If, like me, you suffer the highly refined and tremendously dignified problem of giant head/big hair syndrome, you know hats that fit and stay are a precious resource. This bitch is heavy enough to remain seated in coastal wind and keeps the drips from one's eyes. It is more than stiff enough to hold its shape but you could set/felt it up a bit with hot water, probably. I've gone on to make a scarfy cravat thing for R using the same technique and you could do a really nice dog vest or coat out of it. You may not be impressed, but I am.
C canariensis is a bit of a seasonal contrarian in that it dries out and retreats back into corky, dahlia-like tubers just below the soil surface in early summer, sitting out the stinging UV of our hotter months and reemerging in autumn. Here the flower appears in early spring and can continue for a while until edible fruits occur, a prospect I hardly dare hope for.
In lieu of any specific advice about soil needs, I stuck mine in a 50/50 blend of rose mix and coarse pumice, guessing from its forest-slope origin that a relatively open, well-drained but humusy medium was called for. It gets a good watering about once a week while in growth, and bugger-all over summer when dormant, so it's not particularly high maintenance.
While I have found most plants hardier than conventional wisdom allows I really would not roll the frosty dice and leave this fleshy guy out over night in any sort of high winds or winter. The stems are hollow and easily munted. Mine sits outside with my Aloes and has probably experienced close to freezing under a polycarbonate verandah, but any direct icing would turn it to sludge in fairly short order. Too hot is no good either; C canariensis will apparently decline if your summers inflict extended temps over 25 C.
Well shit, that makes two of us.
Just in case it wasn't obvious:
Black Lives Matter.
If you were wondering, yes, policing in NZ is also deeply racist. As well as being highly politicised, gender-predicated and supportive of class privilege, because all that shit is just another face on the same fucked up coin. Don't get me started because I can and do go on all day about the shit I've seen, both personally and in reportage.
To all the white people with no real dealings with cops who don't know how to feel about this- take another white person's word for it, if that's what you need (but do seek help for that). Police racism is real, devastating, and violence against the status quo is hundreds of years in the making. If in doubt, be quiet, think harder, accept self-evident truths and adjust your outlook; aligning with reality is your job as an adult.
Police in New Zealand are militarising while we are arguing about this.
The Dunedin City Council, in its infinite, unquestionable wisdom, ripped the roof from this historic industrial shed in a bullshit asbestos panic and presumably hopes it will disintegrate before they have to make a decision about preserving it. Which fucking sucks, since this is one of, if not the last remaining vintage industrial building in the area, and definitely the last one of any aesthetic merit. Get your shit together, DCC, or at least be honest about lumbering onward with your middle-finger agenda in regard to our much-abused little town.
Port Otago's nasty wizard eyes.
Careys Bay lies around the corner from Port Chalmers, behind a veil of old volcanic stone. It is a pretty little gully that once would have chimed with a legion of native birds, but now mostly buzzes to the sound of incessant powertools, the barking of bored dogs and the industrial declamations of Port Otago. The giant container ships have been muffled for now, but something worse will come along.
Careys Bay at night is more palatable, because the power tools are tucked up in bed and you can overlook the oily little teacup bay and serpentine Victoriana from a quiet cemetery fringed with smoke-scented blue gums. Possums shriek and fuss in the trees alongside roosting Rosellas, both rowdy imports from Australia. An Arbutus, heavily laden with both polychrome fruit and pearly blossoms, shelters the graves. It is a peaceful isolate.
Down by the water, the Black Backs croak lullabies to each other post-breeding season, and shit on the bow of the pilot boat.
Someone went to the trouble of installing this pursy effigy; fixed expression, hi-viz, low inputs, strange posture, alarming moisture content. The vérité is terrifante.
A new fishing wharf lies beyond this ziggurat of containers, a somehow depressing sop to the community that had to submit to still more noise and disruption as the Port expands its activities. Depressing in that it is been covered in furtive slash obsessive groups of people jerking largely undersized fish from the bay every time we've visited, in a metastatic expression of the everything wrong with the facility lurking behind it. It smells of death, already.
I'm not a Star Wars person but that is some Evil Empire shit.
There is something deeply surreal about the high tide overrunning the concrete of the boat ramp around Back Beach under these lurid lights; a blurring of material realities in which the water, supremely unconcerned with infrastructure, subsumes terrestrial limitations, in a small taste of what is to come. I have stood on the northeastern tip of Arnhem Land and watched distant cyclones steer their fluted, lightning-flecked flanks over the blood-warm waters of the Arafura Sea; the feeling is the same, somehow. Ominous, for sure, but not entirely unpleasant.
On some nights, the gulls sit in tight ranks on the jetty rails, scurling loudly. It sounds like they're arguing about something we don't understand. They'll shut up if you shine the torch toward them.
It seems like we might have escaped the horrors of Covid community transmission here in NZ, for now. I am grateful; it feels safe, no thanks to the legion of arseholes and micropeen'd edgelords who flocked out here specifically to break Level 4 lockdown. They're all gone now that small-scale travel is permitted; back to their land of never walking anywhere, complaining about environmentalists and public health measures. Another week of political dithering would have seen these turds blow the curve for us all, so don't believe the accounts of New Zealand's utopian exceptionalism. We just got lucky. Lucky especially that there was a sentient woman in charge of making collective/domestic shit happen, but lucky none the less.
We hope you find ways to fend this clusterfuck off if you're less fortunate geographically; stay home if you can, because that shit does work.
The pale ground sloughed from under the girl's soles, pitching her into the hillside. She laboured under a slack, cygnet-hued weight that was almost visible about her head and shoulders; halting their companions, Josephine took the chain from the prisoner's tightly-cuffed hands, assuming her custody while the monastery stood in its eternal remove, neither friend nor conscious obstacle. They toiled on over the shoulder of the supporting spur, forced into a line that played out loosely until she called to it, wary of the split in their formation. Scuffed free by the boots of the advance party, a slip of snow sucked mass and pace from the incline, rushing by to the east of both women and breaking like a wave around the stout trunk of a dead pine. It shook free the white mound that had swamped the surrounding bracken, revealing the slick black rock that formed the edge of the narrow scarp beneath. The girl sprang from her haunches behind Josephine and threw herself at the drop while the chain between them flew after her and snapped tight, ripping her captor onto her back. Josephine caught the links and slid toward the defunct tree, boots slammed into the wood by the weight strung out of sight against the rock face.
It shadowed the fugitive's features as two conscripts leant out over the void, dusting her with snow and hauling on the suspending chain. She made no sound even as her wounded hands were dragged beneath her by their brutal effect of her ascent.
Flat-faced boulders parted from the ruin's footings and mottled with tea-green lichen bordered the curve of intervening ground that stretched before the walls, the steps up to the postern door terminating at its south end, the north littered with the leavings of the axe. Slumping where she was shoved, Susan drew her legs into her stomach and leant against the ledge behind her, its low rampart cutting off any view of the monastery. Splintered waste wood squealed and cracked beneath her, water tapping her shoulder from a trickle dripping off the stone. She lifted her hand to the cold flow while Josephine payed out a telescopic mirror and scanned the face of the ruin.
"I want their positions." she told her while Shaw kicked himself a berth into the ground beside her.
"Susan, we got you. We had you when you set foot in that compound... it's done. If you care, then do them right, and if you don't, just give them up." he told her.
The girl had let her head fall back against the stone but glanced toward him, then at the conscripts aligned beside her. In the face of their concerted expectation she turned away and proffered silence. Shaw seized her arm and dragged her forward, crushing her face into the shallow burn of melt and wet snow that undercut the brittle debris. She gasped a breath; he swore and held her down until Josephine looked down, pulled a humming sensor from her pocket and blew the pine dust from its display, Two reaching for his own version of the instrument and squinting at it.
"Decomp." he called, dismissing the reading and tucking it back into his clothing. Beside him, Four muttered at his chest and struggled with his garments as though something live had fallen into them, pulling back his armoured vest to inspect his belt.
"The fuck? My loc's lit up..." he cried, his suspicion confirmed by the dull red light that flashed at his waist and prompted him to look up at the sky in pavlovian alarm. Shaw checked his own, then stared at Josephine, who did not share the sentiments expressed by her companions, as charged as anything that might have emerged from their weapons. They cursed the activation of their locator beacons hotly, kicking stones and earth down the hillside in a embittered and childlike display of pugnacity. Their self-styled leader stroked a hand over his cropped head, shaking it to himself.
"What did she do?" Susan murmured, wondering at the fusion of inertia and violence surrounding her as she righted herself.
"In two fuckin hours there'll be airborne out here lighting all this up with fifties... the only things dodging shit'll be your fuckin tricks. Crazy fuckin bitch." the conscript beside her grunted, careless of whichever woman claimed offence.
"I don't know why you're still here." she admitted, laying her head down onto her knees. "It's not like they can stop you. She's mad, and he's a gutless numpty. I'd have shot them both and gotten it over with." The words cleaved swiftly to the notions already taking shape inside them. "You could have been over the river by now."
Shaw's execration was superseded by another advisory from the corps.
"I ah... shit, yeah....got decomp again." said Four, rubbing a hand across his mouth and lifting a furrowed expression from the instrument in his grasp. He turned his crouch in the direction indicated by the pulsing dial but did not dare to raise his head over the ledge, lifting it instead to mark the sun, a little past its apex in the wool-grey sky. "Fuck... it can't be rolling, we still got a fuckin tonne of lux..."
Shaw demanded the instrument from him and examined the reading himself.
Their mirrors rose again like the stalk eyes of an insect. The glass found a figure seated midway on the steps. It was so much smaller than Josephine's expectation that her eyes at first dismissed it as some disfeature of the shade, until it lifted a face that had taken a bright icy blue from the sheltering umbra, floating almost in isolation over a coat of engulfing fur. She threw down her mirror and tore a lanyard from inside her shirt, stuffing pendant yellow buds into her ears.
Susan hoisted herself up to the edge of the stone where she caught a glimpse of the figure on the steps. The vampyre seemed like something that might be blinked away, the distant sun dismissing her beauty like a vapour and casting her as ruined as the battered leavings of her feasts. As she was dragged back onto the crumbling ground a voice began to flow across the clearing and roll down onto their heads like a spill of cool, heavy gas. She watched the men stab soft buds deep into their ears and sit knotted up while Petrouchka's voice welled all around them, seeping through the cracks in the rock and soaking through the fibre plugging the passages into their heads. Despite their cold-sweating terror it began to stroke and coax their bones and muscle, twisting them as though between two fists and sucking them, one by one, onto their knees, and then onto their deadened feet. The voice pulsed with all the flushing speed of blood along their neural traceries until its invitation became the only course of action. Indemnified by the scars upon her neck, Susan could hear nothing of its lure and watched Josephine shout futile commands while Shaw's hand clutched her tightly against the sucking draw that he himself resisted only with his hold on her.
One by one, the conscripts heaved themselves up over the ledge like pinnipeds striving onto a shelved beach, boots battling the wet stone, eyes bulging in their hollows. The vampyre awaited them, seated in the heart of her smiling insistence while they pounded across the narrow clearing toward her. She rose to meet them with a handgun; it blew sputtering holes into the foremost's chest and face until he fell against the steps, still reaching for her. The second stumbled over him and threw himself at the same cursory fate, staggering along the wall and rolling slowly while the third swallowed her last rounds and crashed into her, crushing her small frame against the stone and wrapping around her in a sightless rapture. Susan watched Petrouchka climb the tall man swiftly and grasp his head in her little hands, tearing at his red-flushed face and disgorging gouts of blood that doused his inarticulate cries. He staggered backward from the steps and toppled down into the smothered daylight.
She fell with him, and the sun struck her through the cloud. The blackness coiling in the heart of her remaining cells burst in gentian flame that garbed her tightly, leaping skyward from the crown of her head; the man's pale hair caught, his face scorched quickly to a mask of soot and yawning blisters while his clothing melted and she savaged the new shapes of his torn face. They sank together onto his side where she let go, rising while he lay kicking, the fire eating his skin and turning his eyes a blank matte white. Blood boiled over her chin and streamed from her gaze in two dark fingers, the stench from her flickering fur redoubling as she threw it off beside the burning man.
The last of her supplicants crawled on the stone between her and his lost redoubt, faltering in his desperate need to satisfy the summons she could no longer sustain. She sank to her knees in the hissing immolation, its flames breathing flesh and air and parting the snow as it began to drift around the ruin. A black stain spread beneath her palms, hands curling inward as her form grew indistinct and lapsed into the shallow pool beneath her until it was no longer possible to discern what fueled the blaze. It sank from the height of a woman's shoulder to that of an infant's sleeping form, and then to nothing, leaving only a darkness upon the rock like the shadow of a bird between the earth and bright midday.
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Asian Elephant Support needs your $ to continue feeding and caring for rescued, exploited and wild elephants throughout Asia now that tourism has plummeted and the programs they funded are under threat. They also undertake advocacy and community training for areas where wild elephants and people are in conflict over space and crops etc. We donate to these guys and hope you will consider it too.
Why elephants? They are charismatic megafauna. Aiding them flows down the line to other species who benefit from the protections they gain. And because they deserve much better treatment than they have received at the hands of people up to this point.
Not only has tourist revenue dried up in many areas where conservation and care programs traditionally rely on this income, almost all animal charities are now facing the loss of fundraising events due to Covid 19 restrictions, so they are suffering a double blow to their resources.
Everyone's income is taking a hit, I know- ours included- but we cannot afford to abandon our fellow beasts in the face of amplified perils. $20 feeds an elephant for a week. $100 provides emergency vet care. It feels great to do something positive.
See their projects DONATE HERE
please give what you can.
This pandemic is the socialised cost of exploitative globalisation. I thought about that, wandering around beside the Pacific Ocean under a full moon. Like all shitty concepts, unfettered capitalism needs to hide its stinky, dysfunctional arse, to privatise its profits and kick the cost of everything else off the books in order to look like something that actually works. I hope a lot more people are understanding that, feeling the true shape of it. What we are doing now only works as long as the teetering garbage mountain of karmic and practical consequence doesn't shift and crush us. This disease is just a little bit that broke away and flattened the garage.
I've followed epidemiology for years now, and you might not want to hear this, but Covid 19 is actually a bullet dodged, relatively speaking- wrap your head around those implications. We have a great opportunity to change our heading, but... that's not going to happen, is it? A man threatened to assault us today for questioning his lockdown-busting public fuckery. He had his elderly father in the car with him.
We are so fucked.
If you're groping for epidemiological context and why Covid 19 was not made in a fucking lab (it is a basic bitch zoonosis; they happen every day and don't need help), you could do a lot worse than read The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett (1994, Penguin). Prescient, chilling, awesome.
I'm pretty discouraged about moving from Level 4 lockdown (everyone stays home, nothing's open except supermarkets and essential business, no gatherings or school etc) to Level 3 in a week, here in New Zealand. We have seen so many selfish, clueless breaches of L4 that if the virus had been 5% more virulent or dangerous, half of us would have it by now. There's nowhere near enough random/sentinel testing to draw definitive conclusions about the true extent of community transmission; with estimates of up to 40% asymptomatic cases (worst scenario, but not out of the question) and suggestions of an associated array of organ damage, my morbidity is starting to feel like a big fat fucking comorbidity. As you may have observed in your own country, a lot of people don't give a shit about observing responsible procedures. They do not and cannot be made to understand the dangerous roulette of exposure and exponential transmission, and they will cite the very success of any public health measure as proof there was no epidemic and it was all a false alarm by libtards and the kind of weird science people who made them feel stupid at school.
Fucking A, I'm ranting. I didn't live this long to die at the hands of retards.
Unless you want to haul serious gear around or spend hours fine-tuning your settings, you have to let go of technical quality at night. I'm a primitivist anyway, and prefer images that recall the shortcomings of the human eye in darkness. The greasy murk of Back Beach still holds sway under a supermoon; potholes in the dusty road are always trying to twist your ankles after sunset.
Export logs are usually piled high between these steel stays on the wharf at Port Otago, but the timber boats have cleaned them out for now, leaving an eerily henge-like installation.
I love this image.
The rusting primary hues of industry are a sort of dirty visual candy at night. Strobes, bleeps, colour blocking, percussive impact, robot motion. It looks like christmas, and there's no Mariah Carey or emotional blackmail.
Always consider that you might be standing in the very thing you're looking for. I walked right into this puddle groping for the angle and saw nothing, until R pointed out the reflection from the other side. I love the satiny black ponding and bossy, lurid markings in the darkness.
It's so good, it goes further. This is actually true.
I know I was downplaying technicalities, but fuck I love this picture ^ and am determined to improve the quality so I can get a decent print out of it.
Part Four ensues. Lucky you.
Depending on just how fat/unfit/sizzling and muscular I'm feeling, the climb up to the Scott memorial on the hill overlooking Port is either an arsebusting ordeal or an act of semi-senescent affirmation. The route is a compressed passage through various miniature clines; town, outskirts, rural then bush within about one click of the main street.
The shitty old tarmac gets slimy under the macrocarpas in winter. It skirts the Port then opens out into the cemetery overlooking Careys Bay, although the view is getting overgrown.
Kereru come down to drink the water pooling on the oldest graves, waddling across the turf on their stumpy cherry legs.
We take pictures from the top but they're never really satisfying; there's something about the layout of the town and harbour that defeats meaningful capture or at least relegates it to chocolate box inanity. It's a shitty little camera. A poor work person always blames their tools.
The walk down is extremely satisfying.
The church looks like some sort of gigantic petrified goblin, peering over its shoulder or glaring monocularly down on the houses it will one day mash underfoot once the (largely) unsuspected curse is lifted. No groups of dark-garbed heretics should ever pour out a forty whilst doing anal in a circle around a modest burning effigy within sight of this malefic clocktower.
No I haven't finished; more to come.
At the moment, Port Otago is virtually the sole source of significant noise and is never more of an obscene intrusion than on a clear autumn night. While society in its current form is predicated on its activity, the industrial port is a singularly articulate expression of all that ravenous consumption; the blind grinding roar and peevish metallic shrieks of greed.
But you know, I bought a Joy Division shirt from England last month and it's hanging on my washing line as I write this. So I am the Beast of Revelations too.
Few anthropogenic phenomena are more beautiful than sodium street lighting. Dunedin is phasing it out over the next few years, and while the energy savings will be welcome, the loss of this lurid marmalade influence is a devastating prospect.
We fucking love orange. I had no idea just how intensely until I took a personal inventory; our house is orange, my hair is orange, orange features heavily in my wardrobe and living space. I concur with the Theravada- orange is a hugely potent expression, not of positivity, but of the general size and power of the unseen forces that suffuse everything. It is light and darkness.
You see orange when you close your eyes, just as much as darkness.
Chick's Hotel, that ancient edifice, squatting like a fat armoured reptile on the foot of the hill. Christchurch's Victorian stalwarts were felled by earthquakes, so now places like this are the last bastions and touchstones of Gen X's treasured historical grungience, emblematic of all the shit warehouses, gross parties, dirty sex and nascent addictions of a lost youth. You remember them all when you smell the damp masonry and stand again in those deeply recessed doorways.
It's so weird, not to be young any more, per se. Without children, or any serious physical afflictions, your age is just something other people see when they look at you. It is much less relevant internally. There is a calmness that rises out of perspective, but that's about it.
I will continue this in a little bit.
That picking hand 😻
There is more
I haven't had this species long so I can't really comment as to its ease of cultivation and durability, but I thought I'd post some clear pics of this nice little group of young bulbs as it emerged in early summer. As mentioned before, I had lost a bunch of Arisaemas after planting them out without pondering our soggy winters; they went off to plant heaven soon after that fateful day so maybe don't plant them out unless they're protected by a dry, snowy winter or tree cover that will keep them from rotting.
To provide some perspective, this flower is about as large as my thumbnail, but it is full of intriguing, lizardy detail- veiny striations, an almost furtive little hood and pale, waxen spadix. The lemon yellow in the spathe curls around a smoky umber throat.
Arisaema flavens is a variable species/cluster that originates from an enormous range stretching from Ethiopia to Sichuan, so you may not be shocked to hear it has a bulletproof reputation and is probably a good and inexpensive candidate for the cobra lily novice. I keep mine in a dry bark-heavy mix under cover over winter and put them out in late spring to wake up and catch the rain, but they're staying potted. Arisaemas are forest creatures, by and large, so don't bake them in the sun as maltreatment will cause the bulbs to dwindle over time. Some are invasive and you should check out their weed potential in your area before unleashing them on your unsuspecting biome. Most are perfectly benign, though.
Some of the rarer, trendy species are fuuuucking expensive. I don't suggest you start with those guys since attrition can be frustratingly high before you find your cultural footing. This site is a great, unpretentious resource for the enthusiast.
A family group of swallows has taken to nesting around the boat sheds at Back Beach and we have been watching the babies fledge and get their insect-grabbing wings over the last couple of months. Unfortunately one of them had been downed by unseasonal southerly gales and sat huddled on the road, dazed, possibly with strained wings and definitely just moments from being run over. Luckily R saw it and carried it home, from where it was delivered to the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital. A big shout out to the DOC weekend operator who went the extra mile and picked it up for us. Fingers crossed that it just needed a couple of days to rehydrate and recover.
Good luck, little bird.
Overall, Bite Liquefied Lipstick is a really nice product without the downsides I'd anticipated from this format. I forgot to mention that after a full day in these colours my lips feel relieved and conditioned, which is such a lovely bonus- it is almost worth buying them for that effect alone. Recommended.
L2R, MAC unless stated: Russian Red, Bite Clove, Nars Deborah, Nars Lonely Heart, Spice it Up, Deep Love, Paramount
from peeping at the IVH show with the lit feet and stuff
There's a feeling you get, when you're looking through screeds of crappy shit on auction sites instead of doing something constructive/overdue and finally, you spot something weird, alluring and inexpensive amid the garbage. It's not triumph- it's sleazier than that, a moment of ha ha, brain, you thought I was just being a lazy twat these last three hours, foolish organ! Something venal and self-deceiving. How Trump's kids must feel on a really good day, I suppose.
Anyway, I had this feeling a couple of weeks back when I spotted this large and incredibly beady conical item. I didn't know what it was, exactly, but I did know that it was one of those awesome and poorly-described things that must be mine. Lucky we still had double figures in our account!
A notion plucked from some dingey mental crevice whispered that I'd seen something like it before, somewhere, and a wee bit of online poking yielded a result; this is a Batak food cover. I know even less about Batak items than I do about the slightly more common Iban/Dayak group work, so I shall defer to someone who appears less of an ignoramus for the attribution (consult the link for a very similar example and more learned explanation).
These amazing constructions are apparently prestige items brought out during marital and funerary feasts as part of the procession and presentation of expensive dishes. I say are, but were is probably more apposite, given the decline of indigenous practise in southern Asia these days in the face of growing religious intolerance in many formerly tribal areas.
On one level it is intensely depressing to find these beautiful heirloom pieces and know the incredible aesthetic traditions they represent are falling into redundancy. But what can you do? Collect and value them, I suppose, and try to attribute them correctly.
I have a couple of actual Dayak sun hats (see one of them below) so I knew this probably wasn't the same thing when I spotted it. They're much more lightly constructed and explicitly hattier than the Batak cover, even to my eye.
Dayak artisans also seemed fond of working their beads into discrete panels that could be applied to and removed from the more organic basal objects as they wore out, which, as anyone who's ever beaded anything can tell you, is both shrewd and humane.
In contrast, the tiny strings of Batak beads are couched, directly and almost individually (take a moment to think about the labour required here) to a walnut-hued rattan or split cane woven base. The latter is surprisingly prosaic, with all the attention directed to the stunning floral and faunal motifs relevant to the family involved. The beads are so densely-applied that it is impossible to discern the nature of the construction unless you examine the reverse, their busy mass relieved only by narrow lines of marine shells that demarcate the feature panels.
While my main source of info didn't speculate about the age of their piece, I'd say it's contemporaneous with mine. The beads on this one may not have the shiny uniformity of the most modern production but they're not the eye-fucking glass minuscules of the earliest period, so I'll poop out a guesstimate of mid-20th C for this cover. The hand-spun cotton thread securing the beads and scraps of hand-loomed plainweave cloth that once lined the reverse speak of a domestic situation still producing or acquiring these non-commercial materials, but it could be twenty years in either direction. I know I say that about virtually everything I acquire but there's bugger-all literature out there to inform a bitch, so you're stuck with my shitty opinion. There's not much evidence of any super-modern production of these; I'm pretty sure they're something old-skool nana made for the family and I'm not sure how many nanas of that vintage are still with us.
Dealers are pricing these covers out of our modest reach so it's gratifying to hear that they still turn up, misidentified, on Ebay occasionally where they represent a lot of ethnographic and artistic bang for your buck. I bought this one from a lady who used to live in Malaysia and consider it one of the greatest bargains I've ever stumbled across.
No more snow fell earthward and Susan lay staring up into the vaulted night, its fabric stained, from the gravid hearth-grey of afternoon to a blackness pillared by the birches, their limbs arrayed like charred bones. Without its stars the sky seemed starved and vacuous, its morbid sable breathing down upon her face while the icy ground beneath conducted her extremities into insensibility, claiming her swollen, leaking hand and block-like feet, on which she had been made to stand until she could no longer do so. Lying prone replaced shuttered exhaustion with a forest viewed in yawning, supine peripheral, the depths of an unknown ocean, her hopeless flesh confiding to its drifting horrors as though it were blood spilled into the water.
Staring at the sky quieted the flashbulb flickers at the edges of her vision and dimmed their association with the silver-foiled eyes that might have stared back from between the trees. The prospect of captivity beneath an eidiré with the woman standing guard as her only companion shared its colour with the interstellar spaces. That no one would come to intervene was something that lay like the snow, anaesthetic once accepted, its principles and mechanism just as spotless and pristine. When Susan closed her eyes she saw the face that Sachiin turned to her in another kind of darkness, discovering the ease with which those most private of exchanges could serve as a farewell, its tender, down-like irony bending the trees once more as tears beaded between her lashes.
Josephine shifted in her seat upon a fallen bough. The girl had turned her face away, rolling into a curve around a cough between the two chains that held her in the mist of the small clearing. Her hair, still gently blue, retained its close-set braids, the tortuous romanticism of the arrangement skewed by the blind rote of their construction. Slowly, she returned to lying on her back. Josephine counted off the hours the hostage had already passed in silence while the prospect of captivity grew protean features and an intent tuned to her darkest spectrum. She had seen its nightmare aspect rend and gut resolve and knew that it required no assistance, thinking herself privy to one of the small concessions dowering submission when she saw the girl's attention had shifted toward her.
A closer look revealed that it did not solicit or even consider her, but had settled on the darkness over her shoulder. Reclaiming her weapon, Josephine turned and beheld the shape that had come forth between the branches. An owl grasped a slender limb at the edge of the clearing, wearing a white far warmer than the snow and as plush as winter ermine, the disquieting schematics of its pallid, annular mask laid round eyes like polished domes of quartz. It shrugged its pinions before blinking from the way ahead, setting a stare on the girl as she used her arms to rise and sit back on her knees. Josephine oversaw their exchange with the suspicion she accorded all requited silence, opening her mouth in unformed objection while Susan reached out slowly and took up snow between her fingers, touching it to her brow in deference to the visitor. The beam from her guard's torch crossed the branches and found the bird's glowing eyes; it clapped its beak, put out its wings and flew on over their heads.
The same light blanched the girl's face when Josephine turned it on her, studying her for a while.
"Call to them." she instructed, her voice echoing slightly in the quiet. The captive sat without moving, her saturnine refusal drawing Josephine from the fallen tree. She unclipped something from her belt as she approached. "Put your back into it." Susan let the woman loose the chain from her hands without looking at her. The ruby binding of her multitool was empurpled by the darkness, like the ends of her own fingers. "Do it now. Nice and loud or I will hurt you, just like before." She felt her cold hand flattened across her knee and pinned fast at the wrist. When she would not comply, the woman closed the alloy jaws on her bitten index finger and prised the riven nail from its bed.
Susan did not know which of Sachiin's names she screamed into the trees. One of the conscripts, his skin prickling with its shivering abandon, halted at the northern end of the clearing with his rifle in both hands, his frown hardly distinguishable from his customary expression.
"I gotta relieve you if you can't keep her iced." he called, making a careful study of the surrounding trees as Josephine rose. In watching him return to his unseen station, she pressed her boot down on the girl's bleeding hand, leaning over as she twisted it slowly into the snow and desisting only when her full weight did not elicit any more audible response.
One and Three lifted Susan from the ground together, bruising the crooks of her arms and availing themselves of fumbling manual gratuities while Shaw lifted a scope to his eye and played it once more over the visible ruin. He muttered to himself as she was dragged past him, glaring at Josephine's back while she stooped to collect the sensor units.
"Called it in yet?" the latter inquired. His silence prompted her to reach into her shirt and retrieve the locator beacon once more. "We've got a good window to get the choppers here."
"The snow's done. We're walking out." Shaw told her.
"I lived half my life in Telluride, and if this snow's done, then you're exactly the kind of charismatic overachiever we need in a leadership role." He stuffed the scope into his pack. Confident she had attracted the conscripts' attention, she blew the moisture from the sensors as she packed them away. "So today we're going to haul her dead weight through hostiles waiting to burn us with our own gear... I guess, to a town, stacked double-wide with tipsters, off-season mercs, so you can... maybe blow off the pick up and run for the border? Try and turn her in? They'll do the flyover, look at your log pics and want to know why you left that shady..." She nodded up toward the ruin. "You'll say you just had a feeling it was clear. They'll promote you and give these guys a ten g bar tab."
Behind her their subordinates dropped the girl into the snow and devoted themselves to his response, snorting and wiping their noses with their gloved hands. Their captive's voice issued from within the copse of black-clad legs encircling her, barely loud enough to penetrate them.
"None of us will get anywhere." she observed, examining the blood crusted on her fingers.
"Why's that?" Shaw asked of her, scowling again.
"The other things... the wolves."
"You made contact with them?"
Her laconic delivery did not moderate the impact of its substance on the conscripts; she watched their boots shift in the snow before her while they absorbed it.
"They'll kill everyone. There's ten of them to every one of you."
Josephine smirked and tightened the straps of her pack, hoisting it onto her shoulder.
"Which is why the two subs are sitting up there, waiting for us to walk into them."
"If they were here, they would have come down the hill with knives and cut your fucking heads off." Susan observed, to which Josephine smiled again, dryly.
"If they were here, that's what I'd say too."
"They cut you loose." Shaw reminded her. "Bailed... walked out right over the top of you, and it looks like that total lack of interest in your welfare's gonna work out great for them. How's that feel?"
The girl seemed to ponder his inquiry.
"Not as bad as letting you go when I should have let them hack you into dogfood." she admitted. "You fucking weasel knob end."
"She let you go? I don't remember that in your report." chuckled Josephine, adding another strip of tape to the gauze on her face.
"He was hiding behind a door." the girl informed her, watching the woman extract grim pleasure from the intelligence. "You're all fucked, alright? Just let me go."
"I know dodging contact is a thing for you, but that's not why you won't head up there, is it Nathaniel?" Josephine inquired, both hands on her hips.
Shaw fired his pack so hard at the ground that its lid lapsed open and spilled its contents onto the snow, leaving him to stand with empty hands. The conscripts backed out of his way around the girl; he dragged her to her feet and held her for a moment, unable to decide on a reprisal, then thrust her once more at them.
"Two, Three... take the hill, keep a tight line... you see something, you get low." he told them, walking away from the disturbance Susan caused by refusing the climb. Josephine strode toward her and kneed her hard onto her face.
"Walk or lose a finger."
CONTINUED NEXT WEEKISH
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce