Angels sing loudest when their wings are unfolded, not flying, as such, but pinned to the dartboard by consecutively thrown darts from two contestants.
PUBLISHED 'KRAX' 1997
The hand went through the glass - but really, at the end of the day, the glass got its own back.
Until that day I had never really thought about the relative vulnerability of human bodies. So soft, so pliable, so very bone-cushioned: all for the sake of providing a vehicle for life. And, indeed, it is a rule of thumb that advantages do have their side-effects -- even the rule that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Which brings me straight back to the window I accidentally smashed with my hand and which in turn, simultaneously and not so accidentally, smashed my hand! The purpose of windows, like eyes, was, I thought, to ease viewing of external existence around the fragile pod of life that’s you. And to let light in and darkness out. But windows may see their purpose as something quite different. And eyes, too.
I know it’s not original: but eyes are windows of the soul. And the onset of death (which starts at birth) causes splintery sparks to dig ever deeper from the skull’s twin sockets until the biggest shark’s fin of all ribs through the conduit nerve of reality...
Still, you can be thankful for small mercies: it would be worse in a worse world.
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I saw the soldier step in the dogmuck. In the First World War, the trenches were full of such droppings from beast and fowl. Many dreamers collected it up in “doggy bags” to make their hard beds more comfortable in the dream whence the stuff came via the filters of sleep, dream and waking, back to the modern soft beds whence they came.
BEYOND ULTHAR (previously published ‘Lost Pages’ 2005)
Ulthar and Skai, town and river, became a different jigsaw. Even the words themselves contained other words like rat and kat. A krazy kat because it was never correctly spelt that way. All the cats had hats, as ancient jokes had it. But the rats were bigger than the cats, even when the cats had their hats on.
However, the town and river, Ulthar and Skai, had long slipped back into deeper fears and ways of dream. The river was now more like the sky, especially as the sky had darkened into a rich purple, day and night. Ever since the cats – all those years ago when the future looked more antique than the past to those who prophesied it – gnawed the flesh from the human bones of anyone that sheltered dusk in their hearts, yes, ever since those thralls of time, the town and river, Ulthar and Skai, had ripened into hotbeds of gossipy and wicked tongues.
The cats wore hats to disguise themselves. The burgesses of Ulthar wondered why the cats were so shy. It was certainly not in fear of the rats, because rats were never a common foe; in the old days, rats had not even existed, as those trading between Hatheg and Kadath would attest to any ears that would welcome hearsay upon their itching drums. The rats were simply shadows of the cats with hats, elongated and terrifyingly ineffectual. The rats were, in this shape of blurred foreboding, reminiscent of the outer gods to which the Ulthar folk prayed, ever since the dictum about not killing cats took sway. Most folk, you see, had always feared the cats, those dreaded cats of Ulthar. Vengeance was sweet in any feline’s green eyes, against the welkin’s backdrop of panoplied purple folds.
The river wound in these purple heavens: a silver, sluggish trail to the gods that wanted to incarnate as rats. Or simply as jokes. There was a couple of sweethearts, though, in Ulthar amid the indeterminate durations of our tale. The boy was big-boned; he was also tender-hearted, and many called him, half-paradoxically, Hulc. The pretty girl was a home-maker, but lacked ambition as to where their eventual married life might end up. She they called Hut. Despite this, she kept her choice curls away from thatch.
Hulc, one day, watched the sky. He and Hut had undergone a ritual lover’s tiff. Which sweethearts didn’t? He had been dreaming of the past and the past was disguised as the future. Hut had fathomed quite different durations from Hulc. Hulc needed convincing that he had the durations the right way round. Ever since the legendary cat mauls in Ulthar, of which another storyteller once spoke, he knew the cats were still crazy in Ulthar but sometimes he thought he must be even crazier himself.
Judging by the sky, there was much to fear as well as much mystic beauty with which to be engorged. It was crawling with a veritable map of rivers, like prominent veins in flesh: ruby red, moon yellow, petal mauve, sunbreezy and pastel-tinged beyond the banks of such rivers. A frisson of emerging cosmic anxiety lay behind the beauty like a sense of disease. One of the rivers must be Skai, he thought, next to which sat the real town of Ulthar and its manifold bossy cats. Ever since freeing the streets of low life, the cats had set about making any residual human townees fit to be more than just pets. Only the people with saving graces and loadlustre looks would suffice to live alongside the feline finery. Hulc and Hut were two such survivors. Their wondrous looks and love of labour stood this couple in good stead. The cats indeed encouraged the couple’s romance, in the sense of potentially breeding them. Stroking love, even stoking it.
Yes, a simple couple, Hulc and Hut. They prayed to simple gods. They accepted the way up had become the way down, and down up. They had accepted, too, that then had become now, now then. And will be would always be was. They vowed to spend their honeymoon in Kadath and prayed for the cats’ complicity. The rest of the townsfolk were simple, too. Some were even simpler with even simpler gods to worship.
The cats’ own gods, though, were complex with darkening brows. Pointed ears and whiskers on gods were not very becoming. Whatever the case, Hulc and Hut decided to upgrade their prayers to these less simple gods, unfearful of the terror that this might bring to their souls before the consummation of marriage. To run such risk was like leaving empty circus bowls for hungry tigers. Never to run such risks was probably selling oneself short in the search for happiness across the Skai’s raging margins.
Hulc an Hut thus prepared to leave Ulthar and prayed that any new god that became their god would perk up its tail upon them stroking from its tail’s root to tail’s end. Meanwhile, they managed to convince the advance guard of dustbin scavengers that it was only a honeymoon they planned rather than a wholesale escape to less foreboding realms.
Hulc said something to Hut in a whisper so that even sharp ears could not catch the thrust of his intention.
Hut heard him say: “A honeymoon can stretch into forever once we’ve fled their claws.”
Hulc heard her reply: “But do they not read our minds?”
Whether they were the exact words, only the mysteries of storytelling could ever hope to fathom. When gods themselves conspire, one can often judge this by the landscape subtly moving where being static would be more normal – and being static when moving would be more normal. The river, indeed, when they attempted to cross it – for example – was like sluggish crushed ice audibly crunching to a halt, despite the sweaty atmosphere with which Ulthar had been condemned in the recent mix-up of durations.
Eventually, Hulc and Hut managed a good part of their journey away from Ulthar. The terrain was quite unexciting. The sky had cleared of clouds as well as of rivers. The sun was a borehole right into the core of their being. Plain and simple, like the gods. But no gods were present. Hulc was the first who heard the herd of cats. That was what he childishly called their collective threat sensed in every fibre of his body. The sound was like a huge engine – but engines had, of course, not been invented in Hulc’s past or even in his envisageable future – yet in his present there was this strong droning horse-power, deep and relentless – and he quickly guessed this was the manifold purring of the cats…
But, no, there was more a snoring tone to the underlevels of the sound. Snorting, even. Hut – in her pretty innocence – had often spoken between dreams, between slumbers, too, of the monster that resides in everybody’s sleep. Her voice was ever timeless, yet she spoke now, with winning sincerity.
“My own mother,” she whispered, “ whom I loved more than all the money in the world plus sixpence – she in whose lap I sat amid the gods of nursery rhyme and mother comforts – yet when I saw her actually asleep, she became a monster mother, the lips twitching, the throat with a wild apple up and down, the nose clogged with snotty snores … a monster was more a monster simply the more I saw the monster was my mother…”
She kissed Hulc on the cheek. They had never before kissed at all.
Hulc nodded and added his own thoughts: “Sometimes, when I am asleep myself, I feel I’ve become a monster, too, my own snores making a loud sound that almost wakes me. Just like those cats, now, no doubt. Then half-dozing makes the rusted nostrils bear the brunt of the snuffling - and the grating of the breath which I cannot control…”
As their conversation wound down, they rounded the bend in the river and they saw the sea of cats, like millions of black roses, an ill-fitting jigsaw of coiled slumber … the purrs and snores now deafening and frightening. Beyond these cats was a seeming sea of resting rats. Beyond them a mountain of chimneys like hats. A city or something worse.
A letter sea – making Culthar.
“I love you,” said Hut.
“I love you,” said Hulc.
They held hands amid the fear of something far more cosmically lonely than they could ever envisage between the shuttling durations. They joined hands to defeat such despairing loneliness and joined bodies each to each, joining the names of their bodies as well as the flesh of their bodies. Cthulhu it spelt amid the punctuation of the purrs.
Lost in clouds of confusion, Nemo's Ark forged on towards its hopeful berth within the clarity of a new-born day when the occupants would disembark, breathe in the luscious scents and squat upon their ends to write stories forever.
Anyway, you know what it’s like. As soon as the family gets home, I’ve got not time even for the natural bodily processes, or almost! Des always arrives first (he comes on the overnight coach), clutching a potted plant - sometimes I think he must be shy, hiding behind the biggest bloom he can buy. I soon packed him up to his old room to get ready for dinner while, with nose duly pegged, I drop a whole term of his dirty washing into the twin tub. I don’t resent doing it really - I know how hard students have to study.
Harry and Peter are late. Christina’s come, of course, bringing me a bumper box of Black magic. I can’t tell her, can I, that I’ve been off chocolates these last two years, because I suspected a link-up between them and migraines. You can understand, can’t you, Maude, you of all people, embodying such allergies, vulnerabilities, sensitivities and weak constitutions with which God saw fit to curse us all in the autumn of our days. Sorry, I’m getting so wordy, but these letters of mine to you are almost like serial confessions! Must break off now, as I can hear the sound of Harry’s jalopy coming up the drive. I expect Peter’s with him.
Des’s potted plant looks so pretty in the middle of the dining-table, I’ve cooked a hearty breakfast - I know how Harry likes mounds of fried bread when he’s here at home. Des will be a bit annoyed when he discovers I’ve no mushrooms. Went clean out of my head yesterday. Christina still avoids cooked stuff for breakfast, but there’s plenty of fruit juice and cereal for her. It’s a pity, though, her feeling a bit off colour this morning. I’m a bit worried that Peter’s a day late because of some trouble he’s in. Harry says he wasn’t waiting outside Clapham South tube at the appointed time to be picked up in the jalopy. I must say Harry could have waited around a bit - something about the parking being bad round there. Des came down late for breakfast, of course. If you’d had a son of your own, Maude, you’d understand. Despite the lack of mushrooms, he managed a bit of something.
Christina’s in the garden, sun-bathing. I told her she’ll only catch a chill. I must say, though, I simply love her wide-brimmed hat. Her Godfrey bought it for her in Florence. But Godfrey’s persona non grata these days. Pity, I liked him - ever a good card at whist. He was fond of me, too, always untwirling my apron strings when I’m in the middle of something dangerous in the kitchen. Laugh? I nearly died! Harry and Des (who, I may have told you, never got on together as little boys) have gone off in the jalopy. Peter’s still not arrived! He could have tried to give me a ring. All the boxes must have been vandalised by those lager louts, I shouldn’t wonder. I don’t like using phones.
Raining pretty hard now. Christina stayed out in the garden till the very last moment. She hasn’t told me yet how her little florist business is going these days. I expect she’ll get round to it. The jalopy’s not back yet - they said they might be a bit late for dinner. Something about finishing up visiting you, Maude, of all people. They’re probably with you now. I hope they’re not too much of a nuisance. They always called you Auntie, I know, but they shouldn’t have visited you unannounced like that.
I’m not tired at all. Though it is time I made the Horlicks. Nice of you to ring, Maude, with the news that Harry and Des are staying over with you. I know you said it’s no trouble, but I can’t help thinking that they’re imposing on you. Christina’s here, sat by the television watching something or other called Buzzcocks. They keep pulling faces on it. I hope Christina won’t be left on the shelf. Good Friday often seems the right time to take stock. I wish my Dick was still alive. My bed’s been more lonely the last two years. I know you had a soft spot for him too, being a real gentleman as he surely was. Peter’s not rung. It is strange that I worry more about him than the others, him being adopted.
It’s taking me a long time to finish this letter. Peter’s absence is now really beginning to worry me. Christina’s gone off to meet the next train, she says. How she knows he’ll be on it, I don’t know. Perhaps she has some other errand in town while she’s there. *You* rung up again, told me the boys are OK. The potted plant looks a bit worse for wear. I think it was dying on its legs when Des first bought it. He’s got no common sense between his ears. A bit like his father. But there’s no good in trying to change people. It’s a nice blow day - I think I’ll hang out the washing. It’s hard to make plans for meals, when everybody’s out and about doing their own thing. Must go now, phone’s been ringing again. I’m a bit slow on the uptake these days. Oooh, I hope it’s Peter.
Two days later.
Sorry - I’ve been very busy cooking. But I promise I’ll get this letter off in the post today. Christina’s in the garden - it is certainly warm for Easter. But I do wish she wouldn’t go topless - I don’t know what the neighbours must think. Peter rang at last. Apparently not coming. Something cropped up. Youngsters these days have a lot of commitments. I’m glad you kept me informed about the jalopy. Broken down in your drive, you say. They’ll go back to college straight from yours. Well, it’s on the way, any rate. When I next see you, I’ll give you the Black Magic for looking after them. But what about Des’s washing? He’s probably forgotten. He’ll live in those jeansful of holes for the whole of next term. You say I shouldn’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I wish Dick had never smoked. I think I’ve got a migraine coming on. In my back, this time. I shouldn’t have got so much food in. Christina eats like a bird. Well, Maude, I hope the boys weren’t pests and that your rash is under control again. I’ll write you a proper letter tomorrow when I’m no so racked with pain. All my love, Edna.