RSS

Tag Archives: Free Fiction

Angry Robot Books: Free Fiction Extract No 2: Slights by Kaaron Warren

As promised, here’s the second extract, this time from the forthcoming and very-creepy-looking Slights! 🙂 Haven’t given it a read yet myself, but have already got it on my Blackberry in the Mobipocket application. 🙂

Enjoy!

******************************************************

slights

What should have happened was this:We got a taxi home.

This is what did happen: We went out for lunch to spend Mum’s lottery win – she won just enough for a slap up meal. Food rich and creamy, chicken breast with camembert, salad with blue cheese dressing, a bottle of sweet wine, champagne, port. We laughed and joked; talked loudly. Mum was in a good mood, not a nagging one. The waiter pretended we were sisters, and that made her giggle. We just babbled on. We had no idea this was our last meal together.

“What do you think of my haircut?” I asked her.
“I wouldn’t go back to that hairdresser, if I were you, Stephanie,” Mum said. She had a fleck of parsley on her lip and when she talked it wobbled.
“I know. Stupid bitch. I said I wanted a change and she does this to me.”
I had splurged and asked the hairdresser to give me a new style. She wanted to cut inches off, saying, “Once you pass eighteen, you have to be more careful.”
I said, “Fine.” How old did she think I was? She snip snipped. Dark, wet entrails of my hair fell onto her thighs, criss-crossed the diamonds of
her fishnet stockings. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
The hairdresser said, “You know, you’ve got the sort of face which would suit a good red colour. You need a bit of a lift at the moment. Everything looks a bit flat. And maybe we should have a go at
your eyebrows.”
She was a very slim girl. Her hair was black, cut like a metal helmet. She wore a tight silver T-shirt, a thick corduroy skirt, the fishnet stockings. She sat in a rolling chair, travelling around my body like I
was an island, snip snip. She spoke incessantly, complained of slight after slight.
She sighed. “Anyway, I’m sure you’re not interested.”
I looked up from her thigh and she wasn’t happy with me. She dried my hair without speaking, then held the mirror up for me to see. I said nothing.

“Are you happy with that?” she said.
“You are kidding me,” I said.
It shocked her. I suppose you’re meant to lie. I paid her even though she made me look like a fucking bimbo. All this from a woman who told me, confidentially, that she thought reading novels wasn’t smart because it’s all just made up.
“What do you read?” I asked her.
“Oh, I love my magazines,” she said. “I can read them over and over, there’s always something different.”
Mum laughed and called me a fibber.
“Oh, Stephanie. You’re just trying to take attention
away from your hair,” she said. “This is how the girl talks. I swear.” I took a sip of wine and grimaced. Mum always chose sweet stuff. “We might as well drink lemonade,” I said.
“Well, your hair is fine, really. You’re just not used to looking pretty.”
“Thanks a lot. I’ll book you in, if you like.”
That’s what we talked about. I joshed Mum about, paying her attention, making jokes about the waiter, who had terrible acne, and telling stories about other diners in the restaurant.

She said, “You sound just like your Dad. He used to whisper into my ear, telling the most outrageous tales. Should have heard what he told me about my father.”
“What?” I didn’t like to talk about my maternal grandfather, Joshua. He died when I was five, and I have a feeling he used to touch me; sometimes I get a glimpse of his face in my memory. It’s shiny, a sucked lollipop, and very close to me. He was a grouch most of the time, generous and soft when you were alone with him.
“Come on, Mum, what did Dad say?” I passed her the plate of chocolates the waiter had laid on our table. They were dark, rich, and we planned to eat every one.
“He said that your granddad Joshua had affairs with everyone willing in town. Everyone.” She covered her mouth. We didn’t often talk about
things like that.
“What, the men too?” I said, and she coughed in horror.
“You’re a storyteller, just like your Dad was,” she said. I knew that was true; Dad was a detective long before he joined the police force. I wondered if Dad’s stories were ridiculous, or if they were true.
I dropped the keys on the way to the car. I’ve never been good with alcohol; a couple of glasses, still under the limit, and I’m screaming. Mum was giggling and muttering away, feeling no pain.
Feeling no pain.

I suddenly grew tired of it; being with her, pretending to be friends, enjoying her company. I drove quickly, wanting to drop her at home and go somewhere alone, somewhere I didn’t feel like a fake. I should have called her a taxi and sent her home; that way, she would have been resentful, but alive.
“The car smells nice,” she said.
“New leather in a can,” I said. One of the best smells. I drove quickly. I thought I saw a child in the road and I swerved, my wheels span and I lost it. I remember very clearly, though I said I didn’t. I
said I had no recollection; my head ached trying to remember.
But I remember my mother’s arm coming across to protect me, hold me in my seat as if I were a child. My arms went over my face and head
but I still cracked my skull.

I remember looking at her; she looked at me. She was terrified of death; more terrified of my death. “Careful,” she said, then we hit the wall.
This wall was only there to keep the sound of the highway from reaching the wealthy residents in the suburbs behind it. If the wall wasn’t there, my mother may not have died. The papers loved it.
“Wall of Death – the quiet life versus the long life,” all that.
I told people, especially Peter, that she died straight away, without a word. I told no one about where I’d been, that I’d smashed my skull and found myself in a cold, dark room full of people, faces familiar but beyond my tongue; I couldn’t voice their names. The board I lay on was ridged with razors, sharp lines of pain down my back.
The faces came into focus. Some I knew; people I knew were there. Their eyes watered. They weren’t blinking; that was it. They stared like
zombies. I could smell them. They were so close now I could see the blood bang bang in their veins.

I touched my wrist to feel my pulse. Bang bang.
Bang bang.
“Peter?” I said.
He was there. He stepped forward when I saw him. His hands rested by his side; he carried a potato peeler. I laughed. They all shrunk back. These were weak creatures, scared of the light and the sound of my voice.
“Where’s Mum?” I said, to keep them away.
They shuffled forward and I recognised some of them. The lady from the lolly shop at the end of the road, her fat arms spilling out of her tight, flowery sleeves.
“I’ll have a red traffic light,” I said. She grabbed my tongue but I slipped it out. Her fingers tasted of piss and dirt.
A middle-aged man with spiky blond hair, his eyes bulging and red, began to pile books onto my chest. One, another, then another.
A handsome boy with dark brown eyes and one tiny scar on his chin
held me down by the shoulders. Another book and another, I couldn’t breathe, the weight crushed my chest. A little girl with greasy hair breathed into my mouth.
“You need to get off the anchovies,” I said.
She bared her teeth at me.

And all these strangers surrounded me; people with car keys, shopping bags, bus tickets. All surrounding, leaning in to sniff me.
Kids I remembered from school clung to Peter like he was their father. I knew their names, could remember their weaknesses: Darren, Cry Bobby, Belinda Green, Neil. I tried to say milk fight but milk was in my mouth, sour milk, and I couldn’t turn to spit it out. I dribbled some out of the corner of my mouth but the rest sat there, waiting for my epiglottis to give in and allow the swallow to continue.
I felt a nibble at my ear; now I could turn my head. My neighbour, Gary, a gross sleazebag who thought he ran the street, thought he could manipulate me.
I spat milk into his face; he grinned, let it drip to the floor. I sat up, causing a ripple through the room. There was the waiter from the restaurant Mum and I had eaten in, his face full of acne. The food he had served me was still in my belly.

“Acker Face,” I said. Miaow. He wrinkled his nose, lifted his arms, pushed the sharpened tines of a fork into the meat of my thigh. I could feel the idea of pain but not pain itself. A thin clear liquid ran from the holes, like the cooked blood of a well done chicken. Behind him were more strangers; from the restaurant? Had they been there, seen my mother’s last meal?
I wanted to ask them about her face. Was she happy? Was this the best time of her life? Could things only get worse? It was lucky then that she died. Someone tied knots in my hair, tugged at it. The skinny hairdresser. “I paid you,” I said. She pulled harder, ripping out clumps of my hair out by the roots and tossing them to the floor. She wasn’t listening.
None of them listened.

Another kid from school, a shitty little bore, Ian, Ian Pope, was there and some young kid in cricket whites, “You’re out,” I said, and he swung his bat flat onto my nose. I heard a crunch and felt blood cover my chin.
This was no sun-dappled heaven. These people did not love me. The driver of the other car – was he dead too? Did we all die? But there was no other car. A wall. A box which looked like a child. Another car. Opposite direction. Stopped to help. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I shouldn’t be here. I should be at home. I shouldn’t be here. This is not where I belong, stinking weakness waiting for something, pain. I moved my limbs, opened my mouth to scream, leave me, leave me. They seemed to exist for me.
Somebody saved my life. Rescued me from the dark room.

I missed my mother’s funeral. Peter and I were now orphans. He took charge of everything, “I made the arrangements,” he said. The image in my mind was of Mum’s body, people moving her rag-doll limbs until she sat as they wished her to sit.

In hospital, the smell of jasmine saved me. The nurses brought it in when they realised it made me smile. I lay with jasmine under my nose, I sucked it in, because my nostrils were full of shit and mothballs and the woman in the next bed began to choke and moan. I sat up to comfort her, but I could not sit up. I could not move.
Then I felt myself lift, my body turned over, and I looked at the two of us. She was writhing, dying, and there was nothing I could do. I realised then that I had died too, and I closed my eyes and waited to be taken to the cold room. It’s time to go back, I thought.
They’re waiting.

This second death, so soon after the first, surprised the nurses, I think. They did not expect me to go into arrest once I was in the safety of the hospital.
Once they had brought me back from the dead at the scene of the crime. Scene of the accident. It surprised them in the dark room, too. But I was not there for long this time. Someone came along and saved me.
“Stephanie? Stephanie? Are you with us?” The stink of shit and mothballs was gone. It was the hospital, antiseptic, starch, medicine and blood. I returned from the room and there were people surrounding
me, but they were medicos doing their job, watching tensely for me not to die so they wouldn’t be blamed.
“Mum?” I said. I knew the answer. One of them sat by my bed and took my hand.

There was kindness in the touch, and pity, but no respect.
“Your mother died instantly. She didn’t suffer,” the nurse said. I knew that wasn’t true. I remembered her screaming. I didn’t want to say that. The scream was on me and I didn’t want anyone to know about it.
Peter said, “God, you gave us a fright.”
“He’s been shuddering like the Nazis were goosestepping on his grave,” my nurse said. I quite took to her. She could shock a room full of patients without blinking.
“I’ve been somewhere terrible,” I whispered to Peter.

SLIGHTS by Kaaron Warren
520pp mass-market paperback,
eBook anddownloadable audio format
UK/Australia: July 2009
North America: October 2009
more? angryrobotbooks.com

Want more info about Kaaron? Check out her LJ here, and check out this great interview with Kaaron on My Favourite Books! 🙂

Be EPIC!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 8, 2009 in Angry Robot

 

Tags: , , , ,

Angry Robot Books: Free Fiction Extracts No 1

Hey Guys and Girls, got some free fiction for you! 🙂 Granted, it is only an extract from the full novel, but still, it should be enough to wet your appetite! 🙂 First up, I’ve got an extract from fellow South African and Angry Robot author, Lauren Beukes’ novel, Moxyland! 🙂

Enjoy!

****************************
moxyland

Kendra

There is already spillage out of the doors by the time I get to Propeller, which can only be a good sign when it’s just gone six-thirty. I feel fractal with nerves, or maybe it’s that I’m on
my fourth Ghost in under an hour.

‘You’re late.’ Jonathan latches onto my arm at the door and swishes me inside through the crowd. I can’t believe how many people there are, crowded into the gallery. There is a queue up the stairs to see Johannes Michael’s atom mobile, but the major throng is in the main room, and not, I regret to say, for my retro print photos.

They’re here to see Khanyi Nkosi’s sound installation, freshly returned from her São Paulo show and all the resulting controversy. She only installed it this afternoon, snuck in undercover with security, so it’s the first time I’ve seen it in the flesh. It’s gruesome, red and meaty, like something dead turned inside out and mangled, half-collapsed in on itself with spines and ridges and fleshy strings and some kind of built-in speakers, which makes the name even more disturbing: ‘Woof & Tweet’.

I don’t understand how it works, but it’s to do with reverb and built-in resonator-speakers. It’s culling sounds from around us, remixing ambient audio, conversation, footsteps, glasses clinking, rustling clothing, through the systems of its body, disjointed parts of it inflating, like it’s breathing, spines quivering.

It’s hard to hear it over the hubbub, but sometimes it’s like words, almost recognisable. But mostly it’s just noise, a fractured music undercut with jarring sounds that seem to come randomly. Sometimes it sounds like pain. It is an animal. Or alive at any rate. Some lab-manufactured plastech bio-breed with just enough brainstem hard-wired to respond to input in different ways, so it’s unpredictable – but not enough to hurt, apparently, if you believe the info blurb on the work.
‘It’s gratuitous. She could have done it any other way. It could have been beautiful.’

‘Like something you’d put in your lounge, Kendra? It’s supposed to be revolting. It’s that whole Tokyo tech-grotesque thing. Actually, it’s so derivative, I can’t stand it. Can we move
along?’
I run my hand along one of the ridges and the thing quivers, but I can’t determine any noticeable difference in the sounds.
‘Do you think it gets traumatised?’
‘It’s just noise, okay? You’re as bad as that nutjob who threw blood at Khanyi at the Jozi exhibition. It doesn’t have nerve endings. Or no, wait, sorry, it does have nerve endings, but it doesn’t have pain receptors.’
‘I meant, do you think it gets upset? By all the attention? I mean, isn’t it supposed to be able to pick up moods, reflect the vibe?’

‘I think that’s all bullshit, but you could ask the artist. She’s over there schmoozing with the money, like you should be.’
Woof & Tweet suddenly kicks out a looped fragment of a woman’s laugh that startles me and half the room, before it slides down the scale into a fuzzy electronica.

‘See, it likes you.’
‘Don’t be a jerk, Jonathan.’
‘There’s some streamcast journalist who wants to interview
you, by the way. And he’s pretty cute.’
My stomach spasms. This is another thing Jonathan does to
keep me in my place – as in, we’re not together.
‘Great, thanks. I need a drink.’
‘I’ll get it. Just go talk to Sanjay. What do you want?’
‘Anything.’ It’s unlikely that the gallery bar would have
Ghost on hand.
Jonathan propels me in the direction of Sanjay, who is standing in a cluster of people, in deep conversation. The one is clearly money, some corporati culture patron or art buyer; the other, I realise, is Khanyi Nkosi. I recognise her from an interview
I saw, but she is so warmly energetic, waving her hands in the air to make a point and grinning, that I can’t match her to her work. And the third, I realise with a shock, is Andile. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he should be here, considering he picked me on the basis of my work, but I still haven’t come clean with Jonathan about the branding, and this doesn’t strike me as the time.

I can’t deal with this right now. I push through the queue, detouring back towards the entrance and the open air – only to skewer someone’s foot with the ’40s-style blue velvet heels I bought for the occasion.

‘Hey! Easy!’
‘Oh god, I’m sorry.’ Shit, I really, really, really need a Ghost. I wonder if I can make it to the spaza down the road and back before Jonathan notices.
‘No worries. Art is what the artist does, right? So technically, my bruised toes could be worth something?’
I didn’t even realise it was Toby whose foot I had crushed.
‘So you must be the famous artist, then?’
‘I’m the less famous artist. I mean, I’m not; the thing, it’s not
mine. But you know that.’ I laugh self-consciously, still thinking about how to get a Ghost, my mind chanting a little litany of need, wondering if they serve them at the bar.
‘Is now a good time to get an interview?’
‘You’re the journalist?’
‘Ouch!’ He mock-staggers back, clutching his heart. ‘Yeah. I brought my own phone mic and everything.’
‘I’m sorry. That’s not what I… Oh God. Can we just start again?’
‘Sure. No prob.’
He turns away, clears his throat, and then does a little twirl, one hand raised in fabulous salute, hamming it up like he’s on
the red carpet.
‘Hello. I’m Toby. I’ll be your journo for the evening.’
And I can’t help but laugh.
‘Do you have a drink?’
‘No, thanks. Someone’s getting me one.’
‘Rocking.’ He suddenly turns serious. ‘Okay, now listen, Special K, if you want, we can talk later. I know it’s your opening and you’ve got things to do, people to schmooze. I will totally understand if now is not the most opportune moment.’
‘Actually, do you want to get out of here?’

‘What?’
‘Just for a sec. I need some fresh air. And a drink.’
‘I thought someone was getting you one.’
‘A non-alcoholic.’
‘Ooooooh. Right.’ He winks.
‘You want to come?’
‘Sure. Can my mic come too?’
We’re not the only people hanging outside. We have to push through a crowd, including an astonishingly gorgeous blonde, with fucked-up hair, who makes me feel conservative. We get halfway down the block before I take off my heels in disgust.
‘That doesn’t make it into the copy, okay?’
He holds up his hands. ‘Do you see me making notes?’
We walk in silence for another block, stepping over a bergie passed out in the street. And I’m relieved not to feel any sense of an urgent compulsion to touch him. And no Aitos in sight, either.
At the spaza, Toby opens the fridge at the back. ‘Ghost, I’m assuming?’ he says, putting it on his phone.
It’s cold and crisp and clean and it hurts my teeth and I realise my hands have been shaking all this while – or maybe my whole body. And this can’t be good, but it doesn’t feel bad.
‘Mind if I join you?’
Toby cracks another can. ‘Wow. You really are an addict deluxe,’ he says, a little too admiringly.
‘Hey, did you check my coat tonight?
‘Yeah?’
His BabyStrange is black, which is a relief after the goreporn he was projecting last time I saw him.
‘It’s my little shout out to Self-Portrait.’
‘Cute. So, do you want to do this?’
‘Am I allowed to take notes now?’

‘Yeah, yeah.’ I wave my hand impatiently.
He hooks a mic into his phone and points it at me. ‘So. What’s with the oldschool?’
‘Didn’t you read the press release?’
‘Let’s say I didn’t.’
I quote it from memory. ‘Adams’s use of non-digital format is inspired by her fascination with the capacity for error…’
‘Okay. Let’s skip the press release.’
‘Ah, it’s just – film is more interesting than digital. There’s a possibility of flaw inherent in the material. It’s not readily available, so I have to get it over the Net, and some of it has rotted or it’s been exposed even before I load it in the camera, but I don’t know that until I develop it.’
‘Like Self-Portrait?’
‘And it’s not just the film. It’s working without the automatic functions. The operator can fuck up too.’
‘Did you fuck up?’
‘Ha! That’s the great thing about working with damaged materials.
You’ll never know.’
‘It’s the same in audio, you know. Digital was too clean when it first came out, almost antiseptic. The fidelity was too clear. You lost the background noise, the sounds you don’t even pick up, but it’s dead without the context. The audio techs had to adapt the digital to synth the effects of analogue. How insane is that? It’s contentious, though – now they’re saying it’s been bullshit all along, just nostalgics missing the hiss of the recording
equipment.’
‘That’s exactly it. You can do the same thing in photography. Apply effects, lock-out the autofocus, click up for exposure, all to recreate the manual.’

‘And you’re looking for the background noise.’
‘Yeah. Or something like it.’ I set my empty can neatly down beside my shoes. ‘Got enough?’
‘Yeah. I’m good. You give good soundbite,’ he says admiringly, so that another Ghost down, we’re still sitting on the pavement, just talking, away from the madding, when a darkhaired boy I recognise as the guy from the band, from Andile’s office, comes walking down towards us.
‘Hey, photographer girl,’ he says, friendlier than last time. ‘Damian, remember? From Kill Kitten?’
‘Hey, Dame,’ says Toby. ‘How’s the bandscene? Did you catch the cast from your gig?’
‘Yeah, man, it was killer. Shot. We really appreciate the exposure.’
‘It was all you. I just filmed what I experienced. You guys were tight.’
‘Well, it was great, man, thanks. We’re playing next Saturday,
if you want on the guest list.’
‘Thanks. So, how do you know our star rising over here?’ Toby asks, nodding at me. We are both still sitting, sprawled on the kerb, so Damian is looking down at us.
There is a drawnout silence.
‘Ho-kay,’ Toby shrugs in mock defeat. ‘There’s obviously some deep unspoken going on here, and I do not need to know the gruesome details.’
‘It’s nothing like that. We’re…’ I look to Damian for approval, but he doesn’t seem concerned. ‘We’re both branded.’
‘How come you’re not chugging Ghosts, then?’
‘Are you kidding me?’ Damian laughs. ‘I’ve had three already tonight.’ He drops to sit on the pavement beside us.

‘How much do you drink in a day?’ I ask, trying to make it sound throwaway.
‘Six, seven? Somewhere around there. My girlfriend keeps tabs on me.’ I don’t say anything. I’m doing nine to twelve. This is my seventh since four-thirty.
‘It’s lucky you’re both the same brand,’ Toby says, and is that
envy in his voice?
‘What if you were competitive? There must be a clause about that. “Section 31c. Thou shalt not fraternise with the enemy.”’
‘Yeah, can you imagine?’ Damian says. ‘Coke wars for real.’
‘No rival soft-drink friends for you!’
‘I don’t think that’s going to be an issue anytime soon,’ I interrupt their banter. ‘Andile said they’re not doing this with other brands just yet. Ghost has the proprietary licence for three months.’
‘Yeah, but we’re only first gen. They’ll be popping out sponsor babies like toast.’
‘I hate that word.’
‘Toast?’ chirps Toby, trying to find a way in.
‘And what happened to it being exclusive?’
‘You’ll be able to buy your way in. Got enough cash, enough cool, you’re representing. Just like the cosmetics.’
‘So we’ll be outmoded already.’
‘Bleeding edge no more.’
‘So, Dame, where’s yours? Can I see?’
‘Toby!’ I’m scandalised, but Damian shrugs it off.
‘S’cool. I don’t mind. I signed up for the freakshow.’ He turns his back to us and yanks down the collar of his shirt to reveal the faint radiance of the glowlogo between his shoulderblades.
‘That doesn’t seem exactly high vis,’ Toby says.

‘Not now, but I have a tendency to take my shirt off on stage. I get hot, okay? It’s not like some sex-appeal thing. Hey, are you recording this?’
‘Sorry, bad habit. I’m a junkie for collecting vid. I can delete it if you want.’
‘No, it’s cool. Shouldn’t we be heading back, anyway? Aren’t
there supposed to be speeches and shit? And I know Andile wanted to say what’s up.’
‘You go ahead, we’ll catch up,’ Toby says, laconic, and this suddenly strikes me as a very Jonathan thing to do.
‘I think I’ll go with Dame. We’ve been gone a while.’
The gallery seems even more oppressive, but I’m less freaked
now, even when I see Andile talking to Jonathan. Luckily I get side-tracked by Mr Muller.
‘Congratulations. It’s wonderful. Wonderful. Although I’m not sure about this messy animal thing. It’s very Damien Hirst. Cheap shock-treatment stuff. Yours is infinitely superior. And people will see that, take my word for it.’
I’m still basking in the afterglow, when I overhear some overgroomed
loft dwellers giggling into their wine. ‘And this. I’m so tired of Statement! Like she’s the only angst child ever to embrace the distorted body image.’
‘Oh Emily. I quite like the undeveloped. Because she is. You
know, still young, coming into herself. The artist in flux, emergent.’
‘Well, precisely. It’s so young. You can’t even tell if it’s technically good or not, it’s all so… damaged.’
‘Don’t let the heathen savages get to you.’ Toby has popped up again, speaking loud enough for the woman to hear, but I’m more amused than insulted. I’m about to point out that under the black of Self-Portrait is a photograph of a photograph, clutched in my fingers, captured in the mirror with a reflected flash of light. That it’s all meant to be damaged. But then I realise I don’t have to. I don’t have to make my motives transparent.
Damian appears at my shoulder with the astonishing blonde, who he introduces as his girlfriend, Vix, a fashion designer for her own small label. Vix distracts Toby, the two of them heading off to the bar to lay in supplies for all of us, leaving me with a convenient gap to ask Damian if he’s experienced any weird side-effects. He seems puzzled.
‘Like what? I had really mif flu for about four days. Sinuses and sweats, but it worked its way out.’
I try and tell him about the thing with the Aito, but it comes out all garbled.
‘It doesn’t sound that freaky,’ says Damian. ‘You felt sorry for her. You stopped to help. That’s pretty awesome.’
I’m miserable that he doesn’t get it. ‘It wasn’t empathy or altruism or anything. It was like I had to, like a real compulsion.’
The same way we’re compelled to drink Ghost, I think but don’t say. Damian isn’t paying attention. He’s watching his girlfriend
across the room, trying to get through to the bar while Toby clowns around, making her laugh.
It makes me feel desperately alone. There are all these people circling, like Johannes Michael’s swirl of paper atoms upstairs, but the connections to me are only tenuous.
‘You know the dogs also function on nano?’ Damian says, ripping his eyes from Vix. ‘Maybe you got crossed lines,’ he jokes.
‘Maybe.’

We’re cut short by a flurry of activity at the door. I’ve been aware of a low peripheral clamour, but now it erupts. There are people shoving, wine spilling from glasses and yelps of dismay.
‘This is a private function!’ Jonathan of all people yells, spouting clichés at the rush of people in black pushing in through the crowd, their faces blurred like they’re anonymous informants in documentary footage. It is so disturbing, that it takes me a second to catch on that they’re wearing smear masks. Another to realise that they’re carrying pangas and a prog-saw.
A few people scream, sending out a reverb chorus from Woof & Tweet. The crowd presses backwards. But then the big guy in
front yells, ‘Death to corporate art!’ and Emily, the woman who dissed my work, laughs scornfully and really loudly. ‘Oh god! Performance art. How gauche.’ There are murmurs of relief and snickers, and the living organism that is the crowd reverses direction, now pressing in again to see.
Damian grabs my arm and pulls me back out of the front line, because I haven’t moved, just as one of the men (women?), towering over the others, grabs Emily by her hair and drags her forward, forcing her to her knees, spitting with contempt, ‘Don’t you dare make me complicit in your garbage!’
The terrorist raises the panga, pulling back Emily’s head by the roots of her hair, exposing her throat. She raises a hand to her mouth, pretends to stifle a yawn.
‘Are you going to chop me into little itty-bitty pieces now? This is so melodramatic.’ And it is. The crowd is riveted. But I didn’t think this kind of promotional stunt would be Sanjay’s thing.

From the bar, Toby catches my eye and mimes mock applause to the spectacle. Vix has her hands clamped tight round his arm, looking shocked and excited at the same time. And that seems to be the prevailing mood. Not outrage or fear, but excitement.
People are grinning, nodding, eyes overbright, which makes it seem all the more horrific.
But what frightens me most is the reaction of one of the men in smear. When the protagonist yanks Emily’s head further back, the other guy moves forward, as if frightened himself.
‘What are you–?’ he starts, but the one with Emily’s hair twisted round his wrist gives an impatient jerk of his head, and his hesitant friend backs off. Bowing his legs, he raises the arm with the panga as if to slice across her throat, only at the last instant – so late that she winces back involuntarily – he deflects the blow to a side-swipe, aimed not at her, but at Woof & Tweet, which is directly in front of them.
The thing emits a lean crackle of white noise. The audience is rapt, camera phones clicking. There is a scattershot of applause, and laughter, as the others move in, four of them, with one guarding the door, to start laying into it. It’s only when the artist starts wailing that it becomes apparent that this was not part of the program. And only then do the smiles drop from mouths, like glasses breaking.
Mr Hesitant hangs back as the others step in, pangas tearing through the thin flesh and ribs of Khanyi Nkosi’s thing with a noise like someone attacking a bicycle with an axe. The machine responds with a high-hat backbeat for the melody assembled from the screams and skitters of nervous laughter. It doesn’t die quietly, transmuting the ruckus, the frantic calls to the SAPS, and Khanyi wailing, clawing, held back by a throng of people. It’s like it’s screaming through our voices, the
background noise, the context.
The bright sprays of blood make it real, spattering the walls, people’s faces, my prints, as the blades thwack down again and again. The police sirens in the distance are echoed and distorted as Woof & Tweet finally collapses in on itself, rattling with wet smacking sounds.
They disappear into the streets as quickly as they came, shaking
the machetes at us, threatening don’t follow, whooping like kids. With the sirens closing in, the big guy spits on the mangled corpse. Then, before he ducks out the door and into the night, he glances up once, quickly, at the ceiling. No one else seems to notice, but I follow his gaze up to the security cams, getting every angle.
I’m sick with adrenalin. The woman who was taken hostage is screaming in brittle, hyperventilating gasps. Her friend is trying to wipe the blood off her face, using the hem of her dress, unaware that she has lifted it so high that she is flashing her lacy briefs. Khanyi is kneeling next to the gobs of her animal construct, trying to reassemble it, smearing herself with the bloody lumps of flesh. There is a man trying to comfort one of the drinksgirls, but he is the one weeping, laid waste by the shock. Toby is clambering down from the bar, why I don’t know, Mr Muller is sitting slumped on the staircase, hugging the banister like a friend. Vix fumbles with lighting a cigarette, her hands shaking, until Damian materialises by her side, takes her hands in his, and holds the lighter steady. She folds into him like a collapsible paper lantern. And even from here, I can see him mouth her name. I hadn’t even realised he was gone.

There is still a prevailing undercurrent of thrill, a rush from the violence – no one was hurt, apart from Khanyi Nkosi’s thing. Everyone is on their phones, taking pictures, talking.
Toby is shouting above the ruckus, into his mic, like he’s reporting live. There are even more people trying to wedge into the space, so that the cops, who have finally arrived, have to shove their way inside. Self Portrait is covered in a mist of blood. I move to wipe it clean, although I’m scared the blood will smear, will stain the paper, but just then Jonathan wraps his arms around me and kisses my neck. And now it’s my turn to collapse against him.
‘It’s okay, sweetheart, everything’s going to be okay.’

MOXYLAND by Lauren Beukes

JULY 2009
UK/Australia 320pp B-format paperback and eBook

OCTOBER 2009
US/Canada 386pp mass-market paperback

Charles Stross says: “It’s what you get when you take your classic 80s deracinated corporate alienation sensibility, detonate about six kilos of semtex under it, and scatter the smoking wreckage across 21st century South Africa – full of unselfconscious spiky originality, the larval form of a new kind of SF munching its way out of the intestines of the wasp-paralysed caterpillar of cyberpunk.”

For more info on Lauren Beukes, check out her site here, and while you’re at it, go to Moxyland’s page at Angry Robot! 🙂

Be EPIC!

Next post: An Extract from Kaaron Warren’s Slights!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 7, 2009 in Angry Robot

 

Tags: , , ,

 
LAUREGALIE

BOOK REVIEWS

C.T. Phipps

Author of horror, sci-fi, and superheroes.

M.D. Thalmann

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist with an affinity for satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

Greyhart Press

Publisher of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Thrillers

Joseph D'Lacey

My pen is my compass. It points to the page.

This Is Horror

The Voice of Horror

reviewsm8

Book, comic and sometimes film reviews

The Talkative Writer

Musings by speculative fiction author Karen Miller

Cohesion Press

The Battle Has Just Begun

SplatterGeist Reviews

Books worth a read.

Indie Hero

Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller

Paws in the Porridge

'She is like a muse...who kicks people in the face.'

meganelizabethmorales

MANNERS MAKETH MAN, LOST BOYS FAN & PERPETAUL CREATIVITY.

Matthew Sylvester

father, author, martial artist

Shannon A Thompson

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author