At least I’ll be CNN famous…

    These are the first thoughts to stray through your head as the Facebook feed buzzes with the pre-canned click bait gossip of the flight you’re on. Situations like these–similar to a good shot of absinthe–tend to bring out the true colors in people. Already, the bigots and superstitious have rallied the gullible into a miasma of theories. Already the end-timers have posted their cataclysmic babble about the rapture. Already, the stakes are being drawn.
      Yet, most concerning, there is a notable absence of you.
      Your friends, your acquaintances, your people who you briefly met but looked attractive enough to validate Facebook certification for future creeping, all join in the whole slactivism shebang in the typical five-minute spurts of passion. But yet, none of the posts seem to mention you.
       It’s troubling, if not a bit depressing. Surely one could gain likes with an easy reference to personal stakes? Are you not even worth that?
      Even most news sites are clinical with their delivery. The top shared article appears to be how American Airlines stock could plummet with a disaster like this, the entire story embellished with allegories to a certain Malaysian incident.
You can’t even reply. The internet died, with the stubborn wi-fi bar feverishly searching again for that elusive signal. 11:48pm. Your social media history is already at three minutes ago and quickly losing relevance. The 24-hour news cycle and its constant demand for panic already begins to fade.
      And you’re on the bloody flight.
      You. Right now. On the very flight that is apparently fucked.
     And yet nothing to show for it. The Red Eye has set the plane into darkness, with only the occasional flight attendant and baby offering any movement or noise. Your stomach is churning but that is status quo for American Airlines’ economy meals. You pressed the service button five minutes ago, but the aisle remains empty.
If there is a reason to worry, the staff is doing a very good job at hiding it.
Gossiping is off of the table as well. The man to your left snores louder than the 757’s engine, and his occupation of the aisle seat has evaporated your bathroom prospects. The woman to your right has enacted a defcon 4 level of sensory deprivation. Earplugs, sleep mask, and blanket ensures that the baby, yourself, and any other disturbances can kindly fuck off until landing, thank you very much.
    Beyond her, the window. Beyond that, an impenetrable night sky.
    You think about what you are going to do in Madrid. Or perhaps “were” is the appropriate word now. A typical twenty-something backpacking odyssey. Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Venice, Rome. The whole Euro-trip blockbuster parade. The initial post-grad scrounging for careers turned up dry, so why not treat yourself in the meantime? Your three year relationship ended in a plot-twist involving your best friend, so why not throw yourself into the hostel life of sex and drugs and hippies?
    A lurch. The plane shudders for a moment. The man besides you delivers one wet, croupy cough, but otherwise there’s no explicit reaction from the plane.
    Another lurch, this one nearly sends your laptop careening off of the foldout plastic tray in front of you. This time you move to snap it shut, figuring it’ll be much safer in your bag than in the hands of American Airlines’ engineers.
    That’s when you notice something.
    11:48 pm.
    Perhaps you could attribute it to your poor sense of time. The laptop itself is out of the question. Freshly bought two months ago. Absolutely no way Apple could be that egregious, right?
    11:48 pm. You clutch your laptop, nails tap dancing along its edges, physically counting up to sixty now, each number getting a liberal pause.
    11:48 pm. You’re at sixty-seven now before you realize it’s pointless. Either your laptop is broken, and Darren from the Genius Bar as well as Tim Cook himself are lying sacks of shit, or something really fucked up is going on.
    Another lurch. A flash from the window. Something shines in the night sky. And it’s close. Far, far too close to your own plane. Your mind perhaps becomes a bit more flexible in its stance. Calmly looking past your neighbor in the window seat, you peer out.
    There, practically kissing the wings of your own, is another flight.
    Recoiling, the back of your head bounces off the shoulder of the man, conjuring up another volley of coughs. Your finger thrusts up, jabbing the ‘flight attendant’ button.
    The wings are touching. In fact they appear to be merging. It has to be a trick of the eyes, but you can’t tell where one wing ends and another begins. They’re intertwined, the lights on the edges of their wings becoming a single neon smudge.
And yet, nothing. No shaking, no turbulence, no crashing. No sound. No other sensory presence of the other plane besides sight. You can only witness it with your eyes.
    And then more lights. Beyond the plane beside you, slightly above it, there’s another flight. The same darkened silhouette, its presence only betrayed by the lights along its body.
    You don’t even bother to jab at the ‘flight attendant’ button anymore. Your eyes are glued to the window, your chin is practically on the woman’s lap.
    Beyond the plane, another one. And another one.
    All of them on the same y-axis of sky, yet each one slightly above the last, curving upwards, similar to what one would see when staring down a hall of mirrors. Moving your head slightly to the right, then left, the illusion continues, the planes moving inversely to your own motions.
    Can you even call it an illusion anymore?
    “Can I help you?”
    The voice startles you, sending your thoughts reeling back into the plane, back into your seat. The flight attendant stirs impatiently in the aisle.
    “Please, I have to remind you that the seatbelt sign is on.”
    Your eyes dart towards your laptop, still open.
    11:48 pm.
    You open your mouth to reply.
    And that’s when the plane bursts open, peels of orange flame evaporating first class.

(more…)

     It makes me gag when I think back to that moment, that to an outside observer would have seemed frivolous, but was filled with the weight of decades of responsibility and years of regret. The single spin that spawned a monster.

 

     “I don’t know,” I said.

     “I don’t know,” she said.

     “What about your parents? Do they want another grandchild?”

     “Let’s not do it for other people.”

     “OK.”

     “What about your mum?”

     “I don’t know. Plus you just told me we shouldn’t do it for other people.”

     “Yes but I thought that if she really didn’t want another one then it might help us.”

     “How?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “I’ll call her.” (more…)

     They keep asking me why I did it. Then, as soon as I start to explain, D C Grainger butts in with: ‘Was this on the morning of June 11th?’ I deal with that and then D C Singh chimes in with: ‘Did you tell anyone that was where you were going?’ I struggle past that, and then as soon as I get to the bit about the Holy Spring, I see ‘em exchanging those ‘Has he escaped from the funny farm?’ looks. A dispiriting business for a university professor accustomed to a respectful audience. So I’m setting it all down on paper. And then I’m not telling the police another bloody word.

     I live in Scotland now, but most years I manage a visit to my mother’s country, the Welsh Borders. When I was a child, I used to spend every summer holiday in the Abergavenny house of my grandparents, Harry and Gladys Cecil. The little town is surrounded by seven hills, but for a child the hill that holds the greatest glamour is the Sugar Loaf (its Welsh name is Pen y Val), which looms over the north of the town. Every summer, I would pester Grandad Cecil to re-tell the story of how Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show to Abergavenny in the summer of 1903. Grandad had been one of the children in the audience when Buffalo Bill vowed to his audience that he would walk up the Sugar Loaf. And that’s just what he did the next morning, accompanied by half the adults and all the children of Abergavenny.
(more…)

     “Hey, what you think? Negro, I’m talking to you.”

     Lloyd Baker, the Basket Maker, is shaking my shoulder, leaning into my face with his one-hundred and one proof rum breath jolting me out of my thoughts.

     Mildred, aka Millie, Miller Light, and Mildew, the bartender, laughs as I lurch back from Lloyd’s toxic assault. Mildred tries to get me back in the conversation. “Monroe, Planet Earth to Monroe Collins. Are you still with us, brother?” (more…)

Skull

Beside the flanks of white houses

The plants sing liquefying songs.

Their metallic voices are like

Drops of heavy paint,

Colorful molts from a dragon’s side.

When I hear them

I believe there is a festival

In the inner life of all things,

In the marrow, the deep materials.

A knot of music

That cracks open

Like a frozen skull. (more…)

     The house breathes. The cold wind wheezes like an old man’s breathing as it comes in through the spaces between the weather worn boards and around the dingy windows. Tattered sheer curtains hang on sagging rods and tremble and shake with every breeze. Where there is wallpaper, it is buckled and ripped and yellowed with age. Rust colored water stains in the shape of continents spot the ceilings. Every room smells of decay.

     I have come back having not been here since childhood. I thought I would find solace in returning to something familiar, but time has rendered the inside of the house unfamiliar. The pictures of family ancestors that hung on the walls are gone, but their outlines are imprinted on the peeling wallpaper. A mildewed sofa in the living room, a table in the kitchen, and a four poster bed with a ripped mattress is the only furniture in the house. I found candles, candle holders, matches, oil lamps and oil in the dark basement and I’ve placed them on the floors scattered around the house, except for
an oil lamp on the kitchen table and two candles on the mantle place.

     I sit on the floor in front of the roaring flames and watch the glowing red embers beneath the burning tree branches wink like bloodshot eyes. Sparks and gray ash float up the chimney as the fire crackles and snaps. The heat is intense and not comforting. Sweat runs down my forehead and into my eyes. I am glued here, unable to pull myself away from the safety of light. I have been through most of the house while the sun was up, but now that night has fallen, I admit that there is something disturbing about this house.
(more…)