Behind Glass (section nine)

‘There’s nothing wrong with his tongue, he could speak when he first arrived at the castle,’ Merrick told his master, giving Pan an apologetic glance when Master Gray requested to know more. Pan stared down at the large square tiles. They glistened in light emanating from many ornate wall sconces and the windows high above that ringed the ceiling. His shoulders hunched as Merrick spoke, feeling the familiar shame as his ears heated up and face reddened.  ‘But he had a few issues adjusting to escort life, and he also had some … some problems … with his first master. We think – that is, the castle physicians think – that he might have been frightened into silence.’

‘Frightened into silence?’ Master Gray repeated slowly and thoughtfully, looking Pan up and down.

‘He can barely speak anymore, we can’t think of any other reason for it. He only speaks to Darien – Master Grange’s apprentice – and even he’s hard-pressed to get a single word out of him. But he doesn’t have any problems making himself understood. And he’s working very hard, trying to get his voice back,’ he added, smiling broadly at Pan. Pan blushed even darker, but this time with bashful gladness. He signed a quick word of appreciation to Merrick.

‘You would be Beron’s former pupil, then,’ Master Gray realised, taking his part of the key as Merrick retrieved and passed it to him.  The master tucked it away safely in his suit pocket, eyes still on Pan. ‘I believe I have heard of you, and of your situation. Master Grange may have mention you to me in passing a few months ago – I did not realise you were the same Pan that Merrick is so fond of. A pity, that you have been so affected by your time in the service. But I must admit,’ Master Gray said with a light frown, ‘it is strange. Beron is a hard master, but no one else has ever lost anything to fear in his service. But then,’ the master reasoned further, ‘he never recommended any of his previous students for master training, either. I don’t see how the two fit together, but you are a boy of exceptions, it would seem. Whatever he put you through, be assured that you have earned his respect.’

Pan bent his neck even further and bowed from the waist, going well past forty-five degrees.

‘Keep working hard, boy. No one will take a mute master seriously.’

‘Take it easy, Pan,’ Merrick recommended quietly so his master couldn’t hear. He took Pan’s upper arm affectionately, pausing as he followed his master towards the stairs. Pan’s spine was still curved deeply, eyes on the polished marble floor. ‘I know you’re trying, but I don’t think hard work alone will recover your voice. You’d already be singing if it did.’

Pan signed, hands low and disheartened. What can I do?

‘You have to relax,’ Merrick told him. ‘The Directors all know your situation, and they know what’s best for you. I’m sure they and the castle physicians were in some way responsible for your being assigned to Master Fen—ignore the rumours, he can’t have been the only master willing to take you. Master Fen can help you. He will help you, if you let him.’

Pan ducked his head deeper before his friend, tongue scraping in protest as he fought to shape words before an audience.

‘Trying…to.’

Merrick’s lips parted in surprise, but he recovered with a bright smile, giving Pan’s arm a little squeeze. ‘It’s good to hear from you again. We’ll talk more later, okay?’

He caught up with Master Gray, leaving the towering hexagonal chamber. Pan wasn’t left alone in there for long, the other escorts about to start their Shelf duty soon appearing below. Pan moved to join them, lowering his head in greeting. Their first guests for the day began to arrive soon after. But though he performed them flawlessly, Pan couldn’t keep his mind on his Shelf duties that morning.

They were good friends, but he was startled by Merrick’s supreme confidence in him. More, he was thrown by another assurance – Master Gray’s in addition to Lilian’s – that Master Beron held anything other than complete and utter contempt for him. But as Pan settled into his rounds, notebook and pencil at the ready as he toured the lowest balcony with a few elderly gentlemen leaning on ebony canes that clacked resoundingly against the tiles, Rose Burns went on shrieking in his mind.

Behind Glass (section eight)

‘You there!’ the shackled woman’s master barked, pointing directly at Pan’s chest. As if it were a trigger, Pan’s back shot dead straight at the man’s gesture,  a rigid spear shaft suddenly lashed against his spine. ‘Open her compartment. Rose Burns, three to your left.’

‘NO!’ Rose Burns wailed, fighting against the multiple arms that pulled her along, slapping and pinching, writhing, but unable to break free. ‘I won’t go back! I won’t! You promised us!’ she screamed, and Pan flinched at the shattering ring of betrayal in her breaking voice. ‘You  said it would only be for a little while! That we’d be living free again in no more than an instant! You’re all liars! The glass doesn’t shield us from time! I can’t stand in there forever! Brought out only to perform, to be paraded around and stared at! I can’t take it anymore! I want to live my own life, for the love of Heaven!’

‘Move it, boy!’ a soldier snapped. Pan stumbled backwards towards Rose’s compartment. Eyes caught by the gold of her plaque, he saw that she was one of the originals, one of the first women placed there. Between them, the soldiers, master, and escort maneuvered the hysterical woman a few more steps forward.

‘Here, take them.’ The master pulled from his suit pocket half an iridescent key and tossed it to Pan. The escort imitated him, ripping the other half from a cord about his neck. Pan quickly fitted them together and pressed them into the indentation of the golden lock just above her plaque. ‘Four to the left, once to the right,’ the master instructed, and Pan hurried to comply, turning the round, glassy key so the door slid open at his touch.

‘Out of the way.’

Pan fell back as the five men forced Rose Burns inside, securing her on the golden stand. Her wails went on echoing around the balcony until the master injected her with a syringe taken from his small black case. Her lips soon closed, relaxing into a soulless smile. The escort, a friend of Pan’s called Merrick, wiped her tears away and arranged her dress so her chains were again hidden. He then adjusted her makeup with a few flicks of a brush. Their charge now quiet and presentable on her stand, both Merrick and his master exited, sealing the door. Rose went perfectly still.

‘Thank you, escort,’ the master said. Pan bowed. His mouth was dry.  It felt as if something live and wriggling had been released into his stomach. ‘No need to look so frightened,’ the master said, stroking his moustache and looking remorsefully back at Rose. ‘There’s always some poor girl unhappy about going back on her Shelf. I’m surprised you haven’t come across one yet. In these situations – as you just saw – a little extra persuasion is occasionally required. Poor misguided things. Some even try to run away from the castle … I’m speaking to you, boy!’ he barked suddenly, causing a startled Pan to trip backwards into the balcony railing. ‘Aren’t you going to do me the courtesy of returning the favour?’

‘It’s just Pan, Master Gray,’ Merrick said, able to open his mouth now that Rose was again behind glass. ‘He doesn’t speak.’

‘Not at all?’ Master Gray asked, eyeing Pan, who bowed very deeply, keeping his eyes on the ground. There were four gleaming marble tiles separating the tips of his toes in his light sandals and Master Gray’s shiny black leather shoes. ‘His tongue is intact, yes? We’d have heard if it wasn’t.’

This proclamation didn’t stop Master Gray from striding forward and opening Pan’s mouth with his cold hands, curiously examining his mouth and throat. Pan stood very still until the man let go and stepped back, wiping saliva from his fingers.

Behind Glass (section seven)

There were so few of them. So few. But arranged on the Shelves – twelve sprawling balconies spanning all five of the cavernous pentagonal chamber’s walls – and with only Pan there besides, making his slow way along the many rows, there seemed so many. Able to loop on forever.

He wouldn’t be alone in there for long. Soon the nine other escorts that made up that morning’s duty would arrive. After them, guests would begin to enter. They would laugh and converse at length, strolling along the balconies and looking at women. Most they regarded in passing, making appreciative comments about her blush or bracelet, though some women were regularly regarded much more intently. At the Shelves, the escorts would attend guests’ needs, fetching them drinks and leading them on tours – women of historical significance and those of high popularity, past and present. If a man stared too fixedly at a female face, a nearby escort would politely insist he move on. If a woman was returned to her Shelf, those on duty would stand guard, keeping guests from coming too close as she was set on her stand. Mostly though, the escorts patrolled. Walked up and down. Five walls, twelve levels. Two thousand four hundred faces. Lips smiling. Eyes like vacant tunnels. No light. Empty.

Sometimes, when he’d been having a rough day, Pan had found the Shelves peaceful. More often than not though, he found them sad. Sad, and a little disturbing. The women were all around him, yet he felt alone. They were frozen, styled to perfection. Nothing but figurines with glassy eyes in that state. Dolls.

Were those appropriate thoughts for an escort to have? For a prospective master? Should he mention it to someone? He would never have told Master Beron, but Fen was proving to be a reliable confidant. He’d asked about Pan’s photographs, and was now privy to his relationships with all three women in his life. Fen also knew of his close friendship with Darien, and the basics of what he had suffered under his former master. Pan had divulged primarily though neatly dashed-off notes accompanied by the occasional faltering word at Fen’s kind prompting. It was getting a little easier. Speaking.

Perhaps it would be best to discuss and dissect such issues with another before he grew too confused, or progressed too far into his training. And if not with his master, there was always Darien. Darien would know what to think of his unconventional musings.

Sighing as he found himself before the doll version of his mother (as he so often did), studying how her ringlets cascaded over her bared shoulders, fluid as a stream, Pan turned away and leaned on the railing, eyes on the main entrance far below. He had been early. But at least one other escort should have arrived by then. Shouldn’t they have?

Suddenly, a cry slit the air. A woman’s cry.

Pan’s head whipped around.

Back entrance. Fourth wall. Two balconies below.

Slipping in his soft sandals, Pan bolted for the stairs and tore down them, racing towards the sound.

He skidded to a stop at the end of the row, heart hammering. He blinked in surprise, replenishing breaths deep and silent beneath the disturbance unfolding before him.

It was a woman. Older, maybe even thirty-five. She was weeping. Struggling. Ringed by her escort, his master, and three soldiers.

There were chains fastened on her wrists. Pan could see how her heavy velvet sleeves and skirts had been designed to disguise them, but they’d fallen free from concealment.

A woman chained? What was going on?

Synthetic Melodies That Move

And now, for the third segment of things that make you stop, stare, and get the creativity waterwheel churning.

As you may have fathomed by now, music is perhaps my number one muse, the number one muse of many writers, I gather.  I haven’t yet written that post I’ve promised on what I feel are the best artists to write fantasy to – it’s become something I have to build up to, like the first milestone of this blog I have to reach.  Something that – once I do get around to it – will probably sit around as a draft being picked at for weeks before I’m satisfied enough to post it.  So, that will wait awhile longer.  Today though, I wish to bring to your attention to a particular brand of music that I’ve found is effective not only in inspiring the mood of a story, but also in generating entirely new ideas, whether you want to be having new ideas or not – it gave me a new short story the other day, a dystopian city policed by trains.  This astounding generative force is …

Electronica.

I know there’s a fair amount of average and even bad electronica out there comprising only soulless noise and sound effects, and while noise can be fun, I’m not talking about that kind of electronica.  I’m talking about good electronica.  The kind that moves.

And before anyone more knowledgeable than me on this topic can point this out, I know electronica is a very broad label.  That there are many unique styles within the genre.  But I’m terrible at categorising music, and while I know I like House and Trance best (because my sisters told me that’s what they are – they’ve been into electronica in its various guises for years, I’m somewhat of a recent convert) I’m only adept enough to classify Drum&Bass by the kicking snare and Dubstep by its slower tempo.

Enough of my categorising fails, and to the point.  Though generally ear-blasting with throbbing bass lines and full of synthetic sound – which is awesome in itself, providing driving, pulse-quickening background for scenes of action, energetic and exciting – electronica can also be achingly beautiful.  If you listen.  It can have soul, melodies that grip your heart.  Grip it until cardiac muscle bulges out the gaps of its tenacious fingers.  Even as your lungs speed their expanding and deflating routine to accommodate all these heavy emotions you’re being made to feel, it steals your breath.

Perhaps that’s overkill.  But it’s happened to me more than once.  This kind of electronica exists.

Though my early experiences were governed by Pendulum, one of the best ways to find this kind of electronica is to go have a look at Monstercat.  An artist currently in high rotation on my iTunes, Project 46, comes from there.  Their song M.O.A.B. has left me weeping more than once, and I feel my throat constricting, eyes dampening, and chest fluttering a little just thinking about it, remembering each sound, the combinations, each note that adds to its magnificence – I know, I’m sad, strange little person.  But that song means something to me.  It describes the heart and soul of my Kien, and by extension, mine as well.  It has true passion.  True beauty.  That is something, I feel, many believe is missing from much music currently being produced.

But beautiful music doesn’t have to be a swelling orchestra.  And it doesn’t have to be just a man and his guitar singing a lonely, heartfelt ballad.  Not anymore.  That’s what was beautiful before, and beautiful it remains.  But the world never addresses its compulsive changing issues.  Electronica often is heartfelt, to me.  Perhaps a day will come when teenagers composing essays entitled “My Favourite Song and Why” choose Project 46’s M.O.A.B for many of the same reasons someone might choose Beethoven’s Ninth or  John Lennon’s Imagine.

Fuel = Celestial Nectar + ?

Were I asked to compile a list of things I will miss the most about Japan, I think I can honestly (and somewhat terribly) admit that making the top ten would be the vending machine directly across the road from my apartment.

That vending machine has been loyal.  It has been steadfast.  As the witching hour of the coldest winter night is struck.  On the edge of typhoons, gales competing to claim black umbrellas and rain pelting parallel to the street.  The moment dinner comes off the stove so as to be enjoyed hot alongside a cool drink as nature dictates.  In sunshine.  In rain.  In my pajamas.  Only twice, by my count, has access been hindered by the evil refill-carrying truck, evil, but so infuriatingly necessary.  Numerous times, too numerous to reliably recall, have I made the crossing to its always kindly lit-up display of refreshing beverages on offer.

And there are many on offer.  But there is only one, only ever one, that commands my coin.  It is that I consume most every day.  That which tickles throat and tongue with its sweet effervescence.  Described by Nico, a most sage warrior whose opinion I trust (from Michael Pryor’s “The Doorways Trilogy”), as the nectar of the Gods.  That which fuels me.  I speak, as other devotees must now have realised, of coke.

Coke.  Plain and simple.  And tasty.

Coke is my fuel in more ways than one.  I have a bit of a problem with hot drinks – chronic fear of burning lips – so if I need a caffeine hit, coke’s where I turn.  Energy drinks are not an option.  Disgusting, they are.  I maintain that the reason I got sick after doing my first Jägerbomb(s) was the large quantity of Red Bull, not the shot of jäger, it(they) contained.  However, quite apart from being a sublime wakey-wakey concoction, coke is what fuels me through tougher writing slogs.

So yes, things that fuel creativity and the production of solid usable material may include invigorating dreams, train rides served with a side of dub step, exciting travels to exotic locations, midnight runs to the convenience store, thrilling showers, friends (and strangers) who say interesting things, stairs that lead into water, a new notebook, strings of seemingly random coincidences that always leave you in a lurch, and no doubt an endless array of other unusual petrol.  Alongside them are the more practical, but no less important fuels of love and support (morale, emotional, financial, metaphorical, and so on) from those closest to the writer in question.  But sometimes, you have to get even more basic.  Sometimes to keep typing, to keep personalities and events that remain somewhat pleasing filling computer screens, the body just has to be seen to.  The digestive system filled.  And not just to keep everything functioning, heart beating, lungs pumping and kidneys filtering as they should.  Not even to keep awake.

Sometimes it is the pleasure engine within that must be filled.  And when choosing remain before a computer screen, clogging most available “free time” with writing stories, junk food – and coke – is generally the fastest and most immediately satisfying way to go about this.

Unfortunately, junk food is not only the very fastest and most immediate of immediately satisfying foods, but is also – somewhat obviously, given the name and warnings to keep consumption low – loaded with sugar, oil, and God knows what else.  Aside from my happy coke syrup, chocolate is what does the job best – I would say Doritos too, but they often hinder more than help, cheesing up fingertips and the process of reaching into the packet and fishing for crumbs taking time away from the keys.  Karaage, tonkatsu, burgers, chips (french fries) – cravings creep up, and knowing that if I rise to slice potatoes, smother them with oil and spice, throw them in the toaster oven and after thirty or so minutes flood them with mayonnaise, that this horror scene will at last start coming together, of course I get up and take down my sharpest knife.

While undeniably tasty and effective, considering again that I spent most of my free time in front of the computer, this does present something of a problem, sideways-wise.

So, what began as an unnecessarily dramatic description of the wonders of having a vending machine across the street has become a plea:  what food do you find helps best when you’re writing?  Does it depend on the style of writing, the genre?  Pumpkin pasties for fantasy and tomato soup for murder mysteries?  The length –  is shortcake better for brief yarns and Cumberland sausages for novels?  Does food inspire?  Distract?  Change the very tone of a story?  Though I’ll not soon forsake the abundant fuel supply available not twenty meters from my door for only another short month, I hope there are some well-tested fooding options for the writer seeking satisfaction, convenience, and to somewhat maintain their good health (maintaining a perfectly trim figure not necessary in my case, that was abandoned years ago, if it was ever taken up).

And now, to finish in as unnecessary a manner as was begun:  there must be more to starting wars and raising beggars to hero status than simply drinking coke.

I Find Spinning So Entirely Entertaining

And now, for a little remedial nonsense:

I find spinning so entirely entertaining

Got ribbons and some balls on string, they’re all tied up just right

And I find spinning so entirely entertaining

My backyard’s just a blur and I’m a sight

 I find spinning so entirely entertaining

I’d go out in the cold of night and juggle in the dark

Cause I find spinning so entirely entertaining

Sublime, its sure to please a great white shark

I’m good for now

I said I’m good for now

I’m good for now

Yes, I’m good for now

Cause I know I’m free

As much as I may be

For now

And

 I find spinning so entirely entertaining

I’d travel from Japan to Wales in search of unique tricks

And I find spinning so entirely entertaining

Don’t you think all those who sneer are real big pricks?

I find spinning so entirely entertaining

Got friends and we all twirl around and wind up in a heap

Cause I find spinning so entirely entertaining

but the slippery slope to pain can get quite steep

I’m good for now

I said I’m good for now

I’m good for now

Yes, I’m good for now

Cause I know I’m free

As much as I may be

For now

And

I find spinning so entirely entertaining

Don’t feel the need to blow no minds or keep em on their toes

Cause I find spinning so entirely entertaining

That I won’t even stop to blow my nose

I’m good for now

I said I’m good for now

I’m good for now

Yes, I’m good for now

Cause I know I’m free

So far as I can see

For now

I find spinning so entirely entertaining

Those streamers whip above my head in red and green and gold

And I find spinning so entirely entertaining

That I’ll keep my spin on once the fad grows old

This has been tucked away for awhile, the original written not long after I “took up” poi spinning. I imagine these novelty lyrics with a simple guitar and piano accompaniment, maybe a violin to challenge the vocals every now and then with a bit of a country feel, and it’s always had Missy Higgins’s voice. Any ideas for more verses? I reckon it could go on forever … though that probably wouldn’t be a good thing. Makes me smile for now, anyway, and I hope it’s somewhat pleasing to a few others, too.

Behind Glass (section six)

Pan knew he only ever meant well, and allowed himself a grim smile at Darien’s teasing, but painfully unlikely speculation. Then, while Darien was focussed on his reflection, Pan sneaked out a hand and dunked his friend’s head under the water in retribution for the jibe. Darien resurfaced a moment later, spluttering and laughing. ‘You utter arse! Sorry,’ he called out, grinning widely as the two nearest them frowned at the uncouth word. ‘You unbecoming, irritating, inconsequential little swine. Is that better?’

Pan laughed, a peculiar, smothered little burst of sound. Master Beron’s elegant insults actually sounded funny when it was Darien’s mouth they left. Digging in his case wearing a smile somewhat more cheerful, he found a narrow tube and carefully applied the cream within to the thin, delicate skin of his lips and eyelids. ‘Shelf duty today?’ Darien asked. Pan nodded, starting to sign his schedule, but Darien gave him a pointed look. Try, it said.

‘Morning…Shelf,’ Pan murmured reluctantly, lips barely moving as he dried his hair, rushing to get the rest out before his throat froze up. ‘Afternoon…class. Then…with Master Fen.’

‘See, you can do it,’ Darien smiled, giving him an encouraging pat on the arm and showering him with water just as Pan hung up his towel. Scowling in good humour, he dried again. ‘That was a four-word sentence, well done. Well, it was almost a sentence. I imagine Master Fen has you practicing?’

Pan nodded, keeping most of the wince from his face, forehead only wrinkling by a few unhappy lines.  Though he hadn’t the time for sit-down rehabilitation sessions, Fen was trying to coax him into speech most every day, during fittings, lessons, meetings, mealtimes – whenever there was a small time gap that could be filled. Though Pan hoped he was beginning to prove himself to Fen, ever obedient and work both fine and diligent, he felt regaining his voice would cement that worth. But despite being free of Master Beron for weeks and the daily (if brief) practice he did, he could still barely utter three words to his master. Fen told him not to let it, but it was starting to get him down.

‘I’m glad, but we should try to begin sessions of our own again in our free time.’

Pan gave Darien a look so plain not signs nor notes nor broken words were required to translate.

When are we going to have any free time now that we’re both in master training?

Darien laughed long and clear, the sound bouncing between the bathing hall tiles and pillars as light from the newly risen sun began to bounce as well, reflecting between the many mirrors. ‘We’ll find time. Honestly, I’ve met no one with a more expressive face. You really are priceless, Pan.’

I have to be expressive, Pan signed with a matter-of fact-gesture before articulating a more pressing concern. Will you be asking the others to come now? Merrick and everyone?

‘I think that would be good, now you’re getting a little more confident. You’ll have to speak to many more than just me and Master Fen when you’re a master yourself.’

I know, Pan signed dismally.

‘We’ll only ask a few for starters. It’ll be fine, I promise you. But forget that for a moment: I hear you’ve got Claire Baker soon.’ Pan nodded, shoulders still slumped at the thought of straining and failing to produce words in front of all his friends. ‘How about that, then? Can’t just be chance.’

I don’t think it is.

‘She’ll be sad not to hear your voice,’ Darien commented as he climbed out, dropping a mat beside Pan’s and taking down his thick white towel from a hook. ‘She was sad she didn’t get to meet you, see you properly before being put on the Shelf. Master Grange told her you and I are friends. She spoke of you many times, that week.’

Pan ducked his head, eyes downcast. It was Darien who’d been selected as Claire’s first escort, accompanying her through the week-long celebration leading up to her birthday and seeing her to the Shelves for the first time. Pan hadn’t been allowed to meet her. He’d only seen her at a distance from where he’d stood in military straight lines with the escort ranks as she’d been paraded through the city.

Seeing how Pan missed his friend, Darien quickly changed the topic again, hoping to make him smile. Or at least, make him stop being so gloomy. ‘Guess who I’ve got at the same time? Give up?’ he raised his tone in exaggerated excitement as Pan shrugged. ‘None other than Georgiana Mason.’

Pan did a double take. Only he had ever escorted Georgiana since he’d entered the ranks. He was her only relative escort, and for a highly desirable woman such as her it was seen as an extra precaution that only he attend her. But if anyone else were to do so, it would be Darien. No question.

Darien was special. He was honest, noble, and kind. And he had an eye for beauty that had all the masters clamouring to claim him from the moment he entered the ranks, a bright-eyed, eager twelve-year-old. He was exactly everything an escort was meant to be. Somehow, the Directors saw similar traits in Pan. Pan wanted to know what was slipped in their tea every morning to render the supposedly intelligent and insightful men so delusional.