The Behold of the Eye
by Hal Duncan


The Imagos of Their Appetence

"The Behold of the Eye," Flashjack's laternal grandsister (adopted), Pebbleskip had told him, "is where the humans store the imagos of their appetence—which is to say, all the things they prize most highly, having had their breath taken away by the glimmering glamour of it.  Like a particular painting or sculpture, a treasure chest of gold and jewels, or a briefcase full of thousand-whatever notes, or the dream house seen in a magazine, a stunning vista seen on their travels, even other humans.  Whatever catches their eye, you see, she'd said, is caught by the eye, stored there in the Behold, all of it building up over a person's lifetime to their own private hoard of wonders.  The humans say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you know, but as usual they've got it arse-about; what they should be saying is something else entirely."

"Beauty is in the Behold of the Eye," Pebbleskip had said.  "So that's where most of us faeries live these days."

*     *     *

Flashjack had hauled himself up beside her on the rim of the wine-glass he was skinnydipping in, shaken Rioja off his wings, and looked around at the crystal forest of the table-top he'd, just a few short hours ago, been born above in a moment of sheer whimsy, plinking into existence at the clink of a flippant toast to find himself a-flutter in a wild world of molten multicolour— mandalas wheeling on the walls and ceiling, edges of every straight line in the room streaming like snakes.  He'd skittered between trailers of wildly gesticulating hands, gyred on updrafts of laughter, danced in flames of lighters held up to joints, and landed on the nose of a snow-leopard that was lounging in the shadows of a corner of vision.  He'd found it a comfy place to watch one of the guests perform an amazing card trick with a Jack of Hearts, so he'd still been hunkered there, gawping like a loon at the whirl of the party, and making little flames shoot out of his fingertips (because he could), when Pebbleskip came fluttering down to dance in the air in front of him.

"Nice to get out once in a while, eh?" she'd said.  "Hi, I'm Pebbleskip."

"I'm... Flashjack," he'd decided.  "What's in a while?  Is it like upon a time?  And out of what?"

Her face had scrunched, her head tilted in curiosity.

"Ah," she'd said.  "You must be new."

Since then she'd been explaining.

*     *     *

The funscape had settled into solidity now, with the drunken, stoned and tripping human revellers all departed into the dawn, the host in her bed dead to the world, but through a blue sky window to the morning, sunlight slanted in to sparkle on the trees of wine-glasses and towers of tumblers all across the broad plateau of the breakfast bar.  It painted the whole room with a warm clarity which Flashjack, being newborn, found easily as exciting as the acid-shimmered kaleidoscope of his birth.  The mountains and cliffs of leather armchairs and sofa, bookcases and shelves, fireplace, fridge and counter were all very grand; the empty bottles had such a lush green glow to them inside; the beer-cans with the cigarette-butts were seductively spooky spaces, hollow and echoing; even the ashtrays piled high with roaches had a heady scent.  As Pebbleskip had been explaining, Flashjack had been exploring.  Now he dangled his legs over the edge of the wine-glass alongside her, surveying his domain.

"You mean they'd keep all this in their Behold?" he said.  "Forever?"

"Nah, probably not," said Pebbleskip.  "Mostly they'd think this place was a mess.  The rugs are nice, and it's kind of cosy, but they'd have to be a quirky bugger to Beholden this as is.  No, if this place was in the Behold it'd probably be a bit more... Ikea."

Flashjack nodded solemnly, not knowing what Ikea meant but assuming it meant something along the lines of goldenish; the sunlight, its brilliant source and bold effect, had rather captured his imagination.

*     *     *

"You'll see what I mean when you find your Beholder, said Pebbleskip, which you'll want to be doing toot sweet.  I'd take you home with me, see, but two of us in the same Behold?  Just wouldn't work, ends up in all sorts of squabbles over interior design; and the human, well, one faery in the Behold of the Eye, that just gives them a little twinkle of imagination, but more than one and it's like a bloody fireworks display.  They get all unstable and artistic, blinded by the glamour of everything, real or imagined, concrete or abstract.  They get confused between beauty and truth and meaning, you see, start thinking every butterfly-brained idea must be true; before you know it they've gone schizo on you and you're in a three-way firefight with all the angels and the demons, them and their bloody ideologies."

Pebbleskip sounded rather bitter.  Best not to ask, thought Flashjack.

"I'm not saying it can't work sometimes," she said, "but a lot of humans can't handle one faery in their Behold, never mind two.  Mind you, if you find one that's got the scope . . . well, it can be a grand thing . . . for all the arguments about where to put the Grand Canyon."

She looked kind of sad at this, Flashjack thought.

"Anyway, I'm off.  My Beholder's too fucked from the come-down just now to know I'm gone, but she'll miss me if I'm not there when she wakes up."

And with that Pebbleskip whirled in the air, and swooped to slip under the door, Flashjack darting after her, crying, "Wait!" as she zipped across the hallway and into the bedroom.  He poked his head round the door to find her standing on the host of the party's closed eyelid.

"How do I find my Beholder?" he said.

"Use your imagination," she said.

"But how will I know if it's the right human?"

"They'll know you when they see you," she said.

And disappeared.

*     *     *

The Azure Sky and the Golden Sun

Using his imagination, because he wasn't terribly practiced at it and couldn't think what else to do, simply took Flashjack back to his birthplace in the kitchen/living-room, where he sat down dejectedly with his back to the trunk of a bonsai tree on top of the fridge, gazing out of the window at the azure sky and the golden sun rising in it, at the backyard of grass and bushes and walled-in dustbins, the blocks of sandstone tenement ahead and to the left, all with their own windows facing out on the same backyard, some windows lit, some dark, but each with different curtains or blinds, flowerpots on a ledge here or there, and the odd occupant now and then visible at a window, making coffee, washing dishes, pottering, scratching, yawning.  Using his imagination then, because he was a fast learner, had Flashjack quickly off his arse, his face pressed through the glass, realising the true potential of his situation.

There were a lot more rooms in this world than he'd previously considered.

*     *     *

Slipping through the window with a pop, he spiralled up into the air to find yet more tenements beyond the rooftops, roads and streets of them, high-rise tower-blocks in the distance, a park off to his right, a ridiculously grand edifice to the west which, a passing sparrow explained, was the university building, in the mock-Gothic style, and not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as the Alexander "Greek" Thomson church across the road from it.  He snagged the sparrow's tail, clambered up onto its back, and let it carry him swooping and circling over the "West End" of the "city" (which was, he learned, called Glasgow), nodding as it sang the praises of its favourite Neo-Classical architecture.  The sparrow had a bit of a one track mind though, and Flashjack wasn't getting much of an overall sense of the Big Picture, so with a thank you, but I must be going he somersaulted off the bird to land on a chimney, considered his options for a second then, rising on the hummingbird blur of his own wings, he hovered, picked a random direction, and set off at his highest speed.

An hour later he was back where he'd started, sitting on the chimneypot, prattling excitedly to a seagull about how cool the Blackpool Tower is.

*     *     *

"Ye want to be seeing the Eiffel Tower, mate," said the seagull.  "Now that's much more impressive."

"Which way is that?"

Having been instructed in all manner of astral, magnetic, geographical and meteorological mechanisms for navigation, in a level of detail that raised suspicions in Flashjack that all birds were rather obsessively attached to their own pet subject and lacking in the social skills to know when to shut the fuck up about it, he set out once again, returning a few hours later with a very high opinion of Europe and all its splendours—including, yes, the Eiffel Tower.

"Better than Blackpool by a long shot, eh?" said the seagull.

"What's Blackpool?" said Flashjack.

It was at that point that Flashjack, after a certain amount of interrogation and explanation from the seagull, who had met a few faeries in his day, came to understand that it would be a good idea to find a human to get Beholden by ASAP.

"See, they do the remembering that yer not very good at yerself," said the seagull.  "Memory of a gnat, you faeries.  If I'd known ye weren't Beholden yet, I wouldn't have sent ye off.  Christ knows, yer lucky ye made it back."

"How so?"

"Yer a creature of pure whimsy, mate.  What d'ye think happens if there's no one keeping ye in mind?  Ye'll forget yerself, and then where'll ye be?  Nowhere, mate.  Nothing.  A scrap of cloud blown away in the wind."

*     *     *

Flashjack looked up at the azure sky and the golden sun, which he'd only just noticed (again) were really rather enchanting.  He really didn't want to lose them so soon after discovering them, to have them slip away out of his own memory as something else took their place, or to have himself slip away from them, fading in a reverie to a self as pale as those sensations were rich.

"Go find yer Beholder, mate," said the seagull.  "Yer already getting melancholic, and that's the first sign of losing it."

Flashjack was about to ask how, when his now rather more active imagination suggested a possible plan; to get Beholden obviously he'd have to attract someone's attention, catch their eye so as to be caught by it.  Being a faery, he reasoned, that shouldn't actually be too difficult.  Over in the park, he'd noticed in passing, a whole grass slope of people were lazing in the afternoon sun, drinking wine, playing guitars or just lying on their backs, clearly the sort of wastrels who'd appreciate a bit of a show.  So with a salute to the seagull, Flashjack was off like a bullet, over one roof, then another, a gate, a bridge, a duck pond, and then he was directly above the slope of sun-worshippers, where he stopped dead, whirling, hovering, spinning in the air, reflecting sunlight from his whole body which he'd mirrored to enhance the effect, so that any who looked at him and had the eyes to see might imagine he was some ball of mercury or magic floating in the sky above them.  Or possibly a UFO.

He wasn't sure who he expected to Beholden him, but he did have a quiet hope that they'd be someone of relish and experience, the Behold of their Eye full to bursting with the things they'd seen and been struck by.  In fact, it was Tobias Raymond Hunter, aged nine months, currently being wheeled by his mother and escorted by his toddling older brother, who looked up from his pram with blurry, barely-focused vision and saw the shiny ball in the sky.

*     *     *

A Rather Strange Kind of Room

There was a pop, and Flashjack found himself in what he considered a rather strange kind of room.  The Behold seemed to be the inside of a sphere, its wall and ceiling a single quilted curve of pink padding, which Flashjack, being a fiery type of faery, born of drink, drugs and debauchery, was not entirely sure he liked.  Added to this, it was velvety-silky-smooth and warm as skin to the touch; in combination with the pink, it was like being in a room made of flesh, which Flashjack, frankly, found either a little creepy or a little kinky.  He wasn't sure which, and he had no specific aversion to kinky as such, but the whole feel of the place . . . he just wasn't sure it was really him.  Still, the three most striking features of the Behold very much were: above his head wheeled coloured forms, simple geometric shapes in basic shades, but radiant in hue, positively glowing; beneath his feet, layer upon layer of snow-white quilts, baby-blue blankets and golden furs formed a floor of luxuriously cosy bedding wide enough to fit a dozen of him; and in front of him was a great circular window, outside of which the sky was bluer than the bright triangle circling overhead, the sun more golden than the fur between his toes.

What with the breast/womb vibe, the primary-coloured mobile and the oh-so-cosy bedding, it didn't take Flashjack too long to figure out where he was.  It wasn't quite what he had been hoping for, he had to admit, but there was a certain encompassing comfort to the place.  He flopped backwards onto the bed, wondering just how far down into the cosiness he could burrow before hitting the bottom of the Behold.  As an idle experiment, just out of curiosity, he imagined the mobile overhead changing direction, spinning widdershins instead of clockwise.  It did.

"Okay," he said.  "I think this'll do nicely."

*     *     *

"No, no, no," said Flashjack, "this just won't do."

It wasn't the sand or the water that was the problem per se so much as the fact that they were in entirely the wrong place.  It was all very well for Tobias Raymond Hunter to love his sand-pit and his paddling pool, and for the bed to have changed shape to accommodate these wondrous objects in the Behold of his Eye, but the boy clearly had no sense of scale; they took up half the bloody room.  And to have them both, well, embedded in the bed, that was just silly.  At the moment the bed was cut into a thin hourglass by the sand-pit and the paddling pool; add to that the fact that more and more of the remaining space was being eaten up by Lego bricks, lettered blocks and other such toys, and Flashjack was now left with only the thin sliver between sand-pit and paddling pool to sleep on.  He wasn't a big fan, he'd discovered, of waking up spitting sand or sneezing water because he'd rolled over in his sleep and been dumped in the drink or the dunes.  No, it just wouldn't do.

He sat on top of a lettered block and studied the situation for a while then set his imagination to work on it.  When he was finished, the paddling pool covered the whole area of the floor that had once been bed.  Within that though, the sand-pit was now a decent-sized island with the bright blue plastic edge of it holding back the water.  In the centre of the island, the Lego bricks and lettered blocks were now a stilted platform, with blankets, quilts and furs forming his bed atop it, and a jetty reaching out over the sand and water, all the way to his great window out into the world.

"That's a damn sight better," said Flashjack.

*     *     *

"Da' si' be'r," said Tobias Raymond Hunter, giggling as Flashjack performed his Dance of the Killer Butterfly for the tenth time that day.  He never tired of it, it seemed to Flashjack, but then neither did Flashjack, as long as the audience was appreciative.  As Tobias Raymond Hunter patted the palms of his hands together in an approximation of a hand-clap, Flashjack gave an elegant bow with a flourish of hand, and started it all over again.

"Da' si' be'r!  Da' si' be'r! Da' si' be'r!" said Tobias Raymond Hunter.

His father, entirely unaware of Flashjack's presence and convinced that his son was referring in the infantile imperative to his own (Da) singing (si) of what was apparently Toby's favourite song, Teddy Bears' Picnic (be'r) was meanwhile launching into his own repeat performance with somewhat less enthusiasm.  As much as he was growing to hate the song, he did put his heart into it, even using Toby's own teddy bear, Fuzzy, as a prop in the show, though Toby, for all his enthusiasm, seemed to pay little attention to it until halfway through the third chorus (Flashjack, by this time, having finished his eighteenth performance (his Dance of the Killer Butterfly being quite short) and decided to call it a day), whereupon the previously ignored Fuzzy became an item of some interest.

In the Behold of the Eye, Flashjack was guddling goldfish in the paddling pool when Fuzzy came dancing out of the forest of sunflowers that now obscured most of the pink fleshy walls.

*     *     *

The bear was one thing, but this was getting ridiculous.  Flashjack knew what was to blame; it was that bloody bed-time story that Toby was obsessed with.  Oh, it might seem all very innocent to his parents but, like Toby's brother, Josh, who he shared his bedroom with and who groaned loudly each time the rhyme began -- that's for babies! -- Flashjack was getting deeply tired of it.  No one had ever told him (as far as he remembered) that the Behold of the Eye might turn into a bloody menagerie of fantastic animals, flions soaring through the air on their great eagle wings, manes billowing as they roared, little woolly meep getting underfoot everywhere you go, rhigers charging out of the trees at you when you least expect it, giraphelant stampedes... and the rabbull was the last straw.  The rabbull is quite funny, half bull and half bunny, with horns and big ears that go flop.  Funny.  Right.  Because when it sees red, it'll lower its head, and go boingedy-boingedy-BOP!  Well, Flashjack had had quite enough bopping, thank you very much, and did not consider the rabbull funny in the slightest.

"We're going to have to do something about this, Fuzzy," he said, standing on the jetty looking back at his Lego-brick tropical jungle-hut, and rubbing the twin pricks on his arse-cheeks where he'd been bopped from behind.  "They're bloody overrunning us," he said.

"Fuzzy," said Fuzzy, whose vocabulary wasn't up to much.

Flashjack turned to look out the window of Toby's eye, at the azure sky and the golden sun, which were particularly new to him today.  He wished he could get out there, get away from the zoo of the Behold even just for a few hours, but Toby, it seemed, was not as . . . open as he once was.  Last time Flashjack had decided to pop through the window he'd found himself nursing a bopped nose.  That's another problem with being a creature of pure whimsy, you see; when your Beholder grasps the difference between real and imaginary, as they're bound to do sooner or later, they decide that a faery must be one or the other, mostly the other.  Flashjack gazed at the blue and gold.

"See that?" he said.  "That's what we need.  Room."

Not just a room, he thought.  But roomSpace.  He looked down at the water below, sparkling with the blue of the sky even though the ceiling above, which it should have been reflecting, was pink, and he wondered if . . . with just a little tweak . . . if he could draw that blue sky out of it . . . it shouldn't be that hard for a faery . . .

And the Behold of the Eye was, after all, a rather strange kind of room.

*     *     *

In The Land of His Stories

Flashjack leapt down from the giraphelant's back and flicked his flionskin cloak back over one shoulder as he strode across the savannah to the cliff then, dipping so his feathered headdress wouldn't catch on the lintel, entered the darkness of Fuzzy's cave.

"I've had an idea, mate," he said cheerily.  "I've had an inspiration."

"Fuzzy," said Fuzzy pathetically.

If Flashjack had thought about it he would have regretted his words;  The poor bear had been getting tattier and glummer ever since his own inspiration had been lost (or so Toby's parents claimed; Flashjack suspected foul play on the part of Josh, sibling rivalry and such), and Toby's infantile attention slowly turned to other objects of desire.  So inspiration was rather a button-pusher of a word for Fuzzy, who was fading week by week and now convinced that the process of being forgotten would eventually end with him disappearing entirely.  If Flashjack had thought about it he might have tactfully rephrased his boast.  Flashjack, however, partly because he was a faery and dismissed such fatalism with a faery's disregard for logic, and partly because he was a faery and had little sense of the impact of his words on others, simply breezed into the cave and hunkered down before his old friend, a glinting grin on his face.

"Fuzzy, me boy," he said, "if you want to call me a genius right now, feel free to go ahead and do so, or if you want to wait until you hear my Plan, then that's just as good.  Either way, I cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, but fuck me if I haven't found a solution to your problem."

"Fuzzy," said Fuzzy.

"Why, thank you," said Flashjack.  "Okay, come with me."

*     *     *

It had been a while since Fuzzy had visited the island, so when the good ship Jolly Roger docked at the new jetty and the monkey crew leapt off to moor her soundly, despite the three day voyage, the general glumness of the bear, and the actual purpose of the visit, Flashjack blithely forgot the fact that they were actually there to do something in his keenness to show just how much improvement had been made.  The old jetty now had a troll under it, the island now had its own lake—with an island on it, with a castle, and a beanstalk going up to the clouds, and there's a castle there with a giant in it and everything!

"Fuzzy," said Fuzzy impatiently.

"Okay, Okay," said Flashjack and took him in to his stilted jungle-hut (which was now all but covered in vines, barely recognisable as Lego-bricks and lettered blocks), shifted the bicycle with stabilisers (which Toby's brother, Josh, refused to let him ride), sat him down on the pouffe (which Toby had seen at an aunt-and-uncle's house and thought a strange and wondrous thing, this chair with no back), took a seat on the ottoman himself (which Toby's parents had in their bedroom and which, being half backless-chair and half treasure chest, was even more wondrous than the pouffe), and began to explain his Plan.

*     *     *

Toby, Flashjack had realised, had become utterly enchanted with the fairy stories once read to him at bedtime, now devoured over and over again by Toby himself.  He'd come to desire adventure, to yearn for it, such that the Behold of the Eye was blossoming with new wonders every day.  He wanted a dreamworld to escape to, the place that Puss-in-Boots and Jack-the-Giant-Killer and the Three Billy Goats Gruff lived.  These were the imagos of his appetence, so here they were in the Behold of the Eye.  But something was missing in the land of his stories.

"He wants a monster," said Flashjack.  "I've looked out of the window as he checks under the bed, looks in the closet, or opens his eyes in the dead of night and sees scary shapes in the patterns in the curtains.  It frightens him, of course, so he can't admit he wants a Monster, but it thrills him too.  You can't have a land of adventure without the giants and trolls and the Big Bad Wolf, but the ones he's Beholden, well, they're straight out of the cartoons.  I just know he wants something more."


"Well that's where you come in."

*     *     *

The sky overhead darkened with nightfall, the sun descending from the wheeling mobile of moon and stars and planets to sink below the horizon and let the shadows escape from beneath the canopy of trees and slink up and around them, shrouding the island till only the flickering glow of the great pyre of a night-light on the beach was left to light Flashjack and Fuzzy as they stood down by the water's edge.

Flashjack reached up into the darkness, up into the sky, and plucked a sliver of moonlight, kneaded it and rolled it out like plasticene then blew on it—puff!—to make it hard as bone.  He did it again, and again, kept doing so until there was a pile of moon-bones there before him.  He grabbed the silver of the surf and made a pair of scissors to cut Fuzzy open, then one by one he put the moon-bones in their place.  Then he caught a corner of the night between thumb and forefingers and peeled away a layer of it which he snipped into shape and started sewing onto Fuzzy with a pine-needle and vine-thread, a second skin of darkness to go with his skeleton of moon-bones.

Flashjack was very proud when he sat back and looked at the Monster he had created.

*     *     *

A Perfectly Ordinary Kouros

The books arrived slowly at first.  For a long time it was jungles with pygmies and dinosaurs, deserts with camels and wild stallions, forests with wolves, mountains with dragons, oceans with sea serpents.  There was one burst of appetence where Flashjack woke up one day to find the blue sky ceiling of the Behold just gone, inflated out to infinity, the planets and stars of the mobile suddenly multiplied and expanded, scattered out into the deep as whole new worlds of adventure, and spaceships travelling between them, waging inter-galactic battles that ended with stars exploding.  He would fly off to explore them and get drawn into epic conflicts which always seemed to have Fuzzy behind them, or Darkshadow as he now preferred to be called (which Flashjack thought was a bit pretentious).  He would find magical weapons, swords of light, helmets of invisibility, rayguns, jet-packs, some of the snazziest uniforms a faery could dream of, and with Good on his side he'd defeat Fuzzy and send him back to the darkness from whence he came.  After a while he began to find himself waking up already elsewhere and elsewhen, a life written around him, as an orphan generally, brought up in oblivion (but secretly a prince).  This was a lot of fun, and for a long time Flashjack simply revelled in the fertility of his Beholder's appetence, the sheer range of his imagos.  For a long time, whenever he woke up in his own bed he would leap out of it and run down the jetty to look out the window in the hope of catching a glimpse of whatever book Toby was reading now, some clue to his next grand adventure.  For a long time it was simply the contents of the books that were Beholden by the boy.  Then, slowly at first, the books themselves began to arrive.

*     *     *

It's a very nice bookcase, Flashjack thought to himself, but why a boy of his age should be Beholdening bookcases is frankly beyond me.  I mean, a chair can be a throne, a table can hold a banquet, a wardrobe can be a doorway to another world, but a bookcase? A bookcase is a bookcase is a bookcase.  It's not exactly bloody awe-inspiring.

He paced a short way down the jetty towards the island then wheeled and paced back, stood with his hands on hips staring at the thing.  It wasn't ugly with its dark polished wood, clean-lined and solid.  It was even functional, he had to admit, because he could replicate a whole bundle of the buggers from this one, and he could really use something to store the mounds of books -- leatherbound tomes, hardbacks with bright yellow dust-covers, cheap paperbacks with yellowed pages and gaudy covers—that were piling up everywhere these days, appearing in his bed, on the beach, in rooms in the castles, clearings in the forests, caves in the mountains; he'd found a whole planet of books on his last interstellar jaunt.  But functional was not an aesthetic criteria that Flashjack, as a faery, had terribly high on his list of priorities; it was well below shiny and nowhere near weird.

It was, in his considered opinion, actually rather dull.

"It's safe," said a voice behind him.

Flashjack turned, but no one was there.

*     *     *

The statues began to appear not long after the Voice Incident.  There had been statues appearing for years, of course, along with the busts and reliefs, even a whole colossus at one point—Toby had clearly gone through a romance with all things archaic as a side-effect of his absorption in the adventures of ancient myth—but where before the statues had just seemed another facet of the cultural background, set-dressing for the battles with minotaurs, chimaera, hydra and what-not, these were different.  Flashjack didn't notice it with the first one; it seemed a perfectly ordinary kouros of the late Classical tradition, in the mode of Lysippos.  He didn't notice it with the second one, which looked fairly similar but carried a certain resemblance in the facial features to statues of Antinous commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian, though he'd clearly been rendered here as he would have looked in his early adolescence.  He didn't even notice it with the third one, which was quite clearly a young Alexander the Great.  It was only with the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh that Flashjack, starting to wonder at Toby's . . . consistency of subject matter, took a quick flight out to his galleon built of bookcases, went down into the captain's quarters and, after a few hours cross-referencing the Beholden statues with the images in the books (from which, of course, in a previous period of idle perusal he had learned everything he knew about Lysippos, Antinous and Alexander (and if you're wondering how he managed to remember such things when he couldn't even remember the sun in the sky, well, Flashjack was by now a faery on the verge of maturity, beginning to reach a whole new level of inconsistency) ) and realised the discrepancies.

On a factual level, he could find no traces of such statues actually existing out in the world.  On a stylistic level, there were a number of deviations from the classic S-shape of the contrapposto pose, hips cocked one way, shoulders tilted the other.  And on a blindingly obvious level, which had not occurred to Flashjack simply because he was a faery and had little concept of decorum never mind prurience, the sculptors of the Classical period did not, on the whole, tend to give their statues erections.

"Our little boy is becoming a man," said Flashjack to himself, smiling because, as a faery, he also had little concept of heteronormativity.

*     *     *

"My power grows every day, old friend," said Fuzzy.

"Now's not the time for the Evil Villain routine," said Flashjack.  "I'm worried about Toby.  Books and statues, statues and books.  And now this."

They walked through the library that had appeared over the last few weeks, coalescing gradually, as shelves appeared, thin slivers in the air at first then slowly thickening, spreading, joining, walls doing the same, until the whole place had just . . . crystallised around Flashjack's island home, sort of fusing with the structure that was already there, almost matching it, but... not quite.  Flashjack's bed was on a mezzanine floor now (with the Children's and YA Section) which hadn't even existed before.  Downstairs from this, in the centre of the structure and facing the entrance (flanked by twin flions), where his bed should have been, was a counter-cum-desk thing that ran in a square, four Flashjacks by four Flashjacks or so; with the computer and the card files and the date-stamp and the oven and the dishwasher and so on, clearly it was meant to fuse the functions of librarian's desk and kitchen area.  Beyond this was the main library-cum-living-room (which mostly consisted of the SF/Fantasy Section).  There were even male and female bathrooms, which Flashjack avoided; he quite enjoyed pissing where there was snow to piss in, but he'd tried the whole dump thing once and just wasn't impressed with the experience.  And everywhere there were the bookshelves, everywhere except the Romance section, which was like a museum with all its statuary.

All in, the place wasn't much bigger than Flashjack's hut, so it wasn't a grand library; in fact, it reminded Flashjack quite strongly of the public library he often saw out of Toby's eye, the boy spending so much time there these days; it seemed that he had come to adore his literary sanctuary so much that it had become his dream home, usurping the more Romantic jungle-hut of Flashjack's preference. Now Flashjack was quite okay with his own reimaginings of Toby's imagos, but now that the tables were turned he was feeling rather put out.  It just wasn't healthy, a teenage boy Beholdening a dream home full of books.  And a haunted one at that.

"You don't get it," said Fuzzy.  "My power grows every day, old friend."

"Look, I'm just not in the mood to play Good versus Evil today, Fuzzy.  I heard the Voice again this morning, over in the Romance section.  It's safe.  It's safe.  That's all it keeps saying.  There's something wrong with our Beholder."

"You don't understand," said Fuzzy.  "That's what I'm worried about.  Whatever's happening to him is making me stronger, more vital.  More intense.  I'm his monster.  And I feel like a fucking god some days."

Flashjack turned to look at Fuzzy, who had stopped asking to be called Darkshadow a while back, and would now simply laugh bitterly and say: I have no name, Flashjack.  His skin made out of the night itself, he seemed a black hole of a being, an absence as much as a presence.

"And I have . . . urges," said Fuzzy.  "I want to burn this place to the ground, I want to smash those statues to dust, and I want to feast on that Voice, make it scream itself out of existence and into silence."

Fuzzy was getting rather over-dramatic lately, thought Flashjack.

*     *     *

The Ghost of an Imago

Most weekdays it rained corpses, faceless, gurgling blood from slit throats.  Flashjack would sit in the library, listening to the pounding on the roof, or stand to look out the floor-length windows and watch the bodies battering the jetty, falling out of the sky like ragdolls of flesh, slamming the wood and bouncing, slumping, rolling.  He'd watch them splash into the water, sink and bob back up to float there, face-down, blood spreading out like dark ink until the sea itself was red.  The troll under the jetty, who never showed himself these days, would be a dark shape in the water after the showers of death, grabbing the bodies and dragging them down into the depths; Flashjack had no idea what he was doing with them, wasn't sure he wanted to know.

The lake on the island was on fire.  The island on the lake was choked with poisonous thorns.  The castle on the island was in ruins.  At the top of the beanstalk which was now a tower of jagged deadwood, bleached to the colour of bone, the giant sat in his castle, eyes and lips sewn shut, and bound into his throne by chickenwire and fish-hooks that cut and pierced his flesh.  Flashjack had tried to free him, but every time he tried the wire grew back as fast as he could cut it.  Flashjack wept at the giant's moans which he knew, even though they were wordless, were begging Flashjack to kill him; he just couldn't do it.

The worst were those that Flashjack could kill, the torture victims who were crucified, nailed to stripped and splintered branches, bodies dangling in the air, all the way up and down the thorny tower of the dead beanstalk.  He recognised the faces he had seen through the window of Toby's eye, laughing in crowds, he knew that these were imagos of tormentors tormented, imagos of vengeance, and when he'd tried cutting them down they simply grabbed for him with madness and murder in their eyes; but he couldn't suffer their suffering, not in the Behold of the Eye, which was meant to be a place of beauty, and so he put them out of their misery with his knife as they appeared, most weekdays, one or two of them at a time, just after the rain of corpses.

*     *     *

When the body of the Voice manifested, it was that of Toby himself, or of a not-quite-Toby.  Where Toby was dark-haired, not-quite-Toby was fair.  Where Toby was pale, not-quite-Toby was tanned.  Where Toby was slight, not-quite-Toby was slim.  Where Toby wore jeans and a tee-shirt, trainers and a baseball jacket that just didn't look right on him, not-quite-Toby wore exactly the same clothes except that on him they looked totally right.  Where Toby moved with the gangling awkwardness of a growth-spurted adolescent not yet in full control of all his limbs, not-quite-Toby rose from the chair in the library's living-room with the limber grace of an athlete, an animal.  He strolled up to Flashjack, where he stood at the entrance, one hand reaching out to lay the book he had been reading down on the countertop of the librarian's desk, the other reaching out to stroke the purring gryphon guard at Flashjack's side, in a fluid move that ended with an offered handshake. 

"It's safe," he said.

"Why is it safe?" asked Flashjack, shaking his hand.

The ghost of an imago, the imago of a ghost of Toby looked up at him with a wry smile, a raised eyebrow. Something about the causal self-confidence was familiar to Flashjack—a hint of Toby's brother, Josh, maybe, or someone else he couldn't quite place.

"I'm not gay," said not-quite-Toby.

He laughed, patted Flashjack on the shoulder and turning, plucking his book back off the countertop, sauntered back to his chair, plumped down on it and put his feet up on the coffee-table.

"Hang on," said Flashjack, whose curiosity about the word Toby so furiously scrubbed from his school-bag had led him to some startling realisations.  "I mean, I've seen what Toby looks at when he's wanking, mate.  You've only got to look at his—"

It was then, as his hand raised to point and his head turned to look, that Flashjack noticed the statues in the Romance Section were all now draped in white sheets, and not-quite-Toby's smile was that of Josh when he'd bested his little brother easily in a sibling spat, of the tormentors after Flashjack had put his knife into their hearts, or of Toby, some days, when he just stood looking in the mirror for minutes at a time while corpses rained in the Behold of his Eye.

*     *     *

Fuzzy was smashing the statues with a crowbar that had been matted with blood and hair when it appeared in the Behold.  With every statue that was smashed, the ghost of an imago, the imago of a ghost of Toby gave out a scream of blue murder and tried to curl himself into a tighter ball.  With every statue that was smashed not-quite-Toby was less and less the easy, graceful, carefree straight boy that Toby wanted to be, more and more another version of the lad, another not-quite-Toby: one that was not just dark-haired but dark of eye and fingernail and tooth; one that was not just pale but corpse-white; one that was not just slight but skeletal; one that tore at his jeans and tee-shirt till they hung as rags; one that moved in twisted, warped, insectile articulations.

With every statue that was smashed, Flashjack just whispered, no.

"He's killing us," Fuzzy had snarled.  "He's killing himselfThey're killing him.  He's killing them.  Don't you get it, Flashjack?  Don't you fucking get it?  Can't you see what's being Beholden here every fucking day?"

He'd fought his way through a five-day hail of corpses that sunk his ship, hauled himself up onto the jetty with the troll's broken, bone-armoured body slung over his shoulders, hurled it through the doors of the library and stormed in, caught the defending gryphons by the throat, one in each hand, snapped their necks.  Flashjack had roared to the attack, swashbuckling and heroic, a sword of fire whirling over his head, and been batted out of the air with a backhand slap.

Fuzzy had grabbed the crowbar from the coffee table, where Flashjack had been studying it, worried, and strode into the Romance Section, ripped the sheet off the first statue.  Not-quite-Toby had run at him in a frenzy of rage, horror, fear, despair, but he'd not reached Fuzzy before the crowbar swung, connected with the white marble and shattered it utterly.

Now Fuzzy swung the crowbar for the last time, shattered the last marble statue and, as the thin shards of stone flew in every direction, the last beautiful corpse of Toby's stone-bound desire slumped to the library floor amid the dust of its thin shell.  Fuzzy grabbed the stillborn imago by the hair and hauled it up so Flashjack could see and recognise the face, one of Toby's tormentors but, oh, such a good-looking one.  Fuzzy turned on the wretch of a not-quite-Toby, pointing the crowbar at this thing now cowered in a corner, hissing, spitting madness at the revelation of its untruth.

"This is what Toby wants to be," he snarled.  "Aren't you?"

"Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!"

"You're the imago made of his self-pity and self-loathing."

"Fuck you!"

"And just what is it that you are?  Inside, beneath the lie?  What do you really want to be?  Tell him!  Say it!"

The creature lunged, tears streaming down its face, clawed fingers out.

"I want to be dead!"

And the shadow that was Toby's Monster and the most loyal of all his imagos swung the crowbar in a wide arc, hard and fast, and brought it down with a sickening crunch upon the skull of not-quite-Toby.

*     *     *

"You can't do this, Flashjack.  I can't let you."

"Was your solution any fucking better?  Was it?  You thought if you just shattered the lies, made him face the truth, that would make it all peachy?  That it wouldn't be the final fucking straw?"

Around them the storm was raging through the Behold of the Eye, a fiery hail of planet-shards, stars falling from the heavens, smashing everything beneath it, burning everything it smashed, in an apocalypse of desire.  The ruin of the library burned.  The island itself burned.  Every castle and kingdom, every city and savannah, forest and field, all the Beholden wonders of Toby's dreamscape burned.  Only Flashjack and Fuzzy were able to stand against the scouring destruction, the one more fiery than the flame itself, the other darker than the blackest smoke, only them and the tiny broken piece of jetty that they stood on, Flashjack firing jets of ice-water into the sky like anti-aircraft fire, shattering the burning hail above them into sparks, and desperately trying, at the same time, to focus his concentration on the pile of bodies that he knelt over.

"I can do this," he said.  "I can give him something to hold onto, something to want."

His fingers worked furiously on the flesh and bone, twirling and tweaking, squeezing and stretching, two skeletons into one bone, muscle woven around muscle around muscle then stitched into place.

"He doesn't want to want," snarled Fuzzy.  "He wants to not want."

"I can make him want," said Flashjack.

At its core a heart that had once been not-quite-Toby, its body built of all the imagos of thwarted yearning, the boy would be beautiful when Flashjack was finished.  He would be all Toby's desire-to-have and desire-to-be fused into one, and he would be irresistible, undeniable.

"I can't let you do that," said Fuzzy.  "He wants me not to let you do that."

Flashjack looked up at the crowbar in the shadow's hand, then up at the empty darkness where the face should be.  Had there been eyes, Flashjack would have stared straight into them with a fire the equal of the holocaust around them.

"Does he?" said Flashjack.

And as the shadow swung, a solid wall of ice smashed up through the wood between them, sparkling with the blue clarity of the sky but solid as a storm door, and though the shadow brought the crowbar down on it like a pick-axe, again and again and again, left a hairline crack and a smear of red blood, the wall did not break as Flashjack raised his finished creation up, cradling its head in his arms, and lowering his face to breathe himself into it with a kiss.

*     *     *

His Prison of Glass

Flashjack huddled in his prison of glass, watching the flames ravage the Behold of the Eye, engulfing everything, even boiling the very waters of the seas, setting fire to the coral and seaweed and dead fish of their dry beds.  Soon there was nothing to be seen but the fire or, once in a while, a dark shape striding through the inferno, stopping to raise its arms, turning, revelling in the desolation.  Flashjack watched this for a long time—he wasn't sure how long— arms wrapped round his tucked knees, missing his wings and his innocence.  His strange new body was a work of art, but he wasn't exactly using it for what it was meant; he should be out there in the Behold, being shameless in his enjoyment of it, offering Toby an imago of desire unbound.  But it wasn't safe.  It just wasn't.

He waited, expecting Fuzzy to come back and try again to smash his way into the sanctuary and cage Flashjack had made for himself, turning water into ice, ice into glass.  Fuzzy, however, was too busy with his new position as king of hell.  So he waited, expecting the flames to burn themselves out any day now, any day, reasoning that once the broken dreams which fuelled the inferno were all stripped away to nothing, then the very lack of anything to care about would kill it; the fire would consume itself.

The fires of hell burned on.

*     *     *

Flashjack huddled in his prison of glass, watching the boy outside batter his fists against it.  He buried his face in his crossed forearms, but it didn't really help; he couldn't hear the screams, which comforted him a little when he curled up in a ball at night and tried to sleep, but even when he closed his eyes he could see this new generation of tormentors tormented, each arriving naked and afraid, to be broken, mutilated, maimed for days, weeks, months, and then their skin stripped off, sewn to moon-bone structures speared into their shoulders until, eventually, they rose from the carnage of themselves, spread wide their ragged leather wings and joined the ranks of the tormentors to set upon the next new arrival.

Occasionally, something pretty, something beautiful would appear but it didn't last long; everything else almost immediately smashed and soiled by the demons, ruined and then burned, only those few imagos which had appeared inside Flashjack's glass prison had been spared destruction.  There was the last remnants of the jetty, of course, now reshaped into a little palette bed of driftwood.  On the floor was sand, soft and warm and golden, which had trickled down one day over his shoulder, as if through invisible fingers.  There was a smooth pebble and a sea shell which Flashjack held now, one in each hand, wondering if in holding on to them, in being himself something to hold on to, he was only perpetuating the pain, if by letting the walls fall and walking out to let the demons tear apart the last vestiges of desire he could perhaps bring it all to an end.  He couldn't do it.

*     *     *

Flashjack huddled in his prison of glass, his back turned to the horrors of the Behold, looking out the window of Toby's eye at the azure sky and golden sun.  Then the vision shifted and there was a face, laughing but with warmth rather than cruelty, a friend mugging ridiculously, pushing his nose into a pig-snout with a finger.  The boy's life was not bereft of happiness, kindness, joy; his world had autumn leaves, crisp winter snow, the buds of spring, and it had summer, hot and shimmering summer days like this when Flashjack would press his hands up to the glass and yearn to bring that sky and sun back into the cavernous waste of the Behold.  Toby's friend mouthed something, listened to the response then laughed, went bug-eyed with his disbelief—no fucking way, man—and Flashjack wondered how his Beholder could be in a friend's good company, laughing and joking, and yet still so desolate of desire.

For the umpteenth time that afternoon, Flashjack lifted the little shard of mirror that had dropped into the sand in front of him a few mornings ago.  He held it up as close to the glass as he could get it, angled it this way and that.

When you see someone with a twinkle in their eye, you must understand, often that twinkle is their faery flashing a little mirror to see if you too have a faery in your Behold, a little how-do-you-do? from one sprite to another.  But sometimes what seems like a twinkle of whimsy might well be a glint of madness, the faery in the Behold of their Eye sending a desperate SOS in the hope that someone, anyone, will help.

For the umpteenth time that afternoon, there was no answer.

*     *     *

Flashjack woke with a start, and rubbed sleep from his face, ran his fingers through his hair.  And felt the dampness of his fingers.  And saw—

The Behold of the Eye was dark and empty, and he was wet from the drip-drip-drip of the ceiling of his prison of glass which had become a prison of ice and —as he clambered to his feet and reached out to touch the wall—now transformed again, losing its form completely and collapsing, in a rush of water, to soak into the sand beneath his feet and into the ash beyond.  The window at his back, Flashjack peered into the gloom, but there was nothing, no fire, no demons, only darkness.

Yes, it's me, said the darkness, in a voice that Flashjack knew and that, for a second, frightened him, knowing as he did what Toby's Monster was capable of.  Then he realised there was something different in its tone, something that was far more awful than the bitter, raging thing that had smashed the statues, far more terrible than the dark, despairing thing that had stood above him with a crowbar and with nothing where its eyes should have been.  But he also knew, somehow, it wasn't a threat.

"You don't want to kill me," he said.

It doesn't matter any more.  Nothing does.

The words sent a chill down Flashjack's spine.

"I don't understand."

The darkness said nothing, offered no explanation, but it seemed to coalesce a little, a vague shape, black upon black, that stood back a ways from Flashjack and off to one side, staring out the window.  Slowly, Flashjack turned, not understanding what he was seeing at first, a cup of tea held in Toby's hands, the family dog sat in front of the armchair, looking up at him, people milling in the living-room—an aunt and uncle visiting, it seemed, and more —Toby's father in the kitchen at the phone, his mother getting up off the sofa to make more tea, wiping her eyes, his father dialling another number, and talking, then dialling another number, and talking, then dialling another number, and talking, and Toby was just watching him now, transfixed on him, though it seemed like he was saying the same thing over and over again, except now he wasn't saying it at all, just dropping the phone and burying his face in his hands, and Toby had turned to stare straight ahead at the TV set with the framed photograph on top, of Josh.

Then there were tears running down the window.

*     *     *

A Handful of Forevers

All through the funeral Flashjack worked.  As the car drove them to the church, Toby looked out to one side, and suddenly there in the Behold was a shimmering image of the road the car was on, the spot they were passing, with Josh standing there, sun in his hair, hair in his eyes, about to step out but not stepping out, caught in an eternal moment.  Flashjack grabbed the road and pinned one end to the window of Toby's eye, threw the other out into the ashen darkness as far as it would go, as far as Toby could want it to go, which was forever, and the fields unrolled from its verge as far as the eye could see, a moment transformed into eternity.

*     *     *

As the family sat in the church, oblivious of the minister's mute mouthings over the boy he'd never, as far as Flashjack was aware, had the slightest contact with, Flashjack took the frozen moment of a Josh-who-did-not-step and, grabbing every glint of a spark of a memory that appeared in the Behold, layered in the smiles and the strut and the style and the spats and the football trophies and the record collection and the David Bowie poster and all the vanity and cockiness and sheer shining brilliance that was Josh-before-he-stepped.

*     *     *

As the car pulled out of the driveway of the church and, out on the high street, an old man walking past came to a stop and took his hat from his head, then stood to attention with a sharp salute for the hearse of a total stranger, Flashjack grabbed the flood of unspoken gratitude, the tears of a Toby overwhelmed by the gesture, by wanting so much to respond, to say how much that simple silent respect said all that could or should be said in the face of death, and from the tears Flashjack made a sea, from the sea he made an azure sky, and into the sky, fashioned from the sunlight in the hair of the imago standing before him, Flashjack hurled a golden sun to light and warm Josh on his road into eternity.

*     *     *

As the coffin of polished mahogany slid slowly away through the red velvet curtain, Josh disappearing forever into the beyond of the crematorium, into the fire and the ash and the smoke, Flashjack grabbed the funeral pyre and the Viking longboat and the mausoleum and the torn lapels and the fistfuls of hair, the whole vast stupid spectacle of grief that Toby conjured in the Behold of his Eye, as if any monument or ritual could be sufficient, as if any monument or ritual could even begin to match the scale of his sorrow.  And Flashjack turned the pyre into an autumn forest of yellow, red and orange leaves; he turned the longboat into a dragon that soared up into the sky, its sails now wings, to swoop and soar and turn and dive and bury itself deep in the earth, a vast reptilian power coiled within the land, alive; he turned the mausoleum into a palace, the palace into a city, the city into a hundred of them, each no larger than a grain of sand, a handful of forevers which he scattered out across the Behold to seed and grow; then, with the hair, he stitched the torn lapels together around his own body until he had a harlequin suit, not formed of elegant diamonds of black and white, but rather a rough thing of rags as rich a brown as the earth.

He turned to the imago of Josh-who-did-not-step, Josh-before-he-died, Josh-who-did-not-die, the Josh that Toby would now always and forever want so much and so unattainably with a desire that made all other desires seem as inconsequential as ash scattered to the wind; and Flashjack bowed, beckoning along the road with a twirl of his hand.

*     *     *


It should not be assumed that this ending, this new beginning was, for Toby, a moment of apotheosis which healed all wounds and banished all horrors.  There were many bleak times in the years of Flashjack's journey with Josh into the wilds of the Behold, times when the old darkness would rise again in other forms, and fires would burn in the cities of the Behold.  Although it was impossible for Toby to deny the crystal clarity of his yearning for an endless summer day of azure sky and golden sun and green fields in which his brother still lived, although from this imago whole fields of illusion sprang under Flashjack's dancing feet, filling the Behold of the Eye with new wonders, and although, somewhere along the long and winding road, it became clear that many of the imagos now popping into existence daily were clearly reflections of Toby's own appetence rather than grave goods for his lost brother (the shepherds fucking in the meadows were more than enough evidence of that, Flashjack thought), still, sometimes the wind would carry smoke and ash, and sometimes, when the storms rose, there would be a deep crimson tint to the clouds, a hint of blood and fire; and Flashjack would raise his eyes to the heavens, hoping not to see a falling corpse.  It took Toby many years to learn to cherish life again.

*     *     *

But when he did, as he did, Flashjack was amazed at the vibrancy of the boy's reborn desire.  It wasn't that the imagos it created were grand and exciting, wild worlds of adventure.  If anything, many of them were so subtle that Flashjack nearly missed them: the swirl of grass in a field blown by the wind, the delicate streaks of stratocirrus in the sky; the way an orange streetlight on sandstone at night could give a building a rich solidity, like in some old master's oil painting.  But all these imagos, Flashjack understood, spoke of an appetence that craved reality, that relished life, a passion for the fragile moments of beauty that might pass unnoticed if one were not, like Toby it seemed, all too aware of how ephemeral they were.  So he knew that a change had taken place.  It was only when Flashjack found the teddy bear lying in the field of long grass, however, that he truly realised how deep this change had been.  The bear was smaller, and it didn't dance—didn't move at all—just a normal, everyday teddy bear, slightly tatty, but there was no mistaking this imago of an appetence out of lost childhood.  There was no mistaking the bear, and there was no mistaking the darkness in his eyes, empty of rage now, empty of hate, not a darkness of lost hope but a darkness of quiet sorrow.

"I remember that," said Josh.  "It was his.  Fuzzy."

His tiny hand reached out to pluck the bear from Flashjack's grasp.

"I'll take it back to him," the little boy said.

He turned and began running across the field, head no higher than the grass.  Flashjack took a step after the child, smiling to himself as he thought of the Grand Quest he could make of this, but a voice, low and resonant in his ear, brought him to a halt.

Let him go , said the wind in the grass, the emptiness that was, perhaps, Flashjack thought, the real spirit of the Behold.  Let him go, it said.  I'll look after him from here.  He wants me to.  Go home.

Flashjack nodded, but he stood for a long while, watching the boy disappear into the grass, bear in hand, before he turned to leave.

*     *     *

It was years since he'd last stood looking out of the window of Toby's Eye, and with the healing of the boy's desire Flashjack was curious to see what new marvels he might find back where it had all begun.  So what did he find there?  Well, perhaps, in keeping with the most noticeable effect of that transformation, we should phrase it like this:  What should he find there, but another faery!  Why, there he was, sitting on the branch of an apple tree, sipping wine of the very richest red and smoking what can only be described as the Perfect Joint, rolled so straight and so smooth it seemed a veritable masterpiece.  Batting his iridescent wings in the wind, picking dirt out from under his fingernails with his little kid-horns, or scratching and scruffling his green tousle of hair, he seemed quite at home

"Who the fuck are you?" said Flashjack.  "Where did you come from?"

"A'right there," said the other faery.  "I'm Puckerscruff.  I'm a faery.  You're a lust-object imago, right?  Not bad, not bad at all.  Taste and imagination; I knew I'd picked the right Beholder.  Fancy a toke?"

"Wait a minute.  I'm the bloody faery here," said Flashjack.  "This is my Behold.  Go find your own sodding Behold."

"Pull the other one, mate.  Where's your wings?"

Flashjack's wings popped out on his back in a fit of pique as he crossed his arms.  Puckerscruff looked surprised, then suspicious, then worried, then guilty.

"Look, mate, there wasn't a twinkle.  I checked and there wasn't a twinkle.  He was looking to Beholden someone, itching to, bursting to, and my hoary old tart was boring me towards self-lobotomy, so I was on the lookout for new digs, and this place seemed empty, see, so I thought, well, I can put on a little show just on the off-chance, while they're gazing into each other's eyes and doing the old tongue tango, right, and . . . and . . . hey, don't look at me like that.  If he hadn't been looking for a faery, I wouldn't be here, would I?  Seems to me like someone must have been neglecting his duties.  Too busy making whoopee with the porn imagos, eh?  Sorry, OK, OK, I take that back.  I didn't mean it.  It's just . . . please . . . don't make me go back.  He's a fucking label queen, all fashion and no style, imagination of a seagull, does my fucking nut in.  You and me, mate, you and me, we'll be a team, a twosome, a dynamic duo.  I'll show you tricks you never dreamed of, mate."

All through this speech Flashjack had been gradually advancing on Puckerscruff who had been backing away, hands raised placatingly, but at this last sentence Flashjack stopped.  Through the window, he could see, Toby was looking down over the sweep of his own chest and stomach towards the head bobbing up and down at his groin.

"What kind of tricks?" said Flashjack.

So Puckerscruff showed him.

*     *     *

It should not be assumed that this ending, this new beginning was, for any of the parties involved, a moment of cathartic release in which sexual identity was affirmed and all insecurity banished.  For Toby it was by no means the first time and it was by no means the last step.  For Flashjack it was one of the most spectacular experiences he'd ever known, but not quite, he claimed rather tactlessly, as good as when he did it.  For Puckerscruff it was merely one in a long line of sexual adventures, and while Flashjack was a definite looker, he was a barely competent lover, clearly in need, Puckerscruff thought, of some good solid training.

So the Behold of the Eye was not transformed in an instant to utopian bliss.  The rains of shattered albums, storms of semi-molten mixing decks and exploding glitterballs that followed most of Toby's explorations of the gay scene were, as far as Flashjack was concerned, a complete pain.  He felt—and would say so loudly and repeatedly—that if Toby wanted to get laid so bad but found the clubs such a bloody agonising ordeal then Toby should just go to the bloody park at night and look tasty in the trees.  In truth, he was worried—though he did not say this at all—that Toby didn't do the cruising thing because he was, on some level, still uncomfortable with his sexuality.  Puckerscruff on the other hand, who had been horrified by his old Beholder's lack of musical taste, and who now revelled in Toby's imago of an ideal record collection, would bounce through these storms, fists flying, punching and head-butting the debris as it rained down, singing Anarchy In The UK at the top of his lungs.

It also has to be said that Flashjack and Puckerscruff were, as his laternal grandsister (adopted), Pebbleskip, had once warned Flashjack, not always the most tranquil of couples, with the result that more than a few arguments ended with the Behold divided in two as your half and my half.  And what with two faeries in the Behold of his Eye rather than one, as Pebbleskip had also once warned, Toby's passions did at times tend to the intense, the glint in his eye more a fireworks display than a twinkle; Flashjack and Puckerscruff could see it in the way he drank and smoked, and partied and painted . . . and always with gusto.  But Pebbleskip's talk of glory and truth, angels and demons was long since forgotten, so it was something of a surprise when the invasion came, though not too much of a surprise given the hallucinogen Toby had dropped a few hours before and the fact that Flashjack and Puckerscruff were now having a rare old time outside, whirling and twirling as they performed Flashjack's updated, two-man Dance of the Killer Butterfly to Toby's great amusement, his idea of the boundary between real and imagined being rather relaxed right now.  It was Puckerscruff who noticed the demons crawling out of a corner of the room, first one, then another, then more, very soon a whole host of them, and angels too.

"Yeah, right," he said.  "Not a chance, mate.  You lot can just fuck off."

Then he and Flashjack began a variation of the Dance of the Killer Butterfly, this time aimed in the general direction of the angels and demons, with a little extra jazz hands.  By the time it was over so was the invasion, the inventions of visionary rapture fluttering up into the air on their iridescent wings, every one of them reborn in a pirouette of pure whimsy.

"That's a damn sight better," said Toby.




About the Author:

Hal Duncan was born in 1971, brought up in a small town in Ayrshire, and now lives in the West End of Glasgow.  A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, Vellum, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the World Fantasy Award.  The sequel, Ink, came out last year, while a novella, Escape from Hell! is due out in 2008 from Monkeybrain Books.  As well as publishing a poetry collection, Sonnets for Orpheus, he collaborated with Scottish band Aereogramme on a song for the Ballads of the Book album from Chemikal Underground, and has had short fiction published in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Interzone and anthologies such as Nova Scotia, Eidolon and Logorrhea.



Story © 2008 Alasdair Duncan. Photo by Petr Novák, 2005.