This is my contribution to Pixel Stained Technopeasant Wretch day (I don’t have a LJ account, could someone be a dear and tell them about my contribution? Thanks. There’s also pixel stained community here.) I’m going to spread it over a few sections because it is over 20,000 words long, the other sections are over at Spinneyhead First Drafts, follow the links at the bottom of the chapter. There’ll be a version available through Lulu as soon as possible, and a donate button at the bottom of each section if you like it and would like to support my work.
This was written for National Novel Writing Month. I didn’t finish the 50,000 words called for, but this stands up well as a novella and part one of a longer story.
Global Weirding – Part One
I shouldn’t go out drinking with students any more. It’s not the blank bits of memory, or the drinking bruises. It’s not even the day long hangovers. It’s the hallucinations and the things I bring back with me.
Alison or Kate or Jane (I think her name was) would have been good to bring home. But it never works out that way, and I ended up with a scally ent propped up in a corner of the living room. Except now I’m sober it looks more like a few branches and a load of mud. This is what happens when you mix your lagers. I wouldn’t normally touch pilsner, but after a certain point in the evening the sort of place that sells real beer in a condition fit to drink have all closed.
I had been on the way home after a long day with a promise that I could take an early weekend. So when I bumped into Charlie and his entourage of barely legal lovelies I had no problem tagging along. Charlie’s doing a Phd in something or other and has sweet talked himself a place as a Hall tutor. This gets him free accommodation and early access to a lot of fresh meat. He’s not quite unprofessional enough to abuse his position of responsibility, but he has no problem playing pimp for the likes of me.
“Ladies. This is Steven. He’s not a dirty old man. Well, he’s not dirty anyway. Steve, come and join us. What are you doing out on a school night?”
“Drinking, of course.”
“Sounds good. Mine’s a Guinness.”
Even my paltry Data Analyst wages are more than the funding Charlie’s got, so I figured a pint was small change for the chance to hang out with nubile and impressionable women. Alison was short and blonde and voluptuous. Kate was taller, also blonde, with smaller everything. Jane (or Janet, I may have to find out) was my height, slim and brunette. I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed, but it’s the one who’s name I can’t remember I wanted most. Obviously nothing was going to come of it.
In the second pub I remembered to take off my tie. In the third I remembered that my job really isn’t very interesting and started telling everyone that I was a Feng Shui consultant for municipal parks. It’s vitally important that the chi flows properly in and out of the gates with visitors and around the paths in a clockwise direction. And of course there are loads of water features and the like. It can be hell getting them all aligned correctly.
By closing time I could have pitched my services to the council, I’d honed the spiel so well. The girls, however, did not own any park land or know anyone who did. They decided to go on to a club, Charlie and I went off for more beers.
More beers became more and more beers. There’s a blank spot in my memory where we changed pubs and I walked into something that’s left a nasty bruise across my shin. I remember the last beer, more or less, and wandering off at two in the morning thinking it wasn’t that far home, no point trying to catch a bus or get a taxi. There’s a path laid out on one of the old stretches of railway line and it’s an ideal short cut so I wound my way down to that.
It’s about the darkest you’re going to get in the middle of the city. The trees on the embankments block out street lights and noise. It would be an easy place to get mugged I guess, but the thought didn’t occur to me at the time. I zigged and zagged my way along the tarmac ribbon, and occasionally up into the tree line when directional control completely abandoned me, until my bladder started to complain. I could have held it in, maybe, but why should I when there were trees in need of watering.
I found a likely looking bush and steered toward it, an elegant parabola where a sober straight line would have done. I unzipped and aimed straight at the heart of the shrub. “Ah, that’s better.”
“No it fucken isn. What you doin pissin on me, eh?”
I have no immediate fear of becoming incontinent. The stream of piss was cut off the instant I heard a voice. I stepped back, looking for the tramp I was soaking. There was nothing there, though. No suddenly moving lump on the ground or rising figure, just the skeleton of the bush I’d been drenching. “Sorry.”
The hose got shaken a few times before being put away, I wasn’t so drunk that I wasn’t going to try and get the last drop out. Looking for a human figure to explain the noise, it took me a while to notice the branches moving. Climbing out of the heart of the bush was, for lack of a better description, a stick figure. It was only vaguely human until I realised it had four legs (roots?) and three arms (branches?). It pushed its way out of the shrub, dropped to the ground and shook itself. “Fuck. I know that stuffs good for plants and shit, but it’s just wrong to go and piss on a feller when he’s getting’ it on with his cousin.”
“That there’s a Grey Willow. Me an the willows is like third cousins two or three times removed. I was just trying to cross pollinate.”
“Isn’t it the wrong time to pollinate? Isn’t that a Spring thing?”
“Oh hark at the human. He pisses on me and suddenly he’s the master gardener. We tree spirits is horny all the fucken time. Part of being imbued with human characteristics and the like. So it’s all your fault. But ain’t everything.”
“I’m trying to pin down your accent.”
“Don’t have no accent me, like. I get around.”
The branches on top of the twig thing formed a green afro. I leaned forward and grabbed it, bringing it up to head height. Lo and behold, the bark on the trunk did make up a passable face. It scowled at me. “Put me down, ye bastard.”
“You’re cute. I think I’m going to take you home and put you on my windowsill.”
“Ye’ll regret it.”
“I know that already. I’m so drunk I’m having a conversation with a stick. It’s a good job no-one can see me.”
“Put me down ye flea! I’m older’n your granddad! Yeh can’t treat me this way!”
“Careful with that mouth, you don’t want me to take cuttings do you?” It shut up at that. I carried it home and put it on the windowsill of the living room, as promised.
It’s still there, but now I’m sober it’s nowhere near as animate. I’d throw it out but, well, the bark on the trunk does look like a face, if you squint a bit.
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