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Verbal remedies

June 3, 2013

Astrid writes to prove she exists.

I don’t question her sanity. She gets up at seven, does the school run, files meaningless paperwork until five. That’s the quotidian Astrid. She loves her children and worries about the mortgage, or about what to make for dinner. Of course she exists.

But is that all? There are thoughts that cannot be spoken aloud by a woman in a cheap grey suit who eats buttered toast for breakfast. There is another Astrid. The one who writes.

And if there is a sting in the tale, at least there is relief in the telling.



Blackberry Cable

June 2, 2013

2013-06 Blackberry cable (1) Since I last wrote about something that wasn’t my camp nano novel (how about that, eh?) and/or crap poetry – I have bought a SPINNING WHEEL.

I got overexcited at Wonderwool, or something.

Anyway, here is my first attempt at a cabled yarn. It’s kind of pretty 🙂
(The real colour is darker than I could manage with the camera – more wine-red, less purple.)

I had roughly 75g altogether of three different reddish-purples as tops, and if you’re interested, here’s what I did:

  • Split each colour lengthwise into eight roughly equal sections. (I might have halved the top and then split into four lengthwise sections, I can’t remember.)
  • Spun the lot clockwise into one single, reasonably fine and as even as I could manage – not very! – taking each colour in turn. I switched the order of the colours about half way through because I thought that might be good. I’m not sure if it made a difference, but my logic was that it might reduce colour overlap when I plied it back on itself in the next step.
  • So then I wound the single into a centre-pull cake, and plied it on itself using both ends, ran it through the wheel one more time (anti-clockwise both times) to add extra twist.
  • The final step was to wind the plied yarn into another centre-pull cake, and ply it back again, this time clockwise.

2013-06 Blackberry cable (2)So the second picture shows the cabling quite clearly, the way the strands seem to interlock in some magical way. The overall yarn weight is probably “chunky” – I can’t be bothered to measure the wpi.

I can’t promise the whole length of the yarn is as good as this 5cm section, but it would have been worth the whole kerfuffle even if this were the only good bit in the whole yarn. It makes me happy just to look at it.

I have to give a quick plug to the Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs (by Sarah Anderson) which is awesome. This technique is from there and I can’t wait to try something else new…. But first, I really need to get some more fluff!

– Back to carding alpaca….

Vital statistics:

Name: Blackberry Cable
Fibre: Merino
Skein weight: 75g
Yardage: 73m (or, more specifically, 49 times round the niddy-noddy)
Yarn weight: Chunky
Yarn construction – 4-ply cabled

The Colour of Love

May 30, 2013

Love is sweet, passionate, stolen joy,
shiny, and shockingly pink, like birthday boots.

Love is butcher-red.
It is open-heart surgery with nothing but gin –
a fluorescent hangover-orange –
a funny-shaped bruise,
yellowing overnight –
and a bucket of warm puke that looks
far too much like custard.

It is damp, green silence,
smelling like the cold earth
in which I failed to hide.

Love is pure blue.
It is a strand of silk,
soft-spun from the summer sky;
plied with inky, messy, irrational indigo.

It is stretched –
attenuated to some point of no return,
where touch becomes a whisper –
where whispers are violet –

All the layers of love
adding up to 220,
or 284,
or to a rainbow-flavoured cake,
or to nothing at all.

It’s not so bad.
After all, I still have the boots.


Colour of love prompt

Chapter 26: A sort of finale

April 30, 2013


An almighty shriek came out of the air – thin air – and Karen descended into the trap, legs braced for landing – arms brandishing a pair of magnificent curved swords. Her hair streamed out behind her. She looked majestic, terrifying, a warrior of times past. The Romans must have felt like this when they saw Boudica on a fiery chariot. Was that Boudica?

Ian had never seen anything like it. And – after a day and a night of unexpected things happening one after the other in quick succession – this was the most alarming.

Karen hit the ground running.
“Everyone, grab a sword,” she shouted. “We’re going to kick this beast out of existence!”

“What sword?”
“Where did you – “

“No time for questions,” she cut them off. “Look – there.” She was pointing to the ground where she and the kids had been standing when the light took her. Where they had dropped the knitting needles.

“SEE!” Karen shouted back up into the sky. “TOLD YOU YOU COULD DO IT!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Told who what?”

“Like I said, no time for questions,” she said. “No time for thinking. Get a sword and slash the walls. It’s all connected. The trap, the monster, all of it. It’s not real but it’s all connected and we can destroy it. We can be free of it.”

Ian didn’t need telling twice. He always believed in doing the thing in front of you. You couldn’t find all the answers to everything all at once, and you didn’t have to. As long as he knew what was next, he decided not to care too much about what was afterwards. He grabbed a sword.

He didn’t actually know very much about swords. He’d heard somewhere that you held onto the blunt end and hit things with the sharp end.

The blunt end was all glittery. He took it in both hands and hefted the sword. Made a few practice swings. Right. The others were following suit around him and he stepped away from the mêlée. Didn’t want to get a sharp end in the ear. Right. The walls.

He lifted the sword, watched how Karen did it, swung it at the walls in a slicing motion. There was a gratifying scleurp! noise as the blade cut through the hateful slippery stinking bastard surface. He hacked at it again. It was just like bloody golf.

They were all starting to attack the walls now, and he could feel a thickening in the air. Like when your ears are about to pop.

“What’s happening?” he heard someone shout, but the voice was muffled, as it if came from far away.
He thought it was Pip.
“We’re hurting it!” said Karen. “Keep going!”

“Look up!” said Fred. “The things are coming!”
He was right. The circling shapes – the ones they had been afraid to name as wolves, the ones they had all been trying to ignore – they were starting to pour down the slopes towards them. Snapping, yellow teeth, grey fur. Long tails. Bright, hungry eyes, red with madness.

“Get them!” shouted Karen. They were closing in, rushing down the slopes and Ian got ready to swing his sword. One of them leaped at him and he swiped at it.

They weren’t wolves. The surprise caught him off balance and the next two to jump landed heavily on his chest. Knocked him over.

“Jesus, it’s squirrels!!” screamed Lena.
“Get them anyway!”

When they had been distant, mysterious shapes, there had seemed to be perhaps a handful of wolves out there. Now it was squirrels, and there were thousands of them, flocking out of nowhere.

Did squirrels flock? And come to think of it, Ian wasn’t much a naturalist but he was pretty sure squirrels were peaceful, shy, vegetarian creatures.

The thought of rabies crossed his mind and he leapt up, whacking the swarm of furry creatures off him and hacking away at them with his sword.

Ian had never killed anything bigger than a spider before.
It was disgusting. It was horrifying. Soon, he was past caring.

The group of them fell into a circle formation, each facing outward, each slashing at the onslaught. He could hear sobbing and wailing. He thought it might be his own. Some of it anyway. But nobody shied away because they all knew they had no choices left.

Soon they were standing on piles of furry bodies – crying – weeping – yet adding to the pile.

So this was war.
It was horrible.

“STOP IT!” screamed Karen. “STOP IT NOW!”
Ian hesitated, looked around at her. If they stopped they would be overwhelmed. The mound of squirrel corpses already covered the ground completely, and more kept coming. There was no end in sight.

“We can’t!” screamed Hazel.
“Not you,” Karen yelled.

The light brightened. The squirrels looked ghoulish in the glare, eyes flashing with blank, reflected light. More terrifying than before.

The light became all-consuming.

“DON’T BE STUPID!” she screamed at it.

Karen hadn’t stop slashing at the squirrels, but she was distracted and more were getting through the circle.

“Fatima, get the middle,” said Hazel. “Sit down in the middle and get the stragglers.”
Fatima dropped back and the rest of them moved around to close the circle.



Ian wasn’t reasoning any of this out. But he had a flash of inspiration.
“Flood!” he shouted. “A flood and we can swim out!”


There was a sudden noise like rain on a plastic roof, loud and thunderous.
The squirrels paused. They looked up. So did Ian.

He hadn’t bothered to wonder if everyone could swim. Now he did. He grabbed Fatima who was just behind him, sitting on the bloody heap. Her leg had given way.
“Hazel, get Falcon!” he shouted.

The water hit them like a brick wall. Battered, Ian managed to keep his grip on Fatima. He had his arm around under her armpits and he kicked upwards through the water.

The currents were violent.

Fatima was clinging on to him, too weak and tired to fight the water. He battled it for her. He fought to keep his head above water, taking breaths whenever he dared. He tried to keep her up too. She  coughed now and again and that meant she had not drowned, not yet.

They were being washed all over the place, and Ian was aware of other bodies floating in the water with them. It was dark again, and in any case he didn’t have the strength to do more than hope that the others were alright.

At length, the waters receded. They were on firm ground. Real ground. With mud and stones and twigs and starlight above them and a moon. The real world. He lay still, panting, weak with relief.

After a minute or so, they began helping one another to their feet. Tired, unsteady, but alive.
In the distance, they could hear the late night dance music of a festival.

Ian’s phone – safe inside the high-tech waterproof case that he now realised had not been a complete waste of money – beeped into life.

Where’s my sandwiches then? –  it said.

They trooped back to the festival. Lena and Hazel between them helped Fatima to the medical tent.
Fred promised to make sure Falcon was delivered safely to his parents.

The others melted wetly into the crowds from which they had come.

Yes. The real world.
It was strangely disappointing.

Peregrination: The fourth wall

April 29, 2013

“She’s awake!” I leaned over her to check her vital signs.
Karen opened her eyes.

“It’s alright, love. You’re safe.”
“What happened?” She was drowsy, confused.
“We’re still trying to figure it out. Seems there was a gas leak. Something hallucinogenic.”

She sat up.
“But it seemed so – ”
She nodded. “Where are the others?”

I tried to play innocent, but I was never much of a liar.
“Yes,” she said coldly. “The others.”
Shit. Was she on to me?

“Let me get you some water.” I backed away.
She swung her legs out of bed. Did not seem dozy enough. Had I forgotten the sedatives?

She pointed to the wall by the sofa-bed. Stabbed it with her finger.
“What’s that?” she demanded.
“Karen, I don’t know. It’s just a hole.”
She inspected it. Put her eye to it. I held my breath.

“You bloody evil twisted little witch!” she said. “How could you?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said. I tried to pour the water. Struggled to keep the cup steady.
And then she woke up…. Really? Really?”
“I don’t – ”
“How stupid do you think I am?”

There was no good answer to that. I didn’t attempt one.
She crossed my study, grabbed my shoulder.

“Put me back there. Put me back right now.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re not real!” she shouted. Right in my face. “You’re not real! I’m real. ME! Not you.”
I could feel her fingers digging into me. She was more real than I could wish her to be.

“Put me back.”
I nodded, defeated.

“With swords.”
“I’m going to need some magic swords.”
“I can’t just – ”
“Jesus. If you’re cretinous enough to try And then she woke up, then you’re cretinous enough to get some magic swords in. Sort it.”
“Alright,” I said. “But please let go of my shoulder.”

She relaxed her grip, but looked just as menacing as before.

“One more thing.”
“If things look tough, I want a deus ex machina. No messing about, right?”
“But how -”
“I don’t care. Daleks, squirrels, muddy socks? The time lord. Electricity pylons. I don’t give a damn – it’s your job. You must have some spare prompts lying around.”

I sighed and waved my hand. She disappeared.
I switched on my laptop, and googled Deus ex machina.

Chapter 25: Berserker

April 29, 2013

Fred craned his neck. They were all looking up, looking for Fatima in the bright fog.
The crazy woman had gone toe to toe with like a supernatural life-force or something. It had swallowed her up.

Then there had been that eerie singing, high-pitched, went right through you.
And then the shape of her, like a ghost to begin with but getting solid.

“Quick! Everybody grab her! We’ve got to get her out of it!”
Ian had jumped to his feet and Fred followed suit. They all got hold of whatever they could reach and pulled her down. Pulled her back out of it.

“Helen!” she was shouting. “Helen!”
And she was clutching at something. But there was nothing. Clutching at mist.

“We’ve got you,” said Ian. “You’re alright.”
“We’ve got you,” echoed Lena.
“Helen!” she cried out.

“Helen’s not here,” said Lena.
Ian helped her to sit up.
“She’s not here.”
“I had her…”

She looked dazed. A right old state. Fred felt sorry for her. She was just some old lady. Batty, mind. Mad as a box of frogs.
“I had her right in my arms,” she said.
“No,” said Lena. “There was nobody. No Helen.”

She took some deep breaths. “Then it’s not real.” This time she sounded calmer, saner.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not real. It takes your fears, and it – does something to you. But it’s not real.”
“It feels pretty damn realistic to me.”

Not to Fred. He was scared alright, but it was nightmare-scared. Zombie-scared.

“I vote we do something to it,” said Pip.
“Seconded.” That was Karen.
She was a bit bonkers and all, that one. Feisty.
“OK, but what?”

The light-monster-thing was hovering, high up out of reach. It was kittenish. Playing. Bloody thing seemed to have an unhealthy liking for cat-shapes.
There was still enough light to see by, a little.
Karen was fumbling with something.

“It’s not real?” said Hazel.
“All lies.”
“Christ.” Hazel panted, once or twice, like when you’re choking something back. I reckon she gave up trying to keep it back because the next thing she said was: “I vote we nuke the bastard.”

Karen was standing back up now. She was holding something above her head. What? Was she going to nuke it with a bobble hat?

“Look here, you bastard,” she shouted. “I spent weeks figuring out this pattern. Weeks. But you’re not bloody real, so watch this you tosser.”
Very deliberately, she pulled out the needles. She threw the knitting down and held the needles up like swords. “See? See this? I’m not scared of you.”

The kitten-blob was still. Fred thought maybe it dropped down a bit closer. He got ready to grab Karen if it went for her. Feisty? Psycho, more like.

“Look at this one, you bastard. Look!” She was holding something else up now. “Lace weight. Mohair. Double pointed needles. Two millimetres. Feathers and fans. How long do you reckon this one took, eh? You can’t even imagine the hours and hours. Watch this you bloody little sod.”

She pulled out the needles. Fred wasn’t even sure how many – lots – he didn’t think you needed more than two. That’s what his mum used, anyway. She dropped the knitting on the ground and brandished all her needles, gleaming like steel. She was shaking.
“I’m not scared of you, you shit! You’re not even real.”

She handed the little needles to Falcon. “Watch what I do,” she said. Gave another couple to Fred.

“Come on then, if you think you’re hard enough,” she screamed up at the kitten-thing. If he hadn’t been so shocked it would have been funny. He’d have pissed his bags laughing. If it hadn’t been so frightening.

It descended. Slowly.

“Not fast enough, you bastard!” screamed Karen.  She took one stride over to the nearest wall and began to stab it with her needles. “Take this and stick it up your arse!” Stab, stab.

Falcon, face lit up like a Halloween mask, watched. The light began to come down faster.
“Come on kids, give it your best,” said Karen. “Show it you’re not afraid.”

Falcon raised a needle and bashed it awkwardly into the fleshy, waxen walls. Fred wasn’t going to join in. He wasn’t. It was bloody mental. But then he was next to Falcon and they were both hammering the needles into the walls. He imagined they were made of cheese. Edam bloody cheese.

“All the walls! You too Pip! Stab wherever you can reach!”

None of them could match Karen’s frenzy. She’d gone demented.

The kitten-monster screamed down to them and Fred could hear it wailing. Caterwauling.
Then he was inside it and all was noise and painful light.

“Yes!” said Karen. “We’re hurting it!”
She turned to the fourth wall – raised her needle – and then…

…And then she woke up.

Chapter 24: Lal Ded

April 29, 2013


Fatima stood.
Her leg was killing her. She leaned on Falcon. The child was bearing up magnificently.

“Helen,” she said, the weakness in her bruised, exhausted body was matched by her strength of purpose. Enough was enough. “Helen is next.”

“Helen,” repeated Fatima. “We’ve paid a fair price. More than fair. Now show us Helen.”
“No,” said Fatima. “No more bargains. Show us our friend.”
“Then bring her.”

“I don’t care!” Fatima filled her voice with cold anger. Imagined the cloud as her defiant nephew, Omar. “I don’t care what you do or do not. You said you do not take. You’ve taken plenty. No more.”

It flared up, blazing. She thought she had made it angry. She hoped so.
A cold wind like ice swept over them, and the light was gone.

“What was that about?” asked Karen.
“We tried doing as it asked. Where did that get us?” said Fatima.
“She’s right,” said Lena. “We don’t even really know what it wants. We can’t just let it take and take.”

Fatima sat down heavily. That man, the kind one – Ian – was by her side.
“You OK?” he said.
She nodded. “Yes.”

It was very dark. Fatima looked up and could not see even the dim grey light that had filtered down from above, earlier. She wondered if that meant that night had fallen, back out there. She realised she had long since missed the gig. She wondered how Zane and Rosh were doing. If they were worried about her.

“But what if we just made it worse?” said Karen.
“I don’t see how this could get any worse,” said Pip.
“Then you haven’t got much imagination,” said Karen.

“Not right now, no,” said Pip. “I’m stuck in this dismal hole, in the dark, and I need a wee. I’m hungry, I’m tired, and there’s a monster thing that wants to eat my soul. I don’t even know what all of that means, but it sounds pretty bad to me.”
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” said Fred. “About needing a wee.”

Everyone shuffled awkwardly. Fatima supposed they were thinking about their bladders. Hers was holding out – one of the advantages of not having children, she supposed. There were some. But she was stiff and miserable, just like everyone else. They were all sitting now, too weary to do more, although it was so dark that Fatima could not see any of them. She could sense them close around her, by the warmth and smell and the sound of their movements.

“Hey, Hazel,” said Fatima. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” came the reply. Her voice was heavy, tired, strange.
“What was it like?” asked Karen.
There was a silence. Expectant, total, as though everyone was holding their breath.

The silence went on. And on.
There was no answer.
Still nothing. Fatima reached out instinctively for Falcon. He had hardly left her side the whole time they had been down this horrible trap, but he was not there.

“Anyone? Can’t anyone hear me?” she said.
She stretched out both her arms, groping in the dark, desperate now.
“Anyone?” Even Fatima could hear the panic in her voice. What was going on? Where had they gone?

It was pitch dark. And she was alone.

“This is not happening,” she told herself.
Then aloud – “This is NOT happening! I said NO!”

There was no answer. But at the edge of hearing, she noticed a dull hiss, like the white noise of a radio. The echos of cosmic events. The sound of vast, empty space.

“I’m not afraid!” she shouted.
The white noise dialled up a little. Maybe Karen was right. Maybe she had made things worse.

“Bring me Helen,” she said. She was resolved. “Or you get nothing.”
The static was getting louder, drowning out her thoughts.

A song of Rosh’s came into her mind, a song that came straight from his Kashmiri roots down the lines of his mothers.

I came by this path yet could not return
And passed the day here, by the river waiting
‏I looked in my pocket‪:‬ not a penny is there –
‏What could I pay for the ferry fee?‬

They would sing it sometimes at the end of a great set. Rosh’s haunting melody, slow and penetrating, would go straight to the belly of every member of the audience, fierce and lonely.
She began to sing.

Who can stop the icicles from melting‪?‬
‏Who can hold the wind in her palms‪?‬
The one who cuts off all her five senses
‏She receives sunshine in the darkness.

The song gave her strength. She sang the second verse again.

And sunshine did come. Or, if not exactly sunshine, then at least there was light. Brilliant light, and in the shape of a woman.

“Shut up!”

Fatima reached out to the shining body and grabbed hold of it with both arms. She did not know if she could pull Helen out of the light – but she was going to try. It was both hot and cold and hard to hold onto. She had to shut her eyes against the brightness of the light, and it still burned through her eyelids.

“Helen!” she shouted. “If you’re in there, come back. Come back!” She could hear the white noise getting louder, and feel a wind starting to whip around her, flapping her clothes, lifting her hair. Perhaps she had unnerved it. She embraced the Helen-light-creature-thing and held on with all her strength and weight.

“Helen!” she shouted over and over. “Helen, wake up and help me!”

The silvery, blazing light-body began to rise, but Fatima would not let go. She felt herself rising too. She would not let go. Maybe they would fly out of the trap – that at least would be something – but then she felt strong hands pulling her back. She held on tight. She would not let go.