(an idea sparked by Brian W Aldiss)
As we cross the dark underside of the city, passing through the subway beneath the east orbital, we see the name graffiti’d in dribbling aerosol letters across the curved wall above us… ‘Daryl’. Huge melting tears of faded cobalt-teal paint on the ancient stone. Who was Daryl? What is his story? Why is his name here? We begin to speculate, each with our own take…
Eleanor Redgrove says that when the tenement rent falls into arrears stepdad Perbeck sends young Daryl with the battered Harley Davidson down to the Magic Pawn-Emporium on the corner. The old teller whistles through sparse cracked teeth, times are hard, money’s too tight, but he barters Daryl three glass seeds that fell from the sky during the recent Perseid meteorite shower. Perbeck beats Daryl around the head. Glass seeds? They won’t pay the rent. He throws them out the window where they settle in the grime and moss of the alley, sending down a squirm of roots, small buds uncoil towards the sun. Next morning the alley is choked with translucent glass tendrils of brittle thorns and spines. Enraged, Perbeck steps outside and begins slashing at them to clear a path. He catches his hand on a blade-sharp thorn-edge, pulses lifeblood out over the alien plants. The bleeding does not stop. As his veins, blood-vessels and capillaries empty they’re filled with inhaled air, as he becomes a man composed of air he fades to translucence, while the blood-drenched plants take on the glistening ripe hues of flesh. Until Perbeck is gone. Daryl watches. He sells the rights of what he calls ‘Flesh-Willow’ to the University Horticultural Department for enough to pay off the apartment rent for a year.
The Pilgrim in Vermillion laughs. A good tale, Eleanor. But as the glaciers melt they release a being trapped in the ice for sixty-five-million years. As it swims south it’s snared in trawler-nets and hauled aboard amid a silver deluge of flipping scales. It sees seafarer Tom Addison, and swallows him whole. Assuming his form and memories. In his fading mind there’s an image of home beyond the distant dockside. It bides its time. Once ashore the being that was Tom Addison strides on unfamiliar legs to the terraced house where his family await his return. Daryl opens the door. It swallows him whole and assumes his form. Daryl is conscious of his memories and identity being slowly consumed, so, while he still has time, before his last awareness is extinguished, he runs to the subway beneath the east orbital, and sprays his name in dribbling aerosol letters across the curve above him… ‘Daryl’, in huge melting tears of faded cobalt-teal paint on the ancient stone. Then he forgets.
I like that story says Cat Leonello. But I see Hannah, a desperate sixteen-year-old giving birth in an outside lavatory in a lightning storm. Tearfully she leaves the bloody newborn wrapped in her scarf beside the door, and heads home. Feral dogs find the mewling infant and carry it to their junkyard cave and toss it warm into a nest of blind naked pups, where it sleeps and suckles. In years, as Hannah sinks into a guilty and bereaved addiction, the child crawls, laps rainwater from the dog-bowl, eats food-scraps left over by the pack. In high white full-moon nights he races with the pack, howls at the ghost-moon huge above the skyline, feels the sensual rush of darkness on his skin. While Hannah overdoses in narcotic delirium. Paramedics speed through moon-white night to her aid, impact and lurch out of control as spectral canines in nightflight dart through the beams. The naked body-corpse bleeding into tarmacadam stays unidentified. But Hannah carries the name of the father. Anger drives her to the subway beneath the east orbital carrying an aerosol can. Where she bleeds her secret, never before uttered, in bitter cobalt-teal accusation.
Momentarily, we pause to consider possibilities, staring up at the letters on the wall. Then Cat nudges me. ‘Come on, Daryl, we have miles to cover before dawn.’
I nod. We resume our trek across dark underside of the city.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON