only one he could make. I often wonder if I would make the same choice given the same circumstances.

I float

I float in the weightlessness of the dark void. A lost man.

I was lucky, I thought, I lived. The others, the crewmen of the Orettio, did not survive. I saw it take them all one by one. The thing without a name that grew and ate, like a parasitic roach. So I float in this emptiness – timeless, senseless, and hopeless – and wait for some kind of end.

At first I felt the elation of my survival. I had won, I had outsmarted it, but now I feel the fear of the unknown. I wish I had stayed and joined the others. Far better to know your fate than to slowly withering away alone.

I survive thanks to the exoskeleton I wear. It’s layers of material, metal and latex form a barrier to the cold world outside. A womb protecting me, nurturing me, providing all that is needed to sustain life. How I hate it, this piss stinking prison.

Sometimes I dream in my semi-sleep. Memories of the past, my beautiful wife, my home on Terranian, bright vivid dreams caught in that moment before waking. Sometimes I remember the horror of the final days of the Orettio. The hollow shells of the crewmen carved out from the inside by the creature. Eyeless sockets and empty smiles, smirking at my fate.

I know that I felt it, the string in my thigh and the pain as it burrowed in to my flesh. How long since I first felt it I am not sure, time has no meaning here, but I know that it wasn’t a trick of my mind. It must have escaped with me. Carried out in the suit. I am please as now I know of fate. I rejoice and wait for the life to be eaten out of me.

I float in the weightlessness of the dark void. A dead man.

The end

There is a rush of emotions then a tunnel of intensely bright light. Not white, like you would expect, but an indistinct swirl of interchanging colours. A serene hellström of melded rainbow.

The swirling mass is about me or maybe I am held within it. I float encased by colour, rich flowing colour and I feel a rising intoxication. I move without motion. Somehow held while everything around me passes by. A being captured in bliss.

Ahead there is an endpoint. A black hole without size or mass that is made up of all colours existing at one time. Light cancelling light.

This vision comes from within. A projection from my mind. A trick caused by nerves and brain. Part imagination, part biochemistry.

A drug or death? No, a climax of a physical act. The end result of pleasure and pain combined in an endorphin enhanced state.

Pleasure

A thin red line appeared across her arm. A precise cut made by a sharp blade. Blood wept from the cut and dripped down the contour of her arm. She placed thumb and forefinger either side of the wound and pulled the fine edges apart. The blood flowed more freely as the vein opened. Trickles of red over pale white skin.

A finger nail dug deeply into the inner flesh and the arm twitched in reaction. A breathless moan.

She took the blade tip and pushed it into the opening, running it under the skin and peeling back the edges. The blade fell so she pinched the frayed skin between thumb and finger and pulled to peel the flap back further. A new vein opened and an arc of liquid sprayed across her face.

“Pain. Such a pleasing thing.”

She positioned the arm on a flat surface and leaned forward to attract the feeder out of it’s hiding place.

Out of the shadows scuttled a spider-like creature. It’s many limbs carefully feeling ahead of the body. A blood smear stopped it in its tracks and a thin tube unravelled to allow the creature to feed. Not satisfied it moved towards her outstretched arm and it’s open wound. The tube unravelled once more and the creature engorged itself in blood and flesh.

As it fed the creature’s body grew. When it’s hunger had been fulfilled the creature stopped, rolled up it’s feeding tube and began burrowing into the flesh. After a few carefully timed movements it disappeared into the arm leaving a small lump where it settled.

“There, there my friend. That wasn’t so bad now was it?”

She bound the arm using a strip of white cloth and began mopping up the spilt blood. A pleased look enlighten her face and she began to hum.

Creatures

“Tuck your proboscis under your tether. That way we can move quicker.”

She moved the blue limb and placed it out of harms way. Tucking it into the belt holding the tether in place.

The sky, if you could call the dank upper atmosphere that, was full of textured fog. Light emminated from small cracks where the fog parted, illuminating small patches of earth. They moved over the rough terrain with the gait of beings used to their new home. However, they were migrants in a world evolved very differently from their native land.

Branchtrim and Lassbeck are the names they use. Hybrids created specifically for pre-colonisation.  Sent millions of creeta-miles into the unknown in the hope that their new home would suit the inhabitants of a dying planet.

A corrosive wind had picked up and the air had filled with the spark of an electrical storm. Red and yellow swirls caused by the static made their hair stand on end.

“This way, this way. We must huddle and protect ourselves.”

They could see an overhang of rock, which would make a perfect shelter, but as they moved forward an invisible barrier stopped then from getting anywhere near it. The two creatures pushed their limbs against the barrier, frantically trying to find it’s limits. A sense of panic came over them and they ran at the barrier trying to break through. Heads, limbs and bodies impacting at force. Bright pink blood splattered over the invisible barrier as if caught in a mid-air. Flesh ripped from limbs and skeletal hammers continued to thumped a frenzied rhythm.

The barrage against the barrier continued until one after the other they fell to the ground exhausted and dying.

“bzzzz… Recovery team to the simulator bay. Recovery team to the simulator bay.”

An eye flickered open and a puzzled look came over the face of a near dead creature.

Other people

“Hello there.”

“Do I know you?”

“No we have not met, but I have a feeling we have something in common.”

“Do we? I’m not sure that we do have anything in common.”

“I am sure that we have lots in common. We live in the same city, we are using the same bus service.”

“Yes, I suppose so. I don’t mean to be rude but I’d rather not talk to anyone at the moment.”

“Ah you are reading ‘A long way’ by Hamish Paterson. I too have read that book and a fine book it is.”

“I see. Yes it is a good read. Do you mind if I read it now without the conversation?”

“The way he structures the characters is very good and I love the little twists in the plot. The vicars wife is so funny. Which character do you like?”

“As I say I don’t mean to be rude but please go away and leave me in peace. I just want to read my book.”

“The ending is superb, but of course you are only half way through. Where are you up to? What has happened so far? Do tell.”

“Look I would really don’t care what you think. Please just leave me alone. You are starting to get on my nerves.”

“If you are half-way then you must have read the part about the fire. Very tragic. And poor Ian Hamilton. Lossing his son in that way. Very heart breaking.”

“Look all I want to do is read my fucken book without you pestering me. Please respect my space and fuck off.”

“Well I never. I was simple trying to be friendly and to share a common interest. There is no need to use such language.”

“You are the most annoying fuck wit I have ever come across. What do you expect.”

“I am afraid that it looks like we don’t have much in common after all.”

A sense

“Where am I?”

A bright light. An intense whiteness penetrates me. But why can I not open my eyes? I seem to be able move them but not open them. A puzzling situation.

The air smells different. Cleaner somehow, and there is a hint of antiseptic. I can also smell other people. A pungent odour of body and urine.

I feel cold yet for some reason I am sweating. I seem to be unclothed and there is a hard surface beneath me. My body is weighted and in a relaxed state.

There is a dripping noise coming from somewhere in the room. I can not pinpoint its exact location. A tap perhaps or some other apparatus.

I have the strange sense that I should not be here. It is all very peculiar indeed.

Loss falls over me.

Instructions

“Mmm. Have I got everything?”.
“…”.

Beautification instructions

First, pinch a small flap of skin under the eye, just above the cheek line. Then, take a sharp bladed implement, a razor is best, and carefully cut away the top of the pinched skin flap. It should ideally be about 4mm millimetres in width. Depending on the desired effect you want, the incision can be either horizontal along the cheek line or vertical against the cheek line. A small amount of blood will ooze from the wound but this is of no consequence. You may wish to stem the blood with a piece of cloth or cotton wadding.

The next step is to fill the incision with padding material. Protocol dictates using a cammerleaf wad. This is made by chewing a small bundle of the leaves in the mouth. Be warned though, a bitter taste is produced which can be hard to digest. Once the leaves are malleable, take them out of the mouth and form a small wad in the palm of your hand. The size of the wad will be determined by the size of your incision. Take care to make sure that the wad is tightly formed and that you squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can.

The wad should then be pushed into the opening and, using a finger nail, squeezed under the skin. If applied properly the wad will form a natural seal. It is important that the cammerleaf wad remains in place until the wound has formed a scab.

The healing process will take up to seven days. Please be aware that if pus forms that this must be carefully removed by squeezing the scab. An application of bando baa oil can also be used to prevent further infection.

Once fully healed the ‘raises’ can be decorated by applying brightly coloured make-up.

“…”.
“Shit! I seem to have sliced my eye. Damn!”.

The conversation

Sumstime was a blessed season. The warmth of the ground, the perfumed pessark bark and glorious star shine. A season for reproduction and fattening for the great Coolblaine.

Their coming together, a gathering, was not unusual but had to be kept a secret. Dark times, as these were, meant keeping certain things hidden.

“S’you ‘ave taken thee bind too far m’love”.
“Jeesoo, we have all taken the bind and therefore must accept it. Why do you question it?”
“Yes, you fat stink. Why do you always question every naffin thing that has been naffin agreed?”
“Cos. So I’m not F’got”.

The day, like any of this season, was bathed in a purple light drawn from the double sun that shone above all. The shadows were short and the earth crisp under foot.

The discussion continued.

“Blindspark, Jeesoo, we all, we must always give each other space to be and not fight for our time”.
“Easy for you, you wrank pissheart. The world likes the naffin smellgut that you are”.
“World’s not like me’s. They’s t’rn from Jeesoo”.

The air smelled of an eggy fart and there was movement in the undergrowth.

“We must keep our voices low or we will be heard. And we know what will happen then”.
“Yes. Quiets is b’st for us’s. No prob’s then”.
“There’s no arplikers around here. You pissheart homesconk, you’re trying to take control. Famp!”.

Noon day fell and the bush larks moved to their roost.

One lone figure walked the path. Mumbling to itself.

The mechanism

The cogs were each set so that the interlocking teeth had a direct effect on its neighbour. As they turned the movement carried on throughout the mechanism creating a well sequenced dance. Each cog had been hand crafted and made specifically for the recipient.

The succession of cogs lead to a series of turning arms that in turn lead to a beating pump. Each of the arms was balanced so that it worked without friction and carried the generated energy forward. The whole mechanism worked as one well oiled varmint. Teeth work on teeth and the cogs gave life.

The outer casing, made from a material resembling parched bone, fitted tightly around the inner workings and protected them from damage. As small as it was, the mechanism still took up enough space to warrant the removal of disused organs. The procedure, undertaken by the mechoid-surgeon, though painfully bloody, was a necessary inconvenience for the recipient.

Once fitted and calibrated the mechanism would last more than it’s owners lifetime.

A great quest

It was found, some years ago, that our existence is more fixed than we first imagined. Our lives, nature, the weather, how things interact, all have a chosen path set down eons ago by some higher and well organised power. For years we struggled to find a reason, an answer, a law, as to why all that is around us did what it did. Scientists, mathematicians, cosmologgers all came up with complex and varied equations, but there was always something in them that was unobtainable, wrong – a ghost damning their work.

A great quest was announced by those governing and a large reward was put forward for anyone who could find an answer. A ruinous war was fought between those of differing views and the world collapsed in on itself. Confusion reined in our simple minds.

Out of the destruction caused by our vanity a light, a hope, was formed. A simple solution given by a simple man. Stripped away to its bare bones. A solution so ingenious that it could only have come from one with a gift, a great sage of our time. But it did not. It came from one, who through despicable crimes, had been shunned, locked up, never to be seen, an unknown.

I am he and I write this with the joy of one who has something he knows all will want. I write with a smile on my face as I wait for my executioner to wield his might blow in the knowledge that once this document is read hope will no longer be the ultimate prize.

The answer? Well. It is that we do not exist at all.

Safety

Thick vegetation. That meant they were further than they originally thought they were. Never mind. I’m sure something will give them a clue as to which direction they should try next.

No clouds or moonlight. That was a problem. No movement could be made unless they first powered themselves and as you know that can not be done without a portstrome connection.

Rest for now, then more activity. Brown eyes, blue eyes and some somewhere between. All the colours of the species. Closed for now while they rested.

The warmth of their huddle meant that no-one in the group would suffer from the frost-spikes too much though those at the edges had to shift whenever they felt the pinch.

Finally something is seen. A glimmer of hope. Movement now created further movement and the momentum started. If they kept a watch a way could be found.

But nothing.

The shopping trolley

Talking to himself was a great comfort. He liked the way people avoided him when he did it. It didn’t seem to matter what he talked about as it always deterred others from making contact. Humming loudly also had the same effect.

“My aunt Margaret has floral wallpaper in her hall” or “If I squeeze hard something comes out”. Or whatever popped into his head.

The humming was more difficult to do as he wasn’t that musical and he found it hard to do in a random manner.

He was a very ordinary looking man. Not old but mature enough to have had some life experience. He dressed in clothing he bought from a local charity shop. All in all the type of person that most people wouldn’t notice. He always pushed an old shopping trolley in front of him. It was the type that old lady’s use to carry home their shopping. He kept it in good working order like an obsessive mechanic tending to a classic car.

“I do hope you are comfortable riding with me today”, he said as he walked down Dickons Street. “The ride can be a little bumpy but I will try to keep you from rocking too much”.

People parted as he made his way down the road. At the end of Dickons Street was a busy intersection, which was made more difficult to cross through the lack of traffic lights. Still he had to get to the other side so he had no choice but to make a dash when the traffic slowed.

“Don’t worry we’ll make it before it gets too busy to cross”, he said to the shopping trolley.

The curb at the end of his crossing was higher than normal and he had to tip the trolley backwards in order to get the front wheels up over it. As he tripped it back something caught his eye and he lost control, catching a wheel in an uneven paving block. The shopping trolley turned and fell backwards, crashing down on the road. As it fell the top covering, normally firmly attached, opened spilling the trolleys contents across the road. Strange plastic packages containing well butchered flesh. Some with what looked like human hair covered in blood and brain matter.

“Oh I do hope that you haven’t injured yourself my dear”, he whispered as he carefully returned the contents into the righted shopping trolley. “We mustn’t be late or there will be hell to pay”.

Inevitability

He smiled. The way only he could smile – a toothless, wide grim. He was cold. How could he be? The flesh had all but gone. He pulled his cape about his shoulders and flipped the hood over his head. “That’s better”. There was no warmth but at least the breeze was blocked.

He watched over only one. The others didn’t matter at this time. They would later but now they were free to do as they wished. He waited in shadows for the right moment like a vulture waiting for a meal. A hooded figure, alone and chilled.

His task had been undertaken by generations before him. But most had not lasted as long as he. “The one certainty about life is that I will visit you someday”, he said out loud. No-one could hear his words until he wanted them to.

Sometimes he played games with those he watched. He would let a few words become audible or allow an outline of himself to be visible in the corner of their eyes. He enjoyed the reaction they gave – puzzled fright.

He reached into his cape and pulled out a large ornate hourglass and held it out in front of his face. “Nearly time. Just a few grains to fall”, he said to himself. He didn’t mind the wait as it made the final act more poignant. “It’s time”.

Darkness, then a pinprick of light, then acceptance.

The heap

“That crazy son o’bitch”. The words emanated from a grumpy looking crumpled heap of a man.

“They’s only gone an’ pissed on me while I’s sleeping”, it rasped.

The city’s inhabitants passed by without paying the scene much attention.

“Nap sacking b’stards”, he mumbled from beneath a large pile of discarded plastic sheeting, cardboard boxes and an old Salvation Army blanket. These had been arranged temple-like so that it hid it’s occupant from prying eyes.

“I was some’ink you’s should know”, he shouted at the top of his lungs. Passers-by jumped for fear of being hit by more than just the sonic wave.

A small glow appeared through the gap in the plastic sheeting. The glow of a naked flame taking hold on the fuel that gave it life. After a few moments acrid black smoke billowed from the top of the heap.

“Hee hee I’s done it now”, he said to himself.

As it ate through the plastic sheeting the glow quickly became a small fire and started to engulfed the interior. As the fire deepened it’s control a black shape could be seen through the flames. The shape sat fixed with the fire licking about it. Passers-by noticed, stopped, stared but did nothing. Voyeurs at a funeral pyre.

The shape at the centre of the scene burned to a smouldering hardened black mass – a tombstone statue. Those watching become transfixed, unable to move. A loud crack pieced the silence and the watching crowd took a coordinated breath in. The blackened mass began breaking apart revealing a small naked child sitting at the centre of the ashen pile.

“I’s said I show you’s”, the child said.

As his words finished the crowd woke from their hypnotic sleep, turned away and move on through their day. Noticing but not seeing.

The staring game

The bus arrived slightly late, which pissed him off as he had been running late all day. And now it was raining.

“Coins! Damn it”. He didn’t have the correct bus fare only a ten pound note. The driver was displeased and made a point of letting everyone know. At least he had a window seat, though he had to put up with a large well endowed women taking up more than her fair share of the bench seat they shared.

He stared out the window, vacantly watching the world go by. Shadows of people making their way home. A group of school children jostled with each other, laughing when one of their number trod in some dog shit. A homeless man sitting on a cardboard sheet shouting at the world like some rubbish dump guru.

His mind wandered. The bus came to a halt as a queue formed in the rush hour traffic. An awareness of being watched surfaced. Someone was staring at him from the window of a car that had pulled up alongside. The person stared at him as he stared back. A kind of a child’s staring game took hold, neither of them blinking. “Why are you staring at me like that”, he pondered. Minutes past and still they stared without looking away.

As he stared the features of the other person become clearer. There was something familiar. He had a sudden realisation that the person looked exactly liked him. “How could that be?”, he mumbled to himself. They had the same eyes, the same hair. His heart started to pound. A doppelganger? A twin he never knew existed. Was the other person thinking the same? He felt sick.

The bus moved on leaving the other person behind in the car window. He had to get off. He leaped up, pressed the bell and hurriedly made his way to the front of the bus. Maybe he would be in time to flag down the car. To make connect with whoever it was staring at him.

The sleep

Sleep was a strange time. The body relaxes, limbs move without conscience thought, but parts of the mind become more active than during waking times. The day gets digested and categorised. Memories get remembered in a way that suits the rememberer and not as accurate facsimiles. Anxieties feed stress and vice versa. In a sense we live in our minds.

“What if we are in fact living our waking times from our sleep and our whole existence is that of a sleeping mind with no bodily activity”, he pondered. A strange and unsettling thought indeed. But was that thought actually part of his dream?

He wondered whether death was similar to sleep. “Does the mind carry on regardless of the inactivity of the body?”, he thought.  “Perhaps not”.

The rain

Rain. Damp drizzling wet rain. Falling constantly.

“No coat, hmm. I’ll hold my newspaper over my head”.

Puddles formed in the gaps made where paving stones lay unevenly. Most people avoided them. But not he.

“Wet shoes, hmm. I wish I had worn something more suitable”.

The rain was now falling with more intent. The droplets had swollen and the wind forced them earthward at a 60 degree angle. Most people took shelter in shop doorways or beneath their umbrellas. But not he. He was happy with the feeling of wetness on his face.

“Aaah, the living relish each and every feeling, while the dead hide from it”.

He stepped forward to cross, not seeing the approaching vehicle. It hit him on the side of his body, tossing him, rag doll like, skyward. His head had been turned in the opposite direction, looking at the rain filled clouds.

The maesoot

The maesoot was a pleasant enough beast. Long legs, symmetrical features and dense coat. The only give away to it’s true temperament was it’s piercing red eyes. To ride a maesoot one had to believe one could ride a maesoot. Just a simple thought and the courage to climb on-board. The normal method was to fashion a harness of tied rudden barbs and fix it around the beasts neck, making sure that as many barbs as possible pricked through the skin. The toxins had a calming effect if applied correctly. Doubt was the biggest threat to a successful mount. One single speck in the mind and failure would occur. The beast would only except a rider with a true and focused mind.

The process

As their bodies moved against each other their breathing became synchronised. Heat, a by-product of the process, radiated from the naked flesh. Droplets of perspiration appeared, dribbled down limbs and pooled in folds. They tried to suppress the noise, but moans escaped from their mouths and the friction of their movements created a sound that was both unusual and pleasing. Their rhythm increased until it reached a peak. They tried to keep going for as long as they could but exhaustion took hold so they slowed their pace. This was a natural process. Not to be enjoyed but tolerated as a necessity. Each playing their part. One producing and the other accepting.

7.30

7.30, but where was he? He recognised the colours and he recognised the shapes, but the feeling was untuned. His eyes focused on the distance and his mind focused on the present. Odd edges with bright shadows and a ringing pitch. The time, that could have been any moment, past. He stood, swaying as he walked forward. Something bumped into him. “Ah, a memory”, he bleated to no-one in particular.

Free will

Free willThe view through the window encapsulated any modern city. People moved about their daily lives not interacting with each other, eyes towards the ground ahead of them. A teenager trying to look tough, and failing, a businessman late for some important meeting, a mother herding her offspring. All the sights you would expect, except there was a sense that it was too expected.

Free will posed a challenge since there was no true free will in anyone’s life. How can there be? It is not our free will to be born, or come to that, to die. So in looking at the scene through his window he wondered whether he was imposing the order that he saw.