Short 'n Curlies #15 by Si Spurrier
News From The SpurSphere:
Rum and uncanny Goings On this week, as my time on this Spanish Island Of Odd comes to its last, unhappy month. What follows — I warn you — smacks not of the Hate and ranty nonsense you've come to know and tolerate every week, but whiffs instead of something disgustingly Straight, Profound, Pretentious and (dare I say it) Supernatural. Forgive the uncharacteristic lapse into airy-fairy wank: it's probably all bollocks, yes, but it's Bollocks of a Weird And Creepy nature, and I am gripped by the instinctive desire to Share My Strange.
Inspiration, as all writers know, is usually a pretty abstract thing. One day you'll happen to see or hear something of no particular relevance or interest — a smudged window-pane, a recently-watered plant-pot, a pigeon hoo-hooing in the morning, whatever — and like a cascade of neural dominoes it triggers a chain-reaction which (however long it takes) ends at an Idea. Which, often, bears no resemblance at all to the thing which spawned it.
This blog concerns inspiration of the Other Kind.
As has been mentioned here before — notably in the context of de-limbing innocent octopoids — I spend a great deal of my time underwater. It's quiet, it's beautiful, it's eerie, and it's a lot easier than trekking all the way up the beach to use the toilets at the bar. I'm a cynical sod by nature, and merrily fling my ironbound Scoffs — Ha! — in the faces of Ghost Hunters, Alien-Abductees and floppy-haired Healing Touch Numpties wherever I find them, but there's a clear and hypocrisy-dodging exception, to my mind, when it comes to the sea.
This is an inhuman environment. We don't understand it, we can't spend long in it, and there's something fundamentally dangerous about the idea of being Beneath It — and not just because of Stephen Spielberg and his animatronic gribblies. If astronauts came home from a spot of Void-Surfing in the Oort Cloud to report a barrage of freaky-deaky cosmic pressure-ripples which stripped their DNA and left them hallucinating Giant Bats all the way home, we'd all nod and say Gosh How Interesting. Well: the ocean is every bit as alien, arguably less-well understood, and certainly a Lot Fucking Creepier than space — if only because we know it's full of horrible spiky-toothed multi-eyed nipple-faced horrors with glowing foreskins and sonic tentacles and so forth, but would rather not come face-to-face with them while Frolicking In The Surf.
The sea, in other words, gets a free Open-Mind License when it comes to Weird Shit.
I am fascinated by it and terrified of it. Almost all the time that I'm in it my heart is pounding like a pneumatic Duracel-bunny on Viagra, and I'm endlessly willing myself to go deeper, further into the gloom, closer to the Scary Stuff and so on. It's all very macho, and ever so slightly pathetic. Test ye thy mettle, oh fraidy-cat of the deep.
Nonetheless (ooh! significance alarm!) it's also a great source of inspiration. I recently put together an outline for a story which revolves — in some decidedly bizarre ways — around that same morbid fascination… and would go so far as to meekly suggest it may be My Favourite Idea Ever. I'm in the act of turning it into a comic right now, in fact, so all this nonsensical yammering may one day turn out to be Actually Vaguely Relevant. At one point in the said story the protagonist enters an odd fugue-state between consciousness and death, and sinks down into the abyssal dark to encounter an UnReal Entity. A demigod, a salt-sprite; a vicious briny thing of sinew and scale, which imparts its ancient wisdom and coils off into the murk. I needed a name for this aquatic Avatar — I needed a face — and so I've taken to freediving more frequently than ever: poking into odd corners of the ocean for a suitably creepy epiphany.
All very pretentious, right? Welcome to Me.
Anyway: I was diving alone the other day in a quiet lagoon beneath a series of jagged cliffs. Perfect conditions for Creepiness abounded: the visibility wasn't great, the seafloor was a mangled confusion of sharp ridges (urchins, anemones and polyps) and deep crevices with thick snakelike weeds coating the slopes. At any time one was either dodging Spiky Bits just beneath the surface, or hanging above inky canyons with no visible floors; just an off-putting nebulous impression of distant movement.
I crossed one of the ridges and found a deep recess beneath the lip of the cliff. Not quite a sea-cave, but a natural dead-spot where the waves flattened out and the topography of the ocean-floor rose up: a sort of natural womb of jumbled boulders and wispy seagrass; all of it toned a perfect emerald green. Still pretty deep — ten, fifteen metres — but suddenly crystal clear. And in the middle of it, on the bottom, a chair.
Spoo, as they say, kee.
At first I just assumed it'd been chucked off the rocks above — someone replacing their knackered old garden furniture without being arsed to slog it down to the tip. But no: it sat well below the edge of the cliff, where nobody — short of a boomerang-expert — could've thrown it. Weirder still, it sat perched upright — perfectly level — with each leg balanced on the tip or edge of a group of irregular, knobbly boulders. A single inch in any direction and it would've toppled onto its side. Increasingly creeped-out, I guessed it'd been placed there for some bizarre reason by another swimmer, but when I dived to touch it (human nature, sue me) it was ludicrously heavy: the sort of kickass wrought-iron Feature-Piece — all baroque twiddles and recurved armrests — which you don't move without Help. (I'm not saying it couldn't've been put there on purpose. Just that someone would've had to be really really fucking determined to manage it.)
So far so odd. It was, after all, an extremely evocative sight — isolated and vaunted by its surroundings — and before I knew it I couldn't help but see this peculiar lump of metal as a Throne. It'd been there so long it was rusted and quasi-organic; encrusted with strange growths and cords of weed. Fish slipped through the slats of its back and slender plants were colonising the rust around its legs. This wasn't some glorious Seat Of Power — if Namor or bloody Aquaman bared their barnacled arses to this thing they'd get a rusty screw in the anal-pocket and a reputation for Cheapness — but it chimed all the right chords for my story. Antediluvian, corrupted, forgotten: the seat of a pariah-emperor, festering in his own forgotten folklore, invisible on his crusted throne. Watching me float above him.
And then I pussied-out and swam for it.
BUT. I was no more than a few shivery strokes away when the water — perfectly still, you remember; held in this calm little hollow below the cliff — began to move. Really. Seriously. Now look: I know, it was probably just a Brownian echo of the bow-wave of some fat-arsed yacht shifting over the horizon, stirring round in a spirally eddy beneath me. Yes. Marsh gas, weather balloons, etc etc. But as NoGod is my witness the current carried me in a long lazy loop — so inescapably that for a moment I thought it would mash against the cliff — which curved at the last instant directly towards the chair, so that I was hanging once more directly above it. And then it turned me round to face it.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck etc.
And at that precise instant, with goosebumps like cactus-spikes, peering down into the depths—
—a fucking enormous Moray Eel, chocolate-brown with mustard-yellow patterns across its flanks, oozed up from beneath the seat — where it had clearly been waiting all along — and coiled twice round the nearest armrest. And gaped directly at me.
I swam like someone had welded a torpedo to my perineum and didn't look back.
The sea, I have since decided, was Trying To Tell Me Something. That's ridiculous, I know: impossible, stupid, frankly naïve. The whole thing would be an awful lot easier to comprehend if I happened to know exactly what it was trying to say, but there you go. It feels somehow Typical that my one Slightly Spooky Encounter should play-out like the worst Lassie Movie Ever — "What're you tryinna say, girl?" "Bah, ignore her. She's just on heat." — but that's a burden I'm going to have to carry.
On the other hand, my comic-pitch now has its antagonist. It's like the world reached out and gave me a Hint for no more cost than a minor bout of terror, and while I sit here typing character-descriptions to my supremely talented artist I'm shuddering like an engine.
Inspiration's never been so direct.
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