Short Story – Confession

Confession

When the end came, I was no gentlemen. I shoved and scratched with the rest of them – yes, scratched. Me, an upstanding man of the beast we used to call society, clawing desperately at the crowd around me like a cat in a corner.

I had dragged my wife and children kicking and screaming along the log road from Bristol.

That’s a lie. They dragged me.

I’d wanted to stay, with the house and the dogs and the fire. The servants were gone already, no surprise, but I’d decided I could handle the stoking myself. But Mary grabbed my arm ad sent me packing to the coach. For the children, she said. Our boys. A better chance to outrun the danger than try to hide from them, from the terrible black fog and the thundering guns. Others had tried and failed in the weeks before. So we fled, joining the long line of carts wheeling their sorry way to the sea, all on the hopes that the hurried whispers of rescue boats were true.

When we arrived to find the boats loading, my heart rose. There were soldiers guarding the refugees. There were iron railings and stacks of luggage. There was order. There was the chance for a deep breath.
And yet, it proved itself fleeting.
The sound of metallic marching and spreading flames echoed over the hills and the rooftops. The invaders’ herald.
The riot began, as many riots do, with an orderly queue. But then, the frantic murmurs. Distant drumming. A child cried. Two men were fighting. The line was breaking. Three men were fighting. The boats were leaving, someone shouted. Leaving, barely occupied! And we were left as meat, as bait. Worms on the hook.

Mary pushed me forward, in my husbandly duty as the vanguard of our advance, my hand in hers, her other arm around the boys. Hesitant at first, I tried to weave with little effect, and so thrust forward a shoulder. A man felt it, turned, pushed back, and I was overcome.
No, not beaten. Overcome with anger.
I kicked him forward, I remember, and freed my right hand from Mary’s grip, ready for a second strike. By this point all pretence of civility had been abandoned, and each family became a single vessel in a surging sea, as we struggled forward to the edge of the dock.

My first adversary down, I pushed forward, surprised by my own fevered strength. The details escape me here.
But this is where I clawed. I punched and shoved and screamed, and yes, scratched. Mary clung to me. My children bit and kicked at the legs of those who came too close, like the dogs they used to play with.

In time we reached the railings and I clambered up, leading the children to follow. The boat had just struck off, but we could make it, if we jumped. We could, I screamed at Mary, as she clung to William’s back. I made up my mind to spring for it, but was jostled back before I could leap. People jumping, taking our places. Fury in my eyes. I flung out an arm at the ankles of the man who’d sent me falling from the fence. He fell over the side, to the water, taking two others with him. One, a woman. His wife? His sister? Who’ll ever know? All I remember is the sound she made as she fell. Like a bird, I thought. Peculiar. And then, warped into gurgling as she hit the sea. Sent to silence as she sank.
We drew back in fear. Scattered to hide. As I looked back one last time before leaving the harbour, I saw the boat in flames.

Why am I telling you this?

I suppose it’s because I felt that someone had to.
Does it not strike you that we recovered rather quickly from the war? No, I know we are still rebuilding, re-electing, repairing. I don’t mean the physical destruction. I’m talking about ourselves. Our souls. My soul.

At the docks, I felt inhuman. I was an animal. A rat, scrabbling for shade as the hawk flies by. I was willing to throw others to the waves if it meant my family and I might have a chance of survival, however slim. Is that something we’re to forget, now the danger is passed?

The rest of England seems to think so. Now that we’re safe, it’s all flag waving and cheers. The politicians stand at the podium and speak proudly of the indefatigable Great British spirit, as though they weren’t cowering in the cellars with the rest of us when the invaders came from above.

Does it not occur to anyone else that our deliverance came by chance, not design? It was not our strength or spirit that toppled our foes. It was luck. Curse me for saying it, but I am sincere. Am I the only one that can’t go back?

All our humanity brought into questions, all of us running and squealing like rats, but with one dose of fortune we sound the trumpets and applaud ourselves. Isn’t it obscene?
I’m asking you. Isn’t it wrong?
Is redemption so easily earned?
Are we men again?
Am I forgiven, then?

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, and other apocalyptic stories from all over the place. By no means well polished, but it was a bit of fun to write.

– Sykes

Alien invasion has never been so funky.

Speaking of War of the Worlds, I’ve also been listening to this beauty while reading the HG Wells novel this week – ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds’.

My Dad introduced me to the record when I was a kid, and I remember being fascinated by the gory album art and sci-fi strings. Give it a listen, it’s dead fun.

I also think it’s really cool that a Victorian sci-fi novel can become a prog-rock-opera eighty years later. Anything can be adapted into anything if you want it badly enough. And so I eagerly await the release of Paradise Lost: The Video Game. … Or perhaps not. Dante was weird enough.

Interesting (but relatively pointless) thought of the day

So here’s an idea.

Say you watch a film which is an adaptation of an earlier work of fiction, say a classic novel or a forty year old film, transposed to a relatively realistic modern-day setting. In order for the plot to make sense, you have to assume that this new story is set in a world where the earlier fiction it is based on never existed. Otherwise, the story would be so familiar that everyone would be walking around with real life spoilers inside their collective social memories. This is particularly noticeable with things based on very famous works, for example, Shakespeare plays transposed to the modern day – though, admittedly, the use of early modern English colloquialisms in an American high school probably causes more of a break in the realism. Forsooth, thou saucy cheerleader.

I say this because I just watched the 2005 remake of War of the Worlds (the slightly disappointing one with Tom Cruise in it) and thought that all of these poor civilians running around screaming must live in a world where the original novel by HG Wells never existed. Otherwise (SPOILER ALERT… :P) they would realise that those familiar tripods would keel over and die after a very short while due to their lack of resistance to Earth’s microorganisms. Maybe then they would’ve just found somewhere quiet to hide for a while instead of panicking so much.

Just a thought. I realise it’s probably been suggested before, so if this isn’t the first place you’ve read this, please just pretend there’s a footnote. (also, let me know) 🙂

– SYKES

Frankenstein’s Monster

Frankenstein's Monster

‘His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath: his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.’ – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818

(Apologies for the double post, was just done because I wanted one with the painting by itself, where it would show up in the reader. 🙂 )

Rebuilding Frankenstein’s Monster

WP_20131014_004

Lecture-time is doodle-time.

I’m still alive!
This past week I have been busy doing a university, rereading and studying Mary Shelly’s classic novel, Frankenstein. It’s one of those words so embedded in Western culture that the mere title is enough to conjure up images of the lumbering brute with the bolt through the neck – even among those who haven’t read the book. Especially among those people.

The Frankenstein’s monster that most people, myself included before reading the original, imagine, and which pops up a thousand times over with a Google image search, is the one portrayed by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film version. This guy:

The part in this film version where he throws the little girl in the lake is always unintentionally hilarious to me. Does that make me a bad man?

And yet, this version, iconic and enjoyable though it is, strays heavily from the novel in terms of both plot and aesthetics. Here is the first description of Frankenstein’s creature from Mary Shelley’s 1818 original, after the hapless scientist succeeds in creating life by infusing ‘a spark of being’ into a lifeless body:

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! – Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath: his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Seems fairly different to the monster which most of us have locked away in our shared/public memory. Frankenstein is a difficult novel to adapt faithfully to the screen, due to its framing narrative device, extended internal monologues, and various convoluted plot points. The closest version to a faithful adaptation I’ve seen so far is the 1977 film ‘Terror of Frankenstein’ (dir. Calvin Floyd), an Irish/Swedish production which takes the story very literally. It’s enjoyable, but quite dense and heavy handed at times.

The various adaptations go to show, I think, that this is a novel with an incredibly enticing imaginative prospect, so enticing that curious re-writers everywhere are happy to overcome the problems with representing such a profoundly creepy being in a visual form.

Finally, here is my own attempt at this, in watercolour paint. It’s only when you try to do it yourself that you realise how difficult it is to create an image of a being that is unbearably ugly, unsettling and not quite human, despite Shelley’s seemingly specific descriptions above.

Frankenstein: 'Begone! relieve me from the sight of your detested form.' 'Thus I relieve thee, my creator,' he said, and placed his hated hands before my eyes.' Even ungodly walking corpses have a sense of humour.

Frankenstein: ‘Begone! relieve me from the sight of your detested form.’
‘Thus I relieve thee, my creator,’ he said, and placed his hated hands before my eyes.’
Even ungodly walking corpses have a sense of humour.

– SYKES

Where do you get your ideas from?

A lot of people like to use the phrase, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ when talking about thinkers – particularly scientists who have built up a legendary career of invention and innovation from the meagre beginnings of studying their predecessors.

Writing, I think, is a little bit different. Not too far removed, but standing on shoulders doesn’t quite fit. Rather than picking up where the literary giants of the past left off, it’s more that you’re required to pick bits and pieces from the work that came before you, jumble them all around, then stitch them back together, interspersed with your own personal reflections and optional witty banter.

So here is my preferred phrase:

NB: Not thrown out for being bad, they just had extra copies, as you do.

NB: Not thrown out for being bad, they just had extra copies, as you do.

It isn’t so much ‘stealing’ as it is creative recycling, or perhaps borrowing. Anyway, so long as you’re ‘meta’ enough about it, no one should mind.
It certainly isn’t a bad habit. This is what writing is. You take all the things you know about and you juggle and spin around and drop the less interesting ones, then you’ve got your own unique story. Even Willy Shakes did it!

Alternatively, you can creatively recycle current fiction instead and come up with a cheap Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey knock off. C’mon, man, everybody’s doing it…

– SYKES

Shakespeare’s Dating Profile

Not even shopped.

Not even shopped.

So I was thinking. Heaven must get a little dull sometimes. While you were up there, waiting for loved ones to arrive, watching the world below go by, you’d want all the same amenities anyone on earth would get. That includes a love life. So what if there was a dating site for long dead historical figures? Enter ‘love in the afterlife’.