Cursor (Barnaby Taylor, 2018)
In this age of fear, famine and fundamentalism who could ever have known that the world would end because too many people were not careful enough when typing into search engines.
In this age of fear, famine and fundamentalism who could ever have known that the world would end because too many people were not careful enough when typing into search engines.
Here’s another excerpt from Terminal Transit. An elderly academic uncovers a cosmic plot engineered by the NotBeSpeak, a race of intergalactic entities who wish to destroy the world. With only a young child to help him, the two race against time to save the planet from oblivion.
In this chapter, the dread influence of the NotBeSpeak causes havoc on the streets of Dublin.
The repercussions of the liberation of the zoo shook the city for days afterwards but before anyone was able to properly settle a further cosmic tragedy took place when the now-doubled presence of the NotBeSpeak caused Glasnevin Cemetery to give back all those who had ever been buried there since its opening in 1832 and a million dead people suddenly found themselves reanimated and as the television cameras cast their digital eye on this new phenomenon so this army of shuffling, staggering, crawling, limping, ambling corpses started to make their baleful way back to find those who had buried them in the first place, flowing, as they did so, like the rot-crested froth of some awful cadaverous stream.
The first problem that presented itself regarding the Million, as the media dubbed them, notwithstanding the general existential terror created by the dead coming back to life, was the inevitable chaos that their presence caused on the streets. With the city now changed beyond all recognition and generations of people having lived (and died) in buildings and at addresses that no longer existed, vast numbers of these returned relatives were able to do nothing more than hang around in the approximate areas they knew when they were alive. Great herds of the hideous soon began to congregate as small groups of lost and dislocated corpses flowed into each other, swelling as they did so and accumulating momentum with a tomb-blasted dreadness that became one more thing to sicken this already revolted city.
For some this tide of dead people became an opportunity for fun to be found and it wasn’t long before hundreds of illegal firearms were being fired at the animated corpses from windows and passing cars. Braver people formed small crews and set upon the cadavers with sticks and gold clubs and hurls, beating already broken bodies into a further pulp. Unlike the undead in every film ever made the Million had no desire to consume the living and so made easy targets for their attackers, who stalked the edges of their crowds like cunning lions looking for stray antelopes to kill.
The second problem with the Million was the anger they brought with them from beyond the grave. These particular undead were not driven by a lust for living flesh but were rather animated by the need to confront the people who had buried them and thereby confined them to an eternity in the grave. Though he was now way past being shocked by anything that was happening Mac paled the morning he woke up to find Sibeal standing shrieking in Front Square. Her corpse seemed remarkably well preserved for someone who had been buried for forty-odd years and knowing that he had no choice Mac got dressed and went down to speak to ‘her’.
‘So there you are at last!’ Sibeal shrieked. ‘I’ve waited a long time to have this out with you.’
Mac was stunned.
‘You are dead, Sibeal,’ he said, ‘and were it not for some infernal cosmic will, you and your new kind would have stayed that way forever more.’
Sibeal’s rotten face formed a partial smirk.
‘So now the truth is out,’ she snarled. ‘You couldn’t wait to get rid of me and now I’m back you want me to go again.’
‘But that simply is not true, my dear,’ said the widower. ‘The day you left me I thought that my life would end also.’
‘But it didn’t, did it?’ she said. ‘Mine did, and that of our son, but yours didn’t. How fair is that?’
‘Fair?’ asked Mac. ‘What do you mean by fair? What’s fair about losing your wife and child in the same dreadful moment?’
‘You always were a selfish man,’ croaked Sibeal. ‘Always focused on yourself and your silly research. I bet you have never once put yourself in my shoes and wondered what it would be like to be dead, have you?’
Sibeal raised a rotten fist to Mac’s face.
‘The guilt of leaving loved ones behind pales very quickly in the face of an eternity of resentment about a life ended early.’
Sibeal began to shout.
‘All us dead are always angry. All we know is stolen time forever more.’
For every hour since the day she left him Mac had wanted Sibeal to come back to him and help rebuild his broken heart but now she was back the way she was he simply couldn’t bear her being around him and longed for her to return to the grave.
‘After all these years,’ Sibeal continued, ‘I care very little for your loss as it is nothing compared to the things that I was forced to relinquish the day I died. You still had your future even if you chose not to see things that way. Me, I lost my everything.’
Mac didn’t reply. How could he? There simply were no words to counter Sibeal’s undead anger, an anger that had festered in her rotting heart for the last forty years beneath the headstone Mac had lovingly chosen for her. But buried no more, Sibeal’s anger was now the energy that coursed through her broken veins and caused her worm-filled mouth to speak.
‘Enough,’ said Mac at last. ‘Stop your keening and your crying. The simple truth of the matter is that I have spent every lonely minute of my life from the day I lost you wishing you were back here with me; beside me at night, smiling when I come home, walking with me in the city. But now that you are here before me again I wish you had never come back. The dead are not supposed to feel angry about being dead, they are not supposed to feel anything ever again, they are simply supposed to be dead. It is only these cursed cosmic interlopers who have upset the world’s natural rhythm and caused poor lost souls like yourself to experience the very state that supposedly brings an end to all experiences.’
‘But what about the bloody bastard baby?’ shrieked Sibeal wildly. ‘The rotten fruit of your reeking loins.’
Mac reeled as he remembered how excited they both were the day Sibeal came home to tell him that she was expecting. They had been trying for ages and they were just resigning themselves to the fact that maybe one or both of them were infertile when Sibeal made her announcement.
‘This will complete us,’ said Mac as he drew Sibeal close to him. ‘This will make us whole.’
Her hair smelled amazing and the scent was something that had always stayed with him, even long after she had gone. But there was to be no completeness for either of them, nothing whole, only everything broken and empty, only nothing.
‘You had me buried with the baby, you bastard!’ Sibeal’s shrieking grew shriller. ‘A forever reminder of my life now ended as I was forced to cradle the cause of my death until it rotted to nothing in my angry arms.’
‘But that’s what I thought you would have wanted,’ said the tearful Mac. ‘It seemed …’
Mac’s voice trailed away as he realised that his justifying would simply serve to enrage the corpses of his dead wife even more. He knew that there simply be nothing he could say.
‘You thought! You thought! You thought of no one but yourself that day. I can picture you now, standing by the grave, selfish tears falling down your foolish face as the earth is dropped on my coffin. Then a hug and a handshake, a kind word here and a small drink there.’
As her anger boiled and boiled so small parts of the remaining flesh began to fall from Sibeal’s skull.
‘And all the while I just lay there, cradling my murderer for the rest of time. I bet not even one thought of how I was feeling crossed your mind.’
‘But how could it have?’ sobbed Mac. ‘You were dead and therefore not meant to feel anything any more.’
The hateful logic of Sibeal’s argument began to make him dizzy.
‘There is no sense to any of this,’ he said pitifully. ‘There is simply no sense at all.’
Sibeal began to beat her broken hands on his chest.
‘For you, maybe, but not for me,’ she shrieked. ‘I only knew the crawl of time as it pressed upon me and held me in place forever until that moment when I climbed free from the grave.’
She hit him harder.
‘I only knew the crawl of worms as my flesh fell away and I watched myself disintegrate until my eyes themselves were gone away and I could see no more only feel.’
Eventually the Million became too much even for this put-upon city and so the cull began. Like rabbits or badgers or kangaroos or any other vermin that threaten to overrun their environment, it became necessary to trap and snare and corner the corpses in order to start disposing of them. For small groups it was a simple affair for Army units with flamethrowers to set the corpses on fire and cremate them where they gathered. However, for the rest, something more drastic was required.
The city’s fire appliances were mobilised and drove slowly through the city looking for large groups of corpses to gather together. Slowly, and as if they were herding sheep, the fire engines drove these groups before them using their water cannons. Any stragglers were simply incinerated or crushed beneath the tracks of a unit of Scorpion tanks deployed to support the round up.
North of the river the corpses were herded onto the motorway and then forced towards the airport. Three of the runways had been commandeered for the cull and as the corpses were pushed onto the runways they were sprayed with aviation fuel from a line of tankers and then incinerated from a safe distance. The fires burned for a day and a half and the plumes of smoke were visible in all directions, hanging heavy in the air like mournful clouds.
South of the river the remaining parts of the Million were driven down to the quays and then along towards the docks. Helicopters hovered above the streets and the images on the television showed thousands and thousands of angry corpses shouting and berating as they headed towards their second doom like some perverted public parade. Once at the docks, the corpses were forced down a funnel made from containers, sprayed with fuel and then ignited and driven into the water.
Now, as befits maps and mythologies everywhere, this particular broken beacon of a building forespeaks, speaks for, speaks of, denotes, indicates, screams, ‘this is a broken country.’ At night the wind laps this particular folly like a poisoned tongue on a mouth of broken teeth. Follies used to be architectural indulgences, used for the flashing of wealth and the winning of bets.
Now, the same indulgences related to the winning of a different bet, one that has nothing to do with anything other than avarice. The same bets that forced a government to add a levy to all insurance policies. The same bets that allowed the country to never learn from its mistakes but just kept making them again and again and foolishly again.
But not anymore, the country has run out excuses and these mistakes will be among the last that the country and, indeed, the world will witness. For these same bets have now been collected by a brand-new bailiff.
Priory Hall stood empty now, a monument, a gravestone, a mausoleum, and a warning to the people who passed it by, not that they knew it yet, that this particular gravestone now stood as a marker as well to what was about to commence, indicating in no uncertain terms that the end was truly beginning.
In one of the many badly designed flats on the fourth floor of the building a black, shiny, unknown stone of clearly alien origin sat glowering on the bathroom floor next to a leaking toilet bowl. The flats of Priory Hall had been closed down due to fire safety issues but clearly the inspectors responsible for closing the building had not factored in alien cosmogeology as another reason for declaring the properties unfit for human occupation. A trail of liquid waste flowed out from the cracked toilet pan. All this piss and shit and spittle and drip and bodily issuance wet the shiny stone which, in turn, due to its peculiar porosity, added its own cosmic foulness to the now freely flowing stream of sewage.
Now on the move, the porous flooring and cheap bricks were no match for this unholy water and in very little time the main waste outlet system was breached and as the flow got greater so did the pressure on the already broken system and in very little time the sewage began to puddle and pool on the grass above the pipes.
Inspired, suffused, attuned, the natural world met a new stimulus with the black stone’s outflow and as the sewage seeped into the earth around it so the hated hectares of Priory Hall became the site for a total recalibration of an old burden, Fallopia japonica, more likely known as Japanese Knotweed. As this new flow continued and found other new water systems to infect so the roots and shoots and rhizomes, the small delicate flowers with petals like crystals, the broad oval leaves, and the red stems began to assemble aggressively all over the city with a vigour never experienced before.
Japanese Knotweed has always been one of the most voracious herbaceous perennials known to gardeners, posing a chronic danger to foundations and flood defenses, forming dense and deadly colonies that choke the life out of their riparian rivals for light and space. This new alien stimulus imbued the weed with a renewed compulsion, an urge to begin further accelerating, out-stretching, entwining, redoubling its unsighted efforts to bury this pathetic island beneath a vast sea of its ruby racemes.
Across the history of the planet, cities normally surrender themselves to the natural world long after their final desertion. For example, waves of sand will eventually level even the tallest towers. Other architectural edifices inevitably fall inwards towards their own cancerous centre of gravity, as if opening their own navels and ingesting themselves. All civic buildings of import and significance eventually lose these same values and become the halls of apes and other primates whose behaviour on the whole speaks of a more measured approach to city life than those of the previous occupants. Fountains fall silent, choked, strangled, barren, and unable to sing anymore.
Slowly, troublingly, desperately, inexorably, inspired by the black stone’s issuant, the weeds of Priory Hall began to exert their new cosmic choke on the now barely breathing city.
Here’s the opening chapter of Terminal Transit, a novel I have been working on for a while. Terminal Transit tells the story of an ancient race of evil gods called the NotBeSpeak who are hell-bent on destroying the world. Their evil purpose is discovered by an elderly academic called Professor Amhalgaidh Mac an Bhaird who charges a young child called Inteachán to help him try and save the planet from total and utter destruction.
Terminal Transit is set in Dublin, Ireland and the story is interwoven with Irish myth, history and religion resulting in a novel that is a compelling blend of HP Lovecraft and Tomb Raider.
I’m posting the first few chapters over the coming days with a view to generating some interest in the project. I would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone who might be interested in helping me bring Terminal Transit to publication.
Professor Amhalgaidh Mac an Bhaird is elderly now, almost ancient. He is an Honorary Fellow and Professor Emeritus of Trinity College and has lived in rooms overlooking Front Square for the last forty-seven years.
Professor Mac an Bhaird has devoted his adult life to the study of what he likes to call the ‘small things that we forget to remember very quickly.’ The Professor’s work is part-chrestomathy, part-analect, and wholly singular in its peculiar ambition. When he wasn’t teaching Professor Mac an Bhaird would spend all his spare time poring over maps and manuscripts and pamphlets and postcards and timetables and booklets and brochures and tickets and notices and newsletters and invitation slips and certificates and all the other truly wonderful ephemera that accumulates when the world isn’t really paying attention.
His wife Sibeal, herself a leading authority on Teutonic textile design during the feudal period, used to joke that the most overlooked thing in all his dealings with the world was undoubtedly her.
‘I fear that one day the only way that you will know that I am still here is when you see my name included on some long-lost list you discover scribbled on a dusty envelope. Only then will you remember to look up and there I’ll be, waiting forlornly in the corner for my turn.’
She slipped her arms around his waist.
‘I love you, Mac.’
‘That will never be the case, my dear,’ said the very-certain scholar as he kissed his wife on the neck.
‘We are simply not fated to end up as forgotten entries in another person’s ledger.’
He pulled her closer.
‘We will fade beautifully towards death together like the most pulchritudinous love letters scribbled on the comeliest of Victorian Christmas cards.’
But Sibeal was taken whilst in labour at 11.03am on September the Sixteenth 1973 and it was at exactly 11.04am that Professor Mac an Bhaird retreated into the deadly safety of scholarly solitude.
That was all those years ago. Now, following a lifetime of lectures and lonely meals in Commons, he sits in his armchair all day indexing his life’s work, Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea: Towards the Proposing of a Taxonomy of the Not-Noticed, Oft-Forgotten and Un-Remembered.
Currently standing at over three hundred and thirty-three thousand words Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea is a testament to the determination of one man to catalogue, chart, outline, and unravel the seemingly innocuous connections between matters of apparently such little importance as to there being little or no connection between them in the first place. But before we consider a lifetime’s work to be simply pointless and therefore without value we mustn’t forget that generations of academic discourse have depended entirely on exactly the kind of specific pedantry demonstrated here by an elderly Professor. If nothing else this in itself would be a suitably fitting summary of one man’s contribution to the body of knowledge but Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea goes much further here because it also exists as a wondrously moving monument to the prodigious properties of paper.
Three hundred and thirty-three thousand words have dutifully wended their way across nearly five hundred and ninety pages and after decades of hermetic handling each page now bears the delicious hallmark of any handwritten document that has aged naturally over time. Many pages are beautifully curled at the corners, as their repeated turning over time now causes them when stacked to fold like the pulpy petals of some ancient, thought-veined bloom. Other pages are torn in places; the longer tears carefully repaired with stamp hinges, now brittle after years of determined gripping. Shorter tears have been left alone for now, borne in mind, or occasionally, overlooked entirely.
All the pages that comprise Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea bear the accumulated marks of a lifetime of close attention; stained in some places by the sweat of a thumb; yellowed and coffee-ringed; the sweeping smudge of the back of a hand; ink whirls; curlicues; crossings-out; pencil; ball-point; fountain; wondrous water marks and the arcane collection of proofreading marks unknown to so much of the modern world today – ][, eq #, wc/ww, lc, sp, ||, s/v, first ref., half title, ligature, and stet.
One can read the history of the man in the history of his handwriting and so the bold decisive strokes of a confident young academic gave way to the angry slashes of someone widowed far too soon which then gave way over time to the precise and rigid emphasising of a man obsessed which then give way to the eventually slowed and resigned notation of a dying gentleman battling to complete his life’s work before he passed away.
Yet across the entire length of this turbulent history, one thing had remained a steady constant, Professor Mac an Bhaird’s handwriting was terribly tiny.
VIRO has just received another FIVE STAR review and I thought I would share it with you. The review is from fourteen year-old JP and really captures what I was trying to achieve with the book. I am delighted that the book is reaching people and making them respond so positively.
Following a texting accident, the World summons Jodocus Meaddowcraft, a constipated alien from another dimension. Jodocus sets about punishing the World for summoning him.