Posts Tagged ‘Surreal’

Mimsy trod the chequered ground beneath her feet and raised her hand to shield her eyes from the blazing sunflowers in the sky. She couldn’t fly here, the world was resisting her, the traumatised woman didn’t want her here prying into her secrets and the yellow man didn’t want her here either. He hadn’t left – yet – but his influence was withdrawing, like water slowly flowing backwards, back to where he was standing, barely visible in the far distance.

The landscape curved and undulated, it was sculpted and lined as if made by brush strokes, colours alongside one another to give the illusion of a third colour, rather than mixed. It was rough going on Mimsy’s feet and where it wasn’t abrasive lines it was soft, squishing like wet mud between her toes and leaving a trail of multicoloured footprints across the landscape.

Here the ground was cracked open and crumbling, like two halves of a mint cake, snapped in half. Beneath the post-impressionist landscape the ground turned to shreds of torn canvas but here, where the land was torn apart, a river of blood, tainting the air with a coppery scent, flowed down in a roaring torrent. Mimsy turned, brushing an errant strand of glowing hair from her face and looked to where the blood was coming from. A man’s head, his face, gigantic in the landscape, twisted in pain, bleeding from a terrible wound in his forehead that gushed down his face and made the river.

Mimsy tried, again, to unfurl her wings but the world, the mind, the imagined reality of this place resisted her. There was a brief flicker and she rose up to her toes, but that was all she could manage. There had to be another way to cross the river of blood, there had to be, time was running out tick by unrelenting tick as the yellow stain withdrew. She cast around, looking, desperately for something, anything that might help her across.

One this side of the river of blood stood a wilting stand of trees, up, closer to the bleeding head, pink and brown with hear-shaped leaves that were fluttering in the wake of a sudden autumn. She could see the leaves wilting and drying before her eyes. She sprinted up along the crumbling banks of the crimson flood and into the trees. They smelled of sweat, of sweetness, of salt and resin. She ran her hand across their smooth bark and felt them tremble, the surface breaking away in crumbs, the wood beneath fading, failing, rotting.

Mimsy wrapped herself around the trunk and laid her cheek against the bark, her body pressed to the quivering, disintegrating tree. It solidified, became stronger, more real again as she held it, bleeding a little of her own reality into it, murmuring affection into its bark, caressing its desiccated, vascular, leaves. A push, a kiss and the tree shuddered again, leaves falling around her as it leaned over, over, over until its crown of branches struck the other side of the divide and, with another kiss, she was able to walk her way to the other side, arms outstretched like a tightrope walker, the bitter-sweet taste of the bark upon her lips.

The ground on the other side rose up, a hill, a mountain, a cliff, abruptly reaching up into that inky sky and the blinding sunflowers so steep and sweeping that to look in any direction was vertiginous. Up and down, left and right, the moment Mimsy looked up at this cliff they lost all their meaning, like laying on your back in the grass and looking up into the sky when the panic seizes you that you might fall off the world.
Here, that could happen.

Mimsy clung, desperately, to the surface of the wall, six hands and two feet digging into the surface with desperate strength, clinging to the ridges of the paint and the hanging strips of canvas. Looking around her now every single direction seemed to drop away into infinity, but she could see the yellow stain, withdrawing in each and every direction so she simply closed her eyes and scrambled, like a spider across the impossible cliff, an ersatz Arachne in an impossible world.

It seemed like hours that she climbed, eyes closed, refusing to see the strangeness around her until, finally, one of her many hands came over the lip of the cliff and opening her brown eyes again she hauled herself over the lip onto the xanthous crown of this place, the redoubt of the yellow man.

She’d seen him before, but now they studied each other. He seemed more powerful, more real, bigger than glimpses she’d had of him before. He was a vile, sulphurous yellow, skin, clothes, hair, all of it the same eye-bending shade, a colour so strong it made her face sting as though she’d eaten a spoonful of mustard, making her eyes stream and her face screw up with near physical pain. He was hairy, naked, his face twisted in a mean smirk, eyes blazing with hatred and contempt for anything, everything, everyone. His face was lopsided, a monstrous carbuncle disfiguring his nose on one side, painful looking and suppurating, another reason looking upon him was a pain.
Mimsy found her voice. “Who are you? Why are you doing this? What have you got against these people?” She tried to keep the outrage out of her voice, tried to stay calm, loving, respectful even though the man was such a frightful shock, simply to look at.

When his voice came it was a chafing, snide, whine, nasal and whistling around that unsightly growth. “Me? I’m nobody, and who are you exactly to be asking, to be pursuing me or trying to stop me?”

“Mimsy, Mimsy Burogrove and this is my job, things of the mind, the imagination, the strange, things that don’t make sense.”

“You’re real.” He groused, raising himself up on his arthritic toes, the yellow landscape contracted now to mere veins that bled into the painted landscape. “You come here from the real world and interfere with this one.”

“The psycheverse, I’m a guardian.” Mimsy took another step towards him, all six hands palm-up, talking low and calm and quiet.

“You’re a doorkeeper, a prison guard. You are real but I am not. I am from here, from the rambling imaginations the people you seek to ‘protect’ and oh… they imagine such terrible things, such strange things. Things like me.” He reached out to her, his ragged, cracked, parchment nails scratching with a rasp against her cheek. “I want to be real. You come here from there, can you really deny me the right to go there from here?”

His touch disgusted her, she couldn’t help but recoil, his nails on her skin made her think of maggots, of turned-over stones, of the gunk in the plughole, anything and everything that made her flesh crawl. It was the touch of insects, the clammy paws of an ‘uncle’ and it turned her stomach. “You’re killing people.”

“And you, my dear Mimsy, are an interloper in my world.” He stretched and flattened, like a giant paper cut-out, enormous and terrifying, a lutescent tower of parchment that reached for her with paper-cut hands that writhed like flatworms, making her gorge rise just to look at them.

Curving blades of bilious disgust sprang into her hands as she went to battle with the murderous yellow spectre, the knives of her abhorrence for the very essence of him slashing and swiping at his fingers as he reached for her. It was in vain, they struck from the surface of his papery flesh in a shower of sparks and his ribbon-fingers bound her up like a mummy, bringing her up to that leprous maw as she struggled and twisted in that grip, paper-cuts opening on her skin where it was bared between his fingers.

He was too strong.

“I will become real little bug, little spider, my dear Miss Burogrove. You cannot stop me, you’re not strong enough here. You think this is your world, you think you’re special, but this is my world. Not yours.”

He squeezed, tighter and tighter, crushing the breath from her body, her bones began grind together, she couldn’t breathe, her breasts were crushed flat, painfully, to her chest. Not a single arm could move, about all she could do was to clench her toes, some small action to relieve the pain.

The world rocked, abruptly, stars exploded in the sky like fireworks and both of them looked up, a snarl of anger on the yellow man’s face. “No!” but it was too late, she felt his grip loosen, his fingers fall away from her body as the pair of , them faded away and the really-real replaced the psycheverse before her rheumy eyes.

A perfect paragon of perplexity and perturbation, St. John stood, sentinel, over her as the slumped in the slanting drizzle of the street. His gun was gripped, held high in his hand, the woman unconscious, unfeeling, unseeing on the ground. “I had to knock her out, something strange was happening, the way you were grasping each other, the yellow light in her eyes. I hope it’s alright.”
She smiled, sapped and sickened by the scrap within the sister’s sentience and simply nodded. “You did the right thing St. John… but I don’t know what we’re going to do about Mister Mustard, I can’t beat him.” She hung her head, humbled by the hurt.

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The scene of the crime was a sad little studio mere steps away in Soho, superimposed above a salacious store front whole seductive stock stimulated the shopper with synthetic sexiness and skin, stripped starkers. Above this gaudy Gomorrah the gutted gudgeon of the latest grotesquerie was laid gaping on the ground in his garret.

St. John helped our heroine into this horrific home and held back, leaving her to hem, haw and hash out her hunches.

“The previous victim was a businessman, is that what you said?” Mimsy leaned her three-lensed Lennon’s back upon her locks as she looked.

“Yeah, that’s right luv.” St. John poked in a perturbed process at the piecemeal possessions of the person (now deceased), placed on the parquet.

“Well, this one was an artist.” Mimsy certified, confident, conspicuously so, in her certitude.

“How on Earth do you know that?” St. John saw no reason to reach such a robust result in reasoning so readily.

“Poor, but honest. Dressed shabbily, but carefully repaired. Cheap food to eat, cheap accommodation to live in, surviving on sugar, caffeine. I can smell the clinging smoke of marijuana all over the few furnishings that he’s got.”

St. John sighed, surprised and stirred by her show of solid speculation, saddened by his own slapdash study.

“If I get shot of the constables here, can you work your particular brand of special magic to find anything out?”

“On a dead man? It’s a bit dangerous but if you really want me to do it, I can have a go at it.” Mimsy crouched, catlike, concurrent to the corpse and considered the conspicuous crater in the cadaver’s cranium. “Stabbed in the head again, same spot.”
St. John shooed away the shower of sheriffs intent on showing their own skill and stood sentinel for the sorceress of the street.

Mimsy sank with great delicacy into the remnants of the mind of the dead man, following the drifting piano-key steps, ebony and ivory, down into the man’s wilting subconscious – or what remained of it.

The brain’s cells starts to die off a few minutes after the flow of oxygen stops, but bits and pieces, dribs and drabs, a few scintilla of mentality remain for some time and it was into this storm of Escher shapes and fragmentary memories that the less wise call ‘near death experiences’ that Mimsy stepped, flitting from crumbling dreams to hard and glassy regrets in her search for any trace that remained of the man’s memories of the brutal attack upon his person.

Everything was flaking away, disintegrating into the darkness of death like the burning edges of a film in a grindhouse projector fire as she tried to stay one step ahead. Lévy curve wings sprouted from her naked back in plastic-fantastic black and white as she leapt the gulf of death to the last bastion of the dead man’s naked consciousness; the fragmenting memories of his childhood home, scorching away with a scent like burnt toast and petrichor.

Soft, bare feet touched down upon the grey-scale grass and the rings on her toes glittered in the light of the nostalgia-sun that beat down from the herringbone-clouded sky. She could hear the desperate sobbing of a child within the crudely recalled house and folding her wings behind her like a monochrome ladybird she turned the decomposing door handle and stepped within.

The inside of the house smelt of plasticine and daffodils, mingling with the meaty undertone of something delicious cooking in the kitchen oven. The man, the boy, all that there was that remained of him, sat in front of a half-remembered television, staring at the flickering screen and crying. The tears streamed down his face and ran away in a river, an image from Alice in Wonderland that had, apparently, made a lasting impression when he was a boy and lingered even as the light of his mind went out, inch by inch.

Mimsy trod gently forward down the luridly patterned carpet of the hall but before she could get close to him a monstrous, spidrous thing, all limbs and scissors and chattering, broken, teeth, blindingly yellow came juddering and stuttering towards her. Canary, mustard, jaundiced, sickly, painful to the eyes in this place without colour it was a thing pieced together from childhood nightmares and given life, a creature designed to stop her, shadows and sharp edges and a desire to snip and cut.

“Snicker-snack.” It said, and went for her thumbs with a clamorous snipping that rent the air.

Mimsy fell back before it’s assault, surprised and terrified to find such a thing here, lurking in his mind, so powerful when everything else was fading.. Everyone had personal demons, she’d fought many, cured people of their afflictions, addictions, hang-ups and madness. This helter-skelter creature was something new, something worse, something unnatural; empowered by some other force from outside this mind.

“Snicker-snack.” It said. She bled paisley from a dozen cuts as the thing span around the corridor, chasing her back towards the front door like some crazy Meccano gecko, leaving ink-bleeding marks in floor, walls and ceiling in its manic, crab-like gait. Hissing with pain she reached into her belly through her navel and drew forth her roseate uterine pistol, arming it with the mother-load.

“Snicker-snack.” It said, again, the great curving shears of its hands surging forth for the killing blow.

She fired.

The nightmare was engulfed in a warm haze of kisses and hugs, of soft bosoms, of the reassuring warmth and sweet smell of a mother’s arms. It shrieked and shrank as it fought, growing smaller and smaller and smaller until it was nothing more than a shrunken, angular foetus, a glimmer and then nothing at all.

Wary now, Mimsy kept the gun held tight in her hands, warily covering herself with the three-pointed weapon as she crept closer to the boy. Already the outer walls of the room were crumbling, the fight had done more damage to the dead man’s mind and there was little left.

She drew the sobbing boy to her breast as she looked past him to the television, there in black and white, flecked with snow, were the last things he had seen. His girl, his lover, his truest one, eyes mad with hate and lust for something other than him, striking at him with her scissors, a yellow gleam behind her eyes that was now disturbingly familiar. The Snicker-Snack had been this thing’s familiar, it knew she was onto it, it was protecting itself, trying to ward her off.

She held him into his tears stopped and his body crumbled to ash, leaving her hanging, alone in the darkness and then she went back to her body, sadness dogging her every metaphorical step.

Mimsy felt febrile, her flesh factually flensed, as well as in the fantasy of the now completely dead. She held up her hands in horror, hesitant as sanguine humour ran down from her hurts.

St. John’s hand found her fingers and fetched them close. “You’re hurt. I’ve never seen that happen before. What happened, are you alright?” His eyes were effusive with empathy.

“Bad trip,” Mimsy whimpered, wiping away the blood with a washcloth “But I think I know a few things more about our murderer now. I just have to be sure and that means we need to find this man’s girlfriend, before the killer leaves her.”

“I have, absolutely, no idea what you’re talking about.” St. John fumbled a fag into his face and fed upon the fumes, drawing fortitude from the feeling it gave him.

“The murderer isn’t from this world, it’s something inside them, in their minds. It left a blue meanie to try and stop me. It’s powerful and dangerous, a native of the psycheverse. We’re going to have to be more careful and can’t hurt the girl, or the other ‘murderers’. It’s not their fault.”

Together the tenacious twosome left the tenebrous tenement, tracking the terrified sweetheart. Mimsy could smell the fear, like a fog, rising from the filly and in fleeting time they found her, frightened and frenzied in a foxhole. Surrounded by rubbish and wracked with regret, bloodied, blubbering and batshit she was not the best beholder to the battle.

Mimsy held St. John back and bit by bit beseeched the barmy bird to becalm herself. Jaundiced eyes gaped at her. The lemon light in that limpid leer made her leery. Fingertips touched and in a solitary second Mimsy was transported for a second time.

Disoriented, blinking, Mimsy found herself in the ruined landscape of the poor woman’s mind. Everything was yellow and red, the yellow colour draining out of the landscape towards a distant Dali landscape, rendered the sickly colour of stale piss by the corruption of the presence, squatting in her mind and growing stronger, yes, definitely stronger than it had been before. This was Mimsy’s world, her playground but the yellow man in the distance, the power he had, not knowing what he was, made her… scared.

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Deep in the devilishly decadent district of Soho, above the luminous light of the lanes and the inebriated intonations of the imaginative industry that calls it home lays the flat of that most flirtatious and fiery fighters for freedom, Madu Bandara, also known as Mimsy Burogrove, perhaps the world’s only psychedelic detective. See her now, safely sat upon silks and satins, silently supposing and mute as she meditates upon the mysteries of the mind and this mortal coil.

Mimsy is a small woman, perfect and petite, charming and comely in her coffee-coloured cut-off kaftan than blends with her caramel skin until it looks like all is one. Laying upon the cushion in a lotus, her limbs aligned languidly, the lissome lady of love and learning, sable shorn, has no reasons to suspect the scandalous scoundrels that slip and slide through the shadows toward her sanctuary.

The Hashishin are heralds of the hate that her hirsute rival, The Guru, now feels for our famed feminine figure. Silently they shimmy open a shutter and slip within, sharps shivs held in sure hands, eyes shining as they slide towards her. Their steps may be virtually soundless but she is aware of them and, as they approach her, intent on assisting her into the afterlife, her eyes open and bindi that she bears upon her brow begins to burn with a brilliance that blinds and baffles the brutes who have come to bleed her.

She floats, she sees, through their minds as though she were rooting through their pockets. She sees the hatred that they have for her, instilled in them by their mentor. She sees the promises that they have been made, the heaven that they have been promised. As they hesitate, she strips out of her body and steps naked into their minds.

Wadi was a pleasant little boy, until his father shut him in the hut with the spiders. All night long he could not sleep, feeling the webs brushing his face, hearing their skittering legs – imagined or not – feeling them dance across his skin. He is grown now, a man, a thug, a killer, brave in the face of almost any danger but…

Wadi’s mouth opens wide in a wail. Under his skin swarm a slew of spiders and he screams as he slaps and stabs at them, sprawling backward through the sash and down to the street below with a sickening splash so high is our siren’s shelter. Her impossible iris turns its ire upon the other interloper and infiltrates his intelligence.

Haider on the other hand… Haider just wants to be loved. In the secret gardens of The Guru he has met the dusky maidens who serve in the afterlife and he wants to carry out his missions so that he can be returned to their embrace He doesn’t know that this heaven is a fake, he doesn’t understand that no right-thinking deity would never accept a murderer, however much they thought they were doing the right thing. Mimsy takes pity on him. She breaks apart like a kaleidoscope of curves and lips, of soft eyes and warm kisses and she enfolds him within her, she tells him she loves him and her one becomes many, surrounding and stroking, murmuring sweet word in his gullible ears.

Haider slides to the floor with a subtle and serene smile and sighs as he stares into the stars only he can see. These two thugs are not the only transgressors though. Their task to trouble her, to throw her off, to tempt and taunt and turn away. At her door the deadliest of the dangerously deranged dealers of death delays, determined and – he thinks – destined to kill her. Luck is with our lady at least as he leans in, a latecomer looms large over the lowlife.

Detective Inspector St. John is an imposing individual, intent upon ingress when he identifies the ingrate intent upon inflicting iniquity upon our illustrious ingénue. Maddened at the malice of this malcontent the man makes his move, laying his mitts upon the miscreant and mashing him against the marmalade-coloured mass of the door until his mandible is mincemeat and his muzzle is mushroomed across his mug. With that accomplished, the agent of the law seeks access and admits himself to the scene of anarchy and amour that has become of her accommodation.

“Mimsy;” St. John nods, wiping his hands, leaving the unconcious body of the Hashishin assassin behind him. “Trouble?”

She uncoils from her crouch over the barely-conscious cur, and crosses the carpet to give him a kiss upon his cheek. “Nothing that I couldn’t take care of Christian, but thank you for your help.” She smells like jasmine and jam, honey and hashish; she’s warm and wonderful but he’s here for work, not women.

“Well, we do have trouble, down at the station. A murder that seems like your sort of thing.” He screws a cigarette into his kisser and sighs as he sparks it, taking a deep and soothing suck upon the slender cylinder. “Gruesome business, but strange. If you’re finished playing with religious fanatics and cults, we’d like you to take a look at it. For payment of course.”

The psychedelic princess pouts prettily. “It’s always business these days Christian, never anything fun. If I am going to help you with this, you have to agree to let your hair down.” She fondles his follicles and he must confess that his fine features have been flattened by the cutting of his flowing locks, but he falls in with her feeling.

“Agreed.” It was no hardship to hang around the happening with this hepcat, she was honest and happy and had to be humoured, at least here and now.

“Did you see the victim? Investigate the murder yourself?” Her hand hesitates over his and her eyes turn heavenward, as he hesitates.

“Yes, I did.”

“Then we don’t need to go anywhere.” A touch and her ten digits tingle at his temples.

She slips into Christian’s mind, they know each other, they’ve been lovers. It’s like sliding into a warm bed next to someone you care about. For a moment he’s alarmed, but she’s done this before and he tries to relax. She walks through his structured and ordered mind, bare feet slapping against the hard surfaces of laws and duties, of honour and decency, leaving little footprints of chaos in her wake.

She stops, a moment, a glittering barrier around his thoughts, cutting her off from his memories, his fantasies, though trough the shield she can make out the shape of herself and hear words they once shared together. He’s so nervous, she finds it sweet and skips on, giggling, deeper into his mind.

A giggle is not appropriate here, not in this dark corner where he buttons down the bad things that he’s seen, the bad things that he’s done. Here the horrors and the guilt wait behind walls far stronger than those used to keep her out but these are to keep these memories in, suppressed, hidden.

Mimsy closes her eyes and steps through and what she sees she can scarcely believe.

A man stands naked in a room as the ghost of her astral body watches. A screwdriver in his hand, the body of another man before him, dead and bleeding, his skull stabbed through and bleeding, right above and between his eyes, deep into his ajna chakra, into the pineal gland, the gate to the higher planes and the imagination.

She dissolves into a cloud of butterflies and returns to her body, opening her eyes to her friend, the Inspector.

A moue of disgust marrs her marvelous mask as, in a moment, she opens her mouth and mumbles. “A horrible murder, but you know who did it. Why do you need me?”

He shrugs his shoulders and with a shudder speaks what has been unspoken. “The man we caught claims not to remember anything. The man he killed is his friend, his business partner. They have no reason to kill each other. It’s motiveless and if it wasn’t for the fact it happened, we would never have thought it would. We need you to look inside him and to tell us if he is telling the truth.”

She taps a fingertip, marking time against her top lip and as time passes she takes in a terrible something in the man’s eye. In his eye, as though perched in an aerie is an eerie entity. A yellow man yells at her, a man she has a yen to understand. Determined she decides to dive once more into his dreams, this derangement indicative of something deeper than the dead man at work, but the little man is gone.

She realises then that St. John’s radio is unwrapped and he is ranting. The radio is rushed away again, rapidly and he reaches for her hand. “We really do need you.”


“There’s been another murder, the same method, a different man, a different victim.”

“Curiouser and curiouser…”

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When I heard her scream I knew my secret was out. With a roll of my eyes to the heavens I pulled myself out of my seat and down the hall to where she stood. Shivering and clutching her coat as though it were the only thing she could rely on in the universe.

She turned to me, wide eyed and shaking and spoke, her voice quavering. “There… there’s a monkey in your cupboard.”

I peered around the door into the cupboard under the stairs. Bobo looked up to me from his laptop and gave me the thumbs up. I turned back to Emily, spread my hands, trying to be placatory and I tried to explain. “Well… he’s more of an infinite number of monkey…”

“Like the Shakespeare thing?” She at least had some control of her wits. I was glad. I closed the cupboard door gently and I lead her away to the living room. Sitting her down on the sofa and going into the kitchen to make her a cup of tea.

“Sort of, you know the principle right?” I called back over my shoulder.

Still clutching her coat she sat, pulling at the fabric nervously, trying to remember how it went. “Isn’t it that, if you had an infinite number of monkeys, typing away on keyboards, eventually by pure chance they’d come up with the complete works of Shakespeare?”

“In essence, yes.” I called to her.

“But… there’s only one monkey.”

I poured hot water over the teabag and squished it gently with the spoon, bringing it out with me and sitting down next to her again. “That’s why I said an infinite number of monkey. And well, technically he’s a chimp, not a monkey. Monkey’s don’t have enough brain mass for it to work.”

“I don’t understand.” She said, letting go of the coat and gratefully clutching the tea.

“It’s really quite simple,” I explained. “he is just one chimp out of an infinite number of potential chimps from subtly different universes that stretch in all lines of potentiality in all directions. So, while he is one chimp he is also, in effect, every possible chimp at one and the same time.”

“But,” she trailed off, clutching the mug though the hot water must have been hurting by now. “what is he doing in your cupboard?”

“You’re always asking me where I get my ideas. I don’t. I have the chimps come up with them for me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’d believe me if I told you an infinite number of quantum chimps was the source rather than deep thought, consideration, influences and yadda-yadda-yadda? I don’t think so.”

Later, I asked Bobo the best way to get rid of a body.

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I set out to investigate the richest people on Earth and what I discovered surprised me.

There was one man, not known to the public, who controlled a truly massive amount of wealth, hidden away behind false fronts and illusory companies. It took me years to find out who he was and when I did he didn’t hide, he invited me to come and see him.

I was incredulous at first. The address he gave me was a tiny flat in one of the worst parts of London. It was summer at the time, stiflingly hot and as humid as a steam bath. Britain still hasn’t gotten used to these hotter summers and outside of businesses we stubbornly refuse to get with the global warming and to invest in air conditioning. Even the richest man in the world didn’t have so much as a fan and had only opened his half rotten windows half way to let the stagnant air circulate.

It was like entering an oven.

He lived alone here in slovenly bliss. The flat was a nest of empty pizza boxes, mouse droppings and patches of what may have – at one time – been flock wallpaper and hideous nineteen-seventies carpet. He wasn’t like any rich person I’d ever seen. Unkempt, bearded, wearing a faded Hawkwind T-shirt and cargo shorts, no sign of any plastic surgery – or any personal grooming at all. He was like the Richard Branson of some strange mirror universe where things had turned out very differently.

He cleared some junk mail off his sofa so I could sit down and took the easy chair across from it. Easing back into its foetid cushions with obvious delight and comfort. Sitting there, grinning at me, waiting for me to open my mouth and ask the most obvious question imaginable.

I obliged him.

“Why? Why do you live here if you’re so rich? Couldn’t you buy a Caribbean island or something? Why live in squalor in London when you could live in… I don’t know… paradise?”

His eyes twinkled and he leaned forward in the chair, springs popping back into place as his weight shifted, the floor creaking under him. “Where do you live?” He asked.

“A little village out near the new forest,” I answered “but…”

He interrupted me. “Is it nice there? Near the trees, the ponies, the gorse?”

I stopped a moment and thought before I replied. “I guess, yes…”

“You guess? I bet it’s paradise compared to this isn’t it?”

I coughed nervously. I was meant to be interviewing him after all, still, I felt compelled to answer. “Sure, without meaning to be rude…”

“But still, you said ‘I guess’, you had to think about it didn’t you?”

I nodded to that, I had.

“Well, that’s why I stay here. I can get used to this. The smell. The neighbours fighting at 2am over the last can of cider. The kids smashing up the windows or burning the cars. I can get used to living in absolute squalor, in hell, to the point where it really doesn’t affect me any more.” He shushed me with a gesture as I took a breath to speak.

“So any time I do encounter something wonderful, or beautiful, it’s… intense, pleasurable, wonderful. Living here the awful has become ordinary and I don’t really perceive it any longer. It doesn’t touch me. I’m used to it. I don’t live in paradise because I don’t want to become acclimated to paradise. I want to notice the good things, the wonderful things, the beautiful things. I don’t want to get inured to them because then I would only notice the bad things in life. Not the good. Wouldn’t that be terrible?”

He leaned back into his seat after his revelation, easing onto the soft cushions of the mouldering easy-chair with a pleasure I knew I could never understand and leaving me staring at my shoes, fumbling for anything more to say.

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John was startled awake by the sound of screaming. His eyes jumped open and for a moment he was blinded by the light. Then things began to swim into view. A hospital room, no surprise there, a smell of blood and antiseptic in his nostrils and then he realised it was him that was screaming.

It sounded wrong.

This was not his aged, croaking, earthy voice, it sounded like a cat or a girl. He wasn’t screaming though, he was startled, upset, but he was not making his mouth open or his lungs empty in that shrieking cacophony. He tried to lift his arms to stifle his mouth and they would not obey him, nothing would.

He felt himself lifted, as though he weighed nothing. The nurse seemed like a giantess, cartoonishly enormous, but even his eyes wouldn’t obey him as the world span and twisted about him. All was confusion, fear, vertigo as he tried to fathom what had happened to him. Had he become paralysed? Was he hallucinating? Were these the tortures of some hell that he had never believed in? The visions of a dying man.

The room span and twisted again and the vision changed. A young woman, holding him in her arms, but who was she? It took him a moment, a long moment, racking his memory until he recognised his mother. Not as the old woman, light as a bird in his arms as she gave her final breath, not as the fierce matron who had raised him after his father died, no. This was his mother as he’d never seen her, young, pretty, red-faced and sweaty, eyes out of focus from pain and drugs, cradling his tiny body against her bosom.

He was an infant again.

Or was he?

He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t move. All he could do was mutely watching from behind his own eyes through the cringing embarrassment of sucking his own mother’s tit, of shitting and pissing himself helplessly. He was trapped, imprisoned in his own body and he went mad.

He screamed against the walls of his consciousness, metaphorically tearing with his nails at the fleshy coffin in which he found himself, looking for a word, a twitch, anything that showed he was having any impact at all upon this body, this new and old life.

When the madness passed he tried to think. Was this reincarnation? Then why was he himself again? He’d been an artist, not a scientist, not a priest, not a philosopher. He’d heard people talk about space curving back in upon itself and space and time being one. Was that what had happened? Had time curved back upon itself as well? Was he some ghost of his former life playing back over itself again, an echo? There was nobody he could ask, he couldn’t speak. All he could do was stare out through his own eyes and listen through his own ears when something was seen or said that had some bearing on his situation, though that was still limited to the things known in his lifetime.

There were no answers to be had.

A black depression descended as his life unfolded before him. Every mistake, every glory coming into being with relentless predictability. Every mistake he’d ever regretted, every triumph he’d ever had. The missteps anticipated and dreaded, the wonders dulled by repetition.

He felt the tarmac under his knees as, broken hearted, he cried in the street.

He cursed himself as a clumsy fool as his fumbling teenage self haltingly tried to make love.

He scowled from behind his own face at the mawkish grins and self congratulation at the birth of his son, who would later hate him.

He shook his head in resignation as he saw his marriage collapse through his own, ill-considered affairs, dulled by drink and mediocrity as he sought sensation and freedom.

Then the worst came. He felt his body grow feeble, ill, old. He felt the tremors come, the cough and the blood. His eighty years had come and gone for the second time while he watched it fly past, a mute and imprisoned spectator. Now he could barely see, barely hear, his prison was beginning to crumble around him as the sound of the softly beeping machines and the flicker of the fluorescent lights faded out.

Perhaps now, perhaps this time, he’d finally be free.

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