Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bait ball

The cerulean sea sparkled as the late afternoon sun sank lazily back into its chair. A voice from the loudspeaker drifted in and out as the wind blew it across deck. Trey had given up trying to tune his attention to it anyway. Right in front of them, a dolphin curled an arch above the water, then slipped back into its depths. The rest of the boat passengers cooed with amazement. Trey lowered the camcorder from his face.
‘So what’s the plan for tomorrow?’ he asked.
Sally looked blankly at him: ‘No plan. There was a group of Swiss girls back at the dorm that are moving down to Christchurch tomorrow. We could tag along with them.’
‘Yeh. We could. I dunno. I’m keen to get to the mountains. Get away from it all, y’know? I just feel the need to be away from people for a while.’
The speaker crackled and flanged behind them: ‘…out to the Pacific Ocean, where the pod will…
‘Well, we don’t have to go to Christchurch. It was just a suggestion.’
‘I just think that this was supposed to be an escape, y’know? Limitless possibilities: go wherever we want to go, do whatever we want to do. But instead I feel like we’re being herded from one tourist trap to another; kept in orderly lines. It’s like I’m experiencing the world, but it’s a sanitized version. A hypo-allergenic, PG rated edit.’
‘…can exceed one thousand. This super-pod will remain…
‘OK well let’s get off the tourist trail. Here…’
Sally took a map from her backpack and began to unfold it on the bench behind them. Trey rolled his eyes.
‘…we’re here, right?’ Sally looked up to check that she had his attention: ‘Where do you want to go? You choose. Any direction, any distance. We can hop on the bus, or we could look into hiring a car. If you want to get completely off the matrix, we should just put our bags on our back and just walk. Just keep walking until we find somewhere we like. We’ve got sleeping bags, the weather is fine: we could just wild camp somewhere.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Come on! You’re the one moaning that we don’t have adventures. I’m offering it to you now. Let’s go! Forget the Lonely Planet guides, just choose somewhere that looks cool on the map and let’s just go.’
Trey looked out towards the green hills that rose from the sea with impossible geometry. The footpaths and lanes beyond them beckoned him, tempted him with a siren’s song. He turned back to Sally, opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. Sally looked at him expectantly.
‘Maybe,’ he answered, ‘we should just move on to Christchurch with the rest of the gang.’
‘…a pod will control a school of fish while individual members take turns ploughing through the school, feeding. The tightly packed school of fish is commonly known as a bait ball.’

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Moving images of you, which exist without your knowledge

Without your knowledge or consent, a small collection of video footage exists. The clips vary in their quality, and depict you from the age of nine to the present day. Uncatalogued and widely dispersed, you will never see these films, and this is just as it should be.
On the memory card of a mobile phone, now unused in a kitchen drawer, you eternally perform karaoke. In the footage you show an uncharacteristic lack of reserve, emboldened by drink and the sounds of the Sex Pistols.
At a Fiesta, in a village in Spain, you were once interviewed by the local news crew. Remember? Your attempts at Spanish were dire; you were aware at the time. Delivered with enough conviction to impress your family, but hilarious to the natives. A man named Sal92 was so amused by your nonsensical ramblings that he posted the clip on Youtube, where it has received a not immodest 4991 hits to date.
Various camcorder footage, on VHS and DVD sits in cupboards, TV units and bookshelves across the country. Old friends, ex-lovers, and your mother never watch them anymore, but can’t quite bring themselves to throw them out.
But the most violating of them all is the footage displayed above the reception desk of a college that you once attended. You were so young then, and you stood apart from the world. You didn’t feel as though you were a part of anything. Rather, everything was against you, and you against it. It was a gloriously happy time, this life of rebellion. The ‘not-fitting-in’ was a badge that you wore with pride: the outsider, the rebel. However, this clip does not reflect your unique other-ness: on a college trip to EuroDisney, you stand in front of a parade, dancing like a chicken. Unbeknown to you, this clip has been added to a promotional video for the college. A Feel-Good, Make You Proud commercial designed to show happy, achieving students. The video was used on the college website, and at recruitment drives where your antics regularly induced a titter from the students present.
Now a little dated, the clip is played on a loop through a large flat-screen TV in the reception area of the college. On and on it goes ad infinitum, and each day, a weary and embittered librarian walks past your image, and he sees you parading around like that, and every morning, without ever knowing you, he curses you under his breath.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Box within a box

Quite a spectacle I must have presented to Mrs Callow, the housekeeper, as I stood at the doorway of the Fairfax home dripping with the evening's vagaries. She ushered me in, and bade me sit down by the kitchen fireside while she fetched blankets. She apologised that the master was not in residence that day, and feared that I had wasted my journey. I entreated her to sit with me a while, perhaps she could help me in my quest. With some amount of cajoling, she finally acquiesced, and her tongue required little loosening once the subject of Master Fairfax's bride was raised.
‘Rangy was she, an' fair too; on a good day, she could command the eyes of many a Gloucester gent about town. Yet there was somethin' about 'er as was cold – in her nature, see? Of all the time I spent with my lady ne'er a conversation did we have. Some say as it was 'er austere nature that led to their comeuppance. All's I'll say is: he were never truly happy since their wedding day. Oh Sir! Sure enough, he loved ‘er, but his whole countenance did change on that fateful day, and still we all wait in vain for the sunshine to return to his cheek. He was such a lovely boy; so full of joy and mischief. Sometimes I fear that the Devil 'imself took his soul on that day: such was the change!
'Once herself had gone – aye, and taken a good piece of his heart with her, he set sail Sir: bound for Italy, and a new life. Still, Mr Cottersgill and I stayed here, tending the house and gardens ready for his return. Occasionally, he would send word back. The letters would always be addressed to my lady, but, I'm ashamed to say Sir, that we did read them, Mr Cottersgill and I. Only because we were so sure in our belief that she was never to return - and we were ever so worried about his wayfaring, see? T'was only in master's interests that we broke his confidence.’
‘Do you still possess any of these missives?’ asked I.
‘Sir I do,’ she replied, and fumbling in a desk-drawer, retrieved a tea-stained letter that she proceeded to unfold in front of me, ‘and this 'un is the most troublin' of the lot.
‘“My Dearest Isabel,” it begins, as they all do, “I write to thee in the fervent hope that you have returned to Tibberton, and await my return. Though I am far away, the thought of your winsome visage sustains me and gives me the will to go on. Italy is a verdant and fecund land; rolling mountains and groves of olives abound. The natives are civilized, to a degree, and for the most part, welcoming. During the days here, I travel from town to town with a trusty asino to aide me. During the evenings, I satiate my hunger with simple bread, cheese and vino, and then slip into slumber in dreams of you. The other night, my dreams were of a most disturbed nature: In my reveries, I was myself, and yet not myself, living in a future world in which menacing iron coaches dominated the roads, and great castles of glass and steel loomed vertiginously towards the heavens. In this fantasy, I sat at a desk on the third floor of such a tower. In front of me was a magical looking-glass that was a portal to the world. Using a tool made of some unearthly material, I could seek information on this looking-glass, and the whole of human history and thought was there before me. Despite this bounty of knowledge, I was weary of the machine, and chose instead to bide my time writing stories under the adopted nom-de-plume of Xianjon. I held my hands like a pianist over the looking-glass tool, and as my fingers danced, the words appeared on the glass before me:
‘“The parcel had remained on my table since lunchtime. Though I had an idea what the contents would be, I had stopped myself from opening. Each time I passed the table, the cardboard box coquettishly winked at me, and beckoned me over. Eventually, I could resist its overtures no longer. Digging my house keys from my trouser pocket, I scored the tape that sealed the parcel, and eagerly opened the flaps to reveal – another box; identical to the first box, only smaller. I slid this second box from its parent, and rotated it in my hands. No clue was evident, so I repeated the same action, slitting the shiny tape again to reveal the content, which was – another box. Feeling that I had encountered the least decorative Matryoshka ever, again I slipped the box from its sleeve, and cut it open to confirm my suspicion that it contained only another box. At this point I paused to review my options. It is very likely, I thought, that this will continue for some time. I will open a box to reveal another box, and so on, ad infinitum. The alternative is that I could place the box back on the table, and dispose of the already opened containers. Caught in this limbo, I weighed the contents of the parcel in my hand, unsure of how to proceed.
‘“The dream is most unusual is it not? And so vividly realised were all the details that it seemed to be true. Perhaps it is prescient in some way, though I know not what it means. I send you all my love, and hope and pray for your health and your happiness. Until the day that we can be together again, I remain eternally yours, Edmund Fairfax.”
‘And there it ends Sir,’ Mrs Cotterill folded the letter in her lap and looked towards me, a state of puzzlement across her brow, ‘I know nothing more of his travels, and since his return, there has been no mention of these dreams. I am only grateful that return he did, in spite of it all.’
‘Indeed.’ I replied, crossing over to the kitchen window to survey the weather conditions outside.
‘Mrs Cotterill, I thank you most graciously for your assistance. As the rain has subdued now, I must take my leave. There is no need to see me out. Good day.’
I placed my hat upon my head and made my way out to the desolate landscape that surrounds us.