Thursday, August 16, 2018

8/16/18

Of Bison And Men
By David Barber


It turned out the woman came from only ten years uptime, so not a real time-traveller after all. But still.

In those days Frank opened afternoons for workers from the Canaveral Timeport, coffee going on shift, beers coming off. It didn’t earn much, but he wasn’t doing it for the money. This was the real reason: a gust of air, hot and humid, as the short blonde woman pushed open the door. The very first temponaut to sit at the bar of the Chronos Tavern.

She asked for a fruit beer, which made Frank wonder what was going on in the future, but settled for orange juice. While pouring it, Frank glanced at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and found she was watching him.

He couldn't help himself. “You’re the reason I opened this place,” he said. “I mean, you’re from the future. How cool is that?” And for some reason, he told her his name.

"You know we’re warned about disclosing the future, Frank."

“And I was going to ask you about the lottery.”

She smiled wanly. “The past is safer."

She was an archaeologist with the Federal History Project. In exchange for siting the Timeport at Canaveral, we had been gifted some token use of it.

On a wafer-thin screen, she showed him pictures. Horses and bison, just a few brush strokes, but bulging with power and movement. "Cave art. My research project. Or was."

The paintings were from a cave near Altamira in Spain. The oldest in Europe. Thirty thousand years ago.

"Took those last year. Hundreds of metres inside the cave. And it’s dark down there…"

She tried to describe the experience. Don’t think a tunnel dug by men, but a black bowel coiled inside the earth; near half an hour of stooping and splashing and squeezing through fistulas in the rock to find the paintings.

Why did they go to all that bother? he wondered.

“Good question.” She gave him a tired smile, and he reckoned later that was the moment he fell for her.

She swiped another picture. A narrow green valley with scree slopes. Taken from high up. Herds of mammoth and horses and scruffy bison on the valley floor. Underneath was text:

33143 bp. Baseline visit. Walls untouched. No evidence of occupation. Observed spring migration of steppe bison (Bison priscus, now extinct) through valley. Steppe bison will feature in cave panels 7, 12 and 14.

"This is real isn't it?” he breathed. “Not Hollywood."

“On our first visit we stampeded the bison. The wormhole just popping out of nowhere. I’m told its impressive.”

More pictures of the valley, the remains of a camp fire, some hacked-up animal parts.

33005 bp. Walls still untouched, but edvidence of human presence in the valley. Possible hunting camp, with butchery, fire debris and stone tools.

Nobody knew when work on the paintings started, so they kept checking in.

"And this was the visit with the near miss."

The familiar valley, but with distant figures carrying spears. You got the impression of an easy lope.

32901 bp. Hunters changed direction towards us. Initiated emergency return.

An emergency return involved telling a gadget to do it, followed by a flash of Cherenkov radiation and a thunderclap as the air bangs into the sudden vacuum.

"We ducked into the cave so the hunters wouldn't see all that. Even so, we had to report a near miss.”

She brought up another photo. This time he wasn't sure what he was looking at.

32891 bp. Ceiling panels 8, 9 and 11 show soot marks.

"Soot marks from torches. Guess they were exploring. Temporal Guidelines are really strict. But we bugged the cave with tiny motion-activated cams. Just got back today from recovering them."

She wore her pale hair up, untidily. He tried not to stare at her slender, bared neck.

“Found little shrines of flowers round every camera, and bison and horses stampeding across the walls. Perhaps those hunters spied us going in. They only painted where we put the cams. They had to go all that way in.”

Those paintings were for us, she said sadly. And for millennia after, they must have kept the faith, making cathedrals of other caves as the Word spread, hoping the gods would return, though we never did.

She pushed away her empty glass. She shouldn’t have told him all this, it was just habit.

“Helen,” she added. Her name was Helen.

Just before she left, she dug out a dog-eared photograph from her bag. More cave art he imagined, or her posing next to a mammoth.

“You hang onto this until I come into the bar the first time, a few years from now and you show it to me. Proof that we’ve met before. And of course I don’t understand, because the picture’s from my future. But you convince me because you always were a silver-tongued rogue.”

It was the two of them. Him looking greyer. She unchanged. He had a comfortable arm round her.

“This is the one chance I get to come back here and give you our picture. I even wore my hair up for you. Of course you’re older when we marry. Not as innocent. Not as cute.”

“This doesn’t make any sense.”

She sighed. “Give it time.”


- - -

Thursday, August 9, 2018

8/9/18

NO LIGHT ON LIGHT YEARS
By John Grey


Billions of light years distant,
we only see their ancient history.

Through the telescope's eye,
I keep staring time backwards -

ten billion years - unimaginable -
and yet there it is - imagine it.

All dead, a hole even, but living
and totally there for my purpose.

Our planet, I'm sure, gives as good as it gets.
If you're seeing me, it's not me.

The day I was born exists fifty light years away.
My parent's wedding is out there farther still.

And so on. And so on.
If you're sharing Henry VIII's choice

of a wife - don't get too involved -
there's five more - just ask someone

thirty light years beyond you.
There's some, I'm sure, who think

we're all dinosaurs or maybe just
a red-hot molten ball.

It's unfathomable
and the universe can keep it up forever.

Sometimes it feels like
everything is in the past but me.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

8/2/18

Quills
By Andrew Darlington


The gulls are falling from an empty sky.

Slanting out around the neon amusement arcade into the chill wind, stepping huddled towards Bridlington harbour, there’s a smashed gull in the gutter. White plumes in spikes like ruptured cloud. Glancing furtively this way and that, I stoop, to pluck a bunch of tail-feathers.

Wings make screaming crosses overhead. When not sky-dancing the surviving gulls strut and prowl the sea-wall, downturned beaks that could slash a face apart. Expressions like grumpy old men. Around the protective arm of ancient stone where the fishing boats dock, a gust of white feathers storms around stacked lobster pots like a swirl of snow. And below, on the trapped harbour swell, the blurred form of swollen gull-corpses eddy in the chill brown water, wounds cleansed by the slow current.

Old paint is peeling. There are empty stores along the promenade. Others have become charity shops. A grey population of oldsters shuffle and navigate mobility scooters past the tawdry gift emporiums hunting out a steamy café for tea and scones. A dead gull smeared on the pavement. A spray of bedraggled feathers, plundered plumage like a wet quilt. I stoop, and pluck.

It’s due to radioactivity in the wind. Hushed-up reactor leaks. Everybody knows that, but no-one dare say so. In the ‘Harbour Tavern’ a small ferret-faced man with a beaked nose is singing ‘Ev’ry time is rains, it rains strontium ninety’. Then he sniggers, his hands – bitten nail-stub fingers, dancing along the bar-rail. No, it’s the chemical pesticides the farmers use, soaking into the topsoil, draining into ditches, sluicing down into the sea, poisoning the fish they eat. He snorts derisively. ‘Them gulls ain’t never eaten no fish, not unless it’s fried and beer-battered. They live on pizza, chips, waffles, kebabs, burgers, anything folks drop they can get their beaks around. Why do you think they’s growing so aggressive huge?’ ‘Radioactivity. You can smell it in the air. You inhale it. It’s gnawing in your bones. See the gulls glow against the sky at night like eerie ghosts.’

The van door is rusted. It grates as I wrench it open. Adding the new bouquet to the garlands of feathers mounded in laundry baskets in the rear. The exhaust is shot. It rattles and blows as I drive to the retail park where the big DIY stores are circled by neatly-marked parking bays. People push trolleys full of cans of creosote, ceiling tiles and shelving. I select a staple gun from the display, balance it for weight. Pay at the check-out with my credit card. She smiles attractively and hopes that I’ll enjoy the rest of my day. I assure her that I will, and wish her the same.

Crushing the skull of a wounded bird underfoot, its fragile hollow egg-shell bones crackling, a mercy killing, finishing it off as it lies, before the rats can get it. One outstretched wing flaps mournfully. Is it a mutant bacillus jumping species, or a parasitic worm, responsible for the sores and wounds on the falling bodies? Experts came from wherever it is experts come from, and they took samples and bird-corpses and measurements and statistics and then they went away without ever publishing their findings. Meanwhile the avian extinction-event continues. Birds fall from increasingly empty skies, like vanquished angels crashing to Earth from some heavenly conflict. More feathers for me. Ripping wing-feathers free with my hands.

Flamborough Head is a long thin finger extending out into the north sea, an eight-mile promontory of chalk headland. The Vikings were here a thousand years ago, drawing their dragon-prowed longships across the shingle. As now, the silver tongues of waves race up the beach far below. There are lonely caravans clustered together at the end of meandering lanes. The night mists rise from the sea and close in over these fields, sealing them off from the world. A place for isolation. There are gull eyries high in the white chalk cliff nesting grounds. Black-headed gulls, cormorants, gannets, fulmars, petrels, peregrines, frigate birds.

Draw up as close to the sheer cliffs as I can get. Undress. Leave my clothes in a neatly-folded pile on the passenger seat. Pace naked around to the rear of the van and grate the doors wide. The air is chilly with salt brine. The empty sky streaked with sunset cloud.

The staple-gun makes the sound of a sharp retort. The pain is so excruciating it shocks tears to my eyes, my legs shot through with sudden weakness so I grip the creaky van door for momentary support. The next shock is less severe, and the third, until my arm is numb and there’s no more sensation. Now the other arm. My fingers smeared with feathers and blood, and bloody feathers. My arms have become wings.

I become Icarus… or maybe Wiley E Coyote adorned by the latest package from Acme Wings Co. Every movement a graceful agony. The cliffs are sheer. The tide breaking on the rocks far below. For a moment I hesitate, my resolve wavering. My toes teeter over the brink. Not diving, but leaning forwards into the buoyancy of the air. Drawn by gravity. A deep breath, exhaling slowly. Over the cliff-edge. Plummeting down. Arms extending into lavish wings. A human hang-glider. For a moment there’s terror that my wings are insufficient. My eyes clam shut…

Then a gust of breeze catches me, a sudden up-draft. My feathers rustle and dance in ripples, and my descent is arrested. I level away over the heaving darkness of tide, circling in a dance of spray over wave-tops, and with slight guiding movements of my arms I glide higher into the empty sky…

Far beneath me, smashed on the wave-lapped rocks at the foot of the white cliffs, there’s a human smear of blood and feathers.


- - -
My current weird-poetry collection is 'Tweak Vision: The Word-Ply Solution To Modern-Angst Confusion' (from 'Alien Buddha Press')
What is Tweak Vision?
Snatch visions from the starry dynamo of the cosmos. Words are supernatural. In times of gathering modern-angst confusion, words defy temporal gravity, rearrange space-time, choreograph new constellations. Word-play is all I have to take your heart away. Now tweak them this way and that, shake them out into new configurations to your device of choice.
This is Tweak Vision!
www.amazon.co.uk/Tweak-Vision-Word-Play-Modern-Angst-Confusion/dp/1986415260/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522494861&sr=8-1&keywords=Tweak+Vision


Help keep Farther Stars alive! Visit our sponsors! :)




- - -

Archive

The Thunderune Network:

TTC

Weirdyear Daily FictionYesteryear Daily FictionClassics that don't suck!Art expressed communally.Von Singer Aether and Steamworks.Resource for spiritual eclectics and independents.Pyrography on reclaimed woodartists featured weeklySmashed Cat MagazineLinguistic ErosionYesteryear Daily Fiction