mixTape

Side 1
01 – Interlude
02 – So Long Dust!
03 – Loser
04 – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
05 – Interlude
06 – Five Years Time
07 – Don’t Falter
08 – Interlude
09 – Bad Moon Rising
10 – Interlude

Side 2
01 – Interlude
02 – Mexican Wine
03 – ReadySteadyGo!
04 – Feelgood By Numbers
05 – Ghost Of Corporate Future
06 – Humans Are Dead
07 – It Wasn’t Me
08 – A Little Concerned, That’s All
09 – Interlude
10 – Hoppipolla

Side 1
01: Interlude – Robin Chase/Rick Deacon

Robin Chase and Rick Deacon, in the same old fucking place, in the same old fucking state. Except Rick is suddenly impatient, which is a change, ‘cos normally you can see his moods coming from a mile off, as if writ large in hundred foot ‘comic sans’ type, nothing sudden about it.

The problem, it seems? Robin, normally such a reliable sidekick for the larger than life Rick, has put a spanner in the old and trusty rusty works of their relationship.

Rick: What the fuck am I hearing? You were my bloody alibi for the night… What do you mean, you’re staying in?

Robin: Just, well, I’m busy, that’s all.

Rick: Busy how? Is it a bird? It is, isn’t it? A bloody woman!

Robin: Well, not exactly. Maybe. Sort of.

Rick: If it’s not exactly, nor maybe, what is it, ‘sort of’?

Rick: Tonight’s quiz night. You’re dropping me right in it.

Robin: You can still go…

Rick: For all the good you do, I could. Except I’d look a twat, sat there by meself. Fuck. Shona’s given me the night off special as well, you remarkable fuckwit.

Robin: I was just… well, there’s this girl. Emma? At work? I told you about her…

Rick: The one you’ve been on about for weeks?

Robin: Yeah, well… We got talking last night at someone’s leaving do…

Rick: Fucking hallelujah!

Robin: Yeah, right. And we were talking about that new song… that one that goes ‘da duh, da duh du, da duh, da dudu duh’…

Rick: The one, wotsit, Noah and the Whale? Got the stripped down version of the bass hook from ‘I Got You Babe’? That one? Quality tune?

Robin: That one, right. And anyway, she hasn’t got it, but she said she liked it when she heard it, and, well, she’s always listening to this battered old walkman, so I thought…

Rick: You thought, “time for a mixtape”? Fucking hell, I guess you were right, keeping hold of all that old audio junk…

Robin: Exactly! I mean, who listens to cassettes any more, eh? It’s meant to be, right?

Rick: Well, fair enough… as you are on a sacred quest to bring musical diversity to the young and impressionable, in hopes of getting yourself serviced, I guess I can let you off for the night.

Robin: Sorry, man. I really appreciate this.

Rick: S’okay. Just make sure you leave your fucking mobile on.

***

02: So Long Dust! – Jericho

Jericho sits on bright red plastic, fingertip pricking at a brown-black cigarette burn raised in Formica, and sips coffee the consistency of barely-melted tar.

He has been walking for a long time, across this dreadful desert, and met many a wanker and scoundrel with not much to recommend them. This isn’t his world, he realises again… his world went away between visits.

This planet, these people, he thinks. It was like visiting an ailing relative with borderline personality disorder. One time to the next, you never knew who you were going to get.

The waitress offers to top him up, and he gives croaking assent. A soft smile rises against the resistance of her naturally closed expression, which Jericho takes for gratitude. Although he is the establishment’s only customer at the moment, both exterior and interior give evidence to the proclivities of it’s normal clientele. Diesel and blood stains the dust, in and out.

Once upon a time, my voice croaked because I hardly used it, Jericho remembers, but now, it’s for the fucking dust.

Jericho stares at himself in the face of the fresh tar, and feels old. What this dust bowl needs is for a tidal wave to wash it all away. He sighs deeply. But where would one find that much water, now? The oceans are shadows of their former selves. His lover lost her lustre, and now it is just Jericho and the last remaining dregs of this once virulent species.

Maybe I should take to the skies, Jericho thinks. Or if leaving seems too much of a wrench, settle down among the human debris that has been left behind.

He coughs up some dust, thinks about the earth’s many failures and triumphs, and thinks about what remains. The waitress is moving around at the far end of the long, thin diner, and it seems that something has pushed her through the obvious despair of her tiny life. Decades old music bursts through the room, shifting dust in squirls before it reaches him.

As she moves about her duties, the woman seems to be moving to a rhythm within the song, with renewed vigour. Jericho remembers another woman, weeks before, in a titty bar in the shadow of that fucking great metal wire that chucked itself out into space, and the bewildering shuffle and swing her very presence seemed to put in the hips of the otherwise huddled and fucked patrons present.

Fucking Gloria Euphoria. She had put an idea in his head that had long before dried out, and as he listened to old, new music, Jericho saw the echo of that idea in the shifted language of the waitress’s body.

Hm, he thinks, maybe I could just sit here and have some more of this fuck-damned coffee… maybe see if she wants to sit with me a spell. It isn’t in Jericho’s nature to settle, but everything else has changed, so why can’t he?

The waitress seems nice, but Jericho wants to get to know her better, find out more for sure before making the call on her.

He no longer feels confident enough to judge.

***

03: Loser – Detective Feathers/Jason Lightfoot

Sometimes it really was as simple as it looked, Feathers realised. At least, sometimes, you really did just have to keep a good eye on the evidence, and it would lead you where you needed to go.

His old mentor had told him that often enough, and she had only ever had the one unsolved case. And that was the case that changed the way she, and almost every other police following in her footsteps, had looked at crime altogether.

So anyway, the wonderful old cow seemed to have got it right again. He allowed himself a grim grin, as he placed the worn down pencil on top of one of the many sheets of paper in front of him.

The victim, Jason Lightfoot, had committed suicide – sure as anything and contrary to all appearances – was what those scribbles were telling him. The scribbles, and the evidence. Mainly, just the tape.

It wasn’t easy to piece together, he acknowledged that. He gave himself an imaginary pat on the back, with the understanding that he had only worked it all out because he was bloody good police.

But it was all there in the tape.

The tape was a standard TDK cassette, rewound tight to the beginning of side one. Written on it was the cryptic legend ‘A Life Story’ in fine-tip marker. A sample of the victim’s handwriting taken from his workplace matched up. The tape had been found in the victim’s pocket, and the victim had been found in old Crowfoot Park, hanging from a branch too high up in his best suit, with no sign of a ladder.

Once the audio-tech guys had had a look at it, and matched it to an old midi stereo at the victim’s house, it had been turned over to Feathers. Since then Feathers had listened to it several times.

The officers collecting background information talked to Lightfoot’s girlfriend. From her, they had discovered that he made a lot of mixtapes. Lots of them for her during the course of their relationship, which had apparently been a bit sketchy recently. He often made them for colleagues and friends, too.

He had a way of putting together great track-listings, Feathers had been told… people who knew Lightfoot seemed ever grateful for the tapes he gave them, and they claimed that their friend was always able to perfectly capture their mood at the time, and elevate them above it, using the medium of other people’s words and music. Ordinarily awkward in conversation, Lightfoot apparently found a way to communicate through these mixtapes.

Feathers had to agree that Lightfoot knew how to blend music from disparate sources together so that they found a new rhythm… the tone of the tape found with his body slid and dipped and dropped and shimmered, and always, always flowed perfectly from track to track. The track list was eclectic and enlightening… familiar songs interwoven with unusual covers of more famous tracks, and shot through with bands and artists that Feathers had never heard of before, all of them interesting, and never overwhelming the overall effect. If it wasn’t impossible, Feathers might have thought that Lightfoot had made the tape for him personally.

But Feathers also heard a melancholy, a sullen honesty, threaded through the selection, which jarred against the stories that he was told by those that had been in receipt of previous tapes.

As Feathers probed deeper into Lightfoot’s past, he realised why this cassette was so different from the others. Those tapes had been for other people. This one was for Jason himself.

As information came in, the detective started to see that this wasn’t just a compilation of disparate tracks – the warp and weft of the songs followed the track of Lightfoot’s own life.

There was his difficult childhood, with an absent father, in the plaintive, opening instrumental.

Track 3, side 1, you could see how hard a time the awkward, academically and physically inferior student had at school. There was even a suggestion, in the lyrics of the next track, of sexual assault by another pupil.

His mother’s battle with alcoholism was all over the tail end of side 1. A brief volley of optimism as the second side opened and he hit his twenties took a turn for the worse, as news of his estranged father’s death failed to give him any closure, and he struggled through two protracted and messy break-ups.

Again, optimism hit for one song around side 2, track 5, as he met and won the heart of the last girlfriend that he would ever have, but that soon gave way to anxiety that this young affair would go the same way that his others had.

The penultimate song on the tape spoke of a deep and all-encompassing sadness that had overtaken the man in his late twenties. None of the people that knew him could give accurate testament to this depression, but by that point in his investigation, Feathers suspected that he knew Lightfoot better than anyone else ever had, and his misery was laid out for Feathers like a corpse on an autopsy slab.

And there, in the final song, a lighter tone; a dark and lilting irony, a resignation not intended by the artist, but by now Lightfoot was speaking so clearly through the artists’ mouths as to utterly subsume their original intent.

“So why don’t you kill me?” Feathers spoke aloud over his notes.

The tape, probably never played right through during Lightfoot’s lifetime, was recorded with his life story in mind, but Feathers knew with certainty that it had been intended for the world at large. Putting the songs together, in that particular order, even in the privacy of his own room, had been enough to fit Lightfoot’s intention. He was asking to be dead, and asking the world to kill him. And his mixtape had conjured that death out of the probabilities and possibilities of the world around him. He had been asking for it. But it had still come at someone else’s hand.

Feathers rubbed the top of his nose, closed his eyes. So that was that. Lightfoot had committed suicide, but they still had to find his killer.

But Feathers was making progress.

He turned the tape back over to side one, and pushed the Play button down until it clicked into place.

***

04: Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head – Liquid Eddy/The Bitch Queen

Liquid Eddy sat out on the balcony, watching the clouds. They weren’t looking quite how he had expected, and he wondered if the Isobars hadn’t maybe dropped the ball a little this evening.

Arrogant little fucks. It’d serve them right to make idiots of themselves city-wide because they’d got too drunk.

The muffled sounds of the party behind him, and behind the balcony’s glass doors, played on his mood, making him feel sullen all over again. The sound of joyful screams dopplered around the building, down out of his line of sight.

“Fuck Eamon-Ra, and fuck his multi-dimensional roller coaster.” Eddy muttered.

The party got louder for a second, before damping down again. Eddy guessed that someone had come out to check on him, or to use the balcony for their own nefarious, or just perverse, schemes. He didn’t bother looking around. If The Accomplice was planning on trying to cheer him up, Eddy wasn’t going to make it easy for him.

He started slightly at the touch of a small, cool hand on his shoulder, and then it was gone, and the owner was next to him, leaning on the same rail as he was, looking out over the same cloudy city.

“Bitch.”
“Eddy.” She flashed that tiny, cool smile of hers. Looked back over the clouds. “You not enjoying the party?”
“What do you think?”
She turned to him, concern on her face.
“I think that it has been too long since you had any fun.” She formed a cynical smile. “I think, in fact, that fun may have gone rancid in your veins, with disuse.”
He curled his lip in irritation, and looked away.
“Bitch Queen, why don’t you go back to the party? There isn’t any fun out here…”

Her hand was tiny again, in the small of his back. She slid it down a way, and let it rest.

“Oh, I think we can always make our own fun. After all, remember how we used to dance? All I want to do is dance, Eddy… And we always made the best music.”
Spurred by her words, a thought occurred to him. He cocked his head, looked back at her.
“Hm. Remember the Cloudburst caper? When we were supposed to run interference, but got so carried away that the others got away with all the take?” She raised her eyebrow.
“Of course. I was just thinking of the same night…”
“How did we do that again?”
She paused. Moved her hand to his shoulder and eased him around. Then she tiptoed up so that her eyes were level with his, and leaned close into him.
“Don’t you remember?” She whispered into his ear.

He noticed the green flicker behind her eyes at the same time as the crackle of static in the sky around them, and suddenly the wind picked up. The balcony doors slammed open, and music spilled out around them, rhythmic, familiar.

She had been practicing in the newfound idle time that the Reconciliation had bought them, her control of chaos energy much more refined. Memories flooded back to him… recollections of how you didn’t have to be breaking or stealing things to be causing a commotion and feeling alive. He moved a hand to her hip, and swung her around in time to the music, the green static arcing around her as she went.

He dipped her, and followed with his own body, holding her in this precarious pose, his lips close to her ear.

“So why the sudden interest?” He grinned.
“It isn’t sudden, Eddy. You’re a friend. I worry about you.” He groaned, mock irritated. “You’re more than a friend, besides. We only ever fell apart because we were both in and out of prison all the time, before. We need to spend a little more time together.”
“We did have fun, didn’t we?”
He lifted her up, and the music filled his ears. They moved together, faster, and he felt himself breaking up, flowing over her, feeding off her chaos energy.

Liquid Eddy felt his molecules begin to vibrate, move further apart, rise with the chaos. He shouted, euphoric.
“You know, I never thought you were really that much of a bitch at all!”
They shared a grin, and then he was shimmering, half of him a mist around her, the other up and up and gone.

Minutes later, the rain started to fall in sheets, and they kept on dancing under it, and part of it.

***

05: Interlude – Robin Chase/Rick Deacon

Robin: ‘llo.

Rick: Hello, mate. Listen, I have to be quick. I’m in the bog, and I only have a minute.

Robin: ‘kay.

Rick: What was the name of that movie with Denis Leary in?

Robin: Uh… Hostile Hostages?

Rick: No, the other one. The one with Charlie Sheen and the cool soundtrack?

Robin: Eh? Oh, ‘Judgement Night’? Why do you want to know that?

Rick: I don’t fucking know. Jonni Sood is doing the quiz, and he’s asking some right fucking obscure questions. How’s the tape going?

Robin: Hmm… struggling.

Rick: Yeah?

Robin: Yeah. Still only doing the first side, and I’m stuck.

Rick: You really like this girl, then? I only get stuck when I really like the girl.

Robin: Yeah?

Rick: Yup. The first one I did for Shona took me two weeks.

Robin: Two weeks? Fuck. I want to do this by tomorrow.

Rick: Tomorrow? You’re kidding? You only got the idea to do it this morning. You must be mad, thinking you’ll get it done by Monday.

Robin: Well, it is what it is. I decided I’d get it done, so I have to get it done.

Rick: Will she care?

Robin: Uh… probably not. Not the point.

Rick: Okay. Well, what’s the problem?

Robin: Well, I started out quirky, with a bit of optimism, then went with a bit of an old classic. Ironic, insightful, all that. Bit of early nineties alternative music.

Rick: Right.

Robin: Then I thought, drop in something really old but timeless, a bit of an archetypal song. Bit of a movie reference to romance, but nothing too heavy handed and…

Rick: Okay, well, fine. Sounds good. What you doing next?

Robin: I haven’t got a clue.

Rick: Well, maybe you can afford something a little cute, now, then. Maybe a couple of them…

Robin: Really? But…

Rick: Listen, all due respect to John Cusack, but a little repetition of tone isn’t going to kill her. And as long as you don’t go overboard with the James Blunt shit, you aren’t going to scare her off…

Robin: So…

Rick: So maybe now is time to drop the key track? Establish a bit of happy rapport?

Robin: Okay. I think you might be right.

Robin: Good luck with the question.

Rick: What? Oh, fuck.

***

06: Five Years Time – Artie/Jim

“I can’t believe you’re still sulking.”
Jim turned away from her, a pout on his face.
“I’m not sulking, I’m… irritated.”
“I can’t believe that you’re still irritated. What did I do?”
“You just told me that you’re cheating on me…”
Artie was as shocked to hear the giggle that burst out of her as Jim was. She put a placatory hand on his naked shoulder by way of apology.

They lay there in silence for a minute or two.
Then she spoke.

“I didn’t say that I was cheating on you. I didn’t say that at all.”
“Yes you did.”
“No I didn’t.”
“You told me that you sometimes slept with another man.”
“No, I didn’t. I told you that I sometimes slept with you at different points on the time line.”
“Don’t double-talk it with your shifty time-travel speak. You slept with someone, and it wasn’t me.”
“I DID NOT! I told you, that I sometimes slept with you in the past, and you in the future. Future Jim, and past Jim.”
“Those cunts!”

Artie sighed. Jim hardly ever used that particular word. She hadn’t really expected the conversation to take this turn, but he had started it, by broaching the subject of relative sex-drives. It had gone like this:
He had said that their sex life was really good.
She had agreed.
He had said that he hadn’t ever had as much sex as he had with her. Then he had mentioned that he hadn’t shagged so much since university, and asked her about her sex-drive.
She had opted for honesty, and told him that actually, hers was a little higher than his.
He had made a face, worried that she was unfulfilled, and she had reassured him that it was okay, she “takes care of it”.
He had brightened, asking her if she meant masturbating, boyish curiosity overtaking him.
And that was when she had told him, no. And told him what she actually did. And he had been sulking ever since.

“Listen, Jim… Jim?”
“WHAT!” he snapped.
“I’m sorry that you’re having trouble with this, but really, it’s a compliment…”
“How the hell is it a compliment?”
“Well, look, this relationship has been a lot longer for me than it has been for you…”
“Oh, and what is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean… oh, don’t look like that. I mean that literally, I’ve been with you for about a year, but you only met me for the first time properly about half that time ago.”
His face crimped in concentration.
“And, Jim, I really like you. A scary amount, sometimes. And it’s really difficult… I have a lot of time on my hands, and thinking about you makes me feel so good, and… well, I don’t want to confuse things with you any more than I have to right now, so I’m trying to fit in with your present schedule, but it’s hard.”
“Really? You haven’t said anything…”
“Well, it seemed unfair to pressure you so early in your relationship.”
“But that doesn’t…”
“No, listen, let me finish. It happened by accident the first time. You mentioned a while back that you were a bit of a shag-maverick when you were younger, and I was curious to see what you were like, because that seemed so unlike you now. So I hung around in your old SU bar, and sure enough, you turned up, but you seemed… well, just like you are now, only a little more awkward.” He grimaced. “Oh, don’t worry… you were still ever so cute.”
“Yeah?”
“Oh, yeah. But I watched you, and although you got steadily more drunk with your mates, you never really seemed to make contact with any girls. I wanted to understand you more, and I figured, you were too drunk to remember anyway, what could the harm be in having a chat…” She looked down, suddenly shy. “But, well… I just sort of… you were so adorable, and reminded me so much of you now, that, well, things kind of got out of hand.”
“That’s… I really don’t know how to feel about that.”

But he had turned back around to face her, now, and he wasn’t making so much effort to avoid touching her.

“Yeah, well, neither did I, at first. And, well, I still prefer being with you in the now, but, well some times when I wanted to see you, you were busy, or knackered, so I’d take the skip back and hook up with drunk, student Jim.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“No, well. Maybe not. But I taught you a few things that seem to have stuck with you, mind.”
“Heh. Probably things I taught you first.”
“Yes, well… probably best we don’t go opening that particular can of worms…”

Jim paused, thoughtful.

“So, how many times would you say that you’ve… done this? Done student me?”
“Well, quite a few. What can I say, I didn’t want to interfere with your past, but you seemed to be drunk an awful lot of evenings, and you didn’t tend to talk to many other girls.”
“Oh, right.”
“Yeah. Actually, I think I should be a little offended that you never seemed to remember me.”
“Oh, sorry.” He seemed shy for a second. “You definitely prefer me better now, though, right?”
“Oh, absolutely.”

Jim bristled again, remembering something.
“Hang on… so what about future me? Can’t he tell the difference between you and future you? Is he even still with me? I mean, you?”
“Well, I can’t tell you too much about that. But I don’t stray too far into your future… maybe five years tops?” She grinned. “Sometimes he doesn’t notice… other times… well… let’s put it this way, you’ve come to understand our relationship a bit more by then.”
“Oh, right. And I suppose he’s a much better shag, too, what with his experience and everything…?”
“Well, he’s not bad. But I still dig on your relatively youthful energy, honey.” He dipped briefly back into melancholy, before she placed a hand on his chest, and another on his thigh, under the sheets. “Listen, darling, you can start sulking again, but I told you, you already forgive me for this before too much time has passed.”
“Hm.” Jim grumbled, but he was already shifting in the bed, moving closer into her as she stroked his skin.
“Wouldn’t you rather cut to the chase, and see what we can get done with the rest of today?”
“Well, I guess no-one ever did themselves any favours, dwelling too much on what’s gone on, and what’s to be…” He said, and smiled into the hollow of her neck.
“Attaboy.” Artie said.

His hidden smile was infectious, and for now, she forgot about every other time but the present.

***

07: Don’t Falter – Sam Taylor/Julia Masterson

Sam Taylor fingers the small, velvet covered box in his right trouser pocket, as Julia Masterson leans across the table and beams at him. Her smile is beautiful. Everything about her is beautiful. Sam is preoccupied, but she has got used to that over time. She shouts over the faceless, shapeless beat coming from the dance floor.

Julia: So should I be worried that I haven’t met this flatmate of yours yet?

Sam: Wha? No. Oh, no, of course not. It’s just, you know, your house is nicer.

Julia (grinning): Hmm… you mean, my house has more privacy…

Sam (grinning back): Hmm, yeah, and a double bed…

Julia: Naughty!

Sam: You love it!

Julia: …

Julia: … Yes, I do.

Sam: I love you.

Julia (face about to split with the size of her smile): I know! And me, too. I love you, I mean.

Julia: God, look at us! Sick bags, table three!

Sam: Yeah, look at us…

Sam turns the box end over end, thinking about the small, impossible stone inside. He had saved for months to be able to afford the sort of ring that she might deserve, but in the end, every one he had looked at seemed somehow too small, too dull, not epic enough to show her how she made him feel.

The djinn in his walls had been trying to push Sam to make wishes since it had first made contact… it was quite irritable on the subject, actually, feeling out of practice in the area of desire-casting, but Sam was a simple man, with fairly simple requirements of his life, and he had never been able to think of anything beyond nice hot cups of tea, or having that week’s episode of Lost recorded when he was out. Sam had found that these didn’t count as proper wishes in the cosmic scheme of things.

Six months of dating Julia had finally given his imagination something to work with, and when the high-street shops had disappointed him, he turned to his homeboy from another dimension.

The gem set into the ring in his pocket was the final, glistening remnant of a star system, crushed down into a single point of light in the celestial forge of a black hole,(long since dissipated four billion years ago, as Sam understood time); it had been cut by a master jeweler whose workshop spanned an entire planet, somewhere outside of the traditional causal realms. It was, in very real terms, a timeless, infinite, and priceless stone.

Having a god in your home had to be worth something, didn’t it?

Julia (looking quizzical): You okay?

Sam hadn’t even taken Julia to his flat yet for fear of what might happen if she discovered his unique domestic situation… Suddenly the idea of the ring, and the doors that it might open, seemed terrifying.

Julia: Sam?

Sam: Yeah… yes. I’m fine. Just… you’re beautiful.

Julia: Aww, you’re so cute!

Julia finishes her drink. Then she reaches across the table and lays a soft palm against his cheek. Then ‘their song’ bursts up through the backbeat, out among the lights, and her expression follows it, eyebrows heading skyward…

Julia: Oh, Sam, dance… c’mon, please?

Sam grins, lifts his drink, and nods that he will be there in a second. As he swigs the last of it down, he watches her bounce out towards the bobbing throng, and something excellent happens inside of him. Sam’s fingers leave the box to settle at the bottom of his pocket, and he stands, about to go and find her on the dance floor.

He knows with certainty that he is going to give her the ring in the cab on the way home… his home.

And whatever happens next can go ahead and happen.

***

08: Interlude – Robin Chase/Rick Deacon

1 Message Received
Rick Deacon:
Fuuuck! Missed last few questions in that round, messed up quiz. Fucking Denis Leary. Last orders bearing down. U got ne beer @ urs?

***

09: Bad Moon Rising – Zero/One

So on we go, and on we drive.

“You know…” Zero says to me, one night, “I don’t like the look of that sky.”
I’m concentrating on the road; top down, focussed on the straight, black line of the road, hopped up on the peculiar chemical interaction of the caffeine in our robot bodies. It takes me a second or two to realise that he’s speaking, and a further few to cycle back along my internal audio memory, retracing steps till I know what he said.
“The blood red of it?”
“Yeah. I especially don’t like how it looks like where we’re going is on fire.

Truth is, I hadn’t noticed. I am too full of the deep black blues sound playing through the car’s speakers, the cool wind of the speed flapping at my clothes. The black line, lit up by our headlights, lit up by the blood red moon, stretching out ahead of us.

If I said that no blood had been spilled between where we were from, and where we were going, I’d be lying. People don’t like our sort, out here in the desert. And they like us less, the nearer we get to the cities.

If a motherfucker comes at me or my man with a shotgun, that motherfucker gets himself killed. This is one of the hard lessons the road has taught me, along our way. That, and all this bad language I seem to have picked myself up.

Sure, things were less spattered with red back in the old city, but I can’t help that – it ain’t my fault. We’re still glad we left, and still glad that we keep on going, even in all the years that have passed.

Zero’s shine is gone a little, now, though I buff him up as often as we are able, and he does me, too. Our old, white, plastic hides are stained rust red, now, but plastic doesn’t rust, and that’s the truth of it. Some things stain enough with time that they won’t just wash off.

Sometimes, when Zero looks at me, I look in his eyes and wonder if he hasn’t gone quite mad with the distance and the time, and the distance of the time. And I wonder if I ain’t gone a little nuts, too.

We don’t see so many people any more, even in the places that we visited before.

The cities ahead look to us like they’re on fire, and the ones behind us already are.

***

10: Interlude – Robin Chase/Rick Deacon

Robin: Alright, alright, I’m coming.

Robin: Jesus, keep it down. You’ll wake the neighbours.

Rick: Fucking hell. There you are. I thought you’d died or something.

Robin: Look at the state of you. Come in. Is it raining?

Rick: No. That giant dog the girl downstairs keeps on the porch pissed all up me.

Robin: …

Rick: Of course it’s fucking raining.

Robin: Right. Well, listen, I have to get on, but go sort yourself out – there’s beer in the fridge.

Rick: How’s the tape coming, anyway?

Robin: Well, it’s kind of become a bit epic, but… I’m on side two, finally. Want to listen, and tell me what you think?

Rick: Alright. Might be good for a laugh. I’ll be along in a minute.

***

Side 2
01: Interlude – Robin Chase/Rick Deacon

Rick: Excellent, man. That’s really good.

Robin: Seriously?

Rick: Yeah. I mean, I’m pissed, so I wouldn’t rely on me too much. But that… that is a nice tape. A nice measure of funny and serious, and not a lot of ulterior motive showing through at all.

Robin: Well, yeah, I didn’t want to freak her out.

Rick: Hmm, yeah. It is not bad at all.

Robin: I’m glad you like it. What do you reckon I should do with the second side, then? I mean, that’s the problem with getting the first half right, innit? I can only mess it up now…

Rick: …

Robin: Rick? Oh, charming.

Rick snores softly from where he is lying on the sofa. Robin soldiers on into the night.

***

02: Mexican Wine – Anon

You know, sometimes it feels like I’m married to that fucking blog.

I don’t even know how I started, beyond that it seemed like a good way to keep my writing going. And yeah, I’ve done okay out of it – the odd paid gig in a couple of lads mags and the like.

But really, most of the time it seems like it is probably an unhealthy thing to keep going. I try to keep things positive, post about new music I like (got a nifty music player plug-in for the site, and everything), comment on funny homegrown shit on YouTube, and keep regular capsule reviews of the shows that I like.

Having it there, though – It’s just too tempting when idiotic things happen on the internet, or in the world at large, or I suppose what I mean is if idiotic people happen, really. And they always do.

There’s always some fucking thing, and it gets my cock in a knot, I have to tell you. And I’ve never been that good at keeping those feelings of frustration to myself; as any one of my exes will no doubt be happy to tell you.

The blog, I suppose, better than any ex-wife I might have had, won’t leave of it’s own accord, and won’t try and stitch me up or screw me over.

The world is in enough of a state, but this country… this country has been in a right state since Diana died… maybe before, even; maybe as far back as that little kid getting snatched by those other two rotten little bastards.

Growing up, it didn’t matter what was going on in any other part of the world – you could always rely on an Englishman to keep his composure.

But now, everyone’s always crying. Crying in public. Talking about how much they cried when they heard about that week’s top of the tragedy pops. Crying about crying. Even the blokes – all of them falling over each other to show how sensitive they are – as if they’ve invited the whole country on a date to some art gallery or something, and are trying to talk us all into sleeping with them on the back of how fucking ‘sensitive’ they are.

And so help me, if I see one more bloody coloured ribbon or wristband…

So it’s all about tears, or outrage, or reality fucking tv, and having the blog there – well, I find myself constantly falling to the temptation to rant. Ire is easy.

I mean, look at this. Before I’ve even had the chance to get irritated by the newest marketing campaign for some cartoon somewhere, these bloody idiots come along and get pissed off about it for all the wrong reasons. Fucking pagans – even the obscure fringe religions want their time in the tabloids – you can’t even rely on them to keep themselves to themselves any more.

I feel my blood getting up as we speak, so here I am, firing up my browser…

***

03: Ready Steady Go – The Kids

As we get older
It is true,
We do things that we
Shouldn’t do.
Thank god our parents
Have no clue,
For they would kill us
If they knew.

We drink our fill
In gutrot ciders
And popping pills
Is our new fun.
Hard rhythms move
Our guts inside us;
The drunken, rushing call to run.

But it’s not the fact that we’re off our faces,
That would take us from our folks good graces;
It’s that we’re holding fatal races
Across the deadly monster places.

But who cares that
We might get eaten,
Or even worse
By rivals, beaten,
We run like fools
Because it’s fun;
Like broken rules,
Or races won.

***

04: Feelgood By Numbers – Jenny/Terry

Years later, years beyond the feelings of barbed wire that had surrounded her in her youth, Jenny would still listen to the tape all the time.

A lot of the time, she felt a little silly doing it: Some of the songs on there were clearly intended for a woman much younger than she was now. But playing the first mix-tape that Terry had made for her, from before they were even dating, since the days when she thought that he was just a crush that would never go anywhere; it still made her feel the shock and awe and adoration and excitement that had washed over her the first time, as she listened to the carefully chosen lyrics, and realised that this lovely, lovely man might feel the same way about her that she did about him.

When the tape finally snapped, she realised that, the medium being obsolete, there was no way of really fixing it. She wept silently for an hour, but had discarded the remains of the it quietly before the children arrived home from school, and said nothing more about it.

But the tangled tape in the bottom of the small bin in the bedroom didn’t go unnoticed.

And when their next anniversary came around, in the middle of the posh meal that Terry had taken her out for, he produced a cd case, seemingly from thin-air. Her favourite picture of the two of them from back when they first went out was on the cover, and he had burnt all the tracks from the original tape onto the cd inside, from memory.

And of course, she wept again, but this time she didn’t hide it from anyone, and was smiling hard the whole time…

***

05: Ghost Of Corporate Future – Adam Carlisle/Shannon Bond

Carlisle had noticed that something very strange was going on in the Southerton city center today.

He had braved the shopping malls today on the pretext of some errands that he had to run. Truthfully, though, he just needed to get away from the office. His secretary, Shannon, was being exceptionally terrifying today… She was insisting on cleaning things. She kept making him drinks, too. It was just too out of character and weird.

He had woken up in a foul mood this morning, and frankly, everything was agitating him. In this frame of mind, it was difficult not to imagine that Shannon was somehow trying to fuck with his head.

So, anyway, the first sign of oddity occurred as Carlisle made his way across the busy central concourse that stretched the length of the middle of town. He had to cross this irritating throng to get anywhere from his office, and was already dreading the first flurrying onset of charity workers and car insurance pimps when he noticed that the two little Chinese guys, who always performed outside Boots with their traditional little Chinese musical instruments, abruptly changed the tune that they were midway through playing. After the shortest of conferences, they struck up another song.

Carlisle recognised it instantly. It was the incredibly infectious new tune that he had been humming all week, since hearing it for the first time on some radio in the background somewhere. Carlisle only seemed to manage to remember one new pop song a year these days, so it was no surprise that this one came to him right away. The version that the two Oriental buskers were knocking out was incongruous and yet wonderful, and he felt his spirits lift. Even though it seemed a little odd, the way those two little chaps were behaving. They normally only did tunes from that old Ang Lee movie.

It didn’t stop there, though. When he went into Starbucks and despaired at the queue, he almost gave up and walked straight back out. But the Muzak playing in there transitioned smoothly from one track to the next as he walked in, and shimmied straight into a chilled out old piece of 90s rock cuteness, that kept his mood from the pop outside, and lifted it still higher with familiarity. He pictured a chubby little moppet dancing in a bumblebee outfit, and couldn’t help but nod his head a little to the beat.

This happened all the way through the shopping precinct. Every new piece of normally irritating and insipid background music that drifted over to him as he walked aimlessly about served to boost him higher, or calm him down once his Toffee Nut Latte started to work it’s agitant magic over him. It got to the point where he would walk really close to open shop doors, and bound in of a sudden, to see what the music would do.

It never let him down. Although it did make him look pretty fucking stupid in front of a mobile phone shop full of customers. The music always mixed down or across into something purely cheering.

He rode down into the basement of the biggest shopping mall in town, just chasing the sound of the rare techno rendition of an old folk classic that he heard strains of as he walked past the opening doors. He had been looking for that song since hearing it in some London nightclub two years before. No-one he asked seemed to have heard of it before, and he had started to wonder if he had dreamt it.

He rode the escalator all the way back up, because the ambient beauty of some trance track that he would always associate with a glorious night in Glastonbury beckoned him.

By the time he had exhausted all loafing possibilities, Carlisle felt positively wonderful. And by the time he walked back up the stairs to his detective agency, he had come to understand what had been happening.

“Shannon!” he shouted, “I think that the city, sensing my doldrums, has made me a music compilation to cheer me up!”

Shannon scowled at him.

“Fuck. If I’d known an acid flashback was imminent, I’d have stayed home today.” She snarled. She, at least, seemed back to normal.

It was going to take a lot of effort for her to spoil his mood, although he knew that she was up to the task eventually. So for the time being, he just revelled in his perkiness.

***

06: Humans Are Dead – Bill-Dave/Mikey-Hunt

Today and the last few yesterdays, me and Mikey-Hunt made play like the everyone else’s were all gone and dust.

Zombi-Holiday, we call this game. Well, I call it that. Mikey-Hunt just sits him down and makes wet at the eyes. He don’t not call it nothing. It’s almost like he ain’t playing our game at all.

That’s how Mikey-Hunt plays all our days, these days. His house done gone while he and I was looking out the other way, throwing rocks outerways. I think he wants his fader.

My own paps went awaywards enall, and I ent seen him in days. I seem to remember how he used to make food for us, and play his music, but now me own house ent there any more neitherways, and me and Mikey-Hunt, we don’t have to eat no food, nor listen to no music besides, if we-us are loaf to.

Since paps and the music went awaywards, the cracks between Mikey-Hunt and me, they seem deeper, like. Like, not real cracks in the ground, but the space atween us. With no music nor paps nor fader, we ent got no ways to make ourselves understand each other, nor ourselves, neitherways.

Words that used to mean such things to me, even they ent the same from day to the next day. Nor second to the next minute.

I think Mikey-Hunt is getting food-hungry – his eyeholes look like somesuch is missed, but who can tell? Gutsmine grumblered meways moretime, but I ent even know what that means, no more.

Mikey-Hunt looks sleepybyes. Memight fancy some naptimes, enall.

Nunight, everyone. Nunight, no-one left.

***

07: It Wasn’t Me – Lake Millhaven

You found the tape
(Or so you say)
In some old shop
In that old town
Where the lake got dredged.

And all the hellish
Dirty things
That they pulled up
Begin and end on that cassette
You seem to claim.

With it’s film of dirt
And spools of lies.
And here you are
Upon my door.
And you think that you have been lead here.

But the tape,
I assure you
Is a fake.
The voices therein
Inventions.

And besides,
You say that it’s clues
Are cryptic;
So how do you know
That they truly meant you to come here?

(And why,
I have to ask,
If you think that I caused all those dreadful things to pass
Would you ever come
And find me?)

But I have to say
It wasn’t me;
I wasn’t there;
I was stone drunk; it wasn’t clear.
And it doesn’t count, because I don’t care.

The crimes my dear,
In that old lake,
Weren’t mine to claim,
An other has
To take the blame.

But you,
My sweet,
I am happy to say
I’ll be willing to take
Account of.

***

08: A Little Concerned, That’s All – Ethan Abner

When Ethan Abner listens to music, he thinks of his childhood.

He can’t remember much about being young. He remembers it was easy, and fun, and very bright. And there was always music.

When Ethan hears songs about God, he gets uncomfortable. Music about Heaven makes him cry, but he doesn’t know why.

Ethan thinks of himself as an agnostic… pragmatic though it is. Logically, he doesn’t believe in God at all. He can’t rationalise creation as happening on one being’s initiative, no matter how omnipotent or omniscient. But something in his dreams of the childhood he doesn’t remember makes him flinch from pure atheism, and he doesn’t know the cause.

When Ethan dreams, he flies. When he flies, it is on wings of pure light.

Afraid of nothing most of the time, Ethan suffers crushing vertigo for the first few minutes every time he wakes.

He tries not to sleep too much.

***

09: Interlude – Robin Chase/Rick Deacon

Rick is drooling. But then, if you ask his girlfriend, some days, he is only ever a few IQ points from drooling all the time. Robin has reached a crisis point.

He accidentally brushes his friend’s arm.

Then he clumsily plays a record at top volume for five seconds.

When neither of these gambits work, he puts a hand on Rick’s shoulder, and shakes him hard until he is awake.

Rick: … I DIDN’T STEAL THE PANTIES, SHONA!!

Rick (while looking around frantically, shocked and confused): Wha?

Robin: Rick, are you awake?

Rick (rubbing his bottom lip with the back of his arm): Uh, wasn’ sleeping. Just restin’ eyes.

Robin: Okay.

Rick: Wha’ time is it?

Robin: Four.

Rick: A.M?

Robin: Yuh.

Rick: What the fuck are we doing up at 4am on a school night?

Robin: Just… almost all done. But look.

Rick (looking at the cassette that Robin is holding up): Hm. About… ooh, tough call. About eight minutes.

Robin: Yeah, I know, too long for one song, probably too short for two small ones, and I’ve got the balance perfect on the rest of the tape, anyway, the wrong song now could throw the whole thing out of whack, and she will never love me! NEVER LOVE ME AT ALL!!

Rick: Woah, there, gayboy. Woah there. How many of those have you had?

Robin (holding an unbranded silver-canned energy drink): Around five. What, wait, you mean since you went to sleep?

Rick: I guess.

Robin: Yeah, five.

Rick: Hm. We may truly be at crisis point. But listen, show me what you’ve put on side 2 so far.

Rick (examining the proferred list closely): Hmm. Hmm.

Rick: …

Rick: Hmm. No, I can’t see a fucking thing. I think my eyes are broken. But listen, have you put any Sigur Ros on yet?

Robin: Hm? Well, no. I mean… might they not be a bit… left-field for someone who doesn’t know them?

Rick: Fuck, no. Dude, if you haven’t gone that far out-there with this tape, yet, Sigur Ros are exactly what you need to cap off the whole thing. Pick one that taps out at around six minutes. Leaving the tape at the end shows that you’re not some obsessive compulsive.

Robin: Right, yeah, good plan. Make sure she knows I’m not some anal nutjob. Yeah. Perfect.

Rick: And the band have just the right level of chill to calm proceedings down, but just enough drama to show that you’ve got a serious side, and know how to bring the climax, if you know what I mean?

Robin: Uh. Kind of.

Rick: Plus, the shorter songs have just the right mix of accessibility and pretentiousness.

Rick: And… AND… And I can’t stress this enough.

Robin: What?

Rick: Well, if she doesn’t like it, it’s at the end. She probably won’t play the tape all that far in most of the time anyway, so you’ve lost nothing.

Robin: Hmm. You make some very good points.

Rick: Of course I do. I am a fucking genius.

Rick: Now I go to the toilet place, for I need to lie down with my head against the bowl for a few hours.

***

10 Hoppipolla – Boonda/Allatross

Allatross spoke to the silence, some nights.

As most junior on the crew, she was left alone during this shift nearly every night (although she always wondered how one could call it night, so far out in deep space). The crew slept far away beneath her, and Allatross, barely fifteen years in the world, and so far out here all alone, had to keep watch over them all.

Of course, the instruments kept vigil with her, and were more reliable besides, but Allatross had shown herself to have keen attention, an alertness of eye, and the good sense to know when to keep it shut, and that was needed in the cold dark of night, when not everything that the vessel came across in the night could be seen by machines, or read on a screen.

As the small cutter Millicent, barely half a mile along, shifted through the night, keenness was what was required, and strong coffee, and strong wits besides. The tiny observation booth she occupied was a glass ball, suspended out at a diagonal to the prow on a two-meter thick mast of steel which went out half the length of the vessel again. It had been explained to her, her first day on the ship, when she still had a nerve to ask, that it was so far out front to better allow for seeing things that they were coming up on. Then she was beaten soundly around the head and shoulders, and learnt a lesson about asking questions of her betters besides.

But Allatross liked this ship, and this life, and now that she knew her place, the beatings were fewer.

This night, Allatross scrunched her eyes right closed, and when she opened them, she saw a smudge in her vision – a small piece of dark that wasn’t moving right, out past her feet. She blinked again, but it was still there. Checked the glass down there, creasing herself double. Still there. Kept a watch. It was definitely something out there, moving steady, big as the Millicent, bigger still. They were on an arc to pass it, close-by but not an emergency.

The other ship was running dark, and no prox alarm had sounded, indicating that it wasn’t alive with crew. Allatross came awake properly. Waking the crew for a false urgency would earn her another beating, but if there was salvage afoot?

She checked the instruments, and sure enough, there the thing was – it hadn’t been obvious before, down to it’s low energy footprint, but it was there, a dull mauve shadow on the radar. She set a query script running on that section of space, and pulled out the readback. High quantities of organic material – large nutrient reserves – fluids, and trace minerals.

Not a high value yield, but whoever had left this ship wrecked in space had left it drifting with the larder full. Allatross worked her sense around the problem. Fresh meat and bread was rare to come across in the dark, and a click and a tap brought up the Millicent’s larder inventory – they already had enough supplies to see them to their next resupply. But still besides, if Allatross made the judgement call to check the other ship, and there was fresh meat and luxuries, and ale besides, she would be a hero among the men, and the captain would be thankful for the chance to travel further without stopping.

If the remains were rotten, Allatross might find herself left behind among the crusts and flyblowns, waiting for some other far-flung ship to find her there as bones.

She waited.

And then, she watched the shape grow more convincing in the dark as it moved… as she now saw, as it swam. A different black from the dark around, the creature (for she saw now that that was what it was) moved, vague and flickering as she saw the familiar signature of sixth-dimensional space travel shifting along it’s body’s curves.

And now she saw that the readback had misled her, because this thing was vast, and beautiful in it’s vastness, and Allatross felt bad for her previous daydreams of fresh meats and drinking. A single, deep black eye moved along the surface of what Allatross took to be it’s head, and as it swam, huge and sleek in the dark beneath her, she was sure that the creature looked straight at her.

The thing seemed so impossibly close that Allatross bent double again, resting her palm flat against the glass between her feet, and imagined that she could touch the creature’s flank.

And then a resonance grew in the glass around her, a sound building and building, a noise she took to be the creature’s way of talking, at a frequency only felt, an impossible vibration through the dark itself, as the creature spoke, and Allatross listened.

“BOOOoooOOONDA” was the sound, and Allatross guessed it must be a name, of all things, and she hadn’t heard many prettier besides in her short, short, long life. Then, the monstrous, wondrous, amazing animal was gone, and there was only the dark to contend with again.

Some nights, Allatross spoke out into the night. And some nights, now, Boonda answered.

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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