December 3, 2011 in Short Stories

It was the night before Christmas; all was quiet, except for the sound of a little mouse. Twinkle wasn’t a pretend mouse, a fluffy mouse, or a cartoon mouse; he was a real live mouse who might chew his way through the skirting board; which he was doing right now.

Before Twinkle left for his nightly foraging, his great-great-great-great grandfather warned again, as he did every year, not to be tempted by the Cake of Mysteries. “It is forbidden to eat from the Cake,” he solemnly told Twinkle and his brothers, sisters and cousins, “if you see the bright lights in a tree, turn away. The Cake is guarded by the vapour snakes of the Spirits of the Fruit. They will grab you by the nose, befuddle your senses, and you will be lost.”

Twinkle paid little heed. `Old mouse tales,’ he said to himself. `Who would believe such nonsense?’

Before he knew it, his nose poked through the skirting. Twinkle sniffed and his nose with its fine whiskers twitched back and forth. He could smell much better than you or I, and the smells were wonderful. He could detect all the odours of the house, from the fresh ironing stacked on the chair, to the detergent used to do the dishes. He could smell young people, old people, flowers, floor wax, perfume, the bathroom disinfectant, but above all, the aromas of the kitchen. This made him chew faster and before he knew it the hole was big enough to squeeze through.

He looked to the right and twitched his nose, and looked to the left and twitched. He did it again; just making sure, just being careful, just keeping an eye sharp, because that is what mice do. He stopped, listened, and was gone.

Crouched in the corner shadow of the floor and wall, he scanned ahead and looked for his next move. He couldn’t smell a cat, but he was wary of other predators, of one of the humans being awake to chase him. ‘They will never catch me,’ he told himself, ‘I am too fast. Faster than Zoom, Flash, Scoot, Wink, Zip, and all my brothers, sisters, and cousins.’ Time to go.

Dashing across the room under the dining table through the forest of chair legs, he was brave. They would never catch him. He looked right and left, and right and left again. His tiny nose crinkled – food smells were stronger, his mouth began to water and the juices in his stomach churned. He was so hungry. Go.

Right before his eyes through the doorway he could see the moonlight dappling the kitchen floor. The aromas of a thousand meals past, and a thousand to come greeted him as he ran. He was headed down the usual route; first to the overhang of the kitchen benches, then to the big, shaking cupboard. He was almost there, when wafting through the air a vapour snake bit his nose, throwing him sideways, and inexplicably he ended up behind the door to the living room. His heart was pounding in his chest. The scent unlike any other became stronger and wrapped itself around him. Inside his nostrils a thousand tiny, volatile balloons of poison were exploding. He snuffled, shook his head and snorted. Were these the Spirits of the Fruit, his grandfathers told him about, who lived in the Cake of Mysteries?

He looked right, left, but the vapour snakes had him by the whiskers and led him fearlessly across open carpet and under a lounge chair. He avoided tripping on a pen top and bottle cap and peeked under the flounce at the room. He blinked repeatedly, blinded by bright flashing colour in the heart of darkness, until his eyes lay upon a wondrous sight. While transfixed for whole seconds, the Spirit’s snakes strengthened their hold and he tasted their essence in the air. He felt giddy and warm, and dashed towards the lights, darted through packages under the tree.

Once assured of ways he might escape, he pointed his nose in the air, seeking out the source of the irresistible scent. Through the vapour snakes he received the knowledge. He saw alongside the tree was a lounge chair, alongside it was a small table, on the small table was . . .

Quickening his step, he scampered onto the chair and gained the bolstered arm, easily. The Cake of Mysteries was close, and the ambrosia hanging thick and moist in the air overpowered him. Without pausing he spanned the gap between chair arm and table. At this point there was no left or right, no deliberation or thinking, better instincts and rationale were gone as the body succumbed, and he ran at it mouth open.

From the first bite the Cake gave over its trove of desiccated secrets; apple, grape, apricot, cherry, orange, nuts and the heavenly body. Flavors spilled across his tongue and into his stomach like the stuff of magic.

A noise woke him – the lights on the tree flashed. He had stuffed himself and fallen asleep. Must hide! `Go,’ he said to himself, but couldn’t move. His legs had gone to jelly and he was so bloated he couldn’t stand up. The coloured lights swirled in his vision. He could still feel every sound of the house, but now there was another one, heavy like silent thunder shaking his bones.

A hairy, red and white giant, a hundred times bigger, he’d swear, than any human he’d ever seen, loomed over him like a mountain. It came close to look at him, and Twinkle saw compared to it, he was no bigger than of one of it’s front teeth. He shivered as a big green eye examined him; laying there, his big fat pink belly exposed, unable to stand, lift his head; pitiful and helpless. He closed his eyes tight and waited for the worst.

“Ho, ho, ho!” Sound waves boomed in his ears.

He opened his eyes to see deep furrows forming in the ruddy flesh over bushy white eyebrows. “You’ve been eating from my cake!” A massive hand like the moon blocked the flashing coloured lights, and in the shadow, a finger the size of a bread loaf poked his stomach. He thought he was going to be sick, but he controlled himself in front of the beast.

“What are you?” he asked boldly, beyond caring, and was surprised when he got an answer he could understand.

“I’m Santa, Twinkle.”

“How you know my name?”

“I know everyone’s name.”

“Where you come from?”

“Humans believe in me. Every year on Christmas Eve they say I deliver presents all over the world.”

“An’ you can talk to mice?” he asked amazed.

“Why not?”

He was silent – what was there to say? His heart was beating a hundred beats per second and he thought it would jump out of his chest, he was panting so fast his throat was raw, and he felt he would drown in the odour of cattle. “Please spare me,” he squeaked.

“Twinkle, you have gorged yourself on my Cake and the Spirits of the Fruit have made you drunk.”

“Forgib me Great San-ta, I could not resis . . . .”

Two huge fingers, which could have squashed him like a pea, picked him up and placed him in a monstrous gloved palm. The room was spinning around him, so he closed his eyes.

“Now you believe in me, things will be different,” Santa’s voice rumbled and Twinkle felt fear echo in his bones. With the words he almost swooned, as the Spirits in Santa’s hot breath passed over his body. He opened his eyes and saw to his horror he had been elevated to level with the giant’s mouth. His big, fat, red nose covered in veins was so close he could have reached out and touched it.

“Because you have eaten from my Cake you will be cast out beyond the garden, into the bush to survive on your own.”

“You’re not going to throw me?” he remembered crying, before he was.

That Christmas Eve was the scariest night of his life. Luckily, he landed in a pile of leaves, and dragging himself under a large sheet of bark, was sick. He vomited up the Cake of Mysteries he had swallowed, and ants and insects came from far and wide lured by the Spirits of the Fruit to feast, and then came spiders and lizards to eat them.

From then on things were different. Life in the bush was hard, but he learned new skills. He was fast, but so were birds, and snakes and lizards. He had to live by his wits.

Years later, when as an old mouse, Twinkle returned to live in a house, he would tell his grandchildren, as he had been told, to be wary and not be tempted by the Cake of Mysteries, “Or you’ll end up believing in Santa like I do!”

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The Visible Woman

October 23, 2011 in Short Stories

Jeanette Merqua’s alarm clock set for seven a.m. broke the silence of her apartment. With a groan, she pulled an arm from beneath the covers, and without lifting her head from the pillow, shut it up with a smack. She lay inert for several more minutes, enjoying the post-slumber warmth of her bed, before she urged her body into action. Still half asleep and with eyes barely open, operating on automatic she walked to the bathroom, turned on the water, stepped into the shower and screamed.

She watched mystified as the spray from the shower splashed off, ran down the contours where her body should have been. She rubbed her eyes, lifted arm after arm, leg after leg, bent over and looked down at where her stomach should have been – nothing. Nothing? The teal green tiles in front of her began to waver. She steadied herself against the wall, and taking a deep breath, looked again for her body. `What’s going on? This can’t be!’ There was nothing to be seen; but she felt the hot water on her skin, and she moved about in the spray desperate to convince herself she still existed.

Jumping out of the shower, she grabbed a towel without thinking, sat down on the cistern and hid her head in her hands. `This can’t be right,’ she said to herself, `I’m not really awake – still dreaming.’ She waited, as if at these words, the spell would be broken and she would wake. `This is some trick, illusion. I’m not mad. I can feel my hands on my face. I can feel my bum on the toilet. I can feel myself breathing. I am alive. What is going on? Pull yourself together girl!’

After several minutes of internal terror, she raised the courage, to drop the towel, to open her eyes, see through her missing fingers, on the floor, no feet, and covered her eyes again. “Oh my God, I’m invisible!”
She realised she was gasping for breath, and consciously slowed her breathing. She felt cold, and reasoned that sooner or later she would have to test her apparent new reality. Standing up, she turned and looked in the mirror.

“Aarrrgh!” There was nothing there, except the reflection of the bathroom door and towel rack on the other side of the room. She dodged about as if her own reflection were eluding her. `How can this be?’ She felt lost – missing – only her thoughts floating in the air.

She shivered and rubbed the goose bumps on her upper arms. There was nothing else for it, so purposefully, without thinking further, she went into the bedroom to dress. She pulled out a white blouse, panties, pantyhose and the pale blue suit she had planned to wear to work for the day. Once dressed, she sat back on the edge of the bed, and stared for some seconds at the empty cuffs of her suit jacket. It was a strange feeling; even though dressed, she felt naked. Turning her head, she looked across at the dresser to see a very strange sight. She stood up and walked over to it. Her clothes taking on a life of their own were now mobile, filled and suspended in air without visible support. She dropped her head and sighed, disengaging from the mirror image, but it stayed with her as she walked up and down the room. She sat on the edge of the bed on her hands. Looking at herself now, her dress, pantyhose, shoes she might believe there was nothing wrong. But something was wrong; she could not ignore it, and she had to do something. ‘And when something is wrong with me, I see Doc Wong.’ She reached over, picked up the phone, and after several mis-dials, made an appointment – he could see her at eleven. Phone in hand she called work and told them she wouldn’t be in. She looked at the clock – eight-thirty. Her stomach reminded her it was time for breakfast, and she got up to go to the kitchen, but her absence of hands disturbed her. Angrily, she pulled out a bureau drawer and after fossicking about, found a pair of cotton gloves. She could tell people she had dermatitis. Eating her Rice Bubbles she realized her hair was a mess.

In the bathroom, she stared dismally at the absence of head above her collar. She picked up a brush, and approximating the position of the right side of her head, ran it though her hair. `This is so weird – I can feel my hair, but not see it.‘ The idea of being invisible, made her think of re-runs she had seen of the old television series; `The Invisible Man’, and how he would cover himself in bandages so as not to disturb others. She wondered if she applied make-up. Grabbing her powder compact she liberally dusted her face. In seconds there was a horrible pale mask with two empty ragged holes looking back at her. She rushed back into the bedroom and put on sunglasses and a scarf; looking in the mirror again she saw her lips still betrayed her absent condition. Not trusting her skill with the lipstick, she removed her gloves, and feeling her way tentatively with one finger, smeared her lips with colour, curling them inward repeatedly until she considered she had done a fair job.

Breathing deeply, she turned her front doorknob, and willed herself out the door. In the street she walked uneasily, wobbling and over-correcting her path, as what were normally instinctive actions, for some reason she took under conscious control. She avoided looking at people, until she figured out the reason they were looking at her strangely was because of it. No one, she was happy to discover, saw anything odd in her appearance. Even so, fearing she might meet someone she knew on her bus, she hailed a cab.
There was only a short wait under the scrutiny of other surgery patients, before she was called into the doctor’s office. After their usual salutations, she sat in the chair at the edge of his desk. He finished with some paperwork, and then looked at her.

“Jeanette, what can I do for you today?” he asked.

She had been dreading this moment. “It’s my appearance,” she blurted out.

Noting the gloves, sunglasses and scarf he inquired, “I see you are all covered up, so you have some sort of rash?”

“No, it’s more serious than that. When I woke up this morning there was something wrong,” she began, feeling the need inexplicably to ease him into the situation.

“You see, or don’t see,” she laughed nervously, “for some reason, I am now invisible.”

“Invisible?” he repeated. “But I can see you.”

“No, my body is invisible.”

“I see, well let’s have a look.”

Anticipating him to recoil in horror, she removed her sunglasses, scarf and gloves. “You see, it’s horrible.

Possibly so as not to frighten her, he stared at her inscrutably, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. He sat back in his chair and a frown passed across his face. “Hmm,” he intoned, and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I can tell you, that I can see you.”

“But my eyes, my hair? Look, look,” she held up her arms and waved them frantically, “I have no hands!”

“Yes you do. I can see them,” he smiled.

“You can?” She was amazed.

He saw her distress and tried to reassure her. “Yes, I can see your hands, your eyes,” he peered closer, “they’re a pretty green, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” she murmured. “So what is wrong with me then? I can’t see myself. Honestly, I can’t see me.” Putting her head in her hands, she looked at the floor, tears running down her face, for the moment overwhelmed.

She felt her doctor’s hand on her shoulder. “Calm down Jeanette, calm down, we’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise.”

“Okay, okay . . . if I’m not invisible, why can I see through myself? I looked in the mirror and could see the bathroom wall behind me.”

“Ah, well that can be explained. The human eye is a complex and marvelous organ, but in actuality our field of vision compared to what we see is relatively small. Your brain remembers and anticipates what we see to a large degree. This is because our eyes are rarely still and our heads are constantly moving. I would hazard a guess, that if you were perfectly still, looking into a mirror, you would see a gap in your vision. Besides if you were really invisible you wouldn’t be able to see at all. There would be no reflective surface at the back of your eye to allow sight. And you can see the world around you, can’t you? You have no other problem with your vision?”

“No,” she answered, though contemplating perhaps there was something she missed.

“No, so there is nothing wrong with your sight. There is another reason for your condition.”

“What’s wrong with me? What’s happened?” She threw her hands up and down.

“Calm down, Jeanette, you must remain calm. I don’t know to be frank. I have never come across anything like this before in my practice. It maybe psychological, but knowing you for sometime, honestly I doubt it. I think there is a physical reason for what you are experiencing. I’m going to refer you to a specialist: a neurologist. He will send you for some tests.”

Before she left his office, donned once again in her disguise, he had some words for her. “You don’t need to hide you know. The biggest problem is for you to come to grips with what has happened – adjust. I know it is difficult, but remember this condition may only be temporary; after the tests we will know for sure. But don’t panic, try and remain calm, okay?”


Two weeks later, all the tests were in, and she was sitting across from the specialist. Blood tests came back negative for all know indicators of disease, virus or foreign biological.

“The MRI scan revealed no visible tumor or lesion on your brain.”

She looked at him incredulous, “So I am in perfect health, there’s nothing wrong with me?”

“I said there was no observable lesion, but I suspect there is one. Very small; most likely in your temporal or occipital lobes. Possibly an injury, a bump on your head when you were younger, that has only now, as your brain has developed, caused a problem. You have a form of visual agnosia.” The delivery was monotone, without emotion and although there was gravity in his voice, he was detached unlike Doc Wong.

“What does that mean?” She sat forward, on the edge of her seat. “What can you do?”

“A lesion, or small scar is causing an interruption in the perceptual comprehension of your body. Sort of a mis-firing of nerve connections. As far as I know, your form is unique. There have been reported cases where people cannot see their own fingers, but not their entire bodies, as in your case. There are also other similar conditions related to seeing only faces, or the inability to recognize shapes or text . . .”

“Oh,” was all she could reply, while he went on to tell her that they could poke about in her brain, trying to identify the area which was not operating correctly, but there was a high risk that in the process they could cause greater damage, and even if they did identify the site of the problem, it was unlikely they could rectify it. He could not say whether the problem would be permanent or temporary. The upshot was she would have to live with it for the time being, or forever.

* * *

She sat in her apartment alone for another week and vacantly looked out the window imagining the goings on of normal life outside on her planet. Without the constant reminder of her corporeal existence, a more subtle, personal disconnection was taking place. She had told no one; dared not even tell her closest friends for fear that they would think she was crazy, which she was in a way – crazy-wired. She knew despite what she said or did they would think her strange, or she would think, they thought . . .

`Have to face realities. Sick leave is gone. I have to pay the rent. Have to buy food. I have to live. Can’t go on social security; how can I walk in there, even with medical certificates, and tell them what my problem is? I can’t do it. I will have to go back to work. What did Doc Wong say – adjust? I have gone on this long, all I have to do is conquer the fear that someone will notice. I am my own greatest enemy in that respect. All I have to do is face people without freaking out. Pretend nothing is wrong, pretend and carry on like always.

The first week back at work it was difficult maintaining her cool. She found she still needed to wear white cotton gloves, as if she were some Disney character, because not seeing her hands was too disturbing. But her boss and work mates were sympathetic, and although the Personnel Department knew differently, she told them all it was a form of dermatitis. Most kept clear on the premise it might be transferable, but her friend Cindy, caught up with her at lunch most days. To talk to someone, after so long alone, was a joy.

“Wanna come to Club Troc, I’m going with Mia. We’ll make it a threesome. She says last week Eric turned up, remember him, he’s going to be there with his friends. I mean he’s gorgeous.”

“No, thanks anyway.” She took a bite of her sandwich.

“Why not? What’s the problem?”

She held up her gloved hands.

“Come on, that’s nothing, put on some dress gloves. No one will notice.”

“Sorry Cindy, I’m just not in the mood for a bunch of dopey blokes.”

Cindy put down her salad sandwich. “What’s wrong with you Jeanie? Ever since you’ve come back, you just haven’t been yourself. You’ve changed. Look at you, don’t you care?”

“What do you mean?” She was worried.

“Go look in a mirror. You used to be really hot looking. I’m telling you I’ve seen guys eyes practically drop out looking at you. I was always so jealous, but now. Look at your hair, it’s always a mess, and your make up – girl, it looks like you plastered it on with a paintbrush. And check out your legs, there’s clumps of hair you’ve missed with your razor. What’s going on?”

She blushed, mortified to the core. “I don’t know,” she lied, “I’m just, I don’t know . . . lost interest I guess. “

“Are you sure, Jeanie?” Cindy leant across the table. “Is there something you want to talk about?”

“No, I’m okay.” She stifled an urge to break from her isolation. “Just in a slump, I guess.”

“Well, wake up. You’re slippin’ fast.”

Her boss, Tom Bryson, seemed displeased with her as well. She was still doing her work to standard, if anything her performance had improved as she took on more tasks and responsibility. Yet he was increasingly off hand, and she thought unfairly critical, as if he simply didn’t like her any more.

Putting on make up was still a problem, and her hair care even more so, to the point she considered getting her long locks cut off for a pageboy style that would be easier to look after. Even though she couldn’t see herself, she hated to think what she would look like.

She didn’t think things could get any worse when one day looking up from her desk, she noticed a troop of people with cameras at the reception desk. They weaved their way through desks and filing cabinets towards her. Behind them flocked an increasing number of excited staff.

“Jeanette Merqua?” asked a smart looking woman in a daffodil yellow pants suit.

“Ahh, yes,” she answered meekly, trying to avoid the huge lens of a video camera pointed at her.

“You’ve been nominated for a total make-over courtesy of `Good Morning Sydney’,” gushed the woman, who she now recognized as the always-smiling, constantly-bubbly, compere Susie-Ann McClemman.

“Oh my God, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes!” Cindy screamed jumping up and down.

“That’s right, your work mates told us your story, and the problems you’ve had lately. When we heard about it, we thought: `what can we do to help?’ And here we are. Let’s go.”

“But I can’t. I’ve got all this work to do and . . .” she started.

“No need to worry about that. We’ve cleared it with your boss, you’re okay to go. Come on, up you get.”

Before she could stop her, Susie-Ann had taken her by an arm and was dragging her out of the room. Jeanette looked over her shoulder to see Tom Bryson smirking ear to ear.

What followed was a merry-go-round of indulgence; body toning massages, skin exfoliation, dental work and teeth whitening, and then off to hair-dressing and make-up stylists, and trips to numerous up-market stores for clothes and shoes. It had been impossible to stop them stripping her, and re-designing `her look’, and in the end she just hung on for the ride. In the process, any reservations she held of her unseen presence were washed and scrubbed, massaged, poked and prodded, abraded, polished and painted out of existence. A seemingly endless round of photo shoots followed, culminating in her arrival here today at the television studio. She stood in the wings of the set, waiting for her cue, feeling a little giddy in the head and queasy in the stomach.

She listened intently as Susie-Ann read from the autocue, until she heard the words: `A big warm welcome for our make-over girl; Jeanette Merqua’. She was frozen to the spot, until the segment producer unseen took her by the elbow and propelled her out onto the set. Her eyes swept over the fifty or so people in the studio audience applauding loudly, before she focused on Susie-Ann who stood up to greet her.

“Jeanette, you look amazing.”

“I feel amazing,” she answered, looking briefly down across her empty neckline and at a gaping armhole of the sleeveless dress. It was a beautiful dress, it fitted as if made for her, and she imagined she looked delicious in it.

“Let’s get a good look at you, give us a spin.”

She complied, doing a little turn on the balls of her feet, as she had seen models do so many times on television.

“What do you think? How do you like your new look?”

“Oh Susie-Ann . . . I don’t know myself. I feel like a new woman. I don’t know how to thank you.” An air kiss was in order and delivered.

Susie-Ann took her arm and sat her down in a lounge alongside Derek, the stylist who had consulted with her several times during the week. Derek at Susie-Ann’s prompting related the details of the make-over; who, what, where and why, accompanied by flounces of her hair and pointing out details of her dress. It all seemed to happen in a blur, then Susie-Ann was addressing her again.

“We’ve another little surprise for you Jeanette,” she bubbled and her green eyes sparkled beneath her golden fringe.

`Oh my God, what now!’

Susie-Ann beckoned a man forward out of the audience. He was short, blonde with a neat haircut and dressed immaculately in a Thai silk suit that said dollars plus.

“I’d like to introduce you to Michael Stepswick of Stepswick, Balsam and Associates Model Agency.”

Jeanette found her hand being shaken.

“Jeanette, we were so impressed by you, as were our photographers, that we have decided to offer you a twelve month modeling contract.”

* * *

Weeks later she caught up with Cindy for lunch. Before she could sit down Cindy pinned her arms in a massive hug. Cindy pushed her back holding onto her and shook her. “Will you look at you! My God girl, you look, you look – you just look fantastic. I can’t believe it’s you!”

“I can’t believe it myself. Everything’s happened so fast. I haven’t had a chance to think. They pick me up every morning, next thing I’m on location somewhere, they do my hair and make-up, dress me . . . I don’t have to do anything except what the photographer tells me.”

“For real? I saw you in Women’s Weekly,” Cindy gushed. “Who would have thought, my friend Jeanie?”

“Oh you got no idea. Guess what?”

“What? Tell me, tell me.” Cindy demanded, about to jump out of her skin.
“Next month, you won’t believe this – I’m on the cover of Vogue.”

“Get out! Oh Jeanie, Jeanie, holy shit! Vogue, are you serious?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what I got, but they really like me. The photographers keep saying they like my attitude. I’m unpretentious, natural, down-to-earth, they like that, easy to work with . . . apparently.”

“I told you, you were hot. Vogue, imagine; I can’t believe it,” crooned Cindy, drifting off in her own fantasies.

“I have to thank you, you know. You pulled me out of that funk I was in. And if you hadn’t nominated me for that make-over thing, none of this would have happened.”

“Me? I would have, if I’d thought of it. No, it was Bryson, your boss – boy is he pissed now,” she laughed. “Hey, lucky that dermo cleared up eh?”

Jeanette looked down at her coffee cup, surrounded by satellites of Magenta Surprise floating mid-air. “Yeah,” she smiled.

Inspired by H.G. Wells & Dr. Jonathon Sachs

Last edited by Brian Armour on October 23, 2011, 5:32 pm

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Travels in Cyberspace

September 29, 2011 in article about writing

I thought I might share my experiences with writing sites to begin with. The first I joined (for free) was called I don’t know if you know it. It was created by a fellow called Steve Spargo (who actually got to the cover of Esquire Magazine) and run by he and his sister. It was New York based. He called it a `creative democracy’. It continued to develop over the number of years I was a member. It is no longer, which is a shame because it came closest to achieving a balance between writing and reviewing. The problem is as you stated it – reviewers are less populous on the ground, and good reviewers even more so. Urbis was based on an economy of `credits’ – reviews gain credits – you pay to open reviews with credits. Longer reviews attract more credits – so much per word following a minimum limit. Reviews for longer pieces gain more credits – a 2,000 word story or poem compared to a 5,000 word chapter segment – there was a sliding rate of three categories. In the beginning there was little attempt to encourage reviewers, though that is essentially the driver. A reviewer wants to be rewarded (or some do – all I wanted was good reviews of what I posted – which required credits). Of course, the problem then is – if it is going to cost you hundreds of credits to open a review, you want it to be a good one. A Quality Reviewer rating % algorithm was incorporated, so before you opened a review you could check out the reviewer, and previous reviews they had completed (copy and paste bandits beware). On opening the review you would rate the reviewer. If the review was unsatisfactory according to site guidelines to be constructive, not over quote, trivial etc – be polite etc, then you could apply for a refund on the review – Steve’s sister assessed this. The site had several useful tools, including three text analysis items. It was possible to analysis text for recurring words and phrases – they would be listed in order and number of occurrence. At first there was little advertising except for a Google Ad strip and line links to topics assumed associated with the text of your piece. Premium paid membership was introduced after about three years – analysis tools and discounts on credits required to open reviews – storage more items. There were problems as any site experiences, and posting chapters as I was consumed a lot of time, as I would have to complete three reviews of smaller items to be able to open one of my own. It had forums, and groups and an internal message service (could copy and paste to). Another attractive feature was a java program running the home page which would scroll recent activity on the site i.e. Review completed By – Work Submitted etc Comment:

A group frustrated with the inability to use a comment feature such as in Word formed a group in Yahoo Groups and called themselves Urbis Whores. Members would post work to folders and reviews of those pieces. Then I came on Writers Cafe which although great looking, was just that a shop window. No one I came across was interested in doing a review and it was hard to get anyone to look at my work. I left them. I began to use – they have a voluntary economy based upon Gift Points – which can be purchased. It also has a lot of useful information for the writer, as well as groups (including review groups). They have several mechanisms for requesting reviews. Then I came across Damian’s site Vicious Writers, which made steps to embrace other media besides the written.

I understand that this is the modern world, and social media sites have the lead, but to me a writing site should be about writing primarily. There are social media sites to post videos and pictures. Even which might be considered staid or conservative in approach is full of distractions. Urbis had the intention of moving into that area before it disappeared, taking with it the over 600 reviews I did with it, and my reviewer rating built up over years – never mind the contacts with several friends through the site. So there is always that prospect.

I suppose the trouble is, people who have become successful, or good writers have no need to review and comment on others work (and as you know it is hard to be constructive, helpful and not get beat up by some over-sensitive precious soul).

The other use of a website is to store and display your writing i.e. it is not published yet there is a place where others can ready and enjoy your writing – some people have no desire for criticism.

I am also a member of the Autonomy website, which is a Harper Collins invention – an active slush pile. I have a novel posted there called Future Crime. The idea is to get your book onto as many members’ bookshelves as possible – the five books who are at the top for the month (The Editors Desk) are reviewed by Harper Collins editors. The problem is how to get your book on over 250+ bookshelves without constantly spamming ( a quirk the site allows), or by commenting on others works (various responses to helpful comments – they want to promote their book through comments (displayed below book info – not criticism – though there is a means to cherry-pick comments and move them to the top. So you have a pile of 5,000 odd wannabes with books in various stages of completion and quality scrambling over one another to get to the top, chiefly by means of begging, spamming or other devious means – fake users as supporters. Oh, they also have a Commenter Rating mechanism which the other day saw me drop from 73 to 6075 inexplicably, though through the forum I noted this has happened before – and it relates to the algorithm of books backed and time backed and rank etc. One of the book I backed dropped from position 3 to 4 – and somehow that was the cause for the decimation of my rating (the rating did help attract new members to ask for comment or back my book). After two years, my book rating has been up to 700 and now recently has plunged to 1174 or something. I am on 6 bookshelves.

Then I found Writers Harbor, and I am interested to see what develops. Good luck with your venture. May I wish you smooth sailing in cyberspace.

Last edited by Brian Armour on September 29, 2011, 5:49 am

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جادو، سحر، سحر اميز.فرش ، قالي ، زيلو.

September 24, 2011 in Short Stories

Clyde the mad guitarist from Mackay had joined the house. There was plenty of room; it was a large old Victorianate two storey place on a corner in Summer Hill with big spacious rooms with nine foot ceilings and bay windows. Everyone knew Clyde through Jim’s brother, so it wasn’t a problem – he was cool. Jim told him that he was welcome to make use of any stuff he found around the place. During the day, and night when Clyde didn’t have a gig, he would wander about the house welded to his electric guitar incessantly running progressive riffs to increasingly, incredibly, fast execution – speed was of the essence. He would just stand there looking at you through his coke bottle glasses, while playing some super fast lick. This particular day, perhaps because the landlord cut the grass the day before, and the normally impenetrable jungle of a backyard was clear, Clyde chose to amble down the back steps, past the cock-eyed clothes line, to the old shed shoved up against the back corner of the property. The three board door was half off its hinges and Clyde, bending over, peeked through the crack. It was then he spied the rug. Abruptly he broke off an Al di Meola riff, put the neck in the air, ducked under the strap and looked for a safe place to put down his Ibanez.
By the time Jim arrived home the furniture in the lounge room had been pushed aside and the huge rug laid out in its full odoriferous glory. Not long after this Trip came through the door.
“Look what Clyde dragged in. It’s yours isn’t it Trip?” Jim greeted him grinning.
He stopped in his tracks; he might have raised an eyebrow, lifted his sunglasses, or nodded, nothing that would stand up in court. Unlike the other two, who hovered at the edge, Trip strolled out onto the rug inspecting it as he went.
“It looked like a good rug,” said Clyde tentatively, “maybe a bit worse for wear.”
Trip halted at a certain point in his traverse and stamping on a bulge, the warp and weft cracked and pieces broke away like biscuit. Other places were black with water stains or mould. He scraped some compressed pile with the edge of his shoe and rust fibres pulled loose coating his toe.
“I thought it looked Persian, like a magic carpet,” added Clyde.
“I always thought of it as a pool,” commented Trip, continuing to walk around inspecting the ruined fabric and those parts of the design still intact.
Clyde and Jim looked at each other in common perplexity. “It’s orange! How can it be a pool?” protested a dismayed Jim.
Trip shook his head. “The design; it’s like a pool, or maybe a Persian courtyard. You see the border; it’s like the tiled surround of a pool.”
“Okay, okay, what about all this other stuff in the middle?” Clyde wanted to know.
“That could be rafts of fragrant flowers floating, or that centrepiece could be a large urn or fountain in the middle of the pool or courtyard.”
“Fragrant flowers floating,” chuckled Clyde wandering over to the centre of the carpet, “I like it. It sounds sort of mystical.”
Jim joined him to inspect the so called fountain. Crouching down he looked closer at the design in sea green, navy and gold. He could see it might be a fountain if viewed in plan perspective. “Okay,” he said to Trip, “but what is this supposed to be?” He pointed at an apparent emblematic inconsistency in the depiction.
Trip was walking over see what Jim was on about – Clyde had swung his guitar off his back and begun to pick, while ruminating aloud words to a possible song, when they were all thrown off their feet.
“What the hell?” Jim yelled as they were lifted up rapidly and slammed into the ceiling.
“Jesus!” exclaimed Trip as he was pressed tighter into peeling paint and fly dirt.
“Wha’s going on?” There were muffled traces of panic in Clyde’s voice.
The answer to this question gained importance as at that second the entire surface of the rogue floor covering of its own volition launched itself powerfully east into the wall at speed while maintaining a determined upward flight path. The leading fringe, it was estimated later, hit the architrave at between 40 to 70 mph. Immediately after, in a cloud of choking dust the remaining body of the carpet drove itself relentless fold after fold into the wall until it could go no further. Bulging with the bodies within, it resembled a giant orange wasp’s nest.
As you might expect, being dragged across the ceiling twelve or so feet, and due to surface friction and the inflexibility of parts of the human body, being rolled and scraped together like refuse wiped off a bench top, then thrown forcibly against a wall in darkness like a sack of potatoes, followed by being thumped repeatedly by a large blunt object, while trying to breathe an ever constrictive pocket of dust and dirt, was no fun and left the boys supremely miserable in body and spirit. For some minutes it was quiet except for groans, coughing and the odd twang.
Jim opened his eyes but could not see anything. As best he could figure after his shoulder had somehow been pushed under him, he had been rolled corkscrew fashion and now was in a twisted half seated position face to the wall. One of his arms was twisted behind him. Apart from his shoulder, his hip was hurting and one of his ankles. His ear and the right side of his head were stinging. He squirmed to make sure everything still worked.
“Don’t do that,” came a muffled voice.
“Trip you alright?”
“Yeah, your shoe push . . . into . . . chest.” As luck would have it Trip managed to tuck himself into a ball and when he hit the wall, it was with his feet. It was like being dumped in giant surf. Now he was suspended facing the floor, he thought, bent over in a loose crouch encased like a frozen skydiver. There was a fold of carpet over his feet and his knees. One of his hands was cupped against his forehead; the other could feel with fingertips the heel of Jim’s shoe on his chest.
“Clyde,” called Trip into the small darkness and felt his hot musty breath come back into his face, but no reply.
Jim heard moaning which he assumed was Clyde to his left coming down what felt like a fold next to his cheek.
“Clyde, you okay?” He waited a few seconds while the groans continued, then sucked in a larger lungful of dust than he needed and yelled again.
“YEEEAAH!” Came a loud angry retort, followed by a loud groan. “Gib me a minute. Bid my tongue. I thin I hurd my back.”
Trip flexed his hand like a snake until his fingers could take hold of Jim’s heel implanted in his chest, and using that as leverage, clawed his way down the side of the sole and across to the top of the shoe.
“What are you doing?”
“Tryin’ to get your shoe off my chest. It hurts.” He fumbled about until he found the end of the lace and gathered it in. “I’m going to push back against the carpet. Wriggle your foot – see if you can get it out of the shoe.”
Jim tried to bring his leg closer to his body, and with Trip’s help got the shoe on its side and the foot out, at which point they both sighed with relief.
“Now I know what a joint feels like.”
Trip began moving his feet backward and forward until he could tramp on top of the fold. Gradually he managed to get his legs free, and his other hand up near his head. Treading and pushing eventually he got to a position upside down at approximately 45 degrees to wall and ceiling. In crouching and using his body as a sort of supporting column in direct opposition to the carpet’s impetus he formed a small cavity. He pushed against the false pernicious gravity widening the opening along the fold a few inches, and using his shoulder as a wedge waddled in the direction of Jim’s voice.
Over the next hour or so, each individual struggled against the rug until they ended up huddled together around the guitar supporting a communal space, like a band of polar explorers trapped in their pup tent while a blizzard raged outside, only half upside down.
“Wowee, by great Methuselah’s toenails wasn’t that a ride?” said Clyde.
“I think were still on It,” added Trip and sneezed. “One minute we’re standing there, and shazam!”
“Gotta be a magic carpet,” enthused Clyde.
“Yeah, right,” said Jim.
Clyde seemed unusually stung by this pigheaded skepticism in the face of irrefutable physical evidence. “What do you think – there is some guy outside with a giant air gun keeping us pinned to the ceiling? I don’t think so. I mean what could hold us up here like this?”
“Well, if it is a magic carpet, where did you get it?”
“Got it from my brother,” answered Trip, “but he probably didn’t know. Why should he? If you don’t know the right words it’s just a rug, isn’t it.”
“God it stinks!”
“Don’t insult the carpet,” warned Clyde, “you never know what might happen.” Right then he felt a light tickling on his neck. “It’s a spider, ahhhh.” Clyde began swatting his neck frantically, twisting around and threatening to collapse their improvised pocket.
After they calmed Clyde down, they got him to try and remember every word he had said, in fact they all did, and sat there for an hour, reciting the words prior to lift off like a disjointed radio play. At one point they were disillusioned when they realised if it was a word Clyde said, he might not be saying it now, the way he was saying it before. Trip completely destroyed hope with another idea: “What if the carpet is so damaged, degraded that it’s no longer operating properly. Like it’s got its wires crossed – responds inconsistently – is sort of a sick, psycho rug.”
“You’d think it’d know better than to fly us straight into the ceiling. That it’d have some sort of collision avoidance system,” said Jim.
“Yeah, but maybe that is up to the skill of the rider,” Clyde countered.
Trip craned his head around and focused as best he could within a dim shaft of light coming down to the space. “If I’d known it was a magic carpet I would have looked after it a lot better,” he remised. “The stuff it’s had on it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know cigarette ash, spilt food, drink on it. My rabbit pissed all over it.”
“Stop!” protested Jim violently covering one ear with his available hand.
“Bong water.”
“Awww God,” moaned the other two in unison.
“Well why do you think it was in the back shed? We should start thinking about getting out and down from here. I’ve got a penknife on my keychain. I’ll cut us a way out,” announced ex-Scout Trip decisively, with the satisfaction of finally being prepared.
“Wait! Wait!” protested Clyde a mite desperately in the semi darkness. “Don’t cut it. Don’t you realize this is a magic carpet? How many magic carpets do you think there are?”
“I’ve no idea,” sighed Trip, who knew what was coming, “few and far between I’d say.”
“I’ve only heard of two,” said Jim.
“Two?” Trip gave him a doubtful look.
“Think about it. What if we could get it to work for us? I mean there’s nothing like it, is there? Think of the money we could get showing it even. It’s fantastic. Even if it was just for scientists to …”
“I agree, it’s Barnum & Bailey stuff, but let’s face it Clyde we can’t spend the rest of our lives up here. Tell you what, it’s my rug, so I got an interest too you know, so what’s say I make a small hole. I have to make a small hole to start with anyway. Before I make a big hole.”
“Maybe we can get out the ends,” suggested Clyde in a last ditch effort to preserve the enchanted floor covering. So Jim and he struggled along the carpet to find a possible exit, but it was hardly five minutes before they returned to the central space.
“There’s a small gap next to the wall,” Jim made his report. “I managed to get my hand through, but it’s only a couple of inches from the wall. I can tell you the sun is going down.”
Clyde came back gasping and wheezing, his glasses near opaque with dust. He was asthmatic and reached for his puffer, then he shook his shoulder length hair and the air was a white cloud full of a million types of dust.
Trip swiveled about, opened his knife and seeking out a flat space began tearing through the fibres in a slice about a foot long, which was about all he could manage in the cramped conditions. It took him a good ten minutes to get through five layers of carpet. Drowning in sweat, he tried not to think of god knows what he had breathed in exerting himself. While Clyde wasn’t watching he punched his arm back and forth through the slit making it open up. He broke and tore away persistent fabric with his hand until he felt cool, fresh air. “Look at it this way Clyde,” he was saying, “it’s in pretty bad shape already and it works, a little bit more damage might not hurt. I’m through to the other side; we’re getting some fresh air.”
Clyde pushed himself around the space with his shoulders to get nearer the air.
“This is unbelievable,” intoned Jim redundantly. “I mean no one is going to believe this. It’s impossible.”
“But true,” said Trip and Clyde together from either side of the hole.
“Shsh,” said Clyde suddenly and put his finger to his lip. “I think I hear something. Someone’s walking in the hall. You must have left the front door open.”
“Anybody home?” They heard a distant voice call.
“It’s young Davo,” Trip informed them quietly, “come `round to bum a cone.”
“Call for help,” Jim told him.
“Hang on,” said Trip and put his hand up in Jim’s direction. The sound of footsteps on wood became fainter. “He’s gone into the lounge room.”
“Anybody here?” Davo’s voice echoed from the kitchen.
“Call for help guys,” said Jim from the back. He took a breath to call out, but Clyde covered his mouth.
“This could be worth a million bucks,” said Clyde in hushed tones through clenched teeth.
Jim swiped his hand away, “This is ridiculous, how do you think we’re . . .”
“Shoosh,” said Clyde and Trip together.
“Davo might be the only one visit for days, and he might be able to help us,” Jim told Trip. “Get a ladder or something.”
Seconds later: “He’s back in the lounge room.”
Then Trip heard a drawer open and the familiar pop of canister. “Davo that you?” he called immediately.
Davo replaced the stash and tried to close the drawer quietly.
“Trip, man I didn’t know you were home.” He stood up, spun around and scanned the darkened room.
“Tell him not to turn the lights on,” whispered Clyde next to him.
“Don’t turn the lights on.”
“Why? Where are you?”
“Don’t worry about that right now. Look Davo, sorry to involve you in all this. What do you know about us? Look we could be involved in some heavy shit right? We could be in over our heads. We don’t want to endanger – look just do what we say and everything will be okay.”
“You’re havin’ me on right? This is a joke?”
“Na, this is very important, there’s a lot riding on this. I can’t explain, but I want you to do me a favour.”
“You’re freakin’ me out,” croaked a genuinely nervous adolescent voice in the dark.
“Don’t freak out,” Trip shook his head at the youth’s regrettable lack of moral fibre. “There’s no danger, there’s a few cones in it for you.” This was an exceptional circumstance, normally, he discouraged any one under twenty-one from smoking, because he believed it changed brains under development, and also it wasn’t a good idea to have habits you couldn’t afford. “Just trust me, we can’t answer your questions right now okay and do as I ask please, as a friend, okay?”
Davo drew in a breath. “Okay.”
“You got a computer at home haven’t you? You’re on the net?”
“Right, I want you to go home and start googling. Search for Arabic, Persian words for `descend’, `come to rest’, `land’, `stop’, `go’, ah… `drop’, no…ah…”
“Why do you want…?” Davo interrupted him.
“Look, I told you I can’t explain right now. This is really, really important. I’m not bull shitting you okay, I’m relying on you. It’ll be in dictionaries.”
Clyde urgently whispered his suggestion, “Down. Down.”
“Down,” Trip nodded to Clyde. “`Down’ is a good one.”
Davo below heard the second voice, “Is that you Clyde? Are you here too?”
“Davo, did you get that? Make sure you look for the Persian word for `down’. We need the pronunciation okay. Down. Got it? Down. And all the other words. I’ll owe you. DON’T FORGET `DOWN’!” he yelled as he thought he heard footsteps departing.
The next thing Davo heard was a loud, heavy thud which masked their cries and made the floorboards bounce under his feet. “Holy hell! What was that?”
There was no reply, but Davo could hear groans coming from the hall. “Trip? Clyde – you there? You guys okay?” Gingerly he took a step in that direction, all manner of things rushing through his young, imaginative brain coached by movies. “Guys? Trip!” Then he heard a ripping, slashing sound, and he thought of the movie where alien eggs start to burst open. He became really frightened. “GUYS!” he called out. Taking one more step, he reached out fumbling in the dark for the switch and holding his breath, bravely turned on the light.
Davo dared open his eyes and lowered his arm to see them emerging from deep within remnants of orange carpet, which in parts had disintegrated. Trip, who with his trusty knife, was leading the escape, had managed to push his body through the weary fabric and stand up, and now continued to slash away assisting Clyde and Jim to get out of the cocoon. Trip looked at him and smiled tight-lipped, then brushing dust and debris from his hair and clothes stepped out of the pile, walked past Davo as if nothing unusual had happened, sat down on the lounge and pulled open the drawer of the coffee table. He freed his stash in a generous way, and began to mull up. Jim was groaning, wandering around in circles minus one shoe, rubbing his neck and back, and leg and arm and shoulder. Clyde had finally managed to extract his guitar and after blowing and picking fibres off the strings, and holding it up level with his eye to see if the neck was still true, and finding it was, became strangely torn between assessing it’s condition further or the rug’s such was the spell it had cast over him.
Twenty minutes later and they were all seated round the table, Trip having deftly packed and distributed cones; they were nicely on their way, they all had a cup of tea, except Davo, and no one had spoken, except Davo, who in bursts pestered them with questions. Apart from taking the time to collect the senses, lick the wounds, or to be cool, there were many reasons why they might have kept silent. Some questions they could not answer, but for whatever reason all three of them said nothing. Their unspoken, naturally-evolving contract to remain mum made them smile wider every time the young Davo pressed one of them for answers or demanded they tell him what the hell was going on. Between the three of them it was a matter of who would break first.
Trip in spurts released some smoke. He began to cough, and tears came to his eyes, and he couldn’t help smiling. “Who’d thought it’d be half-deaf as well as blind?” he asked them.
“What?” Davo was about to explode.
“What, was I telling you about Reality?” Jim the philosopher was obscurely telling Davo again.
Clyde by this time had tweaked the chords and began to strum.
“Well, you don’t know what we can find,
why don’t you come with me little girl
on a magic carpet ride.”

Title – Persian: `Magic Carpet’
`Magic Carpet Ride’ Words and Music by John Kay and Rushton Moreve 1968 Steppenwolf “The Second”

Copyright: Brian Armour

Last edited by Brian Armour on September 24, 2011, 9:24 am

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Intrepid go we into time

September 8, 2011 in Poetry

Intrepid go we into time
With nary a wrinkle nor worry
Seeing no further than our tread
We take the next step without dread

No telling might happen
the invisible hand of fate be seen
Just before too late
next full instants loom
new uncountable futures bloom

Beyond where dust settles and shoes wear thin,
surfaces vaporize – bones decalcify
Beyond measure, and the sight of eyes
Where common infinitesibles live
Indeterminate lives
Where light is matter then matter light
beyond the speed of thought

Non assessable increments of now
smooth with exponential detail
Come and pass
And stability seems apparent
And that we are in charge
Oblivious masters of our universe
In our dimensions of constancy
Relative to infinity of distance
From sub-atomic growth and decay

Before we know
The next moment is born
Of unpredictable cosmic quantum states
And for us
Any random conspiracy of circumstance awaits

With no nevermind,
go we our sweet way,
Of how we are effected
by vibrations of energy mass energy at play
Through waves across the universe
Our influence to the horizon of events

And no matter how determined
we think our lives to be
It’s only just we can’t know
the things that set us free

Precarious we exist
on prevailing sentiment
a positive universe
continues to expand

With time,
you never can tell

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