January 30, 2007

The Crane (4 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

One of the disadvantages of working in a secret organisation, Mr. Alpha thought, was that everything had to be secret. Let’s not hold the meeting in the local Starbucks, we’ll meet up where there aren’t any people. So no ferry terminals or toilets either. They still could have cut down the travel time if they’d hopped on a ferry to Lakeside but, of course, they weren’t meeting at a ferry-friendly time like 11am. Just in case anyone did take a fancy to the area, Supply had proposed 7am as the meeting time of choice. Mr. Omega had told him once that Clothman fatigue was a common problem. Whoa, big fucking surprise.

It hadn’t been possible to follow the western shore of Windermere all the way down; the occasional detour around thick undergrowth or Wray Castle had been essential. Mr. Omega had kept distance throughout and the journey had been made in silence. They were now at the rendezvous point, marked by a single bench on the opposite shore.

Mr. Alpha looked at his watch and checked the time. He groped around inside his jacket pocket and pulled out his mobile. It bore the same time as the watch. ‘So,’ he asked Mr. Omega, ‘what time do you make it?’

Mr. Omega was watching the trees around them for movement. ‘Seven thirty,’ he said.

He wished he was on the other side, sitting on the bench beneath tree-peppered hills. There was already a man in a black suit wearing a flashy red tie sitting there, his arms laying on the seat like he had not a single care. So much for secrecy. He bet the bastard was probably smiling too. In fact, he hated the Lake District and every rural area like it. Everyone was so friendly and talked to every stranger they met. Cloth jobs up here meant some social integration for the purposes of camouflage. London, where people kept their trap shut and minded their own business, was superior across the board. There wasn’t even a Starbucks in Ambleside, how backward was that? The presence of the Starbucks infection was how a modern country could identify that it was civilised.

‘So this is where we we’re supposed to meet Mr. Mogdred and Ms. Morgana?’ he asked.

‘That’s what I was told by Supply.’ Mr. Omega did not want to be distracted from the vital task of scanning the trees.

‘Why don’t you give them another call, just to check?’

There was a brief pause and Mr. Alpha knew that the old man was wondering whether his request had been genuine or a sarcastic suggestion that Alzheimer’s had set in. It had been genuine, but he also enjoyed the alternate meaning now that it had occurred to him. His enjoyment was marred by the congestive throbbing in his head. The pain, though, meant he needed no more leaves for the time being. He’d left a dirty trail of snotty breadcrumbs behind them.

Mr. Omega got out his mobile and called Supply, something Mr. Alpha lamented he was not able to do yet. Still hadn’t made his twenty assignments.

‘Supply, this is Mr. Omega, Keswick south sector.’ A pause. ‘I’d like to confirm the location and time of the rendezvous with Mr. Mogdred and Ms. Morgana.’ A longer pause; Mr. Omega listened intently while still watching the trees. ‘We appreciate your support. Belief is rock.’ He snapped the mobile shut and put it away.

‘Everything as we thought?’

‘Yes. I’m not senile yet.’

As Mr. Omega had lowered his guard a fraction, Mr. Alpha thought it would be a good time to bring up a well trodden topic. He asked, ‘Why do we have to sleep together?’

‘What, do you have memory loss or something? Till death do us part. Fifty metres apart and the Cloth will kill us, for fuck’s sakes. A double room makes it simple.’

‘A twin would be better.’ Shit, Mr. Alpha chastised himself, he needed to keep his contempt under lock and key a lot better than this. At school, he was sure that his partner would be brilliant, awe-inspiring, wisdom incarnate. Spending time with Mr. Omega was more like a wisdom teeth extraction.

Mr. Omega did not respond, finding the rustling trees a more appealing conversation partner.

A few minutes passed and Mr. Alpha couldn’t bear the silence any more. He envied the man on the bench, despite his tasteless tie. ‘What are we here for?’

‘I’m not at liberty to discuss it.’


‘I’m not at liberty to discuss it is what I said. Ask a question, make a bloody effort to listen to the answer.’

This was the last thing he expected to hear. It meant that the task they had been assigned was related to the second order Cloth codes that a probation charge like himself was not privy to. He guessed the Cloth wouldn’t have assigned something of this nature to a pairship-in-training if there had been any other option, so something serious was going on. At least this was going to be interesting.

‘Can you at least tell me, then, what Mr. Mogdred looks like? Or Ms. Morgana?’

‘Met them both at the Keswick meet last year. He’s a small bloke, short, black hair, gels it flat. He looked a bit wet behind the ears to me, but he’s made his twenty. Ms. Morgana chooses a classic black suit with a really bright white shirt, or is it a blouse?’ Mr. Omega chuckled. ‘It makes him look more pall-bearer than Men in Black.’

Mr. Alpha sneezed and the recoil made his head swim; everything was bright shiny colours for a second. He shook his head to clear the multicoloured mush from his vision but then, one problem in exchange for another, crushing congestion pain overwhelmed him. He had to say something important. He held his head and staggered to the edge of the lake, staring across at the man on the opposite bench, passing the day in comfortable silence. Sweat dribbled from Mr. Alpha’s forehead despite the cold wind that whipped him.

‘Cover your fucking mouth when you sneeze,’ the old man said. ‘Dirty.’

‘Fucking shitbandits,’ Mr. Alpha shouted through his private agony, the first time he had sworn in the presence of his partner. ‘Observation is root is it? Observe that!’ Still securing his fragile head with one hand, he pointed with the other towards the man on the bench and his bold red tie.

‘That’s not a tie,’ he said. ‘That’s not a red tie!’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2334

February 6, 2007

The Crane (5 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Omega dashed forward and jumped into the lake, shouting, ‘Come on!’

With the Cloth regulations shackling them together, Mr. Alpha had no choice but to comply and he stormed into the water. As the cold hit his legs, he felt sharp knives skewering his head like a stunning magic act gone horribly wrong. But it got worse: as his face slid into the water, the sensation became one of the intense pressure, with cracks etching across his skull. He would have done anything to escape the swim but the old man was already a couple of dozen metres ahead of him and, on the other shore, a Clothman sat injured, perhaps dying. Maybe even…

The swim was a blur, a vibrant, rural landscape alternating with a cold, numb blackness as his head bobbed with every stroke. He knew the pain was still there and acknowledged its presence but the pedagogues had done far worse to him during school. They had made him suffer so that he could endure. A part of his consciousness receded, giving him the freedom to do what had to be done. It trapped the pain within it, keeping it contained and secure.

He thought only of his duty. This was what it meant to be a Clothman. Detached, focussed, effective. Each complaint he threw at Mr. Omega was just a pearl formed from the irritations of their relationship. Mr. Omega was nothing like the Clothman ideal he had grown to respect; they were supposed to be perfect. Belief is rock, stroke. Truth is ghost, stroke.

Once the water became shallow on the other side, Mr. Alpha stopped swimming and waded towards the shore. His water-logged suit was pulling him down but he kept moving at a steady pace. To his surprise, he felt refreshed by the exercise, as if cured of his cold. The symptoms were still locked away in a strongbox at the back of his mind.

Mr. Omega was standing before him in the water, shoulders sagging, still. He faced the bench while obscuring its secret from Mr. Alpha. Leaning to one side with his suit clinging to his lanky structure, grey hair flattened against his scalp, he looked like a mooring. There was sadness in his poise and it reminded him of the lonely pier, all ready for action, but no visitors to provide it with a purpose. Impotence.

Mr. Alpha sidestepped so that he could see the bench clearly.

Mr. Mogdred was as described, dark suit, black hair gelled flat, a little small for a Clothman. His inert body leant back against the bench, exposing a bloody smile carved out of his neck. Blood had drained down his shirt, onto the bench between his legs, and through the beams onto the grass beneath. His pale face was not distressed, as if the kill had been made in his sleep. His arms were stretched out onto the seat of the bench, his hands resting on two books. The one on the left was a copy of the Qur’an, the other, the Bible.

Mr. Alpha’s focus wavered and began to feel the icy chill of the water against his skin. He never expected to see a Clothman killed in such a way; they were supposed to be invincible. ‘Mr. Omega,’ he said. ‘Sweet fucking Jesus shitting Christ of Nike. Do you think Ms. Morgana is injured or dead as well?’

The senior Clothman shook his head slowly, responding to the situation and not the question. Without looking away from the mutilated body, he said, ‘Ms. Morgana did this. Morgana did this.’

‘You can’t be fucking serious, mate.’ The cold made Mr. Alpha shiver; at least he thought it was the cold. ‘How can you know that? How can you think that?’

‘Our assignment. Escort them to the Keswick school. Mr. Mogdred had flagged suspect behaviour. Had to be investigated.’

Mr. Alpha strode out of the water and knelt down in front of his late comrade. A whiff of something sweet drifted on the air.

It was a memorial bench, a marker pinned to the landscape to force any passing rambler to remember someone they never had a memory of in the first place. This one bore the commemorative message “For Trevor Elwyd Jones (1925-1998) who waits forever the ferry.” The bench now commemorated not just Trevor, but Mr. Mogdred.

He patted Mr. Mogdred’s right hand and whispered, ‘Take it easy, mate, eh? Take it easy now. Belief is rock, truth…’ His voice faltered but he was determined to see the blessing through. ‘Truth is ghost.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2238

February 13, 2007

The Crane (6 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha crouched, imagining himself as a bomb of arms and legs primed to explode. They heard the noise of movement on the other side, then the clack of the lock turning. They hadn’t expected her to open the door just like that, so easily convinced that the receptionist had arrived to tell her the taxi was here. As the door began to swing open, Mr. Omega threw his weight against it.

There was a yell of pain as the door slammed into Morgana and hurled her to the floor. Mr. Alpha exploded across the room and dropped his weight onto the fallen figure, human shrapnel here to do harm. Before she could react, he struck her face several times with the flattened palm of a hand, jolting her head against the floor until she was dazed. He grabbed her hair and dragged her over to the bedstead; she tried to break his grip by flailing her arms at him but her co-ordination misfired. Mr. Omega closed the door then yanked out the rope that was tucked into the back of his trousers, still sopping from the swim across the lake like their suits, and tethered her wrists to the two bedposts as well as tying her ankles together.

‘Lovely,’ Mr. Omega said, standing up and getting out his mobile. ‘Weapons free. Good job, Mr. Alpha. Finish off the knots, would you?’

Mr. Alpha knelt down beside Morgana. He was surprised how easily they’d taken a fellow Clothman down. Ex-Clothman, he corrected himself. He observed their adversary.

From a distance, Morgana might have seemed to be a delicate, brittle creature, but Mr.Alpha’s closer examination revealed how dangerous she really was. A loose-fitting black suit obscured the body of a toned gymnast; short in height but lithe and dextrous. Quick in kill. She had an elfin, thirty-something face with a greasy, lard-like pallor. A frizzy, amorphous clot of black hair clung to her head, sweat pasting the curls of her fringe to her forehead and temples. Morgana and the late Mr. Mogdred could almost have been twins; maybe she had chosen him as her new partner for just that reason, a younger self to train.

Her eyes were only half-open as she was still dazed from the attack, but he could see dark irises recuperating beneath the eyelids; penetrating eyes that would have been useful in an interrogation. A bloody goatee dribbled down from her nose and around her mouth. She’ll bruise up sweet, Mr. Alpha thought.

‘I’m not great with knots,’ he said to Mr. Omega.

The old man was holding the mobile up to his ear. ‘Not great with knots? What are you talking about? It’s practically a Clothman pre-requisite.’

Unwilling to push his luck, Mr. Alpha said, ‘Yeah, whatever, I’ll give it a go.’

He got to work on the rope and did his best; he knew how to tie up shoelaces, so several of the knots were done up like bows.

‘How pretty, nice job,’ Morgana said. Her dark, penetrating eyes were now wide open like a pair of negative headlights that absorbed light. She smiled with teeth that would have been dazzling if blood hadn’t already stained them.

‘Shut up,’ Mr. Omega said, still waiting on the mobile.

She continued to stare at Mr. Alpha. He tried throwing back his own venomous stare, but it wasn’t working. Somehow all elder Clothmen were much better at fearsome expressions and it pissed him off, knowing that he wasn’t quite as unique as he liked to think he was.

Morgana said, ‘It’s because I touched him, ain’t it? I knew that was a bloody mistake.’ She spoke with an Australian accent and Mr. Alpha wondered which school had adopted her in the beginning.

‘Shut up,’ Mr. Omega repeated. ‘I don’t believe this. No fucking signal.’

Mr. Alpha withdrew from the staring contest |know that we are terminal| and finished off a couple more knots. As things were calming down, his headache started to return. He felt like he’d done a fucking fine job and was pleased that Mr. Omega had recognised that. The assignment had started off badly, but even though he wasn’t a mature Clothman, things had come to a sound and just conclusion. In no time at all, he’d make his twenty. Vanity was a sin, but self-confidence was not. Perhaps Mr. Omega would stop treating him like a kid barely off his tricycle.

He was disgusted to find some blood from his assault on Morgana was drying on his hands and tried rubbing it off on the bedspread.

‘Oi,’ the old man shouted. ‘This room has to be cleaned up. Could you try not to make the job any harder than it already is?’

The bound Morgana shouted at Mr. Alpha too, the smile gone. ‘Yeah, mate, wouldya watch it with the grubby paws everywhere?’

Mr. Alpha jumped when a small and slender black object like an oversized mussel shell bounced off her forehead with a thwack. She scrunched up her eyes and shuddered, hissing through bloody teeth.

Mr. Omega retrieved his mobile phone from the floor after its improvised performance as a missile.

‘Shut. The fuck. Up.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2254

February 23, 2007

The Crane (7 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha rose and headed into the bathroom, determined to get his hands clean. His pain strongbox was beginning to crack and some symptoms of his sickness were returning. You can’t keep a good cold down.

It was the kind of hotel bathroom he’d become accustomed to since he’d started working in the field. This particular style could be summarised as “Nothing Fancy”. Everything was a muddy white and the fatigued tiles and scratched taps would have been more at home in a disused asylum. An opaque shower curtain hung from a handful of brass rings on a rail, boasting repellent brush strokes of something brown across its surface that had resisted generations of cleaners; he had no intention of inspecting the bath that lay beyond it. Toiletries bullied one another over small plots of land on the tiny estate around the washbasin. Dull, weary light penetrated the room through a small square window above the toilet.

Cold. No one had taken a bath or shower in here today.

As he moved to wash his hands, he disturbed some of the bottles on the basin. A plastic bottle of Vitamin E enriched moisturiser slipped forwards and broke open against the edge of the basin, splurging its white, scented contents onto his crotch. He muttered a curse at his now Vitamin E enriched trousers. He tried to put the moisturiser back but it was like some nefarious Chinese puzzle, impossible to work out how everything had fitted around the basin in the first place. Puzzles weren’t his thing and he slung the broken bottle through the shower curtain.

He noticed two toothbrushes nuzzling against each other behind where the moisturiser had stood, their bristles entwined. So Mr. Omega wasn’t the only Clothman who thought pairships should share a room.

After washing his hands, he returned to the bedroom where Mr. Omega was still trying to contact Supply. Mr. Alpha dried his hands on a towel and started to wipe the mess from his crotch. Morgana started giggling. At first, it was a suppressed, embarrassed giggle but it soon grew into a shrieking laugh, like she was some hideous Australian banshee.

‘Mr. Omega,’ he said. ‘I don’t see anything funny. A Clothman is dead. Do you find anything amusing?’

Mr. Omega saw what Morgana was laughing at, frowned and then his expression froze. ‘Correct, Mr. Alpha. A Clothman is dead. Some people have no manners.’

‘Oh come on,’ she said, struggling through laughter. Tears were now sliding down her cheeks. ‘Fellas. Come on. Oh God, look! It’s just – just – look –’ She seemed unable to stop, like someone with food poisoning still trying to wretch even though |dust against the stone| there was nothing to bring up.

Mr. Alpha said, ‘Can’t we slip her the blade now? She most surely deserves it.’

Suddenly, her laughter stopped and she cocked her head to one side, looking at Mr. Alpha. ‘You can’t kill me,’ she said. ‘They want to know why.’ She nodded towards Mr. Omega as if she and Mr. Alpha were secret collaborators.

‘So tell me,’ Mr. Alpha said. ‘Tell me why. Then we can finish this. Tell me the fuck why.’ He felt hatred ripple under his skin, nerve endings electric, ready to expunge the sinner, this traitor, this blemish on the Weave.

Mr. Alpha stared into Morgana’s bruised and bloody face, daring her. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Mr. Omega step forward as if to intervene, but stop himself. They both wanted to know the answer to this question.

‘Do you believe I killed Mr. Mogdred? Are you fellas really interested in the truth?’ She closed her eyes and her head flopped forward as if one of her puppet strings had been severed, leaving her to dangle from the rope tied to the bedposts. ‘I’m not ready for you yet.’

‘Fuck this,’ Mr. Omega said. ‘I’m going to try to get a signal in the corridor. Watch her. And make sure she keeps her twat shut.’ He exited, slamming the door behind him.

Mr. Alpha wiped away the moisturiser and looked at Morgana’s open suitcase on the bed. It had been packed beyond capacity, a Jenga-like stack of clothes, weapons and folders ready for collapse. Maybe she had been rushing to get away, but the way she spoke… she didn’t seem to be in a panic at all. Something occurred to him.

‘Bitch. Are you working with anyone? Should we expect any surprise visitors?’

She looked up and offered a soft, sympathetic smile, the blood already drying around her mouth like misapplied lipstick. ‘No, mate, just li’l Morgana, that’s all. Is something |tongues curl and slaver| wrong? Is there something I can help you with?’

‘I don’t get this. You. This whole-’

She burst into song. ‘See the sky… the celebrated rainbow in your eye.’

He recognised the tune; it was a song by hippie band It’s a Beautiful Day. Her voice was serene, a surprising contrast to her ugly laughter.

The concentrated moon glow in your eye.’

‘Shut it,’ he shouted, but she continued |in shreds| regardless. He stepped forward |lusting and sexed| and raised a fist, ready to strike. He warned her one last |

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0111

February 27, 2007

The Crane (8 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

knows this is the end. Reaching out, the spray of the waterfall catches him and he peers into the cascade. The dreaded characters of sculpted bone dangle there like meat hooks to snag his flesh.

He crumples beneath their steely, eyeless glare because they know him. There is the sound of a fluorescent flickering to life, and his clothes ignite engulfing him in black flame. His flesh bubbles, melts and oozes onto the rocks; the pain is without comparison but a man without vocal chords cannot cry out. The superheated mixture of blood, muscle and fat then dribbles off the rocks into the pool. He returns to the mnemosyne.

‘Do you remember the sun?’

The characters in their fatal alignment have destroyed him and their work is done. He is the jigsaw unbuilt. Only a scorched skeleton remains, a charred matchstick man, arms still outstretched hoping to be forgiven. But this is not forgiveness, this is finality. The skeleton falls to its knees, ashamed.

The characters switch and twist like the dials in a grotesque slot machine whose jackpot is revelation in place of currency. They rattle into a new alignment, bones folding over bones, snapping and rejoining. They will address the old man now.

no no no I’m sorry I didn’t mean it don’t die don’t die please don’t die

The old man sees the black fire emanating from the obscenity in the water. The one true secret – and he resists. He holds a gun, trained on the skull of his devoured brother. Fear glistens in his eyes. This is the end, he knows this. They die on this island. He pulls the trigger.

Click. Nothing happens.

It was said: We bear the accumulated sin of generations past, a burden that grinds us to dust against the stone of existence. Without a god, there can be no forgiveness. Thus the Saints design him. Thus the Clothmen sow him. Belief is rock! Truth is ghost!

But the Weave is in shreds. The-God-To-Be is dead, stillborn in his womb, mankind. We are terminal. The sin-weight obliterates us.

‘He remembers you. He remembers you.’

The old man squeezes the trigger again and again. Click, click, click. Nothing happens. Bravo, friends, bravo. You will both be missed. No one will say that you did not try your best.

Above the bone characters in the waterfall, the hungry, black smoke throbs and shrieks, the teeth in its yawning mouths gleaming. Its tongues shudder and slaver, lusting and sexed. This is what we made; know that we are terminal.

The old man opens his mouth to scream and the skeleton cowers as the horror plunges and soaks them with death.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2302

March 6, 2007

The Crane (9 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

| fuck is she? Jesus fuck, where is she?’

Mr. Alpha opened his eyes and saw the sun straining through an overcast sky. The jittery silhouette of Mr. Omega jutted into his field of vision and then the sun became a light bulb and the white sky a featureless ceiling. Alarmed that time had passed, he sat upright, plunging into a vicious headache, and winced.

Morgana was no longer tied to the bed. She was no longer in the room.

‘I was only gone for a couple of minutes,’ Mr. Omega said. ‘How the fuck did she escape? How the fucking fuck did you let her overpower you? Didn’t you bind her tight and proper?’

Mr. Alpha was still disoriented and stuttered, ‘D-Don’t remember.’

Mr. Omega held his jaw, shaking his head as his gaze darted around the room. ‘This is fucking bad.’

Mr. Alpha felt woozy but tried standing up anyway. ‘I’m not sure…’ he opened and then started careening. Mr. Omega grabbed him before he fell.

Holding him up, the old man appeared to be wrestling with a decision – whether to take care of his damaged colleague or berate him for letting Ms. Judas Iscariot escape.

‘Look, just sit here on the bed,’ he said helping Mr. Alpha over to the bed.

The room was spinning and Mr. Alpha was at a loss to explain what had happened. He went over the events in his head in case he had missed something out. Morgana started singing. Then he was at a waterfall. Then Morgana was gone. Nonsense, complete nonsense. Reality was not a scratchy old record with a tendency to skip. She must have broken her bonds and knocked him out. Maybe Morgana had had a knife. Did they check her for weapons? Maybe that was the mistake.

‘How long were you out of the room?’ he asked the old man, starting to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Mr. Omega was on the mobile. ‘Oh now I’ve got a signal. Can you believe it? A signal. I was out of the room for only a few minutes, three at the most.’

Then he was talking to Supply. ‘This is Mr. Omega, Keswick South. Put through a priority call to the Keswick school. The renegade Morgana has managed to escape… that’s correct, I am contradicting the previously reported status… yes, of course I know it was just a few minutes ago, but she managed to down my partner… no, not dead.’

Mr. Alpha caught a scowl on Mr. Omega’s face when he said those last few words. Mr. Alpha then realised that all of the brownie points he’d acquired had been jettisoned through this incident. But what was the mistake? What had he done wrong? Was it really his knot skills? Why couldn’t he remember what had happened? And why the hell had Mr. Omega left him alone, a junior, with an experienced Clothman gone wrong? The situation had slipped out of his grasp and over the edge of a precipice. His chest tightened and, for an instant, he wondered whether a fit boy like himself could have a heart attack.

While Mr. Omega continued to spar with Supply on his mobile, Mr. Alpha observed the obese suitcase open on the bed. So she had been in a hurry to leave when they arrived, but where was she going? Frantic to find something of value, something to salvage from the fucked situation, he started going through the contents of the case. Apart from the clothes, he found a few folders stuffed with newspaper clippings, handwritten notes and photocopies; some cross-religion Cloth project she had been working on. No immediate clues and there was too much for him to go through right now.

To his surprise, wherever he touched Morgana’s documentation, dark red fingerprints were impressed like bloody footprints in snow. He was positive that he had washed his hands earlier, but they were wet with blood again. Focussing on something had eased the dizziness and he decided he could get up to wash again. But in the bathroom, the mirror gave him something he hadn’t bargained for – the blood was from his face. He had a bloody goatee just like Morgana had displayed, minutes earlier.

This time, instead of taking care not to knock any toiletries over, he whacked them all onto the floor in anger. He took his time washing, dabbing at his face with moistened toilet paper fragments, trying to find the origin of the blood, its painful source. When all of the blood was gone, he was perplexed. No injuries.

Suddenly, he realised where the blood had come from, and bent over the toilet, jamming a couple of fingers down his throat. Hot bile erupted, burning and scalding his mouth on its way out. The vomiting robbed him of the little energy he had. He coughed, trying to spit out the vomit that hadn’t made it out, cloying like some hideous, acidic rice pudding.

Mr. Alpha pulled himself up using the basin, unsteady, and his eyes stung from the involuntary tears. He leant down to pick up a hand soap dispenser that he had dismissed to the floor, moving in a lazy fashion like one of those funfair grabbers that never actually grab any of the prizes. He squirted all of its contents into his hand and stared at the off-white fluid, steeling himself.

Closing his eyes, he poured all of it into his mouth and started rinsing. He grimaced but bore the disgusting taste, sloshing the soap around. He used his tongue to ensure the soap reached into every nook and cranny.

Once he was convinced that he’d cleaned her away, he spat out the now yellow mixture into the sink. He held onto it for dear life; his legs were shuddering, unable to bear weight. Acrid fumes stinging his nasal passages, he whispered to himself, ‘Jesus.’

Morgana had kissed him.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2245

March 18, 2007

The Crane (10 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha tugged at the cabin door to no avail. No keys. He wondered how easy it was to hot-wire a tower crane, not something in the standard Clothman skill set. He peered through the cabin glass; levers, collision detectors, load monitors… and a seat. He could have done with a little protection from the elements. The wind was howling up here and his jacket flapped around him like a superhero’s cape.

The fog was chewing on the ground, each successive bite removing another section from view. Soon it would be gone altogether, replaced with an illusion of void.

Mr. Alpha crept around the cabin and clambered up another set of steps that took him over the cabin and onto the jib itself. It stretched out in front of him, a sturdy, yellow shaft beguiling like a yellow brick road to nowhere. A red light pulsed on its side and cables snaked along its length. He climbed inside the jib where a crawlspace extended all the way to its tip.

As he crawled the metal grid beneath him shuddered. His thoughts were still off-kilter, emotions rampaging around, ripping up furnishings and upholstery. He tried to focus on Windermere than more… recent days. Despite the Keswick school suspending the operations of around thirty pairships for a local manhunt, Morgana was not found. The burden of tracking her down had then fallen to the idiots who could have stopped her, but failed to do so.

His career was on hold, thirteen Weave assignments and no more. It drove him insane – he would never make his twenty at this rate. Forever pubescent, the butt of jokes amongst the men of the Cloth. Would they ever find her? Would she allow herself to be found? Halfway along the jib’s length, he paused. Mr. Alpha tightened his grip on the mesh until the indentations it impressed on his skin became so painful that he growled through clenched teeth.

The crane conceded him no power, affirming only his impotence. He was just a pawn who could no more move backwards out of the situation than he could take the Queen. It had been a mistake to come here. He felt trapped in this beast machine and, instead of learning from the crane’s fearful beauty, he was actually in its gut, being digested.

He dropped his head to the metal mesh and stared through at the nothingness below.

He wasn’t going to think about it. He wasn’t going think about it, he wasn’t going to… the stain of sin stank at the back of his mind, demanding acknowledgement. The scum of it was buried deep under his fingernails. The passive smoke of it was absorbed in his lungs. The HIV of it was hooked into his bloodstream. Here was something that had been inevitable from the day that Morgana had escaped but there was no why. She had orchestrated a sequence of events that had no point.

Mr. Alpha smarted as a chilling wind blasted his face. He pulled himself forwards as the waves of bleak memory rolled over him, tossing him in their wake.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2200

March 21, 2007

The Crane (11 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha pretended to be daydreaming into his latte whilst listening to Mr. Omega’s conversation with Supply.

‘Sorry, Supply, could you repeat? My signal keeps cutting out,’ Mr. Omega said into his mobile, a large, black mussel shell against his ear. Perhaps he could hear the sea.

Realising he’d been staring at his latte for far too long, Mr. Alpha jerked himself upright as if snapping out of a daydream and then surveyed the other customers.

Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf on a weekday. Most of the people here were just escaping their skyscraper jobs for a few minutes to talk to friends. They would trade grubby thoughts of career, self and sex to make themselves feel better, feel that someone else understood them, that they were not alone. A weekly shot of normality in the arm and then carry on with their sinner lifestyles without the inconvenience of regret. He wanted to tell them all that no one forgave them, but they wouldn’t understand. Living with invented gods or, even worse, delusions of a cold, atheistic universe caused spiritual atrophy.

Eastern European accents barked across the counter, trying to top the volume of the background jazz, making up orders that resembled the fragmented request they had heard. Suits lined up waiting for their conveyor belt coffee, assured of familiar tastes. Sometimes a backpacked student or a mother going out for a giggle with the gals broke up the monotone queue with a thin dose of colour. Tables filled the rest of the space, each one with customers in orbit, flirting satellites that never overstayed their welcome.

What did these people talk about? Did any of them realise that a couple of Clothmen sat in their midst? Mr. Alpha then realised he had no idea whether any of the other attending customers were also Clothmen. Maybe the frumpy woman with a woolly, jade cardigan in the far corner sitting with a man, her head thrown back trying to charm the last dregs of foam out of her cup, a caffeine tit. No, definitely not. She was demonstrating a dependence on the material.

Mr. Alpha approved of the sanitised structures of Canary Wharf around him. It was only the people that seem to dirty its purity. There was far too much chaos and scum in the human psyche. Too many paradoxes that were only maintained through force of will. There were the City mothers who were well-dressed in sharp suits and revealing necklines, pretending to be anything other than a mother. There were those who hated their job and talked about nothing but finding another job, as if it would be an improvement, failing to realise that they were actually carriers of a contagion of self-oppression.

He saw this and acknowledged that they had a long way to go before The-God-To-Be could be made manifest. Another voice, buried deep in his head challenged him with the words: this is what we made, know that we are terminal.

‘Truth is ghost,’ Mr. Omega said and closed his mobile.

Mr. Alpha cursed himself, having pretended to ignore Mr. Omega’s conversation so well to have actually ignored it.

‘So what’s the story?’

‘Weren’t you listening to anything I said? Observation is root, Mr. Alpha.’ His monotonous, nasal-inflected speech felt even more irritating than usual.

He glared back without emotion for a moment. The anger passed, an asteroid just glancing the atmosphere. ‘I was observing our surroundings, Mr. Omega. What’s the word?’

‘It’s highly possible that Morgana’s going to look for her parents. There’s only been a handful of renegades, but nearly all of them went looking for their past. We’re going to find her parents and wait.’

‘That’s it?’

‘It’s a fucking good plan, Mr. Alpha.’

‘Well, how are we supposed to find her parents? If a Clothman talks about the time before we entered the Cloth, we get sliced.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘Just like that.’ He added a cutting motion across his throat.

Mr. Omega sighed. ‘The Cloth remembers for us. They’ve sent us some details by e-mail.’

‘Really?’ He leaned forward over his half-empty latte, keen and interested. ‘We’ve got details of another Clothman’s history?’

‘Yes, don’t get too excited about it, you fuck-knock. I have to report to Supply if you get suspiciously interested in illegal information.’

‘Jesus, what can you tell me?’

‘We’re off to Colchester.’

‘Never been there, sounds like a fucking horrible place. Coal-chester.’

The frumpy woman pulled the coffee cup away from her face to reveal foam smothering her nose and mouth. She licked her lips and stretched her tongue up to the tip of her nose, wiping away the creamy bubbles as best she could. She experienced pleasure, grinning through the stain on her face. Her tongue seemed unnaturally long, managing to reach across her cheeks like some hideous tentacle. Her coffee partner, a male in a taupe suit, reached over and wiped the remaining foam with his fingers. He wasn’t wiping it off, though, he was just smearing it around, making the mess worse.

Mr. Alpha noticed the man’s index finger pop into the woman’s mouth for a second. Sickening. Just sickening.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2319

March 28, 2007

The Crane (12 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Fay Patricia Bolt. Born 23 September 1975, Sydney, Australia.

In the air-conditioned interior of a fourth-hand Ford Fiesta, Mr. Alpha flicked through the fifteen pages of documentation one more time. Addresses and dates, business dealings, tax filings, a century of genealogy and so on. There were some points of interest amongst the detritus of Morgana’s recorded history, but largely it was dull and uninteresting. Reading about Morgana’s history weakened her somehow, transforming her into one of the ordinary lives at their disposal, slaves to the invisible power play of belief and perception. Of more importance was the fact he now knew her birth-name and that crippled her.

Mr. Omega had dismissed the most juicy item in her history as inconsequential. On a school camp in the outback, three of Morgana’s friends had died from a fall after managing to sneak away from their teacher’s supervision. Local police exonerated her from having anything to do with it, but a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion forced her parents to relocate to England in 1987.

And there was also the final, deceptive sentence in the report.

After a year without incident at The Priory comprehensive school, Fay disappeared in 1988.

In other words, the Cloth had adopted Morgana. Mr. Alpha had to give Supply credit for preparing the documentation so that, in the event that it fell into the wrong hands, there was nothing to reveal the Cloth’s existence.

‘We should go in,’ said Mr. Omega, in the driving seat. ‘Her parents haven’t been around for a couple of days. It’s time to have a look around, see if Morgana has been in touch or even been sneaking around here herself.’

Mr. Alpha agreed. The pair of them had been staking the place out for a couple of weeks now and there was no sign of Morgana’s parents nor Morgana herself. It felt like an exercise in due diligence, ticking off the ‘Check whether renegade has visited estranged parent(s)’ box. A waste of time. That Aussie whore was not stupid. She would not hand them a lead on a silver platter.

They exited the car to face the chilling night. Mr. Alpha shivered; the air was still and the ground sparkled with early formations of ice. Above, a star-encrusted sky watched over them.

As they strode towards the Bolts’ house further down the street, Mr. Alpha wondered if her parents had given up hope. As far as he knew, the Cloth didn’t provide a cover story for adoptions. The adopted weren’t raped and killed by sinners. They didn’t run away from home. The Cloth just took a piece away from the family jigsaw leaving something damaged and incomplete behind. As Morgana’s parents hadn’t returned to Australia, it was likely that they still hoped to find her again; it saddened him. Such loss, such bravery. Such sacrifice. The parents had given up their children, albeit without consent or knowledge, for the noblest of causes.

He had his own hopes. After the second disaster of losing that turncoat snag Grimmer to Morgana’s machinations, perhaps they’d be able to pick up Morgana’s trail here.

They reached the semi-detached house, doused in orange light from a sodium street lamp. ‘Gloves,’ Mr. Omega whispered as they passed through the open front gate and crossed a well-maintained garden. A high fence obstructed the nearby light imprinting a cat’s cradle of shadow upon the orange-tinted lawn.

Mr. Alpha held up glossy hands. ‘Way ahead of you,’ he whispered back.

They headed around the back, crushing some immaculate roses into immaculate dead roses. Mr. Omega tried turning the handle on back door, just in case they were the luckiest people on the planet. It didn’t budge, but the back door did appear to have an insecure lock. Mr. Omega pulled out a lock pick case from his jacket and got to work.

Mr. Alpha wanted to speak his mind, even though it would likely incur the wrath of his senior partner. ‘This seems wrong, you know,’ he whispered. ‘They didn’t do anything, well, wrong. They’re probably sin negative and we’re charging up their back door.’

The old man stopped fiddling with the lock and looked up with an inscrutable expression. Mr. Alpha wasn’t sure if he was about to bark at him or go for a shit.

Mr. Omega sighed and returned to picking the lock. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Ain’t that the fucking truth.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2059

April 9, 2007

The Crane (13 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

By this point, most parents would have converted their children’s bedroom into a spare room for visitors, a study or perhaps even a games room where the father, worn down after years of toil at a job and a marriage he hated equally, could retreat to and pretend he still had an identity. Mr. Alpha observed that this was not the case in Morgana’s bedroom. Torchlight prodded the room into reality, piece by piece.

Mr. and Mrs. Bolt had preserved the bedroom the way their daughter had left it. A couple of pin-ups from long-fame-dead eighties celebrities adorned the walls, separated by images of simple, tranquil landscapes. A cheap stack of bookshelves near the window carried a profundity of titles; Mr. Alpha quickly glanced through them, several entries from The Hardy Boys Mysteries series, Picnic At Hanging Rock, Unreal!, an Edgar Allen Poe collection. A cupboard containing toys that Morgana had probably been growing out of, but couldn’t yet find the strength to consign to the tip. Mr. Alpha touched the bed and its brightly coloured blankets. All fresh.

If Morgana returned, Mr. And Mrs. Bolt would not recognise her as the girl who had made this room her home. Mr. Alpha felt another twinge of guilt at their presence here. They were intruding on deep loss, pain and suffering that had continued to fester over the years. He muttered to himself, ‘Just fucking wrong.’

As was his job, Mr. Alpha searched the entire room in case there was any evidence that Morgana been back. He opened the cupboard and removed each toy with care and respect. He unmade the bed, folding the sheets and blankets and piling them, smelling them individually. He removed the books from the shelves, flicking through the pages for notes or fresh handwriting. He even dug out the one-eyed beige teddy bear with a playful grin from beneath the bed. From the wardrobe, he removed every dress and blouse and pair of knickers and jacket and laid them on the bed.

There was no clue here to who Morgana was, only who Fay was. There were no hints as to why Morgana the Clothman would have turned bad, revelling in sin.

There was a small pocket notebook, a personal diary, hidden beneath the mattress. It was no larger than his hand and its shiny, emerald green cover was featureless although a bit scuffed. The police must have reviewed it, but handed it back to Mr. and Mrs. Bolt after finding nothing to explain their daughter’s disappearance, who then put it back under the mattress.

As he started reading the first entry, dated December 25, 1987, he felt a muscle spasm in his left arm. He rubbed it with his right hand, still gripping the diary. The foetus was kicking again, refusing to respond to his administrations. His entire arm became alive, shaking out of control.

‘Stop,’ he hissed. ‘Fucking stop.’ He had brought this upon himself. It was his fault. Was now sweating, anxious. Too many more shakes like this and Mr. Omega would notice. Mr. Omega would then make his own call to Supply about suspect Clothman behaviour and Mr. Alpha’s career would come to an untimely end.

He rammed his body against a wall, crushing the arm, but still the spasms rippled through it. Mr. Alpha whispered, ‘Please… please…’

He knew what it wanted. It wanted to be fed. He dropped the diary and started searching his jacket. He could hear footsteps coming up the stairs and became frantic. Not enough time. Not enough time!

Mr. Omega strode through the doorway, his face ashen. The foetus became still.

Mr. Alpha wiped sweat from his forehead and leant down to pick up the diary, affecting normality. Just another ordinary night sorting through someone’s personal possessions, someone’s life.

‘Mr. Alpha,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘Put it all back as it was. We’ve got to go.’ His tone was depressed, monotone.

‘What’s wrong?’ Mr. Alpha replied, scooping up the green diary.

‘I found this,’ said Mr. Omega, handing an opened envelope to him. Mr. Alpha took it and looked inside despite his left arm still throbbing with warmth. The envelope had contained a long letter, but Mr. and Mrs. Bolt had taken all of it with them except for one page. The small extract was enough.

‘Holy fucking shit,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘I don’t believe this. She knows what has to happen now, right? She knows.’

Mr. Omega flipped open his mobile and dialled. ‘Supply, this is Mr. Omega, Wivenhoe Surround.’ Mr. Alpha watched his partner with restrained horror. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion unfolding before him, teeth smashing into a steering wheel, brains smearing across the windscreen.

Mr. Omega sighed and lowered the handset, unable to say the words. He leaned against the wall for support and shook his head in what Mr. Alpha assumed was disbelief. He raised the mobile to his lips and said, ‘We need a quarantine pack.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2059
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