I’m a big fan of genre fiction. As a reader and a writer I find that it frees my imagination to look at things in new ways.
In this section you’ll find science fiction, crime, horror, and romance.
As usual, Dr Roe is pressing too close and wearing too little. Her sleeveless top, running shorts and obvious lack of underwear are not my idea of what a psychiatrist should wear to work and I don’t want to be able to feel the heat of her against my arm. Yet I know that I am the one out of step here. Roe is a woman of her times. Thirty years younger than me, she was born in this century and understands its norms and nuances in a way I am no longer capable of.
Keeping my voice level and my body uncomfortably close to hers, I answer her question.
“Yes, he’s the one.”
She stares at the old man on the screen with unashamed interest, studying him like a lab specimen, which, in a way, he is.
“But he looks so normal. Old of course, but normal.”
The man’s name in Francis Connor. He was born in 1957, which makes him, sixty-eight years old. I think about the changes that he’s seen and what they’ve meant to him.
“He was normal once,” I say, “Perhaps he still sees himself that way.”
“Despite his extraordinary behaviour? “ Roe snorts in disbelief.
She reaches behind her head with both hands to tie off her hair into a pony-tail. As she does so, she displays thick dark underarm hair that would have been completely unacceptable a couple of decades ago.
“How can he not see how deviant he is?” she asks.
Aysha had never asked Ross to leave the Army, but he knew she wanted him to. When she moved into married quarters with him, she still kept an apartment in Melbourne. Her family, her friends, her job, were all outside the Base. He was her only real contact point. The other wives thought she was odd. Aysha encouraged the idea.
On the day they moved into married quarters, the only furniture that Aysha brought along was her big cast-iron bed. That night, after sex that bordered on the ferocious, lying beside her, getting his breathe back, he asked her why she’d brought the bed.
“Everything else can be Army issue,” she said, “But in this bed there will be no Army issues. There will be just you and me.”
Declan looked at the villagers around him and saw that the priest had leashed them with their fear and their guilt. They watched the old man with the same avid intensity as a dog trying to work out how to avoid a beating. Declan knew he was likely to be the one the priest would unleash this pack on. Why had Kevin picked this as their meeting place? They could have slipped into the night unnoticed. Declan turned to make his way out of the crowd.
<Shall we show the old monster what death really is?>
Kevin’s voice sounded inside Declan’s head, clear and calm and tinged with contempt for the priest. Declan turned in a circle, looking for Kevin’s tall, slim shape, knowing he would not see it unless Kevin wanted him to.
“There is sin in this village,” the priest said, “There are those amongst you who want unnatural things; who perform unnatural acts. The stink of their sin rises up to Heaven and cries out for punishment. If the rest of you tolerate the sinners, you take on their sin and you take on their punishment.”
<He’s a fine one to talk of stink. I can smell his putrid flesh from here. The man is sickness on legs. It would be a kindness to put him out of his misery.>
Declan felt a familiar surge of excitement laced with fear and was instantly erect. Surely even Kevin would not be so bold as to take the Parish priest in front of his flock? And yet, why else meet here tonight? Slowly a smile slipped across Declan’s face.
The man’s voice was soft, calm and pleasant on the ear even though his accent was English. The lamplight revealed him as a beautiful man, dressed in a cavalry uniform and with a sabre on his hip and a smile on his face.
The smile, in all its glory, was directed at Kevin. Kevin blossomed under that smile, opening up like a tightly folded bud meeting the sun for the first time.
Declan understood the attraction. He too was intrigued by the idea of a handsome grown man who admitted to being of “the same persuasion”. Yet, while he could see the appeal in principle, Declan did not take to the man. He put it down to jealousy. The man spoke only to Kevin and could not seem to look away from him.
Later, Declan would recall that coat was old, almost antique,and dirty, as if the man had just climbed out of the loose soil in the floor of the bothy. He would flail at himself for not noticing the uncanny ability to see in the dark and for not paying attention to the resemblance he saw to Father Boyle when he looked in the man’s eyes.
My name is Jonas Kale. I am forty-six years old. I was married two days ago. By dawn the Sisters will have taken the last of my breath from me and I will be dead. Most of my strength has already been drained away. The face I see in the mirror is that of an old man, hollowed out by life.
I have determined to spend my last hours recording what has happened to me. I know it will be difficult to believe. I ask you to remember that I am a dying man with nothing to gain from lies and nothing left to lose from the truth. I do not intend to rail against my fate. I am the architect of my own demise. I hope that by exposing the Sisters for what they are I may save some other soul from their clutches
The Sisters are the maggots curled in sleep at the center of our darkest desires. They are all the things our blood calls for and that our conscience cannot accept. They live in our dreams and our heart. They are the succubi of which legend speaks and they steal our lives one willing breath at a time.
Miko looks up at me as she says this, letting her hair fall backwards, revealing blue eyes that seem almost like a mutation when set in her classically Japanese face.
“I didn’t mention shame,” I say, trying to sound reassuring and unshockable.
“You were thinking it. I can tell by your face. You think I should be ashamed. You think I should feel guilty.”
“But that’s not how you feel?”
“No. I feel… special, privileged, chosen.”
In Japan, it is seldom a good thing to be special. Individuality is treated as an aberration here. To stand out is to invite retribution, “The tallest nail is hammered the hardest” they say. I wonder how often this young woman, barely more than a girl, has been hammered on her way to this private clinic’s “therapy room” that looks so much like a police cell.
My apartment, which is small even by Tokyo standards, seems like a vast empty space without Jiro to share it with. His absence sucks at me constantly, like a recently stitched wound that any sudden movement could rip open.
On a day like today, he would have joined me in the shower, gently cleaning away the grime of the day before leading me to soak in the tub. I was slightly taller than him, another unwanted gift from my American heritage, but when he sat behind me in the tub and wrapped his arms around me, it seemed to me that he was huge and strong and I was safe.
But Jiro is not here. Jiro is dead and I must shower and soak alone. I shower efficiently, keeping my mind in neutral and paying no attention to my body, then I climb into the tub. When my back touches the enamel of the tub instead of Jiro’s warm flesh I feel so alone that I cannot hold back the tears. The tears turn into silent sobs. I will not let myself cry out. I do not want my neighbours to hear my grief and pity me.
I have no clothes except the shorts I was wearing when he took me. My breasts move freely beneath his unwashed yesterday’s shirt. I would rather be naked than confined within used shirts that seem like cast off skins and which mark me as his to use and control.
We travel from motel to motel in his old Ford truck; eating in Diners, like father and daughter, silent with nothing left to say. There is nothing left. He has taken it all. Not just my innocence but my will to carry on being me. I am dissolving as the days pass.
All my attention was on where the horribly sharp blade kissed my neck. If the guy with the ski-mask behind me pushed any harder, my flesh would part and blood would flow, then my new blouse would be ruined.
Damn, why did I pick today to wear something silk and hard to clean?
With an effort of will I turned my attention outwards, focusing on the fear on the pretty young bank-tellers’ face, the quiet sobs of two children hanging on to their mother’s arms, the indecision in the watery eyes of the bank’s superannuated rent-a-cop.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the security guard finally reach for the gun on his hip; a gun that would soon be pointed my way.
“Don’t,” I shouted.
“Touch that gun, old man, and you’ll have the red-head’s blood spurting in your face.”
Now that was a graphic image. Perhaps too graphic to be spontaneous. Was it from a movie or had Ski-mask been practicing it in a mirror somewhere?
One sentence and he has their attention. By the end of the lecture he will have their devotion—as he has mine. Poor Philip. So many devotees and so little idea of what to do with us.
He makes a fine figure at the front of the lecture hall, dressed in black, only the shocking white of his hair and the bright blue of his eyes daring to add colour to his sobriety.
When he faces his audience, each of us feels that we alone are at the centre of his gaze. We are pleased to be there.
His voice is rich and sensual. The serpent spoke to Eve with such a voice, I think.
Behind Philip, uncommented on and therefore powerful, a series of photographs flash on the screen. One shows a woman in tears beating her fists against a man’s chest. What a brute that man must be. Then the same image is shown set in a broader scene that reveals the funeral which has prompted the woman’s grief. The next shows two lovers in a passionate embrace, but the zoom reveals them as actors on a stage. Image after image draws us in and then casts us off.
In the coming weeks, you will learn how to see, so that you can lead the elaboration of others.
He is inviting them to be special, like him. Offering them the ever-vacant post of sorcerer’s apprentice. Some are leaning forward to drink him in. Others are eagerly writing down his apparently spontaneous words. Most of the class are women. All, except me, are under thirty. The few men in the room must already feel excluded or out-shone.
The images stop. The screen goes blank. We look expectantly at Philip, who stands centre stage in all our minds.
Sometimes, I obsess about small, apparently unimportant, things. Elspeth, my wife, says that this is why I have risen so high in my chosen profession; it is a civil servant’s job to obsess about things others pay no attention to.
For the most part, she means this observation to be humorous.
I am grateful for her tolerance but we both know, that buried in the flesh of her remark is a tiny splinter of resentment at my distraction that she can not remove and which neither of us can completely ignore.
I am aware that I spend too much time inside my own head, I impose structure on the most inconsequential of events, I find spontaneity suspect and I tend to treat happiness as a temporary aberration from the norm.
I am not any easy man to live with.
Yet, Elspeth has spent the last twenty four years at my side. I take this as a sign of her love for me.