Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Castle

We were certain it was this rock, circling this star. Undiscovered, uncharted, dangerously far away, and yet it was definitely this spot, emanating signals throughout the universe, driving our wiser ones insane with the cosmic reverberance, a galactic scream. Encroaching the atmosphere, we see nothing but a burned out sphere.
            Ash. A world of ash; clouds rain ash onto mountains and plains of yet more ash, the whole thing wrapped in a confusing layer of signals and data echoing endlessly.
            I can feel it. This world was alive, all too alive, I can feel it resonate and pulse under the piling of ash, in the very spot I am stood at now.

            Covered by bushes, their naked bodies, used to the whipping of wind and rain, silent and filthy, observing. In the distance, on the hill overlooking the river valley, men haul stones and clank tools at the whim of authoritative yells that echo among the grunts.
            “See that? They’re setting up a castle.”
            “This far out?”
            “You’ve got eyes, haven’t you?”
            Fen dragged his dirty, tattooed fingers through his scraggy beard. This was bad. A castle this far into their untouched lands meant that they intended to go further, to war and conquer Fen’s people. It meant expansion and soldiers, and someone sitting in expensive and exotic surroundings eating expensive and exotic meals at the top of the castle. It meant permanence as well; not much could tumble a castle, nothing the tribe had anyway, so it would remain to succeed in it’s mission of expansion, or be replaced with other rich, fat occupants, or become ruins; temporary bases for the violent wandering tribes, for sly and troublesome bandits. This castle meant the end.
            “All I knows, Fen, is this land is going to be drenched in blood for a long time. I’m not sure how we’ll survive this one.”

            A high pitch whistle screeches over the low grasslands, not from the woods, but from beyond the trickling streams, and beyond them, the fields and hamlets. A man on horseback approaches. He has caught Llewellyn’s attention.
            “Hoy! Lou!”
            “Aye, Fen. Aye.” Exhausted, bloodied, bruised. Llewellyn didn’t want to fight. He was a farmer, with simple goals and methods to reach them, but the Kingdom had snake-like teeth and a little dogs yap, and kept nipping and scrapping with the neighbouring kingdoms, sending the serfs and peasantry out to clash with one another over petty matters, fighting arguments with fists strung from knights and standing armies.
            “You alright? Hurt?”
            “No, no, just… Resting.” Killing doesn’t get easier. The neighbouring kingdom’s colours flap from bodies and banners everywhere, torn, trampled and dirty.
            “The Lord’ll be happy with you, Llewellyn, out in the Forecastle. Just when the charge seemed hopeless you had our backs, you got in there. I’m sure reward’ll come. Just like your father, you are, just like old Stephen. You fight well for your lord.”
            “Just surviving,” muttered Llewellyn’s heart to the bodies, to the bloody mud, to the quiet and cold grass moist with dew.

            “Come on! Walk, boy!” Fen stumbled along, rope grinding at this wrists, the horse teetering unaware, leading him along. He’d used up all the excuses he could think of, about the law, the Lord, the King, the Church…
            “No law but me out here, boy. No law but the sword and the stone.”
            What is the law anyway… The king in his palace passes papers to his snivelling nobles, the paper spread across the land to those privileged enough to be literate, to the priests in their church, to the Lord in the Forecastle, what little business hours he must keep between hunting and feasting.
            They stopped in the centre of an immense grassland, framed by some woods and a collection of streams cutting through the turf. “There you are, boy.”
            The rope was untethered from the horse. Joshua Stephenson drew his sword, and breathed the still, cool air for a moment. “Great battle fought here long ago, boy. My ancestor fought in it, fought well. Little Kingdoms back then. All the King’s now. All God’s.”
            “Nothing out here, boy, but God’s law; through the King, through the man in the Forecastle, through me, it is exacted. Make your peace now.”
            The fields are fed another’s body. Perhaps the soul survives, perhaps it rots and decomposes with the body.
            Joshua bends his knee, and reels of a short prayer automatically. His mind suffers a sudden grip, A guilt, a doubt in God. He would repent later, once he had buried the body. Few questions would be asked about Fen; a young man with a terrifying mind, a peasant boy who troubles the lordship too much; his death was foresaw by all. He was a lost boy, in the universe of the lost.

            Killing doesn’t get any easier. Thick sheen of cordite and rubble dust hangs in the air, in the gutters of no-mans land that is the trenches. All British boys here, whipped into being, practically children, torn from mothers, wives, friends; females are tearful dreams out here. A faint suspension of class, but very faint; everyone knows what fine broth the officers were poured from.
            Mick’s hands shook on the guns. Not a bad shot, even now, but his time in hell has taken it’s toll on his nerves. Constantly exhausted, constantly exhuming, chattering teeth in a broken smile.
            Captain Forecastle saw all, wandering the trenches. He saw the young Mick lose himself, his eyes two glinting coins staring out of the mud. He saw the rats, the lice, the fetid toilets, male tears mixing with rain. “Easy young Fen. Don’t want to trip.”
            “No sir, yes sir.” That boy couldn’t be more than fourteen, surely…? Through the trenches with a pot of boiling water for the men to clean their guns. Mick’s hand instantly scalded as he shudders his share of boiling water loose over himself.
            “How do, Stephenson?” The glittering coins spark at Forecastle. No answer, the same chattering teeth in a broken smile, rattling through. A fatherly pat on the shoulder is all that can be offered in the way of healing. Again gazing out greyly at the glinting coins, the rats; itching, raggedy soldiers, soot, grime, and among it all, young Fen darting about with the water pot. “We’re never going to survive this…” Whispered to nobody.

            “Mrs…uh… Forecastle?”
            “Oh yes that’s me.” Stands up, slightly soggy from a September downpour, slightly hungover, definitely exhausted.
            She follows the young nurse through the corridor, her gait strained with a few grocery bags, her drenched coat, her hand bag; the nurse’s relaxed and open in the freeing scrubs, in the heated building, but sullen and bored at the angles. They arrived at the door, partially opened, a plaque on it displaying “Dr. Stephenson.”
            Come in yes put your coat over there yes fine sit down sit back relax relax now open wide… Dr. Stephenson had seen twelve patients that day, all children and old people, both of whom eat the wrong things, forget to look after their teeth, and react strangely to basic practices of hygiene. Exhausting.
            What long nose hair he has. Intermittent thoughts as metal clack-clacks around her mouth. What a strange smell. Dr. Stephenson spoke to the nurse, foreign science words, fresh and exciting to the ears but just as soon forgotten. “Fen could you pass me some…” and the tired Fen would gently fetch various items.
            Just as Mrs. Forecastle was near sleep, the Doctor announced, startlingly bright, that all was done and everything was fine. She sat up in the dentist chair, that began electronically following her motion, gathering about her things, receiving a short bit from the Doctor about the intricacies of her mouth, while Fen leant against the worktop with his palms flat on it’s surface behind him. “Just keep surviving until your next appointment now!”

            “Want to know more about your ancestry, Mrs. Iona Forecastle?” No I bloody don’t… Stupid adverts, they draw out the loneliness, but I don’t have any money to make them go away. Out of work for months, constant striking, friends speak up and disappear to black blocks out on small rocky islands where no one can hear them. I’ve chosen to hide away. I’ve had the projected screen up for almost two days straight. Who cares about my ancestors anyway, whether they were conquerors or servants, rich or poor. It’s nullified now, unless the past is alive and screaming, but it’s not, it’s shod skin from a constant ripping reel of the present. Fen made that present worth something, but he’s gone now, and I know he’s gone, skin shod, heaping up on the floor…
            More adverts. The loneliness is almost climactic, like a dusty, guttural, tea-stained orgasm, humiliating and unfulfilling amid city lights. I know out there armoured trucks roll down avenues, megaphone blaring. The show’s back on, some gel-haired idiot with prefect teeth yells into the microphone, probably some dick off the street with a head of air and a head of hair given a leg-up into the ridiculousness of money on screen. Something Stephenson, Mr. Stevey…? Falsehoods layered on one another. In this room with this show, it’s like the world has already forgotten about the food wars, about Big Ben being hit, about the strikes, about me. More adverts. No money. More loneliness. More dead skin.

            There’s always suicide I suppose… But I feel too much pressure from the past, from my entire heritage, starting with a cell billions of years ago in a dirty puddle, breeding and mutating and breeding, until my parents squirmed and screamed and dropped me, and I met Fen, and he is gone now, but here are more adverts, more skin, a world in a room and a room in what could be an eternal night. I’m not sure who’s ranting more, me or the television. Mr. Stevey smiles away. I wonder which of us will survive.

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