We endow obvious practical functions to clothes tools, furniture and any number of items we use daily and which therefore become intimates, like I have a favourite knife, cup, spoon, breakfast bowl and so on. I remember a T-shirt, apricot-coloured, with the iconic Snoopy character on it. Over the years the fabric of the shirt faded and softened beautifully. Finally I was wearing it in bed, for comfort, until, after various fixes, it fell apart. A sad day!
We also endow objects with symbolic, creative, guiding, protective and blessing potencies. Beyond reason – be it by a kind of enchantment – we grant them magical qualities through sustained affection. For me these are stones, shells, driftwood, feathers, or small ornaments given to me by friends.
Starting as children, we’ll adopt what Donald Winnicott called transitional objects, meant to restore the lost closeness to mother. Also early on we may express interests that foreshadow an inborn zeal. So beyond toys, teddy bears, blanket, pets, books, and so on, we bond with anything that fascinates us, initiating a passion that could encapsulate the myth of our lives. In my case this became the bridging of divides. My first novel started with the image of a bridge.
I wrote elsewhere … a constant sense of oneness is not what evolution is about. In a time and space structured cosmos we cannot cage harmony. Reality is the result of contradiction.
Objects and interests we seek or meet, may relate to a particular element, earth, water, fire, air, aether. Quite often our vocational and professional activities relate to an element. Also, one or the other of our senses may take hold of us, the love of light, shapes and colours, a fondness of sound, touch, smell, taste, or a love of metaphysics. Attachments drive our interests throughout life.
Strong affinity with an element may bring the challenge of dealing with another element we feel less in resonance with. The psyche plays at balancing extremes. For example, my astrological birth chart confirms a predominance of fire and air signs, fast energies, fierce, intense; even obsessional. I can still hear my mother saying, with a touch of exhaustion, ‘You’ve got a vivid imagination.’ My authority defying associations caused the odd trouble with teachers. In compensation I had need of grounding, befriending earth, literally digging and planting, which taught me patience. And I’m calmed by the vicinity of water. My childhood was spent around lakes, rivers and ponds.
We hold our loved ones and friends dear. We give significance to certain animals, trees, plants, prominent landmarks. We cherish gadgets, periods of history, art styles, places, habitual rituals and ideas. Each bonding adds to the creation of a strong net. To lose a strand precious to us, requires a child-like faith that our relational energy net can be mended and re-aligned to our guiding light. This net is all about relationships, inner and outer, informing the purpose of our extended self.
Over recent years, efforts to dis-endow some of my attachments, among them endless folders with notes on projects and visions I’ve slim chances to achieve in this round, left me melancholic, but through the more malleable net sneaked fresh insights and mysteries. It also helped me to focus on writing my novels. ‘Course of Mirrors’ will have its sequel, ‘Shapers,’ published next spring.
The random excerpt of Shapers, below, is where I’ve got earlier today while working through a last round of revisions, before proof reading and formatting towards an initial e-book, if I find the funds. From Course of Mirror’s mythic theme, the cast re-appears in a future SF setting, not on other planets, but on earth. The main protagonists, Ana, Cara and Mesa, connect back and forth in time. They are really one and the same, a triple soul. It’s a compelling work of the imagination with strong, memorable characters. Even my son agrees 🙂
* * *
The hall rocked with the rhythm of drums. All eyes were on Zap, who did a thrilling dance with silk ribbons, and at the same time juggled a round of colourful balls. They slid down his back and legs and with a kick of his heel were flipped back into rotation. He spotted Mesa and waved his ribbon, inviting her to join him, which she did, with sudden abandon. Her responsive dance provoked gasps of admiration. Elim stepped up with his violin, improvising melodies to Mesa’s sensual movements. Her waist undulated between the flowing ribbons, while her arms rippled like snakes.
The sight filled Cara with happiness, until she spotted Dillon staring at Mesa with rapture in his eyes. An intense bout of jealousy overtook Cara. Her lover was a pushover for mystery. When the muse grabbed him all else ceased to exist. She invited the pain, almost welcoming the torture of feeling rejected, though reason argued that Dillon’s infatuation would pass, like any storm, eventually. Still, she felt inept. And yet, only an hour ago she herself was irrationally impressed by another man. What was his name? He was not unlike Dillon, yet different, obscure, and more complex. The thought of him made her skin tingle as she ploughed through the crowd in search of Tilly, and the stranger.
Gart had escaped the festivities. Standing at the cliff’s edge, he clutched his flapping cape, while shouting into the storm, into the void. “Talk to me!” A deep rumble shook the ground. “What is it I am? Answer me!” A blinding streak of lightning split the night and dispersed across the fluid orb of black waters. “Who dropped me here? Take me home to my name.” Thunder resounded in his skull, a force surged through him, fused his feet to the rock under him, and roused senses he had no words for. “What’s expected of me? These people here … they sap my strength, and … I glimpsed something I’ve never seen before … forms behind things … behind her.” As if in response, the apparition of a woman, illuminated from within, rose from the waves below him. Gart sunk to his knees. “What are you?”
A name echoed from the cliffs, but was drowned out by another clap of thunder. The spectre of the figure scattered into shards of silver speeding out in all directions, the sea, the sky, across the sweep of rocks called Kerry.
“Aren’t the waves magical?”
Gart turned towards the voice and was confronted by the girl, Mirre, who by casually touching his shoulder at the banquet had made the hall spin. What was it about her? “Stay away from me!”
“Why?” Mirre’s eyes sparkled from under her windblown red curls.
Her candid question annoyed and intrigued Gart.
Mushki, having caught up with Mirre, skidded to a halt. Searching his holdall, he set up a tripod, screwed on a camera and focused the lens towards the flashes at the horizon. “You,” he motioned to Gart, “you obstruct my view.”
“Don’t be rude,” Mirre said. “Here, use my tablet. It records images in three or more dimensions.”
“No thanks. If I keep the shutter of my lens open I get the effect I want,” Mushki said, and readied himself. He was in luck. Another rumble … giant branches of light filled the sky.
Mirre shrugged and fixed her gaze once more on Gart whose looks reminded her of Crim, her favourite author of animations. “Tilly says you’re a Guardian. Their red uniforms are grand, but you’re not wearing one.”
A spasm gripped Gart’s spine. His head throbbed, and the memory of his identity flooded back. His eyes darted from Mirre to the ivy walls of the estate, to the bay where he glimpsed his airbus, and back to the girl. He burned the image of Mirre’s freckled face into his mind, turned on his heels and dashed down a path towards the beach, away from the chaos that had gripped his mind, familiar faces he couldn’t place. His Guardian training should’ve protected him from such emotional turmoil. What was wrong with him?
He now recalled a repeated interference on his console while heading for Rhonda after his spying mission in Sax. Someone called Zap seemed lost in Derrynane. Annoyed, yet curious, he had demanded his craft to find the place. Then the horizon wobbled, and as if taken over by some spook, he nearly crash-landed on this alien stretch of coastline.
With shaking hands Gart pointed the sensor towards the dolphin-shaped airbus glinting in the dusk. The craft responded. The signal light came on. Only a few more steps and he would be able to lift off from this bewildering place. A sense of vertigo made him stop. All sound ceased. For a brief moment he felt as if his body did not belong to him. Into the silence stirred a soft breeze. An invisible hand seized his and led him to where the water lapped at the sands. Before him the air wavered and the shape of an old woman appeared, more ancient than the yew trees on the peninsula. The crone looked at him like a fox, tilting her head. Her voice was firm. “When a heart cracks its myths flow free and the stories of river and sea mingle.”
Gart opened his mouth and closed it again. A melodic tune drifted across the waters.
Twinkle, twinkle, little rat … how I wonder what you’re at …
A subtle fragrance reached his nostrils bringing memories. Years of harsh drilling for leadership had sealed away images of his childhood. An ornamental garden with birdsong and blossom, a nursery filled with flowers, toys, and humour – a woman reading dreamlike stories to him. Children raised as Guardians were not read stories. They were trained from infancy to obey commands. He was different. Phrases he used as triggers to control his army had no effect on him. He tossed his hair back trying to shake off the confusion. The crone watched him. He realised his thoughts were exposed to her ageless knowing.
“You were led here to experience the sweet agony of emotion, what it’s like to be lovesick, and to yearn for a lost place,” said the crone. Her words seeped under his skin.
A gentle wave splashed over his feet. His toes squished in his sandals. Droplets of sweat soaked his brow. What was she talking about? He glanced back at his craft. Would the tide reach it? He must get away.
Heat shot up his spine when Cassia took a step towards him. “Stop your haste. Imagine deeply. What do you desire? Listen to what the sea whispers in your ear. Accept contradictions. They’re indispensable. You were raised to command the Guardians for a purpose.”
His head hurt. His skull seemed too small to accommodate this garbled talk. He blinked as the crone became fuzzy, then transparent, and finally vanished altogether.
Her last words echoed, “A woman needs your help, and you’ll need hers.”
Gart rubbed his eyes, squinting at the shimmering air before him. Some Shapers were known to materialise out of thin air. Was she one of them? Clinging to his wits he rushed to his airbus and fumbled with the console. How can the sea whisper? And how can a heart crack? His curiosity had often led him to unearth illegal information. He knew how to access a glossary of emotional terms outlawed in Rhonda. Agony – another troubling term – sounding like a woman’s name.
* * *
In late May I visited London – for the first time in almost three years. I met with my son, his wife, and her mother from Darwin. We visited the Tate Modern exhibition on ‘Surrealism without Boundaries.’ That’s for another post.
This ceramic bee shone from a box of knickknacks among items my dad left.
. I liked the ornament as a child and can still see the bright wings mirrored in the surface of a lacquered sideboard. The bee was my mother’s and sums her up, always on the move, hardworking, generous and caring, though struggling with the emotional complexity of my father. His mother warned her … he’s a closed cupboard, meaning he didn’t trust people with his inner life. I had intuitive access to this cupboard, as daughters do, but the content was so fiercely protected, even my most gentle enquiries were repelled to the day my dad died, last spring.
Then again, had he not hidden his hoard of secrets, his girl may not have sneaked through the doors of the imagination, become a seeker, an explorer, a poet, a storyteller, a writer in search of words for what intuition reveals. Where invisibles exist they act like the fungi that entangles and interconnects what is unseen, unless brought to light. I write for a small audience – lovers of the imagination, lovers of myth, and lovers of poetry – you will appreciate my book, Course of Mirrors, and its sequel to come, which turns into SF.
In last month’s post, complementing an image found on twitter, of a screaming new-born, is an image of my mother holding me close as an infant. She died 35 years ago around this time, but still visits and protects me during nights; such is the vivacious spirit of the mother bee. Apart from my parents, I’ve lost many dear ones these last decades. While every loss refills the loss jar to its brim, a crescent (presence) still abides.
Each that we lose takes part of us; A crescent still abides, Which like the moon, some turbid night, Is summoned by the tides. – Emily Dickinson
Some mornings I wake to a cacophony of inner voices. I call them inner radio channels. From my introvert abode, I let the din be and digest impressions, images, readings, dreams and ideas in slow motion, waiting for my mind to clear towards a reflective theme for the day. A trick of light or a robin coming close might mute the noise. Watching the information flow by, my mind’s digestive system tries to keeps a fragile balance, often via leaps of the imagination that defy logic but help me bypass the mood of futility that circles the worldwide wide web these days.
The lockdown phenomenon of this pandemic has brought my sense of time circling like a lullaby round my heart. Lacking the animated exchanges and stimulations during physical meeting with friends, I rely on what I read, dream or observe in nature to feed my dialogues with life. Beyond repetitive daily tasks my memory travels inside, back and forth recent decades, re-examining relationships with people and places I lost.
Many of you may have a similar experience, and many of you, like me, may have put projects on hold. After my diary from last year yawned at me with blank pages, I didn’t bother getting another for this year, though I friend gifted me a wall calendar to keep track of days. What can we do unless abide in humility, hopefully to receive insights into what this pause in activities has to teach us, what we can be grateful for, and what fresh opportunities lie ahead?
Incidentally, a third novel I started some years ago, Mesa, deals with the theme of time slowing down. I must have felt it coming. Presently I am procrastinating with the final edit of Shapers, the sequel to Course of Mirrors. In the sequel, as well as well as in the threequel, the familiar characters of Course of Mirrors move into the far future. I wish I had the motivation to seek a publisher for these next two novels. I will however do my utmost to make them available as e-books.
Recently I posed a question to my twitter friends, where I am @mushkilgusha, I asked:
‘What is the most mysterious object in our world?’
A fascinating thread ensued; veering into the abstract, until an intuitive woman provided a satisfactory answer. As a reward, a paperback copy of ‘Course of Mirrors’ is in the post.
The weather was a little unpredictable, but, just in case, I made small preparation. A night without rain settled it. I got up at 6 am this morning. As a last thought I took a few copies of my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ along. I sold seven copies, at half price. My entry catch phrase was, ‘Do you read?’ The lovely exchanges and the personal signing of copies gave me much pleasure.
I regret not having simply gifted a mouth harmonica to a little boy wandering around alone. He showed keen interest. ‘Oh, it’s a musical instrument,’ he said, after I told him how easy it was to play by just using breath, how many musicians and songwriters played it, how Blues was associated with it – though I should have introduced him to Bob Dylan, too. I burned to play it for him, but didn’t want to put my lips to the new harmonica, Corona and all. Next time I must take a second one to demonstrate the magic. It’s such a shame that children are not introduced to this small and relatively inexpensive instrument. So there, that’s my regret of not thinking sharp, not listening deeply enough, not chancing on a significant moment for a little person.
Otherwise I engaged people in conversation. A retired teacher with an amazing knowledge of history – a retired librarian whose life is still all about books – a retired builder who cycled all around southern England and still cycles every day. He also fixes ‘anything,’ and may be my saviour regarding small jobs around the house.
I had images of some objects I did not take along, an Edwardian shelf, an Art Deco vase, which caught the eye of interested buyers. I can do with extra cash, since there’s no end to things that need attention around the house.
Friendly neighbouring stalls made the whole morning very enjoyable. I realised how starved people are, including me, for social contact.
The car boot sale happened on the premises of an agricultural museum, adding charm. A fabulous steam train travelled up and down behind my stall. When there were children on it I waved, and they waved enthusiastically back.
News that cheer, my son, whom I haven’t seen for six month, will come for a visit next week, and a Swiss friend, who recently read ‘Course of Mirrors,’ loved the novel and is supporting its promotion.
And I finished another editing round of ‘Shapers,’ sending out fresh text copies to my beta readers and my editor for hopefully a final feedback re: polishing the text, before a copy edit. It’s my intention to publish ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to Course of Mirrors, initially as an e-book, unless I can find an agent or publisher. Wish me luck.
I hope you, my readers, have some light moments to help you during these surreal times.
Today is one of those when I can only attend to bits of information, short sequences of writing, a paragraph maybe, while my eyes are drawn to ivy leaves moved by the breeze, a blackbird family feasting on apples left for them, a pair of woodpigeons landing and swaying in the branches of the huge beech at the top of my garden. Again and again I engage in pockets of attention beyond the window and shake off focus, ironically, in order to re-find the focus towards a coherent little blog post. A sudden rainfall is followed by the sun spinning through marbled clouds, while the heavenly voice of Kiri Te Kanawa streams through sound boxes linked to my computer. Eventually, my eyes return to the words I’m assembling here about the mystery of time, also relating to the emerging parallel worlds featuring in my two, coming to three, imaginative novels, where intentions create connections – from invisible realms beyond space and time.
Check out this and similar posts on YouTube, ha, ha, a few speculations. I haven’t been there for a long while. Don’t get lost.
‘The distinction between past, present and future is an illusion, although a convincing one …’ is what Einstein wrote in 2007 in a letter to friends. Time, he showed, has no universal constant and is relative. His famous equation E = mc2 – energy equals mass times the speed of light squared – had enormous implications, technologically, as well as socially.
This valued theory seems, at present, incompatible with the Quantum Physics that apply to tiny things. The chase for a unifying theory that includes quantum gravity is on. Moreover, physicists puzzle over the unseen pulling and pushing forces in our universe that elude detection.
We perceive time as proceeding steadily forward, although the laws of physics allow for time to equally run backwards. When it comes to our subjective inner experience we easily accept time as non-linear and relative. In therapy work, for example, a shift in attitude towards a person in one’s past can change a generational pattern.
We define time, create time, record it, hoard it, take it apart and re-frame it into fresh representations and stories. Stepping from one reality into another without losing coherence of mind is the province of individual adventurers of consciousness. Some artists like to dwell in liminal spaces where time shrinks and expands, like the twisting passage between one dream and another. Many devote their life to the re-framing of events in time. Imagine for a moment where we would be without people who create novel perspectives on entrenched realities. To call such expressions merefantasy demeans the symbolic understanding found in the vast dimensions of the psyche.
Try and compare the creation of our cosmos with the conception, cell divisions and the birth of a human infant. The procreations and expanding consciousness of humans make for multitudes, while each of us inhabits our own self-constructed world. A psychic universe held together, it seems, by forces not unlike the unseen tides our visible galaxies swim in, the ocean of dark matter and energy that exists symbiotically within us.
Dark matter is assumed to collide with oxygen and hydrogen nuclei in our body, speculated to happen at the rate of up to 100 000 times a year. There, you may be hit right now. To my knowledge, no idea has been proposed as to what might be sparked or exchanged in these collisions.
In any case, at this, another year’s ending, quite a few of us spark flames and kindle candles in dark nights to celebrate the cosmic dance, the birth of light.
I’m wishing you, my readers, wherever you are, a time of peace and reflection.
Writers that inspire and make me think are like a family of heart and mind. Luis Borges belongs. His imaginary worlds shine from beyond time and space, and delight with paradox.
‘The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of any indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between … The Library is a sphere whose exact centre is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible … For every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences … it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist …’ The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges
Between each breath, comma, pause, number, node, and each period, we string symbols towards stories. Some make sense to some, others make sense to none, and yet others inspire more stories. Ideas that resonate have an ongoing life, they tag on each other.
In his extensive readings, Borges must have come upon the ‘many worlds’ theme recorded in various cultures over the centuries, long before quantum physics was challenged to struggle with this probability.
Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914
Even as a child I experienced shifts in reality, vivid moments that expanded my imagination and have come to play a part in my novels. Since nothing about particle behaviour under observation is certain, everyone of us is abundantly free to speculate about memory, time, and parallel worlds. Though dreamlike, these other dimensions leave signs, like unseen winds show in swaying branches, jittering leaves, and rippling waters that gather momentum to become waves upon waves.
The general definition of wave is a disturbance travelling from one location to another through whatever medium or vacuum presents itself. Do bits of information travel with resonating particles? Is the medium itself the message transmitting pattern recognition? After all, even far galaxies mirror the branching of trees and leaves on earth, or, for that matter, the neuron system in our bodies. Everything scales up or down ad infinitum. Here’s how Jonathan Swift put it in 1773
The vermin only teaze and pinch Their foes superior by an inch. So, naturalists observe, a flea Has smaller fleas that on him prey And these have smaller still to bite ‘em, And so proceed ad infinitum.
It seems incomprehensible that parallel worlds could exist and influence our reality and vice versa. How could there be many collective and personal histories? How could there be other versions of us and everything? How would it work?
Given the fickleness of our feelings and thoughts, strange dreams, synchronicities, and the constant dissolution of ordered energy fields, we are exposed to streams of oscillating and interrelating signals, unless we fine-tune through the white noise, or completely relax. Occasionally we have a sensation of order, like a blossom unfolding. All is right and beautiful – we don’t feel separate, but in symphony with all dimensions, here and now.
At other times, when under pressure, and crucified having to make a decision, we sample memories, search pasts, postulate futures, until we surrender to a compromise, or the universe decides for us, or … a resonance occurs.
‘All time is contained in now.’ – Meister Eckhart
A sudden resonance, if deep, could explain many paranormal phenomena that vex and hex people, especially scientists. Mystics are fond of saying the ‘self’ is an illusion, trapped in the body, though which self is a matter of perspective. Since quantum physics, particles stopped being things in themselves, but function as waves also. This is where it gets slippery, because no explanation has come forward for the wave-function- collapse when the measuring of the particle is attempted.
Time is nature’s way of stopping everything from happening at once.’
Graffiti in a Texas Washroom
The ‘many worlds’ concept gets round this problem by suggesting myriad of copies of our reality, where everything conceivable can happen. As a writer, this is my license to create. The invented characters in my novels happen to me. They are tangible, psychologically coherent, yet also suspended between worlds, like, I think, we all are.
‘… the library is infinite and cyclical … If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, such repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by the elegant hope.’ Jorge Luis Borges
Yesterday a friend called my home a little palace. The semi has a lot going for it – road & off-road parking, a lovely back garden which opens additional living-space in summer, provided there is enough of a sunny summer. Over the years I had my share of annoyances coming through the adjoining walls – the TV of an old man who didn’t believe in hearing aids, a couple who screamed at each other every other night, and recently a developer who put up an extension and is now gutting the house to create an open-living space …
So when I saw the ad for a Chapel not far from where I live, my imagination soared – I envisaged part-ceilings with upstairs galleries and features of functional beauty – a little palace without adjoining walls, right?
That was until I popped over to look at the place. I guess the Parish cashed in on the adjoining land before they sold the Chapel as bargain to someone with a dream, who, unable to realise it, let a few years go by and is now hoping for profit – from another dreamer.
While the green roof enchants, the boundaries of the plot permit only a shoulder-hunched walk around the building. There is no room to park a car, let alone a builder’s van, without blocking a footpath or the narrow lane.
My sudden surge of energy, I understand, is in line with spring and, to come to the point, my need to overcome an obstruction that is pervading all else in my life, namely the dwindling hope that a publishing contract I signed nearly two years ago is going to result in the launch of my novels. The chapel with its constricting plot inhibiting development reflects precisely my deflated spirit and the state of mind I trapped myself in.
Given the nature we are, spring urges in us for scope and inspiration to move forward in different ways. For me – it’s time to appreciate my creative work and count my blessings. It would be marvellous to be in Chuang-Tzu’s position, but unlike him, most of us must summon an inner Kingship that keeps patient faith with our art.
A LITTLE STORY ABOUT TIME
Among Chuang-Tzu’s many skills, he was an expert draftsman. The King asked him to draw a crab. Chuang-Tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. ’I need another five years,’ said Chuang-Tzu. The King granted them. At the end of these ten years, Chuang-Tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen.
Engrossed in polishing the text of ‘Shapers,’ the latest idea for a post is as yet unwritten. To maintain my blogging rhythm, I thought I share another excerpt, leading on from … A taster of ‘Shapers’ …
* * *
The underground lake
Gart pondered the word he hadn’t come across – misgivings …
‘You see yourself in others as through a broken glass,’ said Rat, alert to his puzzlement.
‘Not in Mesa I don’t,’ Gart was quick to say. ‘And Leo, I despise him. I know how his mind works. I’m nothing to him. He used me to gain power in Rhonda.’
Rat shook its pelt and scuttled ahead into the tunnel. ‘Come along, you’ve got to cross the lake. There lies an answer.’
Gart struggled to his feet, limbs stiff from what seemed endless hours on damp rock. He recalled Oruba talking of a junction with a slab in the middle – and a password. ‘Not so fast!’ he shouted. Stumbling, he fell flat on his face. The glower shot from his hand and rolled yards ahead, a little spot of light before the blackness of the tunnel beyond. He touched his nose, wet – blood. There was no pain, only numbness.
‘Don’t fret. It’s useful to be visibly injured when you attempt to cross the lake.’ The silhouette of Rat loomed like a giant keyhole from where Gart was spread on the ground. ‘Not far now, hurry.’
Gart wiped at the trickling blood with his sleeve and then crawled towards his glower. Not far was an understatement. He followed the tail of his guide along three more junctions before a square slab signalled the gateway to the underground lake. Now where was the password? He sampled his pockets for the scrap of paper. ‘Lost it, must have happened when I fell.’
‘Didn’t you memorise the code?’ Rat sounded alarmed.
‘I only glanced at it.’
‘Try a few words, as they come.’
Gart shook his head. ‘It was short, that’s all I know.’
‘This place is dangerous to loiter in,’ Rat twittered. ‘I’ll race back to see if I can find the note. Your light may attract unsavoury entities. Turn it off! Whatever happens, don’t give in to fear!’
He did as told. In the blackness Rat’s last word echoed – fear – it came, consumed his reason, a snake. Kill it – kill it – he heard his own voice demanding. A blazing sword, not his, swished through the air and severed his right hand. Gart screamed and a thousand screams returned from the walls around him. Something shone in the darkness and slithered towards his lone hand. Voices murmured close to his ear, faces crowded in, concerned, until one face loomed over him, erasing all others. It was the menacing sneer again, the bane of his life. Gart coiled up and clutched his knees, whimpering, ‘Leave me. Go away.’
‘Got it, got it.’ Rat jumped onto the switch of the glower light and dropped a crumpled note at Gart’s feet. ‘You saw him, didn’t you?’
‘Saw who?’ Gart said, wide-eyed, looking for his hand, surprised it was still attached to his arm.
‘Say it, now. It’s the code for opening the gateway. Say it loud.’ Gart straightened the note. Letters jiggled, foiling his comprehension.
‘Must do, must do. Get on with it!’ Rat chased its own tail in frustration.
Gart pressed the password through his lips – Batin. A grating noise emitted from the slab as it slid apart.
Rat disappeared down steps hewn into the rock. ‘Quick. Not much time.’ The cavity below brought a whiff of cool air. An overhanging rock barred the way and Gart had to crouch low. He choked and his chest cramped in panic of being crushed. His muscles tightened, ungiving, like tough leather, and a stabbing pain in his shoulder made him cry out in pain. Fragments of a blurred shape drifted by, leaving a bitter smell, and then it was done. He stood upright. Taking a deep, long breath, Gart gaped at a cave towering high into a vast crystal vault. In the middle lay a body of water, motionless, like a sheet of glass. Tied to a jetty was a blue boat, and in it sat a hunched figure, a pale, wizened old man in rags that showed bits of brittle brocade. Too weak to raise his head, he turned his neck sidewise towards the presences and uttered a lament. ‘Have you come to lift the curse?’
It seemed impossible that this face terrified him earlier. The cruel dark eyes had changed into maudlin pools of tears. The sight disgusted Gart. Every fibre of his body twitched with a desire to drown the pitiful apparition.
‘I must leave you here, friend. Be careful now,’ said Rat.
* * *
I won’t give away the story, especially since the first book in the series still awaits the light of day. But I welcome feedback. Recent comments were precious gifts, thank you. All helps in the polishing.
I’m in the process of editing ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel, awaiting release this year. By no means the final edit-round of Shapers, any feedback to this sequence from chapter eight is appreciated. Gart was called Rufus in Course of Mirrors. He re-appears in a future society. This is the beginning of a kind of night-sea-journey, where Gart is tested for a role he may or may not fulfil.
Having shut down his craft, Gart looked up to the late light falling into the cave. He felt dwarfed by its lofty height. A sliver of pale moon shone through a crescent-shaped opening in the roof. A glimmer in the rock before him caught his attention. Stepping close, he distinguished the carving of a spiralling maze. Intrigued, he tried to determine its flowing pattern towards the centre, but soon felt dizzy. His head was not right. Odd – it had not occurred to him to ask Oruba why he was sent on this underground journey. Rats, he thought, rats had consumed his mind when the tunnel was mentioned. Here was his chance to meet real rats. He had never questioned why Leo kept providing him with banned books on these creatures, instilling this obsession. Governors were not known to forge relationships of interest, or confer weighty authority onto their staff. Gart smiled to himself. Leo lacked influence, not just politically. He relied on him to exercise command over the Guardian army.
RAT – damballaproductions.deviantart.com
The entry to the tunnel was narrow but gradually opened out. He chose his steps with care. Not trusting the rough ground, he switched the glower’s setting from its sharp beam to diffused light. Deadly still and cool air enveloped him. Every now and then a section of steps lowered the path. There were bends where the tunnel narrowed only to expand again. After an endless straight stretch, a cairn rose like an apparition, its stones stacked up higher than his head, with a rock sticking out like a crooked finger pointing to the right. He strained his ears to identify a sound underlying the silence, a faint drone. And there was another sound, whisperings, behind his back. A shiver in his neck made him turn to cast the light of the glower along the walls – nothing. He loathed the dark. Was this really his choice, or had the black man lured him into this tunnel? Willing himself forward, he counted several cairns that looked alike until his map showed he had reached a halfway point. Dragging on, his linen sack with provisions got snagged by a jutting rock – food – the thought made his stomach growl.
He placed the glower on the ground, rested his back against the rock, and pulled a tin from the sack. It contained biscuits. Chewing relaxed him, and his taste buds declared: moreish. The water in the flask was fresh, with a hint of lemon. An acute sense of pleasure spread throughout his body. Every single cell was drunk with joy.
The sensation astounded him. He took his time over another biscuit, letting the crumbs melt slowly on his tongue, closing his eyes to savour each morsel. A bird – it could not be, not here – yet it was. A bird sang sweet notes in the branches of a blossoming tree under which he sat and played with stones and shells. A round-faced woman appeared, with a warm smile, tousling his hair. She handed him … Gart’s eyes snapped open. Disorientated, he stared at the opposite wall. The rock glimmered as if alive with tiny creatures, shifting and heaving. Shapes emerged – a nose, a mouth, a beard – the features of a frightful man with a savage scowl. Gart flinched as piercing eyes fixed on him. He heard a voice pleading – his own – please don’t leave me here, don’t leave me in the dark, I’ll be good, please. He curled up and sobbed. He was alone, utterly alone, facing a black abyss. The only control left was to play dead.
He woke with a shudder and cold limbs. Dampness from the tunnel floor had seeped through his uniform. From the rim of his consciousness a sound returned, the drone under the silence, and, close to his ear, a squeak, and another squeak. Speckles of silver danced before him. Something moved in the dark, and then shot through the ring of light cast by the glower. The creature stopped in a shaded nook. Tiny eyes gleamed there. Gart had swift recognition. A rat! He carefully pushed his back up against the wall. Without losing sight of the rodent, his hand felt for another biscuit. ‘Curious? Are we?’ The rat had not moved an inch. Gart broke off a small crumb and tossed it to land just within the faint radius of light. The rat twitched its nose. ‘I might as well have some more myself. Manna from heaven, or hell, my friend, whatever, it’s not a taste one forgets.’
He grasped a truth. Oruba had laced the biscuits to animate his dull senses. His new friend liked the crumbs too, and demanded more. He never had a friend before. ‘I’ll call you friend.’ It was the best he could come up with, and it sounded sweet to his ears. In response, the rat seemed to grow in beauty and size. Such intelligent eyes, making him feel special. ‘You understand, don’t you? I’m offering you alliance. That’s a precious deal, for me anyway.’ Rat nodded. He was sure of it. ‘Tell me about the man buried in the walls here, who smells of death.’ A shot in the dark, but a pressing question on Gart’s mind.
‘He’s buried in you.’
‘Buried in me?’
‘You caught his hatred of the world. You must release him.’
Without warning, the drama of this man tore through Gart’s mind like a tree growing crooked in painful fast motion. A boy called Rufus was scarred by this twisting. He sensed that boy was him. No knowing when and where, the sensation was real, vivid. ‘He betrayed my birth right.’
‘He, too, was betrayed. He should have been king of Itaka. Then again, kingship is an inner state. Become king of yourself. Absolve your resentments, and become kin to a family of heart-species.’
This, Gart reasoned, was no rat talk. Whose voice was talking to him?
‘Look at me as a guardian to you, Guardian. Empty your heart of misgivings and what must be done will appear as clear as a diamond. You choose the shape of its setting.’
The image returned, of a garden, bird song in blossoming branches, a woman tousling his hair and handing him … it struck Gart that the Shapers knew more about him than he did.