Picture this – a concrete tank five metres high and round - like a drum.
In one side is a hole, about a metre square.
Coming out from the hole is a conveyor belt – filthy – carrying gritty black sludge
The only way in is through the hole, head first or feet first, a narrow squeeze and you're already dirty.
Once inside you see the pit – a tank ten metres deep – another conveyor belt meets the first, and another below that, snaking down to the bottom.
To the left is a ladder.
Below the ladder is a mess - seven years of digested black shit and pools of greasy brown water.
So you go down – your boots sinking into the clinging quicksand.
The heavy smell hits you next – putrid rotten eggs , so bad you gag.
So you take a shovel and a pick and join the gang working in the mud.
You shovel the muck onto the belt – which takes it up and up and out the hole.
Some bits are thick and oozing, slopping off the shovel – these are the worst; as they rise and pass between the belts – half of it sticks to the underside and misses the drop, to fall back into the pit and be shovelled again and again and again.
Some of it is hard with compacted gravel and the shovel won't bite.
So you take the pick and smash it until your arms are on fire.
Then you shovel again.
As you dig you hit white seams of sulphur that release noxious pockets of gas.
Breathing is foul and you long for the taste of clean air.
Sometimes - for ten blissful minutes - you forget the smell – then it returns and you're choking on it again.
Over all of this is the constant sound of the belts growling and rattling – so loud you can't think.
So you dig - and dig - and dig – and dig
You dig until your body hurts
You dig until the callouses on your hands tear and the sweat clings to your t-shirt.
The shit is waist deep in places – the tank is ten metres wide – five across.
Do this for seven hours.
Do it until your back aches and your body feels broken,
until your brain is filled with the sound of gears,
and the smell lingering in your hair -
and the stab of raw skin on your hands -
and all you crave is deep, dreamless sleep.
That was friday.
Saturday night I go for a walk –
It's a dark no-moon night – the mud is wet and heavy – the shadows are claw-like reaching and solid.
I go down - along the industrial scar of the abandoned train track -
down through the vault-less cathedral of the old lime works -
empty eye sockets and hollow stalk kilns singing in the whisper-wind -
down to the beach where the lagoon is high and the night birds call.
On the sand bank – where the pebbles give way to dune grass and the high-tide band of broken driftwood – is a thing.
The thing started as a small spiral of stones – a gift from an unknown stranger a few weeks back. I found it and doubled the size. A week later another stranger added a head and a tail. Now - it's a snail – untouched by the tides, maintained by unseen hands. Large, comical and childlike – a primitive geoglyph fulfilling some old human desire to fill space with shape and meaning.
I walk the snails spiral – reminding myself to slow down and be in the moment.
Be like a snail.
As I return outwards from the centre I see a red glow on the drift-line – the embers of a fire – another gift from an unknown stranger.
I stoke and tend the low heat with wood and dry grass – until it sparks again, and I sit looking out across the channel. Weston Super-Mare glows to the east – Minehead to the south.
The gift-fire feels like a memory of an old ritual – one I've just invented – filled with all the ancient echoes of invitation and spontaneity. So I dance – upfoot, downfoot - round the flames – a grinning fool with a stick, a clown-magician still covered in the black shit of the previous day – and I open the circle to whatever might be out there.
“Come - all you in the night-shadows and the dark-outings – come gather to this fire-side circle and share your tellings and feel-some speech. Come - alien entities and angels; demons, dogmen and beasts – come – all of you whispering voices - on the winds and the waters – the stick-bark shapes and muddy-footed ones – come all – old spirits and forgotten things. I call to whatever or whoever is listening – come – and be welcome.”
The reply is instant – an empty and hollow silence of lapping waves and the crack-spit of the fire.
Nothing – the world is beautiful and mundane.
As it should be. It must take more than a simple speech to coax the bleeding of the otherworld into this one - if it were otherwise, we would see the psychic stain of it spreading from every TV set and every stage, the school-yards would be ablaze with the magic of dreaming nightmares and imagination itself would be outlawed as a dangerous dark art.
I let the fire burn down, embers on the shore, and I leave them there as an offering for the creatures of the night – a gift for the lantern-aliens that play; far out in the shimmer of ships on the channels ebb – a gift for the ungodly secret folk that dwell; hidden in the tide-drifts of beach rubbish that wash down from Cardiff and Newport and Gloucester.
The low red of it winks to me from the damp sand, as standing, I leave the circle - to feel the embrace of darkness creeping over.
The sensations of the night-shadows have changed – though the walls of reality have yet to melt at my command – there is a creeping feeling stealing across me – like the doors between worlds have been opened, just a tiniest crack. The light of the otherworld is faint – as the whisper-winds talk with the tide and the crooked old-man hawthorns tell of the fading bite of winter and the promise of spring.
I walk the sea-wall that separates the beach from the old harbour-lake, and as I go - I feel a wave of good humour building. The made-up ritual-of-the-now calls for absurd dance and I follow willingly. Upfoot, downfoot, forward-hand and stick spinning, face grinning - I make the follow-moves; repeating the same patterns made by the centuries of meat-bodies moving through this mortal reality-tunnel before me.
The same moves as all those that may follow after.
Halfway along the wall I meet the ghost that haunts the shore - lonesome and lost, lingering in a limbo of their own making.
“Why do you remain here?” I ask, but the ghost's voice is lost to the years.
“If it is love that keeps you, then leave - your love has died many years ago. Go on and find them again - in some other place and time.
If it is hate; likewise - whoever you hated has also passed on and forgotten you. Your vengeance is long wasted on the world.
If you fear to leave this place – then return! Find another body and another life and come again and again - there is time for you to live a thousand lives and more before the ending of the world.
The shape of your wyrd is not yet over.
Take the gift of fire I've left - and use it to burn away the ropes that bind you here.
Be free again lost one, and be at peace.”
The idea of the ghost is gone. I'm alone and laughing on the wall. Mad and talking to nothing. Careless-happy and content.
I walk back through the thick-wet mud and creeping silences of the lake-side – past the silhouetted sea-buckthorns and spears of bulrushes; past banks that will soon teem with water-dropsy and across the aching bridge that leads into and under the dark willows.
Beyond the willows - the clearing of creeping old-mans-beard and mile-a-minute vines. The railway spotlight hangs above - glorious-golden and brilliant-bright - flooding me with the idea of warmth. Held by its splendour and the sight-shifting branch-shadows – I pause to take in the moment.
The playing light-dark dance is bewitching – drinking me in; trance drunk – I let myself be swallowed by my surroundings.
The laughter of lantern-aliens is something seen not heard - their speech and song is subtle in shape and structure - appearing as symbols in the fractal chaos of twisting, geometric night-shades and sharp gold-beams. Their greeting is delicate – a soft offering whispered kindly - an invitation like my own; to peer into the world of another and share something of myself with them.
I take the offering gladly and lose sight of the clearing – the vines and trees , the colours and the lights, the dark and the deep – all bleeding, to break and to bloom and to blossom with unworldly life. The night is filled with a sweet alien otherness – an organic architecture of dimensionless chambers and shallow-endless voids – all painted with the language of light-dark and sculpted out of the space that sits between the ideas of solid and the ideas of liquid.
I am a wave and a fluid - a bodiless and discorporate eye-being bearing hypnotic witness to the lands of the lantern-aliens. I am an idea without a self, a simple perception into a foreign telling. Their story is visual and without translation, their song is echoing-silent and layered in lifetimes and sight-lines, their laughter is the image of incomprehensible joy.
The moment is a brief-forever of strange bliss.
The weight of my body pulls me down, a slow-dragging – out of the fey and trick-some timeless soup and back into meat-space. Back to matter – and to moments ordered in chronological succession.
Back to me.
I voice a giggled thanks and let my stumble-steps sway and weave away – up the slide-mud and along the narrow track beneath the train-line. The woven crab-apple and elder trees pass to my left – ahead, the reaching-beech commands a wide arms width to spread.
I realise I haven't ever seen it truthfully before – a great being, full of dark charisma and rich power. I bow in homage and wander on. My body feels heavy and sleep-drowsy now, though still filled with a bouncing buzz that lifts my steps. My mind's grasp on reality is well eased by the journey and – where the narrows widen – I'm confronted by the crooked, shaggy-horned claw hands of tree-trolls and the wisp-bearded glares of wizened wood-giants that loom – skinny stick-boned and threatening.
Their gruesome faces bring a bubbling fresh bout of laughter as I wave and point and trip-step past them – on and on and on. Out of the woods. Under the railway bridge. Up to the door.
The door opens and I barely make it to bed. My body is lead. The warmth welcomes me into sleep.
As I sleep – I dream.
I dream a contorted dream. I am pain – the ache of muscles searing with labour-tears and rip-pull contortions. I am gears throbbing, winding, roaring in the pit. Cogs eating cogs. Wheels eating wheels. Metal on stone – crack of bone. The grunt and pant of sweaty souls slaving – desperate and dirty.
Pick-axe shovel-song on a rough spike-drum. I am a gang member of many gangs. Gangs for the making, gangs for the having, gangs for the selling and gangs for the buying. Gangs for the ruling and gangs for the ruling-fist – gangs greased by blood – the poisoned kiss.
Pressure is building.
Pressure is building.
Pressure is building - a whistle-kettle air-raid sirens warning – arrow-sharp and full of gritty friction. Pain rises and falls – exploitation and control, power and profit – move me and make me – pull me and break me. I am in competition with myself, forced by a self-internalised will – to succeed and to overcome, to push and to bleed and to push and to bleed – to go on and to go over - to the furthest extremes.
Nails in my skin – screws in my bones.
Grind them in.
Grind them down.
Grind them home.
I am a racehorse; an athlete – propelled to my limits, whip-trained and bent by bit; contorted, kick-shaped, reinvented and misfit; shattered, shorn, re-moulded and split– a hand unrelenting coerces my wit. The screams and the cheers – and the hopes and the fears – force my growth and train my hand. Through a sheet of my tears my eye is led – my self will is banned.
One trip, one falter, one crack – that's it.
Confrontation. Desolation. Obliteration. Submit.
Scintillating vortices of screech-screaming blades, disc-sharp wheels – and the wire – and the pain. The pressure and grinding, the push and the striving. The bolt-shot glue-pot – Iron-eyed cold-heart beat-stop death-drop. Dismembered, disembowelled, rendered and fouled.
Through the mutilation and horror of my high-pressure coercion –
I witness the demiurge that drives my suffering.
The hidden hand that plagues my morbid nightmare.
Death-masked face set rictus in a politicians grin – sat on a throne of greed holding a web of chains. A web of souls.
Devouring and consuming – hungry and hate-filled.
It is him. The spit-shake backroom whispered word of power.
Lord of the Gangs. Lord of the Grind. The Grease Palmed God.
The Faceless Man.
I wake – a wet mess of tears and sobbing. Incoherent with the shock of repulsion and agony. Salt pours and my body still aches.
But through my distress I feel a secret power growing.
I have seen his face.
I know his name.
He cannot hide again.