Sunday, 26 February 2012

Saul and the Ceremony of Knives

P   R   E   V   I   O   U   S   L   Y      I    N 
S   P   I   D   E   R   F   I   N   G   E   R   S

    “Woof! Woof! Woof!”
    The day was a Sunday and the weather outside? Sloshy, the wellington-boot type. Not that such weather affected Steph’s demeanor. From her bed, Steph beamed a twisted smile at the reflection in the mirror, a reflection that Steph's mind processed as someone else. No mousy brown hair, no crooked bridge of her nose to filter out. This someone was thinner. Desirable.

    Steph couldn’t help but let out a giggle.

    ‘How are we today?’ asked Doctor Silberman from the garish dark olive green visitors couch, his note making was so involving that his eyes didn't lift from his pad, ‘Any visions?’

    Steph neglected to reply. She hid her gaze from him, staring blankly out at the mirror wall opposite her bedside. She shut him out. Silberman's leaving was the same as him being in the room.

    ‘What the fuck have you cast me in, Steph?' she looked defiantly across the room, deep into the reflection that the mirror wall afforded her.

    'I'm sorry, what was that?' asked the Doctor. Steph just shook her head, her attention still focused on the slender figure in the reflection. A figure mimicking Steph's movements. Dr Silberman's calm and reassuring voice didn't stand a chance.
He remained polite and made his excuses.

    'Woof! Woof! Woof!' Steph watched as the slight woman in her mirror barked in sync with her. This woman with the pronounced chin, such a photogenic face. A face well known.

Once or twice she tried to tell Silberman about her visions, in this place, this room uncoupled from time. But Steph would only find the words to reach out to him when he was absent. The words, they would arrive in story-form. Strange happenings shunted onto the screen of her apple red laptop. Odd confessions arriving in unsettling horrific disguises. Today was no different. She had written another tale.

Her imagination typed up in Bold Times New Roman:

A voluptuous woman astride a giant of a man, fucking wildly, almost comically in a luxurious hotel room with Indian red carpet that contributed to last night’s friction burns.

In her mind’s eye the scene was set in some hot tropical climate, and as her tale unfolded, as the black on white syntax became her monitors welcome infestation, Steph envisioned Keira Knightley wearing her Misty Rose gown and laying in a bed identical to her own. It was Keira's voice that Steph could hear and both women became entranced by private frantic shots of Miss Knightley's narration juxtaposed with the heaving sweating coupling of the tales characters.

Milk Maiden or I’ll Tell My Bosses One Thing– By Stephanie Tent

    Something hellish and primitive dances before my eyes as I realise that if I had a chance to get the information, well it’s long gone isn’t it? Prostitution, and for nothing.

    My fingernails tear at the dark salmon bed-sheet as the violence of a blood soaked stratagem waterfalls over my inner eye. I’ll ask for leave when I return to the states. I’ll tell my bosses one thing whilst another occurred. If my mother could see me now.

    I brace my legs round the dog, his rough sides turning a little blue now that it’s been so long. In a spacious room adorned with satin surfaces and mirrors that reflect the sweating bitch I’ve become right back at me, I coil him tight – I wrap him up like prey; my lithe body tying this hairy bastard up in heat, skin and muscle.

Mckay called the target a swollen udder of answers. Said my mission is a milk maiden’s dream. Mckay is an old white man. He sees with old white man eyes and so I can forgive him seeing Abdul as a cow. I’m fucking this greying hulk of an ex-field operative, like I’d hump any dog the General would order me to, and I’m giving him a display of the feral in the hope that he might let his defenses down. Something in the bed breaks under my exertion because I’ve allowed him few moments of control. He doesn’t get to screw me at all. I avoid my mother’s face.

    When we’re finally over – again, Abdul opens the salmon curtains, he parts the gold embroidered secret keepers whilst I’m exposed on the bed. Any one of the other guests can walk their balcony right now and see me but one nervous flinch and the bastard will rip out my throat. I don’t reveal any prudish western discretion. So, I hold my hair and lean back with my legs apart because I understand the value of women here. His pants are on and he’s nearly ready to leave and I can’t help but think through the recent milieu of opportunity; so many ways to fool myself, that Abdul was ready to talk of his years as ‘Butcher-Dog Kareem’.

Just look at him – glacial white marbles where eyes should be – such vacancy in his grey. Those thick arms that lead to his hands, the long nails he’s grown there. I feel them around my neck still. Just look at him - the bastard, he puts his clothes on so slowly, so lazily padding through his post-coital bliss. All his talk of my breasts and I would have asked him but...

    This killer, whose just waiting for questions about old war stories to set him off, he’s won. I’ll look back on this day as an old and depressed senior citizen puzzling over whether Abdul was just extremely guarded or if he could see through my cover; somehow pierce beneath my extreme coffee skin at the cold river blood streaming underneath.

This mass-murderer, Mckay’s ‘cow’, he bends over for a kiss, inviting me to ask him again for the information that can allow my superiors to bomb small settlements that are not at all what they appear to be. He moves so slowly, so at ease, like a domesticated animal though it’s only depraved humans that loll their tongues over female cheeks like this.

How long have I been breathing through my mouth? Worse than the scent is the teeth, I see the flash of fangs my mother saw; the last on any face she and the women of my village would ever see. There is no one alive that shares my maiden name – all because of men, evil fucking dogs like this. I haven’t the intel and yeah, I should have taken my leave when it was offered. The psych-eval was doctored just so that I could be the one. Command saw to that. Of course I can’t prove it. And name me one agent with the right ethnic traits AND skill set for the job?

    He grins’ the satiated mask of a wolf and he’s about to leave so I push my face into his crotch. I’ll tell my bosses one thing whilst another occurred. My tongue massages him to that height of ecstasy, the gates of heaven and then, my teeth crush down. Hard. With the red all over my face I rip off and swallow that part of him that he’ll never get back.

For some reason, I finally possess the curiosity to stare up at the mirror overhanging the bed. The she-wolf I find there glares back. Her shrieking fills my ear drums. I’ll tell my bosses one thing…

    And Steph listened to her new gods discuss her work. These divinities in white uniform. Laws unto themselves, hearing and seeing through prisms of textbook and case study.

They never quite hear me, thought Steph, they are like newborn deities. They only hear themselves during conversation. They don't understand the value of listening, not really.

    Like it? Interesting case isn’t she? You could build an entire career on such a water tight fantasy.

    I’m just postulating. Pass me the milk? Nice.

    Yeah and it’s all there; on the surface it’s an early draft of flash fiction – at once minimalist and yet telling all at once. Underneath the basic plot of spy and spied there is a confession – Steph is someone leading a morally complex life. The way she sees it, she commits herself to questionable acts for the greater good or some personal atonement.

    I’ve more than a hunch that she continually needs to validate her existence via the approval of her work. I pretended to be a writer and wham – next time she sees me she has a story written for me.

    Nope, no time. I read a review of a book last week, does that count?

    That's what led to the breakdown. Doctor Silberman agrees but he thinks it best we take a lot of time with her. When celebrities relapse there's always a chance of them blaming the healer rather than themselves. Trust me, you're new here but you've gotta be aware our position. It's not like Bellevue can afford another Pinder.

    Superhero horror? I’m no expert.

    I've found it invaluable in understanding her motivation. In a nutshell, Spiderfingers is a figure of self-imposed persecution, like this poor woman in the spy story here; he’s an unhealthy guise for Steph.

    True, but and correct me if I’m wrong, most writers aren’t found literally barking mad under billboards of their fictional creations are they?

    You should have heard her father over the phone to Silberman. I’d put money on Greek gods being less arrogant. Do you know; that in Spiderfingers’ backstory our patient here has completely reworked the history of Greek myth?’


    More fool me.

    Can’t wait to meet him. Zeus under Steph’s control is an absent and distant angry father figure. He’s been on an expedition for centuries.

    A way to kill Spiderfingers.

    Yeah, some family trauma no doubt that she blames herself for or believes daddy does anyway. Hence her Zeus’ absenteeism. The answer to our baffling woman lies in childhood trauma but then, when doesn’t it?

    If she decides to talk.

    No way. Coincidence. I think he was calling himself Saladfingers, right? Ask Kwame yourself, he's really proud of that one.

    What are the odds? Like, a couple million to one? I mean come on. Persecution Complex by any other name is still a Persecution Complex. Psychofingers, Spiderfingers - whatever, you know? Different labels same can of hang-ups.

    Maybe. I mean, you write a story based on the fantastical delusions of one of our ex patients, and the guilt over not sharing royalties - well - it's gonna get to you in some way.

    Oh now, that  is crazy. You're starting to sound like Mrs Carroll. So, apparently the Ceremony of Knives is at hand!

    I wanna be able to sleep at night; celebrate the fact that Stringer doesn’t get assigned patients like Tent.

    Well that’s justice for you, but he is damn good at what he does.

    Sure, well that’s O.K Catch you in the morning.

    Oh don’t remind me. I don’t sleep – I mark your work. 

Alone, again, Steph/Keira briefly considered her surroundings. Her enclosure had three walls, movie cameras where the fourth should be. A movie star where Steph's reflection ought to have been. Keira had so much to say to Steph. So many ways to say it.

And time had no meaning here.

    'Woof! Woof!'

    Steph's barking came and went like an unexpected visitor. She preferred to focus on her scent.




    Stephanie Tent still believed herself to smell like a walking garbage truck, even after the weeks since the rescue; since the shivering. Car honks, the drill of road works, unrelenting engines far and near – Steph heard the howl of mechanics, a forever-din of London swirling around her head. The cacophony of progress had followed her into her room, this institution of recuperation.


Steph's mind drifted outward and above. Looking down at herself, Steph watched her eyes close. The dense and rather damp waft of decomposition wrenched Steph out of her inner surrealism. Her undisciplined fantasising had suddenly become a weaker rival to the utterly existent pong hooking her nose, shunting the writer right back into her room at Bellevue with an unfeeling violence. She found her reality dominated by the scruffy and overly dank young man who Dr Capgras had shown in: Saul Buchannan.
    Saul wore a long dark blue trench coat, a cape-like garment that flowed below his ankles. In Steph’s recollection of Spiderfingers’ diary, all his appearance details were there, and now here they were stood before her, dribbling more than a few droplets of Mother Nature’s tears, the dire Sunday weather having become quite abhorrent that evening.

    Time’s ticks and tocks lazed into forever increments, as Steph began to analyse he that should only exist in a mad tramps fiction.

    ‘You’re a character, you don’t exist.’ said Steph her voice all nasal, muffled. Her statements seeping through her hand that plugged her nostrils. Steph carried on, ‘You just can’t be real.’  

Dr Capgras glided politely but swiftly toward her patient’s bed,

    ‘Maybe family is a bad idea today?’

Steph was trying to look past her female doctor at Saul,

    ‘I won’t be long Doc,' said Saul, 'And she is my half-sister. Wanna know she’s alright, yeah?’

    ‘Yes so you said,’ replied Capgras wiping her brow unable to make eye contact, ‘If you could wait outside for a moment,’ She turned her back on the exiting visitor, her attention focused entirely upon her patient dressed in the misty rose gown. She whispered in Steph’s ear, 

    ‘You do know this man don’t you?’ said Doctor Capgras.

    Steph Tent was frozen, unable to move.

    Dr Capgras took a deep look into Steph's eyes,

    ‘I’m buzzing Silberman,' said Dr Capgras, '…should have done that before -’

And Stephanie Tent's face became pure astonishment, the ripple of wide-eyed confusion had spread out across her arched eyebrows. She wanted to scream out at the trainee doctor - that Jean should quit fiddling with the intercom and look out - but it was too late. 

    Saul's elbow had struck the back of the young doctors head. Steph realised the cinematic lie of someone keeling abruptly over, that in real life and maybe only sometimes, a forehead makes an unnerving cracking sound when it speeds into contact with the floor.

    ‘Welcome to the chaos.’ said Saul inspecting Steph's face.

    ‘You killed her, you murdered Dr Capgras!’ screamed Steph, startled, both her pale palms covering her face. Storm hoary eyes peeked between the gaps.

    ‘I've not killed anyone.’ said Saul Buchannan grinning, a smile wide enough to reveal the decay inside his mouth.

    ‘Your mouth - Jesus. What happened to your mouth?’

    ‘Spiderfingers happened to my mouth, my face, my hand…my family.’

    ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ Steph asked trembling as she backed away against the wall in silence, like a confused creature caught in the extreme close up of a speeding car's flood-lit finality.

    ‘We need you – we all need you. You have to help me.’

    ‘Why should I?' replied Steph, 'You said you were my brother to get in here, what else are you fibbing about? You could be anyone and look at where I am…you might not even be here.’

    ‘Er, hello?’ said Saul pointing at the floor covered in blonde and long white coat, ‘Oh wait don’t tell me, maybe you knocked her out and your mind's invented me to pin the blame on? Christ on a Segway…’

    This wraith in his early twenties had awful skin, pimples here and there, Steph couldn’t help but stare at puss swollen islands that thrust out upon both his cheeks.


    Saul threw Steph a quizical look.

    ‘Never mind my cold,' said Steph clearing her throat, 'let me – let me see it…’ is all Steph could say, ‘You can’t exist. Let me see your…’

Saul sighed as Steph’s voice crunched up into a ball of silence.

    To know Saul for a short while is to wonder why his right hand is always tucked away in his pocket. To ask him is an emotional trigger, pride being an explosive device and boom – out came the fleshy stump where his right palm should of been.

    ‘C’mon then Missus, help us out please?’ he pleaded.

    But Steph was lost to her two dimensional province, a mirror on the wall. Keira Knightley, Steph’s A-list doppelganger began to speak, ‘Trust him…this is living, this is what books and movies based on books are made of.’ 

Keira walked up to Steph in her identical misty rose gown. The actress opened her mouth to exclaim with a fervent passion, ‘Trusting Saul will get you closer to all this.’

And Miss Knightley’s hands groped and touch her face, that marvellous regal chin that Steph hadn’t even a hint of. The apparition of Knightley massaged the cleft with the sensuality of a trained narcissist.

    ‘Jesus, O.K fine,’ spat Saul, ‘just stay over there and gawp at yourself then.’ and he dragged the doctor toward the bed, heaved her body onto it, making certain that the duvet cover reached right up to her face.

After he stood back and scratched his flaky chin, Saul asked Steph,

    ‘That looks pretty natural innit?'

    ‘Are you Zomb -’ 

    ‘Before you say it just stop O.K Missus? ‘said Saul, his left finger stuck straight up and inches away from her face, 

    ‘Seems he's neglected to bloody tell you how much I hate being called…listen, it’s Saul yeah? Just call me Saul and we’ll be cool.’

    Steph nodded automatically, managing to turn a bark into a cough. She cleared her throat and asked,

    ‘Who told you I was even here?’, asked Steph.

    ‘Handy Andy can see the flame on your head...he can see it from miles away.’

    ‘He’s here too? Hey, What? A flame…? What? I've lost it again - I must have. You can't be here. This can't be -’

    Saul produced a knife from his back pocket.

    He took the blade to his forearm.

    The young man didn’t make a single sound.

    And Steph had to blurt, ‘Crazy people don’t feel pain. Things like intense weather conditions don’t faze them.’

    ‘Oh alright then…for fuck sake,’ said Saul to the right pocket of his trench-coat, ‘Don’t wanna believe I'm real? Fine. Come out and play Andy, c’mon.’

    Caucasian fingers crawled out of Saul's right jacket pocket and into the illumination of the electric lit room. Steph’s shriek was more piercing than any Baptist in religious fervour. The hand crawled onto the bed and on its stump, the sprightly creepy-crawly gave Steph a thumbs up.

    'Now if you still think you're crazy I swear,' said Saul pulling on his ponytail in frustration, 'I swear I'll eat your brains.'
N   E   X   T      T   I   M   E      I    N
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     ‘Bellevue’s got ex S.A.S men for guards.' announced Steph. 

    ‘I eat ex S.A.S for breakfast.’ replied Saul.

    ‘Not these guys,’ whispered Steph, ‘They’re armed with tasers, nightsticks and years of beating up cowardly zombies.’

    ‘I’m not cowardly and I don't like being called a zombie, so shut up. And why are you whispering?'

    ‘Sorry,' spat Steph at Saul's decayed cheekbone,' 'I’ve never been kidnapped by a work of fiction before.
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(N.B The comments posted below pertain to an extended version of this story, truncated due to issues of pace).


  1. Once again another accomplished piece of writing Mr Clay! I really enjoy the way you use the narrator as a link between the reaity of the story and the reality of the reader. The consistant breaking of the fourth wall serves to draw us in while adding another interesting dimension to a tale already thick with layers. (Like a story-onion) The way you execute the flash back - in a weird, Dickensian move in which the narrator guides the reader back to the time and place in question - is a great spin on the explanation of plot points without resorting to simple exposition.

    However, I did find that there was a certain lack of clarity in the scene at the Buchannan's house. it was not always clear who was speaking, who was sitting where and how many people were in the room. I wonder if you may have deliberately done this to create a mood of confusion? The introduction of the Discordians in the beginning of the scene in particular, needs clarification.

    For example, you seem to introduce the character of Florence twice, which makes it difficult to understand where she is in relation to the other characters in the room. You introduce her first when you begin 'Florence is in a lovely pair of marigold dungarees...' then again a few lines later 'On the other side from these three sit the remaining of the six; the long haired brunet with the earthy brown dress with the emerald hemlines is Saul and Vicky’s mother; Florence Buchannan.' Also, because your reality has no limits, this doubling of introduction could be misconstrued as Florence being two separate characters. It just needs a bit of tidying up.

    That being said, there are some really fantastic, idiosyncratic flashes of description in the piece. My favourites as follows:

    '...dribbling more than a few droplets of Mother Nature’s tears, the dire Sunday weather having become quite abhorrent this early eve.'

    '...he’s another wild splurge of vomit that my minds thrown up...'

    These great, visceral images really are your trademark!

    The only other thing I would say is that you've begun to describe Steph as 'cyber author' and 'online writer'. This really grates on me. Essentially, you're not giving us any new information when you use these terms. The reader is aware of Steph's background, so to continually refer to it seems like a bit of an insult to our intelligence. I realise this subconscious 're-capping' might be the result of writing your work in an episodic way, but it's important to remember that, when published as a full narrative, this will be obsolete.

  2. I love love love the sincerity of your comments! So yes and down to business:

    I've just cleaned this shizzle up (how I'm loving the word shizzle these days?!?) and hope that it's now a lot clearer who is saying what.

    Re: lack of clarity in this months post -
    'I wonder if you may have deliberately done this to create a mood of confusion?' - Crimson Eblog

    I will never go out of my way to confuse the audience without it also being drama worthy/fun to read! I figure my cleaning up of the scene where Mr Lime draws our attention to the family picture is much better presented now. Not sure if his fancy free tour around the pic is necessary...what do you others think? I am keen to cut it out if it still muddles the reader though I think lines such as the quoted below clarify that we are looking at the photo and NOT the room:

    'Take a look over there, Ah, just look at the Buchannan family picture, how can you miss such a moment hanging above the disused fire place?
    Let's have a look at it shall we?
    We know who that demigod is in the middle don't we, Spiderfingers in his red yellow and blue, he's bent on one knee front and centre...'

    Also, and I'm pretty sure that these lines here fade our view back into the living room to meet the Discordians as they are now:

    'Ahh...The Discordian's...I want to relate to you about those others gathered in the picture; Lilith, Handy Andy, Steve, Nathaniel...but they can wait till next time. Yes, more on them and their intricate histories later captives, for now, stare up away from this family photo and back to the real life and the now fifteen year old Vicky. Look above her to catch him; that cackling cacophony of cantankerousness; the one and only emperor of entropy a.k.a the baron of bedlam…'


    Oh and:

    'The only other thing I would say is that you've begun to describe Steph as 'cyber author' and 'online writer'. This really grates on me.' - Crimson Eblog

    I get bored of writing out Steph said this and Steph said that and although such tagging is invisible nuts and bolts of writing convention I've noticed a few of my fav authors replace the names of characters (especially in a character study plot such as The Russian Doll Stories) with their jobs or their marital status. I might tone this down but I feel that the tagging doesn't communicate as insulting rather an attempt to keep the reading of it fresh and the reader alert and in the moment.

    I figure that even when published as a full narrative I'll make it clear that these episodes were released as such, kind of like the compendium feeling you get when you purchase an anthology of comics that cover one event or story arc. I don't think this is popular in out and out fiction but I wanna give it a go as it directly relates to the theme of The Russian Doll Stories; a theme that Steph seems to busy to sleuth but shortly nay bloody have to...

    P.S. thanks for aiding in my being published with Con-Struct! I have to type up Steph's Gold Medal again as the doc I sent was the one off this here Googlebogger...the computer won't let me get rid of the black background damn it! Right...I'm gonna read your stuff RIGHT NOW.

  3. I'm guessing something big is about to happen? Theres a lot of back story in this episode which I didn't think was your thing. It was nice to get a fuller image of everything. That being said the description of the family portrait we've had before, haven't we? In a previous episode? Or am I making it up?

    You have such a knack writing gory literature. Not that all of it's gore but a lot of the description surrounding Saul made me feel sick. Thankfully I've already had my lunch!But I guess thats a compliment of the effectiveness of your writing. Particular the description of whats on Sauls back - a vagina?! Really?! That was my first thought and it continues through whenever I think about it.

    I enjoy the fluidity of the conversation between Spider and the Discordians. It felt real, espcially Saul not wanting to use Spiders full name and I liked the little add ons he put it - Spiderfuck being my favourite.

    ‘You didn’t want another wash, god you’re such a liar,’ spits Saul, ‘you just like to make your exits and entrances.’ - sums it all up doesn't it?

    I like the echoing of the scream. You know Anthony's and Steff's. He screams first and she screams after. That was done well and it was like a mental link through time (so to speak).

    "Christ on a segway" wonderful imagery. Loved it.

    Haven't got much else to say. Will let it settle down in my brain and if anything else pops up I'll bang it on here.

  4. This episode is set before the events in last August's Triangles so yeah man, you could say something big is about to happen. Backstory should be every writers thing and since my focus on all the parts to come is the revealing of answers expect more of a 'fuller image'. In Triangles we had a brief mention of The Discordian's family picture so yeah, it has been seen before.

    Saul has a vagina on his back. Ha ha!

    I had a feeling you'd like Saul as I detect you (as do others including myself) don't like Spiderfingers to have a particularly easy ride. I wonder how well Spiderfingers will fair when confronted with someone as quick witted and as powerful as he. How will we feel about him being in such a tight spot? Till the future then.

    You wrote:
    ‘You didn’t want another wash, god you’re such a liar,’ spits Saul, ‘you just like to make your exits and entrances.’ - sums it all up doesn't it?

    Sums the Russian Doll Stories or Spiderfingers' personality?
    I'm curious to know.

    The mental link through time (via the likening of both screams to religious fervour) was a happy accident. thank you for pointing that out.

    Looking forward to a reply to my queries...

  5. Sums Spiderfingers up! He's a God of chaos but he's also wants/needs to be noticed. He loves the attention and what better way then with a grand exit and entrance!

    I am intrigued, I want to see more of Saul/Spider headbutting. I do like Saul even if he does make me feel physically sick.

    Does Saul have a vagina on his back? If he does then thats bloody brillaint.

  6. Ahhh, O.K yeah...wasn't sure if the whole entrances and exits thing communicated well. Had a drink with Sim and his interest in Spiderfingers is his constant struggle between the moral laws of a human and the rather cold acts of a deity. There's more to old chaos then just being noticed though often (especially in The Russian Doll Stories) he appears to have no qualms with going with his god instincts so to speak.

    The negative dynamic between Saul and Spider is but one relationship that makes the Dioscordian's interesting. I've taken the friction archetype that you get between the family superhero group (Fantastic Four but whole lot darker)and turned the drama level up to ten and the controversy level up to eleven.

    You'll find out more about Saul and his family (not to mention his rather fantastical back problem) since our title character has been killed off. The Discordian's are gonna prove useful to me for writing many characters sharing the same space.

    Rather disturbing that you're applauding Saul having a clit. Now, what would really be tragic is that it is placed so high up in the middle of his back that he just cant reach it...