Centres

Every human being is convinced he or she is the centre of the universe. From day one, the brain is unable to cope with the idea of something being so big, and the person so tiny in comparison. So, the person creates his or her own small universe in which to live, sheltered from the huge, immeasurable space outside.

No matter how much you travel, of if you have an inferiority complex, or if someone showed you a map of the world with a tiny dot in it marked “You are here, pipsqueak,” it is still mentally impossible to picture how vast everything is compared to yourself. You may try, but only go so far for so long until the task seems too daunting, or you are unable to stretch your mind any futher. When this happens, you have two choices: retreat back into your shell or go mad.

Go on, try. I’ll give you five minutes. Open your mind and think about the space either side of you, above and perhaps even below you if you happen to be skydiving (though why you’re reading this falling through the air beats me.) Keep stretching yourself outwards – mentally, I mean, don’t bust a gut – and keep going. Towards the walls and the ceiling, pass those, towards the horizon, and then, er…ooh I’m going boss-eyed…argh help I’m stuck….no, no use, sorry, can’t go any further. My head aches.

3, 2, 1…Are you back with me? Yes? Not gone doollally? Good.

So now we have reached the limits of our awareness, shall we talk about something closer to home?

Never mind about being the centre of a universe, what’s at the centre of a person? Literally speaking, we have guts and all manner of stuff the likes of which we’ve seen on Casualty, but I mean is there anything else? There must be, or we would be plain animals. How do we be conscious and thinking, and conscious OF our thinking, all the time? It must be something to do with the black you see when you close your eyes. Or eye, if you happen to be a cyclops.

Where would this thing be situated? Is it really just your brain? That’s what I’d like to know. But then, if the thing that thinks is inside your head, it’s not in the middle of you, is it? So perhaps I’d be right in asking what’s at the centre of a person’s head instead.

So now we have tried to go the distance, outwards and inwards. We all deserve a long nap.

Which reminds me, the other thing I don’t understand is dreams.

For instance, how do I know I’m awake, and not dreaming? Or indeed asleep? You only seem to know you’ve been asleep after it’s happened. Maybe when you are awake, you are dreaming, and when you are asleep it’s reality. In which case, everybody’s been mixed up for years.

Blithering

The other day, (which can mean anytime in the last ten years when it comes out of my gob) I saw a couple of lines written about love on the Internet.

They said that a girl’s head goes down, underneath the boy’s chin, because the boy is her whole world and she gets lost in it. The boy’s head, apparently, remains up so he can check no one else is looking at his girlfriend.

I do not believe this. On one hand, it is a lovely (if rather sexist) sentiment. However, isn’t it merely a matter of height? The same thing would not happen if the girl was taller than the boy. Not without a great deal of contortionism, which might result in whiplash or some other neck problem.

Then again, I haven’t got a romantic bone in my body, except for my funnybone.

They say — whoever they are, I’ve forgotten — that love is what writers and artists are concerned the most with expressing or explaining because it is difficult to understand. It is not difficult, it’s more that there’s so much to understand about it all at once and not a lot of people have the time to think about it in its entirety, (because they’re too busy being all fluffy and lovey-dovey, maybe). It brings with it all these extreme emotions so it is like unpacking a suitcase.

But you’ll be fine, so long as one of you remembers to buy a stepladder.

On a completely irrelevant note, my story “Safe” came out in Strange Fictions SF & F magazine, which started back in March, I think. Linky:

http://strangefictionszine.com/safe/

 

Encouraging words

Quotes

Read a few of these if you ever have doubts, not just about writing, but about ANYTHING you are doing which can, or has to, be judged using someone’s personal opinion. Here are some of my favourites:

“This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside. It should be hurled with great force.” Dorothy Parker

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve been reading reviews of my stories for twenty-five years, and can’t remember a single useful point in any of them, or the slightest good advice. The only reviewer who ever made an impression on me was Skabichevsky, who prophesied that I would die drunk in the bottom of a ditch.” Anton Chekhov

I used to save all my rejection slips because I told myself, one day I’m going to autograph these and auction them. And then I lost the box.” James Lee Burke

 

And I probably should say “Sentience” (by me) has appeared in Poetic Diversity:

http://www.poeticdiversity.org/main/prose.php?recordID=2203&date=2016-04-01

Enjoy.

 

The Seven Deadly Dins

Writers can be strange creatures. We pick up on four types of energy: heat, sound, light and movement, and it can be easy to overload us. But there is nothing which fills me with more existential dread than the auditory kind. I will now reveal to you the seven sounds that (in my opinion) bugs us senseless:

 

1. Murder. Whether cold, foul, unplanned or blue, I am not interested in loud killing, even if you are my neighbour’s cat mauling a raccoon, or, more often than not, my neighbour’s raccoon dispatching the postman. If you’re going to commit bloody murder within a ten mile radius of me, please, do it quietly, and put the chainsaw back when you’ve finished. My second pet hate is being left to pick up the pieces.

2. Lust. Walls have ears, you know. If you’re that desperate, put some loud (i.e. earth shaking) white noise on; better still, wear a gag. Or mime.

3. Gluttony. If you are going to make all the sounds of a foie gras duck before the funnel is extricated, please stay outside. What do you mean, “What if it rains?” There’s always the shed.

4. Sloth. Try writing a novel/short story/poem/article with one of those gallivanting around. (Slow gallivanting, which is even more likely to drive me into paroxysms than 45 rpm gallivanting.)

5. Wrath. Yes, this possibly ties in with number one, but I can’t STAND shouting. IF YOU ARE GOING TO SHOUT, do it quietly, or without opening your mouth. Better still, do it at a frequency too high for me to hear – UNLESS YOU HAVE A DOG. (Actually this shouting malarkey is quite therapeutic. Well, it would be, without the raccoon hanging off the end of my finger. And the postman.) Which brings me to…

6. Using God’s name in vain. Or any sort of million decibel swearing, really. (You can mutter swearwords, that’s fine – after number 5  – I won’t be able to hear you.) Of course there are instances when one cannot help shouting curse words – while talking to your hard of hearing gran at the tea table, for example, or intoning certain verses from a King James Bible in an echoey church (um, if you happen to be a vicar and quite old fashioned, that is). But it’s always alarming when you stub your toe on a chair and it yelps expletives at you, isn’t it? I’m sorry? Never mind…

7. Pride. Much as I love cats (they don’t love me, I have a restraining order to keep at least a mile away from them) we have no room in this house for what should ideally be living in the African Savannah. Things would get knocked over, and Stamford Animal Pet Supplies don’t sell cat-flaps big enough. (Apart from the growling and screaming and possible gory sounds, have you smelt a male lion?)

N.B. No lions, cats, raccoons, sloths or postmen were harmed during the compiling of this nonsense – because none of them were present at the time. I’ll deal with them later. 

 

A New Year

The station clock read 11.30. Half an hour to go.
Sitting in an uncomfortable, cracked leather seat at a sticky table, Ed wondered why it was that everybody held midnight in such high regard.
The Witching Hour. The time when Cinderella lost a shoe. The start of tomorrow. Ringing the new year in.
Why couldn’t people choose a more convenient time for such nonsense? Like, say, 7.30? He had to wake up every morning at 5 a.m. He was tired. He was cranky. And he had to wait, because his bus was late.
Ed hated waiting. He hated a lot of things.
Even his daughter had been born at midnight. The nerve.
Looking at it in a different way, the bus being late was not a huge problem. His daughter was sleeping at a friend’s house that night, there was nobody impatiently waiting for him at home. He could go on a jaunt around the city, if he was that kind of person, and be back in time to pick up his offspring for the school run.
He stayed where he sat. Maybe the chair was sticky, too, and Ed just hadn’t noticed.
He didn’t see her walk in. Ed paused in the middle of reading a story about a riot in the Times and glanced up – and there she was. A woman, sitting right opposite him, watching him with avid interest and the sort of air common to those who are not sure if they want to be noticed or not.
And her appearance was odd, too. She regarded him steadily through long-lashed placid eyes, her head, neck and shoulders thrown back in a way that suggested she could spit like a sailor.
Those eyes really were large and brown. Her pupils were huge, containing nothing but his reflection, and there was a hint of hazel around them. Her hair…there was something odd about her hair. He’d work it out in a minute.
“Can I help you?” he said coldly, and rattled his newspaper.
“Yes,” she said. “Do you have a light?”
On the word “light” a flash of very yellow, oddly square teeth appeared under her top lip. She had no incisors. Ed blinked.
“No,” he said. “Do you mind? I’m trying to do the Sudoku.”
“That’s my favourite dance!” she said. “So much better than dressage.”
Ed just looked at her. Her appearance did not bother him as much as it would have done at any other time; many late night revellers had passed through the bus station wearing an odd assortment of hats and scarves, tutus and fairy lights, deely-boppers, capes and wigs. It was all part of the end of the festive season. And there is a quality about the time of night, near the midpoint, which defies disbelief and relaxes certain types of people.
“Fancy dress party, is it?” Ed said. He wondered if she was wearing special contact lenses.
The woman didn’t blink. She had not blinked throughout the entire conversation. She looked left, then right, and over her shoulder to check no one was listening. Ed didn’t know why she bothered – the last load of people had got onto the number 34 and now there was only one elderly couple in the far corner.
She leaned towards him, flared her nostrils, and said, “No. It’s a reconnaissance mission, and if we’re lucky, we might find him, and then it will be a rescue.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Ed asked, mystified. Was she on drugs?
“Us,” the woman replied. “You, me, and the others.”
“What others?”
She shook her head. “Never mind them, they’re all working undercover, part time. Most of them have retired, actually. Well, the ones who came before 1900 have. It doesn’t matter. You’re a stooge, you can afford to be a bit dim.”
Ed was floundering. Was this woman claiming to have worked with people from the eighteen hundreds? She was far too young for that. And then he noticed something else. The woman…her hair was hanging only down one side of her head, but none of it looked to be sprouting from the other side of her scalp. Moving of its own accord, and there was no breeze to stir it. It was like a red pile of snakes, or dreadlocks, and unusually thick for a human’s.
Ed deliberately folded his paper and attempted to put his reading glasses away with trembling hands.
“Either I’m going mad,” he said, “or you spiked my coffee. I’m leaving now.”
“It is vital that you stay put,” she said with a voice of iron. “If you do not work to the plan, one of them will have to take you out. They’re crack shots, the months. Especially Death Sember.”
Ed slowly sank back into his seat. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want? Why me?”
“Easy, easy! I need you to help me find someone. My brother…or is he my father? Anyway, we have information that he’s trapped in your house.”
“There’s nobody in my house.”
“There is. We received an infogram from him on the twenty-ninth. He was hiding in your house from the enemy, but it didn’t look like you’d be opening your door at the right time for him to exit without being seen. Which is why we’re here.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Ed asked again, annoyed. “Who is this man? Why are you wasting my time? I haven’t done anything to deserve it.”
The woman stuck out her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” she said. “I am Agent 2014. I work for the Y.R.S.”
“The Y…?”
“The Y.R.S. It stands for Year Recovery Squad. Normally they don’t send newbies out on missions, not since the Caesar’s time and we lost control of February. We don’t want more Rogue Months. But I can handle it.”
Ed was speechless. What could he say? The woman was clearly deranged. It would be cruel of him to leave her alone, here, for some stranger to take advantage of.
The doors to the bus station cafeteria burst inwards behind the strange woman to admit yet another mob of merrymakers, some of which were dressed in large football shirts and, bizarrely, St. Trinian – style wigs.
Ed was considering getting the attention of one of this crowd so he could call the police on one of their mobile phones, when the nearest braided footie fan waved at someone and his hand passed through the woman’s head. She wasn’t solid. He was hallucinating after all.
Agent 2014 was unperturbed, suffering no damage to her cranium whatsoever. She sat, waiting for him to answer her. Not knowing what else to do, Ed humoured the zanier parts of his brain for once and simply asked:
“Who do you need to find?”
“The one who was last on duty. Agent 2013. He was never very lucky, right from when he was a Second.”
“Second what?”
“You know. Sixty of them work for a Minute. You can’t start at the top in this game. You get promoted over Time, climb through the ranks.”
“And who was this ma…Agent hiding from?”
“The Rogue Months. Normally, they come out with us and protect the Years, sort of like snipers, bodyguards, crack shots like I said. But the Rogue Months…they left us, formed their own kind of outfit. They’re trying to exterminate us.”
“Tell me why.”
“They don’t like Mondays.”
“Ha ha.”
“Or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. They hate being hated. You people…humans…you wish the early winter mornings, working hours and dark nights away. You live for the weekend. Consequently the Months often feel unappreciated, especially the colder ones. So some of them branched out and turned renegade. It happens.”
“Renegade months?”
“Exactly! Where do you reckon Lost Weekends come from? John Lennon had a massive one.”

At precisely 11.40 that night, Agent 2014 led Ed out of the station and somehow hailed a taxi.
“It’s urgent,” she said to the driver as they bundled into the back. “We need to get to Mr. Ed’s house by midnight, if not before. Can you manage that?”
“Depends where you live,” the driver grunted.
Ed gave his address, with some reluctance due to the madwoman, or hallucination, huddled up beside him. How good was her memory? He had the feeling she could be a stalker. And oddly enough, she felt reassuringly solid to him, despite the hand-through-ghostly-head incident all of five minutes ago.
The driver laughed. “I can’t get you there by then! Not unless I get myself arrested for breaking the speed limit.”
“Just drive,” Agent 2014 suggested. “I have some Time at my disposal, I can manipulate it a little.”
“Well, ain’t that nice,” the driver said, and they set off.

Ed’s house stood dark and empty, a brooding terraced presence with four windows, a cluttered attic, and a starling’s nest in the gutter. As he knew, his daughter Zoe was sleeping somewhere else. There really was nobody in it. Of course there wasn’t. The place only had four rooms, the attic was full and inaccessible without a stepladder. There was no possibility that the year 2013 could be hiding in it. And he’d let this demented stranger trick him into taking her home. What did she want? A place to sleep? Money? A one night stand? She wasn’t his type.
He wondered if it was still too late to call the police.
“Shush!” The woman who called herself 2014 placed a finger to her lips, though Ed had not said anything, and then the taxi driver froze.
He froze. Literally. His body ceased to move, and he was trapped in an odd position with one hand raised to scratch his ear, his expression the sort that Ed would be embarrassed to wear in a badly timed photograph.
Ed gave up. He couldn’t explain it. “What now?” he said.
“I’ll go first,” Agent 2014 said. “I’ll ring the doorbell to let him know we’re coming to rescue him.”
“I don’t have a doorbell.”
“I’ll knock. And they aren’t expecting to see me. The Rogue Months are looking out for you. While I distract them, you sneak around the back and let yourself in that way.”
“I don’t have a back door key.”
2014 looked at Ed, her brows furrowed. “Then how do you lock your back door? You do have a back door, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Ed said. Somehow he got the impression that his not having a doorbell lowered his esteem in her eyes. “I meant I don’t carry it with me. I keep the key indoors, so I don’t lose it.”
2014 crossed her arms in a delicate motion. “That’s very silly.”
“Well, I can’t help it if -”
“Never mind. It’s nearly five to midnight. Now or never. You’ll have to smash the door in or break a window.”
“Break my own window?” Ed yelped, but Agent 2014 was already running up the path to his front door and banging on it.
Now or never, as she said. Ed opened the door on his side of the cab and ducked instinctively into the bushes lining the pavement, even though he saw or heard no sign of anyone, let alone a Rogue Month, anywhere. What did a Month look like, anyway? Were they small and scuttling, or humanoid and odd like 2014? Were they invisible? But if they were invisible, they wouldn’t need to go undercover, would they – or was that the Years? It was all so confusing. He’d always imagined the winter months to be blue, blue as dusk. He wished it was dusk now. He’d feel an awful lot safer if there was a tad more light –
Something rustled on the other side of the bush.
Something grabbed his arm.
“Ahh!” he squeaked – and saw it was Agent 2014. “What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed. “They’ll get me…”
Suddenly Agent 2014 started to laugh. She carried on laughing, from an enervated titter to a full- blown bray of helplessness as she saw the look of confusion grow on his face.
“What?” Ed said irritably. “What?”
2014 clutched at his arm feebly. Once the hysterics had rattled to a stop, she breathed and said, “I’m sorry. I’ve got the wrong house.”
“What?”
“I’ve got my coordinates wrong. It happens sometimes. You aren’t the fellow we’re looking for.”

The world turned on its head.

Ed blinked at the young girl standing before him. He had a dim, unsettling memory of a woman with red, one-sided hair. She was not this girl. This girl was wearing a school uniform, one bag full of books on her shoulder. Next to her was Zoe.
“Made you jump, Dad!” Zoe giggled, and gave him a hug.
This was a turnaround. The most of Zoe that Ed had known for the past year had consisted of stony looks and moping silences from behind her closed bedroom door.
“Ira?” Ed said to her friend, taking a wild guess.
She nodded. “Pleased to meet you. Um. I have to tell you Zoe can’t sleep over at ours tonight. I have to do a huge bit of coursework which I forgot about.”
“You,” Ed frowned. “Are you the one who thinks Sudoku is a dance move?”
Ira laughed.
“Dad. You’ve never met Ira. Remember?” Zoe said.
“Wild horses wouldn’t drag it out of me,” Ed mused, and in the distance came the sound of the church bells striking midnight. It was the New Year, now, and Ed felt lighter in his heart as he welcomed his daughter and her new friend into the house and the fireworks started to explode overhead.
He was the last through the front door, and noticed something the two girls did not. He leaned backwards on the threshold and examined the wall next to the door.
“Zoe?” he called. “Since when did we have a doorbell?”
– Hannah Adcock (c) 2014

Just a little story celebrating the New Year. If you are Chinese, (unlike me) have a very lucky Year of The Horse.

My author page is at http://www.facebook.com/wyrdstories

The Lady In Culottes.

On this train station lies
Two platforms of tarmac and sighs
That sound the world and meet the sky;
And o’er the two the bridge runs by
To either one (that’s your lot);
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the trains below
Grind and steam there below,
The station of that’s your lot.

Faces whiten, people quiver,
Chill breezes freeze and shiver
Thro’ the wait that runs forever
On the station, all aquiver,
Going down to minus – a – lot.
One blue door, and four grey pillars,
Overlook a place of pillocks,
And the silent bridge a-rocks
From the Lady in culottes.

On that morning, we were headed –
Without using premium unleaded –
To Peterboro’, and we disexpected
The woman flitting silken-sailed –
A Lady in strange culottes.
Who has seen her walk or stand?
Or at the station seen her brand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady in odd culottes?

Only joggers, freaking early
Or a lonely bearded girlie
Could like a thing that flaps so queerly
From their legs and winding clearly,
Like the bizarre culottes:
And by the moon, the wearer weary,
Sees walking sleeves in uplands dreary,
Dreads, and runs from the flapping, lairy
Skirt/trousers/culottes.

(A parody based on The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, completely wrecked by yours truly. No offence to joggers, bearded ladies, or people with strange taste in clothing is intended.)

*******
Apologies for the long absence! I have been writing a novel, and am now in the process of typing it up. So far I am halfway through chapter 5. I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas (and Thanksgiving if you are American) and I wish you all an amazing and fortunate New Year.

SOMETHING IN THE SYSTEM

What would it be like if that laptop (or other gadget you’re sitting in front of) could speak? I know the kind of things mine would say:

http://clockwisecat.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/something-in-system-by-hannah-adcock.html

One of my first poems to see print, in Clockwise Cat. Hope it gives you a smile (the poem, that is, not the computer – now that WOULD be scary.)