26. A Memory of Abel in the future

Abel, monoprint and pen
Abel at Barons Court Station. Monoprint and pen.

The harmonica woman is sitting in the corner of a dark damp tunnel. She still has the white face paint on and bright red lipstick, though it’s running somewhat, giving her a monstrous appearance. She is stitching something together, slowly. carefully, in the candlelight. Her thoughts are of Abel. How she first saw him at Barons Court Station, as we saw him, horror on his face, blood on his hands, in the near future. How he loves Elsie then, oh yes, how he will love her then as he never loved her when she was alive.

Time will go slowly then, so slowly. He will live every second since his very first Spletzer-Martin tablet as detailed pictures in his head. But all that is yet to happen for him. This horror he knows only as confused drug inspired dreams, along with his own death. Currently he lies semi-conscious at the harmonica woman’s feet, registering nothing but the flicker of the candle flame.

She is stitching herself a child.

 

Last episode Red Wine and Revolution 3.

For a list of all the Spletzer-Martin 5 episodes go to The Further Adventures of the Spletzer-Martin 5

22. Sewer Familiars

TunnWe last saw Abel back at part 13. The Altar, in the tunnels under London, and Dread way back in part 6.Dread. 

There is a smell in the air, something like sulphur. It’s not unusual for an addict to hallucinate a smell, and it is not unusual for such a smell to slowly slowly slowly turn into a man. In Abel’s case a man at the end of the bed naked but for a gas mask. That this is happening in a sewer deep under London could be considered unusual to some, but certainly not everyone. Does it bother Abel? It is unlikely, he is just pleased to have a Spletzer-Martin 5 travelling down his throat.

“Have you got a match?” He says to the man in the gas mask, it is an attempt at making conversation, the nakedness seems somehow familiar, comforting almost.

A huge flash occurrs.

The mattress catches fire. Flames leap into the blackness.

Screaming and trying to curl himself into the dampest corner Abel suddenly, slowly, luckily, realises this is a joke.

Dread’s joke.

The flames die away as quickly as they arrived leaving Dread sitting there naked, still wearing a gas mask.

Dread was very much an hallucination, a familiar one by now, almost a friend. Down here in the sewers Abel is very glad to see a friend.

“Dread!” He shouts, like it is a reunion with a long lost buddy. Dread just sits there saying nothing, not even a nod to acknowledge he has realised Abel is there. This was of course nothing new to Abel, Dread was normally silent, yet down here his silence seems to have more authority than above ground, gravitas even.

Still it is disturbing sitting in the near dark on a damp shelf with a man wearing a gas mask having no idea where you actually are. Abel’s brain starts playing a tune to calm himself down, and in another corner of his deluded mind pictures develop, pictures and words, words and movement, till Dread is dancing and singing, tap dancing indeed on the flooded floor in front of Abel

They call me Dread…

Not only that but Abel, Dread, the two of them together, conjure up strange rooms, exotic costumes, an oasis a long long way away from here. By the time of the grand finale Dread is no longer just the personification of dread, but a Familiar Spirit,  a guru, a holy fool. There to lead Abel through the dark tunnels to safety. He had after all provided Abel with his much needed Spletzer-Martins, hadn’t he?

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21. A Spletzer-Martin Moment

20. Red Wine and Revolution – The Luxury of Atheism

19. Red Wine and Revolution – Elsie’s thoughts.

20. Red Wine and Revolution 2: The Luxury of Atheism

moon and sunThis is part of a fictional story called The Spletzer-Martin 5 set in London in the not so distant future. It is very much a work in progress.

“Atheism is a luxury of the rich!”

This was Louise saying hello. She flopped into the large expensively embroidered armchair and let out a rather melodramatic sigh. Elsie didn’t bother to ask if she was okay, nothing Louise did was ever so bland as to be okay. All blonde hair  and long disapproving nose, she’d been chatting up the 50 something bar tender who now gave them the benefit of candles and canapes on the house. An office party had been held there earlier and the food would only go to waste.

“its alright for you” she said to Elsie “you can afford to buy food, you don’t need to scavenge like this”

There they were, both in this exclusive London club due to Louise’s abilities to blag. Elsie watched her nibble fussily at the snacks, picking out the bits that weren’t to her taste, and couldn’t help but smile. Louise was perfectly suited to her situation. A Twilighter (1) extraordinaire.

There was something different about her now though, a darkness round the eyes, less playful than before,  hard-edged somehow, with age and fatigue collecting at the corners of her mouth.

” a friend of mine died from the cold six months ago, and now another one has gangrene in her foot and may loose it.” She said this to Elsie in an accusational fashion.

“Is she in hospital?”

“Of course not! She has no money for hospital. There’s a “See-er” in the tunnels taking care of her”

“A See-er? What’s a See-er”

” Like a witchdoctor, shaman healer type, there are quite a few practicing in the tunnels now”

” But surely she could find a charity or something to help her?”

Louise didn’t actually spit at this comment but only because that would mean them being thrown out of the club. Instead she glared a silent glare for a whole 60 seconds. Then finally she hissed:

“She’s ill, she can’t walk, how can she go hunting out charity hospitals! They’re over crowded anyway and she’s likely to be dead before she gets seen! Besides she’s been living in the tunnels for three years now, since she lost her job and couldn’t pay the rent. The Underlondoners (2) don’t trust anything belonging to  above-landers”.

Elsie was silent.

More calmly Louise continued:

” they’re starting their own religion down there, they need it to survive. Money doesn’t rule them down there. What is important is knowing the way round the tunnels. Where to find clean water, where’s best to come to the surface to scavenge for food, what remedies can be obtained from weeds and found remains. They’re returning to old folklores. When I first found out I was thinking they’d be bound to die out then, but no, it’s what is keeping them alive. Belief, psychology. is incredibly powerful”.

She took a sip of red wine, formed a deep frown across her forehead and looked directly into Elsie’s eyes

“Are you an Atheist?”

“Yes, of course” said Elsie “aren’t you?”

“Not anymore – If you are lying on a sodden blanket in pitch darkness, in severe agony, knowing there is no one coming to help you, if you’re convinced you are about to die, slowly, painfully and alone, do you rationalise it? Do you way up the scientific odds? Sing “Always look on the bright side of life”? No, you beg God – and any god will do at this moment, you’re not fussy – to save your life. I know, I’ve been there, and until you can say you’ve been there and didn’t find yourself begging God, you’re Atheism is shallow”.

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1. Twilighters – The term Twilighter started being used in the early 2000′s by the arts council of England to distinguish between respectable people and the type of person who was not worth counting as potential audience. It was later adopted by the government and media to describe a section of the public who were poor,  in temporary accommodation, in unstable employment if any. With the reforms to arts funding and low income self-employment tax it came to include most artists and musicians.

2.  Underlondoners – Those who live in the tunnels under London. Read Water

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19. Red Wine and Revolution – Elsie’s thoughts.

19. Red Wine and Revolution part 1 – Elsie’s thoughts

Carnival masks
Masks

Elsie stared intensely at the reflections in her wine glass, every now and then she swayed it gently from side to side and watched the ripples of wine roll. The sofa was large and comfortable and this evening she had time to think. Then again thinking was really what she was trying to avoid. Recently she’d found she preferred being overwhelmed, swallowed almost, by the small things, like the redness of her wine, or the reflections in the glass, or the old well worn rip in the fabric of the sofa.

She still missed Abel but her real concern was currently Douglas. He had gone from depression to jovial optimism. At first this had pleased her, but now it seemed to evolve round “jokes” about the extinction of large quantities of the human race.

“The human race is too large” he said with a grin, “the planet can’t sustain this level of consumption, something must be done.”

She couldn’t argue with his logic, but the solution…

It wasn’t genocide exactly, in that it wasn’t based on any ethnic group particularly, it was simply based on the idea that those with money and education should survive, along with a small number of obedient serves to oversea machinery (most labour could be done by computers after all), whilst those without would be killed – humanly of course. He said this grining the whole time, a joke “ha ha”, and Elsie would laugh along too. Still, something told her he might be serious.

Douglas seemed to separate people into three different groups, there were those like him – intelligent, rich, educated –  the true survivors and evolutionary successors. Ones like Elsie – educated, intelligent and useful – deserved to stay alive, and the rest – the poor, the disabled, the stupid, the uncultured, the uneducated –  should be wiped out. The global market had been separating the world into the rich and the poor for some time now, this was simply the ultimate and most sensible solution.

Elsie shuddered at the thought. She returned to the beautiful reds in her wine, the long narrow stem of her wine glass, the smell of candle wax and the kitchen downstairs. She’d arrived early and  was waiting for her friends, Louise and Jackie, to turn up. Jackie was a retired academic now artist who had turned seventy and found her career suddenly blosom.

Louise was a single forty year old artist/twilighter*, glamorous in an arty second hand way. She survived by squatting and begging and blagging. She was particularly good at blagging, it was through her that Elsie was now sitting as her guest in this private members club. Louise had somehow convinced the clubs board that she was a renowned artist from New Zealand who was part of a show coming up at the Tate and who would pay her club membership as soon a her agent sorted out this irritating bank confusion that had occurred.

She was actually completely unknown, had been banned from the Tate for striping off and covering herself in cellotape (she called this protest art) and came from Hackney.

*For a description of a twilighter go here

Next – 20. Red Wine and Revolution 2: The Luxury of Atheism

18. The Mutation

17. Elsie’s Pragmatism

15. Douglas, the charmer.

Man looking out over a theatre audienceThe term Twilighter started being used in the early 2000’s by the arts council of England to distinguish between respectable people and the type of person who was not worth counting as potential audience. They were poor, single, disabled, in temporary accommodation, in unstable employment if any. Elsie’s boss Douglas was one of the art consultants that first came up with the term Twilighter. “There’s something of the darkness about them” he said.

Douglas was a very determined man, there was something of the missionary in his righteous zeal, not religious, no, unless you called the religion Douglas.

He wasn’t a horrible man, on the contrary, he was one of the most pleasant people Elsie had met in the art world. Intelligent, witty, passionately engaged in his profession. In his fifties now, director of a large arts company, millioniaire arts dealer,  father of five children by three women, regular judge at big arts prizes, one of those men who, despite the bad teeth, balding head and long grey ponytail, could still manage to flatter a woman with his attention. A well respected and charming man, yes, charming. He was also a sociopath with a grand plan.

14. Betwixt and Between

13. The Alter

12. Malformed and Obscene

11. Her Pet Project

13.The Altar

Abel could hear the sound of running water. It was coming from the altar. He approached it crawling on all fours, standing had not occurred to him yet. In the centre of the alter the rock wall was exposed and from it there trickled a small but constant flow of clear water. Abel, his mouth still feeling like a chalk mine, flung himself towards it, only to be whacked across the back with a large stick.

The mad harmonica lady stood growling at him like a wild cat, stick clasped in one hand, lantern in the other. Then he heard voices, lots of them coming nearer and nearer. To avoid being hit again he scrambled  into a corner.

Suddenly the room was full of people. Men and women, maybe 60, maybe more. All silent. No one seemed to notice Abel, even the harmonica lady seemed uninterested in him now. She was kneeling down beside the spring.

One by one each person knelt down at the alter. Each took their turn, slowly, rhythmically. They closed their eyes, bent and sipped the water. And each time the harmonica lady dipped her figure in the water and made some kind of symbol on the person’s head.  Then each took out a jug and filled it with spring water before returning to the crowd.

For a minute Abel was convinced he could see Steve in the crowd, but it was too dark to be sure.
After what seemed like years the crowd slowly started to leave the room. Abel, his back still hurting from where the stick had hit, creeped out with the others. They were a scruffy bunch so he blended in.
Tunnel after tunnel they walked, one being no more memorable than the next. It was so dark Abel found he was moving with the pace of the feet of the crowd and could not see where he was going. Still it was somehow restful this steady hippnotic pace leading him along, so much so that on waking up on what appeared to be a shelf at the side of a tunnel, a slightly damp blanket flung over him, he had no idea how he  got there. Beside  him lay a packet of Spletzer-Martins.

12. Malformed and Obscene

Abel passed out in the tunnels under LondonAbel stumbles and falls into the ankle deep drain water. He’s been in the tunnels for 5 hours and found nothing but sewage and rats. He’s only managed to keep going through fear of what he’ll become if he stops. Dread is tap dancing heavily in his head, and something seems to be following him. He is lost. Actually he is in the storm drain that carries the Westbourne river to the Thames, but he doesn’t know that.

He tries to get up again but only manages to slide the upper part of his body against the tunnel wall. Then he passes out. If Elsie saw him now she wouldn’t recognise him, he looks so old and ill.

It is the mad harmonica lady that finds him, turns out she knows her way round the the underground rivers very well. She dances along the tunnel, her ripped skirts trailing through the water, singing to herself :

In the blood
in the gene
Malformed and obscene
Its a crack in the glass
And a whisker in the cream

A snake in the garden
He goes unseen
Theres an apple in the tree
And a devil in a dream

There’s bones in these tunnels
Your hands won’t wash clean
There’ll be meat in the belly
Where the carnival has been

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She grabs his arm and drags his now corpse-like body over her shoulder. She is surprisingly strong for an old lady.

When Abel wakes he finds himself in a small cave-like room lit only by candles. There is what looks like an alter on the far wall, and straight in front of him is a roughly carved wooden Jesus on a cross with a hand painted sun as his halo.

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11. Her Pet Project