Crenshaw

Crenshaw was running hard. The air around him was thick with mist, and as he ran he muttered in between breaths and his muttering pulled the mist closer around him like a cocoon. Light of the full moon shone through and glowed about him, and he could see the shadows of the trees as he ran. Soft hoof beats sounded in the distance, slightly muffled by the closely-spaced trees. Suddenly, Crenshaw’s foot caught a root and he went sprawling to the dirt. But there was no time: the sound of hoof beats drew nearer, and he bolted to his feet and was off like shot again, muttering louder and drawing the mist tighter and tighter around him. He hoped this would shield him from the beast’s sight, but he knew that he would have to try harder than that to escape for good.

Crenshaw pushed himself, and as he dodged below a low-slung branch and rounded the next tree, suddenly found himself in the middle of a clearing. The trees surrounding the outside seemed to grow and loom, closing the gaps between them: Crenshaw could not pass through. The only way out was back where he came from, back from where the beast was coming. The hoof beats grew louder. Crenshaw slung his backpack to the ground. As it hit the dirt, the beast stepped into the clearing; a great four-legged, sleek black creature with silver eyes. It looked streamlined, as if made for running. A strange black cloud seemed to hover around it, and as he scrabbled through his pack, Crenshaw saw the cloud condense and grow darker, before reforming into a humanoid figure. An ordinary person may have been scared witless by this beast, but not Crenshaw. Though apprehensive, Crenshaw was used to dealing with such things. For Crenshaw was a preternaturalist: an agent trained in handling the non-physical. Crenshaw was the one that you called when your plates started throwing themselves off the walls, or the taps began to run blood instead of water, or the mirrors in your house began to tremble and shake when you looked into them.

Usually, paranormal manifestations could be cured with a sprinkling of salt and a few lit candles, but this creature was a manifestation far more powerful than usual. It was actively hostile towards Crenshaw, actually hunting him. He’d dealt with deadly stuff before, but that was back at headquarters with a lot more equipment. Like silver chain, giant mirrors, banishing circles and portable sunshine. He felt in his pack: all he had was a pistol with silver bullets, and a small jar of iron filings. The rest of the stuff must have fallen out when he fell, thought Crenshaw. What he had would only allow him to delay the beast. Still, delaying the beast would allow him to escape, which would allow him to find out exactly why a giant feral shape-shifting spirit was wandering the countryside.

Suddenly, the beast spun on the spot and the dark cloud surrounding it expanded, stripping Crenshaw of his fog cocoon. The moon went out and the stars were hidden as the beast turned and faced him. Thinking fast, Crenshaw grabbed the jar and hurled it at the beast. It hit and shattered, and the beast spluttered for a moment giving Crenshaw time to aim; the beast launched forward at Crenshaw, he dropped to the ground and fired once, twice, three times: the silver bullets tore great chunks of darkness from the beast as they flew. With an ear-splitting screech, the creature rose up into the air and swooped down at Crenshaw to tear at him, but he was too fast: he ducked and rolled to avoid the claws and landed hard on his back at the base of a tree while the creature passed overhead. The creature flared out its black cloud again, but Crenshaw got off another shot and it was thrown backwards as more chunks of it were ripped off. It rose into the air, screeched again, wheeled round and took off, disappearing like smoke in the wind.

The moon burst into life and the stars erupted in the sky as the beast left. The trees seemed to shrink and become less menacing. Crenshaw groaned. With the running and the fighting and the falling, he was aching. The screech of the beast seemed to serve more than just as a distress cry: Crenshaw found that it seemed to ring in his ears, long after the creature was gone. Crenshaw lay on the ground and breathed slowly to calm himself. He had time. The creature would need a while to re-form, before chasing after him again. He needed to call base.

Crenshaw reached into his pocket and felt his cellphone still there. He flipped it open and pressed speed dial. He was calling headquarters. Kel would answer, and he would ask her to set up a portal for him. She would ask why, he’d give her the short version, she’d admonish him for wandering into a dark wood and losing his way, he’d tell her to get a move on with the portal and she’d say “Yeah, yeah” like she always did and he’d feel the familiar tingling vibrations that teleportation caused and in a heartbeat he’d be back at HQ, appearing in the carved binding circle, Kel just outside the circle with a bucket of warm salt water and a relieved expression. He would have to wash any lingering supernatural effects off of himself with the salt water, then stand and go over to Kel and tell her the long version of what happened. He could already see her face as he told her about dropping his pack when he fell: she’d roll her eyes and cross her arms and tut at him. Maybe he’d leave out that part about dropping the pack, Crenshaw thought. After all, the long version doesn’t have to include everything that happened. But Kel had a way of knowing when he was leaving things out.

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Oasis of Escape

Part Two

I thought the walk home would help clear my mind: I didn’t want to think about school. I spend so much time there I can hardly think of anything else. I walked, and the heat made a trickle of sweat run down my back and wet my waistband. I heaved my bag higher on my shoulder and trudged on, imagining the swimming pool waiting for me at home. As I walked I liked to let my eyes slip out of focus and my eyelids droop, so I could half-see a haze of heat and sun and sky. I imagined the tar road I was walking on as a long stretch across the Sahara desert, the waterless brown grass alongside me were the endless dunes and far in front, the peaks of the roofs of my neighbour’s houses were the ancient pyramids. I smelled the dust of the dry ground kicked up by my steps mixed with the smell of sap from the pines I walked under and suddenly I was transported away from the desert. I was strolling through the pine forest, the splotchy shadow cooling me and the needles crunching under my feet.

These imaginings helped. It’s the way I cope with having to walk all the way home. The walk home after school is daunting, especially after a long, hot day. I suppose by just letting myself float it makes the time go quicker and the journey seem shorter.

I passed a park, and thought of squeezing under the gap in the fence to take the shortcut, and that would need me to walk over a piece of wilderness. I liked the untamed spaces in between the edge of one suburb and the beginning of the next. It is a place that nobody goes: it is a place to hide and think about things that aren’t school and friends and home and work. It’s an escape. I had an escaping place in the wilderness like that, beneath the branches of a giant protea in a sea of sour fig. There was a small rock for sitting on, and a box with useful things in it. I thought about going back soon. I liked it there, when the weather was a bit cooler. You could sit and watch the clouds roll past and think of flying. Leading up to it was a little path that was almost overgrown. It must have been first used forever ago. As far as I knew I was the only one who used it anymore. The bush grew thick and fast and if I didn’t walk there often, it would completely take over and I would be the only one who’d know there used to be a path there.

I remember a book I read about wandering through nature, the wilderness. The author said that humans need to escape as much as we need hope. I thought to myself that I needed some escape today. I took the shortcut, like I had done a thousand times before, throwing my bag over the fence before bending down and pushing the wire upwards so I could squeeze under. I lay on my back and stuck my head through, then my shoulders, sliding further and further.

It was at about waist height that I felt a slight tugging at my belt. I looked there and saw a wire wasn’t pushed properly up, and had caught on my pants. Worse, it looked like it had already started tearing in. I was still holding the wire up with my arms. The sun was in my eyes and the dust was in my hair and sweat was trickling across my face and now my arms were starting to shake. If I reached down I could just unhook the wire and carry on. But that would mean letting go of the fence, which would spring back and definitely tear more than just a small hole in my pants. My arms shook with the effort of bearing against the springy fence. The only thing I could do was to carry on going. I carefully slid further up. I didn’t hear any tearing, so I tried again. This time came a ripping noise and a less gentle tug. I felt my stomach churn as I imagined what must be happening to my pants. But I was almost out. One giant push and I would make it. My arms were about to give in. I tensed my legs. With one final shove and a colossal tearing noise, I was free!

I looked at the fence, only to see that my pants didn’t make it. Tatters of grey cotton hung from the wire where I got caught. They say that dreaming of being naked in public means that you’re going to be very lucky. This wasn’t a dream and it wasn’t very lucky at all. I felt the dread that you get when you realise you’re wearing the wrong clothes. You know that feeling when you arrive somewhere and you’re worried that you’ll be the only one dressed up and everyone will look at you and just shake their heads? That feeling crept over me as I looked down and saw skin where there should be pants. I froze. I was wearing about half a pair of pants. Luckily it was the top half.

Crunching gravel told me there was a car passing nearby. My brain went into overdrive: I could not be seen like this by anyone ever. I snatched up my bag and dived behind a bush. I found myself uselessly holding my breath. The car rolled past. I needed to get home as soon as I could: this was a real emergency. But there was no way I was going to let myself walk through the streets with half a pair of pants. I had to take a moment to think.

I had an idea: still hidden behind the bush, I got my pair of scissors out of my bag. I toyed with the idea of cutting off the leg in a straight line, but that would make it too short. I thought I could maybe staple the pants back together. That would probably look ridiculous, and I would have to take them off to do it. I thought about what would happen if someone came walking through the park and seeing me squatting on the ground, pantsless, panicking and stapling what looked like an old torn up sack together. I imagined walking into the house with stapled pants and having to explain to my mother why I was covered with dust and full of staples. Neither of these thoughts brought me much comfort. I decided I’d just have to make sure she never finds out. Besides, they’re my pants: I had bought them. I can staple them if I want to.

A few minutes with the stapler later, I had a sad mess of what once had been a good pair of pants. It must have looked absolutely ridiculous, but I just kept telling myself that it was completely unnoticeable. I put it on. As long as I didn’t move too much or too suddenly, the staples would probably not dig in or cut me. I heaved my bag back onto my back, and started walking, painfully and slowly.


Great Minds

Part One

Our minds are greater than our bodies can bear. I first encountered this thought during the seventeenth summer of my life, while sitting in the searing heat of the sun, in a classroom with the windows open but not a breath of air. I want to say this mind-body idea is mine because it’s a really great idea, but it’s not, and anyway, which great idea ever truly belongs to you? I bet every thought you’ve ever had has already been thought by someone else. Even the thought that your thought has been thought by someone else has already been thought by someone else.

Anyway, like I said those words aren’t mine: they were from someone we learned about called Byron. What Byron actually said was something about the soul wearing out the breast like a sword ruins its sheath, all metaphorical and that. He was talking about how the mind can drive the body further than the body can handle. All that I understood was that the page in front of me still had only one sentence on it even though I was supposed to have been writing an essay for the past twenty minutes. It wasn’t even a very good sentence. The teacher was walking up and down the room giving me impatient glances and although I had all the thoughts and ideas I would ever need to write a great essay, they all seemed somehow slightly wrong, like a skew picture frame or a puzzle that refused to fit. I just couldn’t get the ideas out: every time I wrote something down it was like the pen crumpled and mangled the thought and what ended up on the page was a sad illogical shadow instead of the clear reflection of my mind that I was looking for.

I could feel the tension rising and in a fit of impulsiveness I scrunched up the paper into a ball and chucked it on the ground. I tore a new sheet off the pad and started over, trying to funnel the luscious world I was imagining through my pen. The funnel ended up being more like a broken sprinkler and I crumpled up another page. How was one tiny piece of paper supposed to hold an entire brain’s imaginings? I heard in science class that the man who invented the light bulb failed a billion times or something; it’s not important. What he said was that doing well is 99% hard work and 1% inspiration. I’m pretty sure I had the 1% inspiration part, but I think I only had about 50% hard work. The writing wasn’t going well: I balled up a few more sheets of paper.

I turned to look out of the window. The air was dead calm outside. The only thing that moved was the shimmering space above the hot paved quad. The shifting mirage made me think of water, and I imagined the time when I was standing high on a rock far above a pool. That was the summer of my sixteenth year, and it was hot. Me and my friends had walked for an hour through the cloying air to reach these rock pools, following a thundering waterfall, and when we arrived we felt like travellers arriving at an oasis. It was so beautiful: the deep green water was churned violently, and the rocks looked climbable and so inviting. We excitedly undressed down to our swimming costumes, and started climbing to the top, preparing to jump.

When we got up there, I felt a nervous twinge in my stomach. I stayed at the top of the waterfall and watched while everyone else ran past, one after the other, and flung themselves from the rocks with wild whoops and screams and far down below, deep splashes. I really wanted to join them, and I stood there for ages, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. It wasn’t that I was scared of water: I could swim well. What scared me wasn’t even the jump, or the height, or the fall. I was scared of that tiny instant at the very peak of your flight that you realise you aren’t going up anymore. The moment just before gravity kicks in, and you start falling. You sit there motionless and weightless: stuck between the freedom of flying and the doom of falling. I often dream of that moment, and I imagine that’s what being dead would feel like. You would be stuck in the middle of nothingness, unmoving and unknowing, a tiny bright speck of a mind or soul or spirit or whatever just hovering for all eternity in the abyss.

But out of that endless abyss I heard a familiar clanging sound. It echoed. I started up and knocked my pencil case off the desk as I suddenly woke. The world blossomed around me as I opened my eyes and heard the flurry of noise that was people packing bags, meaning the bell had just rung. I looked at my desk and saw an empty page and beyond it, on the floor, my small pyramid of screwed up paper. My face felt rough where it had been lying on the desk, and my cheek felt slightly damp – I think it was drool. Hoping nobody would notice, I quickly wiped it off, grabbed my papers and pushed them into my bag. Embarrassment turned my face red as I stooped to pick up the pencil case and kick the papers under the next desk. The class droned, “Good afternoon sir.” I grabbed my blazer and hurried out of the room, the teacher calling out to me to not forget my essay tomorrow. I said I’d finish it tonight, but I knew that was wishful thinking. No matter how I tried to translate my infinite mind through my finite body and into words on a tiny page, I knew that those great castles that I built with my imagination would end up on the paper sounding like an ancient ruin. Not the adventurous, exciting kind of ruin, but the kind of messy disaster that I never want to think about. It makes me want to rip my page up, and rather take a photograph of what I see in my mind and hand that in instead.


Marionette

I am the beat that moves your feet,
I am the source of your delight,
I am your breath and I’ll be your death,
I am the king of your body and soul.

I am the smile behind the upward-
Curl of your mouth and I control
The tilt of your head when you question
The truth of what I dictate to you.

I am the glimmering in your eyes,
I am the way you move your hands,
I am the one who knows your mind,
I am the king of your body and soul.

I am the maker, sustainer, creator of
Your every action, thought and word:
At my whim you talk and sing
I am your world, your everything.

I am the fire of your emotion,
I set your clockwork soul in motion,
I am the object of your devotion,
I am the king of your body and soul,
I am the king of your body and soul.


Light

rays stream off sun

reach to earth as 

earth lurches away

turns about own axis

and around sun

 

rays stream off moon

reach to earth as 

white reflected moon phase alters 

turns about own axis

and around earth

 

on earth

long-time-travelling sunlight-rays

wane pink – red – gold

day slows night overtakes

moonphase white light grows

through dark as

moon turns about own axis

and around earth 

and around sun

and earth around sun

through dark 

 

then morning-light 

shines


Dragonfly

Pond-water reflecting sparkling sunlight,
Brightly, interrupted by gossamer
Wing-threads and cobalt needle-bodies,
Perched on six legs with compound eyes,
Tracing complex hover-patterns on
Cushions of buzzing air and flits
Just above the water-line where floats
Green saucer-disks with creamy white and
Mild yellow, deep-centered fracture-petals
Than open with a twist to the sun.
Hover-patterns untwist and buzzing fades
As wingbeats slow and legs clasp:
Needle-body settles and cobalt glints in
Pond-water reflected sparkling sunlight


Stormcoming

 

We saw the storm coming

Far out to sea, thick clouds gather

Building in the rising level,

Lit from below by golden light

Overlooking ocean blue

 

The sun is slipping lower

To the horizon, and bathing us

In warm marmalade glow:

The thunderheads grow and

Whirl softly in, shoreward

 

The rushing wind is coming

Whistling and upsetting

The mirror-ocean now ruffled

White horses dance and

Spray us with salty foam

 

A million tiny craters form

In the sand as a billion

Raindrops fall like silver nails,

Pinning down the fading glow

Of the sinking sun