The Rings Of Saturn, Chapters 11, 12 & 13

I took a break last week owing to national holidays in the UK for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, but today I’m publishing the last three chapters of my novella The Rings of Saturn.

In the previous chapter Emmanuel, Katarina, and Agnes had discovered the malevolent truth behind the artist Edouardo del Bosques’s plans, with tragic consequences. In the concluding chapters, Emmanuel faces up to the truths that have hitherto been hidden by Edouardo and himself, and sets up a hideous finale.

~

Chapter 11

Em,

I have a confession to make. 

But first: I did not kill myself that foul night. Neither did Kat, though she made her way from Madrid, back to wherever she came from, slinking away into the ether. I returned to my little apartment, and thought about this. I believe Edouardo wanted us to destroy ourselves that night. It would have been the apex of the art. Agnes did so, consumed by grief and lack and the frailty of her failed human connections. Katarina, a woman deconstructed into nothing more than a super-sexualised cipher, disappeared. And me, a drunken Englishman hellbent on self-destruction. He wanted me to drink myself to death. His aims were my own.

But I will not die. And I will not cede my ground and my art to that ancient and godly giant who bestrode us with the colossus of his intellect and skill, who seduced us with his promises of fame.

To my confession, then. These letters I have been writing you. You will never read them. You’ll never read them because I never sent you a single one, and I never will. Each one, lovingly handwritten, never made it so far as the inside of an envelope. I pasted each one to the huge canvas I had hung upon the feature wall of my apartment, the wall which faced the balcony window for the best light. You know, a single page of cursive script doesn’t really look like much when stuck to a huge, Monet-sized canvas. But a whole letter of five, six, seven pages or more? And a whole gamut of such letters? It’s wondrous, Em. The words make unbidden shapes and patterns, implying the whimsical movement of my mind arcing through time, the variations in tint and hue of the paper itself, the thickness of nibs and ball-points, the regretful corrections and the frivolous doodles, and the lamentations as the hand styles itself to the job in hand. Altogether they become something more.

It is the job of the child to surpass the father. It is the job of the father to enable it, not to sabotage it, and especially not to then exploit that act of sabotage for narcissistic gratification. The social contract may lie broken from one generation to the next, but the severance of this umbilical dependence is not doom. It is liberty, Em! I no longer orbit Edouardo, acting as the subject of his desperate delusions of immortality and pathetic need to surpass the acts of his descendants. 

My words guide my brush over this image. This letter will also go on to the wall. The result is something monumentally beautiful. As I paint, I have a great pang of sadness as I recall the body of Great Aunty Baby reclining on the bed, as though she were still alive. She used to call me Em.

Chapter 12

Edouardo keeps calling me, but I’m ignoring the gregarious bastard. He may stew in the fat of fawning for a little longer. One might almost say I’m deaf to him. I’ll keep writing these missives, Em, even though I’ve lost the line between us now. I’d built it up so perfectly, and now I can’t remember how. Sometimes I can’t tell night from day. I went out yesterday. It was a grey day, and I filled it with pontification before returning here.

My beard is long and scratchy, and my eyes seem bigger. My fingernails are long and haven’t been trimmed in some time. I’m fucking wild, Em.

My painting of you, of me, is almost complete. But there is still room for a little more.

I check my suitcase for the last of Great Aunty Baby’s money. There is a little left. Enough to call for a courier to remove this art and have it delivered to the studio of the toast of the Madrid art set, one Edouardo del Bosques.

Chapter 13

Em, 

Two things that Bosques would not have banked upon. One: the tenacity of those who have survived humiliation and stared at death. And Two: the fact that I know his weekly movements like the backs of my gnarled, cracked hands. I arrange the delivery for when he is out, and take delivery of it myself, being still in possession of the code for the studio entrance. 

The marvellous self-portrait is hung in pride of place in the studio, and I wait for Edouardo. While I wait, I begin this letter, the final piece of the puzzle.

Finally, he arrives, and comes up the stairs with his trademark heavy gait. At the moment he steps into the studio and sees me standing before my own masterpiece, he freezes.

“Manu,” he says, fumbling for the phlegmatic, and quite failing. It was a pleasure to see him ruffled. My fingers itched as he moved forwards a step. “What are you… I’ve been trying to reach you. I was worried.”

Worried! It’s the lies that cut the deepest.

“I know. But I’ve been working. Your centrepiece at the galleria inspired me. I’ve been putting this together. I’m calling it The Rings Of Saturn. What do you think of it?”

He frowned suspiciously, and approached the painting. When he saw it was comprised entirely of my own letters, he looked at me with shock. “My God, Manu. Are these your letters?”

“They are.”

“Then this…” he stepped back, and looked at the piece as a whole. “This is then flow, and course, and it is you. This face is you, but is filled with movement, and light, and darkness, and humanity.”

“It’s who I used to be,” I said.

Bosques smiled, and rubbed his forehead with his disgusting pincers. “It shows real work. This is the potential I saw back at Prado. You alone.”

My jaw twitched. What of Agnes, then? Of Katarina? Were we simply disposable to him? Had he nothing to say?

He looked at the painting once more, and then turned and smiled at me with open arms. “You know, Manu, I think this will be our greatest achievement!”

My hands balled into fists, and finally I ran at him, the heat in me too great to contain any longer. His eyes widened the second before I crashed into him and knocked him onto his back on the studio floor, where I grabbed him by his long, grey hair, and drove the back of his head onto the floor. He flailed, trying to punch me with his useless fists, but I straddled him with all my strength, tensing my limbs until they were flooded with acid and poison and I just rattled with fury. Again I pushed his head to the floor, and again, until he went limp with a breath, and I rolled off him.

Our?” I cried, as he lay panting miserably, his eyes flickering this way and that. “Our achievement? You have no idea what I am doing, old man. The time of all men and women must come to pass.” I looked down at him, pathetic, wretched. There was no art in his pulped body. He tried to speak, but nothing came out except hissing breaths. One side of his face had collapsed. His eyes were bulging with terror. 

He is no longer my anchor. I was am free to choose my own path.

I step forwards to the painting, and carefully peel the pages away from the canvas. They are all stuck together with paint and adhesive, and it comes off as one, with a satisfying squelching sound. As I do so, I could hear Edouardo’s phone spill from his pocket, but his useless fingers could not make any sort of call. Soon the entire painting is off the wall, lying before me on the floor. I begin the final process.

I start by bringing the corners together in the centre, carefully, and then, using water to make the pages moist and malleable, I begin to shape these painted letters to the vision in my mind. First I mould a trunk from the amorphous mass, and then from this trunk I tease out the arms, and legs, and head, until I’m left with a slimy but perfectly formed little homunculus of myself. It even has our eyes, Em. The little handwritten paper creature looks at me with pale eyes and dark, dripping skin, with a look that says, “Et tu, Manu?” and its little arms try to wriggle free from my grasp, but I’m too strong. I’m a God. I feel it, now. In clutching this mewling, bitching thing in my hands, I see how it will surpass me, outlive me. All our creations do. Thoughts are more tangible than flesh.

“I will one day become grown,” says the little homunculus. The ink and paint marks all over his flesh make him seem fearsome, like a miniature Maori warrior, and yet faintly ridiculous. “And when I am, I will become more powerful than anything you could ever capture in your art!”

I know it to be true. And, God preserve me, I fear it. I fear what comes after me. Great Aunty Baby did, too. She saw me and must have balked. I’m not natural. 

I bring the homunculus to my slavering mouth. It wriggles ever more violently, screaming now like a wounded pig, but I dig my unkempt nails deep into its torso, and thick, crimson paint oozes from the wound. I take a bite of the forefinger of its left hand, crunching down upon it and chewing it until the morsel is gone; then I bite off the others to the knuckle, then to the wrist, then to the elbow. My eyes widen with the glee and horror of it. Behind me I hear Edouardo trying and failing to scream.

Crimson paint spurts from the homunculus’s wounds, dripping down over its stump and smearing my mouth with it. I bite again, up to the shoulder. The homunculus screams again. Its screeching is unbearable, like a hideous buzz that rips into my soul, and it just won’t stop, no matter how hard I shake it.

So I open my mouth wide, and bite off the creature’s head.

<<<>>>

To those of you still with me at this point, thanks for sticking with my strange little story. I hope you enjoyed it! By the time this post goes up the whole novella will be stickied to the main navbar, under the Novellas menu.

Chronscast Episode 6 – House of Leaves with Ed Wilson

S1 E6 – House Of Leaves with Ed Wilson Chronscast

  1. S1 E6 – House Of Leaves with Ed Wilson
  2. S1 E5 – WATCHMEN with Tade Thompson

This episode Christopher and I finally open that door of the Chronscast household we’d not dared to open before and plunge into the abyssal labyrinth that is Mark Danielewski’s maddeningly epic debut novel, House Of Leaves. A book that defies conventional categorisation, it’s been described as a horror, a literary piece, a puzzle, and even a love story.

We’re joined on this subterranean literary odyssey by renowned literary agent Ed Wilson. Ed is the director of the Johnson & Alcock literary agency, representing a vibrant and developing list of fiction and non-fiction, from new and debut writers to established, bestselling and award-winning authors.

With Ed we gleefully dip down the House Of Leaves rabbithole, discussing ergodic literature, innovation in writing, the perils of over-analysing texts, and the Manic Street Preachers. We also chat about the submissions process and navigating the slush pile, and the options open to authors and agents.

Ed was a great guest, full of energy, information and inspiration. Any aspiring writer should listen to what he has to say. The bottom line is, if you’re a writer, you’re going to write. And to paraphrase the old millennial meme, you should write like nobody’s watching. Enjoy it.

Elsewhere, The Judge gives a sumptuous talk on the use of clothing in worldbuilding, and the effects that clothing can have on society, and our writing. We’ll hear the winning entries to May’s 75-word challenge, and April’s 300-word challenge, written by Oliver Helm Victoria Silverwolf respectively, and we get an unexpected phone call from an ex-President of the United States, whose home extension has gotten out of hand and seems to lead to the belt of Orion.

Next Month
Join us next month when we’ll be joined by literary agent John Jarrold to talk about Rob Holdstock’s winner of the 1984 World Fantasy Award, Mythago Wood.

Index
[00:00 – 52:54] Ed Wilson Interview Part 1
[52:54 – 54:07] Voicemail 1
[54:08 – 1:08:28] The Judge’s Corner
[1:08:28 – 1:09:10] Voicemail 2
[1:09:11 – 1:12:31] Writing Challenge Winners
[1:12:32 – 1:13:43] Voicemail 3
[1:13:44 – 2:07:31] Ed Wilson Interview Part 2
[2:07:32 – 2:09:36] – Credits

How To Listen
Listen to Chronscast on Anchor, or through your usual podcast provider (links below). And please like, subscribe, and share – and if you do like our podcast, please do leave a review with your podcast provider!
Apple Podcasts
Amazon Music
Google Podcasts
Breaker
Castbox
Pocketcasts
Radiopublic
Spotify
Stitch

The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 10

After engaging in a traumatic dialogue with Em and realising the truth behind his own deceptions, Manu is disturbed and thrown. But these revelations are nothing compared to what is to come. The day of Edourado’s exhibition has arrived.

~

Em,

Em? Are you in there? I keep staring at the flight case, where you were left, wishing I could take you out. The thought of having you paraded in front of a gamut of bourgeois faux-intellectuals sets my teeth on edge, and makes me want to grind them all into dust. You weren’t meant to become something to be gawked at in public like a cheap trinket, or an ivory box. You were to sit in me, and yet you forced you out of me!

I spend my time sketching other things: dark things, broken things, but though I bring technical proficiency to them, they do not have the same violent fizz that the picture of you carried. Bosques nods appreciatively at these new drawings, occasionally choosing an idea to be developed, and he then provides his own artistic interpretation and advice on the drawings, and I robotically carry out the instructions. I’ve become quite the craftsman in just a short space of time. He’s had an effect on me, no doubt. I start to wonder if I might be able to have a career in this after all. Does this mean I’m not a failure? The thought is alien and even unnerving. Bosques is filled with praise and good voice and humour, and tells me I’ll be the toast of the town.

Continue reading “The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 10”

Masters of Two Worlds: Superheroes and Fantasy Heroes

My good friend and master blogger Peat Long has developed some of the thoughts from this month’s Chronscast episode with Tade Thompson on Watchmen, and posted them in a marvellous essay based around Joseph Campbell’s idea of a character becoming a master of two worlds. Well worth a read.

Peat Long's Blog

ARTWORK by chic2view from 123RF.com

Before I get into the essay proper, I shall warn that this essay will mention the following works in some degree of spoilery detail: Three Hearts and Three Lions, Lord of the Rings, Earthsea Quartet, The Eternal Champion, His Dark Materials and of course, Watchmen.

It’s also probably not very good. The level of all round genre knowledge I needed for this is something I underestimated before starting the essay. I’m not bad, but I’m not that good either. I also underestimated the scope. This could be a dissertation.

But hey it’s “done”, so you’re getting it.

Another week, another essay, and this one inspired by listening to some mates’ podcast. The podcast is Chronscast, and the episode that inspired me was this one where they talked Watchmen with Tade Thompson. While the whole thing was inspiration, the bit that caught me was…

View original post 2,168 more words

The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 9

Last week Edouardo announced his intention to hold an exhibition, and to have Manu be a central part of it. So Manu sets to work, and has an unexpected and difficult reunion with Em, his epistolary correspondent. The truths, hidden behind layers of paint and wine, begin to reveal themselves.

~

Em,

I’m still here, my sweet, I’m still here, don’t be consumed by it yet.

I didn’t so much as glance at the sketch of you after that. Couldn’t bear it. I scrunched you up, and tossed you in the huge pile of discarded ideas by the window. Pity me, Em, but I couldn’t bear to burn it, so there it stayed for days, eyeing me up like a crumpled accuser. Even among the dozens of other screwed up leaves of paper, I could tell which one was you, the line of your creases, the rage in your discardedness. And I felt your burning hot breath on me as if you were right there with me. In me.

Continue reading “The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 9”

The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 8

Last week Manu engaged in a strange nightbound union with Agnes and Katarina. Unsure of their relationship with one another, they somehow know that they are bound to Edouardo in some way, and that this is the thread that connects them. When Manu approaches him, the old artist reveals his plans: an art exhibition, his first in several years.

~

But I did not wake in that squalid apartment in Tres Cantos, oh no.

I woke in Madrid, in Bosques’s workshop, on the sofa, covered by a flimsy blanket. It was a complete tip, as though a methed-up gorilla had waded through the place. Easels were upturned, paint pots were scattered, paper was strewn across the floor, and ink and paint and colour and sketches twitched animatedly.

Cold breeze made my flesh horripilate, until I saw the source: an open window. Had I clambered in last night? Had I escaped after the bizarre encounter with Bosques’s other followers? I have no idea what the mad sex-bat Katarina had meant by “creations”. Had I even dreamed it? No matter. After crawling from the sofa only to be pounded about the brain by hammers made from the void inside old wine bottles, I decided it was better not to try to think about anything much at all.

Continue reading “The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 8”

Chronscast Episode 5 – WATCHMEN with Tade Thompson

S1 E6 – House Of Leaves with Ed Wilson Chronscast

  1. S1 E6 – House Of Leaves with Ed Wilson
  2. S1 E5 – WATCHMEN with Tade Thompson

On this episode of Chronscast we’re joined by award-winning SF author Tade Thompson to talk about WATCHMEN, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s comic-book masterpiece that skewers the superhero genre using its own architecture. Tade is the author of numerous novels, including the critically acclaimed sci-fi novel Rosewater, the first in his award winning WORMWOOD TRILOGY, Making Wolf, and most recently Far From the Heaven, and the Molly Southbourne series. He has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nommo Award, the Kitschies Golden Tentacle award, and the Julia Verlange award, and been shortlisted for the Hugo Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, and the Shirley Jackson Prize.

We talk about how WATCHMEN reflects contemporary 1980s existential anxieties around the Cold War nuclear annihilation, and how it skewers the absurd braggadocio of the superhero genre. We dig down into the weeds of the book, picking apart the characters, their differing pathologies, and whether salvation lies in a masked figure. We ask how the genre can innovate from here, and why WATCHMEN endures. We also touch on the free spiritedness of Manga, writing fractured timelines as seen in Rosewater, and how the creation of narratives builds a psychological bridge between art and clinical practice.

This episode’s special guest, Tade Thompson

The Judge gives us the second part of her talk on defamation, reminding us that usually the only winners of such altercations are the lawyers – so watch out! Elsewhere we hear Starship, Christine Wheelwright’s excellent winning entry to the April 75-word writing challenge, and Superman has an axe to grind with Pine Marten Man… or is he just jealous?

Further Reading
You Better Watch Yourself
Superfolk
The Kryptonite Kid
Quack This Way
Where Are You Now, Batman?

Next Month
Join us next time when we’ll be joined by Ed Wilson, literary agent and director of the Johnson & Alcock literary agency. Ed will walk with us through the labyrinth that is Mark Danielewski’s mad millennial monster story House Of Leaves.

Index
[00:00:00] Tade Thompson Interview Part 1 [1:04:03] Voicemail 1 [1:05:10] The Judge’s Corner [1:18:03] Voicemail 2 [1:19:00] Writing Challenge Winner [1:21:02] Voicemail 3 [1:22:00] Tade Thompson Interview Part 2

How To Listen
Listen to Chronscast on Anchor, or through your usual podcast provider (links below). And please like, subscribe, and share!
Apple Podcasts
Amazon Music
Google Podcasts
Breaker
Castbox
Pocketcasts
Radiopublic
Spotify
Stitcher

The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 7

Last week Em partook in a strange dinner with Edouardo and some of his associates, and wasn’t quite sure of what to make of it. Upon Edouardo’s recommendation, Em agrees to meet with Agnes, one of the people who joined them for dinner, and they take a trip just outside Madrid.

~

I did as the old man asked, and met Agnes at Sol. The morning made her seem more agreeable, and she displayed none of the odd aggression she’d shown last night in the toilets. I didn’t like it, and as the morning progressed I wondered if this perceived altercation was merely the hissy fit of a capricious artist, or whether we were, in our collective silence, breeding an elephant in the room of our company. If she felt any awkwardness, she didn’t show it.

Continue reading “The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 7”

Literature Long Read: This World Is On Fire – Mysticism, Rejuvenation and Peace in The Waste Land

2022 is the centenary year of TS Eliot’s modernist masterpiece The Waste Land. It is one of the 20th century’s greatest and most influential poems, and yet seethes with such profound imagic, linguistic, cultural and religious references that it appears intimidatingly impenetrable to the lay reader. That’s the modernist way. But let’s not be tempted to think that works such as The Waste Land are early examples of gnashing postmodernism, written where the impenetrability is the point. Despite the poem being written in the aftermath of the utter dismemberment of the First World War, there is no absoluten Zerrissenheit on display here.

That’s not to say that abject nihilism isn’t far from the surface, but the poem is essentially one of hope, an emotion or theme that postmodernism is incapable of eliciting. This strange dichotomy of doom attenuated by hope is right there is the poem’s famous opening lines.

Continue reading “Literature Long Read: This World Is On Fire – Mysticism, Rejuvenation and Peace in The Waste Land”

The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 6

Last week Em began work as the amanuensis of Edourado del Bosques, and meditated upon the horrors of growing old, and how the old view the young. Would even the great ones be resentful to those in the flushes of youth? This week, Emmanuel joins his mentor at a dinner in Madrid, where he sees strange things he cannot account for, and meets other associates of the old artist.

~

Continue reading “The Rings Of Saturn – Chapter 6”