Tales From The Ridge

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

As yet untitled

Below is the first draft of the start of Ecks' second book, as yet still tantalisingly untitled. For those who care, The Servants Of Gods still sits on a shelf gathering dust, as Ecks is too sick of the sight of it to bring himself to make the revisions that need to be made before it is in a fit state to be submitted to agents and publishers again. It will happen; just not yet...

Yesterday I tricked the Devil. It was an amazing story, one that should be handed down from generation to generation and told to children by their mothers, but the story of how I came to be where I am today is in my opinion more amazing, so I think I will tell that instead. To begin with, at least. For now let me leave it that the Devil is very handsome, but not as tall as the legends make out.

But where am I? Where is this place, the journey towards which has been so eventful that it should obscure a story about the Devil himself? It is a good question, and one to which I admit I do not know the answer myself, because I am in fact lost. My name is Moses Temple Rodriguez, I am 33 years old and I am lost.

I have been lost in the desert for twelve days, ever since I was forced to flee Sucre in fear for my life with my friends Mirceles and Kinderman. I am trying to find my way to the village where my brother lives, because if I can find him he’ll help me. When I reach the village I will be safe, because it’s deep in the south, on the other side of the desert, where the rebels are at their strongest. No-one who works for the government would dare set foot down there. I am not safe here. I am not safe anywhere unless I keep moving. If I don’t keep moving they will catch me. It’s quite simple.

I have no idea why they are after me. I can only guess that perhaps it has something to do with my politics, as everything in this algae-stained sinkhole of a country always leads back to politics eventually, if one unravels the threads far enough, although all of this is mere speculation and none of it makes any difference to my current situation. The fact is that if I don’t keep one step ahead of the troop of unshaven thugs that the President has sent out after me, I’ll find myself with my ribs on the wrong side of my chest with the buzzards picking them clean.

Just now as I woke I saw a cloud-white plume of dust rising up in the distance like cigar smoke. They are gaining on us. We must push on.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Oil be back

That the hurricane had been created by the Texan oilmen there could be no doubt. What else would they do with their millions, their billions, than build a weather machine? It had been so obvious that, for once, even the conspiracy theorists had not bothered to raise a fuss. The roof of the underground bunker just outside Galveston had creaked open, they'd pointed the nozzle of the machine at the Persian Gulf, and in the study of his ranch, to a chorus of encouraging mooing from his cattle, a silver-haired billionaire had thrown the big red lever.

Of course, the Texan oilmen hadn't comprehended the power that the Gulf Stream wielded in its warm hands, that its breath would or even could turn their baby upon themselves.

That was close, an oilman said at their next meeting. I didn't like jazz anyway, said another. We were lucky, said a third. No, them Arabs was lucky, said the silver-haired billionaire. We'll fire it up again, he said, we just have to wait for the wind to change.

Inspired by Sharon Hurlbut's post over at Field Notes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

There are people I've e-mailed but never met

At 08:54 on Tuesday the 12th of October 2005, Herbert Griffin arrived at work. He arrived at his desk to find a conspicuous gap where his computer had been.

"Where's my computer?" he asked his secretary. She looked up at him from beneath eyelids weighed down with mascara.

"Being replaced," she said, "IT said they'll be round with a new one by lunchtime."

"What happened to the old one?"

"Thrown out, I s'pose."

"But my whole life was on that computer."

She blinked slowly, shrugged and returned to her magazine. He felt faint. He shut the door to his office and sat down. Address book, phone numbers, bank details, customer reference numbers, calendar - all gone, locked in that machine's dead brain. These numbers, these abstract strings of digits were what defined him, and they were lost; for all intents and purposes he might as well not exist.

At 09:12 on Tuesday the 12th of October 2005, Herbert Griffin recognised the lump in his jacket pocket. His mobile phone! Of course, he thought, everything would be saved in there. He congratulated himself for having had the forethought to spend the extra money on a state-of-the-art multi-functional model. He dipped his hand into his pocket and thumbed the "ON" button.


Surely he hadn't forgotten to charge it? He pressed the button again, but the only thing that flickered on the small dark screen was the reflection of his own eye. A cold sensation ran through him, as though icy water was being poured down the inside of his body. He felt nauseous. His limbs felt weak, as though they had no bones in them. He slumped down in his chair, his breathing ragged, barely able to raise his voice to call his secretary.

"Amy," he called, "I'm...I'm not feeling at all well. Please cancel all my appointments for today."

She didn't look up from her magazine.

The room swam before him. Sweat trickled down his face and collected in milky pools in the folds around his eyes. He felt a disquieting numbness in his arms. He looked down. The leather of the chair was quite visible through them.

That morning friends and colleagues' e-mails went unanswered and their phone calls simply received a flat, dead tone. Meetings were unattended, appointments not kept. "Funny," e-mails said to each other as they flew through mazes of circuit boards, "he seems to have just vanished."

When the IT department arrived with a new computer, his office was empty. At 11:21 on Tuesday the 12th of October 2005, Herbert Griffin had disappeared.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The old gods

It's a grey day. Across the road a crooked man scurries along like a raindrop running down a window pane. I recognise him from a past we both once shared. I pull the brakes on the rig. A thousand snakes hiss at me in indignation.

"Hey, Anansi," I call from the cab. He looks sideways at me but keeps on going. His legs rattle. I call again.

"My name's Anatole," he calls back, "Leave me alone."

"You're Anansi. I'd recognise you anywhere."

He pauses, looks first left and then right, then scuttles hunch-backed over the road.

"Keep your voice down," he says.

I open the door and he climbs in. Steam rises from his head in the warmth of the cab.

"So, how are things?" I ask.

"I'm doing fine. Fine. That's why I don't need you shouting...shouting that name across the street at me."

"I just wanted to reminisce. I haven't seen you for ages."

"I'm not Anansi any more, I'm Anatole. And I'm not a spider-god any more, I'm a chartered surveyor. That's why you haven't seen me for ages."

"I know, I know. I was just thinking, remember the old days? The fun we had? I thought maybe we could--"

"No, I don't remember the old days," he says, "At least, I'm trying not to. I try to keep my mind on my job."

"I'm sorry. It's this weather. It just got me thinking, is all."

"Listen: you're not Thor, you're Tony. You're a truck driver. Those days are over now. Just let it go."

He gets out of the cab. Rivulets of water stream down the window as he shuts the door firmly behind him. Lightning flashes a photograph of him at me - black-and-white, his collar turned up and his hat pulled down low - and moments later a snap of thunder rolls across the sky.

It makes me feel a little hollow.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Office politics

"Yes, sir?"
"I'd like to talk to you about the two new members in your team. I've had some complaints from other members of staff that their behaviour is disruptive."
"Funny...I was sure Brian and Clive would get on fine."
"Brian Hitler and Clive Gandhi do not get on, by all accounts. There seems to be some kind of...of fundamental clash of personalities."
"Really? What's the problem?"
"I'm told that Brian has been trying to annex part of Clive's desk."
"Yes. He says he needs more space in which to work, sir, and that it used to be his anyway."
"Yes, well, that's bad enough in itself, but it gets worse - apparently, instead of complaining to Human Resources like most other people would, Clive has decided to lay down on the area of desk in question in some kind of non-violent protest."
"He is laying on his front, sir - he can still use his computer."
"That's hardly the point. Something will have to be done."
"I simply don't understand. They both came highly recommended."
"Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that you get rid of them. Just...move them so that they're not together."
"Ah. Well, in that case, I think I may have a solution: Brian can go and sit at the spare desk between Vicky Churchill and Derek Stalin, and Clive can share a desk with Bob The Hun. There - I think that's the last time we'll see a personality clash in this office."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The disconnected man

The Earth looked beautiful from up there. A vast, perfect jewel of infinite facets, swirled with clouds but frozen like a photograph. It had been growing for some time, looming large; it filled Kovacs' field of vision now. A few of the billions of stars that they had marvelled at as they entered orbit had not been eclipsed by the Earth, and they loitered on the periphery of his vision, tiny pinholes in an eternal black curtain that would remain drawn forever.

Kovacs was pleased that their primary mission had gone well. Juspeczyk, Dreiberg, Veidt and Blake had all performed admirably, as he'd expected, and the solar panels had been replaced without incident. There had been the matter of the accident to mar an otherwise perfect trip, of course, but luckily nothing had been damaged. The space station would continue to crawl around the Earth as it had done for decades.

He looked down. Far below, a satellite traced its orbit before him, gliding across the earth like an ice-skater. It was probably beaming pictures of him and his team down to Earth right now for the people to gaze at over their dinner. He smiled down at it, imagining that he was smiling to all the people of the world.

It was starting to feel warmer now. Friction caused by the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. Ironic, really; he'd been complaining about the cold when the accident had happened.

There was a click, and a grainy voice coated with static.

"Kovacs? Are you there?" Juspeczyk's voice buzzed in his ear. She was choking down sobs. "I hope you can hear me. Our hearts are with you, you hear? Our...I'm sorry, oh God, I...it's just..."

Another click, then silence.

The crew had been in intermittent radio contact with him since his safety cord had disconnected, all the while he'd been tumbling away from them towards Earth. They'd been talking to him for hours, trying to reassure him. They told him about how proud his family were of him, how good a friend he'd been to each of them, what a good team-mate he was. None of them mentioned the obvious, that in less than an hour the heat of entering the Earth's atmosphere would sear through his suit and burn him to a crisp.

For his part, Kovacs hadn't said anything. He knew that all conversations were recorded.

He hoped they wouldn't record his screams.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Lower Breckleton Borough Council, Customer Service Department

"Good morning sir, how can I help?"
"Good morning. I'd like to claim damages from the council for my car. It was damaged by a pothole on a public road."
"I see."
"Can I do that?"
"Well, you could, but it would be terribly selfish of you, sir."
"Selfish? Would it?"
"Yes. You see, if it wasn't for people like you, sir, claiming money for damage caused by potholes, the council would have enough money to fill the potholes in. As it is, though, our hands are tied. Sand doesn't grow on trees, you know."
"But if the council had simply maintained the roads in the first place, there would be no claims."
"Would that it were so simple, sir. If it were just cars we had to worry about I'd be a happy man! But we have to deal with continental drift, stilt walkers, sunspots, dead albatrosses falling from the sky...each one enough to create the tiniest imperfection in the tarmac, to be nibbled at and gnawed at by tyres until a pothole sits like a boil in our otherwise flawless road. And the council can't monitor the flight path of every ageing albatross, sir! The costs would be crippling."
"So by making a claim, I'm preventing the council from maintaining roads."
"In effect, sir, yes."
"Roads that have been damaged by falling birds."
"Well, in fairness, the albatross is quite a large bird."
"So what would you advise me to do?"
"Go around, sir."
"I'm sorry?"
"The pothole: go around it. Then your car won't be damaged."
"But there are potholes on the other side of the road as well."
"Ah. Then go up on the pavement."
"Won't there be a risk that pedestrians will be injured?"
"Of course, but any such injuries and related claims will be made against you and not us. There, I think that's all settled then, thank you for your time. Next! Oh, good morning sir, how can I help?"
"Good morning. My rubbish wasn't collected this morning. I'd like to make a complaint."
"I see."
"Can I do that?"
"Well, you could, but it would be terribly selfish of you, sir."

Monday, September 05, 2005

The mask

The end would begin in Tokyo. The lurid lights of Roppongi would glare down as people first succumbed to the angry, weeping blisters, then the ragged cough, the shivering, and finally the blood-flecked vomit as the stomach ate itself.

Minoru Nakata stumbled into the road. People streamed past him, electrical impulses down the synapse of the street. Between their feet, oily neon reflections wallowed in dark puddles. Minoru lurched into the stream and grabbed someone by the shoulder. The man's eyes flashed with fear.

"Tanaka is a bastard," Minoru said, and the man twisted his shoulder loose of Minoru's grip, "They can't cut me out like that, I run that damn lab. And he's wrong. It wasn't my fault, it was an accident. Accidents happen in labs all the time."

The man wriggled away from him and was swept up into the flow. Minoru stepped in front of a girl.

"Tanaka thought I breached protocols, but everything was fine," he pushed his face right up close to hers. She wiped his spittle from her mouth.

"Leave me alone, you drunk!"

Minoru saw her storm away from him.

"Everything was fine," he said to himself, "I designed those damn protocols myself. The samples couldn't have been compromised. The breakage was dealt with, the room was sterilised. Nothing was overlooked, nothing could have gone wrong. I know, I was there. I was there, damn it! I was th..."

The traffic fumes had choked the streets in the still heat that afternoon. Breathing would have been unbearable without some kind of protection. He pulled the surgical mask from the pocket of his suit jacket and looked at it. He let it go. It fell to the ground like a snowflake.