Search This Blog

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Blog 100: Omnicarta Dyssynchronous

The jailer locked the door of her cell and walked away. She stared around the small room and knew she wouldn’t be staying for long. The strongest of walls fall eventually, time grinds down the mountains. She pictured the ruin her prison would become, the ground level would be higher no doubt because of rubble. She had to be higher off the ground, the light fitting in the ceiling looked substantial enough to hang from, she jumped from the small, uncomfortable bed she might have slept on and pulled herself up, gripping the metal lampshade. She closed her eyes and pictured the ruin again, the lampshade disappeared from her grasp and she fell onto the rubble of the long abandoned prison. She’d twisted her ankle during the landing but ignored it as she looked at the tattoo on her arm.

The tattoo was no ordinary collection of inky lines; it was the legacy of her family, a map that could take her wherever she needed to go, in time and space. It had to be a tattoo because there was no chance that she would have been allowed to take with her the seemingly blank paper that had held the magical map she’d inherited from her family. Sadly in the transition from paper to skin the map had lost some of its potency. With the paper bound version she could have simply imagined herself walking home and have been there by the time she opened her eyes. In skin however the impossible ink seemed to prefer travelling through time to space.

She clambered over the rubble to the shore of the prison island where she could see the mainland on the horizon and the ruins of the jetty. She looked at her arm, saw the same jetty, intact with a boat tied up and when she looked up she was staring at the same boat with the brand new prison behind her. She walked calmly to the boat, untied it and started the motor.

As she crossed the lapping water she thought about her family, the inheritors of the map she had living in her skin. Once the map had been confined to paper, scraps of delicate paper handed down through generations, now it was as safe as she was, which might not have been much more. The idea had been put forward generations before but never put into practice until she had the audacity to take the family legacy into her own skin where she could hide and never lose it.

Her forebears had various opinions on the transition, not that she listened to all of them because going back far enough she was descended from dusty old men who thought that a women’s place was in the kitchen attending to the needs of the man. They had been progressive for their day but still she hated their company as much as hers made them uncomfortable.

Her favourite forefather was her great uncle, the first creative she knew of in the line, she always saw him as a young man, of age with her, exploring the world in his prime without all of the judgements the others made. He always took her to abandoned mansions and towns, some after her time, where he joyed in the romance of nature reclaiming the world from mankind’s oppressive reign.

She said he should have gone to art school and he agreed but the family weren’t quite ready for it in his day. He took joy in her freedom; it distracted him from the unwanted duties of his own life. He was a businessman as they all were but that would end. The family shares always rose; eventually their job would be counting the interest and calculating tax.

She’d gone around the world like he’d suggested, she played the lottery and won a few thousand which she put on a horse which won and topped up her funds each time in the same way. He’d only ever been as far as Istanbul where the family were touting for new business. He highly recommended the city for photographs which he lamented were not nearly so advanced in his time.

The boat hit the sand of the shore and she jumped into the shallow water it was cold as the breeze blew against her but she ignored it and continued down the road to the nearest town. She shivered, wishing she had a jacket. She looked at her arm, saw a truck with a warm fleecy jacket on the seat by the open window, it was there waiting as she looked up from the tattoo. The blue-grey jacket smelt of whiskey, as did the truck which disappeared as she blinked.

She was warmer but still had a fair distance to walk in the cold and wished the view was less dull. She blinked and opened her eyes to a sunrise, bright red, orange and gold. She smiled; with such a view the walk would be almost enjoyable, even the smell of whisky cheered her up a little as she thought of drinks with her great uncle.

Her red hair blew in the breeze as she walked and sang the songs she’d learnt from family, old songs that the rest of the world had forgotten. Some grandfather, great to the power of whatever, had said that the greatest loss to the world was not life but knowledge. People pass on traits of themselves through blood but ideas are more delicate and far more easily lost. The archives of their family had saved many things that had since passed into legend.

That there weren’t even legends of the family’s map made her think that it must be older than any story still told, older than carvings somehow or the paintings in caves. None of her family knew what it was really, that was another oddity of it. The map was inexplicable.

She saw the town on the horizon, just a blip on the radar, a small bastion of life in the countryside of Scotland’s west coast. There had been other towns and villages but the occupants had mostly relocated to be away from the maximum security prison in the renovated Stalker Castle Prison. Most people in that town worked in the prison or took the money of those that did.

She reached the town’s edge and realised she would have to change out of her prison uniform; she wouldn’t get far in the death-row styled orange boiler suit. She watched the lines of the tattoo draw a washing line in a garden; it gave directions, an arrow on her right hand which turned as she did. The town was still asleep in the early morning as she entered the garden with the empty washing line, closed her eyes and saw the clothes she needed when she opened them.

She changed in the garden shed and hid the orange uniform under some plant pots. The jeans were a little loose on her, she’d always been lanky. Instead of the flowery blouses the woman of the house had she’d taken the black t-shirt with the rude slogan on it. It read; ‘If I got smart with you how would you know? She liked it.

On the worktop of the shed there was a metal lighter next to cigarette stubs in an ash tray, she took the lighter and a multi-tool. Such behaviour was frowned upon by her family, mostly because they all felt so guilty for doing the same.

Her family had houses all over Britain, mostly in England where their money was made but one had moved north generations ago to become a landlord in Glasgow. His contemporary descendants owned hundreds of houses and one or two streets of Scotland’s second city and considered themselves Scottish despite the family tree.

To visit them she’d need a car, preferably a fast one. The arrow pointed down the road to the car park outside the local pub, she closed her eyes and opened them in the sunlight of a bright day where she was standing beside a pristine classic sports-car with the hood down. The owner had popped into the pub to ask for directions. He’d been enjoying his drive so much he’d neglected to pay attention to where he was going. She jumped into the driver’s seat and started the car with the keys that were still in the ignition. The owner ran out of the pub when he heard the roar of the engine as she sped away.

The arrow on her hand continued to point her in the right direction as she raced down the country lanes, south towards Glasgow. The fuel tank was running low so she filled it up at a petrol station a few miles down the road. The driver had left his tweed coat on the passenger seat complete with his wallet and one hundred and thirty two pounds. She emptied the cash into her pockets, put the wallet back in the coat and left it on one of the pumps at the petrol station.

She’d almost made it to Glasgow when she heard the police cars following her down the motorway. Before they could catch up she pulled into the side of the road, jumped the barrier and ran down the embankment out of view. She closed her eyes and walked up the embankment again to see the motorway minus the sports-car and the police.

She held out her thumb and hitched a ride into the city with a trucker in a Celtic strip. He laughed when she told him her story, unedited.
“You sound like trouble lassie, tell me though, how do have the energy for aw that when you dinnae look like you’ve eaten anythin’ in years?”
“Hollow bones.” She smiled.
“Aye?” He laughed again. “Me an aw.” He slapped his beer gut before taking the wheel with both hands again. He dropped her off at a service station just outside Glasgow from which she could walk, over summer fields, having gone back to the days before the bypass.

She followed the arrow on her hand, lazily drifting through different times as the city grew and shrank before and behind her. The wildlife moved forwards and back, retreating from the sprawl of the city. As the city changed so did the picture on her skin, redrawing itself each time as it had to. The map was alive, not sentient but symbiotic to her family and perhaps others if they got their hands on it. She wondered if it would be loyal but had no reason to think that it would. It just worked its magic for whoever owned it which was always one of her family.

The maps on paper were reactive where are hers seemed to have evolved, it predicted future threats to her. She liked walking alone through the middle of London in the night, enjoying the lights of the city in the darkness, the distant rush of cars and the odd shout of a drunkard being startled. She never felt insecure in the darkness, as she saw it the darkness hid her as well as anyone else and with two older brothers she’d learnt to hold her own from a young age. Once though her hand had flashed red in the darkness and the portrait of a man still a long way behind her had drawn itself across the back of her pale hand in the lamplight. She stayed still to watch the tattoo as it showed a knife being drawn behind her and raised as she stood still there and as he brought the knife down she threw all of her weight into elbowing him in the guts. He would fall and drop the knife.

She watched the countdown on her hand; five, she started to hear his quiet footsteps, four, his shallow breathing, three, he sniffed, two, he inhaled deeply, one, exhaled. Now it told her and she followed, it was done in a moment that dragged out in her mind as she wondered if she followed the instructions well enough. He fell like a sack of coal and the knife dropped to the pavement, she snatched it up from the ground. The little man, withered by whatever addiction he was feeding, cowered away from the psychic girl who didn’t realise she was grinning with victory.

On her arm he was annotated as having a bunch of credit cards and a large wad of money. She robbed him at knifepoint and called the police on her phone as he cowered there, pushing himself as far as he could into the hedge next to the pavement. When the bright lights arrived the little man ran towards them for safety and the red haired girl walked swiftly away. She was months away by the time an officer of the law rounded the corner to look for her. That wasn’t why she’d been put in prison though. No one was sent to Stalker Castle Prison for anything as minor as armed robbery.

To cope with events like that, to stay calm, she pretended they were normal. The problem with pretending something is normal is that it becomes the truth, events like that happened more and more and sometimes she wondered if that was what she was looking for in the darkness and not the bright lights of the city.

The tattoo told her she was there, the best house on one of the richest streets in the most affluent district of the City. The house had invaded two on either side which had been amalgamated and had their front doors replaced with twin conservatories which teemed with bonsai trees which had become a family craze during the last few generations. CCTV cameras watched her from both conservatories and poorly concealed within a very large carved lion to the left of the main door. She knocked on the emerald green door, ignoring the wrought iron door knocker which would damage the paint and was, again, in the shape of a stylised lion’s head. She observed the singular apple tree growing to her right whose branches hung over the path; it didn’t seem to be having a good year.

The door opened to reveal a young man wearing a blue bath robe, imitation pinstripe pyjamas and tiger slippers. He was holding a steaming mug of hot chocolate as he asked.
“Why so early in the morning? Why at all? I could get in trouble having you here.” He had sandy brown hair which had recently been cut short and stubble on his face. The small red dotted tissue pieces showed that he’d cut himself shaving.
“I just need a place to stay until I can clear my name.” She pleaded. “You wont rat me out will you?”
“Were you seen?” He asked sharply.
“Then get inside quick.” She took the mug of hot chocolate from him and sighed at how good it tasted. “You really don’t change.” He shook his head and wandered slowly behind her to the living room where there was a fat cat for every cushion of the two three-seater couches. One of the cats protested mildly as the girl moved it from its spot on the couch. It joined its two brothers in the dog bed which was vacant because the German Shepard was lying in front of the electric fire.

“How are you going to clear your name then?” The robed young man asked as he made himself another hot chocolate, she heard the beeps as he programmed the time into the microwave oven which then hummed as it boiled the powder and milk.
“By proving my innocence.”
“That’s brilliant!” He quipped sarcastically. “How though? More specifically, as in actually how?”
“All of the evidence against me was circumstantial, if I can get them to reopen the case them I can prove it wasn’t me.”
“And breaking out was the way to do that?” He asked, walking back to the kitchen as the microwave signalled its readiness. He returned with his hot chocolate and sat back on the couch; one of the cats jumped up onto his lap immediately and started purring.
“I wasn’t going to stay in there, letting them convict me was an act to good will to the system.”
“It was you showing off as usual and now you’re guilty of evading them even if you are proven innocent of murder.”
“If?” She asked. “There’s no if. I have to be found not guilty.”
“I wouldn’t bet against you, no one who knows you would but this one’s difficult and no mistake.”
“Can I stay here or not?” She asked with the usual authority.
“You know you can. Family first but don’t get us in trouble, stay away from the windows.”
“Thank you.” She said, relieved. She relaxed into the warm, comfortable chair and the cat on the cushion next to her nuzzled in for a cuddle. The two humans and the menagerie sat in silence until they heard the sound of rain clattering off the windows.

“Why you?” Her cousin asked tentatively.
“He came to see me.” She said, staring at the floor. She blinked as the tears began trying to run down her face. “He just turned up with the knife still in him, said it would bleed out faster if he took it out, said he came to say goodbye and thank me”
“Thank you for what?” Her cousin asked, leaning forward.
“I helped him, a long time ago, well, kind of a long time ago. When he was younger anyway.”
“Helped him with what?” He leant so far forwards the cat fell off his lap and hissed at him for it.
“You don’t know what he was? No, no one did, he only told me.”
“What he was?” The cousin asked, confused.
“He was gay. That was why I had to help him. I helped him escape.” Her cousin didn’t understand how any element of sentence.
“Escape what?”
“His time, his society, our family. The old men in the country house who meddle with all of our lives when they think things aren’t going smoothly.” She was crying; she didn’t care anymore.
“I still don’t get it.” He said, she stared at him incredulously.
“Why would you? You’re a successful young bachelor, they’d love you. He was gay. They expected him to marry a woman and have children and they pestered him about it every day. He was too scared to tell them what he was.”
“So he killed himself? Why not just leave? He could have stayed with you.”
“No that wasn’t it. You really didn’t pay attention to the trial did you?” He shrugged.
“Pay attention to what? What am I supposed to have known from the news?” He asked, refastening his robe.
“He was an old man when he came to me, not really old but older than I’d ever seen him. I’d only known him as a teenager and in his early twenties.”
“Why is this relevant?” Her cousin scratched his head.
“He disappeared when he was twenty five.”
“I know that, left a note asking that no one follow him… hang on.” He repositioned a cat that was digging its claws into his lap. “He can’t have been gay; he eloped with some beggar girl.”
“A brunette in rags who spoke with terrible grammar.” She completed.
“That’s the story I heard.”
“And that’s all it is, a story, some hair dye and a terrible performance.” She watched the cogs turning until the penny dropped.
“It was you?” She gave him a sarcastic clap.
“He couldn’t trust anyone else. They only left him alone because they thought he was trouble, I think they were glad to be rid of him.”
“So you went back all that way and pretended to be his lover?”
“Where did you get the clothes?”
“Where did you get clothes accurate enough to that period that you managed to fool the people who lived there?”
“Your mind works in very strange ways cousin.”
“I know but I was just thinking that if anyone from any other time tried to dress like they were from now they’d probably get it wrong, like old people trying to look cool and using the words hip and groovy.” She had no response to the entirely random interjection.

“Can this be between us? I don’t want anything spoiling the life he had after he disappeared.”
“I won’t say anything but I can’t speak for the cats or the dog. Where did he go?”
“He didn’t say. Just that he’d lived a happy life with a man he loved and he didn’t want to live without him.”
“Couldn’t you convince him?”
“He had a knife just below his heart and he said that he’d enjoyed the best days of his life. He said it would only be downhill from there and that any happiness without his lover felt like a betrayal.”
“That’s a beautiful sentiment but so much more than slightly depressing.” She nodded, overcome by emotion and he was tearing up as well.

“Do you need to sleep?” He asked. “You look tired.” She nodded again and stood, dislodging her lap cat. She was shown to a spare room where she lay awake remembering her great uncle as he bled out in her lap. The time difference was clear in the wrinkles, grey hair and tan but still she saw so clearly the young man he’d been when they’d visited overgrown abandoned buildings and discussed the societal symbolism of a tree growing out of the chimney of a manor house.

She cried there, kept accompanied by a ginger tom who’d followed her upstairs. She was free from prison but carrying a weight of grief that was crushing her. She didn’t sleep much but did realise the solution to proving her innocence to her family. She asked her cousin to come with her and witness her great uncle’s apparition and death. She knew that she had no right to expect him to but she hoped he would agree perhaps more out of curiosity than familial love for her or the man some thought she’d murdered.

He agreed, after three days, to be her witness and swear in much the same way she had to the dead man that he would tell the only part of the story anyone needed to know, that she was innocent. Hopefully the testament of a prodigal son would offset the curiosity and meddlesome intentions of the eternal dynasty. He went with her, held her hand as they watched through the window of her father’s town house. She’d been looking through maps of Europe, preparing to set off around the world again. He turned up, bleeding and crying and thanking her, saying goodbye to her and life. Her cousin threw up on his shoes.

“This is why we don’t meddle with things.” Said her cousin as he wiped the sick off his shoes and rubbed his head. “Make money not trouble.”
“He lived the life he wanted to, he was better off like that.” She was resolute.
“You sure?”
“I’m sure, we should go now. The police are on their way and they’ll see us first if we don’t move.”

They left and upon appeal she had her conviction quashed by her family’s lawyers. The family had listened to their prodigal son. She tried to move on, pretended it was normal and sadly, amongst her family, things like that were.

No comments:

Post a Comment