Yes I know, still no new material. So I'm just going to say what you've been thinking and call this an hiatus til we get the new place totally finished. If you've ever built a house, you'll understand how it takes over your entire brain and squashes all your creative neurons like some sort of uninvited hippo; if not, well, that's exactly what it feels like. We'll be back soon enough. Cheers for your patience.
Josephine’s white blouse came away from her body as though it had never consented to the association, leaving no impression on her tanned skin even where it had been tucked into the waist of her skirt. The plain fabric of her underwear agreed wholly with the lean asexuality implied by the rest of her clothing; she wore it across the glassy floor of the testing lab toward the chair allocated by her technician, a south-east Asian woman of avian proportions. She seemed almost a facet of the room’s modular inventory of drawers and stainless, swipe-card shelves in her pale blue scrubs. The polished glazing behind her reflected both women; the technician consulted the inoculation program specified on the screen beside her and sat down on her own wheeled chair, arranging the hygienic appurtenances on the trolley before her. Refrigeration units lining the walls filled the dead air with their cyclic hum and sighing respiration.
Before the woman had finished laying out her tube racks the light beside the sliding door summoned her to a cosseted exchange behind it, and O’Connor returned to Josephine in her stead, turning back the white cuffs from the end of his shirt sleeves. She looked from him toward the instruments on the trolley between them, skeptical at first that he intended anything more than to disturb her. For a moment he appeared to consider the box of latex gloves, but passed them over, tearing a white swab from its wrapper. Taking up her arm, he inflated the cuff about her bicep and awaited the streaks of venous blue that rose in answer to constriction, his grip warmer than her own skin, his narrow thumb raising her vein and holding it proud. The cold swab struck like a snake bite against the inside of her elbow.
He chose a syringe and slid its point into her skin. It blurred against the wall of the vessel and rolled off to one side.
“Let’s just go with the butterfly." O'Connor suggested, holding her arm against any instinctive contraction. "It’s a nice gauge.”
“I want to know where we’re going.”
"Where're any of us going? Where’s Trent going, now that he’s at one with all that aluminum siding?” No flicker afflicted her gaze, even when he stubbed the lip of a tube against the buried needle. His smile loosened up as her blood raced through the canula and flooded the glossy vacuum, hot between his fingers. “Honestly, I opposed your transfer... I didn’t want another token floater reaming me with her gender card... but you held your fire, and I told myself you were too fragged to come at me that way.” He shook his head. “But you were just wearing that skin to get by me.” She lifted her shoulders, caught between objection and restraint, one barely constraining the other. A third recourse presented slowly as though with the colour that streamed from her arm into the glass, standing in the rack before her eyes like strikes against her. Josephine lay back in the chair in perfunctory invitation. “And there it is. Relax. I don't put my dick in my mistakes. But while we're being candid, can I just ask... was carbonizing Mr Trent business or recreation?” When she declined to respond O'Connor chuckled, capping the canula. “Guess I just volunteered for a mystery vehicle fire.”
Boxes full of vaccine ampules tinkled against each other as he eased open the refrigerator door, making his selection with a smile, perusing labels and collecting dilutant. The oily suspension in the first vial shimmered, shaken quickly in his fist then drawn up by the hypodermic.
“Terminal cams in Frankfurt picked up the British girl on her own, heading east, then we were blessed by a local snitch, diming foreign nationals around US interests. Let’s see... what else can I tell you in good conscience? You’ll head out in two teams... attached to a four-man hub… small arms, unsupported...”
"Interlaken knows you're sending us on deuce gear?"
O'Connor frowned at her, closing his hand around the syringe.
“What kind of obsessive, homicidal narcissist needs to ask if she’s on a doomed bag run with every other walking liability I could muster?” He stabbed the vaccine down into her thigh. “Happy trails.” he added, leaving it standing in her flesh.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Just in case some of you constant readers are skeptical as to the actual existence of any project that might be dragging me away from this blog rather than just, oh I don't know, massive fucking laziness or inappropriate drug use, behold- the Idlehouse is nearly a thing. It's not quite this whack-looking shade of blue; extreme afternoon sunlight is not letting my superior paint selection be great and I couldn't be bothered colour-correcting the pic. Note random piece of trellis waiting to be painted black just like 4635542894 other of the motherfucking things.
No steps or roof gutter as yet, which is trying my patience. We're currently whitewashing the ply walls in the bathroom with a product that behaves like Satan's jizz (streaky, fume-y, splatters unpredictably and sticks to your eyeballs, will not come off your fucking hands) so, not in the best of moods but as you can now see, we are getting there.
There is always an elusive ∞ factor that separates a merely good lipstick from those that make you feel extra-goddess. MAC Ruby Woo is like that. Urban Decay F Bomb. For some, it's Nars Dolce Vita or some other satanic concoction. Call it glamour, call it dirty old witchcraft; for me, Bite Beauty Tannin sits simpering amongst these hallowed creations. Like a slutty muse.
Pale mouths and/or primer will provide just enough of a white cast to make Tannin possibly go all flat and literal. So your native tonality is the crucial interjection. Keep that in mind.
You need a bit of mana and personal heft to pull this shade off, or you could find yourself worn and not in a good way. My most meaningful recommendation is this: I'm a fucking tough bitch to please and Tannin surely doth please me.
L2R all MAC unless stated: Russian Red, Bite Tannin, Nars Mascate, Ruby Woo,
Guerlain Garçonne, Nars Majella, Lady Danger
Still very fucking busy. I thought getting to the finishing stage with the new place might mean less work. Wrong.
Here's a few pics of Fir who is still firmly in the juggalo phase of his personal development and is just lucky he is a cute little arsehat otherwise he might not have made it this far. Also: bonus pic of monarch on dahlia from our new lower garden.
I'll post some pics of the new place over the weekend if I get a chance.
Re lack of recent material: we are up to our fucking pineal glands in new-house work, supervising Fir the rampant demon in puppy form and trying to keep all the other real-life plates spinning. Ceiling to coat. Floor to sand. Floor to poly. Vanity to install. Trellis to put up. Painting to finish. Garden to install. Steps to build. Finish exterior painting. You get the idea. I will post some pics when I get a chance but christ on a cracker, I do not have time to scratch my own arse at the moment.
Losing Felix was a throat punch from hell. I just can't overstate how hard it's been for us these last few weeks without him to make life worth getting out of bed for, but you've probably lost your own dogs and know only too well how that feels. It suffices to say that things have been bad.
We began looking at NZ poodle kennels just to get a feel for how long we'd have to wait for a pup from a reputable breeder (don't buy random/backyard dogs, people). We would like to have taken a rescue poodle, but there aren't many suitable candidates around. We also love the breed in particular and don't think it's unethical to support the people responsible for maintaining it in good standing; it's pretty glib to condemn show kennels when they seem to be the only ones who give a toss about genetic testing, appropriate matings and breed integrity. Those things matter. While some dogs are definitely being held to ridiculously extreme and physiologically deleterious standards, many more of the canine strains we love are with us today only because of the diligence of dedicated breeders. I just wanted to say that because they get a lot of hate from some quarters, much of it founded in ignorance.
We liked Inchcolm Poodles for their black miniature-only program and emphasis on health and confirmation, but we were resigned to waiting months. As it turned out, one little fellow was looking for a home and we were overjoyed to give him one.
These pics are about a week old and he's grown so much in that time. He had his first big boy haircut in the last couple of days and looks so much like a tiny adult that people stop and stare, unable to decide exactly what the hell is going on with him. Like most poodles, he is freakishly- some say malignly- intelligent, inherently militant and hero-worships the long suffering Hamish, my mother's Bichon/Maltese/Schnauzer veteran who has had enough of his shit already.
He sleeps in the bathroom (toilet training necessity) and brays like an angry helium-huffing werewolf when placed there. Fir shows great promise.
In its cryptic, pristine harmonies of form and saturated colour the forest might have seemed to Susan a sympathetic refuge, at least to that part of her most weary of her own shape. Its disregard was perfect but its anamorphic scale, crowded so unremittingly over watershed ridges and stream-hewn valleys, resisted idle appreciation and began by late afternoon to inspire sentiments that shared their hue with its sombre, tannic shade. Dryad saddles, iron-grey and corpuscle-red, flourished in tiers upon parasitized boles footed with golden hordes of leather shanks. Sullen, bronze-eyed vipers basked on moss mounded like velveteen malachite, their muted livery overlaid with glossy opaline under scattered scales of sunlight, unseen as she followed William beneath the canopy. Its deciduous component was bleached tired lime and livid golds by the late season, borne on stout, diverging rafters that sheltered both their callow saplings and perishing progenitors. The latter were pressed deeply into the earth under their own ponderous weight, taller supine than Susan stood on both feet, shorn roots and broken crowns draped in moss and absinthe-coloured lichen, indistinguishable from each other in decay. Fallen boughs were lesser shapes amongst the dead leviathans and lay both arched and lax like old mens’ arms in infinite variation.
Her tread had long ceased to remind her of the burn in both legs; stripes of smudged mold on her forearms were tokens of missteps arrested by the flashbulb timing of her companion’s hooked grasp on her clothing, the ease afforded by his profound physical advantage throwing her own breathless efforts once more into unflattering contrast. William walked with his head slightly inclined, draped by a lace-like line of sunlight where the leaves were cast in ornamenting shadow over his back and down the length of his arms. Appetence pursued her, the rhythm of her stride and breathing speaking to inclinations gratified but not assuaged by the taste she had enjoyed under the votive oak. She felt herself naked and sunlit, and the gorgeous, transportive pleasures of his mouth and hands, enjoying them privately while he braced himself against a nest of bramble canes and pinned it back for her. Turning sideways, she shuffled past, halting with her back to him; his free hand slid into the warmth between her thighs as he leant down and licked the nape of her neck.
"How do you know?" she smiled.
"It's my job."
"Don't... I'll be picking out thorns for a year." she murmured, the slow stroke of his hand staying her almost to the point of disregard for her own caution. She sighed and ducked out of the brambles, waiting while he extricated himself and allowing him ahead of her again. He helped her over a steep case of rock onto the apex of the hill, a long plateau shouldered by two greater masses. Susan wished heartily for some view of their wider surrounds but the rise afforded no particular outlook, waist-high grass crowding the level ground between the trees. “At least look knackered.” she grinned, drinking from her bottle and wiping at her chin. William lapsed back slackly, flattening the grass beneath him and lying with his arms upturned beside his head. “I said knackered.” she complained. He encircled her calves with his legs then rose on his knees to hook his fingers into the back of her jeans, biting softly at the flesh on her hip. She whispered over the chiming sounds of his teeth on the button of her fly and the zip descending, her mouth falling open as he used his own to its greatest effect. A small stone sailed across the clearing and struck the trunk of the tree overhead, then his skull, prompting him to curse and rise; he held up a hand to her inquiry while she closed her jeans. Twenty metres distant through the overgrown glade the manual elements of Edward's silent communique earned a reply in kind.
“House, half a click north, empty... stay behind me, I run, you run.” William related.
Susan mouthed the first word back to him as he picked up her pack, but swallowed her frowning incredulity, crossing the grass behind him and keeping her head down as they discovered the narrow suggestion of a path. It led into the trees, the intensity of the gloom beneath compelling her to close and accustom her eyes while he stood and scanned it for himself. William crooked a finger to her, picking up a stick to trace the spoor that deer had trundled by a large stone in the midst of the way, directing her attention to a small russet shape amongst the leaves banked behind it. When she shrugged, he stroked back the litter to reveal another brown point, then two more, until she recognized them as the rusted teeth in a pair of grinning iron jaws lying armed beneath the featherweight debris. She whispered expletives; he used the twig to indicate again the discursive tracks of the other creatures and Susan nodded at the exemplar, appalled by the size of the gaping snare as they stepped around it.
The structure to which Edward had referred loomed in beech shadow, the netted branches squeaking and groaning against each other in a stir from the east. Seeming a simple black shape from its south end, it extended itself as she approached into a windowless longhouse under a single hooded gable, standing on shoulder-high piles of oak and walled with pit-sawn slabs greened with moss. The roof and beaten paths on either side were masked from any aerial view by the limbs interlaced along its length. Edward returned from his reconnoiter and made one more sweep of the space between the piles.
“What is this?” she asked, unscrewing her bottle.
"An eidiré." William exchanged more densely-phrased gestures with his brother. "Alujha summer house."
He nodded. A line of steps had been hacked into a trunk set against the north corner; he made a silent offer of the interior, to which she shook her head emphatically. Edward had already set off on a more intimate examination of their surrounds, and William climbed into the longhouse on his own. Fatigue settled on her unexpectedly as she sat down at the edge of the dirt path, inducing her to lay her head upon her knees though she regretted the shade immediately, its stagnant pall thick with floating spores sifted from the timbers overhead. The ground between the piles was rank and bald of vegetation. Toward its midst she found a strange coherence amid the stale, paddled mud and drew out her torch, playing it over two coiled chains, their fat links crudely-fashioned and corroded, extended from a collar of iron encircling the foot of a pillar. Another shape lying between them, half-swallowed by the mud, prompted her to reach into the darkness with a stick to pry it loose. Its slack curve refused her at first, then pulled free. It was a woman's shoe, its scuffed red patent heavy with engulfing soil, the diamantés on its narrow ankle strap stained grey and lustreless. Susan reversed out of the shadow and dropped the stick from her grasp, taking herself swiftly to the steps in William's wake.
The eidiré’s lateral scale was far more impressive from within, daylight falling through the eaves and slatted walls to lie in stripes upon the floor, its jet-like timbers polished by bare feet and bedding to an ambiguous lustre, on which the soles of her boots squeaked loudly, keeping her still. A flat stone slab formed an open hearth beneath a cooking frame, the iron tripod rubbed with fat. The thatch and timber were soaked with the dirty ghost of smoke and the rude bass notes of barbarous masculinity, full of a low and shuffling fougére green and animalic elements that touched her like unbidden hands in a darkness already congested with the black taint of proscription. Her companion's glance at her discomfort was overlaid by the silvered green of its internal structures.
“Tastes evil.” she murmured.
"Nāmeré.” he replied, miming a pair of breasts against his chest and crossing them out emphatically. “Heavy duty no-skirt beef."
"There were women on Caleb’s hahdri... what about Gévaudan?"
"It's loose in the New World, and Auberjonois is a geris alujh, a bear wolf... méchant loup... he can do what the fuck he likes." William scowled at the smell of the hearth. "These dickheads are sausage party fundamentalists."
"What would happen if they caught me in here?"
"Their balls would crawl up into their arseholes."
“They would chain you to a tree and use you like a midden until the next moon.” said Edward, his shape filling the doorway in silhouette. He reached up into the rafters with one hand, sliding fingers along the central beam in a swift, purposeful sweep, his gaze briefly challenging her own until she turned from him. Eager for the distraction, she counted off the number of berths on the floor, their presence worn into the timbers like the dim, inscrutable casts impressed by medieval saints in the course of their austerities. The restless sounds of her clothing as she moved began to trouble her and she dropped both hands to her sides, shrugging back her shoulders uncomfortably.
“There could be thirty people sleeping here." she asserted, looking to William. "Where are they all?”
“This is laid up... they're on their way to winter quarters.”
Outside the longhouse the afternoon seemed blinding despite the ponderous clouds that had begun to catch on the hills and gather thickly overhead. She watched her companions step down onto the path with the same strange, remote expression, as though some fraction of their attention had departed to course their surroundings independent of conscious instruction. Her ruminations tangled in the chains beneath the eidiré and payed their spectre out behind her, the other filthy, despairing artifact adding its weight to the drag. A train of wind pushed through the trees and blew the moldering litter past her boots as the first cold splashes of rain dropped through the branches, striking her cheeks. Edward glanced at the sky while William took her arm and directed her around another trap set into the final stretch of visible path. The sight of another deliberate mass through the saplings and brambles of a second clearing stopped her in her tracks, the great black walls of an even larger alujha barracks standing not ten minute's walk from the first. Edward walked on alone to satisfy himself of its desertion and she leant heavily against the tree behind her, sheltering from the rain beneath her parka hood; the forest shifted again, tilting southwards as the incoming front blew a sudden clout across the rise.
"Sachiin... if something happens, if we get split up... I don't want to end up chained to one of those things." she said quietly, nodding toward the longhouse. William did not reply, but set down her pack and crouched beside it, delving blindly amid its contents. Sliding the handgun he had pressed on her from the pocket of her parka, she held it out to him, wiping at her nose. "I know you know the best way to do it, and I need to know, so just... show me how." she urged. "Please." He shook his head and whispered in his own tongue, and she glanced toward Edward's return from the eidiré; he took the weapon from her and replaced it, upside down, in her grasp.
"Put it in your mouth. Angle up an inch from the base of your skull and keep that line." he advised over his shoulder on his way to resuming point.
Her breath threw plumes of thick white vapour as she stood staring dumbly at William, rain dripping from her chin onto her boots. They marched on inside her skull as she held the end of the tent with hands that glowed, crimson and freezing, inside her wet gloves. The wind had stripped the leaves from the tallest beeches, leaving a short black-stone bluff and its footing of bracken to offer a brake from the rain that had already worked beneath her parka and soaked her jeans, nightfall chilling it down to wet specks of slush that pressed a cold burn to her face.
They crowded the wedge of level ground, William stamping down the ferns to cushion the tent from the earth. When she did not avail herself of it immediately he reached out and helped her from her parka, its padded folds clinging like a hundred years of dead, wet skin. Even within the thickness of her sleeping bag she took a long time to recover while he sat crossed-legged beside her like a placid giant beneath the mottled fabric, as undiminished by the day’s travails as she was beaten by them. Leaning over his lap, he unzipped the bottom of the bag and eased her feet onto his legs; she groaned, protesting the removal of her socks. Her heels wept thickly, having been rubbed raw by her boots and he muttered to himself as he examined the damage, licking each short length of birch bark he had taken from his pocket and pressing them to her blisters. Satisfied, William split a packet of soba and foisted the contents upon her. She lay with the stiff noodles between her teeth, eyes closed, prompting him to take two cigarettes between his lips and shake his head at her pleading look, pointing sternly to the packaged meal. The taste of cold miso was strangely appalling, thick and gamey as she chewed the gelid mass, glancing at him reproachfully. With it swallowed down, she lay back while William tucked the cigarettes into the box. The bag's hood puffed slowly around her ears. He smiled sideways at her.
"How long do I get?"
"Four hours." He saw that it taxed her to question him and reassured her preemptively. "I don't actually have to sleep, poupée, it's just pure fucking laziness on my part."
"How can you... not sleep... your brain must be.... it..." Her breathing devolved into a snore before she could complete the sentence, and he listened with a frown to the slight catch in her chest until she rolled over. Outside, the rain subsided into a cold, expended calm.
He changed places with his brother when Edward’s watch came to an end, the latter so silent that it was a cramp in Susan’s back that opened her eyes, his seated vigil concerned solely with the ground beyond the tent. In his right hand he held not the gun that she had expected, but a long, inornate knife, its edge turned out in an avid white plane, the black stock folded in his fingers. Closing her eyes again, she dredged both the empirical and apocryphal for something equal to the task of getting past him, drawing a wide and satisfying blank. How often he had been weighed thus by fraught companions, valued by the lethal ounce like some fabled poison, was likewise beyond her. When she looked at him again, his gaze had descended through the floor of the tent, past the life secreted in the darkness of the soil and deep into the stone beneath, lending him an attitude of sorrowful reclusion so plain that she was reminded once more of its cause. Susan wondered if that distant protagonist shivered with the same untended wound.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Felix passed away last night after a short battle with an unexpected cancer relapse. He was brave and loving, as usual. We are so ripped up and bereft. He is laid to rest with us in our garden, as is our custom.
If you live with another animal, please love them and do your best for them.
Thank you to Tenoch and Jo, who helped him get better and eased his path at the end. Thank you to the vets that helped him do the same, particularly Sue who saw that he passed so quickly and peacefully.
Roger just showed me this photo he found from our time with Foofie at the reservoir, a place he adored beyond measure. I love it and wanted to share it with you. If you've been reading our blog, you probably know what he meant to us.
Go safely, Felix. We thank you and love you, always.
Wonky panorama taken on a phone from the central balcony.
The Regent is a late Victorian baroque extravaganza and apparently the only intact survivor of this idiom, at least in the southern hemisphere. I know all the ones in Chch were knocked down in the 90s and the remaining, partial stragglers were taken out by the earthquakes. Which makes me sad; you'll never be full feral til you've sat through Wild at Heart or Anatomie de l'enfer amongst that particular kind of feverish, moulting grandeur. It's like tonguing a lollypop in the lap of a benevolent if superannuated courtesan with mercury poisoning. There may be odours, but you learn so much.
The Regent was infamous for rejoicing in special arse-punishing seating; I remember writhing my way through a screening of Metropolis and swearing never the fuck again, so it took a lot to tempt me back to watch Romeo and Juliet (free tickets fuck yeah). Despite the original coccyx-compressors having been replaced in a recent restoration the new seats are just as bloody hard on the buttockal region in an entirely new way. Goddamit.
It was fun to watch all the flinty, thirsty ballet mums trying to out-alpha each other, less fun seeing more than one nascent ED in their anxious offspring. The Royal NZ Ballet was mmmokay (Juliet was awesome); special mention for set and costumes. No pictures of the performance because people who do that shit need to die in a fucking fire.
The thin warmth of the morning’s first unimpeded rays struck her face as they emerged from the edge of the pines and climbed downward over ground sloping steeply and unevenly. Thistles pricked through the legs of her jeans as she made her own way to the narrow, sunken curvature of another river, walled on its far side by a towering scarp of forest. The water was an explicit demarcation between the cline behind them, long accustomed to incursion, and primal, unchallenged arborea; its stalwarts crowded right to the edge of the far bank, too starkly massive for the axe, the proud volunteers on the clearing beyond scions of a puissant archetype, its league-long shadow creeping backward with the sun's ascent. Where the ground rose from the root-sewn cut two sauropodian spruce stood abreast of one another, long, pale staffs of light dropping through their heads into the depths of the water beneath. Branches sawn from their pointed crowns had left vacancies exposing the thickly-crusted trunks where the bark had been adzed from two great discs of naked, whey-pale wood, forming totem eyes that glared across the river. Their scale and foreboding import served its hostile edict well. Monstrous plumes of fern, twining bindweed and other supple subordinates choked their feet as though in worshipful rapture, trailing their roots and whiplike greenwood in the river.
Edward stood at its edge. She turned from staring up at the íve to study him in the same mercenary earnest, sitting down on a stone to do so.
"So through all this, there's a pile of rocks crawling with rats with our name on it?" Susan inquired, her appraisal concluded.
"I don't think too many rats would bother with it." William admitted.
"If we weren't staring down the barrel of a full moon, I'd say... five easy days, but we are, so you'll have to do it in three.” The wind came up around the river bend and swept a pall of corrugation across its surface, moving the dry grass against their legs.
“What if we don’t get there in time?"
"Sai ilsii nais ii'syln si sa'ilya." Edward observed unexpectedly, prompting her to look back to his brother.
"He said you won't survive the night."
Brushing the dust from her water bottle, she lifted what remained in it to her lips.
"Anything else I should know?"
William edged a pile of little stones into a berm with his bare toes.
“Just the usual rural bullshit... if the weather turns, we could be forced to sit out a month, and you’ve got food for maybe two weeks. That's not a dealbreaker... you can eat flesh and there's plenty around. But if something happens to you, there's no opiates, no antibiotics.” he explained. "Sorry, cloudcheeks..."
"It's not your fault." Susan sighed. "I should have brought some."
“If I have to make a run for pharms with these alujha arsehats in the way, it’d be forty eight hours, minimum, and you’ll be left chewing wood with that there tap dancing on your fucking morale.” he added, nodding at his brother.
"He doesn't speak English any more." she reminded him. They shared a brief and private smile.
"It's the distance, more than anything. Three days... it's not enough time.”
Her dark, dry eyes caught Edward’s gaze.
“There you go... it might not be a dead loss. I might not make it, and I'll probably break something trying. I could be begging you to shoot me in twenty four hours, so don't bother looking like I'm the one who'll get you fucking killed." She turned back to William. "Do you think he ever wonders why he's out here on his own?"
Dissent lapsing, he waited while she hauled herself to her feet and walked with him to the water’s edge. She knelt to fill their bottles and slake her thirst; to her surprise, her two companions began to shed their packs and weapons, then their uppermost items of clothing, descending to their knees beside the river. From its shallows they each lifted a dripping hand and touched it to their heads, murmuring a private orison, abashing her own thoughtless entitlement. William glanced at her silent inquiry.
“Puja... thanking you, Great Mother, for not smiting us in advance, and for the use of your gracious amenities, sincerely, your loyal servant Sachiin, PS, please don’t smite my godless bitch either, I’m not done with her arse, thanks again, yours truly amen etc.”
“She’ll smite you for calling me your godless bitch.”
“She knows I mean well.” They watched Edward assume his burden of ordinance and pick up half the water she had collected, wading out into the river alone. William waited until he had disappeared between the two gigantic spruce before granting her a look of secretive admiration. “Nice burn back there, but I’d wait til he gets off his rag before tweaking him again.”
“Yes, well now he’s got my fucking drinking water, hasn’t he?” she whispered.
“If you think about his romantic orientation Christabel, the kick he gets from yanking your chain is probably semi-erotic, so er, yeah... keep that in mind.” With her boots tied across her shoulders, Susan climbed awkwardly onto William's own as he knelt for her; he secured her legs and rose so quickly to his full height that she cried out and clutched his chin with both hands, urging him to stand still. “I am standing still.” he replied. She gazed around them with his rifle balanced across her thighs, directing him via her grasp on his ears.
"How can you stand being so far off the ground? Be careful..." she added, sucking in a breath when he stepped down into the water. It rose to lap the bare soles of her feet while he paused in the midst of the stream to negotiate a sunken snag; she bent low and pressed her face into his hair. "I think I would have flown all this way just to smell you."
"And that's perfectly healthy and normal. But we have to get to Pet’s without giving Chucky an excuse to take a run at the gristle-munchers." he advised discreetly. "He’d chew through fucking lead to start shit with someone. If we do bump into dog, we front for our sweet fucking lives... if they poke us with their sweaty trouser wood, we let them, sha bai?"
"I can't wait. Oh fuck...” she cried as his last packet of cigarettes floated free of his inundated breast pocket. He lurched sideways, threatening to tip her into the river and caught them, setting them on his head for the remainder of their crossing.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Courtesy of the Lovely R.
We haven't posted much recently because we've been both in the midst of building, and nursing Felix, who has a very debilitating neck injury and needs round the clock care. We're hoping it's a pinched nerve and not anything malignant, but the level of supervision required to stop him doing injurious stuff is pretty draining, so I just don't feel like writing.
I'll try to post a new excerpt tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.
Our garden is home to a small, slightly battered looking but incredibly conscientious and very tame blackbird cock called Daddy. He nests around the house with his baby mother and keep us company while we're in the garden, so much so that we practically have to shoo him out from under our feet. A weird wind emptied their last brood onto the ground a couple of weeks back and I managed to save one before the local (unbelled and totally unconstrained) cats found it; we raised it successfully on kitten food, conditioning mix and meal worms and now Chicky resides in the aviary, probably awaiting release since he/she seems to have decent feeding instincts.
I know they're not native but we were please to be able to help out.
The violence of the sound that hacked into her placid dream accompanied a pair of hands that tore the zip down beneath her chin. Susan choked, struggling inside the sleeping bag until a blank set of features swung into focus, glowing as coldly as the constellations in the blackness overhead. One of the hands sealed her mouth, forcing her to expend her cry against its palm; that it was Edward who accosted her was a notion barren of relief as he hoisted her out of the enfolding quilt with the kind of impatience that she might have reserved for a toppled piece of furniture. The sky was still wholly innocent of diurnal influence as she stood blinking at her assailant, who glanced back at her as though she were proof of something bitterly suspected. He snatched up her tote bag and tipped its contents onto the ground, sorting them with so unfailing a sense of purpose that she could think of no coherent rebuke. William hissed at him as he leapt down from the slope overhead, pulling her back from the edge of the adjacent incline in her witless disorientation. Edward threw her soap, cigarettes, sunscreen and caramel toffee down the hillside before applying the same unbidden scrutiny to her pack, prompting her to snatch it from his grasp.
“Will you stop doing that?” she cried. He wrenched it back from her hand, turning his yellow stare on his brother as the latter yanked the pack away from him.
"Thi'ii sai'inae ra'ana." the intruder sneered with scathing emphasis, lifting the hood of his sweatshirt. “Nai’il a’ si hahdri. Ae ishah esai sai’inae il’avani sha siith la’anith’le si alujha liis’ala nya.” He strode away into the darkness from which he had arrived.
Still mazed, Susan stooped to gather up what she could find of her scattered belongings.
"Fucking hell... what was that?"
"You can smell that stuff a long way out..." William admitted reluctantly, holding out her bag as she replaced its inventory.
"Mardy bastard. He didn't think I'd show up, did he?" she insisted, glancing at him, and then in the direction the offender had taken. He shook his head while she straightened out and huffed a weary sigh.
At the bottom of the ridge another rise marked an abrupt shift in vegetation, leaving behind the gentler deciduous character of the lower hills. A nameless conifer stood in infinite swathes of barely-varied repetition, its thin craquelure bark rendered in bruised cyan by both the hour and the vapor laced about them, lower limbs atrophied by shade into barbed and naked quills. She followed William carefully, ducking the jutting tinder while he turned from a game trail to cut across the slope.
“How do you know where we’re going?” She projected the whisper over the sound of her own shuffling footfalls.
"We're following two hundred and seventy-five pounds of bad attitude and it’s not exactly hiding its light under a schnitzel.” he advised. Narrowing her eyes, she stared hard over the incline in a vain attempt to mark the evidence to which he referred. William nodded down at the ground beside his bare feet; she took out her torch, passing it over the dead needles, a series of faint, slurred scuffs in the litter coming together in almost magical association at his suggestion.
The hill rose to the north in a lopsided fashion, exposing a cliff like a diadem of rifted black stone that stared away over their heads toward the south. A tangle of fingerling rivulets rushed down through fissures underfoot, the clay refusing the trees' questing roots and forcing them on broad, veining forays. Their branches gathered the mist and released it as fickle precipitation, dropping on her head and into the collar of her parka and she put the pen light between her teeth, freeing her hands to negotiate the treacherous going. In William's silence she became aware of her own toiling progress and halted, embarrassed, only to shriek aloud at the whooshing shape of a bird, its undercarriage ghosting suddenly from the darkness as it grasped a neighbouring branch. Its pupils shrank in their gilded orange grounds when her light struck its face.
“Eye od, iss ah ow.” she cried, torch still clutched between her teeth. The great bird clapped its beak and regarded them with skepticism beneath two wildly-feathered tufts, like the upswept, autonomous brows of some aged academic. William uttered a clicking, onomatopoeic version of its remarks and was rewarded with a flare of densely-barred wings, their intricate, striated beauty couched in bisque and dusty brown. Susan's smile was answered by his own, his eyes closing against the light she swung into his face. She chuckled, though her grin fell to a frown as the beam pushed past him through mist that had drawn back in floating shreds from the way ahead; she set off after the glimpsed impression, catching each trunk in turn to keep her footing.
The feeble beam jumped over the deer trail, then a pair of filthy, mud-streaked jeans and she started backward, slowing her scrambling retreat when the figure remained in its curious association with the trunk of a wayside pine. With the torch aimed at the ground she discovered army boots pasted with clay where their toes had been dragged, the ploughing trail concluding behind them and confused by a scurried blurring of the mud to either side. Susan drew a girding breath and passed light over the shape cosseted inside a makeshift suite of winter garments. Alive, the stranger had been dark-haired and strongly-built; an army-issue anorak swathed the body beneath the point where it hung from the stump of a branch, unseen face crushed against the trunk. The splintered wood thrust through the left eye protruded wetly from the rear of the skull, parting hair like some inverted facial feature. She looked away, and then leant over, awaiting any reaction her stomach might have reserved.
“Kala'amātya's not that fancy.” William promised. Though her eyes would have seemed black to her own gaze, he could find no shelter from their stern indigo detail, and leant back on a tree, the pack squeaking against the bark. “It’s... old school.” he offered.
“I can see that.”
“Have a gun...” He handed her the pistol from the back of his trousers.
"I don't think it helped him." Susan murmured, staring with a new intent through the transient brume, the naked boles surrounding them like the pillars of some endless concourse. The ground was clammy and unwelcome underneath her as she sat down in a hunch. "You said there wouldn't be anyone out here."
"There wasn't, last time." he sighed. In studying the lifeless figure she found little to deter her from the details of its misfortune despite the chill settling around them, soaked through with the lean grey smell of ashes in the encircling darkness, as though the trees dreamed of their own deaths. She held up a hand, William helping her to her feet and following the lead that she assumed.
A half-mile through the pines brought them to the end of their unnerving exclusivity, at a place where the cliff allowed room for another of the broad, sloughed hollows where a huge scale of clay had once slid clear. At its far corner stood a structure hewn out of raw wood, its sagging silvered walls and low, round beams studded with branch stubs so that it seemed some sinister contrivance by the trees themselves. Water struck its bark and sod roof from the limbs overhead. William handed her the pack, knowing its weight would slow her and used the delay to inspect the hovel on his own.
Another male corpse lay crumpled in camouflage drab beneath the dripping eaves. The figure's symmetry had been ruined by a beating that had snapped its longest bones and caved the ribs on either side of its spine, leaving the bloodsoaked parka to settle in the novel hollows. The stranger's looped and serpentine innards had been ripped through a wound in his left flank; by the debris that they had gathered in their glistening swags, William guessed the man had trailed them for some time over rough ground. He shook his head gravely at Susan's approach, nodding toward the corner of the hut as an alternative.
To her surprise a tiny fire, little more than a half-dozen burning cones, hissed against a ring of damp stones in the lee of the hovel, a can of red beans simmering on the flames, its sooted label emblazoned with cyrillic characters. In her intent upon the hearth she was startled again by a broken moan from the foot of the wall, where another stranger sat before the stones, blond and many days unshaven, wearing the lower half of his army fatigues beneath a plagiarized football shirt of bloodstained red and dirty white. A golden saint gleamed on a chain around his neck, over blurry tattoos of mingled sharks and pudgy birds. The dry timber used to batter his companion had been split and driven through his thighs into the ground beneath, pinning him irrevocably. Very little blood had issued from the pinched and bulging wounds, packed so tightly with torn fabric and intruding wood that they offered no hope of palliative haemorrhage, though the smell leaking into the underlying clay answered streaks of septic colour inside his trousers. She walked to the furthest edge of the firelight while William questioned him in careful Russian, at which the man spat, replying in his own tongue.
“He's Ukranian, the others were locals... running deserter candy down from Lviv.” he told Susan, lifting the beans off the fire and setting them down beside her. She squatted with her back to the smuggler, too oppressed to pertain much more to his condition. Hunger overcame disgust and dug the spoon from her pack, the beans warm and saline in her mouth as she shoveled them in.
“Is that old school?” she muttered.
"It's dujju nahat... the coward’s death. He must have tried to run.”
"From who?" William looked out into the trees; the silence confirmed her worst suspicions, stilling her spoon in the can.
Her stare flew to Edward as the latter walked into the feeble glow, a box of ammunition beneath his arm. He set his burden down, took the can from her hands and walked around the hearth toward the smuggler, stooping to wave the smell toward the hungry man; the prospect roused him and he reached for them, careless of the pain incurred. Edward questioned him bluntly and repaid his grunting denial by removing the beans and dropping them once more beside Susan, where they tipped sideways.
"If this is alujha, can you not... talk to them or something?" she proposed. William shook his head, gazing around them.
"They're not like Caleb and Annick... they're jihādī crews, from all over. If you're not on a lunar cycle, siith el'la ai'ev si se'lae." He brought his hands together then waved them apart in an expression of the fatal, absolutist sentiment he described. "Alujha live and breathe their hahdris, their naján... if they lose them, they're fucked, and that's what's happening. Everyone's losing their land. The cartels won't help them, so... they either end up eating a ten gauge in a squat somewhere or fighting for whatever's left... places like this. Only the psychos survive."
Susan spoke despairingly to herself, letting her head fall into her arms.
“Who gets the branch through the face and who gets the sticks through the legs?”
"I can take you back into town..."
“You saw those oiks on the plane... that place is as bad as out here.” The sun had begun to thin the failing mist and granted sequined lustre to every drop of water gathered by the trees, though its doubtful beauty did not engage her.
"What is he doing?" she demanded, of Edward's silence. William glanced at him.
"Running the numbers. A dozen of them, two of us, one of you... three days before the full...”
Susan studied their subject in the light of the unwelcome logistics, the shift in his aspect impressing her deeply. The fire had eaten away the twigs and cones and had settled into a pile of pulsing red brands, the colour painted on the surface of his gaze, and she scoured his heedless countenance while the brutal mechanics of expediency absorbed him. He had shed the skin she barely knew, emerging raw and altered from the violence of that secret process, his scattered landmarks, mapped at such great cost, riven and abolished. He startled her again by skirting the fire and stooping to haul the smuggler upright by his collar, opening with an oblique motion of his left hand the man’s unguarded throat, cutting easily through the soft complex of veins and tendons. Blood fled the cursive wound in a silky-looking mass as his victim pitched sideways, eyes dimmed, waxy scalp glowing through his dirty hair. She tucked her head against her shoulder, drawing up her knees.
"Shoot him or something...”
“It’s too loud.” William assured her. “And you never have to do that twice.”
Edward exchanged his rifle for the dead man's superior Russian model and threw the latter’s side arms away into the trees where he had hidden the scrambled elements of the other smuggled ordinance. Susan glowered up at him as he stood examining the action of his stolen weapon.
"You might as well have stayed in Commoriom Drive and gotten paid to fucking murder people." she told him. His eyes pulled focus at her remark; he reached over the fire to seize her, dragging her though her boots ploughed through the sparking hearth, sweeping coals onto the foot of her pack. He marched her swiftly past the shack to the body of the beaten smuggler despite the ferocity of her objections and bent down to tear the coat from the corpse, substantially uncovering its stiffly mottled form. With his fist grasping her collar he made sure she had gained her fill of all that it had suffered before and after death, that the invidious details had found a home behind the gaze she shuttered tightly.
"You are female... you can only dream of ending up like this if these alujha find you." he told her, disuse lending his voice the clarity of new glass. Susan shoved back at him, pulling free and almost tripping over the body's broken legs as William came at his brother, having beaten the embers from her pack. Edward took an uncontested blow, shouldered him aside and quit them, pausing to reclaim the few items he had left by the fire on his way east.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce