Archive for the ‘art’ Tag
…from the collection ‘ellipses…a compendium of peculiarly dark and droll vignettes’ by Christian David Anderson, a fragmentary fiction writing project for 2013 available exclusively here at the Fanboys And Soulmen blog
Waking up in a burgeoning bamboo forest, for a moment he forgot what his mission was. For more than a fearful moment, he forgot who he even was, or would be. For more than a disheartening moment, he thought everything had failed, that he had gotten drunk and passed out in someone’s serenity garden. But soon enough, everything arrived back to him. Beyond the bamboo he heard the murmurings of dialect not spoken in over a thousand years.
He checked himself. He was intact. He inspected his clothes: a simply cut dirty beige tunic – no labels – a pair of pants in the same colour – no pockets – his shoes – no laces – a woven grass sole. Where and when he came from they were called kung-fu slippers, comfortable, stable and quick in a run.
He slapped his head. Clean shaven, as indistinguishable as possible, and despite his round eyes and crooked nose, he was a blank canvas. He knew he would never pass for Asian, but the least he could do was not draw attention to himself with strange clothing and prominent, alien features. He got up and began to walk through the thick brush and tall fleshy bamboo shoots. He knew that he was at least a mile from the village; all he needed though was a direction. He saw the path. He waited.
It was not long before he saw the first traveller, a young girl, maybe 12. She carried a small basket of vegetables. He moved out of the bush, and walked slowly, delicately towards her. He had to be careful not to draw too much attention to himself, and more importantly, not affect change, at least not any changes other than the one change he had been sent to affect. She finally saw him and she stopped. She did not make a sound. It must have felt like finding a strange new animal in the wild.
He offered only a hint of a friendly smile. He had to proceed delicately. He spoke calmly, one of the phrases he had studied. He had to keep it simple, not include any strange words, lest she did not understand, and more vitally, she would not repeat. He knew he couldn’t ask the time. Time, at least how he knew it, had not been conceived yet. “Which. Way. To. Wujing-zongyao?” He hoped it would not be in the same direction she was travelling. She pointed out in front of her, along the path that moved in through the trees and beyond. Her simple face held no emotion. He thanked her with a single, simple word, and smiled, but not too broadly. No interaction, no changes. That was the mantra for this mission. They stood staring at each other for more than minute. He dare not move closer, or away from her. A startled animal might change things. Suddenly, she started walking down the path again, not looking back at him. It was as if it had not happened at all. Hopefully.
He looked up at the sky. He measured he would have about three hours until dusk, when he felt comfortable enough to enter the village. He stepped back beyond the brush and bamboo, where the path would not see him. He found a rock and sat awkwardly. He pulled up a bamboo shoot and began to suck out its moisture. He worked over the details in his thoughts. He hoped all calculations were correct. There were exactly 6 hours in which he had to complete the task.
It was simple enough: one man, one piece of paper (would it be paper? Rock? A piece of cloth?) – destroy them both. Leave. In a sense, his easiest mission ever. A humble Chinese alchemist would have no guards, no protective fortress, no idea he might be in danger. Ninth century China would have no security systems, no cameras and more importantly, no guns. There would be no questions, no speaking at all. Simple, clean, methodical. He could hear the path beyond his hiding spot. It was a busy artery, connecting one village to the next. He could make out some of the words spoken by the travellers. Something about a sorghum harvest and how bad one man’s wife’s cooking was. Some things never change.
The sun had almost set when he snuck into the village. The alchemist would not be difficult to find, just follow the smells. He snuck past houses where families had begun to eat their evening meal. There was chattering, only some words he could recognise. They were a simple people, preoccupied with simple things. He was struck by how calm and collected the voices were. Not an angry word.
The alchemist sat alone in his house, at a table, inscribing on a silk parchment with a hard stylus, intermittently picking up containers, smelling them, dipping his fingers in some of them and tasting their contents. Smoke rose from one saucer beside him, and a naked flame illuminated the room.
He stepped into the room quietly, and watched the alchemist for a moment. He calmly called out the alchemist by name. Recognising his name, the alchemist turned in his chair to face his assassin. They stared at each other silently. The man was old. A lot older than he had imagined.
Alchemists were erudite men, men who had devoted their entire lives to finding the one thing that would change the world. They were respected men, full of knowledge, able to see things not as they were, but what they could be. This man, the alchemist, had found the one thing, at last, which would change the world, which would immortalise his name and his art. He also knew someone might want to take it away from him. The old man had seen him coming. He calmly turned back to his table and continued his work.
“Who has sent you?” he asked, picking up a bowl and smelling its contents. He understood the question, he was just unsure of how to answer the alchemist. The silence between them bothered him more than it seemed the alchemist, who continued to potter with his concoctions.
“Have you recorded the formula?” he eventually asked, and then quickly, “do you realise what you have discovered?” By his silence, he knew the alchemist had known.
The old man picked up an earthen jar, like a celebratory drink, moved it to his face, inhaling the invisible fume. “The saltpeter must grow to make it more powerful. I have not reached the final measurement to complete it, and somehow I know I will not live to achieve this.”
He now stood beside the alchemist. “But I know someone will finish this work,” he looks up at his assassin, “have you come to destroy me or my discovery?” There was so much he wanted to tell the old man, about these simple experiments of his, the cooked mixtures and innocent brews that gave him so much pleasure and won his repute, how this ‘elixirs of immortality’ he so devotedly sought would buckle the wheel of history. There was so much to tell, he just did not know where to start, how to start, or whether even telling the stories would change his mind. Both their minds.
“Have you written it down?” he asks impatiently. The old man laughs serenely, “everything I know is here,” pointing to his table, and then to his head, “and here.” The assassin clutches his hands around the alchemist’s neck, gently enough for the old man to still ask, “who, may I ask, is asking for my life?” “I cannot weigh the souls, old man, but all of them, each and every one, express a thousand eternities of gratitude to you.” A final throe kicks over a naked flame.
It had been simple enough: one man, one formula. In a sense, his easiest mission ever.
*The opening tale from the collection ‘ellipses…a compendium of peculiarly dark and droll vignettes’ by Christian David Anderson, a fragmentary fiction writing project for 2013 available exclusively here at the Fanboys And Soulmen blog.
The VUs kick, left and right, in unison, like chorus girls of the Moulin Rouge. Their footlights, faulty, short and sputter rhythmically to the ohmmmm…of broadcast beginnings, somewhere in time, tomorrow.
Our Broadcaster picks up the arm of the record player, delicately, as if it were an old man in a retirement home being led for a walk in the garden for one last time. He drops the stylus head gently on a stagnant piece of acetate, a long unplayed record. A micro-particle of ancient dust, dormant for years, maybe forever, at this very spot in the revolution, awakes with a sonic twitch and pops up into the stylus’ delicate tentacle. The meeting births a short high pitched yelp, but this is quickly swallowed. The VUs do a swift dance to commiserate.
The Broadcaster switches on the turntable, adjusts the volume dial, and a record rotates slowly into life, reaching 33 and a third at a measured, dignified pace. Wraith’s piano plays in a dark corner of 197?
The signals grow,
All the strange things,
They come and go,
As early warnings…”
Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp attempt to hold back the Flood, but Here it Comes.
The music fades out onto the ether, leaving just as soon as it arrives. The Broadcaster cautiously hopes it all may be picked up somewhere down the line, listened to, heard, remembered. Perhaps not, most likely not at all, but maybe just one other living being in this goddamned world, that is all you can do to get the stories heard.
His lips graze the DJ’s noose, a cheap black microphone hung down, duct-taped, from the low ceiling like a slothy black mamba plugged directly into the outside world.
His first words, tentative, almost inaudible, seemingly unsure if they are heard, dance in between the echoes of the dwindling music
“Perhaps there is another way of speaking, a better, and more civil method of communicating, of expressing myself. Maybe there really is another way, a more seemly technique and suitable avenue of finding a voice above everything else, above all this…shit, above the noise. Yet, all I know is that those opportunities are now closed to me and their methods are congested and corrupt. “
A short pause, and uncertain glance up towards the heavens, beyond these walls, and the moment of fortitude transforms His voice into a frozen block of concrete covered in hot chocolate fudge syrup that instantaneously sizzles across the speakers as he resumes:
“The only way I know is this one: in the night, when fear does not let me sleep, up here on the massif, where they cannot stop me from recounting the stories of our world, those stories they would rather slaughter than allow survive tonight… ”
“…it is futile to postpone the insurrection, citizens, if you can hear me, remember this, the cataclysm is not imminent, it is here and now.”
Mussorgsky’s Gnome dances now, on the spinning black funeral pyre on the corner of 33 and third.
He takes a quick, nervous sip of warm, oily whiskey from a short, dirty glass, and lets the pregnant pause in his voice carry to full term. “Hello and welcome…”
New-born feedback screams out into the dark.
“…welcome to the last song on side B. The Desolation Row, the When The Levee Breaks, the Something In the Way, the Ree…dem…shin Song of our earthly human existence. These are the final few revolutions towards the spindle in the middle where the groove finally stops. End of Days, the apocalypse, the rapture, whatever you and your gods call it, this is it, the end, my beautiful friends.”
Another quick and nervous of the warm and oily from a short and dirty, and a pensive lunge of an almost-forgotten cigarette. Stubbed out dead, He continues:
“Rest assured, citizens, as we all wait for the final, silent boatman, me and my, me and my, me and my friends here tonight,” He swings his view around the room, surveying the overfilled bookcases, filled with books, vinyl records, and other paraphernalia. He is alone in the room.
“we will be with you all the way, holding your hand through these troubled times, and attempting to help you all, indeed us all, to tell our story, find the answers, and ask just how did it all go wrong…in the end…in the end…”
The Broadcaster falls silent for a moment, lights another cigarette. Exhaling, He calmly reminds: “Dylan Thomas chose not to go gently into that good night, and neither shall we, we will share together this agony of solitude, together we will loudly take back these long, cruel, endless and dead nights from these cruel dark lords of our captivity.”
He flips a switch on a tape machine and Mussorgsky is suddenly surrounded by a martial stomp of drums, fluttering between a confident snare canter and steady splashes of cymbal crash, pauses break and suspend between hurtling bass drums and pulsating percussive flourishes. The loop does it all can do to sustain, to postpone the end of the world. Around another dark corner, down another murky channel, a gang of gloomy guitar feedback broods in wait, threatening to dismember proceedings indiscriminately.
Our Broadcaster stands up from his bureau and walks towards a door. He wrestles open the solid slab that keeps the outside world in. That world tears into this vacuity, revealing a night sky scarred with a muddy orange and red glow of a city ruining down below Him. It scorches and smoulders, yet seems peculiarly alive. The city skyline serrates out against vigorous flames and a bedspread of smog. Above him, as he straddles the doorway, reluctant to step further out into this world, a triad of pterodactyl-like Blackhawk helicopters screech like zealous murderclerks towards the burning city.
The Broadcaster looks back at the microphone, as if it was an old treasured comrade he was seeing for the last time, and declares: “everywhere I look I see a dark satanic sadness; everywhere I look I see the beginnings of the end. I see the end of music, of art, of man’s kindness, tolerance, love; I can see these leaders leaving the scene of the crime, their thoughtless weapons of choice thrown carelessly on the ground, next to the bloodied corpse of our insignificant moral accomplishment. I see the end of me and you; I see the end of the record. Tell the stories, citizens, tell them to your children, so that they may hear them one last time. Tell the stories; record them for whoever may remain.”
The city below him roars like an MGM lion, and he steps back with dread through the cellar door, enfolding himself into the safest place he has ever known. He loads another cartridge into the chamber, and pulls the trigger on side A, track one of Dark Side of the Moon.