Author Archives: jo

Miss Scarlett, in the Study, with the Spanner

“Dearest Rose,

John here, John Black. Remember me? What’s up with this strange recording, though, right? I am just such a cad! What a jolly old idea, to leave you this mysterious tape-recorder, this wacky message! Just like good old fun times.

I know, I know. I need to be moving on. Oh what fun we had, but it’s over noooooow! I should have made you a mixed tape – but this is better somehooow! No, don’t switch it off. You only get one chance at this message, my dear Rose. It has been designed to self-destruct just as you realise how fundamentally, life-changingly important it is: I modelled it after our relationship, after all.

But to get to the point: how was your meeting with Mr Green?  Did you enjoy the lengthy wait in the study? Seven people saw you go in there, you know, and four of them saw me enter the room earlier, with a nice cup of tea. What? You didn’t notice me? That hurts, honey, I was shoved under that sofa you were sitting on so nicely, dead already, still cooling. Anyway, did Green tell you I had tried to kill myself? Did you get a bit emotional? Did you run out crying? At least two people should have seen that. You see how it builds up?

Oh, and don’t bother looking for the murder weapon. You hid it well. Pity about the fingerprints, and of course using the spanner from your own car… careless. You were always a bit of a hothead, after all.

Good luck, Rose! Oh, you might want to put the tape recorder down now! That whole self-destruct thingy is about to -”

Posted in 2012-02-13 to 2012-03-11 - Get a Clue(do) | Comments Off

Professor Plum in the Library with the Candlestick

The candlestick felt right: heavy, finely carved, balanced. Professor Plum lifted it experimentally, swung it gently from side to side, turned it over in her hands. The mechanism was superbly integrated, the surface smooth. No sign of tampering. Satisfied, she placed it in the centre of the round table, between the crystal ball and the skull.

The skull – on second thoughts, she removed the skull. It was simply too much, an extravagance too many. Hard to resist, of course, when ordering online, but nonetheless a mistake. She placed the grinning head back in the trunk – a genuine Moroccan camphor chest, very atmospheric and altogether a worthwhile expense. Very occult, very spiritual. Yes.

She checked the curtains she had draped over the library shelves one more time – heavy velvet things, subtly altered to swing and bulge mysteriously at the press of a button. Very eerie. Very authentic.

She felt ready; the subjects – guests, she needed to think of them as guests – would arrive shortly to take their seats around the table. They were drawn from all avenues of society – a reverend, a retired colonel, all sorts of different characters. The experiment depended on achieving a varied mix of believers and sceptics, young and old, religious and secular.

The Professor smiled as she allowed herself to imagine the findings: “The Effects of Supernatural Terror on the Human Psyche”. Of course, she was aware that true terror did not come from self-lighting candles, levitating tables and rustling curtains. These would merely create the atmosphere: her experiment truly centred around Dr Black and the role he had agreed to play.

It would be absolutely perfect.

Posted in 2012-02-13 to 2012-03-11 - Get a Clue(do) | Comments Off

It’s, like, totally my dream job!

“Sorry – “

“What, are you kidding? This is perfect!”

“No, it’s just, my office –“

“It’s, like, totally inadequate for this, like I know? I totally get it!”

“No, I mean, it’s just small –“

“This is such a great coffee shop, you have such an eye. It’s like this perfect mix of grimy and gritty and local and flavour, you know? So, what do you want me to do?”

“Um. I thought we’d just – chat a bit?”

“Oh yeah, totally! Totally. OK, I’m taking in the vibe, right, I’m just gonna improvise, just go crazy, right? This is so cool. You are so cool!”

“What? Look, just tell me about yourself and stuff?”

“Right, totally. I got it: I’m gonna do like bohemian art-student vibe, coffeeholic, right?”

“What?”

“Oh, Simon, it’s like awesome to be hanging out here, you know these guys like started the coffee revolution, they are totally out there, you know?”

“What?”

“No, you gotta try the triple-whammy-moccacino – I like totally improvised that, did you get it? – it’s like the best in Seattle, you’re gonna love it!”

“Look, I don’t see this on the menu – “

“Oh, darling, you know it, you just ask for it, it’s like totally that kind of place. Gosh, those are such fabulous shoes, you are just so out there!”

“Um. Thanks?”

“Is this working for you? I could do something different. I’m really feeling it, you know! We are going to make such a great team! I’m like, totally, made for this kind of thing!”

Posted in 2012-01-09 to 2012-02-05 - Coffee & Cigarettes | Comments Off

She’s so fine

“She’s not all that.”

“Whatever. I wish I hadn’t told you.”

“No, no. This is good. Little Ricky, all growed up. On the prowl.”

“Oh fuck off! I just said she’s pretty. Why do you always…”

“Let’s call her over! I’m loving this. Miss!”

“No – shit! Mike! What – “

“Hey there, Miss, Kate, is it? Kate.”

“Hi. What can I get you guys?”

“Well, me, I wouldn’t say no to some of that… apple pie. I bet you’ve got great pie. But my mate Ricky, here, well, he’s – “

“I’m fine, honestly, I’m good with the coffee. Good – coffee. I mean – “

“He means he likes your coffee, you know what I mean? Heh!”

“One apple pie, then, coming up in a sec.”

“Oh, maybe you’re onto something, Ricky-boy. Watch that ass now – that’s some sweet-walking-away-action– “

“Geez, man! You’re a fucking jerk.”

“Wait, wait, here she comes – just watch this -”

“What? Watch what?”

“Apple pie. Here you go.”

“Not to worry. Hey, babes – what’s a sweet chick like you doing later?”

“Oh. “

“Lost for words, hey? I have that effect – “

“ – oh, you are actually asking me out? Seriously? “

“Uh -”

“Oh My God. Just a second. Ricky – your name is Ricky, right?”

“Y – yes, Rick, Rick is fine.”

“Rick sounds great. I’m actually nearly done here, and I think you and I might hit it off, actually. Wanna dump this idiot and blow this joint?”

“Sh –sure!”

“WHAT? Rick, what the – where are you going!? What the fuck just happened here?”

 

 

Posted in 2012-01-09 to 2012-02-05 - Coffee & Cigarettes | Comments Off

Cyclostyle

Emerging in San Francisco in the early 90′s, “cyclostyle” was was a brief trend embraced by some hipsters. In the end, however, it failed to catch the imagination of the general public.

The cycling-inspired fashion advocated garish colours, skin-tight lycra, and, most memorably, padded posteriors. This last feature may have been the style’s eventual downfall: in the immortal words of P. Diddy, “That’s one big ass, yo.”

Posted in 2011-19-12 to 2012-01-08 - From Arris to Wall Dormer | Comments Off

Tokonoma

Developed in Japan in the early 22nd century, tokonomas were first intended as a bridging device to help students adjust to an independent life. They were programmed to follow their owner around, picking up untidy elements, demanding the owner put on a jumper, lecturing their masters on topics such as safe sex and wholesome nutrition.

Rather than wean themselves off their tokonoma, many students took comfort in the ongoing, harmless presence of a responsible entity, giving rise to the Tokoma Generation –   child-like grown-ups still accompanied by their now worn-out robotic minders.

Posted in 2011-19-12 to 2012-01-08 - From Arris to Wall Dormer | 1 Comment

Fortochka

In Russian mythology, Fortochka is an unwelcome spectre of narrative dissatisfaction.

In  many versions of “Gregor and the Dragon”, for example, Fortochka convinces Gregor to take up potato farming in Uzbekistan rather than face the dragon. In “Mischa’s deal with the Devil”, Fortochka is sometimes seen taking Mischa to a legal advisor who helps him with his infernal contract.

Some researchers argue that Fortochka is more likely to make an appearance late at night, when babushkas get sleepy and the story needs a quick ending. Others, however, claim that Fortochka is the foremost, unsung, villain of Russian fairy tale.

Posted in 2011-19-12 to 2012-01-08 - From Arris to Wall Dormer | Comments Off

Gadrooning

A rare state reached only in certain tiny Welsh pubs of a particular level of quaintness. The prerequisite is a happy event, such as an encounter with a winsome wench or possibly the imminent arrival of a bonny babe. The patron in question can be said to be “gadrooning” once he has reached a perfect balance between wanting to buy another round for all and sundry, and going back to participate in the happy event.

Gadrooning, when done correctly, can take hours. A well timed squinch may help things progress – if the barman can be made to play along.

Posted in 2011-19-12 to 2012-01-08 - From Arris to Wall Dormer | Comments Off

Quantum [Man/Woman] Happens

You know me. I’m that [kid/girl/chap/dude/freak/recruit], in the [back row/audit team/laundromat/other platoon/cafeteria], whose name you nearly remember, who you once [shared a bus seat with/got coffee for/borrowed a quarter from/bought dope from/had a one night stand with]. I was on that [school trip we took/last minute project/reconnaissance mission/cleaning detail/expedition/road trip to Vegas], remember? [The science lab. / That mountain cave. / The night of the freak storm. / That mysterious enemy base. / That members-only club.]

I got to the [bus/taxi/shuttle/helicopter/party/briefing]  late, ended up [next to that fat kid/taking the minutes/doing the clean-up/standing all the way/running/fired]. The [lab/club/client site/forest/tunnel/casino/road] was [cold/messy/loud/humid/dark/wet].  You were all [having fun/getting on with it/following orders/taking stock/organised]. I hung back. I didn’t want [any trouble/to be killed/extra work/you to notice me/anymore to drink].

It’s strange how [Mr White’s/the client’s/Roger’s/all the girls’/the presenter’s] attention was elsewhere that moment, how all the [scientists/secretaries/team leaders/reporters/soldiers] got [important calls/sand in their eyes/the urge for a cigarette] at just that second. How you all turned away, all at once, at that one crucial moment when I [stumbled and fell into that vat/was bitten by that spider/got shot by that strange dart/looked up into those dark spots on the sun/read the forbidden words/snorted what looked like perfectly good coke].

How unavoidable it seems in hindsight. I remember the pain, the heat; I remember your screams.

I remember becoming.

In the infinite universes, in a myriad untold ways… Quantum [Man/Woman] happens.

Every time.

 

Posted in 2011-12-05 to 2011-12-18 - Superhero Origin Stories | Comments Off

The Game

The first card fluttered onto the table, feather-light. “A simple opening”, said Abdul Ibn Hassan, resplendent in red. On the face of the card, a lone bird floated in an endless sky. “I wish I could fly”, it whispered in a young woman’s voice. It looked at us bitterly. “She missed her next two wishes, too”, added Abdul. “Bird brains, you know.”

We nodded. A traditional start, but that is what I was expecting. Fakir Rabdan, floating on his cloud of golden dust, drew the next card from his curling beard. It clinked like falling coins. On it, a beautiful young man looked into a mirror, hands raised to his face. He shimmered, gleamed, shone, but did not move. “I wish to be beautiful, and rich!” cried a young voice. “Everything I touch should turn to gold”. Fakir smiled, teeth like diamonds. “You bait them with your frippery, Fakir!” protested Abdul, smiling. But that, we knew, was allowed.

“Your turn, Safik!”

I knew to start low. It would not do, to overplay my hand this early in the game. The stakes were too high.

A guitar riff, a drum beat. My card vibrated with unheard rhythms. Thousands of teenage girls raised up pictures of a man with straggly blond hair and smudged eyeliner. They  cried and screamed as a coffin was carried through crowded streets. “I want to be famous” sang a rough voice, wistfully.

The others looked at me quizzically. “The most famous ones are always dead”, I explained. The card shivered, but stayed.

And so we played.

We brought dead loved ones back to life: Abdul made them soulless and ravenous, Fakir left them buried alive. I had them kidnapped by secret agents and experimented on.

We granted immortality: The cards showed wizened, shrunken ancients;  walking skeletons; soulless cyborgs.

We offered happiness: mindless idiocy, delusional schizophrenia. Grinning maniacs frozen in eternal ecstasy.

The points racked up, in their secret ways, in complicated combinations. We all felt the game’s tides change again and again as the super-strong crushed their lovers, men stepped on the moon and could not find breath to ask for air, women asked for beauty and were disowned by their families. Round and round we went, each hoping it would be our turn to win.

The game is played for the highest stakes.

“The end game, my dear friends”, announced Fakir finally, stroking his silver beard. He was in the lead: his last card, a city trapped in a perfect day, doomed to relive it again and again, never changing, still glowed faintly atop the tall pile on the table.

Abdul carefully removed one last card from his crimson turban. He smiled his sly smile as he laid it down. “Peace on Earth” asked a sweet voice from within.  A soft glow touched every being in the world. For one small moment no creature harmed another. It was as if the world held its breath.

The moment passed, and violence resumed. “Peace on Earth” laughed Abdul. “How about that!” He was right to laugh. He was in the lead now.

Fakir, pale and drawn, reached into the recesses of his kaftan. He presented his last card. It hovered and twirled in the air over the table. “Total control over reality” said a confident voice. The air inside the card stood still. “He needs to move individual molecules to get anything to happen”, explained Fakir. A man was frozen, helpless, in the middle of his card. Fakir beamed; his lead was restored.

My opponents turned to me. “The last move is yours, Safik.” Fakir’s lead over me was vast. “Even if you cannot win, you must play”, Abdul reminded me. Those are the rules of this ancient game, a game played for the highest stake: one jinn’s freedom.

I drew my last card out from my heart, where I hid my greatest secrets. It showed a young man in torn jeans rubbing an ancient oil lamp. A jinn emerged, majestic and blue. The scene was silent, but jinn and man talked or a long while, with much scratching of heads and waving of hands. Finally, they shook hands.

“I wish to become the Jinn, Safik Al Shahad, and take his place in the lamp”, said a young voice, resounding clean and clear all around us. The card swelled, grew.

Turned itself inside out.

Comprehension dawned on the red face, then the golden one. The game was won. I felt myself lifting up from the table, away from my lamp, free at last. I looked down on myself and saw my old, torn jeans.

I was back.

 

 

Posted in 2011-11-14 to 2011-12-04 - And then he wished for Peace On Earth! | Comments Off

In The Details – Final

The small drawing-roomIt had not always been a drawing-room, though a new visitor would never notice this. Madame had ensured the transformation was complete: even the elaborate fireplace and bay window had been torn out and made unrecognisable through the skilful efforts of Mr French and his apprentices. Only the sofa, a Victorian monstrosity without charm or comfort, remained untouched, a jarring reminder of that fateful night.
was exquisitely neat and smelled of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden shepherds and shepherdessesSo, one story could be that that little shepherdess, the one with the battered nose and faded skirts, is secretly a princess. The daughter of a powerful, handsome, and talented King, lost in a far away land. One day, he will ride onto the mantelpiece on his fine horse and pick up the little shepherdess with paint-stained hands (in Emily’s mind, the King is invariably a very fine painter), swing her onto the front of his saddle, and take her far, far away from this dreary drawing-room.
That’s just one possible story, of course.
, on the mantelpieceFaux-greek columns soared arrogantly around the cavity of the fireplace, filled with meticulously arranged, skillfully dried, artfully lifeless roses. So flammable, Emily often thought. So very flammable., simpering sweetly. There were framed water-coloursDark, mysterious landscapes where twisted roads soar up endless cliffs, and ancient trees reach upwards as if to pierce the firmament. The signature is a twisted scrawl, starting with a “Z”. They are very valuable, Madame always says, but she does not sell them.
, two samplersBoth the Gothic and the Cursive Alphabets lack the “E”.
Emily has repeatedly apologised for this, but nonetheless she has been banned from any further embroidering by Madame.
, and three needlework picturesFine works; Madame is acknowledged to have exceptional skill with the needle. They are for Emily’s dowry, Madame says: “The Sleepy Cat”; “Girls Playing”. “A Forest Encounter”.
Emily tries to be grateful, truly, but she finds the pictures disturbing. In her eyes, they are subtly subversive: the Cat, seemingly dozing in the sun, appears dead to her. And what is that… thing… the Girls are so merrily throwing?
The forest thing, hiding in the tree branches, comes to her in her dreams. It is not a pleasant Encounter.
on the wall. There were some photographsConrad and Julia Cuttner – straight-laced and narrow-toothed, just like Auntie Anne.
Richard and Robert Phillis-Smythe – specially scrubbed for this photo, no doubt, gleaming with gleeful guilt. In the background, Louis the Cat, petrified as per usual.
Gwynneth Smythe – perfect, polished and marketable. Madame simply adores this photograph.
There are no pictures of Emily, of course.
of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture – a Chippendale deskA grand old piece, taking more space than the drawing room affords it. It sits, fat, in it corner, glistening in stray sunlight, its surface clear except for that one, elegant volume. Madame’s diary.
Emily has read it a million times in her imagination. Her mind supplies staggering secrets, weaves clandestine narratives, reveals the truth of the lumpy sofa, the mysterious painter, the unwanted child.
She has never dared touch that desk.
, some little satin-wood tablesRefined, sophisticated, delicate.
Madame will probably leave them to Cousin Gwynneth one day.
– and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofaIt is a summer evening, sixteen years ago. Madame is a young girl, perching on the edge of the lumpy, large sofa. Her soft eyes are locked into the gaze of a young man, handsome, carefree and in love. The house is silent in the setting sun, all potential bastions of propriety and responsibility miraculously drawn away on serendipitous errands. Two hands, one marked with paint, touch: hesitantly, then urgently. Fate, merciless and swift, ties two lives together; and creates a third.
.
Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | 2 Comments

[Victorian sofa]

It is a summer evening, sixteen years ago. Madame is a young girl, perching on the edge of the lumpy, large sofa. Her soft eyes are locked into the gaze of a young man, handsome, carefree and in love. The house is silent in the setting sun, all potential bastions of propriety and responsibility miraculously drawn away on serendipitous errands. Two hands, one marked with paint, touch: hesitantly, then urgently. Fate, merciless and swift, ties two lives together; and creates a third.

 

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[satin wood tables]

Refined, sophisticated, delicate.

Madame will probably leave them to Cousin Gwynneth one day.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses]

So, one story could be that that little shepherdess, the one with the battered nose and faded skirts, is secretly a princess. The daughter of a powerful, handsome, and talented King, lost in a far away land. One day, he will ride onto the mantelpiece on his fine horse and pick up the little shepherdess with paint-stained hands (in Emily’s mind, the King is invariably a very fine painter), swing her onto the front of his saddle, and take her far, far away from this dreary drawing-room.

That’s just one possible story, of course.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[Chippendale desk]

A grand old piece, taking more space than the drawing room affords it. It sits, fat, in it corner, glistening in stray sunlight, its surface clear except for that one, elegant volume. Madame’s diary.

Emily has read it a million times in her imagination. Her mind supplies staggering secrets, weaves clandestine narratives, reveals the truth of the lumpy sofa, the mysterious painter, the unwanted child.

She has never dared touch that desk.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[framed watercolours]

Dark, mysterious landscapes where twisted roads soar up endless cliffs, and ancient trees reach upwards as if to pierce the firmament. The signature is a twisted scrawl, starting with a “Z”. They are very valuable, Madame always says, but she does not sell them.

 

 

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[mantelpiece]

Faux-greek columns soared arrogantly around the cavity of the fireplace, filled with meticulously arranged, skillfully dried, artfully lifeless roses. So flammable, Emily often thought. So very flammable.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[two samplers]

Both the Gothic and the Cursive Alphabets lack the “E”.

Emily has repeatedly apologised for this, but nonetheless she has been banned from any further embroidering by Madame.

 

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[three needlework pictures]

Fine works; Madame is acknowledged to have exceptional skill with the needle. They are for Emily’s dowry, Madame says: “The Sleepy Cat”; “Girls Playing”. “A Forest Encounter”.

Emily tries to be grateful, truly, but she finds the pictures disturbing. In her eyes, they are subtly subversive: the Cat, seemingly dozing in the sun, appears dead to her. And what is that… thing… the Girls are so merrily throwing?

The forest thing, hiding in the tree branches, comes to her in her dreams. It is not a pleasant Encounter.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off

[photographs]

Conrad and Julia Cuttner – straight-laced and narrow-toothed, just like Auntie Anne.

Richard and Robert Phillis-Smythe – specially scrubbed for this photo, no doubt, gleaming with gleeful guilt. In the background, Louis the Cat, petrified as per usual.

Gwynneth Smythe – perfect, polished and marketable. Madame simply adores this photograph.

There are no pictures of Emily, of course.

Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | Comments Off