The Concrete Warrior

The Concrete Warrior

He peels the stripping from an incense stick, with such precision as to suggest it’s been his life’s goal to discover what was hidden by sawdust paste and sandalwood slivers. It turns out to be a mere bamboo reed, ancient tool of inscription. There’s a sense of the inevitable here. What good would it do to now lick the coating? It tastes of terrible regrets. His concentration lacks thrift; thrives on the excessive.

You could cure depression, he argued in last semester’s essay, by drinking from city rivers. The amount of oestrogen in the water was warping school after school of fish; contraceptives left the body in women’s piss and slowly diluted their chemicals through the current. Not to mention the lithium deposits, the Prozac mass surreptitiously making sediment of riverbeds, embedding its serenity in sand particles, gemstones, fish eggs. Pesticides were supposed to remove residues, but inevitably contributed to further contamination. He drinks freely from the river, drinks like he’s making a statement. Back at the tower block, the others survive on stolen Lucozade, but he maintains a healthy faith in l’eau naturelle.

His skin, they often said, has that uncanny glow. Like it’s been purified with butane, the acne blasted away. Unnatural. Not sleeping, he wrote screeds about the lovely truth to be found in raiding bins. No other method could reveal the secrets of our governing corporations. The titles were varied and strange:

Haunted Monopolies: How Our Supermarkets Invoke the Waning of History
Circuits of Trolleys: What Your Shopping Basket Says about Fertility and Self-Governance
Euro Trash Girl: How Nightclubs are Hotting Up the Biosphere
Junk Hook: Washing Up Culture on the Brink of Extinction
Alice’s Mirror: Looking Back on Our Selves through the Broken Glass of Suburban Play-parks 

Perhaps there wasn’t a quick logic to his method but the tutors seemed to like it. Scholarships promised like the neon lights of a Vegas strip, but he managed to resist the allure. He wanted to remain digging deep in the dirt; could never see himself imprisoned, shimmering, in the ivory tower, crowned with the laurels of knowledge. He knew his work was utter sludge, the bullshit pulled straight from the earth and recycled with choice and sensitive words.

Morphine pulses through his sleepy veins, night and day. He snaps the stick in his mouth. There’s a new immediacy to his presence of being. Stay in the moment, he scribbles, it’s the only way to resist the messianic pull of the past as it threatens to sandblast every particle of your purified being. Switch off your smartphone, before it’s too late. Toss that transient saccharine pleasure away. Crunch the coke can to cut your mouth.

When the riots broke out, many youths came past the tower block on their passage of looting. The sky crackled with ersatz thunder, which he concocted himself from the safety of an 8th floor window, occasionally dropping M&Ms on the crazed kids below. Some of them relinquished their grip on the stolen televisions, the screens of which smashed on the concrete. Others waved their fists with invisible placards, making wild proclamations about the vengeance of the earth. By sundown, everyone feasted on pizza, leaving the cardboard boxes to grease the streets. He waited until their cries died down then left the building to pick up the mess. Single-handedly, he cleaned his street. Not out of pride, or civil duty; but a robotic sense of necessity.

The incense wafts through the 8th floor window. He assembles his collection of needles. There’s an archive of noise he hasn’t yet tapped, an ecstatic whole that would affirm itself in the choir of angry shouts. He feels their riots at night, remembers the orgiastic disarray of society as something he once needed but now didn’t. The tower block seems to rise, its roof of concrete block threatening the fiery tips of the sun. Eventually, he knew this would all be molten. The sun would fall. He’d bite off each piece of the candy necklace, marking the end of another day. The sugar would mix with the heroin in his veins and he’d feel the calm come over him, wave after wave; the residue waste of the river washing up, swirling its gurgles in his seashell ears, threatening the spillage of sewage, the sludge-work of words, the colliding extravagance of year after year. The leftovers, the children. The silt of the earth, rising and winning.

/ Maria Sledmere

(FFF prompts: underwater photo, riot)

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Intervals

This all must follow a pattern, don’t you know?

My eyes follow the Siberia of semibreves, stretching out across eighteen bars at least. I can tell they don’t trust me with this piece.

“Why’ve I only got the long notes?” I go straight to the conductor, holding back my French horn, cradling it defensively against my chest.

“Oh, it’s just the part we need you to play,” he says idly. I’m telling you though, it’s a pattern. First they start ignoring you, stop commenting on your pitch and tuning, your tonguing and rhythm. It’s nice for awhile, not getting the abuse, but soon you find yourself suspicious. The saxes and trumpets are getting hounded for their dodgy rendition of melodies while I’m sitting at the side, content and stupid. No, it’s not right. The pattern’s coming out.

“Do you even want me here at all?” I find myself asking, against my better judgment.

“Oh, it’s not a case of wanting, darling, it’s needing. We absolutely need you to blast out those long clean notes for us.”

“Oh for f—”

“Now now, go do your warm up.” I hate the way he shuts you down like that. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I feel nauseous; the thought of blowing lungfuls of warm air into that piece of metal doesn’t exactly appeal right now. Everyone around me is getting boisterous, laughing and kidding around, knocking sheets off their music stands, the trombonists playing loud and silly glissandos.

I have a theory that they start like this, then kick you out. When you start to feel like the one sane person, silent and still amongst the hurricane, that’s when you know it’s time to leave. No need for dead weight in a band like this, as he’d say. Everyone must communicate, must work together. The rests and breaks mean something too. It’s probably bullshit.

“You know, it’s a shame you’re standing around doing nothing, cos that French horn looks so damn pretty against your skin when it’s played.” Oh god. I turn, trying to source the location of this sudden bout of shitty banter. Melanie. The flute player, the little elfin embodiment of musical perfection. She once did an impromptu solo from the balcony of Kings Theatre, during a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I heard she lured a guy into bed with renditions of the ‘In Dreams’ melody from Lord of the Rings. I also heard the guy cried afterwards. You can fill in the blanks there.

Talk about blanks. Just look at this bloody part! It’s literally all rests and semibreves, not even a cheeky quaver or two to liven things up a bit.

“What d’you want me to do?” I retort to Melanie, who’s now standing over me, eyeing my sheet music. “I mean, it’s not like a lot of practice is needed or anything. Think I can nail those silences easy enough.”

“Oh, I see.” She brushes her pinkie finger over the staves. “Gosh, he really hates you.”

“Right?”

“Wanna take some time out?” I look at her in earnest.

“I think I’ve got enough time out in this, don’t you think?”

“I meant—”

“Oh I know, come on then.” She leads me down a corridor or two until we’re outside, standing on a wet and windy street. There’s nobody about, it being Thursday evening, long after the closing hour for late night shopping. Musicians work at ungodly times.

To my surprise, she draws a fat joint from her pocket, rolling it round her fingers as if pondering whether or not to light it.

“Oh Melanie,” I say, grinning. She lights it and I watch her cheeks compress to little dimpled hollows as she sucks in the first draw. We pass it round and don’t talk.

“He’s a bastard anyway,” she says, after a pause.

“He means well. Talented guy.”

“I don’t know.” I’m thinking about how interesting her mouth is, the faint pink stain on the end of the spliff. How is it possible for her to play so well when she fills her lungs with this shit? The weed swirls round my empty stomach.

She must’ve heard it rumbling.

“I’ve got an orange,” she says, drawing one out from another pocket. I swear she must’ve been a pilgrim in a past life. Carries her life around with her, as if waiting to arrive somewhere.

I watch her dainty fingers peel the orange. As her nails claw into its skin, a sharp sweet smell lifts my senses. My head is swimming. I can hear every scrape and pull as she pares away the rind. Takes the first piece and pushes it between my lips. Nothing ever tasted so good.

So nothing happened. So we stood around outside the practice hall, finishing the spliff, sharing the orange. I watched her lick the juice from her lips as she watched the passing traffic. The lamplights stretched out into the distance, down the road towards the shop buildings, whose windows were closed up for the night, the bright city sinking into its disappearance. After a while, I felt better. We went back inside. We played through the song, and I guess it went well.

I’m getting better at intervals.

by Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompts: orange, theory, picture of sheet music).

The Shadow Remedy

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She stopped at the crossing, pointlessly; the lights not turning, the still point of the evening inside her, even as deep as the scarlet pulp of her heart. On reflection, it had been quite a mistake to venture along so late at night, so far out into the dark avenue of tall trees and parked cars, silent as resting predators. The lamps here could hardly be called lamps at all, they were so dimly lit.

Still, the danger somewhat thrilled her. How easy it would be, for a stranger to slip out from behind that velvet curtain of black shadow! To come down on her from some awful place hidden within the trees, to reach out a cold hand round her ankles, her knees.

At first, she had left home on a mission. Her flatmate was ill, writhing on the sofa with spasms of nausea, a sickness that glowered in the greenish pallor of his face. He needed chamomile tea, some kind of medicine, a sheet full of special pills. It was three in the morning and her only hope was the giant Tesco’s over in Maryhill, which was 24 hours. Some part of her knew deep down that he could die if she didn’t pull through. All the while she walked, she could still hear his groaning.

Yet it no longer felt like being on a mission. She had given up the sense of direction; no longer cared whether she even made it to the strip-light temple of the superstore. All she wanted was to fade into the night, whatever that meant.

It was something about the darkness, the sense of disappearing.

Her mobile started ringing. Its bright blue flashing screen seemed obscene in the desolate silence.

“Hello?” The number was unknown, she did not want to give away her own name.

“Let me tell you a story,” came a rasping voice through the broken speakers (only last week, she had dropped her phone on the concrete).

“Who is this?” She stopped in her tracks, staring up and down the road, which now felt as long and wide as an infinite boulevard.

“There was once a girl who got lost in the night,” the voice continued, “who craved the full flesh of shadow, who let the spirits come to her, creep inside her skin.”

“Oh shut up,” she hissed, thinking it was a prank call; thinking perhaps it was her brother, turning a trick at her expense.

An ambulance passed, its shrieking music throwing her into blue and red disarray. Even when it was gone, she could still see the siren colours bleeding on the pavement.

“I need to go to Tesco,” she croaked, feeling the structure of her chest fall away into a tangle of limp muscle. “I need to get the medicine.”

“The girl went mad,” the voice said, “she was as thin and transparent as the air itself, all her thoughts just molecules, dancing and sick.” At this, she hung up the phone with a click. She dragged her limbs into action, starting to run, her feet clumping on the concrete, leaping over potholes and litter. She was not running towards Tesco; she had no idea where she was at all. Somehow it did not feel like her own body; she was dragging along some other corpse, its sinew shaking and spilling to the rhythm of an abstracted, pumping heart.

On the side of the road, Kelvingrove rose like the hypnotic turrets of Disneyland, its sandstone glowing blue and bloody pink. She was nothing but a smallness, running through the darkness, indistinct and misty as a smudge upon the glasses of a giant. Soon, the world would wipe her from existence.

She would be that tiny, writhing thing, her face green with sickness, her prom queen smile stretched out to a sinister grin.

The night would close upon her.

“I need to get the medicine,” she whispered, her voice merely a crackle on the other side of a phone line.

–Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompt: erase)

Abrasions

He has left his knife behind.

This is not the kind of mistake he makes. Normally, he would pick up his things with such precision it was as if he were articulating some private symphony. Everything in order: gloves, coat, scarf, rope, knife. The rules of his hunt are simple enough. He always said that tools were crucial to a man’s success. We are not human without our tools; without our tools, we are no better than animals.

He likes his statements strong, like his liquor.

I suppose he would not think twice about leaving me with his knife. Maybe something distracted him this morning; maybe the chickens were scrapping in the yard, or he did not like the way I slept as he stood over me, brooding. I like when he does that. I feel small but powerful, because he does not know that I am actually awake. He sees me in my smallness alone, a fragile animal. So I like to sleep for him; it is a performance.

He does not know the way I think sometimes. I think about my body and what it can do for him, what it can do without him. I know all the places where I have scratched and scratched, where my nails have abraded the skin, worn it to a raw red patch. Places he does not see: the bone of my ankles, the back of my knees.

I am to prepare a marvellous lunch for him. He will return to some hearty casserole, heavy with beef and laced with star anise. I will lure him back to me with that strange, sweet fragrance.

I curl the peelings from the vegetables with his knife. It is a treat to use, so sharp. The shavings fall away from me, down onto the floor, dropping, dropping. I cut the tip of my finger accidentally, and a bright bead of blood forms on my skin like a blob of fresh dew. I lick it clean off. It gathers again and some of it splashes into the stew. Inevitable, I suppose. It is tempting, of course, to make another elision – to practice this art upon my body, to reestablish the terms of my own possession.

But I don’t. I leave the food to cook and go to the window, where I will watch for him in the raw morning, the hanging cabbage untouched, swaying behind me mysteriously. I have not used this cabbage in the stew; I prefer its abstract presence, just as I prefer the scratch and itch of my fingers, so much stronger than any tool.

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: waiting, still life of fruit & vegetables)

 

cherry melancholia

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Photo by Manuela Hoffman

cherry melancholia
Maria Sledmere

rain on the lawn; the greenness
dark and deep. a handful of shells
clotted in the mud with the blossoms,
the pink ones
from the cherry tree.

she walks out slowly,
snow petals swirling round her,
silent.

in the garden she will lie
where the grass is softest. she will lie
staring at the glass sky,
a sleepful of memory.

just love, the garden will say,
just love.
she forgot the place where he kissed her once—
it wasn’t here

but she returns anyway,
the grass feels sweet underneath her,
the air tastes golden, the first taste
of crab apples in autumn. love
set her going in spring, a silk cut
from a willow tree.

smoke rises in the distance
to the smell of cherry pie.
once he kissed her eyes, her cheeks;
he told her she was cinnamon.

in the garden now she is older,
older as the trees are, ring after ring
in each year, each reel of string
that she unwinds.

they come to bind
the sweet peas with twine.
bitter berries,
summer wine.

she is older
and the pie in her mouth now
is cloying; she is older
and the leaves are dying,
falling with the raindrops, the poor branches.

The garden speaks
now she is older, the rings round her eyes—
old pools of light, cherry pie,
speaking
of melancholia.

(prompts: eloquent, garden)

Notes from Inspiration Week

Hi guys! Hope the revision is going well :)

As you may remember, we had an Inspiration Week a while ago and here are the things people shared – thought I’d upload it so it’s all nice and uploaded for archiving and future inspiration :)

Nina Lindmark Lie

So I’ve had a week of some inspiration-hunting, since I couldn’t exactly pinpoint any particular sources of inspiration I normally have. Basically what I found can be summarised to ‘new impressions’ (a bit dull, but still). My week has consisted of visiting a lot of museums and exhibitions (like the uni’s Ingenious Impressions, The Hunterian and very modern Design exhibit in Edinburgh) the Botanics, and a fair amount of creepy people watching. Especially travelling and visiting busy places like museum I find rather inspiring. Mainly cuz they’re full of creative stuff, and doing new things helps me find ideas, or offers a slightly different scenery from my everyday life. Fingers crossed for some sunny days and more walks around Glasgow.

New favourite film?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xmweTUqjkA

Hayley Rutherford

Eva Ibbotson is one of my inspirations. Her books remind me of my childhood and I think helped shape my current writing style. They are a little creepy and a lot quirky

https://scontent-lhr.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfp1/v/t1.0-9/11091588_1574754492766429_1417689944488394954_n.jpg?oh=8c370c842a39b9c307a6799aa39dfa73&oe=55A343E0

Maria Sledmere

My (somewhat random) inspirations…

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (1979)
My favourite story from Carter’s collection is probably ‘The Lady of the House of Love’. All her tales play with darkness and sexuality and appetite, questioning the boundaries between human and animal. I love the way she plays with fairy stories and animal characters, and she taught me that it’s perfectly okay to use intensely ornate, coruscating prose, if it serves a purpose.

Legend of Zelda, Majora’s Mask (2000)
https://www.youtube.com/watch…
This game is so creepy and grotesque and wonderful. The graphics seem a little blotchy now, but it adds to a kind of cardboard, fairytale aesthetic. The whole set-up of the game is basically to do with a moon that’s going to fall and crush a town within three days; three days you have to solve a lot of puzzles and defeat the uncanny mask dude that runs about. Everything is very anthropomorphic and strange, and the dissonant music adds to this. The play between surface, colour and texture is interesting because people often seem oddly flat, and the town feels really claustrophobic. I think it’s inspiring for its aesthetic and narrative, and just the whole weird ambience it creates.

Tom McCarthy, Remainder (2005)
This is a very strange novel. The narrator does not seem so much human as a human reciting what it is to deal with emotion and trauma, in a very machinic sense. It plays with all sorts of conventions and disturbs expectations, and in a way is very Ballardian. It taught me that novels don’t have to be extravagantly ‘postmodern’ to challenge conventions of realism, and also how to play with notions of traditional ‘character’.

Muse, Origin of Symmetry (2001)
Old-school Muse are truly mind-boggling. They still are, but I feel like they have become a little bit kitsch in recent years, with their extravagant symphonies and so on. This album has some crazy lyrics, like:

And my plug in baby
Crucifies my enemies
When I’m tired of giving
Wooah

Yeah, I think you probably have to be on mushrooms to understand that one. There’s a whole kind of shivery vividness to all the guitar on this, especially when it is at its most searing (Hyper Music) or delicate, and also Matt Bellamy’s voice, achingly beautiful on the cover of Feeling Good, dark and melancholy on Citizen Erased and Screenager, and a bit mental on Plug in Baby. I guess I listen to this album when I want something to fire an electric shock in my mind and clear away the excess. I also wish I could enter the weird space that the music creates, or find some way to do that with writing. The video for Plug in Baby is also very unsettling, with lots of tentacles floating about and women being plugged into machines and things. Stuff being turned inside out; abjection.

Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)
You know those books you read when you are about eleven and you can’t stop re-reading them? This was one of them for me. It’s a beautifully written bildungsroman about a young girl in a somewhat dysfunctional family trying to make do in a crumbling castle, while her father descends into alcoholism and her sister marries the wrong man. It’s about falling in love and growing up and appreciating the little things, and being loyal and good to people. I admire it mostly for the emotional eloquence and the way Smith captures the narrator’s voice so well, but also just love how she evokes the whole world of the castle and the family with such poetic detail.

Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems. 
I didn’t really ‘get’ poetry until I read Sylvia Plath. I know it’s a cliche to admit, but it was the first poetry that really spoke to me in some dark and never-understandable way. Sometimes I get bored of it now, but other times I read it again and the freshness of some of her images really strikes me. Read ‘Berck – Plage’ and ‘Sheep in Fog’. I guess its her imagery that I like best, but also she has a way with concision that I could probably learn from.

William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads. (1798)
I love these two because basically they can teach you all you need to know about nature and imagination. Well, sort of. I have a nostalgic relationship with them because it reminds me of first year and trying to sort out how the hell to read and write about poetry. Wordsworth basically invented the way we see and write poetry today; not as an imitation of an ideal form but a crafted ‘expression’ of individual thought and perception. It also makes me appreciate little bits of nature, though in a different way from how Emily Bronte makes me want to go to the countryside and run breathless through fields in the rain.

Louise McCue

This entire film inspired most of my recent writing but especially this opening scene:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hI6GWeWUMxc

Katalina Watt

‘Alice: Madness Returns’ is a video game based on Lewis Carroll’s work. Wonderland is surreal and disturbing, and the game’s soundtrack and artwork are stunning. WARNING: the clip I’ve linked has some violence and gore (albeit animated).
https://youtu.be/RwyoaSA-0wg

Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is a gorgeous collection of short re-imaginings of fairytales with plenty of horror, sexual content and awesome feminism.

‘Nothing Much to Do’ is modern vlog adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ created by a team of pre-dominantly New Zealand young artists.
It’s hilarious and heart-breaking, and I love re-inventions of old narratives using new mediums.
https://youtu.be/iakDRoQg-sM

Ailsa Williamson

I use dictionaries, both online and offline.

Check out behindthename.com and also ideagenerator.com. both are pretty cool.

Offline- I own the dictionary of mythology, dictionary of phrase and fable and a dictionary of quotations. All pretty cool just for browsing.

Tauras Šalna

Here we go then.

The idea of writing for children about science came to me rather recently.
“The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” by Richard Feynman.
It’s a biography about an amazing 20th century physicist. There was a chapter where he talked about his childhood, when his father used to explain all sorts of things through telling stories. That was the moment when I thought “well, if it worked for one person and he ended up getting a Nobel prize in Physics, maybe I could many other people in a similar way?”. 

Terry Pratchett’s series about Tiffany Aching (4 books) showed me the importance of dialogue. His fantasy world also provoked quite a lot of thoughts and ideas. That’s what books do to you – you start living in an imaginary world of Nac Mac Feegles, witches and other sorts of creatures.

There is this Lithuanian author Vytautas V. Landsbergis. He wrote a book called “Rudnosiukio istorijos” (direct translation: Brown Noses’s Stories). The book is about a creature called Rudnosiukas which lives in an imaginary world. In a sense the world represented the social, economical and political situation of Lithuania. It’s hard to explain, but when reading I actually saw a lot of cultural cues which in a sense showed how everything changed during 25 years of independence. It’s full of optimism, funny and absurd situations, pure foolishness (the main character was always represented as foolish [in a good way]), irony, satire and so on. The writing style was rather similar to mine, but a lot better. And you know when there are books you wished to have written first? This is definitely that one for me.

Other times I find inspiration through studying physics, watching science related videos, taking a walk and just asking question “why”. It’s an amazing feeling when you ask, what it seems, an easy questions, but in the end it’s really complicated and you have to spend some time to find the answer.

And I’ll end this with a video, food for thought.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36GT2zI8lVA