Tales From The Ridge

Friday, December 23, 2005


'Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a peripheral was stirring, not even a mouse.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Ecks intends to funnel his energy into "proper" writing - rather than blog writing - over Christmas, so he'll be back some time around January the 3rd...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Farm

Below is a short excerpt from Ecks' new novel (as yet untitled). Its intended purpose is to go some way to explaining why the protagonist might be being pursued by the authorities.

One night, a few years ago, my next door neighbour Garro disappeared. When I left my apartment for work in the morning his door was hanging open and there was no sign of him. He wasn’t there when I got home in the evening either, and the door to his apartment was still open. It remained that way for four weeks, until one day he came back. His skin was pale, his eyes were sunk deep in grey sockets and his body hung limp from his head like washing hung out to dry. I asked him what had happened, where he had been, but he refused to say a word. He just hid in his apartment for weeks. When he eventually came out, weak as a gas and almost transparent, I asked him again, and he ushered me into my apartment and closed the door. Then he put some music on, turned all the taps on, sat me down on the sofa and whispered in my ear.

“So no-one can hear,” he said.

Then he told me what had happened to him.

He said they’d come for him in the small, crawling hours of morning, long before the sun came up. They’d borrowed a master key from the building supervisor, so he didn’t even hear them enter his apartment; the first he knew about it was being woken by a truncheon being jabbed into his stomach. There were six of them, dressed head to toe in black except for a little white ‘police’ patch sewn on the left arm, and they handcuffed him and dragged him out of his apartment by his feet, without even telling him what he was being arrested for. Then they put a bag over his head, bundled him into the back of some kind of vehicle, and started to drive. He asked them where they were going, but they just punched him and told him to be quiet.

“I knowed where we was going, though,” he whispered, “Don’t need no university schooling to work out anyone them lot arrest in the black boroughs’ll end up at the Farm.”

We all knew the stories, and we all knew someone who had disappeared, or gone away for a while and come back…different. The Farm was a semi-mythical place, said to be a remote old cattle ranch that had been converted into a government interrogation centre that skulked just beneath the view of the law. The President set it up years ago, just after he came into power. At first he used it to imprison his political opponents as he set about dismantling the pre-revolutionary apparatus of government, but when the last of those had been buried in the salt flats he handed the running of the camp over to the secret police, who turned their attention to the minorities – the blacks and the indians, mainly – torturing and killing them as they saw fit.

Garro said that when they eventually arrived at the Farm he was shoved and kicked into a tiny cell, and only then did they finally remove his hood. The guards spat on him and told him he was going to die, then left him alone in there for hours, though he didn’t know how long exactly as there was no clock and no window. They returned with food and water but made him beg before they gave it to him, and when it touched his tongue the water was brackish and the food rotten. When he had finished they whipped his legs with a length of rubber hose pierced with needles. They did this every day. Some days they urinated on his food. Some days they threatened to cut off his lips or his eyelids.

After a week, the routine changed. The whippings stopped, and after his food he was taken to a white-tiled, sterile-looking room where he was strapped to a bed. A man came in and asked him questions about his family, his friends and his neighbours, asking whether they were involved in any criminal or anti-government activity. When he said no, they simply told him he was lying and electrocuted him in the mouth or rubbed chillis onto his eyes, nose and genitals or pulled his toenails out with pliers or put his feet into boxes full of wasps.

He said that eventually they must have realised that he didn’t know anything, and that the coin they flipped must have come up heads as they decided not to kill him. He was hooded again, bundled into the back of another vehicle and driven away somewhere. On the way they told him that if he ever spoke of his experiences to another living soul, they’d come for him. After a few hours of driving they pulled over, unhooded him and dropped him by the side of the road.

“Last thing they said to me before they dumped me in the ditch,” he said, “Was I was lucky I done nothing wrong.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I can't believe it's come to this

Yes, a Tales From The Ridge clips show.

The Ridge is a year old today, so Ecks is celebrating by picking some of his favourite posts of the last 12 months and recycling them in a transparent, shameless attempt at avoiding writing anything new. So sit comfortably, peel back your eyelids and join Ecks as he jumps the shark...

The Cloud

As day broke and the dawn stroked her golden fingers over the belly of the sky, a single lonely white cloud found herself marooned on the horizon. She watched as the man walked down the cold sand of the beach to the sea, and she watched as he waded into the calm waters, deeper and deeper until he was totally submerged. He stayed under the water whilst the sun rose up in anger and the cloud had to hide, and he stayed under the water as the sun grew fat and lazy and the cloud grew in confidence and crept cautiously across the sky. Eventually the sun slid down mortally wounded and bled onto the horizon, and the cloud rejoiced and danced for the timid stars before falling laughing into the sea, chopping the surface into pieces to join her lover in a confusion of bubbles.

Poor Jaws

Once, when I was younger, on a day when the sun was fat and clouds were piled up on the horizon like ice cream, I caught a shark. He was half as long as I was tall, with skin as harsh as sandpaper, and although his eyes were black and sad, he smiled at me as I scooped him into my boat. He told me, as he lay heaped in the belly of the boat, of strands of eel grass stroking his fins in the warm Sargasso, of endless twisting conversations with lonely remoras, of nights spent watching the ripples from a boat tear the moon into a thousand shimmering strips...and a tear painted a snail trail down my cheek as I realised my mistake. I apologised as I eased the hook out of his jagged mouth and helped him onto the lip of the boat, but he smiled again and assured me that he did not mind. His skin rasped against the wood as he slipped back into the diamond sea, and the water laughed as it embraced him.

The Other Side Of The Wall

He’d always lived next to the wall. It dominated the landscape, an abrupt barrier to hold back the fields and trees that flowed down from the distant purple mountains, a line that ran as far as the eye could see in either direction. It loomed ominously, yet offered the comfort of protection as much as any uneasy sensation of captivity. His tumbledown hut had huddled against it for longer than anyone cared to remember, isolated and remote, sheltering in its fatherly shadow. He’d been happy for years, perfectly happy, until one day a traveller had come by and asked him what was on the other side.

He’d replied that he had no reason not to believe the government when they said that there was nothing there, but the way the traveller smirked at him made him feel uneasy. He had never thought about it, never doubted the officials, but from that moment forth curiosity consumed his life. His every waking hour was spent thinking about what bizarre things might be on the other side, just yards from his own hut, until finally he grabbed his ladder and flung it against the wall. It fell pitifully short, and so he chopped down tree after tree for wood to add to the ladder until it was long enough to reach the top of the wall. When, finally, it was long enough to reach the summit, he leaned it against the bricks and ascended to the top. With heart in mouth, he peered over.

He saw a vista of trees and fields, and in the distance, purple mountains wreathed in cloud. Then he looked down. Below him, hugging the wall, was a single small, dilapidated shack. Beside it, a man was urgently hammering lengths of wood onto the end of a ladder.

The abyss

The man who was a hero stood before the corpses, his once-golden hair matted black to his scalp in thick bloody knots, his skin tattooed with grime and criss-crossed by the scarred mementos of his many victories. He had slit the throats and torn out the hearts of tyrants and dictators, duplicitous politicians, corrupt priests, rapists, murderers, thieves, cheats, adulterers, liars and slanderers, and now, finally, he had stopped.

"I have killed all who have sinned," he said with some regret, "There are no monsters left."

He was wrong.

Springs eternal

There is a boat out on the ocean somewhere crowded with wretched people who have left their lives behind. The desperate and the despairing, all collected up and filled with hope and poured into this leaky tub to go in search of new lives. So it has been and so it will be.

Every so often they limp into some sun-kissed port, and the grizzled captain lumbers ashore to deliver his verdict. He casts his eyes around, shielding them from the sun with his red hand, and eventually says "No, this place isn't for us." and they return once more to the open seas. So it has been and so it will be.

The story goes that when they were anchored in Maracaibo, after the captain had decided against staying, a boy tugged on his jacket and asked him why. "Listen, lad," he said, "If we stay here who knows what might happen to us? At least at sea we have hope, and that's more than any of us have had before." And the ship slunk out of the port and into the arms of the sea.

So it has been and so it will be.


Pestilence crossed his legs as the train rattled through Chancery Lane station. He'd been on the tube since South Ruislip and, apart from a 6-year-old girl who had wrinkled her nose and peered at him with saucer eyes, no-one had looked at him twice. His dirty robes spilled down the seat and onto the foot of the dead-eyed woman slumped beside him.

"Forget horses - this is how we should travel when the end comes," he said out loud, "No-one will even notice us until it's too late."

The crumpled banker sitting next to him coughed as he hunched down further into the refuge of his newspaper.

Roland, The Dog-Faced Boy

I have been blessed and cursed in equal measure. My great fortune was the exciting, nomadic life of the circus; its antithesis, the very feature that sent me there. For, since the very day of my birth, apart from those periods of regular shavings, depilatory ointments and trichological experiments meted out by my increasingly desperate parents before they gave up on me and sent me packing in shame, my face has been covered in a bushy coat of luxuriant black whiskers.

My time in G. J. Granham’s Travelling Circus was varied and immensely enjoyable, and I circumnavigated the globe twice over as a star. Though the life may seem lonely from without, I was never short of companionship, for my stays at every venue were punctuated by nights of frenzied sexual activity as, impelled by reasons still unbeknownst to me, women of all shapes and hues desired greatly to copulate with me. They would seek me out after the performance and satisfy their animalistic fantasies with me behind the tents, next to where the elephants do their business.

One night in Prague when I was slipping out of the big top, though, I was accosted by a girl whose face was covered by a gauzy veil.

“I have watched you every night for six months,” she told me, “I have followed you from Calcutta to Johannesburg, and finally I have found the courage to approach you. No, don’t speak; let me finish.”

She placed her finger on my lips and raised her other hand to lift the veil and reveal her face. It was obscured by a thousand ginger hairs.

“See, Roland,” she whispered, “I am a dog-faced girl.”

I took her hand in mine.

“You should have shaved,” I said, “You look like a freak.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tethered John

John Garvey had always been the strongest man in Phillipsburg. Muscles flowed beneath his skin like snakes in a sack, and he could take a child in each of his hands and lift them clean above his head without a prickle of sweat on his brow. He had not been born that way; that is to say, nature had not contrived to grant him his titanic physique. No; his muscles were of his own making. For, from the age of nine, following a disquieting experience in the crawling hours of morning in which he felt that he were floating up towards the ceiling, he had chained a great rock to his ankle, which he carried everywhere with him.

It lay by his bed as he slept, it sat under the table at his feet like a dog as he ate. It dragged behind him as he fought the mosquitoes for the right to work the land in the dust bowl. And his muscles grew and grew.

He was well-liked by the people of Phillipsburg. Tethered John, they called him. It didn't bother them that he believed he would float away if he ever became detached from his rock; he was a solid guy, a dependable guy. He rebuilt the church nigh on single-handedly after the storm of '52. Streamers of laughing children unfurled behind his decrepit pick-up truck as it stuttered into town belching smoke, and they followed him to the grocery store begging him to tell them the stories again, just one more time, and they listened wide-eyed as he told of how he uprooted a tree with his bare hands, how he pushed a stubborn cow into a field, how he hauled the Partons's jalopy out of the ditch. And when he announced his wedding to his fiancée Martha Pitwater, the whole town smiled for him.

So the guests standing in the field at his wedding, these fine people of Phillipsburg, were not unduly worried as he completed his vows, for though his final promise to his wife was to "remove this rock that holds me down and never again wear it, as your love is all I need to keep me rooted here", none imagined that anything would arise from his joining them in the rational world. They watched as with great ceremony he bent down and, with his bare hands, snapped the chain that bound his ankle to that rock, and they watched as he hurled the boulder into the river. They were still watching as he began to float upwards, towards the sun. Well, he didn't so much float away as fall upwards, as though gravity worked in reverse on him.

The menfolk blinked and the womenfolk wailed, and Martha Garvey née Pitwater dissolved into a cataract of tears before them. And though the wedding buffet was devoured - for after all, there is never any sense in wasting food - it was consumed in silence and with a solemnity never before seen in that part of the country.

Phillipsburg was never quite the same after that. Tethered John's rock was salvaged from the river, moved to the town square and mounted on a sturdy plinth, and Martha spent the rest of her days as a crow watching an empty sky. John never did return.

I suppose that's why I've never dared break the chains connecting me to my rock.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

All quiet on the posting front

No posts for a little while, because of this and because of this (which was posted on another forum asking for advice on the matter; forum membership is required to read it though, so instead of providing a link an abridged version is reproduced here):

Post 1

I was woken at 07:30 this morning by my next door neighbour...he had just seen another of our neighbours reverse out of her drive and into the side of my car, and then drive off. Very nice and community-minded of him to come round and tell me, and lucky he did or I wouldn't have known about it (I have tonsillitis so I wouldn't have left the house all day). Now, I was fairly annoyed at this, but I thought I'd let the tablets I'd just popped take effect before going out into the cold.

So at about 08:00, and Nurofenned up to the eyeballs, I ventured out and down the road to where my car was parked - opposite The Reverser's drive - with my camera phone to take some photos. I took some of my car door - dented, scratched, and streaked with red paint - and I took some of her car bumper - pretty much undamaged but smudged with blue paint. I thought about knocking on her door to ask to swap details then, but she had no lights on so I thought I'd wait until a more sociable hour. I'm nice like that, see.

Next time I looked her car was gone, and I assume she had gone off to work (luckily she missed my car this time), so when I saw lights on at 18:00 I wandered down there with my insurance documents. I should point out that her blue-smudged red car was nowhere to be seen...

"Hello," I said, "I've just popped round to swap insurance details."

"What?" she said.

"Erm...my car...?"

"What about it?"

"I thought you reversed into it."

"No, not me."

"Are you sure?"


"Did you see who did, then?"


"Oh. Oh, well, I suppose I'm going to have to involve the police then, as it looks like a hit and run."

"I suppose you will."

"You sure it wasn't you?"


"Does seem strange though. I mean, my car's parked right opposite your drive, there's red paint on my blue car and there's blue paint on your red car. I even took some photos."

"What with?"

"Erm...my camera phone?"

"Oh, your phone. I see."

"And my next-door neighbour saw you reverse into it."

"Did he now."


"Wasn't me."

"Are you serious?"


"You're seriously just going to take the p1ss?"

"I do what I like. Always have. [her exact words!]"

"I can't believe this. So you're refusing to swap details, even though I have photos of your car's paint on the damage, photos of my car's paint on your bumper, and an eyewitness account of what happened?"

"Tell you what, you leave your insurance details with me and I'll think about it."

Then she slammed the door in my face.

(I should point out that this exchange, when written, doesn't begin to convey the arrogance that was in her voice.)

Ooh, I was livid. I was spitting feathers (well, more phlegm than feathers, but I do have tonsillitis). So I went to my next door neighbour and asked him if he'd back me up - he said yes - and then I went to the police station and filled in some forms. The desk officer blokey said that someone would be allocated to it tomorrow and they'd come and talk to me and to her (and I assume to my next-door neighbour).

Post 2 (the next day)

I just got out of bed (yes, I know it's 09:00, but I'm still ill) and looked out of my window - half expecting to find my tyres slashed - and by chance saw her reversing her car out of her garage. So I grabbed my phone (only thing to hand with a camera on it) and wandered down to get a photo of her bumper with the number plate in it, on the pretense of getting my MOT certificate out of my car, for insurance purposes, like.

When I got down there, there was an envelope on my car windscreen. As I opened it she got out of her car and wandered over. The note in the envelope said "Hey, life's too short - call me today and we'll swap details."

"Morning!" she shrieked.

"Hello," I said.

"I just want you to know that it wasn't your negotiation skills that made me change my mind. [Either she reversed into my car or she didn't...I wasn't aware that it had to be negotiated!]"

"I thought you said you didn't do it. Are you saying you did now?"

"I'm not admitting anything."

"So you didn't do it, but you're willing to pay for it?"

"I've got insurance. I hope you have."

"Er...yes, I came round last night to swap it, remember? Oh, and I should let you know that you might get a call from the police at some point today."

"You called the police?"

"Well of course, it's a hit and run. I want to find out who did it."

"They won't get involved in civil stuff! Do you think I'm stupid?"

I bit my tongue; I assumed she meant it rhetorically.

So I got into my car and fished around in the glove compartment, and she got in her car and started reversing out. While she was doing this she was still talking to me, but I wasn't really listening - if her insurance is paying for it then I don't care what else she has to say. Then I got the file out of my car and got out, and the last thing she said before she drove off was "And don't you try and make out it's worse than it is! I took photos as well!"

So that's the week Ecks has had. Illness and further proof that common decency isn't actually very common at all, rounding off his annus horribilis perfectly. Roll on 2006, then he can erase 2005, in its entirety, from his mind.

Normal service will be resumed shortly...