The Behold of the Eye
by Hal Duncan
The Imagos of
"The Behold of
the Eye," Flashjack's laternal grandsister (adopted), Pebbleskip
had told him, "is where the humans store the imagos of their
appetencewhich 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."
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
"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.
she'd said. "You must be new."
Since then she'd
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?"
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."
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."
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
She looked kind of
sad at this, Flashjack thought.
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
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.
imagination," she said.
"But how will I
know if it's the right human?"
you when they see you," she said.
The Azure Sky and
the Golden Sun
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.
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
"Ye want to be
seeing the Eiffel Tower, mate," said the seagull. "Now
that's much more impressive."
"Which way is
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 splendoursincluding, 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."
"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
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
"Go find yer
Beholder, mate," said the seagull. "Yer already getting
melancholic, and that's the first sign of losing it."
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.
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
"Da' si' be'r!
Da' si' be'r! Da' si' be'r!" said Tobias Raymond Hunter.
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
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, 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 room. Space.
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
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."
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."
"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 lakewith 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
"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.
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."
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
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 itpuff!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.
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
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 coversthat
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.
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 pointToby had clearly
gone through a romance with all things archaic as a side-effect
of his absorption in the adventures of ancient mythbut 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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
"It's safe," he
"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 Flashjacka hint of Toby's
brother, Josh, maybe, or someone else he couldn't quite place.
"I'm not gay,"
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,
With every statue
that was smashed, Flashjack just whispered, no.
us," Fuzzy had snarled. "He's killing himself. They'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!"
imago made of his self-pity and self-loathing."
"And just what
is it that you are? Inside, beneath the lie? What do you
really want to be? Tell him! Say it!"
lunged, tears streaming down its face, clawed fingers out.
"I want to be
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."
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
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.
want to want," snarled Fuzzy. "He wants to not
"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,
"I can't let you
do that," said Fuzzy. "He wants me not to let you do that."
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
His Prison of
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 timehe
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.
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
The fires of hell
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.
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.
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 disbeliefno
fucking way, manand 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.
with a start, and rubbed sleep from his face, ran his fingers
through his hair. And felt the dampness of his fingers. And
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 wallnow 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.
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-rooman aunt and uncle visiting, it seemed, and
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
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
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
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
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 dancedidn't move at alljust 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.
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
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?"
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?"
popped out on his back in a fit of pique as he crossed his
arms. Puckerscruff looked surprised, then suspicious, then
worried, then guilty.
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.
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
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 feltand would say so loudly
and repeatedlythat 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 worriedthough he did not say this
at allthat 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.