Taken from ‘The Jason Zodiac Files’ Volume One, by Jamie Carter.
1: DAFT NEW TV BOSS TELLS KIDS: TRY OUT ACID!
The present day …
The main Fugue Magazine office was busy as ever, crowded with desks and shelves, partitions, bookcases, computers, plants, piles of paper, photocopiers, vinyl albums, CDs, DVDs, photographs and filing cabinets. I threaded my way through the maze, nodding and saying hello to my fellow hacks, who slapped me on the back and asked me how I was – after the nasty bout of food poisoning that put me in the hospital.
“Jamie,” Mimi said, looking up from her terminal.
“Mimi,” I said, sitting at my desk and squinting at the little yellow Post-Its decorating the side of the screen.
“They say our journalists are full of shit,” Mimi said in her hazy voice. “You’re the living proof, I suppose.”
“Your motherly concern is duly noted,” I said, logging onto the system.
“Your Deep Throat has been very busy, you know. He rang again this morning.”
I looked at the most recent Post-It. It said 10:00. That was about five minutes away.
Mimi got up and walked around her desk to stand in front of mine, a pair of reading glasses in her hands. “What’s all this about?”
“All what about?”
“These mysterious phone calls. I’m beginning to think you’re being headhunted by the other celebrity rags.”
I shrugged. “This contact seems to know where a lot of old Jason Zodiac material is. He may even know if Jason’s still alive. But he’s not giving it to me all at once, just in bits and pieces.”
“Hence the paper chase.” Mimi sniffed. “Did David tell you about the new commission?”
I sighed. “Yes, he did.”
“Then don’t waste too much time on this Jason mullarkey. It’s old news, a mystery with no solution. The millenium’s changed so fast that the Nineties are shrouded in mystery now. It’s piss easy, Jamie! All you have to do is to write for the target demographic.”
Peter looked up from his screen. “I’ve still got clothes from the Nineties.”
“You’ve still got clothes from the Eighties,” I shouted back at him, “especially your underwear.”
Mimi was about to say something else when the phone at my desk rang. An outside line. I picked up the receiver. The line was terrible; full of crackling static.
“Mr. Carter?” It was a male voice, sounding very cultured and refined.
“Yes. Is that Mr. King?” I felt incredibly self-conscious saying that. I hoped he wasn’t going to say yes, and you are my knight or some such bollocks.
“Yes. Listen, Mr. Carter, I have something new for you. I cannot speak long; go to the following location.”
“Go to …? Now, just a minute!”
“The A604. There is a telephone box just by the turn-off towards Clapham Wood. Be there at eight o’clock tonight. I shall call you.”
“Mr. King, that’s -”
“The A604. Telephone box. Clapham Wood,” the voice repeated. “I have names for you.”
The line went dead. I looked at the phone, and then over at Mimi’s grinning face. “More running around?”
“Yes,” I said grumpily, writing the information down on a memo and thrusting it into my shirt pocket.
Mimi winked. “Make sure you’re close to a toilet.”
2: COPS BACK OFF IN ACID HOUSE BATTLE!
June, 1988 …
Inside the warehouse, it’s mayhem. There are giant snow nets, camouflage nets and parachutes pinned to the ceiling and around the walls, rippling with trippy visuals from projectors somewhere. The walls are covered in florescent colored card and ultraviolet spray paint. The DJ’s behind a semi-circle of car tyres to keep the stage and turntable from being jostled by the dancers. Around the walls at floor level are cages and behind the bars are inflatable animals illuminated by the black light lamps – gorillas, dragons , Mickey Mouse.
I attempt to shout my feelings of joy to Mandy but with her usual flair for madness, she jumps onto a nearby window ledge. She proceeds to dance along the wall jumping and swinging from window sill to another. I can’t say it makes me feel very ecstatic, because my first rush has peaked and it’s time for another E, but at least it’s fascinating. A bouncer looms out of the smoke machine smog, but I shout at him “It’s only Mandy”, and he shrugs and lets her get on with it.
I’m throwing shapes in the air, no idea what I’m doing just knowing that it feels good, when a sampled vocodered voice rips through the warehouse, a voice modulated so low in the bass that it makes my whole body vibrate down to the bowels:
They say we are dead men …
They say we are dead men …
Then the beat cuts out all together and the computerized voice fills the air:
Everyone who has the mark shall live
Thousands of ravers put their hands in the air and this fucking mental howl from thousands of throats rocks the party.
Pete and Julie have disappeared into the crowd and for a while I dance by myself, feeling the beat surge through me and the sampled voices speak to me like messages from outer space, and I watch my hands make patterns in the smoke and the strobes and the laser light. My body feels so light, throwing my arms around, thinking of new and funky moves that the music gives to me.
The next time Mandy appears she runs up and snogs me and oh God she tastes like heaven, and she’s wearing a pair of bunny ears and shaking a pair of maraccas that she’s produced out of nowhere, dishing out her own musical insanity. Maraccas mixing in with Frankie Knuckles. A crowd gathers around us clapping and cheering. How sweet. She’s a nutter, that Mandy. She’s gorgeous.
I never realized life could be as good as this.
3: DON’T COME TO THE PARTY, SAY POLICE!
Picture courtesy of Boris Shenton
(from JASON ZODIAC AND THE T-SERVICE: THE CAMELOT RUN) – broadcast BBC TV March 1968.
SCENE 20 Cornwall – ext.
JASON and YVETTE are in his Lotus Elan, driving down a sleepy country lane. They slow down and stop.
YVETTE: According to that puzzle you solved, this should be the way to Cadbury Castle.
JASON: I’m afraid it isn’t.
YVETTE: I think we zigged when we should have zagged!
JASON: No, we’re not lost. We’ve been detoured by the Church With No Name … they must have swopped the signposts around.
YVETTE: The Church? Those meanies you were talking about?
JASON: Yes. Look … those trees, the branches are waving around but there’s no breeze.
YVETTE: That humming sound … it’s like a bell, ringing deep underground. What … (screams) Jason, the ground’s moving! Is it an earthquake?
JASON: No, it’s something much worse.
A voice echoes through the air, and they look around to see where it’s coming from.
VOICE: By my troth, ’tis indeed Master Zodiac. The cunning man. The dark man from the dark house, and charming as ever.
JASON: The landscape is talking! Very interesting.
VOICE: Yes, I am the landscape, Master Zodiac, and you are but an ant crawling upon the dirt. Tarry, and I shall appear in a form more pleasing to you.
In front of the car, a mound of earth appears, like a mole burrow. A head breaks through and a face appears – a haughty, sharp, bearded male face. The body slides into view as if he is standing on an elevator rising up out of the earth. He is wearing an English Civil War Cavalier’s military uniform; leather jerkin, short cape, sword at his side.
JASON: Yvette, let me introduce Lord Muck. He’s a 17th century sorcerer who accidentally fused himself with the countryside when an Enochian magic ritual went wrong.
(To Lord Muck) So you were expecting me.
LORD MUCK: I have formed an alliance with knaves of my own kidney. They said you would be upon this road. I understand that I am to provide a diversion, and to stop you approaching the treasure, whilst they are making sundry machinations of their own.
JASON: In other words, you’re working for the Church With No Name. You do realize that whatever they promised, they’ll betray you and try to eliminate you when you’re no longer useful?
LORD MUCK (smiling): There is more than one Church, Master Zodiac, and many doings are hidden from you. I did not confess who my ally was. But all things tend towards the same end, sir; the muck, the rot, the dung-heap – and there are few indeed who will care a nutshell for them when they have gone. I cry you mercy! You are a smoky persecutor of nature, sir, and I shall see the worms feed upon your brains.
LORD MUCK raises his hands, and roots and long-buried bones erupt from the soil. The trees bend, branches reaching out towards JASON’S car.
YVETTE: Oh my God!
LORD MUCK: Do not speak of God, dear lady … for your abode shall evermore be Hell!
TO BE CONTINUED …
CONFUSED YET? Check out ‘The Jason Zodiac Files’, in the menu above.
READ VOLUME ONE OF JAMIE CARTER’S BIOGRAPHY OF THE ELUSIVE JASON ZODIAC –
Some snippets from the House of Ideas! The “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” page has been updated, please see the menu above … brand new Second Editions of “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” and “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow Volume One” are on their way … Excalibur is looking for more Steampunk/Dieselpunk influenced artists to contribute to The Futurist Manifesto series 2, please contact John Paul Catton or Jacob Smith on firstname.lastname@example.org …
Watch out for more excerpts from the work of Zoe Drake and Jamie Carter … and there are rumors that a new writer will be joining the Excalibur publisher’s list! Who is it? Stay tuned and bookmark this site for more info!
The first thing Papa saw when he woke up in the morning was a picture of Paris. Mounted in a tarnished clip-frame, it hung on the wall, an aerial view of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding avenues. Papa had cut it from a guidebook he’d found in a coin-laundry.
After waking, Papa carried out the routine familiar through years of habit. He took a swig of the water from the plastic bottle by his bedside. He carefully rolled up his sleeping-bag, and shoved it under the sawn-off coffee-table. He wistfully scanned the pictures of children in kimonos that he had tacked to the wall, close to the Eiffel tower. Then he put on his moldering sports shoes, and climbed out of his cardboard box to check the morning weather.
March was a treacherous time to be homeless. It held the promise of spring, but a deliciously warm day could sometimes be followed by the vicious cold of a winter that refuses to surrender. A cold that was, for many individuals Papa knew personally, potentially lethal. Leaving the gloom of the box interior, and standing alone in the quiet alley outside, Papa scanned the sky. It would be clear today, but cold.
The alley lay in a neglected corner of central Shibuya, Tokyo, sheltering under a pedestrian bridge and bordered by the parking lot of a warehouse. At one end of the alley stood the steps leading to a small park, shunned by all except the young, aggressive, Shibukaji kids who carried out nameless deals in its dark, graffiti-stained corners. At the other end lay the bustling streets that carried bright young people to the restaurants and department stores. None of them bothered or interrupted Papa and his compatriots, as they nestled underneath the bridge in their forlorn village of boxes.
Pulling his broom from behind the cardboard box, Papa stretched, hearing bones click like mah-jong tiles on a table, and began to methodically sweep the tunnel. The grit and discarded trash on the sidewalk could turn into an offensive dust when the wind picked up, getting into the eyes and the clothes of the villages population. The tunnel was not frequented by many; most were unaware of its existence, and the few salarymen who traversed it, seeking a short cut to the station, marched through with heads bowed, eyes fixed on the ground or on their own slim leather briefcases.
Papa constantly badgered the rest of the tunnel’s inmates to follow his example. In the morning, clear up and sort through any new garbage that had been placed in the surrounding area. Go to the station, and when the subway trains had pulled in and had disgorged their passengers, scan the racks for manga left behind. On a street near their tunnel, Papa and his compatriots would take turns throughout the day and evening, selling their finds for one hundred yen each. In the afternoon, he would take anyone who was well enough to the nearby temple or the charity centre, for hot food doled out by volunteers. Sometimes he would go alone to the back entrance of a nearby tonkatsu shop, where a sympathetic owner would give him bags of leftovers. He was a rare one, and an old acquaintance of Papa’s; most managers would now deliberately grind cigarette ash and broken cutlery in with the food scraps, to discourage the homeless. After leaving the discreet corner where they sold their manga, Papa and whoever he was with would carry their stock home, and in his box, Papa would read from his store of books by a flashlight he taped in place on the ceiling.
It was good to have a routine.
Papa would have no truck with the new breed of homeless, who would go up to ordinary people and pester them for money. Some of them, he had heard, approached gaijin to beg in broken English.
Unacceptable. Papa had his routine, he had his tunnel, and he had his pride. He had seen many others come, and seen many go; but he always asked them to co-operate with each other.
Arriving at the Shibuya Community Centre a little before twelve, Papa was shown a seat and given pork cutlets over rice, and a bowl of steaming miso soup. Papa savored his meal slowly, exchanging comments with those closest to him on the flimsy plastic table, watching from beneath the brim of his cap the nervous, fresh-faced volunteers in the kitchen.
On this afternoon, before he went on duty selling comics, he returned to his refuge and read some more – a novel he had read and admired many times, a great writer from the Meiji era. He sat in his Toshiba foldaway home, a threadbare rug over his knees, the flaps open to admit the dusty air. Every once in a while, Papa would shift position, when the grumbling from his back became too much.
Sometime before evening, as dusk began to bleed the life out of the sky, Papa’s concentration was broken. Furtive scrabbling came from the makeshift homestead next to Papa’s, and the old man felt it as well as heard it, the movements of his neighbor vibrating the cardboard wall behind Papa’s head. Moments later, he heard it: a low groan of discomfort. It was followed by others, that grew into a steady monotone of distress, a half-wailing that grated on the nerves.
Papa frowned. His neighbour, Yamashita-san, was a little deficient in the mental department, but he was mostly quiet. He wasn’t given to the horrible incoherent rambling that Papa had seen in some of his colleagues. Perhaps Yamashita-san was suffering from indigestion; very likely, considering the inedible trash he habitually shoveled into his mouth.
“Are you all right?” Papa called, a little halfheartedly. Then he realized; Yamashita-san was on the south side of Papa’s box. Behind him there was only the storage box that held the manga. Papa had no neighbor on the other side.
Confused, concerned and a little angered, Papa climbed out to investigate. Squeezed into the space between Papa’s box and the storage carton was a small hovel of cardboard and stiff paper. Papa could not remember seeing it before. Moreover, he could not think of who the tenant might be, and he prided himself on knowing all of the alley’s occupants by name or nickname.
He peered closely at the corporate labels half-washed away from the sides of the box. Either his eyesight was fading, or the Japanese characters were of a type unknown to him. He stood there wondering whether he should greet the new tenant. The moaning had stopped, and so had the movement. Presumably whoever was inside had fallen asleep. Shadows clinging to his stiff arms and legs, Papa climbed back into his box.
It was not long before Papa was disturbed by his neighbor again. He had fallen into a fitful doze, the book having fallen onto his chest. He awoke with a start, and a sudden feeling of alarm, as if were the first rumblings of an earthquake.
The moaning had returned, from a point that seemed to be a few centimeters behind Papa’s head. This time it was mixed with sobbing, and spates of occasional deep, sour cursing. “Are you all right?” Papa called, in resentment as well as concern. “Hello! What’s up?”
This time he received an answer. “I’ve had enough,” the voice said. It was a comment Papa had heard many times before. What shocked him now, though, was not the intensity of despair and scorn in the voice. What shocked him was that the voice belonged to a woman.
“I’ve had enough,” the voice repeated. It was an elderly voice; it could have been the voice of a grandmother. Papa had met several homeless women around Tokyo in the past few years, and the experience had always been deeply unsettling.
“I’ve lived for too long,” the quavering voice continued. “Why can’t I just die? Why can’t I just finish it?”
“That’s foolish talk!” Papa called in a stern voice. “There’s always something to be learned from your troubles. It doesn’t matter how bad things are. There’s always a reason for living, if you can just find it and hold onto it. ”
The moaning abated, and sank into a quiet, mournful, sniffing. After a while, the voice returned, calmer than before. “You’re Papa, aren’t you? They call you Papa. I know about you. I feel very encouraged to hear your voice.”
Papa chuckled, and nodded his head in acknowledgement. Even when homeless and destitute, he could still be charming.
“Yes, I’ve heard about you. The people of this tunnel respect you a lot, even if they don’t show it sometimes. You’ve helped them a lot. You’ve become quite a retainer for the homeless, haven’t you? That’s why I have been looking for you. That’s why I followed you here.”
Papa shrugged off the blanket and sat up. He was not going to keep his peace of mind tonight, he realized grimly. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been following you ever since that day in Corridor 4, Papa,” the voice replied.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY
AND 14 MORE SPINE-CHILLING TALES LIKE IT – HERE!
On Thursday March 10th, I went to the new site of the Tobacco and Salt Museum, to do some research for the forthcoming “Voice of the Jewel”, the explosive finale to the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. Tokyo residents have noticed that the old Museum disappeared from its Shibuya address a couple of years ago … well, this is where it went! The special exhibition itself is on the subject of the shipping industry along the Sumida river in Japan’s Edo period (roughly 1600 to 1850). “Not exactly blockbuster entertainment!” you might say, and you might be right, but this is all to check some background reference and make the events in the novel as fact-based as possible.
Although I picked up some valuable information from the Museum, I can’t really recommend the exhibition, because it’s too small. Nevertheless, this was the perfect reason for a long walk through another neighborhood of Shitamchi (downtown) – the oldest part of Tokyo. The Tobacco and Salt Museum is in the shadow of the Sky Tree, the new tourist attraction designed to give Northeast Tokyo’s economy a shot in the arm.
If you set off in the opposite direction from the tourists, however, there are some wabi-sabi architectural treasures to be found.
The exhibition gave me the idea to walk in the direction of Asakusa and call in on Nick, the owner of Infinity Books, and look for any works on the Sumida river he might have on the shelves. During the course of the conversation he mentioned Good Day Books, another venerable English-language Tokyo bookshop, and its uncertain future … for more information go here. It would be a very sad thing to lose Good Day Books, and I do hope they find a new owner, but in today’s online-centered market place that’s going to be difficult.
Infinity Books can be found here.
I ended the walk standing on Azumabashi Bridge, watching the sun go down on the river.
My appointment in Shimo-Kitazawa was waiting .. but that’s another story!
Tetsuo Nozaki straightened himself, wiped his brow once more with his handkerchief, and then returned it to his back pocket. It wouldn’t be acceptable to be seen perspiring during the presentation, he knew. The sponsors might think it was an attack of nerves.
“Japan,” he commenced, “is a nation that – to put it bluntly – is asleep at the wheel.”
He pressed a key on the laptop, and a selection of images sprang into life on the wall-size monitor screen behind him. Images mainly taken from the Tokyo and Osaka subway systems. Businessmen and secretaries riding the trains in various states of unconsciousness. Heads lolling onto other people’s shoulders, or thrown back with open mouths exposing crooked and nicotine-stained teeth. Eyes screwed shut. Hands loosely gripping cell phones, newspapers, pornographic comics. An everyday jamboree of public sleepiness.
“A recent study by the National Hygiene Institute found that over forty-five percent of Japanese people manage less than six hours of sleep per night. One person in four suffers from sleep-deficiency syndrome. We live in a twenty-four seven society, with many shops and services open around the clock, brilliantly illuminated urban nights, and an Internet that never sleeps. Our business community says that it can’t be helped, that restructuring has forced office workers to work unusually long hours. But let’s not forget that sleep deprivation, throughout history, has been a form of torture – and this particular torture is costing Japan trillions of yen in terms of productivity.”
In the dimly lit meeting room, the sixteen members of the audience looked expectantly at Nozaki, sagely nodding their heads. He pressed another key on the laptop, and the image on the monitors changed. A schematic of the human brain, its complex, tightly furled chambers neatly color-coded.
“I’d like to explain more fully what happens to the brain in normal states of sleep. In waking life, the human brain functions in the Beta brainwave state during concentration, and the Alpha state when relaxed. In sleep, there are five recurring stages; stage one sleep is the transition period from wakefulness to unconsciousness. In stage two, the heart rate slows, body temperature decreases, and there are periods of muscle tension and relaxation. The body is preparing to enter deep sleep.”
A monitor screen at the top right corner began to display wave patterns, illustrating Nozaki’s words.
“What concerns us most are stages three, four and five. Stages three and four are known as slow-wave sleep. The brain here is in the Delta wave state, waves that are the slowest in frequency, cycling at around one to four hertz. Following this cycle from stages one to four, which usually lasts ninety minutes, is stage five – REM sleep, standing for Rapid Eye Movement. This is a period of intense cerebral activity, with the brain operating at the Theta frequency of four to eight hertz, accompanied by muscular paralysis. This, gentlemen, is when most dreaming takes place. At the end of a period of REM sleep, usually lasting ten minutes, stages one to five then repeat themselves throughout the night.”
The image of the brain clicked off, throwing Nozaki momentarily into darkness. The monitors lit up again showing graphics and charts regarding normal and abnormal sleep patterns.
“These findings here show what matters is not how many hours the individual sleeps during the night, but the quality of the sleep itself. Research has proven that a lack of REM sleep and slow-wave sleep leaves a person feeling tired and unwell. What concerns us is how to improve the quality of our sleep – and to that end, I would like to show you the current status of our project. Gentlemen, if you would like to follow me . . .”
At a sign from Nozaki, the secretary switched on the lights. The dozen august members of the audience got to their feet, talking quietly to themselves. Even in the summer heat, they were wearing formal dark suits and neckties, and they brushed out the creases from their pants self-consciously as they followed Nozaki to the exit.
Nozaki mopped his brow discreetly as he led the audience to the elevators. He was a large man for a Japanese, something that was particularly inconvenient in the summer, his gut pushing his necktie away from his freshly laundered white shirt. His oval face was a smooth mask of puppy fat beneath glossy black hair parted in the middle and teased up in what his wife said was the most fashionable style. He bowed respectfully as the sponsors filed one by one into the elevator, and then rode up with them to the eleventh level of Tsugaru University Hospital – the crucial area where the sponsors’ money was being spent.
“Gentlemen, would you mind touching the frame of the door as you walk through it? This is to discharge the static electricity from your clothing. Thank you, yes, like that, sir. Thank you.”
The double doors from the corridor opened onto the control room, a small working space where two PCs and a bank of video monitors stood upon the desk where Nozaki worked. From the large window facing them, the assembled audience looked down onto the Sleep Research Laboratory. The whole chamber was bathed in a soft bluish glow from the tinted lamps overhead. Hushed music flowed from hidden speakers – a muted piano and distant birdsong, ambient healing music from the hospital’s CD collection.
The floor beneath them was filled by over fifty beds, half of them occupied – although “bed” was by no means an adequate description. The top part of each ‘sleep research platform’ was covered by a semi-circular arch of dark plastic that shielded the faces of the sleepers. Circuitry glittered and lights winked on the outside of the arches. White-coated assistants slowly patrolled the aisles between the beds, checking readings on the arches and making notes on the clipboards they carried.
The white lab coats were Nozaki’s touch. Totally unnecessary, of course – the assistants were student volunteers who usually wore jeans and tee-shirts, but today, Nozaki had ordered something more scientific-looking from the hospital laundry.
“Gentlemen,” Nozaki announced, “Let me introduce the Kageyama Treatment.”
He led the sponsors down the steps from the monitor room to a nearby wheeled gurney, where an assistant was waiting. On the gurney was an instrument that looked like a miniature laptop computer connected to a futuristic pair of goggles and a net of fine plastic mesh.
“This is the instrument that we have developed with your kind support, and are currently testing on volunteers. The Sleep Modulator.”
He led them down the aisle between the sleeping volunteers, bodies covered with thin quilts. At the end of the chamber was a small presentation area holding a desk and another screen, a much smaller one, but again showing schematic maps of the brain.
“I’ve already demonstrated how a good night’s rest involving ample time for deep-wave and REM sleep is beneficial – in fact, essential for health. The new discoveries we’ve made in magnetic resonance imaging and other brain-scanning technologies mean that we can now step in and heal the damage that sleep disorders cause. The mesh cap attached to the Sleep Modulator is a net of over two hundred SQUID electrodes – Super-conducting Quantum Interference Devices. The innovative feature is that it uses pulsed electrical waves to accelerate stage one and stage two sleep. This means that the subjects who wear the cap will be spending more time in delta-wave and REM activity. These results are fed back to the lab’s monitors, so we can see in real-time which areas of the sleeping brain are being activated. After approximately two hours of sleep, the subject will wake up feeling fully refreshed, and the body physically rejuvenated.”
“Let me get this straight,” one of the suited men suddenly interjected. “You’re saying our tired business population won’t be sleeping more, but they’ll be dreaming more?”
“Essentially, yes. Taking a nap is an investment with the greatest return for the least amount of time and effort. A nap of sixty to ninety minutes, which will include both slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, is sufficient to make the subject awake feeling rejuvenated and with increased perceptual processing. In the future, with the Sleep Modulator, we hope to compress a full night’s worth of dreaming into a power nap of between twenty to thirty minutes.”
There was a general wave of murmured comments from the crowd. Nozaki permitted himself a smile. “I think now you can appreciate the device’s potential.”
The sponsors looked around the chamber, seeming suitably impressed. One of them held up a hand for attention. “Mr. Nozaki,” the fellow began, “have you changed the requirements for volunteers at all?”
“Yes, we have. We are recruiting people from all over Aomori prefecture, not just the University. We need to test both sexes, and all ages, all manner of occupations, people with both active and sedentary lifestyles. Our health checks, however, are now completely comprehensive and stringent, I can assure you.”
“I have a question.” This came from the Toshiba delegate. Nozaki had been expecting trouble from him all day; he had a sharp, weasely face and a reputation for asking improper questions. “It’s what all of us here are thinking, but nobody wants to say. What about the Yoshida case? Can you honestly tell us something like that won’t happen again?”
Nozaki cleared his throat, and began his prepared response. “Gentlemen, the death of Ayano Yoshida was truly regrettable, but the findings of the official inquiry were clear. The girl suffered from a heart condition, and should never have been allowed to enter the program here. We have since made our entry requirements much more stringent. And as you can see . . .” Nozaki gestured to the information displayed on the monitor screen mounted on a nearby bed, “our assistants constantly monitor brain, eye, muscle and heart activity. The subjects are also observed by video camera. When they wake up, we take saliva samples, to check the amounts of the hormone melatonin and the stress hormone cortisol.”
Nozaki took a deep breath, looking at the faces of the assembled sponsors.
“Gentlemen, the Kageyama Treatment is perfectly safe.”
At the central exit from the University Hospital grounds, Nozaki stood watching the sponsors leave, giving deep bows from the waist until the last chauffeured limousine had mounted the ramp and vanished from view.
Alone at last, he took the elevator back to the tenth floor and the small office set aside for his own use, and sank into a chair. At last that’s over, he thought, letting out a wide yawn. Success or failure, it was out of his hands now. He pulled his phone out of his briefcase and checked for mail; sure enough, his wife Aiko hadn’t forgotten. You must be tired, ran the text message. How do you think it went?
After sending a reply, Nozaki hurried to take his own turn in the Treatment. Entering the lab in hospital pajamas and nightgown, taking off the gown to stretch out on the bed. The assistants slipped the hairnet of dozens of ultra-sensitive electrodes over the crown of the head and smoothed it into place across the scalp, extra electrodes under the chin. The body sensors clipped to one earlobe and attached to his chest. The ozone smell of the machines above his head as the lamps began their slow, hypnotic rhythm of shifting colors and patterns. But this time he was on the receiving end.
Just a little nap, he thought, as he drank the mild sedative the assistant gave him. Just a little nap before driving home, refreshed. Driving home for the dinner Aiko was preparing.
And soon he dreamed once more.
The dream that had recurred for longer than Nozaki could consciously remember. He stood once more on the beach, bare feet on warm sand, the sky and sea around him shifting shades of grey and blue. Naked apart from his trunks, his body slim, strong, muscular.
Out at sea he noticed the splashing of foam. She was in trouble.
He dived into the waves. Strong, powerful strokes of his arms took him to where she struggled. He took hold of her, feeling her skin against his as he swam back towards the beach.
He put her down upon the sand. He looked down at her face, saltwater beaded upon it like pearls, her hair fanned out like seaweed in a current. He stood there for an eternity, not touching her, not daring to wake her, just watching.
Her face was incredibly beautiful. And overwhelmingly familiar.
Out on the horizon, lights flickered under the waves, like lightning in the depths of the sea.
ZOE DRAKE’S NOVEL “THE MISTS OF OSOREZAN” IS ON SALE HERE, IN BOTH EBOOK AND PAPERBACK.
1: DRUG RAVE-UP IN HANGAR!
Mandy comes into my life in the summer of 1988 – yes, that’s right, the so-called ‘Second Summer of Love’.
She walks into the back room of the Camden Falcon, just after bunch of no-hopers The Bad Cats had finished. She’s long-hipped and fluid in black top and jeans, green Celtic eyes, Asian cheekbones. We know each other vaguely because she’s been going out with a mate of mine, John. Well, I say mate; nobody liked him. They just pretended to. Me, I’d been through a rough patch too. I’d split up with Jenny and was on the rebound. I’d landed my dream job at the New Musical Express but it felt like it was going nowhere. I spent my time in the subs room cutting, pasting and checking, writing the occasional article or review, and interviewing bands that nobody else wanted to (losers like The Poster Loonies, The Water Addicts, Gay Karl and other twats you’ve never heard of). For the summer I’d been doing Single of the Week, but even that had lost its charm. The initial thrill of seeing a desk piled high with mailers was replaced by the frustration of realizing it will take ages to listen to them all, and most of them will be shit.
The NME I’d worked on that week was a microcosm of 1988: stale and lifeless and ready for a shake-up. A cover feature on Morrissey and his new album, “Suedehead”, and the death of the Smiths; interviews with The Fall, The Triffids and Billy Bragg. Amongst all the old stuff, and the full-page ads for golden turds such as Sting’s new single “An Englishman in New York”, was the only gleam of hope; Single of the Week – “Beat Dis” by Bomb the Bass. I don’t know it yet, but it’s the shape of things to come.
I watch Mandy as she drinks her lager. I watch the swing of her long hair, the shade of fresh chestnut. The air is hot and smells overwhelmingly of beer and tension. Across the pub, at the entrance, the legend FOSTERS glows in excited red neon, the pub punter faces reflected in the huge mirror, the red grinning faces laughing and shouting so hard the chat merges into one long incomprehensible barrage of pub noise.
The bell rings for time. “What are you doing after this?” I ask her.
“Going to the Edge,” she says.
“Is that some new club?”
“No, it’s the Edge, Jamie, Edge with a capital E,” she says. “Just like Ecstasy.”
2: THOUSANDS IN ACID HOUSE DRUG PARTIES!
JASON ZODIAC AND THE T-SERVICE:
“THE CAMELOT RUN”
by PETE KORNER
and MICHAEL SHENLEY
first broadcast – 13th March 1968.
running time – 44 mins 53 secs.
SCENE 7: Wintle Hall INT – DAY.
A large group of well-dressed men and women are standing inside a huge drawing room, drinking champagne from fluted glasses, chatting and laughing with each other in very high spirits.
They are surrounded by a giant indoor racetrack. Plates are whizzing around the room on top of miniature racing cars running along a long plastic Scalextric track shaped like a Moebius loop. The plates are carrying buffet food such as vol-au-vents and tiny triangular sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
JASON, TANGERINE and SCREAMING LORD SMITH enter the room. JASON wears mirrored ray-ban shades, a purple crushed velvet frock coat with matching bellbottom trousers, a lemon frilled shirt from John Stephen, and high-heeled Chelsea boots from Mr. Freedom (Kensington Church Street).
TANGERINE wears a black and white Mary Quant mini-dress, knee-high side-zippered white vinyl boots from Countdown, a floppy hat and long false eyelashes,
SMITH wears a navy blue suit, pink shirt and paisley cravat, all designed by Pierre Cardin.
DR. CHESS (VOICE-OVER): Jason, can you hear me?
JASON (discreetly touching the earpiece he is wearing behind his ear):
Loud and clear, boss.
DR. CHESS: I’m initiating a scan for any known operatives of the Church With No Name that may be in this room. Stand by.
The three take champagne glasses from a waiter dressed as a Grand Prix mechanic and sip their drinks.
Close-up on a dark-skinned man standing alone, wearing sunglasses.
DR. CHESS: The man you are looking at is Astor Karvik. He’s one of the Church’s top assassins, and he uses the code name of ‘Man-Snake’. The computer says his preferred weapon is darts of highly potent serpent venom.
SMITH: Sounds like he needs a good kick in the cobras.
Close-up on an attractive young lady, holding court with a group of male admirers. She wears a bright red dress that matches her lipstick, and smokes with a long cigarette holder.
DR. CHESS: That’s Valerie Felgate, in charge of Church transportation and smuggling activities. Her code name is ‘Fast Lady’.
JASON: Nice chassis.
TANGERINE: Down, tiger.
Close-up on a large man in glasses, wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches, and a bow tie. He is scoffing a plate of cheese and pickle sandwiches.
DR. CHESS: That’s Dr. Terence Spooner, otherwise known as Anagram Sam. He’s the Church cryptography expert. We suspect him of breaking several MI5 and MI6 codes and selling the secrets to certain hostile powers.
ANAGRAM SAM (to passing waiter): Cheaper gammon, my good man.
WAITER: Pardon, sir?
ANAGRAM SAM: I said, more champagne, my good man.
WAITER (handing him a glass): Certainly, sir.
JASON: I’d love to know why The Minister thinks this treasure hunt needs the attention of the T-Service.
TANGERINE: I’d love to know what the treasure actually is.
SMITH: Just like a woman.
Sound of banging gong. A waiter takes the stage.
WAITER: Ladies and gentlemen, may I present…your host!
3: EVILS OF ECSTASY!
Turning off Oxford Street, Mandy tucks her hair into a wooly cap against the September chill, and I glance at her cheekbones reflected in the blank windows of shops selling things I would never afford. Earlier that year Nicky Holloway had opened Trip, a club night set in the Astoria on Tottenham Court Road. That’s where she was going and she had some Es to flog. I’ve never had them before, because twenty-five quid for a pill seems ridiculous when you can get an ounce of hash for a fiver if you know who to talk to. But then, that’s me, in my early thirties but already an old stoner.
Down an alleyway, we come up to some clubbing kid who’s hopping from one foot to another behind a group of people laughing and milling about on the pavement. “Is this the end of the queue?” I ask him.
“Dunno where the queue ends, mate, I didn’t bring me telescope,” he says, and laughs.
I beckon Mandy forward, following the crowd, and when we get to the crash barriers and security I use my NME press card to blag our way in. That’s what it’s for, innit? We push our way upstairs, through knots of clubbers in smiley T-shirts, bandanas, ripped jeans, straw hats, Timberlands with laces undone. The auditorium is split on two levels, with a large stage dominating the open ground floor and a large balcony area upstairs comprised of tables, chairs and a bar running the length of the wall. The air is thick with the scents of sweat, roasting meat, hashish, stale beer, incense.
To me, nightclubs have always been tragic places where Casual Kev dances in his pastel knit sweater, white socks and loafers, looking for a Madge to pull or a poof to beat up. But I’d been hearing all year about this thing Acid, like the House music out of Chicago but different, like the Disco out of the European islands but different. The NME party line had been to treat it as an academic curiosity but the sheer balls of something calling itself ‘acid’ in these ‘just say no’ Eighties should have tipped me off long before.
The club walls and ceilings are covered with camouflage nets and parachute silk, billowing in the gusts from the smoke machine, and the DJ is a silhouette framed against a laser show and a screen showing fractals and clips from old freaky kid’s shows like The Clangers and Magic Roundabout. I’m knocked out by the sheer strangeness of it (and also sneakily proud because I know what fractals are, I’d seen a BBC 2 programme on the Mandelbrot Set the month before).
“What’s this track?” I yelled to Mandy.
“Can You Feel It, by Mr. Fingers,” she says without hesitation.
She shouts something like ‘stop being a rock snob’ and gives me a hug. During the hug she palms me a small white pill and I neck it, washing it down with the water we’d bought from the bar. It tastes really bitter and I can’t help gurning for a few seconds. I’d wanted to buy a Carlsberg but she said you don’t need it, that’s the whole point.
We start dancing, and I gradually forget about my sense of London cool and exchange thumbs-ups and cheesy grins with the clubbers around us. Everyone’s drinking water, not beer. I stare at a clubber with blond dreadlocks flailing around his head. He’s so out of it, he’s forgotten where he is and who he’s with. Mandy tries to say something but the beat’s so loud she’s doing goldfish impressions, mouth opening and closing silently.
After about twenty minutes the fun starts. A tingling begins in my fingers and runs up my arms, filling me with a tense, really sexual energy. Beads of sweat break out on my hands and face, run down my chest. The buzz is new but it’s also like an old friend, an electric hum up and down my spine. The relentless glare of lasers amid the smoke covers the dance floor in a pulsing nimbus of come-on colors. I barely feel my boots on the sticky, grungy floor.
Suddenly, all things are possible.
I don’t know how, but the whole quality of the club – the light, the sound, the smells – everything has changed. Everything is sharper and brighter. I feel…woozy, yeah, woozy, it’s a great word and it suits me right now. My jawbone starts to shake and a sudden cramp shoots down my stomach. I bend over, I can’t help it.
“Have some water,” says Mandy. Somehow I’ve lost my own so she hands over her own bottle – it’s ten times better than beer – and then we start snogging.
Her lips, her skin, tastes and smells like the best thing ever. The entire upper balcony is shaking with the reverberations as clubbers chant Aceeed, Aceed, Aceeed! I stop dancing for a moment, and just take in the energy, the novelty, the love – yes, love is the word for it. For the first time in ages, I’ve dropped my cynical facade and I feel something like love for my fellow human beings.
Some young bloke in a bandana and Batman T-shirt comes up to me and holds out an unwrapped packet of cigarettes. “‘Scuse me, mate, can you help me open this packet of fags? I just can’t get it together, mate, I’m off me nut. You can have a smoke out of it.”
“Sure,” I say, and proceed to rip off the plastic, with the random bloke, Mandy, and me all laughing hysterically.
4: COPS BATTLE WITH ACID PARTY YOBS!
SCENE 7 – CONTINUED.
THE HOST, SIR NORMAN TRASK APPEARS. HE IS A DIGNIFIED MIDDLE-AGED MAN, WEARING A THREE-PIECE SUIT, A RACING DRIVER’S HELMET AND GOGGLES, AND HAS A CHECKERED FLAG DRAPED AROUND HIS SHOULDERS.
TRASK: Ladies and gentlemen…welcome! Welcome, to the annual Trask Car Rally and Treasure Hunt! I promise that this year’s treasure hunt will be the most exciting one ever! Exciting because…this year, the treasure itself is a mystery, and you will not know what it is, until you find it!
The room erupts in cheers.
TRASK: Why do we have the annual rally, my friends? Because the key image of the 20th Century is the human being driving an automobile. It sums up everything about this current era: speed, machinery, violence, desire, the shared experience of man and machine moving in harmony through a technological landscape. We spend a large part of our lives behind the wheel of a car; and everything you need in life can be found on the highway. The design of the automobile is one of unsurpassed beauty; this is the future, my friends, and it has fins on the side of it.
Polite applause. TRASK points to an upturned driver’s helmet placed on a wooden stand in the centre of the room.
TRASK: Each one of you will be paired up, and given a new partner. Please come up to the table, one by one, and draw your partner’s name out of the hat.
At the butler’s gesture, a man with a champagne glass walks to the helmet and draws out a paper. He unfolds it and reads the name.
MAN: Ingrid Declair.
A young woman waves at him from across the room. Polite applause.
DR. CHESS: You’re going to be split up. I don’t like the look of this.
JASON: Why so nervous, Doc? Haven’t you heard that swapping partners is the grooviest thing?
TANGERINE: You would say that, Jason.
The butler points at Jason. He takes a paper out of the helmet.
JASON: Yvette Van Ost.
A gorgeous leggy female in feather boa waves at him from the side.
TANGERINE: Watch it darling, or I shall rename my voodoo doll ‘Jason’.
TANGERINE walks up and selects a paper.
TANGERINE: Arthur Eden.
A young, handsome, distinguished man in a tuxedo waves at her.
TANGERINE: Now that’s more like it. Touche, I think,
SMITH: My turn. (Going to helmet) Jeremy Deacon.
A short, tubby man with glasses and buck teeth, wearing a stained anorak covered with car rally badges, waves at him.
SMITH: (grinning with gritted teeth) I shall kill you, Jason.
JASON: Luck of the drawer, Lord Smith.
TRASK: Let the treasure hunt begin!
Cheers and cries of ‘Tally ho!’ as everyone runs out of the room to their cars. Groovy Hammond organ music plays on the soundtrack.
5: RAVING MAD!
October 1988, and it’s time for my first real rave, my first illegal warehouse party in the middle of nowhere. All in the cause of investigative journalism, you understand.
I pick Mandy up in my car and like she said, she’s brought along a couple of mates, a girl called Julie who’s like a blond version of Mandy and her boyfriend, a stoner called Pete. Pete gives me a sly grin as he gets in the car, and I wonder what Mandy told him about me. He’s got a sharp face with thinning dark hair and designer stubble. His clothes are all in shades of grey and dark green, maybe expensive stuff, but none of your Casuals Man at C & A bullshit.
We drive around the North Circular and the M25, heading for somewhere south of the Leatherhead turn-off. We’re looking for the designated meeting point printed on the party flyer – a strategic strong point when organizing raves. The only other things on the flyer are a psychedelic sunburst, a cell phone number and the name of the party – ‘QUASAR’.
The meeting point turns out to be an Esso service station, and there must have been hundreds of cars and about two thousand clubbers who’ve already turned up, waiting to place the phone call to the number on the flyer at nine o’clock, dancing in the forecourt to a pirate station on their car radios and blasting out whistles and air horns. I recognize the track: Joey Beltram, Energy Flash. The bad news is that PC Plod has also arrived. Over the year the Old Bill’s got more and more rave-savvy, but the cops are keeping a low profile at the moment, black Mariahs and jam sandwiches and lemon curd sandwiches back at the turn-off, keeping an watchful and disapproving eye on the ravers and muttering KKKKKHHH into the walkie-talkies every two minutes.
Off our heads in England’s green, pleasant and highly policed land.
Mandy and Julie get out of the car and dance in miniskirts and fluffy bras, shouting out random song lyrics, throwing around Milky Ways that they’ve pilfered from somewhere.
“I can taste something,” Mandy screams.
“Chocolate?” I call.
“No,” she calls back. “I can taste the electricity.”
Inside my car, Pete produces a bag of Es and we sort out payment. I roll up a spliff and after Pete’s had a toke he says to me, “So…where do you think Acid House started, then?”
“Detroit, wasn’t it? No, hang on…Ibiza. No, Manchester.”
Pete shakes his head and gives me a knowing wink. “No, mate. It started a couple of years ago, in Northampton. It was an experiment. All Jason Zodiac’s idea.”
I laughed, blowing out a cloud of fragrant smoke. “Jason Zodiac? Jason’s a recluse. He’s in the John Lennon stage of his career, but with no sign of a Double Fantasy on the horizon yet.”
“Guess again. The New Acid Test, he calls it. The Eighties Acid Redemption. I seen it, man, I was standing on the Racecourse with a few mates when Jason did it. It’s real. The door of the sun, man. Jason’s gonna open the door of the sun.”
I pull on the spliff and try to make sense of what he’s telling me. “So why didn’t NME hear about this?”
“Because they did’t want you to know about it, man.”
I can’t think of a reply to that.
“I’m writing an article, man. Gonna tell the whole story.” He stares at me, eyes narrowed. “You reckon NME might be interested?”
I shrug. “I’ll do what I can, mate. Put in a word for you.”
He leans over and holds up a clenched fist and I sit there for a few seconds until I realize he expects me to touch fists with him. So I do.
A massive scream goes up from outside. “It’s on!” yells Mandy. “Start the car!”
The convoy hits the country roads, with ravers standing up in their open-top cars shouting Aceeeeeeeeed! and flashing blue lights somewhere behind us. I’m driving, following the BMWs in front, and Mandy’s giving directions and Pete’s stopped being mysterious and started snogging Julie.
About five miles from the Esso station, the convoy pulls off the main road and through an open pair of gates. I drive us through a labyrinth of dark hulks of buildings until we reach the loading bay, converted into the party’s entrance. Five police vans turn up at the same time. We park where everyone else is parking, start walking, and then the security guys by the door yell at us to get inside the warehouse as quick as we can. We don’t need to be told twice.
Light pours out of the windows, turning the warehouse into a fairy cathedral. Beats are pounding, making my sternum vibrate in sympathy.
Here be treasure. X marks the spot.
EXCERPT (This is from a short story featured in the Fantasy/SF collection “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow” Volume One).
DRUM ROLL OF COLONIAL FISH
Poached mullet marinated for twenty-four hours in a sauce of milk, rosolio liquer, capers and red pepper; poach lightly. Just before serving the fish, open it and stuff it with date jam interspersed with discs of banana and slices of pineapple. It will then be eaten to a continual rolling of drums.
– from ‘The Futurist Cookbook’
It is a well-known fact that while waiting in a supermarket queue, a common obsession is to stare into the baskets and trolleys held by the people standing next to you.
There, you may see the hoarde of the closet bulimics with their exquisite, nuerotic marriage of a Lean Cuisine lasagne and a frozen blueberry cheesecake. Or the unmarried drones, with their bulk-buying of precooked meals. Or the veterans of tinned steak and kidney pies and corned beef, still nostalgic for food that was rationed and piping hot.
Such is the stalking ground of the Whispering Sisters.
Take the young man standing in the queue, here at the Camden branch of Sainsbury’s. Slowly he becomes aware of the slow burn feeling on his neck, telling him he is being watched.
He has fallen under their spell.
Looking around, he catches the eye of the woman standing next to him, hands resting on the shopping trolley. Chestnut-brown hair, swept back with a multi-colured headband. An expensive business twin-suit, in a shimmering colour difficult to name. Attentive eyes, with no trace of the glazed disinterest of ordinary city-dwellers.
Full lips that open as she leans closer to his bewildered face.
“I think the cashier’s waiting to serve you,” she says.
After they have both been served, pleasantries are exchanged in the area where the trolleys are deposited, until the young man enthusiastically helps her carry her shopping to her car. The Sister has chosen
well; the young man is absurdly open to hypnotic suggestion. He is left simmering for five
minutes until the Sister has driven away, and his head finally clears. He comes to with a start sitting in his own Volvo, staring at the wrong bag of shopping lying on the passenger seat.
Back in the security of her apartment, the Housewife carries the switched Sainsburys bag to the kitchen table. The doors are bolted, the blessing is said, and the long, serrated knife is prepared for use.
The bag is slit cleanly down the middle under the piercing thrust of the knife. The shopping spills out onto the formica kitchen top; canned, packaged, frozen, fresh, wrapped, bottled. The Sister’s eyelids and lips twitch as she intently reads the entrails of this sacrificial offering.
At length, once the augurs have been divined, she turns away with a frown. She retrieves her mobile phone from her handbag, and dials.
“Charles? This is Alison … I think you’re in some sort of trouble.”
2: WORD SALAD
SLIPS OF THE TONGUE IN MADEIRA SAUCE
Boil tongue until tender (about 1 hour) in lightly salted water. Meanwhile, saute a handful of fresh mushrooms in butter and oil, with a tbs. of chopped onions or shallots. Add 1 cup of the water in which the tongue has been boiling and 1 tbs. tomato paste. Boil for several minutes until reduced to a few tbs. Add a glass of madeira with a tbs. of arrowroot stirred in. Boil until sauce thickens. When tongue is tender, remove the skin and cut into slips of about 2 inches each. Add to Madeira sauce. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper and serve topped with parsley.
– from ‘Freud’s Own Cookbook’.
The absence of storm within the restaurant ceased momentarily, and Mr. X stepped from the kitchen into the interior. By the side entrance, a shadow stood in rain-drenched overcoat and hat. This was the belated
arrival of Mr. Y.
“It’s a foul night,” the newcomer commented.
“It is indeed.” Mr. X advanced, and the two men greeted each other with the customary clandestine salute. “I was starting to get a little concerned about you.”
“There’s an all-night sitting in the House, and the Euro-Rebels are stirring things up again. There were some eyebrows raised when I slipped away, I can tell you.”
“No lasting repurcussions, I hope?”
“Nothing I can’t take care of.”
“Good, because our honored guest is waiting. He’s in the fridge.”
The two men stepped through the hushed shadows of the restaurant, the taller man taking off his dripping coat as Mr. X led him to the cloakroom.
“There has been talk,” the visitor said as he slipped his coat onto a hangar, “that the annual dinner might not run so smoothly this year.”
“Problems?” Mr. X’s dark, narrow face was instantly alert.
“Possibly. Charles got a call from one of the Whispering Sisters this afternoon. She was contracted to make a divination for us, just to be on the safe side. The augers say that the Benandanti might be planning something for us tomorrow, but I’m afraid she couldn’t be more specific.”
A long, wheezing sigh. “Tomorrow…that doesn’t give us much time to increase security arrangements, you know.”
“Awfully sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”
“I hope you’re not suggesting…”
“Cancellation? Of the annual dinner? Out of the question.”
There was a long moment of speculation in the warm, humid silence; then Mr. X snorted and gave a shrug. “Well, time’s getting on. If we’re having Donald for dinner, we can’t keep him hanging around all night.”
The restaurant owner guided Mr. X through the brightly illuminated kitchen to the solid, intimidating entrance to the walk-in cold room. Unfastening the bolts, he swung it open, releasing a white mist of water vapour.
The refrigerator was stocked with segments of cow, pig, and rarer animals that beared their exposed ribs and inner cavities to the two men stepping carefully along the slippery floor towards the back. Mr. X switched on a torch that he held in his gloved hands. Sliding aside a metal folding partition, Mr. X held up the torch to examine his guest.
“Now then, Donald, let’s have a look at you.”
Donald Oughton hung from a specially-made harness, naked, his body almost entirely plastered with thick, off-white waxed paper. The bumpy contours of his body hinted at the truth concealed by the paper; he had been gutted.
Eight days ago, once Oughton had fallen completely under the sedative that Mr. X had himself administered, the master chef set to work, draining blood from the still-living body. A three-foot catheter had been inserted into the inferior vena cava then threaded through to the heart, with the pumping action of that organ emptying the body of its blood supply. Mr. X had helped it along, of course, with a little shaking and pushing. That had cut down the risk of bacterial infection, and considerably slowed the process of decay.
With the accuracy of a surgeon, Mr. X had skinned Oughton and removed the abdominal organs. Most of these had been consigned to the restaurant incinerator. Specially selected organs were then removed and set aside, including the specialty Mr. X had liberated by sawing open the skull.
Oughton had then been slipped into the harness and hung in the cold room at a steady 5 degrees centigrade. Over the period of eight days, the rigor mortis had gradually faded, as the glycogen in Oughton’s muscles broke down into lactic acid and started to soften the fibre. To aid the conditioning process, he had been liberally smeared with a certain tenderizing powder of Mr. X’s own devising, then covered up with greaseproof paper.
Mr. X led Mr. Y to a rack of shelves. One of them slid outwards on rollers to reveal the liver, brain and selected cuts from the shoulder, back and rump of the late Mr. Oughton, chilled and wrapped in clingfilm. The meat of the muscle held a dark, cherry-tomato color, looking slightly coarser than the smooth texture they had both been hoping for. The meat was ringed by ragged edges of yellowy-white fat. Although in texture and color it looked similar to beef, they both knew from years of experience that when cooked, it would give the lie to the cannibal jargon of ‘long pig’, and present the delicate flavor of good, fully developed veal. They also knew that if eaten uncooked, it would melt in the mouth like the finest tuna sashimi.
“Very impressive.” Mr Y clapped his hands together with a cushioned slap. “Right! Let the dog see the rabbit …”
Like to read a sample from another story? GO HERE.
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In the House of the Crazy Dead, Group Captain Ian was fighting for his life. Johnny Shoxx and his army of zombies had smashed down the doors to the ballroom, and were battering their way in – and for zombies as big, bulky and ugly as they were, they sure moved quickly. Keeping his finger pressed down on the automatic fire button, Ian thumbed the command for rapid sweep, and –
“Ian!” As well as calling him, Dad gave the boy a quick, vigorous shake on the shoulder. “For the last time, stop playing that bloody game, will you? Look around you. You might learn something.”
“Yes, Dad.” No mistaking that tone of voice, Dad wasn’t happy. Ian put the Gamepocket back in his rucksack and folded his arms, glaring around him with a sniff. He could have got up to Level 5 that time, if Dad hadn’t have stopped him.
Bum. Ass-Hole. With an American accent.
“I don’t know, we paid to get in here, and all the time the boy’s got his head stuck in that computer game. He’s in a world of his own.”
“Well they’re not interested in this kind of stuff any more, are they? Everything’s got to be new, new, new.”
Ian had thought the Toy Museum had sounded like a great idea. All those weird and fantastic games and things from hundreds of years ago. But it was just boring. A few bits and pieces made out of wood and tin. Just lying there in a case. As if that was going to make them exciting – Doh! The seven-year-old scratched his big pink ears and swiveled around on his heels.
And then he saw the house.
“There you go, Ian! Now that’s what a real Doll’s House looks like.”
It was huge. The first thing Ian saw was the house-front; a huge slab of fake masonry painted in sugar-icing pink, that had been swung away from the main body of the building to expose the tableaux within.
That was a doll’s house? A doll’s house that big? It must have cost a fortune! Ian walked closer to look inside.
And there, to his delight, was a tableaux of five rooms and a hallway, decorated in warm, glowing Christmas-colours. There were so many details in the rooms it looked as if somebody had fired a miniaturizing ray-gun at a real house and shrunk it down to this size. And there were people in it. Well, not people but dolls. But not crybaby dolls. These dolls were wicked.
“Oh Phil? Look over there!”
Ian stared intently at the doll’s house as his parents wandered away. He could live in a house like that. Yeah. He felt really comfortable the more he thought about it. That house would be dead good to run about in.
Dad’s voice; “‘ A Child’s Garden of Verse,’ By Robert Louis Stevenson. Have you ever seen this before?”
Mum’s voice; “Robert Louis Stevenson. Didn’t he write ‘Treasure Island’?”
The notice on the side of the case read; ‘Victorian Doll’s House. Height 47 inches, width 41 inches, depth 14 inches. The front opens to reveal five rooms furnished with great care and attention to contemporary detail, and with great taste. The furniture is mostly early Duncan Phyfe, with the exception of the drawing room.
‘This house is generally known as the Faerie House. It is said that the donating family, who wished to remain anonymous, maintain that the house was built for the little spirit folk to live in.’ Ian read that bit twice. ‘A quaint tradition, which recalls the affair of the Cottingley Fairies…’
Ian’s eyes scanned the house, imagining where his toy soldiers would be hidden. They could jump out from anywhere, just like the baddies in “Time Massacre 4.” There was so much analog detail in the rooms, dark corners, bulky furniture, loads of places for monsters to hide…
“Look at the cover! That’s even the same cover as the one Nan gave to me when I was a boy. Here, let me show you this, it’s my favourite one in the book…”
The voices of his parents tuned in and out like a grown-up radio program. Ian set his soldiers moving. The house was his! He must protect it! He might blow it up a little bit while he was doing that, but he was the boss, so it didn’t matter!
He imagined two of his soldiers in the house, one upstairs, one downstairs. And a zombie, crashing in through the window in slow-motion shattering glass. Boom! The first soldier gets it in the arm.
What’s up? calls the second soldier, in the big bedroom.
I’m hit, shouts the first one, you gotta help me, you gotta help me. So the second soldier gets his Big Gun out.
“Ian? Did you say something?”
“Oh, he likes that house, doesn’t he? There you are, love, what did I tell you. Good old-fashioned stuff always appeals.”
“Oh, look, this is the poem I told you about. ‘The Unseen Playmate’. This scared the living daylights out of me when I was little.”
“Scared you? Oh, come on.”
“No, straight up, it did!”
Flicking his gaze from room to room, Ian noticed that not only were there dolls in each house, but they were all doing something. The cook was making dinner, in the primitive-looking kitchen. In the bathroom an old-fashioned maid was giving a baby a bath. A posh woman was playing the grand piano in the drawing room. But where’s the old man, thought Ian? Where’s the boss of the house?
Oh – there he was.
“Yeah, it really did. And I’ll tell you another thing that used to scare me. That poem about ‘The man who wasn’t there’. Do you know the one I mean? ‘When I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.’ That gave me bad dreams, that did.”
“Oh, it didn’t!”
“Yes it did. Whoever is in that poem, he’s both there and not there, you know, both at the same time. I think that’s dead scary.”
“Well, I think it’s just daft.”
In the study, sitting at his desk, was the head of the household. Thickly drawn rings for eyes, in a lumpy wax face, attached themselves to Ian’s gaze. The doll was wearing an old-looking black coat and was stooped over his desk, as if he was really tired. Flakes of white paint, maybe from his hair, speckled his coat like dust or dandruff.
“There’s something else I’ll always remember, it’s a poem that my Dad used to recite to me, I don’t know where on Earth he got it from. It goes – no, don’t laugh – it goes like this:
One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight.
Back to back, they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.”
“Well, it’s a nonsense poem, isn’t it?”
“I know, but there’s something really strange about it. It’s like everything has been turned around and upside down. But to the people in the poem, it’s perfectly normal. It gives me the creeps.”
The old doll in his stiff black suit continued to stare back at Ian as if he recognized him. Suddenly, the boy had one of those funny feelings, a feeling he was not quite there. Something was at the back of his mind, another time, another place, he closed his eyes so that he could see it, but too slow. It was gone. Just that funny, happy-sad, sickly-sweet feeling that there was something really important, a place that he had to be, and something he had to do, but he just couldn’t remember what it was.
Hot flushes were colouring his cheeks. He really wanted to do a Mister Shaky, but he remembered the scolding his Mum gave him the last time he’d done that in public.
“Ian? Ian, are you ready?”
“Typical. Now the place is closing, he doesn’t want to go …”
THE LAVISHLY ILLUSTRATED COLLECTION OF STORIES CAN BE FOUND HERE.
Chapter One of “Voice of the Jewel”, the explosive finale to the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy!
I’ve saved the world once and Tokyo twice. Well, when I say twice, one of them was an alternative world Tokyo and doesn’t really count. I’ve had my ex-boyfriend possessed by a living shadow, I’ve been split into two people by a time machine, I’ve even had a marriage proposal from a Tengu. But the toughest challenge in my short teenage life has got to be this; the prospect of spending one more minute listening to Chiaki Yamamoto drivelling on about K-pop.
“And then there was an interlude for lunch and everyone got their lunchboxes, and my sister and me had made rice balls and decorated them to look like the faces of O-My Boyz members, and the girls around us were soooooo jealous! Then after lunch the O-My Boyz carried futons onto the stage, and they said “We all need a nap after lunch, right?” Then the lights went out and the big screen went on and we could see all their cute faces pretending to sleep while they played Dream Baby Candy over the speakers.”
“Chiaki, I am so going to the O-My Boyz Waku Waku Winter camp next year!”
“Chiaki, I am so totally jealous!”
I tried to tune out the boy band crap and glared at the Yokai in front of me. Schoolgirls aren’t supposed to have arch-enemies. Schoolgirls are supposed to obsess about pop music and crepes and school uniforms and homework. But surrounding me and my idiot companions were rows of creatures that I had encountered in the recent past. Some had helped me. Some had threatened me. Some of them had almost killed me. Today they glowered, silent and gleaming white in the cold sunshine, a rogue’s gallery made out of ice.
We were standing in the Sapporo Snow Festival Shigeru Mizuki Memorial Plaza. He was the creator of the manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro, the long-running adventures of a ghost boy and his friends and foes among the Yokai – the spirit-monsters inhabiting the world of Japanese mythology and folklore (or that’s what the public called them, the reality was kind of … complicated).
I gazed in admiration at the exaggerated and deformed figures before me. Kitaro, Medama-oyaji, Nezumi Otoko, Ittan Momen, Nurikabe, Nurarlhyon, Back Beard … Some dreamed up by the artist’s fertile imagination, but others had been inspired by ancient myths and folktales – like the Tengu, the Kappa, and the Kitsune statues, who stood one row behind the GeGeGe no Kitaro main characters. I smiled secretly as I ticked off the answers to the questions on the school worksheet we’d been given. Little did the teachers know I had crossed swords with all three of these Yokai in the past few months. In a manner of speaking.
I should have been happy. We were on a school trip! We were in the center of Sapporo, for heaven’s sake! We were at the world-famous Snow Festival in Odori Park, surrounded by giant replicas of pyramids, palaces, towers, Statues of Liberty, Star Wars characters, all sculpted from snow and ice – but I was stuck with Chiaki, the class alpha bitch!
I rubbed my gloved hands together and watched my breath silver the air in front of my face. The temperature difference with Tokyo was approximately 10 degrees C, but it felt much colder. Me, Chiaki, and her two hangers-on Nodaka and Mirei were all bundled up in layers of Uniqlo heat-tech underwear, hooded down jackets with a fleece-lined inner layer, thick knit caps, scarf, backpack, thick gloves, and corduroy jeans. We wore studded slip-stoppers on our boots, which we’d bought at Chitose airport, to keep our footing on our icy ground. We looked anonymous in the winter gear. The only difference was that Chiaki’s glossy black hair, much longer than mine, spilt out of her hood and down her shoulders. She was pretty as well, I’ll give her that, but you wouldn’t think so if you listened to her bitching. She was always ragging me about being a hafu – half Japanese, half American. She went around school telling everyone I looked cute because I had mixed parents, and I was just born like it, but for girls like her she had to work with skin cleanser and cosmetics and diets to look cute.
Which was the most important thing for girls like her. What you looked like.
We’d been here for one night – Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido, the large northern island that lay just above the Japanese mainland. Last night we’d got into Chitose airport quite late, taken a coach to the hotel in the city center just a few streets from here, and had some of the local seafood specialities for dinner.
This was our first view of the city proper, and it was the peak of the Festival, all very bustling and frenetic and very very Japanese. Japan’s fifth largest city, home to one point eight million people, Sapporo was a refreshing place to visit after years of living in Tokyo. The roads were wider and less congested, the pedestrians and cyclists were actually polite, and the streets followed a grid system that people could actually understand.
Our breath hung in the still cold air and our boots clacked on the ice-covered concrete path. Peering at the statues, my attention was distracted by Chiaki’s blabber, but also by the constant recorded announcements from a perky-voiced woman about the Festival attractions, and the occasional rasp of an electric saw used by an artist still putting the finishing touches to their crystal-colored work.
Piercing shrieks of laughter from behind me broke the frosty air.
“No, really, the album title is Popcorn, right? So their blog said tonight’s Winter Dream Live is going to have a popcorn and snack theme.”
“I saw their Live last month on Youtube, and the stage looked like like a popcorn factory and all the fans had popcorn box-shaped penlights.”
“Oh, shut up! Unless you can tell me where I can get a popcorn-box shaped penlight right now.”
“They come onto stage dressed as Popcorn Men, with popcorn-shaped helmets and red and white striped vests and pants, and they were all flying above the stage on wires, riding balloons shaped like popcorn and jellybeans and lollipops.”
“That is so cute!”
I snorted with laughter. I couldn’t help it – and she heard.
“What are you laughing at, Bergman?”
“Yeah, nothing. That suits you, Bergman.”
I swung round, trying to keep my voice calm. “Chiaki, can you manage to actually finish the assignments we’re supposed to do this morning? Or shall I write all the answers for you?”
“Yeah, answer the questions, Queen Geek,” she snapped back. “We’re busy.”
I knew exactly why I’d been paired with Chiaki for this morning’s assignment. The homeroom teacher wanted for the usual school kids and the Global Studies kids to GET ON with each other. To study together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The only problem with that is, you don’t come to an understanding with someone if you’ve already decided to permanently ignore them.
And that’s what had happened. When all the kids had been paired up and sent off with a clipboard and a list of photos to be taken and questions to be answered, Chiaki had sent a message on LINE for her friends to come and get her, and they did.
So maybe I should do the same thing …
If she was going to play dirty, then so was I. Without Chiaki noticing, which was pretty easy because she was ignoring me, I slipped out my own phone and sent a LINE message to Tomoe, Hideaki and Shunsuke. I need help, I said, I’m going to kill Chiaki. Come and find me at Izumo-taisha.
I slipped my phone back in my parka pocket, feeling a little better. They would find me, all right. They were all my BFF. My nakama. Or to use even trendier slang, my itsumen, as Chiaki would have said, if she ever bothered to speak to me in a full sentence that didn’t contain an insult.
I trudged off in the direction of the next school assignment, and the three girls followed a few yards behind, sniggering and snarking all the way.
I watched my breath puff out into ice crystals as I walked. Over the winter vacation, I’d been practicing a lot with Chiyoko. Training with the naginata staff she had given me, and learning more about the Ki, the spirit energy that flowed within and without every living being. We had meditated, as well, under a spell of concealment in the private gardens of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace itself, the grounds that the public are never permitted to enter. Count your breaths, Chiyoko had said, count your breaths, and feel at home in the empty space between them.
Here in the park, I tried to calm down and enter the same space, watching my misty breath. It was a place as pure as the stinging cold air, pure and clean and completely my own, where nothing could touch me.
Snow had been on the ground here in Sapporo for weeks, the teachers had said. It was thick and settled, but paths had been cleared to each of the statue attractions, with the excess snow piled up into drifts as high as my shoulder, lining the edges of the park.
In the city center, the white carpet had been mashed to slush and frozen, then snowed on, slushed and frozen again, and store keepers must have been out with shovels every morning to clear the dangerous layers of ice. At the other end of the park the Sapporo TV Tower dominated the skyline, with its warm digital display showing the time 09:43 just above the main observation lounge.
“Okay, Chiaki,” I called back over my shoulder. “That’s Izumo-Taisha, up ahead.”
“Yeah, we know all about that Shinto stuff, whatever. You have to study that because you’re hafu. Me, it’s in my blood, it’s in my DNA, geddit?”
Jeez. Anyone who spent five minutes in the room with Chiaki would need the patience of the ancient Zen master Eihei Dogen to keep from slapping her in the face.
But I had bigger things to think about. We had walked past the gallery of Edo period samurai, and were almost at the replica of Izumo-Taisha … possibly the oldest Shinto shrine in all Japan.
Izumo was a region in Shimane prefecture on the southern tip of the Japanese mainland, an incredibly old area known as the legendary home of the Kami – Japan’s pantheon of Shinto Gods. Trudging against a keen wind, I blinked snow out of my eyes and took in the majesty of the Shrine exterior. Beyond the pure white Torii gate lay the massive pillars and arched roof of the Main Worship Hall, with a snow reproduction of the giant one-ton sacred straw rope hung across half its length, and the nineteen doors allowing the entry and exit of the Kami stretching away on both east and west. The sunlight filtered through the thick translucent walls, and intricate carvings adorned white pedestals. Lamps placed at gound level cleverly used the ice to reflect a multitude of colors burning at the shrine’s heart.
I caught my breath. I’d seen the original on a school trip many years ago, but this copy made out of ice, this fake pressed out of the simplest natural material, looked somehow just as haunting and mysterious as the real thing.
“Yeah, Takahiro’s gonna be there at the O-My Boyz live in the park tonight … ’cause I said if he doesn’t see it with me I’m gonna kill him …”
As a rekijo – as a history geek – I was in my element, but there was something missing …
“Hi, losers! Are we cold enough yet?”
I looked up. And grinned.
“Hi, Hideaki. Hi, Tomoe. Fancy stripping off for a swim in the fountains?”
My nakama had arrived to save the day. Or most of them at least. Hideaki and Tomoe had responded to my LINE message, and turned up, with their respective school-project partners trailing behind them.
But where was Shunsuke?
Hideaki (my ex-boyfriend, but still BFF) was tall, lean, full of energy and far too handsome for his own good. Tomoe was cute in a Goth way, short and thin, burning constantly with more nervous energy than was good for her. She had black hair cut in a bob, and a smile that would have been cute if you didn’t look at her dark, intense eyes when she gazed at you.
They looked fresh and pure with the snow gently falling around them.
I noticed Chiaki turn to her friends and roll her eyes, as if to say, more weirdoes.
“How much longer are we gonna be standing around here freezing our butts off?” said Hideaki.
“That’s a charming way to say hello! I’d hit you if I could take my hands out of my pockets long enough,” I said with a smile.
He scowled fiercely. “I’m not an early morning person, and I’m not a winter person. I have to get up early every morning for baseball practice anyway. I wish once, just for once, I could stay in bed past seven o’clock.”
“So do we,” said Tomoe, “If only to get some peace and quiet. I’ve known Tengu that were less of a nuisance than you.”
Tomoe scrunched over to me and we hugged through the layers of clothing. “Whoa,” she said. “What’s up with you? You’re like we haven’t seen each other for weeks.”
“It feels like weeks since breakfast at the hotel. Don’t ask. Did you find anything for your Mom’s birthday?”
“Oh yeah! I bought one of the lucky owl charms from the Ainu stall back there.”
Chiaki had heard. “You bought your mom some of that cheap, tatty crap? She deserves better. They’re not even Ainu, anyway. They look like scrounging Filipinos and I think all that Ainu trinket crap was made in China.”
“Whoa,” scoffed Tomoe. “Thanks a lot, Miss Congeniality.”
I knew a lot about the Ainu. Sapporo was the capital city of the huge Japanese island of Hokkaido, and the Ainu were the island’s original, indigenous inhabitants. They had a rich culture and mythology of their own – but mainly, I know a lot about the Ainu because I kind of understood how they feel.
They know what it’s like to be outsiders.
“I’m going to buy her some Sapporo cakes and white chocolate as well,” Tomoe continued, until Chiaki cut in again.
“Hey, I’m so hungry! No food talk! Quit talking about food!”
Tomoe looked at me and winked. “I’ve got some white chocolate in my pocket right now. Wanna share it?”
“I can do better than that,” Hideaki said with a sly grin at Chiaki. “You wanna hit that Ramen Alley with all the prize-winning shops over in the city center? Mid-morning break? Teachers won’t find out.”
“I’m gonna kill you, loser!”
“Come on, Chiaki,” I said, relishing the moral support. “Maybe if you start noticing things around you, you’ll find plenty of attractions to take your mind off food.”
“Oh, you mean like I noticed that?”
She pointed at a column of greasy black smoke rising from a few blocks away.
“Is that meant to be part of the Snow Festival?” one of the other kids asked.
“It’s a BBQ or something?”
My mood plummeted again as I watched the smoke billow into the sky. The pit of my stomach felt hollow and my pulse rate began to rise.
“Something feels weird,” muttered Tomoe.
Then we heard the sirens. They were converging on the direction of the smoke. Around us, the other festival-goers started to notice and they held up their phones, capturing the smoky column with their cameras.
“I wonder what happened to Shunsuke?” I heard Hideaki say.
Before I spoke, I checked my phone again and sure enough, there was a LINE message.
Guys, come and meet me at the big metal signpost thing. There’s something weird that you need to see.
We walked back through the Edo Gallery, to the edge of the park. The crowds thinned out, because mid-morning most people would be gawking at the biggest sculptures around. Hideaki and Tomoe’s partners had fallen in with Chiaki’s clique, and they were giggling over something else on their smartphones. Whatever.
Shunsuke came to meet us. He was a few centimeters taller than Hideaki, but had a more open face that smiled easily, with pale, sensitive features, even paler because of the cold.
“What did you mean by weird?” I asked. So what’s so weird that we had to drag ourselves away from Izumo-taishi?”
“I think you’d better see for yourself,” he said, pointing behind him at a row of life-size ice statues on the side of the path.
As I got closer, I began to make out more detail in the figures. They were posed, unnaturally upright like the other ice statues we had seen today. But there was something familiar about them. Two female, two male.
Then it hit me like a jolt of electricity.
The rightmost figure was Tomoe. She had seen this herself and was standing beside me, her mouth open in surprise, On my other side Shunsuke nodded grimly.
At last I recognized the other three figures. One was myself, one was Hideaki, and the other was Shunsuke.
Our own faces; white, perfect, emotionless. They were ice statues of ourselves.
To read Book One, “Voice of the Sword”, go HERE.
To read Book Two, “Voice of the Mirror”, go HERE.