Tuesday, 29 March 2011

AURORAE - 'Hotel Novel' second chapter

Now I come to think of it I think this part of the story was written first. Different narrative mode, different characters, but same setting. This one's a bit all over the place, but nevertheless, here it is. There really only a tenuous sense of continuity going on at this point. Later chapters will probably be more focused, though I can't guarantee they'll have even the slightest bit to do with these two segments. Continuity be damned!


The year is waning. Here in the grass the pilgrims are waiting.
A warm night and the glow of distant galaxies. The hotel has shut up for the night. Everyone is out here on the small expanse of grass outside the hotel staff block, waiting for a visitation.
The time has come to trust the forecasted aurora borealis to guide their passage through the dark with dim yet colourful light. This may be Scotland; yet the lights did pass through this sky last night; and there is every chance they may do so again very soon.
Although on this night, the alien hues that yesterday cast spectral contours across the curtain containing the remnants of this world are going to be the ficklest of mistresses.
On this night, the ionosphere sleeps. Out in the void there is only a silent opaqueness, communicating the impenetrable and impossible violence of wide-open space. Out there surely are astronauts; human or inhuman: just floating around. The canvas of the darkening sky is deepest blue, inviting distance; togetherness and estrangement.
In act one, a man climbs up a tree and discovers he can’t get back down again very easily. In this we have the beginnings of something; a situation. There may also be a greater challenge.
That was the afternoon. Now that the sunlight has slipped away, the rest of the travellers lie on the grass with arms and legs akimbo, eyes fixed on the sky and heads together. Seven of them this time, apart from John the night porter who is now back on duty and is probably either cleaning the toilets, drunk or asleep by now.
The time is 11:11; a number signifying great mystical portent. Or nothing at all. The rest of us are awake and wait for the ghost colours to return; to haze the gloaming with transformative streaks.
In act two, it might be also be pertinent for someone to throw some rocks at the man up the tree. It is in this predicament that the central figure begins to learn some life lessons. This scenario, however, is not easily applicable to all situations.
Perhaps there is a repetition in this waiting to be blessed by the gentle caresses of the northern lights. Indeed, any conversation held in stellar shade between the Earth’s magnetic field and the present solar winds must feel like something that must have happened before. An ancient reinterpretation of some almost-forgotten creation myth, from days long eclipsed; the bears and hunters dancing across the chasm. Goya and Dali bare-knuckle fighting.
Perhaps, in the ritual of the colours subdividing, spiralling and crashing into pieces, there are subtle iterations of an ancestral truth to be divined. A secret music; hidden in the grooves of a record.
Perhaps a question will be asked; or an offer made, to be rejected or accepted. Or perhaps not.
Perhaps the birds read those colours that danced across the sky like illuminated Braille. Somewhere, in another corner of the world, emperor penguins might also have been watching the display, like small children held rapt by a firework display. A celebration of things past, and things yet to be.
Big L the dishwasher gets up from the grass; exhibiting an uncharacteristic level of excitement. Big L isn’t normally one for alarum or sudden movements; luckily for him, the front of the hotel is within a couple of minutes’ walk from here, and in plain sight, so running isn’t usually required in such a situation.
Big L waves his hands in front of his face in a pantomime of alarm. ‘Oh my god,‘ he announces. ‘Look at Javier!’
Babs is already up and looking by this point. She has been snuggled up in a duvet in the inappropriate setting of the outside with Anonymous Belgian Guy, and no-one’s quite sure what either of them are up to at all.
The lights might have drawn subversive messages that night; scrawls in neon graffiti describing acts arcane and unknown to humanity. Three entire busloads of German guests at the hotel came out of their rooms and gathered in the car park to watch; creating the impression that they were waiting patiently for some extraterrestrial mothership to arrive and lift them up and away from such a dreary locale, and away to some distant and foreign world.
‘What the fuck’s he doing?’ Babs says; eyes rapt in wonderment at the developing situation over by the front of the hotel.
‘Hang on…’ Big L runs a little bit away from the rest of them and over towards the hotel. A moment later he comes bounding back out of the gloom, an insane patina of mirth on his still-sweaty face.
‘Oh, you guys, this is insane. He’s wearing a balaclava! Don’t think it’s even got any eyeholes in it! I was right, man, he’s a terrorist!’
The impression you could have gleaned from these cascading visions of the previous night would perhaps only have been matched by the tagged sigils of renegade artists unknown in the abandoned areas of train stations; supernatural messages magicked discreetly into the corners of everyday life.
You don’t see this sort of thing in the villages though. You might see that sort of thing.

‘What are you saying?’
Czeslaw the angry Polish housekeeper is now up and at‘em. By this point in the story, he is already becoming known as the Angry Bed Man. He is bald with hairy nostrils, which are often more communicative than him. ‘He is doing what?’
‘Hiding round the side of the front entrance. Wearing a balaclava. I told you before, didn’t I? He’s Basque Liberation front. The Highlands branch!’
‘This is not true. He come from Madrid. That kind, always from Madrid.’
‘Chas, he is! that’s where he’s from!’
Waclaw wrinkles the many hairs in his nose. ‘I think, this is a nonsense. Is not terrorist. Is just strange. You know, Spanish, is always strange. In my country, we have saying - ’
‘Ah’m no interested in your sayings, Coleslaw! Look, you know Celine?’
‘Celine. She is from France, yes?’
‘Aye, Celine! Well, she said, he told her he was Basque liberation front, and she can speak about ten languages. So whatever one he speaks, she can understand him.’
‘Aye,’ Melinda the commis chef says. ‘She says he’s a total freak! Says he came up to her and just like announced, “you will be mine, yes?” And does this big leer, big grin, man!’
‘He’s gone round the side of the hotel.’ Big L continues. ‘Plus, he’s giggling, man. D’You hear him?’
That last night, it was a lot as if someone had been shaking the farthest-off parts of the universe until the forces that powered it broke, loosing thin shards of splintering galaxy to tumble untethered into the upper atmosphere of the planet. The Perseid meteor shower of a few years back was also a little like this; only a smidgeon less apocalyptic. No gods visit small highland villages; only meteor showers. And then, only by accident.
Heavenly portents. The time isn’t 11:11 any more. A silence descends, to be punctuated by a high-pitched cackling sound.
‘Fuckin’ hell!’ Babs cries out. ‘He sounds like an Ewok!’
‘Is he stoned?’ Melinda whispers.
‘No, dinnae think so,’ Big L counters, ‘think he’s just being Javier, man. Cannae speak English, disnae want tae speak English, disnae stop acting like a fucking nutcase any time. Melinda, remember that time he threatened you with a knife?
‘Aye, that was brilliant, man!’ Melinda laughs. ‘He just kept shouting out, SANDWICH!’
‘Aye, sandwich. Only word he knows.’
By now, Czeslaw - or Chas, or Coleslaw, or whatever he‘s actually called - is looking decidedly pensive.
‘But what is this, in balaclava? He is doing what? Is no one in hotel! Is nothing there!’
‘Barry the entertainer!’ Big L is by this point in paroxysms of excitement. ‘He’s there! He’s out the front of the hotel. He’ll be putting his gear away? His amps, and that? Mind, he plays on Monday nights. You know? Singer? For the guests? Strummy guitar-y? You know, the singy songy? You have guitar in Poland, yes?’
Big L often goes into baby-talk when attempting to reason with Czeslaw. Czeslaw is not someone for whom the phrase ‘understanding’ was invented. He possesses a philosophic bent that borders on the baffling - whatever subject you might raise with him in conversation almost always inevitably concludes with him giving you a long lecture on the types of potato soup he and his family apparently consume with great enthusiasm back in Poland. I refuse to believe that everyone in Poland is as myopically obsessed with potatoes - or soup - as Czeslaw is.
‘So what’s Javier doing exactly?’
Melinda is uninterested. She has be up at about half-five in the morning, so this perhaps is understandable.
‘I think he’s going to go and jump Barry. Scare him, likes. Barry’ll be fucking frightened, man. He’s no used to Spanish terrorists leapin’ out at him at this time of night.’
‘Don’t think anyone still up in the hotel,’ Babs murmurs; head now back beneath the grassy duvet with Anonymous Belgian Guy. ‘Bar’s been dead since nine. Early depart in the morning, so all the oldies went off to bed early. Think Barry was playing mostly to staff, and that Joanna on the bar.’
‘She’s weird, man.’ Big L frowns. ‘Her and that other Russian bird. Did you see the suitcases she brought with her?
Aye, all clothes,’ Melinda says, in caustic dismissive mode. ‘Then, her and that other one spent the entire afternoon playing dress-up in the room. Just screeching and laughing all the time. Getting thirsels ready for the local fishermen the night, I’ll wager. Mair nutcases.’
‘Are you sure they’re not fake Russian lesbians?’ Big L asks; sounding cautiously optimistic.
‘They cannae be!’ Melinda shouts back. ‘They’re from Slovakia! That disnae count. It’s no even IN Russia. You cannae be fake Russian lesbians and come from Slovakia. That’s a whole different thing.’
‘Aye, Slovakia is definitely cheating.’
‘That wee bell-end Bozek, you think he’s their pimp?’
‘Got to be. He thinks he’s the king, that one. Wearing that wee waistcoat man, did you see it? Comes into the restaurant dressed like he’s going into a ballroom. I wis half expecting him to be doing the bolero!’
‘Czeslaw now rouses himself from the grass; with a macho Polish grunt that draws everyone’s attention. ‘You are talking, but come! We must see. This Madrid man. We go, come! I tell you, is no terrorist! You Scottish, I think you are crazy.’
The rest of them get up and run off in the direction of the hotel; eager to witness any potential comedy terrorist atrocity perpetuated by a very small Spanish man of indeterminate motivation, in a balaclava, at quarter past eleven on a long and still-Scottish night.
You stay where you are.

Moments or hours pass. The sky turns, and no lights come. An offer must be made at some point.
The girl leans over you as you’re lying on the grass. It’s still light enough that you can make out some of her features; a slyly curling smirk that, when swathed in darkness, gives off an impression of being rather more accepting than condemning. Dusk has kinder words to speak than dawn; it is tired and ready to go to sleep. Whereas dawn blinks agitated into the morning light, regretting the loss of the night just passed.
‘See you? I recognize you.’ she says.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘No, I know you. You’ve been here before.’
‘Er, I don‘t think so.’
‘No, I definitely remember you. Last season. I saw you going up the hill once. You must remember that.’
There is also often a hill; that, if mentioned once, must be climbed to the top and returned from.
Electrons and protons colliding with atoms and molecules. Sometimes in these conditions, strange colours can occur; colours on no spectrum the human eye can ever detect; or see.
In act three, it is sometimes necessary to get the man down from the tree; or the hill. Only then can he be seen to have accomplished something great.
‘You’ve been here before.’
I haven’t.
But someone has.

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