The two of us are bent cops. I use those words deliberately. Although we speak with English accents, the landscape of the city we are in is American. We have just come out of a Federal building of some sort. They are on to us, it seems. Or at least, on to you. You are upset, distraught, on the brink of cracking and throwing the whole thing away. Maybe you’ve been caught or punished before. Maybe this is your last chance. The important thing is to calm you down. I try to calm you down.
It seems like you haven’t been in the city for some time. Perhaps we work in another city or a smaller town and have been summoned here for you to be questioned at the Federal building. Perhaps I came to keep you company, to make sure you don’t crack. I keep telling you it’s the same city, it’s the same old city. I talk about the marvellous sights, the wonderful places to visit. You’re almost in tears, trying to hold it back, and I think my tour guide patter helps. We get in a taxi of some kind and begin to drive through the streets as I point out monuments, towers, museums, galleries, whole districts, areas of local colour. After a while I suggest we go to the Blue Beach. I tell you it’s just the same as it’s always been, suggest it’s just like it was when we were regulars round here. Did we work here?
The taxi we’re in is a boat. We’re on the sea, so it must be. Though the sea is also the streets. We turn out of one watery road and left, up towards the Blue Beach. Our driver (our skipper?) forces the boat right up on to the sand and we glide to a halt, the impact far less than I was expecting. The sand is an insipid colour, the kind you buy in sacks to fill kids’ playpits. But across the surface, as if deposited there by the sea, is a thin scattering of bright blue copper sulphate crystals. Without looking at you – I stopped looking at you as soon as we started walking – I comment on how the beach is just as it’s always been, how good it is to be back at the beach which is just like it’s always been.
The sea must have risen a little because we’re floating again and our driver or skipper sets the boat moving, this time without any suggestion from me. He aims for a little alley between two houses across the bay from where we entered. We move slowly along this narrow concourse, the buildings high and grey on each side of us. The road ends in a T-junction a little way ahead. He cuts the power as we approach the turn and we move forward, a kind of ghost motion, until the prow of the boat bumps against the garage of the building opposite. I presume it’s a garage, although it’s one of those roll-down, segmented metal shutters, so perhaps there’s a shop behind it. The shutters boom, empty, as the boat hits.
All three of us jump out and we’re standing on sand again. We ask the boatman whose house this is and he will only say that we don’t want to go in there. He says it in a way which means we shouldn’t go in there, that it would be unsafe to go in there. The boatman has curly hair, a halo of it, and leans against the wall by the garage door, very relaxed, but quite insistent about the house. We knock at the door on the other side of him, the door of the house he doesn’t want us to go into. He tells us, still calm, that we can see our parents. Are we brothers, you and I? Or are they all there, the four of them waiting for their two sons? We don’t ask him that. Perhaps it would be embarrassing to ask him that. Instead we ask him where our parents are. With his head he signals out to sea and tells us they are two hundred metres away. We knock at the door. He tells us we shouldn’t but we do. We keep knocking and he stops telling us not to. Perhaps he stops being there.
When the door swings open we are met by two creatures. They are birds of some sort, or like birds in that they stand on two legs, although they have no wings. But they have no arms either, just these two spindle legs. They are about the size of partridges or pheasants, a dirty brown colour, not necessarily feathered. They have our faces. Our faces are stretched and distorted and move oddly, as if the images of our features are being projeceted on to the blank screens of the animals’ heads. But still, they are our faces. There is no sound, from the sea or the streets or our driver. The acoustics seem to have closed up deep inside my ear, as if I’m underwater. The two creatures walk out of the door, jerky, with the twitch and tic of prey. They move towards us, each aimed at the one with its own face. Mine taps its side into my leg and pushes me back a little. Or, rather, causes me to move back. Because I don’t want to be touched by it. Because, for reasons anyone can understand, I feel unsettled by it.
I look down at my trainers and there is a hole in the toe of the one on the left, ragged, a friction rip. My creature moves its little head down toward it as if examining the damage. It tips its head on one side and then the other. I don’t know where I am anymore. The light seems very grey and the tourist spots of the city are forgotten. The only sound is a long, low rumble. Without warning, the thing is sucking itself through the hole and into my shoe and I can feel it in the space between my big toe and the next, even though I know there’s no room for it there. Then it’s inside me and I look up again as if the most important thing left is to see how yours will enter you.
writes novels (Clear Water
and The Heritage
so far, both published by Faber & Faber) and (kind of) runs Big Dada, a record label. There's a good piece about him in the Independent
here his blog is vernaland