THE POINT OF NO RETURN
1. Over the summer his mother left him at the beach. He'd walk over the shingle, past the spidery cluster of sticks that was once a yacht, to a spot beneath the cliffs. While he was reading a man came up and asked if he wanted to wrestle. He looked up at the man, surprised, and replied "where?" The man pointed to some ground beyond the beach.
2. The man was broad, linen jacket stretched over a chest tattooed with a ship in a bottle. He didn't look like the wrestlers you got on Saturday afternoon television. The boy doubted he'd win a match, but he asked, "What do I get if I beat you?" The man grinned and tapped the inked ship. "This."
3. "You mean the tattoo?" the boy asked.
The man laughed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Of course not, sport. I mean my cold. I've had the bloody thing for weeks. I just can't shake it; and this here nose is leaking like a sieve. Chances are, you wrestle me an' you'll be sick as a dog by day's end."
4. The boy looked at the man carefully. He peered deeply into the man's face. Then, with a gesture that was almost tender, he grabbed the man's pony-tail and rubbed his face with it as if it were a whisk. He stroked the man's hair before letting go. "I am," he said, "at your service."
5. "Curling key notes" of amphetamine dripped from his tiny girl pants pocket, the snake of lines registered in front of his vision and grew to a pock marked worm, glowing in the reference to his hands that he recalled had been in autopilot for some seven days now.
"Good, thanks," he muttered, barely remembering as the words left his mouth.
"Good, we're going to need this."
6. He turned away, pulling his hood over his head and thrust his hands into his hip huggers. Despite being night, his surroundings seemed too bright, their colour values pushed to the max. He considered with jittery thought the contraband in his pockets and muttered, "Why do they have to look like candy?" People streamed past, their faces smudged masks, the words they spat into their handhelds belonging to no earthly language.
7. ... And was that Elise's face he'd seen in the last flowing smudge, or just another one of her doppelgangers? He supposed it didn't matter -- even naked, compromised and feigning horniness, they were utterly indistinguishable from their mistress. Tonight was not to be about Elise, it was to be about everything but Elise. He tucked another pill into his cheek. They looked like candy -- yes -- but they tasted of bitterant, amply so, and he was not going to let that poetic coincidence be lost.
8. "Hey, what's that in your gob, leather boy?"
He looked at, then stroked, before finally listening to his nocturnal outfit… which was not leather and never had been.
The caller was in his face now. Eyes flickering like crematorium flames, breath smelling of kerosene - yep, it was Ardley the failed fire-eater.
"I said share your medicine, pal."
9. 'Oh, go eat kindling, Ardley,' he said. 'Or do you want a breath mint?'
The fire-eater scowled. 'I'll burn you, pal. I'll grill you like a mother-fucking hotdog.'
'Yeah,' he said. 'Sure you will.' He turned away, but Ardley caught him by the wrist and squeezed.
10. "You wanna watch your mouth, you burnt out old relic" he said, wresting his wrist from the stick thin claws of the fire eater.
Ardley sniggered. "Go ahead, insult me if you want, but you know the consequences of defying the Totem..."
He shivered, suddenly short of breath as the air stirred around him, ruffling his hair and making him shiver.
Something had walked across his grave.
11. It could be the wise old ancestor, who stirred every time someone battled, every time he measured hatred around the town. This ancestor who heralded for peace, but who could just as easily take a sacrifice of blood and bone.
It was his last chance to flee from the fire eater, he realized. He would have to think of something that had no return. A point of no return, he mumbled to himself, watching how his bruised wrist erupted with the slim paint of blood.
12. Meanwhile the sky thickened slightly, shedding a reddish cast on the land. From the far west, howls echoed once more. The point of no return could be in any direction, including back to the ramshackle hovel from whence he came, the place where the haggard woman lay. But under the new regime, even she was not as she was before. He heard her calling, or was that just a new ruse of the fire eater?
13. He squared his shoulders and sucked in a long, deep breath--his nostrils flaring at the smell of kerosene and something sickeningly sweet he dared not name. Decisions had always bedeviled him, but his choices were limited: north along the ridge that pointed like a skeletal finger into the desert where he and his father used to hunt scraykings before the revolution; or east where the sun brooded behind the red-rimmed clouds that perpetually obscured the valley of Is, and beyond that the green sea. He spat and took a step. The ashen dust boiled up in a little cloud around his foot.
14. He would go east. There were no memories there to beleaguer him; he had had his fill of the aching pain that came from recalling all that had passed from this world. The decision, once made, was a relief. He owed the past no reason to linger here, in this bloody place where death and smoke filled the hot air like living things and day light drained from the sky before the sun even rose. He turned toward the valley, where a golden sun sent forth rays despite the thick troubled clouds, its pure morning light promising hope from far away and far above.
15. Hope was just what he needed, and a pocketful of luck. Slowly he began the descent into the valley. After a couple of miles on the steep and stony track, his body was already losing its solidity and turned transparent. In the past (so stubborn, so hard to un-remember!) he had had hundreds of addresses, all of them clandestine; but this time, everything would be different. Before him: a murmuring river, submerged in overgrowth.
16. He would follow the murmuring river, and hope to find a suitable place to cross it. If he managed to cross the river, would his body regain its solidity? Or was he on the road to becoming a free-floating consciousness? All this time, through all the secret addresses, the assumed names, the assumed lives he had led, hadn't he craved solidity, grounding, normality? And now, deep in the valley, following the river, he felt he had drifted further from his goal than ever before.
17. With each step he felt the ground pull at him, as if there were threads running through his legs into the earth, as if those threads were being wound tight around a spool. When the body is slowly unmade, the slip into things more solid than it becomes surprisingly easy.
18. Dark wetness evolves into dark chocolate with a twisted spine of poison. Obstacles morph into poison glands. Granules and pustules drip dry, tie together and unite.
19. Terror bands together, weaves through the leaves; all the juices twist behind, with back bending. Peek through the weeds, authorities. Lobster bark, clam shout: lateral grape-rapist, you lied: twigs! Sticks!
20. Slither, swallow - crunch. Bug-eyes round as dinner-plates peek out from overgrowth. The scent of truncheons. Casual brutality hovers - a promise - in the afternoon air. A procession of hairy limbs weave forward.
21. But the great thing about hairy limbs is that it's never a close shave when they try to grab or kick you; and if it's never a close shave, then it must be an easy thing to avoid them. Which it was. As for the scent of truncheons: they smell like fossilised baguettes, a prehistoric breakfast odour. Nice but a bit old-fashioned...
22. I know their smell....the truncheons. The stormtroopers had them that night. They tickled some of our faces with them. They tickled some of our faces until the stuffing came out. Now the Caribbean sun burns my skin and hides those scars.
23. Down the long island sand is another maelstrom that reflects upon our planet's endless cruelty. Despite my flight; despite this intoxicating lemonade; despite the iridescent corona overhead; the wheeling, overweening seabirds -- there is no escape. For all flights succumb to gravity; all lemonade is poison; and the sun is an agent of genocide. Plus the seabirds are not what they appear: remote forces watch through their eyeballs. The insidious reality of mortality itself is a scar that can never be hidden.
24. I have fled and still flee from island to island, from person to person. My emotions hermetically sealed off. My primary thought to elude and evade the surveillance of agents with no scars and their robot birds. I cling to a carmel corn of childhood with lemonade stands and birds without camera eyes back when the sun was less malevolent and smiling was not a terrorist act.
25. Yes, it was in the naugahyde suburbs and life couched around being at a certain place and time so you could be entertained...I still feel exiled on my island of mirth, surrounded by literal water and a less than literal population...but is that all there is?!! A tiny dot of recognition hits me between the eyes!!!
26. It glows mint-green and rectangular like illuminated Hackney balconies, an ignis fatuus I must not follow but at which I cannot stop staring. Déjà vu! Déjà vu! Where will this lead me? An old pain burns my stomach; I've been dreaming here for too long.
27. Must there be an awakening? I decide to stay a dreamer, in the glare of the Gods of the Marsh, and walk amidst them, where I can sleep without fear, drown without pain. I take steps, slow measures, towards the lights. Ten heartbeats. I'm up to my knees.
28. "Finally I pause on a submerged root rim. The mud before me has sloughed apart into the form of a slippery staircase. Down below translucent mud shines wine-red and amber. Behind me now is the waking world of border collies, taxes, mechanical pencils, and hotdogs. I won't miss it, I won't miss it, I insist I won't miss it."
1. Saul Hughes
2. Mat Joiner
3. Jason Rolfe
4. Adam Gesualdi
5. Zachary Scott Hamilton
6. Sam Sanders
7. Bosley Gravel
8. Len Saculla
9. Valerie O'Riordan
10. Trevor Denyer
11. Rochelle Potkar
12. Louise Norlie
13. Brian Collier
14. Juleigh Howard-Hobson
15. Jane Roken
16. Stu Hatton
17. Margaret Bashaar
18. Juliet Cook
19. Martin Hoeldtke
20. Roberta Chloe Verdant
21. Rhys Hughes
22. Andrew Abbott
23. Bryson Newhart
24. Dan Smith
25. Daniel Mccormick
26. Elaine Borthwick
27. Aliya Whiteley
28. Caleb Wilson