“You know”, said Aristophanes Brown, walking arm in arm with Alexia Laplace along a quiet stretch of the Thames near Richmond, “this is had been the most appalling summer for bees I can remember. No wonder the flowers have been dismal.
The moon-a-muck, trailing behind Carina on a lead, in its doggy disguise, hooted to itself. It felt that songs, not bees, ought to be the key to a successful summer bloom.
Alexia admired the winter waterfowl out on the river, then looked up to take in the graceful sight of a swan in flight, no doubt searching for inspiration for her design and gadgetry.
“This is true Ari, although I’ve never figured you for a botanist. It’s been a year short of colour anywhere where our moon-a-muck hasn’t sung its song.”
The moon-a-muck skipped along, delighted to hear its name in conversation.
“Well, at least we won’t get stung” Aristophanes opined.
“That is small consolation for world starvation when all the crops fail, Ari.”
“Surely not, my dear?!”
“Surely too. Without these pollinating insects, we are, to be frank, bloody well doomed.”
Alexia adjusted her flaming hair, and lit a cigarette.
“Do we know what’s behind it?”
“No, I don’t. But if we don’t find out, then no matter how much our mucky sings, we are going to be eating each other in a few years.”
They walked on in silence.
Not so many miles to the North West, under the grounds of a family country estate just outside of Oxford, a man releases a thousand bees from an enclosure in an underground chamber where there buzzing echoes with apocalyptic feedback from the concrete walls. Then another thousand. And a thousand more. And he wades through the swarm, happily allowing himself to be stung as his mind homes in on the centre of the galaxy.
The crowd gathered as the sunset over the stones, and sat politely and waited for the dawn. June 20th 1899. There was music, a strange but fair string quartet of ladies playing Holst’s “The Planets”. There had been hawks in the wind in the twilight, looking for titbits from the picnics.
Stonehenge. Where antiquarians gathered in the sounds of the pipes of pan.
3AM. Now the 21st. Just before twilight began to paint the eyelid of the horizon. There was a fuzzy crack of lightning, and a flash of blue radiation washed out over the crowd like Thor had hit his hammer.
They ooohed. They ahhhed. They swallowed their laundunum for the sunrise and looked for their gods.
And sitting atop one of the triptychs within his Poincare machine, Aristophanes Brown and the moon-amuck chuckled and hooo-eeh-hoo’d their little heads off, before repeating the process as they headed back to London
Because Ari has been under neglect.
“Ari, you must be careful. You may use this device only twice in a year, my analysis has concluded.”
It wasn’t just Lady Alexia Laplace who was concerned. Carina sat in a corner, nervously arranging posies. The moon-a-much hooted nervously, perhaps more at the sight of Aristophanes Brown, his fair hair concealed underneath an odd silvery helmet with a somewhat rough and ready gladiatorial feel. Two inputs entered at the back, stepped down from the power source that fed the Poincare machine, and two outputs, rather thinner in cabling, exited from the temple.
These cables wound along the floor in a rather haphazard fashion, before leading up a wooden table leg to encounter a series of cunning actuators and pistons. One set to a crudish mechanical claw, the other to a set of hinged metal joints terminating in pseudo fingers, wracked with seeming metalloid arthritis, clenched round the grip of a kitchen knife.
“Close your eyes, and have a vision of what you want to do,” went on Alexia. “But if you feel any discomfort, you must tell me immediately so I may cease the experiment. I have no wish to damage your brain.”
Aristophanes, eyes hidden within the helmet but messy strands of fair hair edging the headpiece like a feathered nest, nodded.
“Very well” said Alexia softly. “I’m turning on the power.”
She threw a large dipole switch. A crackle of power fused the air into smoke, and Aristophanes jerked.
Upon the table, the metallic hands began to tremble and clench. What was visible of Brown’s face below the nose was a gargolye of seizure. The moon-a-muck looked terrified.
“Concetrate man! Envisage the knife in your hand!” shouted Alexia.
Brown’s nod was a collapse of his neck into his shoulders, head tilted at a terrible angle. “Increase power” he managed to strangle.
“NO!” countered Alexia. “You must increase thought!”
Sparks were dancing between the inputs. Carina leaned forward.
Upon the table, the knife was raised. Aristophanes managed to stretch his neck back out like a waking tortoise, and the knife drunkenly straightened up in the grasp of the metallic talons. In the other “hand” a carrot was held firm, the forces upon it limted artificially for fear it would have been crushed out of existence.
“Nyyyyeeeeaarggghhh” groaned Aristophanes Brown, and the knife descended upon the vegetable in a sweries of hesitant, jagged sawing motions as devoid as smoothness as a cactus.
Both ladies stood on tiptoe, breath held.
The sound of organic matter. The sound of organic matter being rendered. Being cut. Being sliced. The knife lifted again, the process was repeated. Hesitant and clunky to be sure, the carrot was indeed being sliced up as the ladies turned virtually blue, and sweat turned Aristophanes Brown’s morning clothes to a swamp of sweat. He kept going for as long as he could, straining for every breath as the visions in his mind were made into the motions of the knife. But eventually it was all too much, and he fell forward, making a slicing moment with his hand as he did so.
Alexia ran forward, and helped the adventurer out of the helmet. His face was white, and where the power inputs had entered the helmet, his hair had been scorched the black of anthracite.
“You’ll wear those marks for a while yet, Ari” she said, doing a good job of hiding her relief. Brown didn’t even have the strength to nod.
Meanwhile at the table Carina was examining the vegetable of their labours. The carrot had been cut up as if by a sickly beaver, and its orange flesh too was scorched in places.
“It’s a major achievement, to be sure, but it seems an awful amount of effort for the world’s most hopeless salad…”
Sharp, sharp and withering glares from Alexia.
“I think your flowers are wilting, Carina” was all she said.
The moon-a-muck emerged from hiding, and hooted joyfully that the noise and fuss were all over.
Copyright Mulberry Lightinng 22.02.15
Half an hour’s work after thinking about slicing up salad with the power of the mind
Upon hearing that a young lady of his acquaintace had fallen ill with pneumonia after working a punishing schedule in a flea pit theatre with no heating, Aristophanes Brown resolved to pay her a visit as she convalaseced in her lodgings at Charing Cross. He had seen her in a preview production of some Wildean fantasy or other and thought she was uncommonly good, but her admirable and steadfast refusal to give her all to the producers of the West End, it was rumoured, had led to a falling on harder times. He always liked to give her a good write up when he could, i.e. when the paper was happy that the the theatre concerned didn’t double as a brothel, and felt that a visit with cheering news of a new production by a more trustworthy producer would go down well.
Alone, he walked along the embankment, looking for a florist of high quality recently come into business by the river near the rail bridge. It was late morning, the streets quiet, and slipping a coin to a newsboy for the Times second edition, he made his way to the shopfront on the corner of a small street leading towards St Pauls.
The flowers on sale were indeed brilliant, and he took time to inspect all the blooms. They utterly glowed with life, irises, carnations, roses, violets and other brilliant efflourusecences a non-botanist such as himself had no chance of identifying.
“Are you going to spend all day spreading germs on those blooms, or are you going to buy anything?” said a scolding voice.
It was Carina the cat burglar, black hair spilling out from everywhere under a strawish hat, a green apron about her.
“Indeed I am, dear shopkeep! I’ll take a large spray of irises, and do we have any of those white things, you know, drat it I forget.”
“Lilies?” asked Carina. “We have nothing at the moment, but as you see, my gardener is giving the matter his most urgent attention.”
She stepped back with a discrete flourish to reveal the back of the shop. In the darkness, there was a familiar song, the natural sound of the most un-natural thing in the world.
“Hoooooo-heeeee….hooo hooo hooooo heeeeeeeee….woooo wooo, hoo-hee-hooo…”
The moon-a-muck sang to several plant pots full of dead flowers salvaged from parks and gardens of the city, before breaking off to snort a selection of alum crystals up its trumpet.
“Yes, he’s got natural green…er…claws” said Aristophanes, as Carina passed him irises wrapped in day old damp newspaper…
Copyright Mulberry Lighting 03.04.15
15 minutes work, thinking of spring and trying to bring colour into my mind
This wonderful device is used for the accurate prediction of the timing of tides, and their level. It incorporates 30 different harmonics to make its predictions, and features in my Oceanography futurelearn course.
Straightaway, I thought of the Antikythera mechanism. This film has a very hypnotic quality.
“I warned you this sort of thing might happen ‘Ari! It’s the consequence of the machine’s operation.” Lady Alexia Laplace was lying on the floor, her ivory shirt, riding jodphurs and boots looking rather dusty and distressed.
“I know Miss Laplace. I only dreamt the Poincare Machine, I have no idea of how it works”. Aristophanes Brown, in cream cricket trousers and sweater, was also lying on the floor a few feet away, with his hands protecting the back of his head. “I rely on you for that”.
Alexia looked indignant, although this might have been a consequence of having her face rather squash down upon against the floor. “I just made something you drew on various bits of old paper Aristophanes. I’m amazed it works as well!” “WEll, hmmmm”, muttered Aristophanes as the ceiling of the warehouse space seemed to crush down upon them again. “I wouldn’t call this well”.
“WELL DON’T BLAME ME” shouted Alexia into the floorboards. “Next time dream a bit bloody better, you scribing cretin! OW!” – this last was caused by her embedding a splinter into her full and sweet bottom lip. “Buggery. Oh lord, here come the damn walls!”
The two of them shrank together as the walls of the warehouse space seem to close in, bending as they did so, seeming to travel through the ceiling without actually doing so.
“I haven’t even been in the machine yet, you won’t drattedly let me, and yet you expect me to fix a problem like this!”
“It’s what I pay you for,” said Aristophanes firmly.
“Even if that tongue is in your cheek I shall reach across and rip it out in a second Aristophanes”, muttered Alexia. “Now look, the air is changing colour!” Indeed it was, it was now suffused with a light blue tinge, a duck egg blue hazing the world.
“The Poincare Machine has distorted the fabric of reality. I only used it to go to Hampstead Heath for a walk!” said Aristophanes. “What will happen if I go to New York?”
“Hopefully not come back!” exclaimed Alexia. “I’m going to try and turn the wretched thing off.”
She began to crawl like a wounded gecko across the floorboards. The object of all this ire sat oblivious in a corner of the warehouse space, humming in its dully glittering silverness, apparently protected by a bubble of its own space-time, the wall and ceiling bending around it like rubber.
“I can see what has happened. You didn’t fully withdraw the sphere from the cube. Fool!”
“You don’t expect the Universe to fall apart when you don’t close a window properly!” protested Aristophanes. “Can’t you fix this?”
“Only after I’ve killed you, Aristophanes Brown! Ah right, here we go.”
Alexia had reached the Poincare Machine’s protected space, and was easily able to stand upright and slide the sphere down its rails and remove it completely from the dimensionsal cube. At once, the humming stopped, and the walls and ceiling returned to their correct and proper places in reality. Outside seagulls could once again be seen screeching over the brown grey Thames.
Alexia Laplace sat on the floor, slightly dishevelled and staring at Aristophanes with a fair degree of anger.
“Right then”, he said. “Cup of tea?”
There was no reply.
Copyright Mulberry Lightning 18.10.14
Inspired merely by watching a tree bend in the wind, this piece was done in two 30 minute sections. I hope you flash fiction afficianados are not offended by the gap.
He was a student of phenomenon, an avid collector of information, and he was in thrall of rain.
Rain was an absorber of so many things, in its endlessly repeating life story from sea to cloud to droplet to land to stream brook river, and thence to the sea again.
He had a hypothesis that this information could be tapped, to be recorded, and new theories found about how matter interacts with the universe around it.
So one not very fine day – that being the point – he headed out to the common – past groups of ladies returning early from a morning constitutional as the scudding clouds gathered. With him he took his copper can coated in gold film, that he used as his rain receptacle. The gold was an inert layer to prevent any contamination from his equipment, and had cost his unwitting father a fortune.
The rain came down, and quickly an acceptable sample was gathered. He enjoyed the shower, feeling the grit of the industrial world washed from his hair and pale, cloud bathed face. He mounted his bicycle and returned to his laboratory, copper can dangling.
In his lab, a brick lined cellar at his averagely well to do home, he took the precious rain and emptied out onto a faintly concave copper disk, again sheathed in protective gold. He cranked a handle, and the water centrifuged out across the disk. He had to be careful that he didn’t crank too hard and cause the water to splash over the side or become too disturbed.
He then lowered an Edison system needle onto the surface of the water, as if it were a gramophone record. The needle shone silver in the electrically lit cellar, and attached to a copper arm that transmitted the liquid vibrations to a stretched drum of pig skin. The sound of rain was thus broadcast out, as Edison had once done with “Mary had a little lamb.”
The rain sang too. It sang of the water cycle, true, but more than that. It went further. The rain sang of coalescing clouds of dust and gas in the void accreting into planets, how their hydrogen and oxygen atoms had first found their way onto the scorched surface of the proto earth.
Further still, the rain sang of expansion, of inflation, of early cosmic epochs, and the man took notes frantically. It sang of molecular bonds being formed and broken, of atoms themselves being formed out of even smaller particles – knowledge! he exulted! new knowledge! – and of some kind of primal event, the creation of everything out of nothing with no hand of God.
It was as he suspected. The history of everything etched in a drop of water.
And then he thought of the tediously moral masses, sunday strolling their hypocritic selves to church of a Sunday morning. And he thought – “Fools! They don’t deserve to know anything!”
His aching arm ceased cranking the handle, and he reached for a bottle of claret. He knew the truth, and that was all that mattered, a truth gilt in gold, uncontaminated.
Copyright Mulberry Lightning 04.10.14
This piece was written in 18 minutes, inspired by streaks of rain sliding down a library window.