Saturday 16 November 2013

Short Story - The Bibliophage

I sit down at my computer and stare at the white rectangle on the screen. It is blank.

Frustratingly, maddeningly blank. Taunting me.

I close my eyes and I can see a page full of words in my minds eye. I try to focus on the words, but they refuse to clear up and let me read them and they remain just the vague shapes full of promise. I look more closely, but my eyes are drawn to the white spaces between the words, and the white space grows and grows until it surrounds me.

I open my eyes again and the white rectangle is in front of me.

And I know I have to kill again.

I don't know what made me do it the first time. I don't know what the compulsion was. All I know is that it worked.

I hadn't written anything for eight months, but my last book was being released in paperback. There was a publicity push, and I was interviewed by a lot of journalists. Not just the niche press this time, but the mainstream.

He was young. Handsome. Interesting. He kept my eye contact through the interview with so much admiration and hope that a drink afterwards sounded like a good idea. And it flattered me.

He showed me his manuscript and I was briefly hurt that I'd mistaken his interest in me for being a writer with interest in me for being a person. But the interest was there anyway, and his eyes were still stunning. It hurt more when I read his manuscript.

It was brilliant. Warm, funny, smart and fascinating. I fell in love with him because of that book and that hurt more, because it made me so angry with him. He was doing everything I couldn't.

When he asked me, a while later, what I thought, I told him to come to mine. I made him dinner and we went to bed and we made love and then I stuck a knife in his stomach and killed him.

I was hysterical. Still angry with him. I held the manuscript with my bloody hands and I cried. And then, and I still don't know what drove me to do this, but I tore the first page from its binding, crumpled it up and stuffed it into my mouth and chewed it until I could swallow it.

And then I did it with the next page.

And the next.

It took me hours and I could feel it tearing the lining of my throat to shreds, but I kept tearing and eating. It hurt, but when I finished, I felt a compulsion to sit at my desk.

The words came. The writing was easy. My fingers danced at the keyboard. It felt more like reading than writing, it was so easy.

And the book was the best I'd ever written.

It sold. The others sold more because of it. But once I'd finished it, I couldn't write anything else. There were no ideas. And the blank screen just stared at me.

The next time was more difficult. Great writers don't just turn up. I chose one this time, who was represented by a friend's agent.

I met her at a book signing, where it turned out she'd liked my last book (of course it had been the last one, which was so much better than the others) and we started talking. We became friends, and I waited and waited to be invited to her house.

Nobody ever saw her again. I made sure of that.

My next book was a best seller.

The one after that, a respected writer who supposedly committed suicide, was a phenomenon.

I don't want to do it again. I don't want to be like this.

But the white rectangle is there.

Even when I switch off the computer, I see it.

Burned into my vision.

I don't know whether it is the sex, the killing or the books that makes it happen.

I just know that it works.

The white rectangle is there and I must fill it.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Magic Falls Part 30

Jack Whittaker stands quietly in front of the theatre crowd for a few moments, allowing them to quieten, and then begins to talk quietly.

“The question we all have, or at least that we should have now, is why is this happening here? Why is it happening in Britain?

“We’re a relatively small country, with a middling population. We’re cramped and we’re heavily populated for our size, but we don’t have anything on some other places. So why here?

“We’re a country with history, and nowhere more so than London. All these streets, when you walk them, have had hundreds and hundreds of years of history. There aren’t many cities like this. You walk down here and there has been so much death. So much history.”

He’s becoming more animated now, his hand waving about as he talks, before he runs it through his hair. 
“Do you ever wonder how many dead bodies this city is built on? You should. You should think about that. We reside on a bed of foundations made of death. When the black death happened and almost the entire city died, we stacked the bodies into the earth and we limestoned over them and we kept building and we kept living because this is London and that’s what happens.

“History seeps into the buildings. History seeps into the people. It’s impossible to walk around London and not be aware of the history. We walk through London’s streets like blood cells travelling down veins, keeping it alive.

“We’ve created monsters and legends. Here. “

He suddenly seems a little less sure of his ground, but as he continues talking, I realise it’s that he’s almost hesitant to move onto the next piece of subject matter. “Jack the Ripper butchered five women. Maybe more. Maybe less. He was never caught, and he became the most notorious serial killer the world has ever heard of.

“People who know their horror films and their grotesque histories may point to Ed Gein. May point to Elizabeth Bathory. May point to Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy or Fred and Rose West or Ted Bundy or…” He sighs.

“It doesn’t matter. When it comes to the death and the slaughter of women, nobody has ever turned it into a mythology in quite the way that Jack the Ripper did.

“Because he was the first creation of the media, which has never found something that it could masturbate over quite like the death of young women. Journalists took a murderer who was unable to be caught and they turned him into a legend who wrote taunting letters to the police making clear that he would never be found.”

His face is ashen, and everyone can see just how much he believes what he’s saying. If he doesn’t, it’s remarkable stagemanship.

“They took a series of murders and they turned him into a sensation the likes of which the world had never seen before. They took the deaths of women, the butcher of them, and they made them romantic. The swirl of fog, the glint of a knife, a streak of crimson and a gentleman in a top hat and cape sweeps away through the night, delighting in his crime.

“For the first time, or at least the first time successfully, the media created its bastard child, and they called it Jack the Ripper, and everybody believed it, and everybody continues to believe it and everybody continues to want to know about it and learn about it and find out more about it. Do you have any idea how many books have been written about Jack the Ripper? And do you have any idea how many of them sell? That’s when the media discovered that it had that much power to not just report, but to create. To establish narrative and to make people believe that narrative.

“We prefer the story. Every time. London gets less snow than just about anywhere in the UK, did you know that? And yet the images of every Christmas are of a suddenly Victorian London covered in crisp fresh snow, because when Charles Dickens was a child, there was a cold spell, and he forever associated it with Christmas.

“That’s what belief is. It’s what we prefer to reality.

“And London thrives on this. Of course it does. It’s a cramped series of villages, with people who spend significant parts of their day under the ground, dreaming. It’s punctuated with buildings that do their best to reach to the heavens, corporate totems slamming into the sky.

“And as everybody knows, the streets of London are paved with gold.”

There’s a mild chuckle at this, although it feels more like those that are doing so are doing so because it feels like it should be a joke rather than actually is one.

“The capital of a small island on the coast of a continent that established an empire larger than the people that built the city in the first place. London is not the most likely place for anything to happen.  It isn’t the biggest. It isn’t the one with the most history.

“But it’s the city with the most belief. The most untargeted belief, as well. How many cultures has this city consumed? How many beliefs has this city fostered and fed on?

“This entire situation that is happening now is centred around belief.

“The world is changing. We’re talking to each other more and finding out more about each other and we’re stopping being scared of each other and we’re finding out more about who each other actually are. We have information at the tips of our fingers at all times.

“And we can disprove things faster than ever before.”

He smiles, back on more familiar ground of reaching out to elements that more people are likely to understand straight off the bat.

“How many people here work in offices? How many people use facebook? How many of you have seen those bloody irritating emails that people send around when they’ve fallen for another urban myth? Or a warning from the police about something that sounds just plausible enough to be real.

“How many of you believe that if you put your PIN into an ATM backwards, you alert the police that you’re being mugged? How many of you believe that jews were warned not to go into work in New York on September the eleventh in two thousand and one? How many of you believe that the police decide the best way to dispel information about murderers, gangs and rapists is by chain email?

“How often do you see these status updates and chain emails and either bite your lip or send a link to and point out that they’re disseminating misinformation?”

There’s a more genuine laugh now, and a number of hands raised. After the intensity and length of what he’s been talking about, it’s a nice tension breaker to involve them again.

“We believe, as creatures. It’s something we’re almost hardwired to do. And this belief is swirling around, latching onto anything and everything to try to find a way to live.


“This is the crux of all of this. This is what I think is happening.

“All of this belief is turning into creation.

“And we need to understand that. We need to understand the implications of that. Especially when a sword and a stone rises in the centre of historical monarchy and democracy. Especially when it happens and for whatever reason, the authorities try to deny it. The easiest way to make people curious about what’s going on is to tell them they shouldn’t be looking, and they’ve done that with one of the most well known landmarks in the world.”

He turns in my direction, and gestures. The lights rise in the theatre, or at least they do in the front section of it, allowing the audience to better see each other.

“And now, I want to introduce you all to the man in the centre of all of this. The man who understands what is going on better than any of us.”

I begin to panic, but I don’t even have time to do that properly. He points right at me.

“Darren. It’s time for you to meet the Knights of Reason.”