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

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 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 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