Slip before the rise

The slip was coned off for safety, though we could all see it was there. Unmistakable, even in the gloom of storm.

I watched from the ditch at the edge of the road. Next to me a culvert spouted rainwater, blooded with soil and oil.

Grim-faced cops stood manfully in front of their red and blue beacons of authority. They watched a house teeter 10 metres above a newly torn edge. They stood by. They waved cars back. The drivers’ faces milled, unsure how to retreat into the line backed up behind them.

Rain spat from the sky. The slip shifted and slumped. Rills of water ran across the mush. Clumps of rock and grass topsed across the mound of mud, plopping thickly onto the tarseal.  Dense water ploughed mud down the chunky slope.

I could see the outline of what had called me here. The scream when the hillside first fell away. That shriek had subsided. The first breath taken, it now exhaled a moan, issuing its bearings on the wind.

Rain sluiced soil off pale corpulent flesh. She was still fetally curled, refusing to react to the cold truth which slapped bitterly at her side.  Her splindly limbs wrapped around her abdomen, winding it into a circle to touch her mouth. It was crinched shut – little pincers folded tightly at the corners. She squeezed her eyes shut.

I called to her. Reassured her I was there.

She pulsed, dislodging a cascade of mud and crumbled rock. She slid mightily, pulpy, with it. She avalanched across the orange cones. Swamped the cops. Their florescent jackets fell silent beneath black mud.

I sheltered under the culvert pipe as the tide of wet mud flowed over the road’s edge into the gorge.

She flowed with it. Her tight muddy skin wiped slickly over my hunched shoulder and head. Down the slope.

She cried out for her shepherd. But there was nothing I could do for her. They trusted me when I bade them lie down. I told them not to fear. Though they should have, in this eroding country. My throat constricted. I wiped at my eyes. The others would have heard the scream, like a dream in their deep earthy sleep. I will need to reassure them. We shall all rise. But it is not yet time.

/ends

Grate Jesus

Grate Jesus

By Carlington Black

 

The kooshie of keys slipped from Haiden’s fingertips, and rattled once on the steel grate before jumbling into the drain.

“Shit.”

He dropped his knees into the damp gutter, in the middle of the supermarket carpark, closing time. Tilting his head, Haiden could only make out the faint glimmer of still water.

“Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Adjusting his head allowed weak overhead LED light into the cavity, but it was still gloomy. Haiden could only make out more water. He couldn’t see keys.

His eyes adjusted, and a shape resolved into focus. A shape in the surface of the water. The shape of a human face.

Haiden recoiled in fright, heart banging paused lungs. He twisted around warily. Fluorescent light arced wanly outwards from a single pole. A couple of cars bunched near the supermarket doors in pattering rain. The lit windows of the curry place were misted.

He needed those keys. So he steadied himself, and squinted through the gaps from a distance.

Yes, it was a face. Definitely a face. An adult male. Youngish, but heavily creased with lines of pain. Eyes crunched closed.  A face vaguely recognised. God, who was it?

Haiden squished fingers through the grade and tried to wrest it upwards. It didn’t budge.

He pushed his face against the grate again.

The man was bearded, which along with his lips and teeth, were peppered with grit. Long hair stranded his face, tangled with sticks and plastic.

“Hey. Mate!”

The man’s facial folds crinkled slightly. The eyes blinked once.

“Hey, are you alright?”

The mouth changed shape, very slightly from downturn to straight. He was alive.

“Mate, can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“What happened? Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

“Hey, wait there, I’ll get help.”

“No.”

“Yes, just wait. We’ll get you out.”

“No.”

“What? Who are you?

“I’m Jesus.”

“In a drain?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing?”

“Talking.”

“I thought you were dead.

“I am.”

“I mean, just now. Someone dead, just now.”

“Assalamualaikum.”

“Eh? Hey, it’s okay mate. Take it easy. We’ll get you some help. Is there someone I should call?”

“Abba.”

“Eh? That’s a little weird. Just chill. I’ll be right back.

“No. Wait”

“Who are you, really.”

The water circled past the man’s temples. He lifted his head a little out of the water. “What?”

“Who are you… really?”

“Jesus.”

“In a drain? In a supermarket carpark? In Naenae?”

“Can you name another place?”

“Somewhere I don’t live. Shit, look, this is stupid. You’re not Jesus. He died like thousands of years ago.

“The Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”

“You got me there. But you’re not him. You’re someone else. A guy. In a drain. In a closing supermarket. In the rain. With my fucken car keys. Did you see them?”

The bearded man rolled his eyes. “Yes. They hit my face.”

“Um. Sorry about that.”

“That’s okay.”

“Are they there. Can you get them?

“No. Arms are pinned. And my feet.”

“Well, can you look around, where did they go?”

“I heard them tumbling in the current.”

“Which way did they go?”

“Toward Buddha.”

“Eh? Which way is that?”

The bearded man’s eyes rolled upwards. “Toward Buddha.”

“Okay. Thata way. Look. Wait there. I’ll get help.”

Haiden ran at a crouch, following the direction of Jesus’s eyes, and a vague line indented in the tarseal. He reached another drainage grate and scooped to peer into it.

Looking straight back at him from under the grate was a slightly pudgy Asian man with eyes the colour of overwashed denim.

“Is there something you need?” the man said.

“My keys? They might have washed down here.”

“Is Jesus tomfooling again?”

“Was that really Jesus?”

“I see no point in disputing it.”

“And who are you then – Buddha?”

“Gautama.”

“Never heard of you.”

“Fame is insignificant.”

“I’m looking for my keys – I’ve lost them.

“You only lose what you cling to.”

“I wish I’d clung onto the bloody things tighter. Is the water rising quickly. Are you okay?

“Water does not wet the lilly.

“It does if it rains. Look, you didn’t answer. Are you okay?

“I rest among the tumult like the giant tree.”

Haiden was lit by soft halogen of car lights. His eyes crinched into them.

He rose off his knees and crouched nonchalantly on his haunches until the car passed.

He sank to his knees again and peered at Buddha.

“You’re beginning to piss me off. All these fucking sayings.”

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”

“Right, fuck you then.”

Haiden spotted a gutter at right angles to the Buddha grate and rushed along it.

The gutter ended in the furthest corner of the carpark. Black sediment had accrued along its length. A dead blackbird flattened against the grey concrete. The last few metres of gutter were cracked and uneven, and disappeared into a large puddle accumulating in the rain.

A line of dying shrubs lapsed along the supermarket wall, which itself seemed to curve down into the corner.

Haiden waded into the cold black water up to his ankles. He sifted through the muck blindly with his feet. The soles rasped over a ribbed form – a grate.

He couldn’t see anything in the gloom of rain, dark and deep muddy water. He bent over drawing nearer to the water’s surface – though his mother had said always to bend at the knees.

He didn’t bother to pull up a wet sleeve. He pushed his arm into the water and fingered around where his feet had been. They touched the raspy surface of rusted iron. He slipped his fingers into the grate slits and pulled upwards. The grate came up with his hand heavily, but easily. Haiden heaved it clumsily at the dead bushes.

He stabbed his hand into the drain hole. It was filled with what felt like loose slimy mud, gravel and plastic. He swept his hand through the fetid debris, feeling with his fingers for something that could be his keys.

The action freed up a blockage, and the large puddle began to rush into the drain.

A thin suckle pitched upwards from the hole.

Haiden heard a clink; the very particular frequency of his five keys and plastic fob.

He dove into the wide concrete well, flailing in the water, frantically scratching at the mud trying to reveal his keys.

From his grate, Buddha howled: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

From his grate, Jesus howled: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of my brethren you did it to me.

Haiden’s body was now deep in the drain. The soured heavens ran over his face, clattering over his lips and curling into his nose.

Water flagellated his cheeks with cigarette butts, broken glass, rusty nails and engine nuts.

The damp keys started Haidens’s car first time. Jesus drove. Buddha navigated.

Jesus smirked “Why is it that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?”

Buddha pointed for Jesus to turn west and sighed. “Life is dukkha.”

Jesus whooped and whacked the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. “But at least you’re the fun kind of arsehole.”

/ends

The Urge nominated for Best Short Story

The Urge has been nominated for Best Short Story in the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2017.

If you’d like to support this properly strange story, please click a couple of times on this online form to enter a support nomination.

The Ghost Bus

(Written and read for LitCrawl, Wgtn 2016)

By Carlington Black

1086 words

 

Outside this theatre, just across the road, is the Courtenay Place bus stop. Stop number 5000.

If you are standing at that spot at 7:00pm on weekdays, keep an eye on the electronic bus timetable.

Watch closely. The sign will glitch, flicker and refresh: “Eastbourne 81 – due”.

This is strange because there is no 81 scheduled for 7pm. The last 81 bus leaves fifteen minutes earlier.

I have discovered there IS a 7.00pm 81 to Eastbourne.

It is a ghost bus.

The MetLink electronics sense its presence;

Its spectral signal trapped among the trolley wires,

among old copper telephone cables

trapped in tar and the macadam first laid when they built this damp city.

One night I unwittingly took that ghost bus to Eastbourne.

I was running late to get home after work.

At the bus stop I checked the electronic panel.

Right at the bottom glowed “Eastbourne 81”.

I knew that had to be wrong.

But the oddities of MetLink bus scheduling are legion.

So I waited.

I swiped through some phone stuff.

Soon the board insisted Eastbourne 81 was due.

But no 81 came.

I stepped onto the road, trying to make bus shapes in the distance out of the swelling gloom.

I was hit – buffeted – by a wave of bitter cold. Swayed with vertigo.

I pitched forward and went black.

A moment later I was lurching down the aisle of a bus.

“Steady there!” said a cheery voice.

One of the regular 81 bus drivers was at the wheel.

He said “Oh my, it’s you. Kowhai Street ain’t it?

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“You missed the last bus.”

“Oh sorry… what bus is this?”

“The 81”.

“That’s what I want.”

“This ain’t the 81 you want mate.”

In the gloom I could make out that about a third of the seats were full.

“Where’s everyone going then?”

“The bus depot,” he said.

There’s a 1930s bus depot at the end of the route, which is also the end of the road that side of the harbour.

“That’s not far from my house,” I answered.

“Look mate, I really don’t think you should be on this bus,” he said.

“I need to get home. I’m not getting off.”

“Suit yo’self, but watch your step.”

I picked my way down the pitching aisle.

My shoes skidded; something like blood was smeared across the floor.

I found an empty seat.

The spot in front was occupied by a rag-clothed individual. They smelt like rotting dog food.

The single dirty ceiling light dulled a moment, the bus skipped a gear, and the front door coruscated.

The bus hadn’t stopped, but someone had got on. They shambled their way down the aisle.

A limp leg skidded about behind them through the patch of blood.

Every few seconds they sniffed deep, heavy and wet.

I looked out the window and gave a commuter’s prayer that they wouldn’t sit next to me.

When the figure reached my seat, some ghastly puissance compelled me to sneak a look at them.

To find they, or it, looking straight at me.

The face looked like rain sodden roadkill. Bone and skin had been split open and flattened.

From the fleshy cavity issued a mournful, despairing whimper.

I looked away in shock and embarrassment, and the figure tramped past.

I chastised myself – it was merely some pitiable wretch misfortuned by life.

But that was an intellectual pretence.

I have seen such things in my nightmares. I have seen them in The Walking Dead and Resident Evil.

Zombies – you might be thinking.

That would be too easy.

I became conscious that my ankles were bitterly chilled.

The floor at my feet bubbled with pustiluous creamy fluid running from rag-man in front.

Somewhere at the back of the bus a singularly distinctive cough cut the silence. It merged into a stuttering cack. Then into a weal, pealing awfully.

The dread alarm carried by synapse throughout my body transmitted the dark truth. This bus, these passengers, and me, belonged to Apollyon. The dark lord.

Nausea followed this realisation. But I resolved not to succumb. I pulled myself up, and walked to the driver.

“Okay, what is this bus?”

“It collects the lost souls of Wellington.

“You mean commuters?

“Yeh, commuters, groovers, movers, shakers…”

“There’s so many.

“That’s Wellington mate. Lots of good intentions paving the way to hell.

“Am I dead?

“I don’t think so. You haven’t got that mangled thing going.

“What happens at the end of the line?”

“I stop the bus and they leave. Vanish.

“What about you.”

“I just drive. It’s my community service. You know – give something back – pay it forward.

“What will happen to me?”

“God knows.”

We came around Lion Rock, one harbour bend away from the depot. That seemed to set the passengers off. The wailing grew melodious, lulling.

We pulled alongside the depot, and the driver opened the front doors.

The things rose from their seats.

A seething collection of seeping awfulness. Mawing at festering wounds.

I was overwhelmed by their oppressive smell, their desecrated breath.

They muttered unfathomable incantations to the evil denizens they expected to embrace.

I was numb. Trance-like.

An unknown ode formed on my own dry lips.

‘Tis with joy I cease. The goddesses of destiny are come to fetch me.

 The grotesque beings drew closer. I stood between them and the exit doors.

The driver grasped my shoulder and hauled me out of the aisle.

I was manhandled and wedged, stupefied, into the space behind his seat.

From there I watched the lost souls walk past, down the exit well, and out into the blackness. As each took the final step they flashed into nothingness.  A wail on the breeze.

After the last soul departed, the driver pulled me to the door step.

I held back.

He clutched my hand, I closed my eyes, and we stepped from the bus into the night.

Onto firm dewy bitumen.

I turned a slow circle. There was no bus.

Harbour water washed over the pebbled beach.

Bush rustled in the hills.

The driver let go my hand.

I said to him “I forgot my briefcase.”

He said “Sorry mate, there’s no lost property office in hell.”

Wellingtonians, I ask a favour, if good intentions leave you a lost soul on the 7pm ghost bus to Eastbourne, please look out for my briefcase.

The Final Chariot

2243 words

Mary Littletheaton sidled the car as close as she gambled against the wet bank of the narrow hillside road. Too close and she scraped the left hand side. Not close enough and a passing car scraped the right hand side.

She was already having a jolly debate with herself, as usual, between the fitness of taking the path, or the return on investment in using the cable car. As usual, the funicular had already won.

Mary turned right, taking the path to the funicular, and immediately felt an eerie apperception that something was different. A few steps more and she encountered a pathway dotted with a dozen notebooks-worth of hand-pencilled paper scraps.

A few steps more and she encountered the man responsible.

He was sitting in the entrance to the cable car; by a little wooden shelter which looked as if it had once lived many decades alongside a disused railway line.

He was about the size and shape of a post box, and more so as he was currently crouched on his haunches. He was clad only in a thule, a length of cotton wrapped around his waist and between his crotch. His bare body was begrimed. Purulent lesions dotted the loose cheeks of his exposed bottom.

“Hello.” Mary chirped with a smile. She was like that. Diminutive, but with relentlessly sunny disposition. Fazed by nothing.

The man turned his face to her. Frowning.

“Hello,” Mary repeated.

“Salaam,” said the man gravely.

“Are you in need of something?”

The man poked a stick at a small circle of smouldering notepad embers in front of him.

“Are you cold?” It was early spring, and a chilly southerly breeze kept lines of fire twisting through the black paper flakes.

“I am warmed by the faith of hajj.”

“Oh yes, I like a good evening walk as well. Only, tonight I was going to…” Mary pointed gingerly at the cable car rail. The cable car unit itself was at the other end of the line outside the house.

“Fellow pilgrim, you are welcome to share this humble shelter” the man said.

“I’m okay thanks. My, um, shelter, is up the hill.”

“Have you been waiting long?” the man asked the fire.

“Er, I’ve lived in my house for a while now, yes.”

“You are indeed a true believer. Come, join me. Tell me how you have fared.”

“Not right now, if that’s okay. Dinner won’t fix itself. Are you hungry?

“I hunger only for the truth, like you Madam.”

“I can bring you down a snack.”

“I am on a holy fast until the golden chariot appears.”

Mary thought of the funicular. She would have to step through the shelter to get to the button to call it down from the house. The man crouched in the middle of the shelter. A soft floppy sack and a roll of carpet lay opposite. Candles burned on the seats behind him.  She decided to take the steep path instead. Fitness beckoned.

“Tell you what, you’re welcome here. I’ll walk tonight.”

The man didn’t answer. As she set off up the path, she heard him chanting softly.

The next morning, anticipating the man was still in the shelter, Mary used the path again on her way out.  He was still there, only now sitting-legged, holding a flimsy sheet of crumpled paper between pressed palms, mumbling.

“Good morning,” Mary said.

She observed that the man’s eyes were half closed, with only whites showing. He continued the repetitive mumble, rocking slightly forward and back.

Mary shrugged and continued on her way out.

When she returned later that day, the postbox man had been joined by another. A straw of a man, his ribs showing through his bare chest. He wore Bermuda shorts and roman sandals. Mary noticed that the sandals looked ancient. They had thin cork soles and thin strips of wound leather.

Both men sat cross-legged on carpets. The strawman had brought with him a battered doctor’s satchel. In one corner of the shelter a photo had been propped on the wall. Stacked against it was a thumbed-sized carved wooden figure, and a stuffed black bird.

Dirt had been smeared on the walls, alongside circles a foreign script drawn in charcoal.

“Hollow” the strawman said.

“Are you here for the chariot?” Mary enquired.

“Yos, yos. Thot’s us. Thot’s us indod. ‘ave yow sewn it?”

“Yos, er yes. It’s up there.” She pointed up the hill, where the cable car’s steel rails disappeared into the trees.

The strawman started trembling with excitement. “In the Heavons. Yos, of course. Please, but has it evor descended?”

“Yes. Quite regularly actually. You see, you just push…” but the strawman eagerly cut her off.

“Have you ridden the chariot?

“The cable car? Yes, many times.”

“She is Elijah’s sister!” Strawman exclaimed to Postbox.

“No, I don’t know Elijah. You’ve me mixed up with someone.”

“Is the chariot like a heavonly whirlwind?” Strawman asked.

“No, it’s a Threadneedle and Son Model 2.”

Strawman pondered for a moment. “The Threadneedle Whirlwind! A Chariot of the Gods! A Chariot of fire!” His eyelids flicked quickly in ecstasy. He lifted his chin to the evening sky.  His bony throat started warbling a wobbly high tone. He fell to his knees.

Postbox bowed his head at Mary and slumped alongside Strawman to cojoin his mumble with the warbling hum.

Mary giggled and set off up the path to reach her house.

She decided to walk down the path again the next morning. In a shaded section, she lost her balance for a heart-bumbling moment.

“Hi boys” she chirruped at the group of three figures now filling the shelter. She wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the third.  It was covered in sack cloth, singing in a dry cough, and hunched at its own offering bowl, which contained a mixture that appeared meaty and wet. Around it was a circle of tiny bones, and skulls of what looked like birds and mice. Mixed in with them were dried husks of insects.

She dressed herself in a nonchalant smile.  “Hello again.”

The three ignored her, carrying out their liturgies.

“Any sign of the chariot?”

Sackcloth man rose slowly. From under the hood a rasping voice spoke. “We await a sign. Are you a sign?”

“I don’t think so.”

The sackcloth man took a step closer.

“We need a sign.”

Mary’s nose twisted at the acrid smell the sack emanated. In fact, the entire shelter and surrounds had quickly become quite feculent. It now dawned on her to wonder where they toileted.

She pondered that all day at work.

She returned home as daylight clicked shut its divine doors. She stood watching the three shadows. They had been busy all day. Candles dotted the shelter and the path. The area was strewn with things corraded. Effigies built hastily from sticks lay about the sides of the path. Strange scents wafted up from burning piles of wood chip.

The sackcloth man knelt perfectly still, facing the barred alighting point to the cable car. His back was to Mary, who could only see that his sack shroud was now pulled from his head. On the very top of his bald head, pinches of black soot burned gently. His scalp was littered with jieba scars.

Postbox was now totally naked, sitting hunched in a furry foetal position. He had rolled in what Mary hoped was wet soil.

Strawman was standing, sprinkling water over Postbox from a dog bowl. Strawman looked up at her approach.

“Mary, con you assost us?”

Mary took a little step back. “You know my name?”

“Heltipon here” – he pointed to sackcloth man – “had a vosion towday. He said Mary would call down the chariot to heavon.”

“Oh, really?”

“You are Mary”

“Yes.”

“Thon, we beseech you. Call down the chariot.”

Mary looked about the little white walled shelter. She was getting tired of walking up the path. Her writers group would be coming over tomorrow night. What would they make of this mess?

“Look, I’m sorry for your trouble, I really am. You’ve made quite an effort haven’t you?

“We have come a long way Mary.”

“But this is just a cable car that goes to my house.

“Thon lives in heavon?”

“No, I… oh, dear.”

“Take us to heavon on a whirlwind.”

Mary chuckled. “You just push the green button there.”

The strawman unfolded himself to inspect where Mary was pointing. “Whot? Thot botton?”

“Yos. I mean, yes. Push it and the cable car – the chariot – comes down.

All three prostrated themselves in front of the switchbox, heads pressed into the concrete.

Mary picked her way over and around the bodies and pushed the button. Somewhere about them an engine started up, bringing tiny plaintive cries from the prostrate pilgrims. At the top of the rails, a whir and a shudder and then a slow scraping begun.

“Is ut descending Mary?”

“Yes, it will be here in a minute.”

The three began jabbering excitedly, and scritching about the shelter gathering important things.

They spotted the cable car appearing through the trees and out of the night gloom.

“The chariot! It comes! It comes!” strawman screeched.

“Look, it’s just going to take you to my house.”

“Heavon!” they cried.

Mary chuckled. “Well, some have said that. But no, not your heavon.”

The three seemed bewildered.

Postman suddenly shouted in alarm. “Sheol. She intends to send us to the grave!”.

“No, no. My home. I’ve got a lovely new lounge suite.” She looked at their faces distorted in a fear and anger. She saw for the first time that sackcloth’s face was a lumpen mass of boils.

The steel-framed cable car rattled alongside the shelter and clicked to a stop.

“Look, it’s up there. See for yourself. If you like, we can have a cup of tea before you go home.”

The two looked to strawman for a decision. He looked at Mary. “Our vision was that Mary would send us to heavon. You are Mary?”

“Yes. Please, just get on, go to the top and see for yourself.” She lifted a green guard arm and bade them alight.

Strawman nodded, and the three stepped carefully onto the cable car, which quivered. They grasped at handholds.  Mary lowered the arm and pressed the green button. The cable car stuttered and began ascending.

“When you get to the top, open the gate and wait outside my front door. But close the gate and press the green button up there to send the chariot back down for me.

“We understand Mary. It is good.” They all waved to her, somewhat apprehensively.

Mary watched as the cable car clacked, steel runners on steel rails, up the slope. The three had knelt on the floor and started preying. They slowly disappeared into the gloom.

She waited for the sound of the motor and wheels to stop, as they had reached the top. Sometimes the damned thing seemed to take ages.

She waited a bit longer. The whirring continued.

And continued.

Mary started to doubt.

The motor continued to hum and humble. A high note of stress appeared in among its whirring.

It should have stopped by now.

The motor was now rattling slightly, it’s electric coil clacking between the magnetic current.

Mary strained to listen above the noise, for the sound of the unit at the top of the rails.

She could just make humanish sound coming from above her – from above the hilltops. Panicked babble.

She bent out of the shelter, looking into the gloaming. The night sky had gone dark blue. The trees lining the funicular rails had the wild flails of things not born by humans. The soft moon was absent. Razor lines of cloud slashed about the stars and about a tiny black rectangle vibrating in the sky.

The babble from the ether was now a faint, multi-frequency shriek. Or was it the southerly wind among the trees?

Mary peered into the sky. The rectangle could not be discerned. The human sound was silenced.

Mary looked around the little shelter. She tutted to herself and began tidying. She picked up little bronze and stone icons and placed them in a plastic bag. The numerous scraps of hand-scribbled prayers were stacked. Bits of rags and clothing were gingerly placed in a pile. She’d sweep up the burnt offerings later.

As she worked, from the sky came a sound like someone shushing in a theatre. Mary looked up. In the black a polite but angry hush of air was ahead of something falling. She waited. A thick thud hit the funicular rails a few metres above her.

Another thud, like the thing had bounced. She thought of old grapefruit falling from trees.  Then the swashing as ma  ny small clothy things skated down the rails.

Thuck. Thuck. Thuck. Small clothy bundles splottered about the shelter, hitting the roof, the walls, and the pavement.

A bloodied bundle rolled one up to Mary’s feet. She knelt down, and tightened her eyes at what she saw. It was someone’s hand, wrenched messily at the wrist.  The hand was tied into a fist by thin leather shoes lace. Leaving the hand on the concrete she delicately untied the knots. She peeled the dirty red fingers back. Carved hastily and deeply into the flesh of the palm was a word: Help.

Loathing in Parnell

The servant problem is the Archilles heel of the rich.It is just about impossible to hire a maid who is smart enough to make a bed but too dumb to wonder why it is full of naked people every morning.

Hunter S Thomspon, A dog took my place

 

Bronach mated with Pádraig quickly. The cold rough hurry of shame. Among the blocks at the back of the church. She astern the carved three faces of Lugus, urging him on. He leaning into the storm, desperately skinning his thin knees.

Later, Saint Bronach clutched at the grimy church bell rope. The flat clang echoed over Carlingford Lough. The fishermen, save one, Taranis, were already in port. Wives scolded them for ever going out. After the storm softened, Taranis and his coracle washed up, battered and broken.

When they visited the church for Mass, Bronach hung from the rope, cold as a sparse morning’s catch.

****

How’s Bronagh? Paul Henry asks John Key.

Did you know there was a Saint Bronagh? That’s my wife, a saint. Key beams, and swings his legs childlike on a Green Room chair that is comically too big.

John was chauffeured through the dark winter morning to the studio. A full moon shone cold on prickly flesh emerging from nightclubs. It shone cold on rag-stuffed downtown doorways.   John asked his press secretary; Why does anyone need to be up at this hour?

Paul Henry asks, what about NZ troops in Syria? Are we fighting ISIS or not?

Key is warming up. His snorts at Henry. Your purple jacket – this ain’t the Barney show.

Housing shortage and high prices brought about by rapid immigration? How can young people afford the New Zealand dream? What has happened to our nation?

I can’t give you financial advice.

You’re estimated to be worth fifty million. Surely you’ve got some advice?

Watch where you spend it.

Back at his mansion Bronagh perches astern the stone kitchen island, arse up and pyjama pants down. A cup of whiskey tea steams in front of her. The TV is on. Her husband, bright television blues and reds, sniggers cheerily as the rump points toward the kitchen window.

A security detachment wanders outside the kitchen. Three of them on duty. Taking turns at the window to make sure Bronagh is okay. These guys are well paid for the trouble. $75,000 salary. Plus their three commanding officers, logistics and supply. A psychologist to process their angst and anger issues. This Saint costs a million dollars a year. The taxes of seventeen small businesses just to watch her arse and stop her topping herself.

Next door are the Jamiesons. Alan and Sophia. A Greco-roman tabernacle built on the cost of leaking middle class houses. Indirectly you understand. Nothing so dirty as handing over money. Derivatives and forward contracts on prime mortgages that John Key cannot allow to fail.

A threesome of gardeners wanders the lawn, preparing the greenery for the weekend party.  They pick at weeds and flatten worm casts.

There’s parties most weekends. Clothing is optional. Cocaine isn’t. The hookers arrive at the front door in ubers. The rough trade parks down the road and enters via the garage.

The rich apply the droped sandwich rule at sex parties, rutting frequently, but quickly.

Alan’s eyes were bright blue, burning like an acetylene gas welder, when he met me at the garage door at one of the parties. He showed me the Masserati and the BMW. He showed me the kitchen, stuffed with chicken and frightened servants. He showed me the lounge with coke on the Mangiarotti occasional tables, and drunk TV stars spread over Massaud sofas. I pointed out the Angus and the Fomison on the walls. He looked at me askew and took me to a bedroom sliding with skinny naked hookers.

I asked for the bathroom. He showed me the guest toilets.  There was white vomit in one corner. The other corner held up a naked young woman. She was shouting things incoherent. Shit trickled down the back of her thighs.  She was dabbing at herself with uncreased pages of The Luminaries.  She held out wet fingers for a hand-up. I lifted her by clammy armpits, helped her flop into the shower, and turned it on hard and hot.

The promising surfer Jordan Young had been at a Jamieson party. A three day search ended when he was found in a tidal pool, drowned, near Muriwai. The famous pathologist Lucan Parkay said his system was jacked with crack. His naked body had no detectable sexual fluids or signs of violence.

I found Lucan in the Jamieson’s den. His pants flapping, misbuttoned and unbuckled.  A naked brown woman was passed out on the carpet. Her thin sinewy flanks breathed shallow.

Lucan is an ex-King’s College boy. I handed him a Laphroaig and we clinked glasses. I hate Laphroaig. I dropped out of Dinsdale High. No one came looking for where I washed up, in a puddly mall gutter. Lucan was loose. He confided that it was hard to be confident about Jordan’s condition. Salt cleanses, and rocks tear more terribly than fingernails.

He began a wet chuckle, whiskey spittle at the corner of his mouth, and tears in his eyes. You know, he said, Jordan’s mother came to the inquest. She kept sobbing about a mouse. I figured she was on citalopram or something. Pitied her husband. That stuff fucks your sex drive. I found out later ‘mouse’ was the nickname she’d given her youngest boy.

Parnell’s ambivalence is naked. Its people run and ruin the lives of others at a distance. If they come close, at weekends, they use protection: gloves and condoms. Parnell hates the people it fucks. Despoliation is quick and forgotten in the miasma of alcohol and cocaine.

Bronach. In Celtic, it means “sorrow”.

I travel

Alone for a moment with the horizontal harbour. A vertical train, small wheeling me up the hill. A visit. Sun high. A glancing blow. My eyes. Mesmerised.

The golden city that side. Mystical. Pours from the hills, spills down the valleys, fills across the fore. Shore soft routed roman ogee.

Keruru crash. Wing flacking hard, horizontal past me.

Pare back my eyes. This side, crackling dry bush frames the golden city. This side, the funicular rundles the rails, lifting me to the house where the bush closes in.

I’m not alone now. She lies with me, half across my trousered lap.

Her face bathed in sun and the golden city.

Her head side, nestled into the small of my elbow.

She’s warm. She’s heavy. She’s breathing deeply. I don’t know her.

An eighties cut, clipped hard on the up side. Clipped soft on the sleeping side. A vigorous fringe. It shines. Tussled but holding shape over her curling ears.

An upturned nose, worn high. Aloofness, an allure. The even-toned golden cheek I can see, short-nicked at the smile line, is not so sure.

Makeup applied only to her pouting lips, assertive, almost brown. They glisten.

She drools, wetting my shirt sleeve.

And the funicular lifts us higher.

Her right hand lies on my knee. Fingers thick and strong. Hangnail forefinger. Indian ink rings on the tips. A scar drying across the knuckles.  Feeding from a singular long vein. A muscle pulses in the lee of her wrist; there is no refuge. She struggles and lifts it momentarily, drops and snuggles deeper.

And the funicular lifts us higher.

She’s dressed to travel. Coated in a scuffed black jacket. Wrapped in dark trousers. Tiny grey buttons march thin down outside the seam. Her ankle boots are purple. The leather is new but the toe tips are scuffed.

And the funicular lifts us higher.

That side, the golden city glowers. Nothing keeps to its place. Everything crosses over. Sun-heated neutrinos travel. Warm organic aerosol arrives. Transition to caress my eyelids. They are brushed shut.

The funicular jolts and stops.

The electric motor spins down. Friction-heated metal cools and creaks.

I stand, alone, shaky like a rustled sheep.

Fingers feel braille-like for the latch on the exit gate.

Robyn answers her door, opening it carefully before me. Crossing the first threshold, I wander in.

I stand, arrived, in the middle of the lounge.

Robyn says “Is it raining?”

and brushes at the damp patch on my shirt sleeve.

The sand and soil cast me out

Crumbs of rock

Sandy soil

Casts me forth

Unfurl here

At the edge

Of nowhere.

****

I got through childhood silent.

Embarrassed.

Despite everything, I had nothing to say.

Now I do.

There are two threads to tell of;

Dark normal – black tales of the place and people I came from. Everyday struggles.

Fantastic – black tales of things I’ve seen, that you’ve not even imagined.