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The Rikweb Forum • View topic - Rik's Blog Story

Rik's Blog Story

Rik's writings - novel excerpts, short stories and suchlike

Rik's Blog Story

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:40

Note: I've been writing this blog story - on my blog, naturally - since the summer of 2008. It gets added to as-and-when. I'm posting it here, and will continue to write it here rather than on the blog, mainly because it's a real pain to read it in sequence on the blog.

When this story is complete, I'm planning to publish it via lulu.com rather than seek agents and publishers. Make of this admission what you will ...
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Instance 1

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:41

If it had been my choice I would have chosen beryl, or maybe diamond. Beryl stones have a good variety of colours, each with their own name, though they lack the hardness. Diamonds are more than tough enough for the job of holding a world within their lattice, but they're too bright for my taste - I couldn't live under such a dazzling sky. So I suppose the Powers knew what they were doing when they gave us corundum stones to live in: hard enough to keep us safe; pretty enough to keep us sane.
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Instance 2

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:42

Tonight I'm alone, or as alone as anyone can be in the Lonely City. That's my name for this place – the Lonely City. Others call it London, or Londres, or Londra. For a while it was named Londinium, before the legions were called back to their fat lands in the east and south. I lived in Londinium for five – no, six – years before catching a fatal brick to the back of the head. It was a city of lonely people then, and little has happened since to change my mind about the place.

A quick glance around the bar is enough to tell me that my 'friend' is late for our meeting. Rather than search for him, I order another pint – warm bitter like the locals drink, with just a skim of froth covering the top of the glass - and settle back into the snug, happy to let my mind wander.

The last time I was here - in this city I mean, not this particular public house - would have been after the locals pollarded their king, after the madnesses of the civil war. I must have missed the restoration by less than a year, which is a pity. Restoration London sounds like it was fun, if the history books are to be trusted. I met a lover under amber skies who said she had spent many enjoyable evenings in the company of Mr David Garrick and his King's Men, but I doubt she was being honest with me.

How did I die that time? It wasn't cholera, nor the Tudor sweating sickness. It was either cramp colic or the French pox, possibly both. I remember it was bloody painful: give me a brick in the back of the head anytime rather than suffer those pains again.

My fingers are itching. Or rather, these fingers are itching. These fingers are a touch too long for my taste; I'm used to stubbier digits with wider nail beds. The snug in which I sit has no window, and the high partitions are entirely made of wood, cutting down on the ambient light even during the day. Despite the current late hour there's enough light from the plastic chandeliers to see a faint rash in the web between the fingers – scabies would explain the itch.
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Instance 3

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:44

Falc walks in just as I drain the last of the brown beer from the bottom of my glass. He doesn't see me at first: when his eyes finally reach my snug, I raise the empty glass. He takes the hint, quickly catches the attention of the bored barmaid and buys two more pints.

"You still hate German lager?"

I nod. "You only buy it to piss me off."

"Nice accent," he says as he settles into the bench opposite me.

"Cheers! It makes a change for me to be given something fit and rich to wear. I take it you've bought me here for a purpose?"

He nods in return. "Spar's developed some dangerous ideas – we had to wait until she slept before daring to sneak you through."

"She doesn't know I'm here?"

"No, and let's keep it that way for the moment, okay?"

I lift the new drink to acknowledge his order, then down a good third of the glass in four gulps.

Falc's wearing an older body, recently from the streets by the look of the skin and hair, but it's brushed up nicely. I had no difficulty recognising his heat.

"How long have you been here?" I ask.

"Twenty six days. Bull brought me through just before Spar lifted the band from him. Bull took a risk and bought a dozen of us through in one night; when Spar found out she freaked, clubbed him down with an iron bar and rendered him on the spot. There's been a moratorium on new arrivals since then."

"I don't blame her," I say, juggling my host's eyebrow into an arch.

He frowns and nods. "I know, I know. But he had his reasons."

"What? Beyond wanting someone to render him back to the stones?"

"What do you mean?"

"Bull is Bull. He's never been really comfortable with the work we do. He's more of a tourist than a guardian."

Falc is shaking his head as he raises the glass to his lips. "Bull was scared, man. Something had spooked him badly."

"What?"

"No idea. By the time I'd broken my host and tracked him down, Bull was gone and Falc had the band."

"And she's saying nothing?"

"Not a bloody word. But she must know what Bull knows – she's taking no risks. She might as well be living in the sewers."

"We've all done that before," I shrug. "So why did you pull me here? Bull's the one you need, yes?"

The silence is noticable, even though we've been talking in whispers. The good thing about meeting in an unpopular pub is that you don't get overheard. The bad thing is that you're more likely to be noticed by the wrong people. Oh, and the beer might be crap.

Also, the silences in the conversation are more annoying than they would be in a crowd.

"What's happened to Bull?" I ask.

"He missed his stone. We think he missed it, anyway. Spar knows the truth of it, but she goes ape every time someone mentions Bull's name."

"Shit!"

"Shit," he agreed. "Those two had been together for a long time ..."

"They were of the same stone, yes?"

He nods. "Enemies, friends, lovers, partners. They must have been half of each other's story."

"But missing your stone's not a calamity. She knows which stone caught him; she just needs to head for that stone when she renders back ..."

Now he's shaking his head. "Spar's not talking, but I reckon I know what's happened." He reaches out his calloused hand with its poorly reset index finger to grab my wrist. "Bull, he ain't coming back ..."

"Why, what stone caught him? Spoy ...?"

There's no need for Falc to answer: I can feel his pain, his fear, in the heat around his shoulders.

If Spoy of the grey depths has caught him, then Bull is beyond help; he's out of our reach for good.
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Instance 4

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:45

It's well past midnight. I'm walking through the back streets of Pimlico towards Vauxhall Bridge. After giving me the news, Falc had left me in the pub to find oblivion in the spirit racks while he went of to meet some people, make some arrangements.

I did my best. And I'm sure that if my host had been older, or younger, or possibly female, then maybe I would have succeeded in deadening the flesh and the synapses with alcohol. But no, this one is in the peak of condition, with an alcoholic capacity that could outperform an elephant. Within ten minutes of being thrown out of the pub – I was the sole remaining customer – the host was sober enough to operate heavy machinery.

I walked. I could have lifted a car and driven around town – my host knows the joy of joyriding, it appears – but why risk an unnecessary rendering, especially after Bull's accident?

These streets are made for wandering. There's little in the way of traffic beyond the main roads connecting Victoria Station and the river – even the cheap hotels are quiet tonight. Such is the state of Pimlico on a damp Tuesday in February, with only the displaced chorus of urban birds breaking the silence of the night.
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Instance 5

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:47

Falc is waiting for me at Pimlico tube station, close to the bridge; he's sheltering from the river's wind inside the sloping entrance with its decorative wall paintings. I like art, I remember as I stare at the crudely rendered images, or maybe my last host was an art lover. I've never been able to work out how to stop the slow seepage of tastes and preferences from my hosts to myself.

"We're set," says Falc.

"Are you going to tell me what we're set for?"

"I thought I had!"

I shake my head, not caring if there's enough light for him to see my response. I'm still numb from Bull's accident: he didn't care for many people; thank the Powers that I was one of the few he had helped – I'd have been lost without him long ago!

"We need to be rendered, Kal. All of us. We need to get back to where we all belong until whatever it was that scared Bull blows over."

" So what's the problem? You've got knives. All you have to do is stick each other and the band and the stones will do the rest. Do it where Spar can't see you and there's nothing she can do to stop it ...

"Spar's being tricky," says Falc. "Come on, let's walk."

"Talk to me, Falc! You're making no sense." I draw my coat tighter round my muscled torso, daring the cold wind to raise the hairs on my skin.

"Bull's not the only one who missed his stone. Four of us have tried to make it back since Bull, and they each failed. It's as if – well, it's as if Spar is influencing the band!"

"That's impossible. None of us can influence the band!"

"I've never heard of five people failing to be well caught after they've rendered their flesh, Kal, not one after another!"

I can feel the implications of the unspecified task forming around me. But I still have to ask the question.

"So what do you want me to do?"

Now we've reached Vauxhall bridge I can feel the teeth in this icy river wind chewing on my face. Falc, too, feels the cold, pulling the hood of his thick fleece fully over his head.

"You've got to take her place."

"Alone?"

"Until it's safe, yes."

"Safe from a danger none of us know anything about ..."

I can tell he's nodding by the way his hood folds at the neck as he walks in front of me.

"Dammit, Falc! Why me?"

"Because this is your place, Kal. You're the best person for the job."

Is he right about that? He could be, I suppose; I'm standing near the soils and waters of my birthplace. The thought doesn't stop me from swearing at his back for the next few minutes.
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Instance 6

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:48

We're walking through a deserted street not far from the south bank, flanked on both sides by inter-war terraces: two bedrooms per house, I'd guess, or three if they've had the roof conversion. Falc is not being helpful, and I'm beginning to think that he really doesn't have any idea what this 'threat' that so scared the guardians could possibly be.

The house Falc leads me to is neat (in the small sense), with a carefully tended front garden. No attempt has been made to modernise the place, nor neglect it, beyond what the adjoining properties will tolerate. This is a house that wants to merge into the background with its tidy blue door and nondescript nets and curtains behind sash windows.

Before Falc could reach his once-broken finger to the doorbell I pull on his shoulder.

"How long has – had – Bull been here?" I ask him.

"Thirty years, perhaps." Falc shrugs my hand from his body. "Forty, maybe."

"Forty ...?" By any standards, that was a good run for a guardianship. My personal best was just over six years, though I've only been guardian twice.

"Could be, could be," says Falc. "Bull and Spar made themselves a pretty life – built themselves a family ..."

"You're joking, yes?"

"It's a problem?"

"You know it's a problem!" There's always more questions when there's a family involved. "How many kids?"

"There's one son, for sure."

"Is he still around?"

"You're wearing him. Can we go inside now?"
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Instance 7

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:50

Bull's former host is sitting in the living room, watching a shopping channel on cable. He looks old, early sixties, flabby where the muscles have run to fat, but not particularly unfit. His eyes are vacant, unfocussed: Bull was never one to ride his host lightly.

Spar's host is a little younger, a little more careful with her appearance, slim, brown hair cut short in that middle aged way that seems to be fashionable at the moment. Not that I've had much time to catch up with current fashions. To me, the architecture of the whole neighbourhood had looked different, innovative, compared to the London I remember.

I've been away from the Outer World too long.

Already I miss Mescwar's amber skies.

I'm assuming Spar is in full control of her host. If she and Bull had kids, then it's safe to assume they both kept their hosts on a tight leash. Falc said he bought me through while Spar was sleeping: she doesn't know I'm here.

I make my decision before she turns to look at me. Even as her face swivels to check on the new arrivals I'm receding, bedding down into the deep places within her son's skull, keeping only the lightest tendrils of thought tangled into the audio and visual streams.

"Mum? Are you okay?"

"Sam? What are you doing here? Have you had another row?"

I've deliberately refrained from seeding my host's memory banks with cloaks and ruses, only blocking this evening's conversations with Falc. He's on his own for this one.

"No, no," he's saying. "Marc's away for a week – training course. I was having a drink after work and then I thought ... I thought ... well, I got worried."

Marc? Damn! Just typical of my luck – I hadn't picked up on this point before.

"Worried, hon? There's nothing to worry about. You know I would have phoned you."

"Why's Dad watching the telly, Mum?"

"He can't sleep – you know how he gets. I was just making us some hot chocolate; I'll make you some too, yes?"

"Okay."

There's nothing in her eyes to suggest that she can see my heat, though her heat is plain to me, wafting like sheets of cigarette smoke around her head and chest. I can feel my host beginning to wonder about the gauzy colours: I risk a moment's intervention to turn his head back towards the kitchen door; thankfully his body twists to follow and he heads back into the front room and the muted murmurs of the ever-repeating American advert for some portable rhinestone applicator.

Falc must have seen me withdraw. The smile he offers my host is uncertain – an aquaintance of a smile, an 'I don't bite ... yet' sort of smile. He understands that scaring the man would not be a good idea at this point in time.

My host – Sam – sits down next to the shell of Bull, leans forward as if to try to talk to him. Another flicker of intervention pursuades him not to bother.

I risk a brief rummage through Sam's recent memories, checking for interactions with Falc. Apparently, they're strangers – there's no tang of recognition that I can identify. More surprisingly, to me at least, is that this doesn't seem to worry Sam, as if suddenly finding himself in the company of a strange man is something he's familiar with - looks forward to, even, with no hint of guilt mixed within the chemical haze of emotion and libido.

It seems like architectural styles are not the only radical change in the Lonely City since my last visit.

I have little time to consider these issues. Within a minute Spar is carrying a tray with four steaming mugs into the cozy room. I watch her as she hands out the drinks to Falc and then Sam, before placing the third mug on the old, oat-shaded carpet between Bull's socked feet. When she lifts the last mug from the tray and settles herself into the armchair I can see the band on her finger.

Even buried as deeply as I am in somebody else's psyche I can feel the tug of the band, like a hook between my eyebrows pulling me, playing me deftly towards the net of its metals and stones.

"You're wearing Dad's ring."

Sam said that, not me. A bland statement of fact, yet tensed with a history of fact and family fable. I can't risk peeking into his memories now, not with Spar sat so close to me. All I can do is let the conversation roll out and hope the loops and struts of discourse lead somewhere – useful.
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Instance 8

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:51

Sam smokes. Normally the host's prediliction for various drugs – apart from alcohol of course – has little impact on me, yet I get to share the joys of nicotine. I would rather not have the edges of me fuzz out, but the host's flesh needs the fix, gets more difficult to control without it.

We're standing in the small back yard with its small square lawn and acceptably unkempt herbaceous borders, tattered stalks and tangled leaves, unplucked seedpods. Spar does not approve of her son's habit and this is the closest we're going to get to an ashtray.

"Any thoughts on how we're going to do it?" asks Falc.

I shake my head, scratch my fingers' webbing. "I suppose I could smack her down and choke her out of the woman."

Falc's shaking his head.

"What's wrong with that?"

"It'll leave bruises, and bruises attract attention in these days."

"Didn't they always?"

He lifts the cigarette pack out of my spare hand, fondles a stick of tobacco into the gap between his lips. "When were you last out?"

I have to think back to answer this one; keeping the memories in order can be tricky.

"Greece, I think. Or maybe the Empire – is it called Turkey now? Just after the big war: I was helping us escape the chaos of their little war – the one that took out Smyrna."

"Not one I remember. Were there cars around? Tanks? Planes?"

"A few cars yes. No planes." I'd seen my first aeroplane just three days ago, low in the sky over London – it had left me witless. "No tall buildings like I see this time around, no smooth roads, not much concrete ... the Germans and Russians lost their kings ..."

"Maybe coming up for a century then. You've got a lot of learning ahead of you."

I take a drag on the stub of my cigarette in agreement. "What do I need to know now?"

"Policemen are not what they used to be. They're sharper, quicker on the uptake and much more thorough. And people seem to care a lot more about death, they die older, expect to live a lot longer than before. There's more fear of death, I think."

"So?"

"So you can't just dump the bodies and not expect any comeback. They'll be sniffing around and asking questions – the last thing you'll be needing." He gave me a long, knowing look.

I thought about this for a while, dropped the spent stick onto the lawn and ground it into the mud with my heel.

"We don't have to kill them."

"I'm listening," says Falc.

"Well, kill Spar just a little, just enough for the render. Then leave the hosts to it."

"I don't know ... there's official busybodies around nowadays, 'Social Workers' they call themselves. I don't like them: too many questions. You've seen the state of Bull's host: he barely knows how to put a cup to his mouth."

More to the point, Sam's seen the state of his Dad, I remember. A worried host is not something I want to put up with for the next few weeks or months.

A grieving host, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

I make a decision.

"This is your problem, Falc. If there's murder to be done, then you or some of the others need to do it. I can't be involved in it, not if these policemen are as good as you say. Then once you get the band to me we can start rendering you all back, leave the hosts to face the inquiries."

He doesn't look happy with my pronouncement, but it's too late; already I'm receding back into Sam, and I'm not planning to emerge again until he brings me the band.
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Instance 9

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:52

I know you're there.

I know you're there because I can taste your heat.

What fun this will be! I am the leech with my teeth in the mind of a host and you – you are the worm that lives in the leech's body.

Are you going to come out and meet me?

Are we going to talk?

Do you know who I am yet? Do you know the story of me, the worlds I've seen and the people I've met?

Is it enough?

Do you think you can control me yet?

Do you know who I am?

Maybe you don't, little worm. I can taste your heat, and what I'm tasting is confusion. Fear, even.

I reckon you've chosen the wrong leech to hide inside, little worm. I know you're there ...
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Instance 10

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:55

Sam has an active social life. He works in an office – a clerk of some sort. He sits in front of a thin screen and types on a separate pad and the letters and numbers spatter into existence by magic. When he moves his plastic wheels-and-button contraption around his desk an arrow moves across the screen – I could watch this shit for ages, but it seems to mean nothing to him.

Telephones – I know about telephones, I met them last time round when I was in Greece, or Turkey. Sam carries his telephone in his trouser pocket like some sort of comfort blanket; he panics whenever he looses sight or touch of it. It works without wires, though he plugs it into a hole in the wall of his kitchen every now and then – then it has a wire. So it must be a tiny radio of some sort. A telephone merged into a radio, and all so tiny as to fit into the curve of his palm!

I could go on all day. Now that I am paying proper attention, it seems like every moment holds some new magic contraption. When I first saw the washing machine in action I had to force my host to sit down in front of it for over an hour just so I could watch the clothes spin around in their suds!

I like Sam. I like this new-wrought world!
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Instance 11

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:58

Today Sam is meeting Marc, his lover, for lunch. We've had an interesting morning: with my 'encouragement' Sam can plough through his casework quite quickly, leaving us time to surf the 'web', as Sam calls his alchemical screen. Falc was right – there's so much about this new century that I don't know; the speed of development and change, the depths of horror and peaks of joy: they amaze me.

The office Sam works in is vast, glassy, noisy. The building's atrium towers a full eight stories, with minimal furnishings and fittings – so different to the big spaces I've met before. I'm growing used to it, though. How quickly the mind can adapt to change.

Falc must have seen Sam even before we walked through the building's magic open-and-shut glass doors; he's almost upon us before I notice his aura. Quickly I stun Sam to blankness, take control of his body.

"You look dirty," I tell him once we are within talking distance.

"Just walk," he replies, refusing to look at me directly. "I can't be seen meeting you – there's cameras everywhere! We'll talk in the gardens around the corner in five minutes."

I do as I'm told, barely breaking my stride as I pass the man. I plant a few instructions in Sam's thoughts before withdrawing away – he can let the boyfriend know he's going to be late.

They're still chatting on the phone when we reach the green space with its formal borders and clipped shrubbery – a Victorian remnant amid the spires of modernity. Falc is waiting for me, sat on the cold, hard grass. Another suggestion gets Sam to bring the conversation to a close before I blank him again.

"Is here safe enough for you?"

Falc nods, still not looking at me. "Go look in the grass just over there," he tells me. "I bought a present for you."

I don't need to see it to feel its tug, like a harpoon tugging on my skull, pulling me towards it. I lean down and scoop the cool metal loop into my palm, resist the temptation to slip it onto my finger – I'll need to be in a private place before dealing with that event.

"What happened?"

"Best if you don't know, yes? The police will be knocking on your door in the next few days – if you don't hear from them by Sunday then you'll have to go to the house and phone them yourself. They'll get suspicious if you leave it much later than that."

So it had been done.

As the band warms itself within my fist I catch the distinctive whiff of recent activity.

"Is Spar safe?" I ask.

Falc nods. I can see his shoulders begin to relax now his task is complete.

"There was no problem with her rendering. Nor with the three that followed – it's been a busy couple of days for me."

"How many are left here?"

"With you and me, five. But I want to get back quickly ..."

"What's the hurry?"

Now he looks at me, stares straight into my face. Around his head his aura bunches into knots; his left hand massages his host's crooked finger like a worry-stick.

"There's something ... wrong, Kal. Being close to the band makes it worse. I feel – I feel contaminated!" His stare weakens, slips away from my eyes and into the distance. "I need to go home. I want to be safe."

"Is this feeling the thing that scared Bull? Spar?"

Another nod. "I suppose so. I never asked her about it." Then, "You're stronger than me, Kal. This is your place. You're the best one for the job."

With a start, he jumps up, walks away, heading for the gates and the busy road beyond.

I don't see him leap in front of the van. But I feel him render back home even before the first pedestrian screams reach my ears.
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Instance 12

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 13:59

Marc annoys me in many small ways. For a start, he's much older than Sam – at least twelve years older – and this seems to scare him. He dresses like a young man, like Sam, and spends much time in the bathroom with his potions and lotions attempting to recreate a young man's skin across his face. His bleached hair is receding, too, and his attempts to copy Sam's gelled, scrunched hairstyle makes him look even more ridiculous.

We must all worship young people in the youth of this millennium, it seems.

But he does love Sam. I cannot doubt that.

From the moment the police arrived with the news, he has been at Sam's side, helping him, consoling him through the shock and disbelief, the befuddlement and rage. Marc fielded the phonecalls, led Sam to the morgue and back again. He even cooked for Sam, fortunately just the once.

When Sam screamed at the walls, he held him hard and secure. When Sam sat staring at the walls, he gave him space and peace.

I can appreciate the usefulness of my host's lover, but I don't like him. He'll have to go.

As for me, I've not seen the need to interfere beyond the essential tweaks. I'm happy to stay detached, let the chemical imbalances rush around me - a smooth stone hidden in the midst of the flash-floods of grief. My only role as guardian of the band is to keep the stones in their metal hoop hidden, and safe.

Sam still does not know that he has his father's ring in his pocket: a grieving host is so much more easily misled.

Is that what your waiting for, little worm? An opportunity to mislead me? Are you hoping my host's grief will make it easier for you to break me?

You'll have a long wait, worm: I drunk the dregs of my grief a thousand years ago. No grief; no fear; no joy; no lust. No love. I am a vessel of shallow interests surrounding a void of emotions. Not even a dream of me remains to be broken.

Be warned, little worm. You interest me!
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Instance 13

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:04

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Instance 14

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:07

"Sam? Sam? What's wrong, love? Talk to me!"

I'm lying on the floor – I think. As patterns and blurs begin to fall into focus I can see a face. I should know this face, but the story of it doesn't flow immediately to my mind.

The pain is immaculate, a pure rush of venom carving lines through my flesh and across my skin. A part of me thinks: this has never happened before.

Marc – this face has a name, and the name is Marc. It has something to do with the host.

Lost within the fractures of myself, I somehow manage to nod, hold up a hand like a child waiting to be hoisted into comforting arms.

I feel the man grasp my hand in his, feel him tug me forward.

"Put your legs under your arse. You're too heavy for me to lift."

"Okay! Don't nag!" Nevertheless, I follow his instructions, help him help me back to my feet.

"What happened? Why did you scream?"

"Lost my balance."

I can't tell him the truth. Can't afford to let him see my agony.

"You fuss too much. I'm fine, honest!"

I see glints of anger in the curls of his eyes.

"You're not fine, Sam. I told you it was too early to come here."

So I have a name. No, the host has a name. I can't remember my name.

Remembering that I have a host reminds me that I am not my host. I am in the Outer World now. What have I done with my host's mind? I can't remember – the fire in my nerves consumes my coherence.

"I needed to come here, you know that."

Marc is shaking his head. He brings up his arm and cradles his palm around the base of my skull, massages the skin and hair with his thumb and finger.

"You're not ready! Why did you scream?"

"I don't know. I just did."

"I'm worried about you, love. Did you black out again?"

Has the host been fainting? I don't remember ...

"Black out?"

"You told me about it – losing time, you said. Just before – this. Before your Mum ... died."

My mother's dead? Yes, I suppose she must be. I remember watching the big man with red hair drive a spear through her chest.

"I want you to go to the doctor. Promise me you'll go, yes?"

"Yes, okay," I say. I'll agree to anything at this point. "Just take me home, will you? I don't want to be here anymore."

My name is Kal. I remember my mother screaming my name just before the big man attacked her.

Marc is talking in platitudes now. He guides me to the entrance, towards the passage and the steps and the fresh, cold air that I know I will find beyond the confines of this strange cavern.

As I walk I feel the pain recede, like haunted waters abandoning the mudflats to seek the salt homes of the sea. As I walk, assisted, I glance down at my left hand, spot a band of metal clamped tight around the base of the thumb.

And everything resolves.

My name is Kal and I am the guardian of the band. I am in the Outer World, in a host called Sam. Sam is asleep: I made Sam sleep before I pushed the band onto my thumb. All I need to do is plant a few key thoughts in Sam's memory and then I can recede, leave the host to deal with this problem.

Except ...

Sam isn't asleep. I can feel his numb shock at the fact of my presence within the confines of his skull.

'Well met indeed,' says the worm.
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Instance 15

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:08

There is evil in the world, and it comes packaged in the form of little plastic capsules!

Marc – who I'm beginning to think of as my prison guard – took the host to see a doctor, all loose tie and top button undone in slacks and petrol blue brogues: doctors have no sense of theatricality any more. The consultation took less than ten minutes and resulted in a handwritten scribble across a form, alongside instructions to visit the a particular pharmacist that was open late that night. In exchange for the note Sam was given a rattling plastic bottle, brown, with a lid as complex as a puzzle box for the opening.

That first pill almost rendered me home! It took every atom of my concentration to keep hold of the host's mind as the chords of his senses eased to a gelatinous slime and the sharp escarpments of his memories eroded.

A second slip of paper from the doctor was more welcome: a 'sick note' which apparently allows Sam to stay away from work for a fortnight and still be paid by his employer. The concept ... astonishes me!

Marc insists on watching Sam take each pill, before he goes to work and when he comes home and before we go to bed. I let Sam swallow the bedtime pill – I need to learn how to control and overcome this evil medication. It also means that Marc doesn't get to molest us; all I'm willing to tolerate at the moment is skin contact, nothing more.
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Instance 16

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:09

I've taken to sitting by the window in the front room, watching the street. What I should be doing is studying, learning. If the Outer World has managed to develop drugs that can render me home, what other surprises are in store for me?

But I don't have time. Sam's awareness of me is my most immediate concern. It's like we're in a race: each time I attempt to cloak or modify or spin, he fights back. He's learning not to trust himself, and through his untrust, he is learning discernment.

The one trick that seems to work is distraction: I've uncovered a streak of compulsiveness within Sam, and I am playing it as hard as I have to.

Sam likes a clean home.

So whenever he fights back too cleverly, whenever he gets too close, I distract him.

The whole apartment – including the bathroom and kitchen area - is carpeted, a rough-textured weave in small repeating patterns of creams and pastels. Knocking over a plant pot, or gravy granules, or talcum powder, is enough to take Sam to the closet to pull out the vacuum cleaner, and once one part of the carpet is clean, the rest has to be equally clean.

Sugar or milk spilt across the work surfaces in the kitchen – which for some reason is not separate from the main living area – is enough to trigger a bout of general wiping and dusting, though unfortunately this doesn't take too long due to the general lack of ornaments and surfaces in the apartment.

Clothes washing is done daily, and the bedsheets every third day, and one day I managed to distract him for over three hours by getting him to go through his wardrobe and drawers, sorting and discarding. He even did Marc's drawers, which led to a sulking fit of staggering proportions on the part of the boyfriend once the deed was discovered.

That was a good evening.

I hadn't realised how rich the Outer World had become until that incident. How many clothes does one person need? This new social paradigm (I like some of these new words) seems centred on consumption, the need to own, possess, eat, wear, use, discard. The fact that Sam does not think of any of this as wasteful is astounding to me.

Twice I've made Sam reorder the collection of DVDs, and sometimes I even convince him to sit down and watch a film or two. But I don't really trust the television: there's too much magic going on in that box - I have to keep aware as the film or programme progresses, keep its enthrallment of me under control.

Sam has learned he can distract me too, with the television. It's at those moments when I'm lost in the story that he tries to question me, search me, force me to reveal my being.

When it gets too much, all I can do is blank him into oblivion. Then I sit beside the window and watch the street.
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Instance 17

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:11

"I tell you, those damned vampires are everywhere. Everywhere! Can't squat for a shit without some little bugger walking by and trying to probe for a lick of force. Make my days hell, I tell you! Is that all the food you've bought me?"

Mada doesn't change, ever. The first time I met her she was a querelous old biddy; she could be wearing the body of a teenage princess and she'd still sound like a crone.

This time round the body matches the personality riding it; a mass of uncut grey curls and knots frame her air-dried face, with piercing blue eyes nailing the rest of the features steady. She's made no attempt to clean the host – "I ain't got nothing against a few lice, keep me company at night, they do, remind me I'm still living!" – nor the host's attire: a rambling collection of cardigans and dresses, slips and old stockings, all enclosed in a massive, dirty great-coat with high visibility strips over the shoulders and back.

"I've got you some nuts: peanuts, cashews." I read the labels of the packs as I hand them over to her. "If you tell me what you want, I can bring it with me tomorrow."

"These are good," she says. "I got plenty of pockets, see? Maybe some bread, a bit of cheese – handy things. Pocket food. This bag of bones ain't used to big meals."

I nod, choosing not to wonder about the state of the flesh beneath the bulk of linens and knits.

"I don't mind if you render back, you know."

"I do, lad. I can see you've got problems. Can feel them myself, truth be told. What sort of mate buggers off at the first sign of trouble, heh?"

The comment hits me harder than I expect. I look around for a moment, give myself a few seconds to arrange my thoughts, test possible words.

We're sat in the grounds of an abandoned church, close to where Sam lives in Islington. By the look of the place, it's been abandoned for quite a while; most of the windows above us are smashed, though there's little in the way of wall-scrawling. The thin border of grass on this side of the building has a sparse scattering of condoms and needles: Mada may not care where she sits, but I've chosen to crouch down out of the wind with my back against the wall and my buttocks clear of the litter.

"They had their reasons, all of them," I finally say. "Falc was near witless with fear the last time we met."

"Scared is as scared does, is all I'm saying."

"You don't feel scared?"

The eyes which lock with mine are the exact shade of Onuun, an icy blue to match the chill in the air.

"Something's amiss, yes lad. There's no denying that."

"What do you think it is?"

She sniffs the air with a nose which, without its fine network of veins across its flanks, could be considered delicate, well formed.

"It smells like ... endings. Yes, endings. The band is ... edgy, yes? Concerned? Like a wolf in the snow what sees the stag behind its horns. There's a hunger that drives us towards an unwanted confrontation. Well," she finishes, "that's what it feels like, though it don't make no sense."

"No, it doesn't make any sense," I agree. "You make it sound as if the band has a personality of its own."

"Don't it?"

I shrug my shoulders. "I've never thought of it like that. It's never talked to me."

"Don't be silly! Things don't talk ..."

"So what makes you say it's edgy?"

"This language they talks round these parts, it ain't got enough words for what I want to say, it don't cover the hows and whys of stuff like this!"

Mada marks the end of this strand of the conversation by noisily pulling out a bag of cashew nuts and attempting to tear into the foil packet with her teeth.

I let my eyes wander around the wasteland again. I'm surprised to notice that what I had originally taken for grass clumps are actually part of a wide, dense swathe of daffodil leaves. The flower heads are evident, still sheathed in their green paper wraps, but a few have already dropped away from their sky-pointing, crooked themselves into their final angles ready for the bloom.

It's not even March, I remember. Still four weeks away from the equinox.

"It burned me," I say. Mada lifts her face away from the nuts to look at me. "The band. When I put it on my thumb, it burned me."

Her eyes widen. "That's interesting. Has it changed in any way?"

I show her my thumb. "It's tightened up a little. I can't slip it off, not even with soap."

"Maybe that's it, then: the change caused the burning, being so close to the flesh. I don't recall ever seeing it change shape, though I know it's tricky like that. Most guardians choose not to put flesh within the loop."

She tips the last of the nuts into her mouth, beckons with her spare hand. "Let's have a closer look, lad!"

She takes my hand, pulls it close to her face as she turns it around to examine the stones – maybe her host is beginning to develop cataracts.

"You're from Fuebe, yes?"

"Too many bloody people! Too many bloody trees!"

"I've never been there."

"I've never been anywhere else lad, except here."

"There's plenty of people here, Mada, and plenty of trees too."

"Didn't used to be crowds in the Outer World, not like this time. At least the trees in these parts don't talk at you!"

"I'm from Mescwar," I tell her.

"I know," she says. "Fat lot of good it's done you, heh?"

She thrusts my hand away from her face, suddenly.

"Whatever it is lad, it's not the band. As sure as my bladder's fit for pissing. No, there's something wrong here, here in the Outer World."

"Vampires?"

"Didn't think you believed in them!"

"You never asked me!"

"Don't need to, lad. You don't bother to put up even a simple shield round the host."

"I can't see those energies, Mada. Not like you or the others."

"Can't you? Well, there's a tale for the campfires! How do you cope?"

I shrug my shoulders.

"Well, it ain't vampires. They're just folks who need to lift a little life energy from those around them, helps them keep up with the rest of the world. No vampire's ever noticed me, for a fact, however many times they've tapped my hosts for a lick. The band keeps us out of their sight."

"So what else could it be?"

She gives me a grin. "Bring me some food tomorrow. Give me a chance to think, heh? Pocket food, mind. None of that fancy stuff they chew on nowadays. I ain't got the teeth for the posh!"
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Instance 18

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:14

He's chasing me, but I can't see him.

I'm in a wasteland, grass clumps withered in heat, dust covering my calves, my knees, as I run.

This is a road, my naked feet tell me, with tyre marks in the dirt and upright flints ripe for the tripping; don't look down! Don't look back! Let fly the plume of my speed behind me, unseen, unknown.

He's chasing me; I can't see his dust.

Everything is yellow: sounds are yellow, dirty clangs of golden bells; ochre drum-rolls beating my heart, pounding my gasps. Smells are yellow, the burning of old flames in rusty kegs.

I can see traffic to my right – the buses move too fast and I can't keep up with the speeding faces, mannekins in windows mouthing a mantra: look he runs, look he runs, chasing, chasing, look he runs.

He's chasing me. Is he close yet? Is he close?

This is not my dream!

He dreams me, running, chasing, tripping. He dreams this road, this dust, these bells, that bus, those mouths. His dream, not mine!

I reach out a hand, grasp a fist of wind. Rip it: wrap it.

I'm in a warehouse, a factory. Now I walk, no sound of bells to keep step. Chains clank in the shadows. Industrious chains, hauled by strangers into patterns above my head.

A net? He wants to trap his leech in a net?

I'm smiling as I wave away the web, walk through the industrial door into the industrial canteen.

The serving station is immaculate in its chrome. Each trough heaps with produce: dumplings, white as asbestos, lapped by rich, brown broth; broccoli trees bursting to bloom, the yellow of petals merging with the yellow of butter; whole new potatoes weaving runes in their new-boiled steam; half-cut pies, each thick with fraying meat; smiling fruit custard tartlets. Golden rolls of bread, gently chiming as they rock in their basket.

Pocket food, I think.

I have no pockets: I remain naked beneath my gossamar of dust. Crowds of seated diners stare as I turn away from the counter and walk the length of the hall to the doors. When the canteen attemts to lengthen I snap my fingers, reach out my palms and push the doors wide.

This space is huge. Marble sparkles across the expansive floor, black circles cut into the white field. There are shops all around me, but I ignore them. Instead I head to a shabby stall in the midst of the crowds.

Across the wooden slats stack blue shirts and white shorts, socks and caps. Each bears the motif of a lion, leaping and roaring. I finger the material, feel its smoothness slip across my skin. Looking around, I see the stall-owner, Bull-shaped, a radio clamped to one ear and a look of pain sketched across his eyes and mouth: Millwall must be losing again, I think.

I take a pair of shorts, step into them as I walk away, dragging a shirt by its short arm behind me.

This is a busy place. I wander for a while, admiring the imagination of Sam's dream. Much of the detail is blurred - a feeling of presence rather than a fact, sparkling into resolution only when I gaze that way. Somehow the space muzzles noise, damps it to murmers.

I find him in a space near to a void, stairs heading downwards into darkness.

"I need a drink," he says, unsmiling. "Will you join me? We'll be safe down there: no women allowed."

I shake my head, turn and walk away. This is Sam's dream, not mine. Now I am clothed I have choices.

I choose height.

This is not a lift, rather a place of elevation. Between five great pillars runs a crack in the marble. I step into the pentagon along with the crowds, smile to myself as the floor disengages and rises towards the ceiling.

As each floor passes people gather at the edge, turn and wave as a smaller pentagon emerges to carry the rest of us further up. On each occassion I watch the decor of the surrounding space, watch as elagence is replaced with austerity, baroque becomes sparseness. As each floor passes, the breezes of the air conditioning gust stronger, more gale-full. By the time the last of the crowd has abandoned the open-sided elevator the gale is constant, strong enough to make me crouch, splaying my hands across the marble-veined ice.

I reach the flat concrete set high in the tower. Around me geometries are marked out by scaffolding – a work of progress reaching to touch the clouds far above. Now the gales sing, their notes stinging my eyes. Looking around I spot another lift, ancient in its design: a set of open coffins strapped to a chain running up to the place where the spiraling struts meet. The coffins take their turn to emerge from a hole in the ground, their progress upwards just slow enough to allow a body to step in.

"I'm scared," says Sam from behind me. "Why won't you stop? Tell me your name!"

"No," I say. "This is not my dream."

As I step into the coffin and fold my arms across my chest, I feel the thin plywood creak, protest at my weight. I do not look down: the time for looking down has not yet come.

I admire the clouds for a while, watch the storm twist their strands into sigils and logographs.

I step off onto a wooden plank, jutting into the space beyond the last of the scaffold. Now the clouds are close to me, like a wall of fog swirling from right to left just beyond my reach.

"Look at me, please look at me!" says Sam to my back. "Tell me I'm going mad. Tell me you don't exist!"

"If you want to know me," I say to the mist wall, "then follow me."

Two strides along the sagging plank take me into the cloud. I can feel the rough texture of the damp, rough cut wood on my heels, my footpads, my toes. Another step. Another. And another.

The sound of waves crashing onto boulders rings in my ears, and a faint trace of salt crystallises on the rims of my nostrils.

I know this place. This is my dream.

There are no clouds in this place, no bank of mist behind me. Above me arches a lavender sky, already beginning to bruise towards the purples and aubergines of night. Directly ahead lies the wooden lookout. I walk towards it across rough grass, push open the salt-battered door and start to climb.

The space within is mostly dark - only the gaps in the plank cladding permitting the tinted light to reach me. The stairs follow the circle of the cone structure, with a door on each twelfth step offering access to the interior: I ignore them all.

When one of the doors opens, I stop.

"You cannot continue," says the monster before me.

I take a moment to admire the bulk of the beast, the curve of its muzzle, the sheen of its scales. The great voids of its two eyes set above the snout are black, unblinking.

"You cannot stop me," I say.

"Your plan is stupidity. Madness!"

"I know."

I reach out with one hand and rip the face away, drop it to the floor. As the beast collapses I step onto its cool body, feel my toes sink into the yielding flesh.

More steps, more doors.

And then I am at the top of the watchtower stood on the edge of its cliff. Above me the lilacs of sky, beneath me the churning blues and mauves of the sea.

I am not the only one who watches.

She stands on her rock, the rock that angles itself beyond the cut of the cliff, jutting up and out. Around her billows the great white cloak, silken in its breezy flatterings, yet sturdy enough to bear her weight when she chooses to extend her arms and glide into the wind, as I had seen her do so many times.

Unlike the cloak, she is still. I can make out her profile when the warm gusts lift her mane of black hair away from her face. She doesn't turn to look at me.

I do not call out to her.

Behind me I can hear sobbing, scrabbling, the sounds of a man confronting monsters in dark places. I watch the strands of mauve light etch portents across the lilac sky.

When he enters, he is on his hands and knees: a crawling supplicant, as is only right.

"Help me! Please help me!"

"Stand up, Sam," I say. "There is nothing to fear here."

"I can't ... I can't do it! Let me go!"

"Stand up, Sam. You'll miss the race."

This cliff is a headland. Beyond the woman lies a sandy bay. Two long cabins stand on stilts just ahead of the treeline circling the white of the beach, but nobody is there. I turn my head to the left, wait for the boats to appear.

"Where is this place?"

"Nowhere on Earth, Sam. This is my dream."

"What are you doing to me?"

"As little as possible, believe me. Look now, the boats are coming."

From this height, they seem tiny, nothing more than sticks. But I remember their mass – each a hollowed trunk, cut to shape a passage through the water. In each of them sit eighteen men, rowing, pulling, pulling on oars shaped from lopped boughs, straining to haul their wood towards the beach, towards victory.

Once I was one of them. There was a time when my only desire was to shape wood – and my body, and the bodies of my teammates - into a machine capable of winning this race.

Sam has stopped crying, moved forwards to the edge of the platform to look down and out at the two teams, competing to slice each wave more skillfully than their opponents, forcing their muscles and sinews to heave their boat home first.

"You're brave," I say. "This is a good thing."

"Who are you?" he whispers. "Who are they? What are they doing?"

"They're racing. They race for her. Do you see the pole in the middle of the beach? The first team to tie their colours to the pole wins the race. And after the race she will fly down to congratulate them all, and they shall be exhalted in her pleasure, all of them, winners and losers alike."

Sam looks around him, sees the beach, the woman. "So what's the point of the race?"

"And then," I continue, "as the long night arrives, each team will take axes to their boat and hew it to splinters, and the wood will be stacked around the pole. She will accept their gift, set flames to the pyre. She will accept the kiss of the winning team's captain, watch him climb into the fire, watch him immolate himself for her eternal glory."

"This is madness. I'm going mad!"

Now I turn to look at him properly. He's shaking, shivering despite the warm air; his face looks too old.

"Stand up, Sam. Let me warm you."

"Madness," he whispers, shaking his head. "Madness!"

I pull the football shirt over my head, let the breeze catch it like a flag, let it flee my grip.

"It is not madness, Sam. This was a good place."

"Where is this place?"

"Lost."

"Am I lost, too?"

"No, Sam," I say as I let my shorts slide from my hips. "You're cold, not lost. Come here. Let me hug some warmth into you."

Below us, the shouts of the captains urging their teams on to victory sound like the piercing calls of seagulls. I reach out, take the man's hands in mine and pull him to his feet.

"This is my dream, Sam. Not yours." I wrap my arms around his shivering shoulders, reach my hands across his back and clasp him to me. "There's nothing to fear here."

I can feel his tears damp on my shoulder.

"Don't let me fall," he begs my neck. "Tell me your name."

"I won't let you fall, Sam. My name is Kal."

As I rock the man in my embrace, I watch the woman on her rock. She turns, smiles at me.

'An introduction is always welcome,' she says.

'Well met indeed!'
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Instance 19

Postby Rik on 03 Dec 2008, 14:17

I'm sitting by the window in the front room of Sam's flat, watching the street. Sam is learning some basic physical tricks, at my expense. This morning he refused to say a single word to Marc, and when Marc gave him the tranquilliser Sam surprised me, triggering his swallowing reflex as I was manouvering the tablet under his tongue – he almost choked me out of his skull.

I'm beginning to regret tampering with his/our dream, though it still feels like it was the right thing to do. For some reason the band has made him – aware.

I wish he'd understand that I'm trying to help him here. I don't want my host to end up like me.

Nobody deserves that fate!

The street beyond the glass is damp. The clouds are dense and low this afternoon, casting a depressing gloom over the Lonely City. Unlike the daffodils, most of the trees lining the road are being sensible, keeping their leaves well-sheathed in their various buds, refusing to be tricked by the occasional warm day.

Climate change - something that Sam seems to have been worried about before my arrival: greenhouse gases and ozone-eating molecules and over-hot summers with their droughts and melting ice poles and rising sea levels and deluge. Maybe he's right to fear the coming changes, maybe the world is about to turn torrid.

I've lived through – or, more accurately, experienced – extended cold periods, and equally extended warm periods. I prefer the warm ones, myself.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of heat.

I'm meeting Mada again tomorrow morning, so spotting an aura in the street below me is ... unexpected.

The aura's host is hidden in some bushes marking the boundary between the street and the communal gardens of the block of flat some couple of hundred metres down, on the opposite side. To my eyes (and Sam's, who has suddenly decided to stop sulking and take an interest) the aura makes the bush twigs look fiery - like candles, or matches, or new-sprung golden-yellow leaves.

"I want to know what that is," says Sam.

I disagree. I want to know who that is. And how they come to be here when there's only supposed to be Mada and me in the Outer World. And why they're here.

Before Sam leaves the flat to investigate, I make him put a small paring knife in his coat pocket. Just in case.
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