Image Credit: Holly Birtles, C1 Monsters Isle of Grain, Digital c-type print (2020) hollybirtles.com
You should not bother to read this. You should likely close this book, and put it down. But if you insist on dragging each word, each image, of which there are few of any real value, across your mind’s eye, as I have intended, as you continue to, now, then you will surely suffer much, and gain much also, in the act of suffering. You will resent me for having wasted your time, but you will not be able to help yourself, you will not stop, despite my warnings, this book will hollow you out – it will snatch away whatever intangible ephemera that you insist is you.
I have not been writing long. Mere minutes have ticked past since I first struck out on this long indissoluble journey, for which you have no itinerary, and I no direction. But since the world began in a flash, and proceeds out into hopeless, bleak disarray, so too this story will appear a brief but violent intention, far grander than its own end, and if you should grasp that intention, perhaps you, also, will become that sharp spark of action, of lithe swaggering carnage, cognisant of death, yet fearing nothing.
But you are waning again, now, as these things hum past, vague promises, delusions, efforts at a hopeless, perfect line. You long for a story but you will not take it any which way, no matter which angle I try jamming the sleeve in, for most of all you wish to be told a story without knowing that you are being given one, as if you were making everything from first to last breath. So I suppose I should play along. I suppose I should gently nudge a character into the frame, secretly, without your seeing it – here he is, now, walking along a street, damp fog all about, his legs long like that of an insect, his brain spilling out of the top of his skull as most do, not figuratively but in actuality, actual brain streaks the road, his grey mucky brains, which he doddering from one insect foot to another, spills hapless this way and that, for he is appallingly made, this character, jammed haphazard into a stalking frame lacking all the proper bounds, so he is now dead, his brains have all oozed out.
Will you let me try now?
I start with a tall yoke, many ages old, which all the bodies of the dead and dying go swinging about. It sits at the cusp of a glacier, also ancient, with many chiselled tombs in it, where dwell the unformed young, who sing to each other through the ice walls. They emerge rarely, if ever, so warm is it inside the ice, but when they do, a great cacophony of light carries out, and the dead swing so fast about the yoke that they make a blazing arc, and the sky kneels down, and the sea, which lies below the glacier, raises up its arms and breaks into demented song. I remember this from many moons gone, when I was young, when I had not forgotten everything, when my whole past and future appeared to me a crystalline mass with no parts broken off.
You smile at this – it is not a story, but a setting, no character has entered, except my own, which I call my own, though I cannot be sure. Perhaps I did not live this, but died it all, as if all lives were mere long, muttered declines from the howling peaks of a singular, criminal mischief. Yet it was just such a mischief, just such a momentary, farcical contortion of agents good and worse, which cracked open the slender glass jar bearing myself, which I called no name, because I had yet to acquire neither language nor tongue. As I eked out, for I had not yet form nor concrete substance, I fell upon the long icy slopes like a fiery wind, biting and slashing every which way until I had reached the water, where again after some dreadful scouring lasting again many suns and moons, I achieved my first full form, which was, I was later to find, that of a frog.
Do you follow, still? Have you meandered yet into this arena of faithless inquiry which I have decked in fanciful colours, and peopled with the many likenesses of a broken godhead? If not, enough that you should shape these signs into sounds, and speak them loudly to the wind, like a mass of splinters clouding an infant graveside. Have you done so, yet? Have you found an honest bearing? Either way, I insist that you stop, that you read no further, that you take this time, which you have allotted to reading this miserable excuse for a story, and push it out into the real world. Do not waste your patience on such headless musing, I implore you, or else all children scream for nought, and we shall inherit only ghosts, who lacking substance, make no real sense at all.
I see that you pay no heed. I see that these bleats have only harried you along, they have peaked your invective, your lust for death, or an end to lust, and so I tumble on, in wind, in ocean now, in semi-miasmic, amphibian throws, my webbed appendages flapping vainly against the prevailing tide, which so squall me to my first eventual master, a vast pyramidal slob with coral limbs and a voice like sloshing water, called the Janger. He sits, like a tumour, right upon the cusp of life and death, being a constant complicator of simple things, and destroyer of delicate chaos. I have learned to hate him with a careful, healthy love, but back then I adored him with a savage bile. He rescued me from the indifferent tide, and cast me into concrete form, by means I have never since understood, only that he seemed to command and propagate himself by the constant splitting of discrete, shimmering acts, which we call cells, into ever greater numbers of imprecise renditions, which he then bound into singular globs of oscillating order. These shimmied, shat and belched into the ocean ether, turning it a bruised, insipid yellow. Through this jaundiced ploom I flipped, warped and squirmed, until finally I set upon the vast face of my interlocutor, whose globulous eyes roiled the amber depths with each twist and flick of its all enthronging gaze.
You’ll find no flies here, blurped the ocean bulk, for the Janger spoke in a watery mass of moving symbols, which I instantly understood, and emulated precisely by the rapid trembling of my limbs and vocal sack.
I seek not flies, but proper substance, I replied, the thought of substance dissolving out all others.
You seek that which requires no seeking, which falling from the roofless void, conjures us like spectres on a glistening sea.
I thought a moment on the constant call of my heart’s desire, of which I knew neither origin nor ultimate end, excepting a daydream of lights upon a flat, darkened plain. It sang three notes, each wordless, each a strict command, although, again I knew not what they meant, nor even the dim drawn echo of such a cavalcade of penetrating actuations. The Janger watched these thoughts, for they were visible to him by means of his microtic hands, which delved into the acts and shapes of thoughts and other pre-existing things.
I will lend you full, reaching weight, so that you may become a real existing living being. Such will be your first step upon the long beaten line.
The Janger’s words seem to fall in sync with my inconstant song, and my limbs flapped in wide accedence, and my heart thrummed to the gentle waving of the waters all about.
I will give you this, and all the myriad blessings of torrid innocence and age, on but one condition. One tenth of all you earn shall be delivered to me. All your material possessions shall be one tenth mine. All of your sense and memory shall be one tenth mine. Your lovers, your incidental acquaintances, your most intimate sorrows shall be one tenth mine.
At that, my limbs thrust out into long, pinkish trunks of flesh and bone, my head swelled to a tousled, rakish orb, and my eyes slipped close together, arm in arm at the bridge of a long, lean nose. I felt, for the very first time, as if my being and physic had coalesced into a single coherence, however approximate, and that I had ascended to a state of subtle density such that the waters now peeled across my shoulders and twined about my limbs, and bore me up towards a great grey mass of earth, which rose far above the pressing waves, and there flowered into forests, fields and high, rugged hills. For a time, I protruded from the ocean like a stalagmite of living tissue, fixed firm upon a moving plain, and beheld the spectacle of gentle stasis that water causes by its absence. And then, out of the stasis, came the feint whirrings of a living, moving mass of beings, vegetal and animal, fungal and microbial, which bound together as a single entity, reached out ragged arms and hands to wrench me from the sea, and pull me to its bosom.