Notation

These final notes detail the circumstances that led me to this fugue of wracked obsession, one which I could never declare to be the work of mere chance, if such a petty and thoughtless concept could be taken seriously by any who have seen behind the curtain of the mundane; and although no man will ever read this statement, I must compose it nonetheless, so as to document the ethereal sequence of that ghastly notation.


Notation

These final notes detail the circumstances that led me to this fugue of wracked obsession, one which I could never declare to be the work of mere chance, if such a petty and thoughtless concept could be taken seriously by any who have seen behind the curtain of the mundane; and although no man will ever read this statement, I must compose it nonetheless, so as to document the ethereal sequence of that ghastly notation. The cadence starts in C, as if to tease the major scale; yet it suddenly takes a shift Locrian, losing all tonal sense thereafter. The instrument it is played on does not exist: could not exist. So it is that the music has, at last, returned: I have spent days, weeks in my squalid house, preparing immense reams of variations of sheet notation for the piece, but when played back on the piano, they have never even started to come close to those bleak scales that shift eternal in the dark distance. Although: I am sure that they had sounded right in my head. I am sure of it; yet none of this matters now: the piano and the library’s worth of notation is destroyed withal, for what good that may achieve. I fear it is too late for me, and so all I can do is write these final words.

I began learning piano when I was seven years old. By age eleven, I could read and write music at a grade that I had not achieved even in English and Latin. I was thirteen when I first played this wrecked piano in front of me. It had belonged to my school for as long as anyone there could remember; yet, I had never observed it being played by any of the music teachers, nor tuned by the blind pianist who came in every Friday morning to play for us during our otherwise dull assemblies. It was a pitiful orphan instrument: unloved, uncared for. I was drawn to it, being myself bereft of mother and father.

I felt its presence from that first music lesson; every key that I struck on the Casio keyboard seemed to resonate instead from the piano, not from the piece of cheap plastic in front of me: and every note played sounded tortured, and ringingly out of key.

When I inquired about it, my teacher told me that it was impossible to tune; not that they had not tried: even the blind man had attempted long ago and failed, and he had since stayed far from the withered, dusty beast. I asked why they kept it around: I never once heard a clear answer to that question, and my attempts to play it during class were met with refusal.

One day, in my third year at the school, after classes had finished, we were called to the main hall for an announcement; the students were to be questioned and perhaps scolded after a number of hideous, perverted images had been found scrawled in the boys’ bathroom. As the droves of students made their way there, I slipped rank and made my way across the empty school grounds and over to the music hall, which stood alone next to the south gate.

I entered the desolate classroom, accompanied by the light creak of rusty hinges. The piano sat in the corner, dust on every inch of the housing and lid. I pulled over a chair, raised the lid and sat down. I played a note.

The note echoed its dissonance. There was no other sound like it: it tingled every fibre of within my being. I closed my eyes and let the feeling in: the shared harmony of two lost souls, reunited for the first time. I played another note, higher up. My left hand formed a chord. My right hand scaled up. That progression I now know so well, yet could not replicate. I could feel it crawling up my skin, crawling up the walls.

In the subsequent days, I tried to remember what notes I had played. Even with perfect pitch — inherited, according to my uncle, from my mother — I could not figure out how to reproduce the off-key phrases that I had played. But it was more than that: I could not hear what I had heard that day. I could feel it, but I could not hear it: it was more than mere music.

The piano was removed from the room. Nobody mentioned that it had been played, although the removal of the dust from its coat must have been noticed. A year later, myself and another student were sent to the storage room under the main hall to retrieve a bag of sports equipment. The piano was in the corner, behind stacks of newspapers and academic books. A memory of a melody twinged behind my ear, and then crawled out of earshot. In my last year and a half at the school, I tried to access the storage room a number of times, but to no avail. I found no success, and after graduating, I attended a prestigious music college, and then went on to study composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

It was around this time that I began learning the electric guitar. It gave me a chaotic and loose respite from sheet music, and with help from a cheap fuzz pedal and a glass slide I found myself closer to finding sounds similar to the music that permeated my penumbral thoughts; yet, they were cheap imitations, and far from satisfied my cravings. I used a reel-to-reel tape recorder that I had bought at a car-boot sale to create loops of decaying noise, spending every moment that I had outside of my studies on this pastime, eventually even skipping lessons to partake in the creation of these layers of dissonance. It did not ease my mind, and eventually I was asked to leave the university due to continuing noise complaints and a lack of attendance.

Two years later, I was working a desk job for a phone repair company. I had enjoyed the work as far as I could have, and I had thought neither of the music nor the piano for a number of months. I had been relaxing in bed with a book when I heard something outside. My neighbours often had parties, so I thought it must have been them starting another one up, despite their last one having been the night before. I was wrong. It was not their music. It must have been emanating not from outside, but from my own subconscious; for it was that cadence, the very one I had heard in my first encounter with the mysterious orphan piano.

It had finally returned to me! I sat up and took a writing pad from my desk and started to jot down notes. But as soon as I had begun notation, it was gone, lost once more to memory’s haze. I cursed my recall and took my sleep.

I woke up an hour or two later: the music was back. I had not heard it in my head: no, it was outside; somewhere in the distance: I threw myself from my bed and ran out into the black night, following the sound. But even as I ran, the familiar, eldritch sequence did not gain in volume, nor did it lessen, as if it was always hanging just out of my reach. I walked the streets for an hour, but no turn took me any closer to my destination. I went home and slept, although the music kept its flow.

The next night, it returned once again. The same phrases, tantalising, mocking. I set up my tape recorder and kept it running after I was asleep. When I played it back, I heard nothing.

This continued for the following months, and my every attempt to find it or record it resulted in abject failure. It was at this time that I made a pact with myself: my life was in a pitiful rut, and as stable as my job was, there was no true enjoyment to be found. So I decided that I would set myself upon the music that haunted and taunted me so, discover its secrets entire, and then I would take it to the Royal Conservatoire, to show those so-called experts, scholars, that nothing like it existed in the human spectrum of musical experience, that only I can play it, and that I should be bequeathed a substantial grant to further explore these new, alien modes. Once again, I had a purpose to my wormlike existence.

I wrote hundreds, thousands of sheets of music, each work an attempt to recreate those sounds, each piece one that I would have once considered an opus but now saw as less than worthless. I quit my job, took my final month’s salary and travelled down to my old school. I met with the new headmaster, and questioned him about the old piano. He did not know of its existence, so I told him where perhaps he might find it. He replied that he was a busy man. My monetary offer changed his mind. In the evening of that day, the deliverymen carried the piano up to my room. I started playing immediately.

Nothing came out. Just sour, twisted notes that fell dead on my ears. I played for hours, to constant and unremitting failure. I closed the lid and got into bed. As soon as my defeat had been sealed, that was, of course, when I heard it again: it was out there, laughing somewhere beyond the window’s glass. It was closer now, albeit incrementally. I pulled the piano over to the window, tearing the carpet in places, and sat down again. As the impossible fugue started over, I played back to it. But still the notes collapsed as soon as they had left the instrument. I eventually had to stop at three in the morning after the next-door neighbour hammered against the wall.

I ignored the music and the piano for a week. On the seventh day, I received a phone call. My uncle had died. I should have wept. I went down to attend the funeral and left before the wake. He left me his cottage in the will, so I made the correct arrangements and before long I was living just outside of Penrith, finally alone with my music.

The country air did my lungs a world of good after living in the damp of my old house for so long. I took daily walks, still continuing to ignore the music. But every night it came closer still, until finally I could no longer stand it. I left the house and ran to the woods past which the noxious music seemed to originate. I tripped over branch and root until I got to the other side of the trees. I looked out at the night sky. The stars bowed down over me. The music screamed. The shapes in the sky took the form of the notation, like no notation known by name, written in a hideous, aberrant alien script: it had finally been gifted me, finally there for me to take as my own. I checked my pockets. In my hurry, I had left all of my pens and paper back in the house. I ran back, further harming myself on the way, spraining an ankle and bruising a wrist. I took my fountain pen and a large pad of paper and made the trip again, avoiding any more extensive damage. I stared at the sky. It was gone: only the shadowy, endless void welcomed me, even that seeming to stare down at me in disgust.

The music had stopped. I was alone, truly alone. I walked back to the house and sat down at the piano and wracked my all too human memory. I played for ten hours, until I finally slumped over the keyboard and passed out.

I started to drink whiskey, attempting to channel the music in a drunken fugue state. It did not work; nothing did. Every day my body grew thinner. Food no longer had any taste, not after the experience of having seen that mystic, unearthly, Stygian music with my own eyes, only to have faltered and lost it once and for all. The music did not play outside for many weeks. I was naught without it. I knew that if it returned, if it graced my decaying mind with its echoing laugh, it would be for the final time.

In a rage, I felled my adversarial instrument: the piano connected to the ground with a discordant crash, broken but yet still living. I took to it then with a hammer. I did not stop until the damage was irreparable. I destroyed all of my notation, and my recordings. By this point, even water tasted foul to my sensibilities; I would not imbibe a drop. So I waited in darkness, day and night, for that final, wracking hymn, and composed this document for posterity’s sake, although I believe such matters are relevant no longer; nonetheless, I am glad to have written these words, to purge my guilt over chasing this cacophonous destiny. I shall not know peace again; there will never again be silence.


Tonight, I was woken by the smallest of sounds, far beyond my window and over the horizon. Despite its distance, I could feel its immensity. It continued to get closer, the spread of the sound multiplying and diffusing into the air. It is nearly right outside my window now. I feel that I now realise what this ravenous requiem has been trying to tell me all along.

It seems to laugh at me yet, that scraping, mirthless rattle. I feel it shake the windows. There is not long left. I take my pen and pad and stumble through the corridors and throw my door open and allow myself to exit the house and be embraced by the cold air outside. But the air is not cold; in fact, there is no air. There is no view. Only blackness, a stretching everfurther abyss. Then the shapes emerge, those ghastly notes: they crawl through our spacetime dimension; they are all that there is left; I am the last of my kind, and I am the one who wrought this. It should have never been heard. But as I start to write it down, I know that all of this, the sacrifice that I have made on behalf of humanity, has been worth it. Nothing has ever existed that held such horrible beauty. There is nothing but the notation. And as I finish writing it, as the pen scrapes across the paper for the last time, I know my purpose has been fulfilled. I was the gatekeeper, and I opened the door. All that is left now is the unending coda: the music that will scream alone for eternity.


My God is a Gun

My God is a Gun, translated into English in 2013 by the late Melvin Milo Melbern from a Spanish translation of an anonymous and untitled Quechuan text, is an anomaly in the history of translation.

My God is a Gun


For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart


Preface

My God is a Gun, translated into English in 2013 by the late Melvin Milo Melbern from a Spanish translation of an anonymous and untitled Quechuan text, is an anomaly in the history of translation. The acclaimed original Spanish translation, Nuestro padre, la lanza (Our Father, the Spear), was provided by Jorge Paca, who is primarily renowned for his historical work on oral folk histories from Peru and Colombia. Melbern, an author first and foremost, is known in the translation community for his work on other esoteric discoveries such as Hammett’s Statement (a Cornish text dated 1919) and the apocalyptic Diaries from Beyond (which Melbern translated from English into Spanish).

The original untitled text, named by Paca after a line found near the conclusion of the text, is dated to have been written between 1880—1883 in the Tacna region of Peru. The text was originally uncovered by antique book collector Bernard Laurent on the 3rd of January, 2008, near the bottom of a bric-a-brac box at a West London car-boot sale, alongside such charity shop classics as Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

Melbern’s English translation differs from Paca’s celebrated (and considerably more linguistically and historically accurate) translation in a great number of controversial ways, and is considered to contain embellished elements not present in the original Quechuan text.

Despite the controversy and purported lack of understanding of both time period and cultural voice, My God is a Gun has the distinct reputation for being the only current official English translation of the text. Furthermore, in contrast to critical opinion, many well-regarded multilinguists have spoken of their affection for the text, and some fans of this unknown Quechua-Peruvian author’s lone work consider this to be the definitive version of the text; both historian Jonathan Bayer and journalist Kenneth Loveman have praised Melbern’s effort as a singular work that transcends traditional translation and achieves its own greatness as a piece of metafictional art (Loveman summed it up in the Observer thusly: “Melbern’s translation is only passingly acquainted with the original historical work; however, it is through this that it unfolds as a masterpiece of artistic translation that deliberately defies rational understanding and instead takes its aim directly at the human pathos.”); other critics, however, blasted it as the work of an exploitative charlatan and a confused, grandiose narcissist well past his prime, particularly after Melbern’s infamous breakdown on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2014, an incident that fellow author Miles Stone claimed as indicative of Melbern’s decline.

In the interest to the reader, I have supplied a number of endnotes; these detail the notable similarities between the translated text and Melbern’s own 2004 novel Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar, his most successful work both critically and commercially.

The additional English translations of sections of the Paca translation are provided by professors Joelle Luna and Dennis Birkbeck of the University of Surrey, to whom I give great thanks.


My God is a Gun

I

There is no beauty greater than that of the female soul—O, no, lo and behold, I found myself indebted to a wanderlust driven by that need, that fire, for the beauty of a Spanish woman, far from my tribe; salted meat I prepared for the journey, and I left in the dark, speaking not a word of my plans to my mother Saywa, and before long the hills and mountain trails were breaking in my stride, and after some weeks I reached occupied Tacna.

When I arrived in Tacna on the 27th of May, I could still hear the lost echoes of dead souls. Many had died in the city the night before, and weary guards stood stony in the streets, a few lone smiles that read not joy but determined and temporary victory. Despite the upheaval, the people of Tacna continued their lives, unsure of what would come next.

I had no money or goods to trade; I had chewed all of my coca leaves on the journey, and salted meat had little value of note. My cultural background in ceramics however led me to take residence with a contentious and somewhat melted man named Pedro Sciarra, a watchmaker who employed me to create glass domes for his timepieces. Rarely did I complete a project for him in one effort; more often I received diatribes for my work, and Sciarra was not above striking me if he considered the work of low enough quality.

Adjusting to the existence found in this city of labyrinthine streets1 oddly unpopulated and so distant from the huts and hillside abodes of my past life took many months. I spent all of the time not engaged in dome-assembly wandering the city lanes, speaking to no one but observing all. After some time, the faces of the individual shifted into one face with two genders. The further I looked, the less defined became the European face of the Spanish beauty I had seen in my dreams.

In the dust-ridden neighbourhood of Texcuana2 I found a small abandoned house, and I began spending nights away from the Sciarra residence. Only here did I start seeing the image of that Spanish beauty again; she stared into me as I slept, and once I even heard her name. I saw her face clearly now, as vital as the morning sun: her speckled green eyes flickered with an energy I felt familiar. But for all of these dreams, she came no closer to taking material form; and in time, I even forgot the name that she had whispered into my slumbering ear.

II

Sciarra took ill, and in facing his death, became a new man. I stayed by his bed and listened to him speak of God, and the rites he wished to have performed at his funeral. He asked me to find his only living son, and to deliver him a message, entrusting to me several pages of Spanish that he sealed in an envelope with watchmaker’s mould wax. In the last few days of his life, he spoke of the Trinity, and he spoke of his hope for forgiveness. He repented for beating me, and he entrusted me with the future of his workshop. I stopped visiting that house in Texcuana, and forgot entirely about the Spanish beauty who surely waited for me still.

Sciarra passed away through the night, and I found him staring inert at the ceiling, clutching his bedclothes. I could tell that his last moments had been difficult; and in his eyes, something spoke to me, words in a language I did not understand. He was buried as per his requests—a scattering of herbs left on his unmarked grave, his coffin nothing but a linen sack. I was the only attendee; I left the letter to his son on the grave, and said a word to the shepherd spirit to deliver his son to the spot, if he still lived. I walked from the grave, herbs and dirt falling from my clothes.

I tried my hand at watchmaking but fell short repeatedly and gave up. To fail to create a facsimile of time is known to corrupt, and with each mistake I could feel myself taken further and further away from the destiny I had ordained for the future. Each ripple contained within it ten thousand paths, and the hope of falling onto the right one began to seem small. Violence spread through the region, until news of new hostilities became ubiquitous. But for all of the war, I thought only of the flower-haired Spanish beauty of the flatlands.

Her return to my life had me renounce any further attempts at watchmaking, and I sold the Sciarra property and took myself to Texcuana to locate and purchase the property I had stayed in the year before, but the house had been razed. Wandering into the night, I drank from pisco from a flask and spoke to many denigrated denizens of their woes and passions. I slept in the bed of an older woman of Quechuan origin named Cuxi3, who spoke of food and farming as we made love upon the course sheets. And although I felt a fervour, I left in the morning before she rose.

I found myself wandering for some weeks, avoiding the streets at night to save myself from losing my small inherited fortune at the hands of dark-eyed knives. Through the markets of dust I walked, passing the dull-eyed camelids and the chromatic drone of the ponchos. I dressed in fine cotton clothing, not for the heat but for my waiting Spanish beauty, the one who got ever closer and ever further away.

III

Three nights after I heard the fox howl, my eyes set upon a woman. She had conquistador eyes4, flowing rust-flecked hair, a brimmed hat resting atop her head. She was not the Spanish beauty I had been seeking, I knew that; no, she could be nobody else but my own flesh and blood, my own family, my own sister.

Her yellow dress was a beacon. I moved with the wind towards her, to find out how she came to be; how she found herself here; how we had never known each other. But the crowds of like-faced folk churned, and as I pushed further into them, I quickly realised that I had lost sight of her. After catching one more glimpse of that yellow robe, a man took a step directly into me. I fell back onto the floor, sand in my eyes. Something happened, and I clutched at my side. Hands moved around my body, pushing into every pocket. Soon, I looked up to see the crowds of people with their uniform yet shifting faces staring down at me. I looked at my hand to see it smeared red.

My blood painted the sandy street. My fortune was lost. My sister had disappeared into the aether, and my last conscious thought was that I would never see her again.

IV

I spent a month recovering from my wound. When I slept, it was no longer the Spanish beauty that looked into my eyes; it was my sister. I thought of what I might say to her; what I might call her. I thought of many names, but there was no single one that felt natural. I had to find her, to draw the answers from our shared mouth.

I spoke to the Father, but he spoke not to me. God spoke to no-one; I was left out of the loop, alone but for the rain and wind5.

My doctor, Santos, discovered my history working for the watchmaker Sciarra and took me under his wing fixing his medical tools. I witnessed the many victims of the city, those unlucky enough to feel the blade dig too deep or who had deteriorated from the lash of time. Most did not survive. I thought on my luck, and how I would not squander this chance to atone.

All of my time away from the surgery was spent carefully wandering the streets, searching for my sister. I dressed in sodden rags, appearing so to be a beggar or leper. I played the part and kept my gaze toward the future.

Three hundred days passed, and in time I became a master artisan of medical tools. I crafted devices that saved lives and eased suffering, and I played audience to the increasing survival of the unfortunate folk who found themselves on the operating table. Santos and I eventually spoke of my future; his kind eyes followed mine and he nodded as I spoke of the sister I had to find. He was quiet for some time, and then told me that there would be a day soon when he would not see me again. I nodded.

The day came sooner than either of us could have imagined; to be precise, it was that day. Not long after our conversation, I took my leave to a local drinking hole that I had recently started to patronise. As I took my corner seat, she appeared at the door. She was wearing that same yellow dress as before, the same hat, and her eyes were still my own. She only looked briefly into the room before turning and going on her way; I got to my feet and scrambled out of there, leaving my alcohol to the dust and flies.

The streets clamoured with a resounding din of footsteps and mercantile. Through the tangled archways I moved, keeping the woman in yellow in sight at all times; I knew that this would be my final chance to reach her. I saw many infinite versions of us moving through the alleyways that we crossed, our forms blurring as I kept my true sister in aim.

Eventually, we reached the outskirts of Tacna. Lonely streets housing lonely homes, and it was as if we were the only living souls around. More cautiously now I followed, her seeming unaware of her brother coming to find her. O how near the truth was now—but I did not rush, I could not. The desertic flats now stretched out into the northeasterly valley, the hills rising up to meet us. Finally, we were the only ones walking.

I was but fifteen feet from her now.

‘What of you?’ she said.

I knew not what to say, but I walked still.

‘You do not mean me harm, lest I would already be dead,’ she said, and she turned around.

Indeed, those eyes were unmistakable; the sleek curves of her face, the parting of her hair; she was my kin, a perfect feminine mirror of my soul.

‘You are my sister,’ I said.

She smiled. ‘We have been living together in this city for some time. Why only now do you seek me out?’

‘I knew you not. If only I had.’

‘Let us keep walking,’ she said.

V

We walked in silence up to the crest of the knoll that I had traversed on my journey to the city. Finally stopping and turning around, we looked over at the place we had both made home; all was quiet, other than the chirping of insects and the occasional cry of the birds.

‘How long have you been here?’ I asked, finally shattering the illusion of silence.

‘As long as you have. We have found ourselves here again.’

‘Again?’

‘Indeed.’

She turned to me. It was as if I were capturing my own gaze.

‘What of our god?’ I asked, but knew not why.

‘My god is a gun6,’ she said, ‘and I am a bullet.’

I inspected her eyes further; I had seen them before somewhere, in some dream state or fugue of youth.

‘Have you forgotten me?’ she asked.

‘I apologise, sister, for I believe that is the case.’

‘Do not apologise; one of us was to remember, and I get to play that role this time. There is much that will come back to you: the many aeons we have spent together. We were there at the start, and we will continue even beyond the end, to even more distant and remote lands and vistas. We have seen every end of this earth a thousand times; we have never failed to meet. We are more than twinned souls, my old friend.’

She offered me her hand, and I took it.

‘Do you feel it now? That sense of being whole—and the forces that conspire to pull us apart. There will always be times when we must be apart, but we will find each other again, always. For beyond brother and sister, you are I, and I am you. We have always been one, and we have always been two. Without one, we could not have the other. We fit together as pieces of a jigsaw, as parallel paths in Sol’s Labyrinth. Every woman you seek is I, just as every man I have adored has been you. Reflection is an ideal; it is purity.’

Our hands fell apart again. I nodded solemnly, and looked away from her eyes.

‘It is not our time yet, is it?’ I asked.

We stared out over the city. I felt the land expanding out before us, incrementally increasing in size, along with the rest of the universe. I turned once more to her, to see her before we parted again for another epoch.

‘I do not believe so, no,’ said she, said I. ‘There is much trouble to come before we are joined forever. We will realise our differences, and then our similarities. For it is not just our eyes that we are similar, just as our bodies are not the only way that we differ. It is only when order and chaos are at peace that we will speak as one. Until then, I will dream of you.’

She smiled, and Inti, the great sun, shone down on us. In the light, our forms were inseparable; two identical bodies, silhouettes without difference or conflict, melding in the solar incandescence.

‘We shall meet again, many years from now. One will give the other a sign; messages caught in the melee, scripture that only the other will discern. Let us take this chance and bury it here on this hill, and one day it shall find us again. When the call finally sounds, we will answer in kind, and after a decade has passed, we shall be together as one, for eternity, as one.’


Postscript

For those familiar with the lauded Paca translation, it is not difficult to see why Melbern’s ‘fictionalised’ version is so controversial; even the very name of the piece is a personalised corruption. But despite the artistic liberties taken (particularly) with the conclusion of the story, it is noticed that the final paragraph is incredibly close to Paca’s original translation, and despite the final sections becoming divergent to such a degree that the message is changed, Melbern finds a way to finish the tale with the same words, even with the context so vastly changed.

We know the reasons for those lines in the celebrated original translation, of course—the two separated siblings have discussed their return to the realm of the gods where they belong, but must first go their separate ways to attempt, perhaps futilely, to reconcile the brutally contrasting perspectives of their native mother and rapist, colonialist father.

The discovery in the original translation that they are half-Quechuan and half-Spanish makes the account primarily a piece of cultural criticism in the form of a tale, and until Melbern released his own version, that was exactly all the piece was: a primary text of somewhat novelty value, sought after by Peruvian and other Latin American scholars for their collections. Since Melbern’s translation was released, the story has taken on a life of its own; and particularly now, one year after his untimely death, it is being reassessed as one of his defining works.

Many theories abound about his personal changes to the story and the coincidental crossovers between the original Quechua text and Melbern’s own novel Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar, but I am not here to catalogue such conjecture.

Melvin Milo Melbern died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in his home in Oxford on the 3rd of January, 2018. He left behind a final novel, posthumously released this year, titled Woman Behind the Train, or Annotations Through Time, a dense, 1200-page odyssey-narrative of spirit-doppelgangers attempting to contact each other through time and space by leaving messages in the stars.

His other final work was his suicide note. It read:

‘My God will not punish me for this sin, as it is my God that has taken me out of this world.’


Endnotes

1: This marks Melbern’s first moment of erroneous translation: Paca’s Spanish translation describes the streets of Tacna as uncomplicated and bustling with life; moreover, the narrator is portrayed interacting with a number of townspeople (these conversational scenes provide satirical humour, showing supposed Peruvian stereotypes of the era). Conversely, Melbern’s Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar (hereafter referred to as ‘Jars’) is set in the city of Labyrinthia, a city in the lost Latin American country of Quelacicero. The streets are believed to shift in the night, making each new day subject to a sweeping clean of the slate and offering opportunities for constant adventure. As such, Melbern’s translated description of Tacna more closely resembles his own fictional work than the reality of the original text.

2: ‘Texcuana’ is not a real place, nor does it exist in the Paca translation—the area isn’t named in the original text, instead it is implied to be an abandoned hut or outhouse some miles outside of the city. Texcuana is, however, the metaphysical ‘locked cage’ that protagonist Atoc places herself in in the final chapter of Jars.

3: ‘Cuxi’ is the only name that remains the same from the Paca translation (for example, Sciarra’s name is Abracante). Cuxi is also the name of a minor character in Jars: coincidentally, both characters are described as older women of native origin. The similarities end there however, as the Cuxi in Jars is the distant half-sister of Atoc, as opposed to a brief sexual partner of the unnamed protagonist of My God is a Gun.

4: This oft-cited and infamous phrase is the focus of much derision from certain critics, who point out that for all of the liberties taken by Melbern, this shortsighted and insensitive description is the one that unveils him as an ugly, colonial-minded opportunist seeking to use a native primary text for his own means. The Paca translation of this line uses the word espíritu (a form of pun or reference to alcohol) in place of ‘conquistador’. If I may offer my own opinion, I consider Melbern’s reference to conquistadors and colonialism in this paragraph indicative of a deeper understanding and consideration of the original text, especially taking into account the original final reveal of the shared lineage of the Peruvian siblings — due to this, I see these critics as engaging in contrived controversy, and as such, cast doubt on their credentials.

5: This short paragraph does not appear in the Paca translation to any recognisable degree. It is, in fact, verbatim from a passage in chapter six of Jars; it is Atoc’s reply to her brother Tito after he asks her the fate of the magically enthralled apu Father Wind.

6: The title line, and what follows, is the most erroneous and controversial element of Melbern’s translation. Paca’s translation posits these lines as:

            Y nuestro padre?
            Nuestro padre es la lanza.

            ‘What of our father?’
            ‘Our father is the spear.’

This complete rewrite continues throughout the conversation; little of what the narrator and his sister speak is similar or even vaguely related to Paca’s version, and, as such, the entire outcome of the plot diverges onto its own path, as far away from the original outcome as possible, beginning with the revelation that the protagonist and his sister are the children of colonial rape.

Gone is the parade of gods that the siblings witness above Tacna, and absent too is the appearance of their mother. Of note to the reader is this: in the conclusion of Melbern’s Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar (published four years before the discovery of the Quechuan text), Atoc reunites with her father after the battle of the gods has taken the lives of her townspeople, only to discover her father is in fact Illapa, the lord of thunder, who set her off on her journey in the beginning with that portentous lightning strike.

After he asks her if she is happy to see him again, she shakes her head, and says: ‘My father is a spear. He offers only death, and I shall not grasp him.’

Although she tries to destroy Illapa for putting into play the dark, world-changing events that have taken place, she ultimately sees her own face reflected in his eyes; with this revelation, she turns away from her father, and places herself in the locked cage of Texcuana, to be awoken only once all of time has passed.


References

Anonymous. (n.d.) Untitled. Translated by Paca, J. as Nuestro padre, la lanza, Bogotá: Pontificia Press; and translated by Melbern, M. M. as My God is a Gun, London: Faber and Faber.

Hammett, C. (1919) Hammett’s Statement. Translated by Melbern, M. M. London: Faber and Faber.

Inženia, Ï. (1937) Diaries from Beyond. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

McCarthy, M. (1963) The Group. New York: New American Library.

McEwan, I. (2001) Atonement. London: Jonathan Cape.

Melbern, M. M. (2004) Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar. London: Sahnow.

Melbern, M. M. (2019) Woman Behind the Train, or Annotations Through Time. London: Sahnow.

Wordsworth, W. (2015) ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’, in Gill, S. (ed.) Selected Poems. London: Penguin, pp. 61-66.

The Throne of Elias

I had to find myself: that, I knew, but I had only the slightest, mistiest and most oblique inkling of how to do it. I had only just started to realise how lost in it all I truly was, and how time was catching up with me in a manner that could be considered hostile. My grandfather’s voice in my ears: explore, excavate, delve deep – when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself.

The Throne of Elias

I had to find myself: that, I knew, but I had only the slightest, mistiest and most oblique inkling of how to do it. I had only just started to realise how lost in it all I truly was, and how time was catching up with me in a manner that could be considered hostile. My grandfather’s voice in my ears: explore, excavate, delve deep – when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself. They were solemn words that I tried to live by, in at least a social sense. However, I had found that my modes of speech often put people off; most people do not like to be so prodded and jostled with requests for deep truths. Thus, I never felt comfortable, and I never felt like myself, which must have meant that I wasn’t living life as myself, as my best possible self, the Self that can be quantified in psychological examination and cross-examination, form after form, check after check; no, it was no wonder that time was crossing the street with dagger in hand, seeking to cut me down: I was losing, I was a loser.

I had to do something, fast. I had been living in the city since birth, quickly approaching my twenty-third birthday, and I had no job and scant qualifications to my name. My parents’ earnings were wearing thin: I had been hanging off of the back of their lives for too long now, and my debt was piling up. Before I moved into the alien territory of employment, I had to open myself to life itself, in all of its glory.

But I saw no glory in life’s pickings: small talk at the coffee table at some distant or nearby office workspace taunted me like a lingering sickness, absent for a day, but here to stay tomorrow. I was the reigning faux-pas laureate, christened, crowned and celebrated in countless pubs and lecture halls; sharp, nervous titters followed my step in lessons and family gatherings alike, and eyes followed me unblinking, awaiting my next drink spillage or drugs-tray disassembly. Many bearded men had beaten me to the punch, and even those with weaker facial hair than I had laughed victorious over my own paltry efforts. Even those fatter and uglier than I seemed to achieve a semblance of success in their own individual groups, whilst I sat alone, drinking too fast and perhaps even blacking out and finding myself drifting to and fro upon a railway system far from home.

There was but one choice: to know myself, I had to know my country. If I felt so aberrant to these people, then it must have been due to my own misconceptions and presuppositions about the direction that encounters should take you: it could not be them – a phrase close achieving cliché says that if everybody you meet is boring, then it is you who is boring; as such, if everybody I met seemed darkly aberrant and appearing to belie through their smiles a deep, endless mood of isolation and cynicism then it was actually I who was the arduous, anomalous and offensive spirit, not those who I attempted to speak to day by day.

The solution was simple: I would borrow one last sum of money from my ailing parents, and make three journeys across England, in an effort to drive this possessive abomination of spirit from my Self. After this, I would spend a week alone in my room, reflecting upon the joys and revelations I had encountered; finally, I would return to the world, finally at one with myself, my Self, and my fellow people. I would finally wipe out the remaining traces of racial prejudice and colonial guilt, learn the mathematic divines of beats within social discourse, love thy goddamn neighbour and love goddamn God him or herself, saunter to the coffee table at work in some faceless call centre and finally feel at home, not prominent but certainly achieving a final sense of loose, soothing belonging.

My grandfather spoke to me of such matters a great deal when I was younger. Through our many holidays to my ancestral home in Derby, where my grandparents lived, I would be delivered sacred, sage advice from my mother’s father; information passed down from generation to generation, lessons that any sane person should heed, else expect nothing but desolation. I welcomed these lectures, temporarily taking the place of the fantastical bedtime stories of my mother’s conjurations; my grandfather’s warm, slightly shaky baritone lulling me to sleep; they were some of the few nights a year that I didn’t experience night terrors, and as such were some of the few nights a year that my parents didn’t have to take turns falling asleep in the chair next to my bed. Even at age sixteen, the unremembered nightmares would rise up, sending me into frenzies that took the lives of countless duvets, pillows and blankets. But even after the night terrors stopped, I still missed the many lectures that my grandfather had stored away in his soul.

My first journey started simply enough: I opened an arbitrary page of a road map of England, and pointed at a random location with a pencil. It turned out not to be too far from the city, just a few trains away, and perhaps a couple of buses, too. My pencil technically struck an unmarked piece of map, so I did move it a few miles to the nearest town: Yuggeshall, north of Dunwich Forest. And so it was to be, my first flying of the coop: a smiling farewell from my steadfast father, not a tear shed by my proud mother, and the family cat, Wermret, almost seeming to nod a blink my way as a parting gift. I would leave a novice of the world, and return a novice of the world; but return one with the first, slightest and mistiest inkling of how to change his position in life.

I packed very little – just three nights’ change of clothes, my toothbrush and toothpaste, my journal to note in and my music playing device to soundtrack my development into a nascent form of Individual Self. I took an overground early in the morning, the train so packed with humans to bring to mind an overstuffed pig-truck headed for the Death House; panting dogs longed for water, and kids restlessly worked their ways through a plethora of lollypops and ice-cream cones. Young adults looked down at their shoes, never meeting my gaze.

A change at a particularly busy stop, and then I was travelling on a type of train I had never been on before. Not to say that it was out of the ordinary; it was just a different type to the one that took my parents and I to Derby, so it naturally felt somewhat foreign to my senses. I chose apt music and scrawled descriptive notes of the landscapes sweeping around me; however, these written descriptions were too fanciful to relay to any critical and discerning audience, and of a form of prose too regally purple to stand beside my more constant, minimalistic and, in my opinion, pertinent literature. After an hour and a half, I arrived in the sea port town of Low Croft.

This town – city? barely – smelt like nowhere else I had visited; it was a stink too distinct to call home to anywhere but Low Croft. I had experienced and grown to subversively love the country smell, that of fermenting manure; but Low Croft smelt like a sewage pipe’s rear end, filled with scum-drowned otter corpses and rusty syringes. I took a quick toilet break before moving on; inside, the floor was wet and dirty, muddy boot prints trailing indistinctly. I noticed around the sink hole a substance that could have been blood; whatever it was, I avoided washing my hands near it, and opted to dry my hands instead in the pockets of my jeans, lest the electric hand-dryer spread some bubonic-originating plague upon my pure, un-pocked skin.

This toilet escapade resulted in my missing the bus by seconds. I looked around to find a bus timetable, but not one was present. A blinking electronic sign told me that the next bus heading my way wasn’t due for another forty minutes. Unencumbered by my usual travelling weight, I felt a spring beneath my soles lift me up and into the main square of the town: although quite small, I found Low Croft to be abundant in specific types of shops: hair salons, nail parlours, and pubs. There was a large Wetherspoon opposite the station, but I quickly struck it from my immediate list and took the main street up as far as it would go; I found a pub signed as the Heart of Darkness, its low-hanging sign emblazoned with a ghostly ship in a storm.

The lights inside were dim, and few patrons stood at the bar; I realised that it was still early, and that most of the regulars were probably still at work. I drank a half-pint silently to myself in the corner, and scrawled confused, scared and immature prose in my journal. A cowering animal, returning to a falsified mental habitat when presented with the truth; how ridiculous I must have looked. I know, now, that this fear was just from lack of understanding; lack of knowledge. But it angers me still, to think of myself as so blind to the world going on around me, the world that had always been there, hidden.

I abandoned the Heart of Darkness and took the main street back down, taking a right that would eventually lead me back around to the bus stop. On the way, I passed a closed newsagents; on the news billboard outside, it read: Second Low Croft Murder, Suspect Not Charged. Steps later, I saw an estate agents by the name of Savege. This struck me for one and only one reason: other than the surname of a once-popular television presenter, it was also my own family name. I had never seen it anywhere else, and had not anticipated seeing it in Low Croft of all places. I felt an urge to go inside and ask for Savege him or herself, but I eventually decided against it.

A creeping sense of intense loneliness was falling over me. I could barely stand it. I had to think again on the words of my grandfather, that stalwart figure he was, that soothsayer and truth-sayer. It was not so much specific phrases that I remembered, but feelings and tones; the man could mull over vast, dark corners of human history and human behaviour in just a few short sentences, leaving unanswered questions thoroughly debunked and unfortunate truths laid bare for only his audience, that being me, to alone understand and benefit from. These unsurfaced realities brought me through the darkness of my sweeping loneliness, and put me back into survival mode: explore, excavate, dig deep. Enact these truths, these realities, upon the world, and upon your own mind: find that desperate, confused notion known as maturity and climb yourself up on high, above all of the Sad Egg Men and pitiful wretches.

But some of my Old Thoughts, those Dark Thoughts, resurfaced once I got back to the bus stop; for at the bus stop, waited three Sad Egg Men. These Egg Men, bulbous and round, grossly plump – why, I thought, if only someone were to crack them open and shed their yolk onto the ground; then we would see, then we would see. And more arrived, all waiting for the bus I meant to take: dumbbells, wingnuts, the ill-bred, the insane and the degenerate…

But I waited all the same, and boarded that bus with a smile for the driver, although he did not have one for me. The bus took speed, and floated across those Low Croft streets, taking me past the sea front and through a series of streets that teased at me the ocean beyond the glass; somewhere out there was a ship sailing, a real, an old ship, a sailboat, a galleon! Its purpose I never discerned, but its form I was so taken with that I exclaimed aloud about how wonderful a vessel she was. An Egg Man replied to me, in a lilting and uncoarse country timbre, that she was indeed a fine lady, and that she sails just beyond these shores often.

‘What life you must have here,’ I said; the Egg Man seemed unsure of my tone, perhaps there was unresolved but unintended pretention in my voice – but he smiled back nonetheless, and I felt a twang of guilt rise up. Of course, I had been judging these Egg Men, these dumbbells and wingnuts by such specific and cruel standards – they were good folk, simple, but honest, and above all, they were people, goddamn it. I did not continue to speak with the man, and instead took my time observing the world beyond the glass; we strode down forested lanes and stopped at quiet country waysides, crested small hills and passed through many villages and hamlets so picturesque they could not have been real. On one of the signs we passed, one signalling the imminence of Yuggeshall, I saw a smaller wooden sign, much smaller than the metal sign to which it was connected: it read Crake’s Hideway.

With my specifically-curated music dancing in my ears, a nostalgia shook me. That name: Crake’s Hideway. It meant something…I could hear it being said in my mind, and the name softly insinuated itself into the rhythm of my music.

I turned to the bus of well-meaning and likely hardworking wingnuts and dumbbells and said, somewhat quieter than I had anticipated, ‘What of Crake’s Hideway?’

Their faces barely met mine. A few moments of short connection, but it was nothing of value. Then, the last Egg Man on the bus said:

‘There’s nothing there. You can’t get there.’

I looked out of the window for another sign, but one did not appear.

‘Very well,’ I said.

The bus soon pulled into Yuggeshall, a town much less threatening than its bizarre name; some bunting hung loose between the houses, and the occupants seemed lively enough to be populating the streets in welcoming numbers. This was it: the first destination in my plan, my plan to evolve, to find myself and my Self. A simple town, but one with a purpose; although I did not know that purpose, I felt safe thinking that this place, so alien to me, so alien to me, was just another place where life happened. People had jobs; people toiled; people met, and spoke, and did their bit, and drank, and got up on Mondays like the rest of the civilised world, and got on with it, no matter what. I thought of these people: each one of them could be suffering, and I wouldn’t know it. And, frankly, that was a good thing: because life went on. Day after day. Life is all around us: it may seem alien to us, alien to us, but it is actually the least alien thing of all; it is, to use a phrase so quickly decaying to cliché, what it is.

I approached somebody on the street, a woman of forty, somewhat round, but who I assumed to be a good person.

‘How do I get to Crake’s Hideway?’ I said.

Her face read little, and her voice betrayed even less:

‘A walk around a few miles, I reckon. Maybe two hours, thinking about it. You just follow…that road.’

And she pointed at a street that swiftly left the town, out into wooded rises and falls led by loose cobbles of yesteryear and the entropy of the centuries; and I followed this path, as if by magnetic impulse, my loose possessions on my back. The day was just beginning to sign its farewell; there were still hours left, but only scant few.

During this walk, I thought more of those stories that my mother used to tell, bedtime stories: of the village of Crake’s Hideway, where the dalliances of romantic nature merge with human strife; where the ants crawl beneath, moving the settlement ever further south; where the blistered and tattered Black Shuck stands by the Throne of Elias, waiting for its former master; where Odin’s deformed bastard son Sigorre dwells and plots in the secret tunnels of the River Rat; a town where Tryth has no sway, no hand in setting things right, no matter how hard she try; and, of course, the impossible and fractal harmonies of the pained gulps of the landrails themselves. Crake’s Hideway may have been a fantasy, but to visit a town of its name seemed such a beautiful coincidence that it had to be the perfect end to this first day, a day already full of learning and examination.

My grandfather had always given me the inspiration to seek my path, and although I had done it wrong all of the years that he was alive, I now had this chance to prove that could fulfil the potential he had always seen in me. It was just weeks after the funeral that I first envisioned my spiritual journey to the three locations, the effort to discover myself, by exploring, excavating and digging deep; and but weeks later still, I was here, walking, talking, exploring, excavating, and digging deep, deep. This was just the first step, but soon, I would know myself; I would know my Self.

Terror twilight settled in, soon followed by daemon’s dusk. It was in this stage of evening that the road finally gave way to Crake’s Hideway: a town out of time, wooden structures standing crooked in the failing light. The winding streets were lined with old gas lamps, every one lighted. Yet, not a single light played behind the curtains of the houses: they slept, I believed; it was a strangely certain feeling. I could hear the corncrakes rasping in the fields, like a sign from God: they buzzed alongside the crickets, a grand toneless melody croaking out from beyond, into the night. I espied not one rail, but I needn’t’ve to have ensured my knowledge of their distinct presence.

I careened through the mystical town, the dusk mist sinking from heaven and wreathing the ancient wooden structures in scarves of silver. How could it be that I felt at home, so far from home? The birdsong in my ears drove me on through the streets, searching for my kin. But for all of my searching, there was nobody: not a soul stirred in Crake’s Hideway.

So many times I heard my grandfather’s tales, lectures and parables that it is no surprise that I frequently dreamed of him, speaking to me; yet, I only remember two instances: the first happened when I was young, just after my parents lost all of their money and our bi-monthly trips to Derby were cancelled; as I lay sleeping, or almost sleeping, I envisioned my grandfather by my side: he said to me some words. Although my memory grows hazy, I feel that I remember most, if not all, of them: Exploring is not the only route. You must also wait. Waiting is our lord’s grandest virtue: it is what defines mankind. Find the Throne: when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself.

The second dream came just those couple of weeks ago, just days after we said goodbye to him for the last time. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: Young Savege, this is not the end. That was, technically, the last time that I saw my grandfather. It is what spurred me onto this mission of self-discovery, and what I will live by, no matter what. This is not the end.

Regarding the truth behind my mother’s tales, Crake’s Hideway did not reveal too much of itself too soon; as I walked through that croaking town, I heard not the growl behind the barbed knives of the Black Shuck’s dripping teeth; nor the deranged, hysterical whisperings of Bastard Sigorre – but I could feel the town moving with the ants, and I could feel the flirtations of nature’s spirits, and so I railed on, into the dying light.

Through so many alternating paths I wandered, the night finally calling its due and taking control. In this final breath of incandescence, there opened up the last stretch of my journey: the house, so longing on the hillside, breathing in time with my own mortal lungs. I crossed the threshold of darkness, and up the path of my ancestral home; how mighty it stood, such grand architecture! Through the doors I swept, dust billowing as cold wind touched the stale air for the first time in what must have been centuries, the floorboards creaking, finally finding human feet again.

In the upstairs suites I found the paintings: the ones of my ancestors. Elias, Jeremiah, Helen, Barin, Chass, Gerald, Mikeen, Selah: then my grandfather, followed by my mother; both of them captured in perfect oils, their eyes following mine, not seeking to find any missteps, nor judging any of my past failures; then was my own portrait: much older, greyer – my own eyes meeting my own eyes, a distinct sense of belonging…and yet, still…some sense of disconnection, as if I could not quite keep my own gaze. I traced the wrinkles down this vision of myself, of what could be my Self – and without hesitation I moved on, to the pictures of my children, my grandchildren, so beautiful they were, but they, too, were old, and yet somehow could not keep my eyes, as if they could not bear to look at me, their own Godly ancestor! – what terrors swept inside me, and I turned away, away from their judging eyes, my own eyes passed down through endless generations: each gallery led to another, another set of portraits of my own spawn, each one staring me down, the dread passing through me – and finally, I found my way out, and I descended the stairs, leaving the unexplored ground floor, too – and, choking in the dust, I collapsed down the stairs into the darkness and solitude of the basement level of the mansion.

The last story my mother told me of Crake’s Hideway was that of Prince Dunston: it is his purity of soul and his understanding of evil that finalises the Three Moon Prophecy; once he takes the throne, the Black Shuck grieves no more for its lost cubs, and Bastard Sigorre repents his treasonous ways. From out of the Darklands, dancing figures appear, grey flags held in their six-fingered claws; these beings share the stage with the Amber-Eyed Parade, who are the true signal of change, and their appearance is the emotional climax of the story; there was much feasting after the Amber-Eyed Parade had dispersed, but their tricks, their dances, their songs, their chants, they all remain, for they are the Truth at the End, the signal.

In the basement room, a candle flickered below. There was no wind, and yet the candle flickered, drawing shapes in shadow: portents, harbingers of things unspeakable; acts too cruel to look away from. I moved over to it and wet my thumb, ready to extinguish its sadistic shadowplay. But I could not bring myself to do it. Instead, I turned to the darkest corner, and walked.

I soon found myself traversing limestone corridors, the distant candle still offering its dim, shuddering glow to aid my step. Slowly, the limestone broke out into red brick, the path leading deeper into the frozen earth. I inspected the red brick, hidden so far beyond the cyclopean architecture of the limestone: it was of perfect modern design, cemented as if by a three-dimensional printer; not a lick of cement was out of place, and I could discern not a single flaw or mottle in any of the bricks.

I scraped my fingernails along the walls as I crept further, deeper, into this labyrinthine basement. Even if I wanted to turn back now, there was no way I could find the right path; even the candle light seemed to come from nowhere, everywhere; just like me, it had lost its way.

At last, the tunnels broke out into something more definite: this room, a perfect cube of red brick masonry, pulsed somehow; I felt that if I were to cut the walls, they would certainly start bleeding. More definite still, standing so lonely in the centre of the cube, was the throne.

I walked to it, moving around it, inspecting its improbable facets: not one part of the throne spoke to another – a grotesque detritus on first inspection, but an endless gift to the patient of mind and spirit. The brutal patchwork sections also contained their own smaller patchwork sections, revealing a level of fractal detail too intricate for the feeble human eye. I knew that if inspected by one worthy, the Throne of Elias would surely divulge any and all secrets of the universe amongst its tapestries of love and war, life and death, corruption and purity; it was a library for only the divinely enraptured, the worthy, and decisive: things that I could possibly never be.

And I felt a deep anger at the throne, as if it was telling me that although I was descended of Elias, I could not handle the truths of my ancestral lineage; it was as if the throne was mocking me, laughing, telling me that I was not allowed to pass the threshold any further, that this was the end of my journey, my story. I had explored, excavated, dug deep! Did I not deserve the fruits of my personal development, the ones I had planned to reap so thoroughly in the wake of my grandfather’s passing? Yet, somehow, I felt the throne welcoming me; perhaps in a mocking tone, I could not be sure; because the throne’s eyes – which I knew it had, hidden under that upholstery – would not meet mine.

So be it, I thought, and I dared to challenge it: whether or not I truly was Prince Dunston Savege of ancestral legend, this throne was mine, it belonged to me! I alone inherited the name, and so I would be the one to take the rightful place upon its patchwork cushions; the Amber-Eyed Parade would come for me, and the dancing figures would appear from the darkness and twirl endlessly in my honour. I alone would control Shuck the Dog-fiend, and deliver those who wished to do Crake’s Hideway harm into the Shuck’s salivating, starved maw, its razor teeth ready to tear the flesh from the naysayers brittle bones; I alone had the right to pardon or request the execution of Bastard Sigorre, the bitter and hopeless traitor whose mutterings I imagined deep beneath the earth, echoing through the subterranean caverns of the River Rat; and I alone would conduct the Crake’s Orchestra, bringing the cadence to its final crescendo, the croaks and crackles of the landrails finally silenced by the coming of their King, King Savege!

I am here still, waiting in the Throne of Elias, a great deal of time after my ascension to this position of isolated royalty. I am growing weak. My stomach roars in starved dysphoria; silent atrophy is spreading from limb to limb. I can hear not the crakes nor the crickets; but still I wait, for waiting is our lord’s greatest virtue; I am no closer to meeting the lumbering canine form of the Black Shuck, but still I wait, for I have found the throne, I have found my purpose; scarred, twisted Bastard Sigorre whispers not to me, but still I wait…I wait for the Amber-Eyed Parade to sing my glory, to bring me a crown worthy of my name, for waiting is a virtue, God’s greatest gift; and good things – to chance once more upon a phrase teetering on the edge of cliché – come to those who wait. This is not the end. I will have my parade. I will have my feast. I must just wait a little longer…

 

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Drawing near to the end now. I’m ready for it. I think. Been waiting for them to come for me for a while now. It’s a nice room – not too cold, not too warm. Full air conditioning, what a rarity – and it’s quiet for miles around.

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Drawing near to the end now. I’m ready for it. I think. Been waiting for them to come for me for a while now. It’s a nice room – not too cold, not too warm. Full air conditioning, what a rarity – and it’s quiet for miles around. It’s not my room. It’s far too messy. It’s far too neat. I can’t stand this silence. So bored of it. So bored!

There’s this word I’ve been trying to think of for weeks now, and I want to achieve this one last thing before I go. Waiting for a word. Waiting for the start of something new. Stand up now. Pace the room. Sit down. Pace the room. Pace!

There has to be a way to link this word to the present. I was jumping on a trampoline, in a sports centre, after school. No, no – that’s not it.

I was sitting in school, at some desk or other.

Scratched onto the desk were phrases:

            I was here.

            Get me out.

            I’m going to fail.

            Please let me die.

            Graham luvs Lucy.

It was during a test. Biology, or physics, or history, or geography. I did well. Sub-par for me, but I did well. Teacher walked past, checking to see if anybody had finished, even though they were supposed to put their hand up if they had. Maybe that was it, I don’t know. But Graham did love Lucy. They walked through the corridors together, perpetually, and probably still do. They made a fuss of each other on Valentine’s Day. It was actually pretty sweet. Florets, wrapped presents. Some kids thought they should just leave it for when they got home, but I thought it was sweet.

The wallpaper in here is disgusting. It’s not a colour I’d ever care to give a room in any house I owned. At least I don’t have to be here long. They’ll be here for me soon enough. The room is scattered with items: a stainless steel travel kettle, two lamps, a Bible, and for some reason an ashtray. There are ‘no smoking’ signs on the windows. I’m getting mixed signals. Good thing I quit smoking last week. I meant to do that earlier, and it’d have saved me all of this hassle if I had.

So last week I was driving home, a little faster than usual, when a homeless guy stumbled out into the road. There was a bit of a crunch, like I’d just hit a stack of extra-large boxes of cornflakes, and there’s this loud shout, so I got out of the car to see if he was alright. Turns out the crunch was just this big bag of luggage he carried around all over the place, people said he never took anything out or put anything in, but he always had it dangling off of his back. He didn’t sleep on it, or even rest his head on it – that’s what people told me. He wasn’t dead, but he looked a bit worse for wear. I apologised to him, and even though he was in a massively drunken state, he still muttered out:

“S’all right, yeah.”

He was a tough cookie, for sure. Nice guy. When my car collided with him, the first thought that went through my mind was that I had just killed someone. I can’t say I felt anything about it at first. When I discovered he was alive, I didn’t feel anything then, either. But when he brushed off the vehicular attack with such simple words, I felt grateful that I hadn’t killed him. Before then, I couldn’t have cared less, tell the truth. The whole scenario got me thinking…

None of this helps me remember this word, though. I haven’t got long, so I need to make sure I get this last little thing. I’m sure there’s some memory out there that’d just kick start my thoughts into a chain reaction that leads to this erstwhile piece of my lexicon.

Picking daisies in school. Best friends. Boyfriends. Summer evenings, fields. Rolling fields. Grass so green it looked like it had the contrast turned up digitally. Bales of hay as blonde and scrappy as my old dumb dog, that lanky old thing that lived to twenty-one and never learned to sit on command. Burnt toast in the morning that my brother hated, but I just couldn’t get enough of.

Not to say school wasn’t hell, I just don’t have time for those memories. Why waste precious time on bad things that will be irrelevant in an hour or two? I even have time for a cup of tea, I think. I have my bag on the bed. I rifle through it, taking out a couple of things, placing one on the desk and the other by the door. Pacing the room again. Making the tea, drinking the tea. Tea grew on me after a while, but for years I couldn’t stand it. I suppose you just have to find a brand or strain that agrees with you. The Trents next door drank all of those crazy herbal teas, but they did all of that kind of stuff. Not in my house, I’d only buy straight teabags from the local shop. But then eventually I was left alone in my house, and had nobody to deny other varieties of tea.

I sit down on the grubby single bed. The walls are too bare. It should never be this way – a room needs a personality. I take out a little pocket knife and carve into the wall, around knee-height and quite small:

            Holy motors make the world go ’round.

Time stands still for a moment as I look at the words. If it’d stand still forever then I would never be unhappy again.

It was only after me and my brother found the body did things start going wrong. It seems so long ago, and in reality it is. Many years now. But I think I could have found that body at any age and just accepted it. Maybe not the best reaction, but it was the one I had. I guess that was the start.

My brother and I, down by the riverside. The body washed up, bloated. Somehow its eyes were still open. It was propped up on a rock, staring at us. Took us a while to realise the person was dead. Seeing that once-human really struck me: it made me realise that I had no sympathy for the dead. I guess this line of thought isn’t proactive either, though; that word I still haven’t remembered won’t be found there. I’m pretty sure it starts with an ‘R.’ Three syllables – it shouldn’t be this difficult to remember.

The worst thing right now is the car that’s been running in the courtyard for the past five minutes. They won’t turn the engine off. The sound reminds me of the car my husband drove. That was before our crash. Before the driver of the other car had an argument with her family and drank a bottle of whiskey and started driving, swerving between lanes. Before our seatbelts jerked into place and bones were broken. Before the visits to the sterile rooms. Before the tubes, and the drips, and the sores. It was before the intermittent became the constant.

I guess she thought that she’d get away with it. The courts certainly let her. Well, eventually, she didn’t. This morning, she finally found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of four avenging wheels and the Devil’s engine. You should have seen her face.

But this isn’t helping. The last day of school: Antony charged up to the stage in the middle of the head teacher’s parting words. He made a fool of himself, gloriously so. It caused anarchy. Uniforms were burnt, schoolbooks added to the pyre. The police were called. There were no arrests at the scene; nobody knew what was going on. We weren’t violent, or violently treated. It was the last time that that many people I knew were that happy at the same time. You could feel it in the air: it crackled. It was our youth in full effect, and it was happening then, in that immediate moment. We had everything ahead of us, the whole world laid out in sweet chaos. Yes, I remember. I remember it all.