Mumm-Ra

He was nothing to do with us, not at first.  He was just a half-forgotten cartoon villain we all thought we’d seen the last of.  But this whole thing is kind of all our fault…

It began one summer holiday years and years ago when we found him living out in the woods behind the town, catching rabbits and eating them raw.  Those unmistakeable red eyes, that spittly mouth.  We watched him for weeks before we set out for the woods, carrying sticks and wearing our coats like capes.  When we found him – sheltering under a log – we stood over him and hit him until a dog-walking man pulled us away and phoned the police.  Our Dad came to the station and was so ashamed of us that he offered to let Mumm-Ra stay in the spare room while he recovered from the ordeal.  It was part of some social responsibility thing that Dad was big on at the time, and no amount of our desperate protests against inviting ancient spirits of evil into our home would persuade him otherwise.

At meal times the skeletal figure at the end of the table would push fish fingers into his maw and mutter darkly about how his time would come again.  Other than that he barely seemed to emerge from his room, hardly ever seemed to draw open the curtains.  In a bid to help Mumm-Ra reintegrate into society, Dad lent him a suit and fixed him up with a temp job in his office.  He turned out to be a good worker, so our Dad said – he had a tendency to over-delegate and not all of his plans came to fruition, but the ideas were there.  A schemer, Dad called him.  And work seemed to do our guest the world of good – where he had previously been sullen and sinister, now he began to come out of his shell.  One Saturday morning he watched early morning television with us and taught us the best way to mummify ourselves.  Dad said it was a waste of toilet paper, but you could tell he was pleased that relations between us were improving.

It was a peaceful time, our abiding memory of which is coming down the stairs one morning to find Mumm-ra at the hob in his red dressing gown, making scrambled eggs for us all.  It seemed then that things would go on like that forever.  Then Mumm-ra’s daughter decided to get in touch with her old man and everything changed again.

You could tell that Mumm-ra’s daughter was smitten with Dad the moment they met, and by now we could tell whenever our Dad’s heart had been captured.  It lightened the mood of what had been a rather awkward reunion at a nearby carvery, a reunion to which we had all been dragged to lend Mumm-Ra some emotional support.  From tentative beginnings, Dad embarked on a whirlwind romance with Mumm-ra’s daughter and within a year they were engaged to be married.  It was decided that the wedding would be a chance for us all to celebrate the joining of our two families and at the reception we were made to stand up and apologise to Mumm-ra for hunting him down and hitting him with sticks.  Which was fair enough – after all he was set to become, technically, our step-Grandfather.  Once we had finished, he turned to us and thanked us for the chain of events we had set in motion.  By the end of his speech there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Time passed, we grew older and life continued happening.  Dad had a child with his new wife – a young and confused step-brother for us, a boy who would never quite come to terms with his residual immortality.  Mumm-Ra had retired from work and now spent most of his time dozing in a high-backed chair in the corner of the living room, dispensing wisdom as we traversed our tricky teenage years.  Whenever we were in trouble or whenever we wanted something we couldn’t have, we would go to see Mumm-Ra and he would devise a plan.  His plans seldom worked, but neither he nor us were ever disheartened.

It was approaching Christmas in our first year at University when we noticed an item which was set for auction.  Lot #145 was a little more expensive than we might otherwise spend on a Christmas present but – “It’s what he’s alway’s wanted,” “Sure, but that’s only the reserve price.”  Did we question whether it was a good idea, getting that present for Mumm-Ra for Christmas?  Of course we did, we discussed it over and over.  “You don’t think he’ll-,“ “What?” “Y’know…”, “Say it,” “You… think he’s completely changed?  You don’t think there’s a part of him that’s still bad?” “Don’t talk like that about our grandpa.”

The auction turned out to be less dramatic than we expected, there wasn’t much interest in the lot so we got our item at the reserve price.  Perhaps people had forgotten about it or maybe they just didn’t understand what it was, but we had spent years listening to Mumm-Ra’s stories of the old days and we knew exactly what it could do.  We wrapped the Sword Of Omens carefully but, it being a bit of an obvious shape, didn’t put it under the tree until last thing on Christmas Eve.

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The Moment You Take A Snapshot It Is Out Of Date #12

And then something happens and he decides to
stay up all night, to ride it all the way through
til the morning. But
the night takes it as a challenge, and
slows itself right down,
steels itself to go on forever –
or what seems like forever –
as if it is a staring contest.
Like each day is a piece of string,
like each day is not just the earth rotating
rotating rotating away.

Novel In Broken Furniture

Dreamt about driving and dreamt about a crab and then dreamt a whole vivid computer game on a vinyl record. Woke when he heard the sound of voices outside. Two girls staggering down the street, the sound of high heels on the pavement, the sound of their late night tales and impulses –

“I just want to sing now,”
“Shhh, you can’t, you’ll wake everyone up,”
“No, it’ll be fine,”
“It won’t y’know,”
“It will, because. I know that if I start singing now then everyone will open their windows and join in and they’ll come out on to the street and everyone will dance all around us,”
“Come on, let’s get home.”

Lay awake in bed, feeling like a drifting point in time and space and trying to remember the dreams gone. The crab which was supposed to be for dinner but turned out to be still alive and it started moving in the fridge and then it managed to get out and danced sideways down the street. The car-driving which followed and which was somehow loose and soft like freewheeling and bumping softly into the kerb and into other cars, all in the pursuit of this bloody crab. Couldn’t remember the dreams properly, couldn’t get back to sleep, got up and walked around.

Soft footsteps around the apartment, touching the walls with his hands, feeling the doorframes, his his his. Sat awake at the kitchen table and the air and the light and the sounds changed around him.

The fog horn began to sound. Couldn’t see the sea from there, couldn’t see a thing, everything further away in the fog. Made a breakfast of crisps and drank a coffee and took his tablets. Tidied up before he left.

Ate squares of chocolate as the boat chugged out of the harbour, swigging through the fog. He just decided. “Just decided one day to get up and leave and maybe it was the fog and maybe it was his dreams and maybe it was the way he felt when he woke in the middle of the night,” someone was saying as the boat chugged out of the harbour. And he sat and ate squares of chocolate and thought about being there and not being there and leaving it all behind, and voices.

Got off the boat and made his way on the island, found somewhere to stay, changed his clothes, went for a walk. Around every corner a mystery, each fog-covered inch a new discovery – here, a cockerel that used to be a man; there, a wasp that was brought up among bees; across the path, a boy who had decided to leave his family and live in a tree. Everywhere tracks of bushes with all these berries on like it was lit-up and Christmas.

Walked up the hill to the top of the island and the fog was clearing now and the sun was coming out and the wind was up. Felt exposed up there, could see for miles, could hear a droning noise all around him as though he had gone too far up and had broken something – some part of the world or some part of himself. Sat on a rock and thought about what he was doing out there on that island and what was going on across the water and he, “Just decided to get up and leave one day and maybe it was something to do with a dream he had or the way he felt in the night or perhaps it was the fog.”

Went back to the place he was staying and slept for a while, slept and then fell into a sleep within his sleep, deeper and deeper, then woke up, woke up and ate squares of chocolate and picked up his book and decided to go out. Went to the beach and lay in the sun and the weather was fine enough to lie on the beach and read and this is what he would do for the rest of the day, week, month, life, all of time perhaps.

Staying there forever, watching the tide come in and out. Perhaps of his own free will or, otherwise, perhaps cursed somehow and as the time passed on that beach he would become something else, some part of a myth in the history of whatever that island was meant to be. His story told in books and on tea towels and depicted in friezes and told again and again by old men, sung, played, filmed, sonneted, re-written, modernised, put into a spreadsheet, told in code, condensed until the fibres of his tale became part of the electricity running through the wires in the walls.

Crab danced along the shoreline as if in a dream world where everything moves from side to side. A group of children came running out of the sea, their faces painted to look like fish, ran and laughed and pushed and shouted and made their way up the beach.

Put down his book, got up and walked slowly through the crowd of children. Entered the sea as the children left it. Feet first, then ankles, calves, knees, thight, groin. Gave in, dropping his whole body into the water. Sharp, quick, stabbing cold hit him but he was off and away, bones and muscles working against and through the waves and again he felt like a lost and wandering point in time and space. Swam, turned around and looked back at the island from a distance, a whole new way of seeing it. The abandoned stage of the last adaptation of the myth of the beach-bound man, forced to sit and watch the centuries riding in on the tide.

Went looking for trouble. A new land of new stories. Swam out. Far away, far away from, “I suppose it was something that happened in the night and then the fog and then he just went and.” Him out there. The waves like days. Swam back in, came ashore further along the coast. A little set of caves screamed with tiny, indestructible hollowed-out myths.

Swam in until his knees ran aground on the rocks and then he stood up and walked in to the cave, movements like a microcosm of the evolutionary process. Walked into the cave, deeper and deeper and it didn’t matter if the sea might rush in because he was so far away already, so much now like a tiny speck, a floating point in space and time that was no matter to nobody and nothing more than ordered matter in some kind of order as the universe is nothing more than the brief and random order of things. My head spins with it all.

Further and deeper into the belly of the island. Heard the sound of singing, some kind of worksong, perhaps imagined but then he was so far from anything his that he wondered if any of it was real. “Suppose something happened and he just went and,” unless he didn’t go anywhere and had just stayed where he was. Further from the sea, colder and colder into the cave. Went. Used to stay still but now he went.

Cave ballooned all of a sudden, ballooned into a big underground hall with rock walls and a lake and people, like the world had broken again, or he had and this was him and the end. Stepped closer towards the people, some kind of work going on, some kind of industrial process, something being made. They didn’t notice him and he made his way closer and closer expecting any moment to wake up somewhere else. They turned and saw him and not much else happened, they didn’t rush towards him and attack him or anything like that, one of their number sidled over to him. Spoke to him, and he spoke back and was almost surprised by the sound of his own voice –

“-doing down here?”
“Making gin, we are, just making some gin,”
“Are you trapped down here?”
“Ha ha no no, we’re free, we just come here to make gin,”
“And that song-“
“It’s what we sing when we’re making gin. Gin from the berries. Staying on the island are you?”
“Yes,”
“Come and make some gin with us, if you like.”

Turned, followed the man back to where they were making the gin. Found himself in the middle of them all, and suddenly he was making gin and singing, and singing and all the gin-makers in their cave on the island were dancing around him and he felt a madness and felt everything with the joy of it all, a point in space and time that he couldn’t name and didn’t recognise. Crashed and broken somewhere, but somehow good, good. My head spins with it all. Traced it on a map in a book balanced on a broken piece of furniture and the night turned over in its sleep, “and he just decided to get up and leave.”

The Moment You Take A Snapshot It Is Out Of Date #11

They explore Europe in a motor car
Driving and stopping and getting out and
Storming the turrets of a hundred old stone castles
Feeling dizzy as they climb winding staircases
Saying this was here then and look at it now and
Look at all this that used to be and look at it now
See how it looks now in this time of motor cars
And it is all there, and nothing can stop them until
Until someone loses their hat in the wind and
They all lose heart, realising they can’t get it back
Even though they live in the time of motor cars
And perhaps they are not ready for this after all.

Notes On The Building Of

All the parts I needed were under my bed.  I took them out and started to put them together but I didn’t get very far before I stopped and pulled my creation to pieces again.  I did some more drawings of my plans and by the time I was finished it was dark so I went to bed.  As I tried to get to sleep ideas mixed around in my brain and I found it difficult to rest so I turned on the light, got out of bed and pulled out the parts again.  This time I completed the construction.  It took so long that by the time I was finished it was starting to get light again and I decided that it would be better to carry on and populate it now rather than wait until later.  This caused problems as there were some flaws in my design that only became obvious to me at this stage, and I had to evacuate and then do a little rebuilding before I could populate safely.  By now I was feeling quite sleep-deprived and my thoughts were becoming fractured.  Giddiness had taken hold.  I couldn’t wait to play with my new creation so I started there and then, moving the population around and inventing situations and imagining.  It was quite difficult to move them around, and I found that each of the situations I staged called for some minor destruction followed by a little rebuilding, which became increasingly frustrating.  I began to wonder whether it was worth the hassle of actually doing anything with my creation.  I missed the way it had stood beautifully unspoilt when I first finished making it so I picked up my creation and shook it upside down until it was completely empty, and then I built some things which I had originally been forced to leave out for reasons of impracticality and taste.  I got halfway through implementing these re-designs and decided that, since I now had forever to finish the creation to my own exacting standards, it could wait until I had rested.  I was tired from all the building, and sleep came quickly.  When I awoke, it was exactly where I had left it and the population lay in a little pile next to it.  I still did not see any use for them so I scooped up the pile and put them under my bed.  And then I turned back to my creation and watched it all morning, enjoying it’s peaceful and changeless nature and beauty.

They Were Renumbering Our Street

Which I assumed was an excuse for them to do something else at the same time but, whatever.  “We’ll need access to your homes,” they told us.  Fine.  I stood at the door whilst the workman fixed a new number to the wall, him telling me that everything would make more sense once it was done.  “Don’t worry love.”  Whatever.  I didn’t question him.  I assumed that his street was being renumbered as well and that when he told me that it would make more sense he was just repeating what he had been told by his seniors and so it wasn’t his fault really, unless you took the view that his unquestioning carrying out of orders and believing everything he was told was a dereliction of his civic duty.

So, from now on we were going to be living at number 47 instead of number 239.  “Is this going to take long?” I asked as he came in. “Only I’ve got to be out soon.”  No, it wouldn’t take long, he told me.  Don’t look so worried love.  He had opened some cupboard I had never noticed before and was poking around in a box that looked like the fuse box but wasn’t – I had been shown where that was, just in case.  “Just got to re-calibrate the mainframe on the house’s location setting so that we don’t lose you on the council maps,” he told me cheerily.  No, I don’t think he understood what was going on here either, which made the whole thing even more depressing.

“Hurry up, I’ve got to be out,” I told him, though I had no intention of going anywhere at all – that summer I had hardly left the house except to go and get essentials.  Just slouching up the stairs was something I planned hours in advance.  “Don’t look so worried love.  I’ll be out from under your feet in a moment.”  He dug around in the box some more.

“So what’s in the box – is it some kind of government surveillance thing?”  “No love,” he shook his head and laughed, “it’s just something we have to update when we do these changes.”  I went and stood at the front door to look outside.  “It’s nothing to worry about,” he said.  All up and down the street there were workmen changing numbers, re-ordering our lives just as they had been told.

He finished doing whatever it was he was doing and appeared behind me with a clipboard.  “Just get you to sign this love.”  I read through the docket because I knew that would annoy him – slowing him down after I had been hurrying him up.  Whatever, it amused me.  “I can’t sign for this,” I said, handing it back to him.  “Says here that it has to be signed by the home owner and I’m not the home owner so I can’t sign.  You’ll have to wait til my parents get back.”  He scowled.  “When’s that?” he didn’t call me love.  “About two weeks.”  They actually only had about a week of their holiday left but whatever.

The workman opened the box again and adjusted things again, and then he went outside and fixed the old numbers back onto the front of the house.  It didn’t seem like much of a victory, all told, but I took some satisfaction in seeing the scowl on his face as he worked.  “All done,” he said eventually.  “Be back in a couple of weeks.”  “Thanks a lot,” I told him as he left.  He did not respond.

As soon as he had gone I locked all the doors and drew the curtains closed and went upstairs and got into bed without getting undressed or anything, and then I just lay there as still as I could while I thought about what I should do next.  There was the question of what to do about the box at the bottom of the house and there was the question of what to do with the rest of the day, and then there was the question of what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and how to do it when all this other stuff was always going on around me.

What I Look For In A Number

When they had all been shared out
The numbers I had were not quite as numerous as yours
But they were very beautiful numbers, so that was ok.
For future reference, here’s what I look for in a number –
Anything that is almost-but-not-quite palindromic;
That ends in lots of nines or has zeros in the middle
Or both; Or is divisible by three; Or has lots of straight lines;
Just fresh-faced and hard-working hopeful young integers.