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A short story by Marisa Allen
Classification: High Risk
Recommded reading age: M15+
Skills required: Reading Comprehension / Critical Thinking/ Analytic
Category: Adult Fiction
It all starts at the tobacconist on the morning of 28th July 2014 at 9.43am
This transaction has been declined says the Chinese owner. She returns the card to me over the counter.
I look at it. The expiry date reads 06/14.
I freeze. Implode inwards.
Then I run.
I run as if I’ve received a phone call that can only mean one thing.
I run up the main street
I run past the street signs
I run past the bus stops
I run past the shopfronts
Lucky guy, says one tall guy to another tall guy as I swish past
Everything is making sense and nothing is making sense at the same time
I run right into the bank
I meet the bank manager eye to eye
I requested my card to be sent to my residential address three months ago
- i have the card, you need to sign for it.
I swivel my eyes and neck around the open plan room
- you are diversifying, he says.
I narrow both my eyes in a toothy way, yes, isn’t. that. wonderful
- you need to sign for the new card.
I’m not signing for anything!
His face looks like a sun - tanned bulldog. Ugly, in humane terms.
I knew it for certain, as a selkie bludgeoned to death for her pelt and dragged from the shore, knows for certain.
There and then was really the beginning of the end...
| The Russian Hawaiian|
The Professor I’ven Pavlov’a is being interviewed on the radio. He is discussing atmospheric phenomena with the announcer who is cautiously navigating the Professor’s I’ven Pavlov’a’s lack of charisma. The Professor I’ven Pavlov’a is a difficult character for an interview and it’s not often they drag him out of retirement. The station promised him a nice sum if he would talk to the public about important scientific developments in his field.
It was just enough to pay off his dead wife’s medical bills.
After The Professor I’van Pavlov’a’s wife died the prize money ran out from discovering that wireless signals from earths magneto sphere interact with the event horizon of distant galaxies causing space weather phenomena so he’d taken to spending his long days exploring the effect of magnets on liquids and talking to the pigeons in the park.
He didn’t have much patience for anyone anymore.
The Professor I’ven Pavlov’a is being contrary. The interviewer is becoming flustered.
The Professer I’ven Pavlov’a says ‘we do try, but we simply cannot understand all the machinations of the workings of the universe. That is in the realm of theology and science is not a mythology.”
‘Thankyou,’ says the interviewer, ‘our audience is greatly intrigued by your answers.’
The interviewer plays a song and Zager and Evans drift out over the airwaves.
The Professor I’ven Pavlov’a rises out of his seat, nods, and walks out of the studio.
Elsie remembered him. His lean, bent figure at the lectern. In the great hall, dimly lit were 200 students gathered, attentively taking notes and squirming in uncomfortable chairs knees banging against the underside of cramped, hinged desktops. The Professor I’van Pavlov’a is unfriendly. The Professor I’van Pavlov’a teaches his students how quantum physics operates in space, how light travels as both a wave and a particle. The Professor I’van Pavlov’a’s eyes seemed to always look past you, his minds gaze trying to penetrate the core of matter or the space between objects as if they fixated on some eternal geometric puzzle. Elsie hadn’t heard his voice in years and was dismayed at how he sounded in the interview.
Elsie had been one of his proteges. That was all over now. Since that day, Elsie had never walked back into the lab again. The experiments Elsie had performed were left inconclusive. The Professor I’van Pavlov’a knew something had happened to her in the blast but without explanation she simply packed up her life and went to live elsewhere.
Elsie Elsewhere he thought of her now.
Elsie wrote a letter to The Professor I’van Pavlov’a a few years later, describing some of her symptoms. He never replied. It was implicit in her letter that he do not try and help. Space had done something to both of them that was objectively unfathomable.
It came down to two hard boiled eggs who wouldn’t crack to save their face. Neither of them could squarely look the other in the eye.
|Global Positioning Location 56°5N , 4°E | Bardo Inferno |
Elsie had overseen the lab experiments. The technicians worked diligently under her mammalian gaze. The experiments were showing them the increasingly frequent solar flares were interfering with the gravitational field of earth due to electromagnetic radiation emitting from a star cluster on the borders of the Cygnet and Draco constellation. Elsie’s researcher team were almost ready to present their findings to the board. They had solved why every electrical device on Earth, from the household fridge to the labs very own security system, would malfunction during the hotter months.
Elsie knew that they were cutting the cloth too fine with these experiments, that this was a nerve touching too close to the bone of anyone’s sense of decency. Elsie uncomfortably admitted to herself that what they were doing was unethical in the way the work of geneticists of the previous century were unethical. They were flying too close to the sun, trying to touch the face of god.
That had got the entire team straight in the guts. The excitement was like Nitrous oxide. As if Prometheus, Icarus and Midas had walked into the room guiding their every hypothesis and the sparks, the heights, the holy golden hand had been bestowed upon them. They became overly confident, giddy with each experiment proven.
And without any bias!
It was the only way Elsie could think about it now. In very unscientific terms. In a language of symbols, held together by a poetic container of mythic concepts. A way that warmed what had become bloodless within her.
Elsie keeps a visual image in her mind of day they set up the Ultra Sound Optical Transformer, Machine 3-9f. It was a morning like any other. Elsie’s noticed for the first time how her garden was suddenly full of bees pollinating the flowers that had blossomed in the late summer. She’d never noticed thing’s like that before.
At 10.23am it was all a fireball bursting from the equipment. A magma flow of heat and the sensation of being sucked out of an aeroplane by centrifugal force at the altitude of ice crystals. Elsie and her technicians managed to turn off the mains and sit sprawled on the ground groaning from the impact, outside the lab.
Emergency sirens are heard off in the distance. Elsie slumps and everything drains from her conscious into the minds darkened abyss.
| baruch dayan ha’emet | blessed is the true judge |
It is only because I am there with Elsie that I can write about what happened next. I deliver Elsie’s food, tend to the garden, cook her meals, and clean her house.
It is a fateful day. Elsie begins it with combing her hair. There is a dryness in the air and the frost on the ground of the island Elsie has been living since that morning in the lab has sent the warmth very far away.
Elsie combs and combs, each stroke adds to the static of strands floating like a halo around her crown and occasionally an electrical crackle sounds from the downward movement of the bristles.
I must be magic! says Elsie to no one in particular, with the kind of tone of the gurgling savant child.
Elsie’s parasomnia is getting worse. Professionals have labelled it Exploding Head Syndrome and the symptoms are more frequent. A lightening rod into the ground would be more helpful Elsie thinks, faint images of her time as a meteorological physicist flood back to her.
Elsie dresses carefully for the day. A half human sized, rectangular, silver tin, framed mirror from the Indian continent against a white wall is how she can see herself arrange and rearrange the fold of her skirt, admire the way her shirt grazes her collarbone.
Elsie has never felt less homeless though and calls out to me to prepare her coat and gloves for she wants to take a walk along the foreshore.
Elsie carries herself carefully down the hallway to the sitting room while she waits for me to bring her things. She sits in the high backed single seater. Elsie notices a storm on the horizon when she looks out the window.
Elsie’s eyes close and her neck droops. Within Elsie’s now dormant mind she sees pictures of ocean creatures and white fleshed women and she dives fully dressed into breakers along the coastline. Her eyes melt into liquid black pupils. Her clothes dissolve as a pelt covers her skin.
It is only because I have walked into the sitting room with Elsie’s coat at the exact same moment that I can tell you what happened next. With a slight pop and Elsie’s sleeve starts smoldering. Acrid smell of burning cotton and singed hair. Elsie’s slight breath erupts embers to a flame. Within twenty five minutes Elsie is completely on fire. The body writhes, flames engulf Elsie’s head, her torso, her skirt is on fire. The sitting room is full of smoke. A sound of whimpering escapes her and then silence. All that remains are a pile of ashes across the floor and the stump of a finger. Elsie, has spontaneously combusted.
Sitting there in her chair did Elsie awake from her reverie? I do not know. What I think is that before the flames really took their hold Elsie had already gone. Gone to somewhere else.
It all happened at 11.42am, 21.09.29. I know this precisely because the radio alarm clock had gone off just as I walked in with Elsie’s coat and gloves. An incidental sound, the sound a life support machine makes when the patient has flat lined.
Though I am not a judge of character, I am a seer of character. Possibly the only one who can tell you that Elsie was, in fact, not quite human.
| After Elsie | The Cartographer |
I was born in coastal hamlet along a longtitude of warm currants that circulate from the southern tropics of Malta. Before I lived exiled from all and sundry and worked for Elsie on the island in the middle of the north sea I lived a city life and worked for the local precinct as a town planner. I trained as a cartographer and held a Masters degree in Archeologic Anthropologic Architecture. I know the lay of a land, as they say. I know about maps and how to find missing people in them. I know how to find my way around city’s, open plains, the night sky, buildings with hidden entryways, seas that follow ridges of coastline.
After Elsie I felt lost.
The open sea was a place I could not be.
I take a rowboat to the icy deserts of Siberia. Hoping I could row across the land to a farther shore, reach a place where I was no longer the loner of my own empire. An empire of maps and pictures and structures and the maze of my own network of veins.
A place of remembering and forgetting.
It is 40 degrees Celcius. The height of summer. If Elsie was here she would know what to do about this weather, as I pack the timber planked craft and step into the curved bellied vessel. The snows havn’t melted and I, faced with great shifting dunes of snow and ice can hear the creaking of the floes as the sun beats down.
I row then.
Hearing in my mind the voice of The Professor I’van Pavlov’a to whom I had answered the telephone one night. ‘Tell Elsie we got it all wrong,’ he says forcefully, his voice compressed into the tight throat of a telephone receiver, ‘tell her….tell her, oh god, just tell her..’ The phone went silent
Elsie had refused to take his phone call.
‘We have no more between us’ she says to me with a drooping look, turning away her face, ‘He completely exposed us all and left the rookery in the field of X rays as if his own skin mattered more than mine.’
I had been rowing for 3 months. I knew I was getting somewhere because it was still as hot as it was three months earlier. The season had not changed at all. The days were shimmering. The nights dropped to 20 below and were sharp.
I saw Elsie again on the next morn. The shape of her a few meters away. I call out, ‘Elsie! Elsie!’ She begins walking away. I row harder towards her, great wefts of oar sweeps in the powder snow. Following.
It is shivering night again. I sleep with my eyes open under a sealfur blanket. I am no longer the man I was.
The morning arrives again on time. There is Elsie asking me to come into the house. Elsie holds a blanket in her hand and a flask. I step out of the boat. I’d been rowing across the land going up and down these waves of white, bright hills and sloping shaded valleys. I say to her ‘Elsie, it’s over now. All those horrible horrible days are over.’ She disappears into the blinding snow filled glare.
I am the last of the lost.
I fall into the same darkened abyss.
How do you kill a mirage?
The truth, and water.
|...the beginning of the end 28.7.14 10.02am|
- you need to sign if you want the card, the bank manager repeats
I’ve been a client of this bank for 30 years!
- even the best relationships can turn poisonous.
Oh, you are like you, you are like kryptonite!
The room starts spinning
- your grandmather came to see my wife and I in 1932 and asked for a job at the height of the Great Depression. She made her fortune from me. Now the wheel has turned. You owe me.
My voice sounds disembodied
You! I don’t work for you!! You are the god - damned devil himself!
A mist surrounds me
Like apparitions two security guards are at my side.
One twists my arm behind my back the other takes my shoulders and drags me from the counter, outside towards a paddy wagon
They push me against the side.
An officer handcuffs me.
“We’ll take you to the hospital”
The hospital? I’ve already been there 6 times!
“Well, it’s better than going into the watch house”
[ | I DON’T WANT TO TALK | ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO ME |
THOUGH I WOULD LIKE TO | TALK ABOUT WHAT I’D LIKE | TO DO TO YOU! | ]
My breath shallows and pools high underneath the bare skin of my chest and
behind me the doors of the wagon are slammed shut.
Chores of life
tightly wound letters
squeezed in together swept into a corner
locked door behind there
I'd be coiled above the rooftops looking
down at the rabble
miniatures exposed on open ground
remote from tigers claws
evenly spaced shark teeth
in service to a beauty
any way you please
in service to The Controlling
,would you like a cup of tea?'
bringing the word to its resting place
you win the day
Oh just replay it as I am numb dumbstruck
over boiling water
Your worn eyes
year after year
touch blink oceanic territory
it's not a force
to fence restrictions
around, the elemental
fission and fusion
of cloaked loyalties,
that you knew about
that i never spoke of
but you saw what the marks on her body were saying
and you kept your eyes set
as one and the same