Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Thing Outside Perception

I would forever regret picking up the phone that rain-spattered day, but I wouldn’t regret it for long. It was an old friend of mine, one I had been out of touch with for some decades, and he was in a great deal of excitement. Such was his fervour, in fact, that I wasn’t entirely sure what he was excited about. All I could get out of the man was that, after so long a period of separation, he suddenly desired greatly to see me.
Since I had nothing particularly interesting going on in my life at that time, I consented, and set about driving to the northern lake where he made his icy home. While I travelled, I reflected on our long-gone youth, the trivial trials and tribulations we put our friendship through. They seemed so recessed in my memory, I couldn’t even recall what we’d fought over.
I drove into the picturesque little hamlet my colleague called home, lightly marvelling at the way the sun glanced off the autumnal leaves, and pulled into his long driveway. He was waiting for me at the door, a smile brightening up his weathered features. We embraced, and he chuckled wryly. “It’s good to see you, Amelia.”
“You too, Armilus. It’s been far, far too long since we last spoke.” He laughed again, moving his head in the old, familiar way of his that indicated agreement. It brought back warm memories, far warmer than the dance of speckled light against the back of my neck, chilled by an unusually cold summer.
He led me into his house, a pleasant cabin replete with a variety of quilts and other comfortable amenities, and prepared tea for the pair of us. I could tell he was trying to hide his excitement behind an air of suave familiarity, but it kept floating out like smoke rings through a pipe. Being a mischievous person by nature, I let him stew, till he could take it no longer.
“So, I know I should’ve called you sooner,” he commented, relenting, “but I’m afraid things just slipped my mind.”
I glanced at him, peering through the thin veil of steam coming off my tea. “Why did you call me now, then? We’ve been out of touch so long one could swear we barely know each other: truly, if regrettably, we are now little better than acquaintances.”
He clenched his mug, as if frustrated, and sighed. “Do you remember the oath I made to you, back when we were students at college?”
I looked at him wryly. “You mean when we took bartending together? Of course: you had that fascination with Berkeley, and his philosophy of immaterialism, if I recall correctly.”
“Yes. How much do you recollect of the philosophy itself?”
“Little. I have no practical interest in that field, beyond a passing interest in aesthetics. Remind me, if you will.”
“Berkeley argued that we made an unnecessary distinction between the mental and physical worlds, not because the two were the same, but because the physical world doesn’t exist. He noted that any knowledge we gained of the physical world, we gained only through perception, perception being a facet of the mind: thereby, he said, there was no practical reason to assume the outer world’s existence, and indeed explained it as the imaginings of superior entity: he cheerily claimed that he would happily recant this view, if someone could only find something that existed outside of perception.”*
“Ah, now I remember. I believe I replied that while I couldn’t find something outside of perception, I knew he was wrong, for if the physical world was but a living dream then surely there were entities who didn’t perceive it.”
“Indeed. Do you remember my oath, now?”
I looked at him askance, sure this was some kind of cosmic joke, a last jab in his old age. “Aye. You said that a being that existed outside perception would surely be unperceivable by us, but, if you ever found it, you would make sure to notify me of its existence. But… no…”
In answer, he got up, and motioned for me to follow him. I was reticent to do so, for my tea was not yet finished and would grow cold, but he was insistent. Fool that I was, I listened.
He led me to a greenhouse in the back, a small and translucent semicylinder in which he was growing carrots. But he did not lead me inside: rather, he stopped right outside the door. I looked inside, at the lifeless greenhouse (hereby implying that carrots do not, in fact, possess life, which is erroneous, but ‘empty’ would have made even less sense), and back to him.
“There’s nothing there.”
“Indubitably, yes: a creature that exists outside of perception must, by definition, exist outside of space and time. It cannot exist in the world-as-it-seems: it can only be in the world-as-it-is.”**
I was about to retort that if a creature that lacked both a spatial and temporal presence then it did not, as he pointed out, exist, thereby winning our odd bet, when a presence stopped me. I felt it, rather than saw it, pushing against the self-erected cages of my mind: a wan fear engulfed me, and it seemed as if the very nature of the colours around me has distorted to something grey and unnatural.
Armilus smiled a sad, slow smile, and leaned in to whisper gently in my ears. “I believe my oath is fulfilled. Unless you have any further doubts?”
“Just one: if the thing lacks a spatial presence, how are you keeping it in the greenhouse?”
Immediately, the emotions I felt pushing through me changed, from a passive disgust with the existence of life to some close approximation of panic, however much such a creature could be panicked, as it expressed a vague and emotionless worry that we’d discovered what it’s ulterior motives were (though what they could be, I had not - and still haven’t - the foggiest of clues, for the intellect of this being, indeed its very nature, were utterly beyond me).
I knew Armilus felt the same as me, for even as a spike of abject terror drove me to my knees I saw him turn, as if about to run, and stumble: a moment later his body collapsed, liquified. For a moment, I could have sworn I saw incoherently located bite marks crisscrossing his body, but my eyes were watery and like as not deceived me.
As I said at the beginning, I would forever regret picking up the phone but, as I felt the full weight of its malevolent intelligence turning towards me even as the last dregs of my will lay shattered near the contents of my stomach, I knew I wouldn’t regret it for long.

* I have done Berkeley a disservice: while this is the core tenet of his philosophy, I have deconstructed his arguments and romanticized them for the sake of literary pleasure. For those interested in seeing his justifications (which are, in fact, far more plausible than one might expect), please see Principles of Human Knowledge.
** These refer to Immanuel Kant’s Phenomenal and Noumenal worlds, respectively. Please see Critique of Pure Reason.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Leper, Part 2a

Our tale resumes in the halls of Uzulm, in between Glamorgan and Cornwall. An ancient trollish haven from before even the arrival of the Fomorians of the Northisle. The Leper and his men were deep in the keep, gazing at their goods on the table with open awe. They didn’t speak, so immense was their impression of the mighty weapons before them. Less impressed was Elegast, aesymnete of the trolls (an elected king): this was partially because he’d never seen them in action, but probably moreso on account of his generally languid attitude.
He eyed Avigdor, who he viewed as leader of the band, thoughtfully. “So, given that our original idea of selling them is off the table, what were planning to do instead?”
Avigdor motioned to the Leper, who was actually leader of the band. “Well, sir, the Leper was thinking…”
He would have continued, had not the aesymnete cut him off. “I asked what you thought, not him. You orchestrated this, you were the leader: while I’ll happily ask others, even non-trolls, you deserve the first opportunity to vent your opinion. So, what do you think?”
“I am a troll.” The Leper mumbled under his breath, half-heartedly. His words were lost to the tepid winds of the room before they had even half-passed his lips.
“But sir…” Avigdor was abruptly cut-off, this time by Hermione, who gently tapped him on the shoulder and shook her head. Arthur gave a little snicker at this, while the Leper just sighed. The problem with coming from the countryside is that few knew you from birth, such that most trolls of the old kingdoms just considered him to be transpeciest, and a vaguely specious one at that: he was too negative in his outlook, too temerarious in his actions, to be a true troll (though he certainly possessed the sense of deliberacy of one).
This coupled with rather un-trolllike appearance led most to think his insistence that he was a troll fallacious, or that his appearance was some sort of fa├žade. (It wasn’t: it was some birth curse, one which he’d always blamed on the hag down the riverbed: though this was an in-joke between her and him, for they were old friends who had shared tea many a time. In sooth, his father had never spoken of the event that led to his son’s deformity, and that had stolen his mother’s mind.)
As such, most regarded the experienced and withdrawn Avigdor as the leader of Tzaraath (their soldiering company), and paid the Leper little mind. This frustrated the pair of them, for both were by their own essence quixotic, and desired the credit to go where it was due. Avigdor had, in fact, even designed a little steparound for the pair to supplant this frequent misconception. They employed it now.
“Well…”Avigdor was looking at the Leper’s hands, as they subtly twitched hidden messages only he could read, “it’s clear we need to use them in our war against the humans, for they would avail us greatly…”
He paused, Elegast looking at him strangely as he wondered over Avigdor’s glazed eyes. “…however, I feel that before we do, it is imperative that we try to understand them better, to both use them efficiently and properly and keep them out of the hands of our enemies, who would utterly decimate our hidden cities with such arcane weaponry, as sure as the moon will one day crack like an egg, bringing on the Alkazitheion.”
Elegast nodded at this, but said nothing. There was nothing for him to say. Arthur, however, laughed. “Easy. What if we gave them to the gnomes, to see if they could replicate them?”
“No.” (This word was said simultaneously, and firmly, by all four people in the room.)
“Whyever not? The gnomes should be united with us in our quest against the humans: faerie unity shall trump all divisions, and all that.” The solidarity of the above statement had angered the volatile young faerie, and his voice rose in pitch appropriately.
“If we gave it to the gnomes then it wouldn’t matter if they could replicate it or not, because we wouldn’t benefit from what little we had.” This came from the Leper.
“What makes you think that?” Arthur was furious now, gazing at the Leper with open hostility. The Leper only sighed, and motioned to Arthur’s skin.
“You have grey skin, Arthur, don’t you?”
“Aye, all trolls do. Save perhaps for you, if’n you are a troll: no one’s ever seen your skin. So?” The Leper winced, for Arthur’s tone was quite strident when raised, but continued.
“Gnomes only respect fey with skin the shade of alabaster.” The Leper sighed as he said this, because it was a fact which hurt his soul, but a true fact nevertheless.
Arthur laughed in disbelief. “Stuff and nonsense! Gnomes are the only variety of fey with skin the shade of alabaster.”
Confused, Arthur looked to Avigdor, who only nodded sadly, before motioning to his empty right eye socket. “He’s right. I thought as you do, once. Went to visit the gnomes when I was young, seek their help during the Conquest of Wales. One of them did this to me when he caught me conversing with his daughter.”
Avigdor huffed, added, “only damn good thing about them is how long effective their gnomewraiths are at defending our barrows, burning or shooting any human who gets near. And even then, you should see what they do to faeries they catch dating their… oh, wait, you have.”
“Nevertheless, is not victory worth the cost?”
“You’d put Machiavelli to shame with that attitude.”
“Better to lose because you died like a vampire than win because you fought like a werewolf.” This came from Elegast, silent until now, but suddenly stirred to a wrathful fury worthy of even the most redundantly superfluous of pleonasms. The others were quiet, watching him, and the entire room seemed possessed of a tense silence for a few moments till he returned to his usual, becalmed state.
“My apologies, Arthur. You have little experience with the other faerie courts, and I spoke out of turn. But we won’t work with gnomes: it’s just not worth it.”
He might have said more, for he seemed to have some ideas of his own floating around his mind, but he did not have the opportunity: at that exact moment (yes, that one), they were interrupted by a call to arms. “Sirs, humans!”

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Tuning Probability

Our story starts on a rock, as all stories generally do... though I can think of a few exceptions. This rock was grand in scope and size, gigantesque, so large that it had its own moon in orbit. This moon was exactly like ours, because this planet was nearly ours; earth, but another universe.
And there, I'm afraid, the similarities ended, for there was little else on the other earth that resembled our own: not, you understand, because this world was particularly queer in its forms or mannerisms. Rather, it was nothing like our world because there was nothing there for it to resemble. In point of fact, it was devoid of life.
It was one of those uncountable universes in which the fine-tuning of the cosmic fabric was just slightly out of sync with our own, such that it was barren of all but the most inanimate of features: stone wastes, punctuated solely by the occasional mountain or valley. Sometimes there was a body of water, though this was infrequent: while I am not a scientist, my own anecdotal experience with the planet indicated that there was likely something wrong with the atmosphere: for the skies burned hot against my skin, nearly as chafing as the harsh ground, resting against my bare feet.
I didn't spend long there, for while there was a setting, there was no plot to be found within it; nor, indeed, any characters for the plot to happen upon.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Leper, Part 1d

It seems that the twenty minutes they’d allotted themselves had long-ago passed, although the trolls were still taken aback by the unwelcome interruption, lost as they were in a sense of whimsy at Jy’s masterwork. Just behind the front entrance were several soldiers, hidden from sight save for their shined boots (which could just be seen reflecting from underneath the tent, the soldiers be quite efficient with their polish), and a man in a vivacious red trench coat, whose features were at that exact moment indiscernible because of the wince predominating across his face. He lowered the smoking rifle, its spiraled barrel still sparking along its coils. “Apologies. I didn’t mean to set that off quite yet, and certainly not without warning you.”
  There followed a stunned moment of silence, interrupted only by the swish of the man’s coat as he gave a small bow. “Greetings. I am Can Candemir, presently employed with the Glamorgan Detective Agency and assigned to help with your arrest. If you wouldn’t mind returning the exhibits to their proper places and surrendering yourselves quietly, then I’m sure we can sort this all out quite equitably, without anyone having to get hurt.”
  The Leper blinked in surprise, but gave him a small bow in return (it was only polite). “In my own, admittedly anecdotal, experience, I’m afraid to say that I’ve found, well… the opposite, for lack of a better word. Humans can’t seem to solve problems without violence. Sorry, but it’s a commonly established fact, and one which I believe is held by many of your own men of learning.”
  Can assented to this point, reluctantly, for he himself had always been of the same opinion, however pessimistic it may seem to those of us with said anthropoidal tendencies. “Nevertheless, I would like to try.”
  The Leper raised one eyebrow. “And if we surrendered peacefully, as you request, then what, pray tell, would be the punishment for our crimes?”
   Can looked to the only soldier to have stepped into view, a florid man in the uniform of a captain, who blushed, shrugged, hung his head, and finally muttered, “hanging.”
  The Leper nodded, unsurprised, and went to put the otherworldly “gun” in his hands down. “Sorry, friend. You seem like a nice guy. Regrettably, that means little in these stark times.”
  Both groups acted, then, the time for discussion having ended only a short moment ago (or before it began, if we want to be more realistic). The Leper and his men, while skilled scouts and saboteurs (as all fey who travel amongst the Human Realms need to be), were not trained soldiers: trolls are a notoriously placid people, and it was only in the last few years that they’d felt forced to turn to such violent measures. As such, you’ll have to forgive them if they were a great deal slower with their draw fingers than the soldiers they were facing. It wasn’t their abilities, you see, just their experience.
  They were, however, very swift at ducking for cover. Preternaturally swift, from our point of view, although I’ve always found the classification of fey as being “unnatural” to be rather harsh and inaccurate, as fey are wholly natural creatures (as opposed to heavy machinery, which we never dare classify as such for some strangely inexplicable reason that still eludes me). This same implausibility can and should also be applied to the “gun” held in the Leper’s hands which – to those familiar with such things – could be identified as a Tommy gun, circa 1923. As he hit the ground, his finger slipped on the trigger, and from the barrel of the gun a stream of steel projectiles were released, howling with the noise of a tin butterfly in flight.
The bullets, for that is what they must have been, flew towards the door, sending Can and his men dashing for cover. By the time they’d pulled themselves back from their panic and returned to the tent, it was devoid of life, empty of even the vaguest remnant of the fey folk.
  The florid captain, a young aristocrat by the name of Ezekiel, looked about at the ruined tent in shock, then turned his attention to the destroyed fair across the field. From behind, he called out, shaken, “good heavens, lads. That was most of Mr. Jy’s artwork, gone. And if just one piece could send us scrambling so, imagine what the entire armory can do. Even these new rifles of yours might not help us, Turk.”
  He used the moniker for Can that the others had coined, an exceedingly imaginative nickname based solely off his nation of origin. (This was erroneous – he was from Arbanon, to the northwest of Thrace, but no amount of cajoling could convince them of this.)
  Can rolled his eyes, but said nothing: it was preferable to before, when they had insisted on calling him “Mr. Demure.” (It apparently had not occurred to anyone – even now – that the “Can” in his last name was actually independent of the “Can” that formed his first, and so they had settled for merely mispronouncing the latter part of his name while simultaneously mocking him for repeating his first name twice.)
  “I can assure you, captain, they will be more than sufficient.” Can didn’t so much as glance at Captain Ezekiel as he said this, for his attention was fixed solely on the Papuan Colossus.
  “But how do you know? You know what, we should contact Artimaeus – get him to make us some more of this stuff, help in the war.”
  “I wouldn’t bother: I doubt you could find him now, and even if you did, he wouldn’t help you. Everything is going according to his plan, after all.”
  “Wait, what? What are you talking about?”
  “As to the efficacy of my weapons, I’ve seen them in action, and you need not worry. Mr. Jy’s ‘artwork’ was designed not that far from now, and some of it is positively archaic by today’s - I mean the future’s - standards. Mine is state-of-the-art technology, designed in Xinjiang near the end of the Third World War – although neither of our machinations will amount to much, I’m afraid.”
  The captain was flabbergasted, and gazed at Can as if he’d found a leprechaun eating honey. (Leprechauns possess a notorious allergy to the stuff, and will evade it like their life depends on it - which, given the symptoms should they come in contact with the sticky syrup, is not unreasonable.) “You don’t mean to imply that you believe Mr. Jy’s poppycock, do you? But… but… how? His is clearly little more than a fabrication, carefully crafted to conceal his great genius. Unless… he gave you the blueprints for these guns? Is there some kind of cult I don’t know about, one that the grand intelligentsia of England are secretly involved in, a second Great Game for the sole purpose of mocking us piddling, immaterial hoi polloi?”
  Can continued as if he hadn’t heard Ezekiel, though his words spoke otherwise. “No, no… he’s not here for a cult. He’s here to expedite the Leper’s discovery of automated weaponry, speed up the revolution. The fool. As if he could: you can’t change the past, at least not the end result. The journey, yes, but as Machiavellian as it may sound, all you can really do is alter the way things happened. End point’s the same…”
  He looked at Ezekiel sharply, as if he’d just noticed him. “As for me, my motives are far simpler. I’m just here to see the Leper’s face.”
  The captain, by now, was thoroughly convinced of Can’s insanity, although his admiration for the man’s elusive genius was such that he didn’t speak his mind. (Although Can’s words made him think of a line from a favoured childhood poem of his, by the Frenchman Vlad de Vrai: “And as the war of the lunatics entered its final fray/the madmen destroyed each keep, rook, and mainstay.”)
  Rather, he tried a different tract, hoping to maintain savoir faire - a sense of tact. “His… face, sir? Seems an awful lot of effort to go all this way back in time just to look at a troll’s face.”
  By now, Can had returned to looking distractedly at the Colossus, and it took him a few moments to haphazardly reply: “no, no, no, not at all. You won’t know this for a while – a long while – but the Leper will become one of the most famous revolutionaries in history: more notable, in fact, than any revolutionary to come before or after him including – though a precious few disagree – Otto Frederick Rohwedder.”
  “Never you mind. After your time. The important point, captain, is that I’m here to see the man’s face, if only because all through his life, the only thing people ever saw of him was that damnable rabbit mask… which, really, is disrespectful, if not downright ridiculous in appearance. But you really shouldn’t worry about me. I’m not ‘here’ at all, nor is Artimaeus: the machinery of our time is such that our physical bodies are unnecessary – both of us are imaginary, just Figments of Your Babbagination.”

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Eldest Oyster

The Eldest Oyster sat a while,
    And pondered deep in thought.
For he’d let his siblings all go up,
    To overland to rot.
They’d met the walrus, and his friend the carpenter too,
    And somehow ended up in an oyster stew.
And as he sat he cried salty tears
    Into the brine.
Where they were lost to the sea,
    Interminably entwined.
He wondered if the fault were his,
    If maybe he’d set forth cry
They would have all been saved…
    Or all the sooner to die?
He realized it mattered not,
    For he couldn’t change the past.
All he could do was take them to their rest,
    In peace everlast.
His coat was brushed, his face washed,
    When he traveled to the shore.
But his shoes he took not,
    For he wanted them no more.
The sands stretched everlasting
    Upon the briny beach.
The sun and moon aglow with light
    As far as eyes can reach.
He knew he wouldn’t find his quarry
under flaming sun.
And so to the nearby forest
Our oyster began to run.
Amongst giant trees and creatures bizarre
He traveled through, and back.
Till at last amidst the flowers
He saw a ruined shack.
With nervous determination,
    He knocked upon the door.
But to his horror he saw sights
    That one abhors.
The door swung open to reveal,
    Within the greasy light,
The walrus and the carpenter
    Made fat by oysterous delight.
They looked at him with hungr’ing gaze;
    Eyes of lust, longing, brought to a glaze.
‘Twas odd; they knew him not,
But with slavering jaws crept
Forwards and, I’m sorry to say,
    Our fain hero panicked, backwards lept.
He fell into the flowers, alack,
    For under blossoms hidden
Were roses’ stems, which pricked and tore
    At our hero’s skin.
And as he lay amongst the roses,
    He realized he’d have to rise
And rose, determination in his eyes.
“If love is like a red, red rose
    Then is hate the same or less forlorn?”
He asked, and with the rose
    Choked the walrus with its thorns.
As the walrus’ red, red blood
    Landed upon the carpenter’s head
Our intrepid oyster took his vorpal toothpick
    And with a <plicker plack> the carpenter was quite dead.
The saddened Eldest Oyster went galumphing back,
    To his ocean home.
For he’d gotten his revenge, and yet,
    He still was all alone.