The Art of Drowning – Season One Finale

Fix Your Mind in Chaos – by Jac Forsyth

A golden sadness hangs from the throats of sparrows. They sing in counterbalance to chase out the dawn, but as the sun rises the shadows just grow darker.

Do you feel the weight of me on your chest yet? I have watched as you beg for sleep on nights far darker than this. I am feline in my acquainted now, purred into your dreams as easily as rainstorms and rattlesnakes. And yes it seems that in all my honour I have still found pleasure in stealing substance from your flesh.

See, child, how you grow heavy along the skeletal. Time does not hurry so much in its undoing. Still there is a kindness that. Youth brings a terror that age will beg for. Skin and sin, you whisper out confessions from the sanctuary of your bed and I know you right down to the ground. Groan with me, cry your nightmare in salivated ribbons, crawl in plague and platitude until none can bear the stink of you. And when the sky falls in sirens, will you be found still holding onto the crippling of your reason like it could keep you afloat?

Come close, child, breathe with my synchronicity. You think you can find your way back like the winding of twine, but do you really want to see how far down this can go? We rise and fall a billion times, sand to glass, glass to sand. There is always a beginning, but search out the endings and you will find nothing, just a name torn out in bland conclusions and the fabric of familiar shapes.

There is blood on the tide again and still you hide behind the shame of your insanity. I see the tremors of it corrode at the threshold. You know where the answers are but you watch from the hillside. Madness isn’t flat any more than the earth is, but there are horizons of alignment. Find them. Fix your mind in chaos. You think you know salt, but until you welcome the tide into your lungs, all you know of it is the taste.

I have found the keys to all the doors you keep shut, and in the scouring of this bleached flesh there is finally room enough for two. When you wake, will you dare to know me again? Will you touch your fingers to the black mirror? Will you remember how you betrayed us all? Storm is wound silent in cloth and canker. Time is not linear, child, it just looks that way because the scenery is the same.

Sleep then. Sleep on while you still can. But I warn you to heed the songs of sparrows, death has found us wanting too many times for me to fold patience with your fear. Light a match and hold it to your arm, my sweet Caswell. There are some situations you have to burn your way out of.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 9

Like the Rain Follows Thunder – by Ash N. Finn

Evelyn wakes knowing she is being watched. The weight of her eyelids sends the flash of a memory to her stirring mind. Swallow this and you will feel better, and she had swallowed the pill like a little girl following mother’s orders to float toward the siren’s call of a simple sweet melody.

She is alone, her room as quiet as the ocean floor. The chair beside her bed still sits at an angle, but the nurse is gone. Beatrice is her name, and she doesn’t like it. Call me Bee, please, everyone does. A dull numbness creeps into Evelyn’s arm, the one that swelled up after a bee stung her. She was only seven when the furry insect injected the poison of the torturing dichotomy of fury and sorrow into her. Violence and despair. She had slapped the creature hard, trampled it to death as it lay writhing on the earth, then howled in grief at the loss of her innocence. It didn’t matter that the bee would have died anyway. They can only sting us once the bees; in a kamikaze act on behalf of their tribe they rip their guts to shreds and spill their amber blood.

A killer’s shedding of tears after extinguishing a life is like nature pouring out rain in the wake of violent thunder. She turns the chair to face the window. The watchers are out there, she knows they are. When you watch someone, be prepared to be watched in turn. Surveillance breeds counter-surveillance. She gives the windowpane a hard, blank stare. A distant thunder sends a shadow, faint at first, now darkening. Here it comes, as she knows it must, the weeping of the clouds. The sorrow after the killing, mixed with the tears of all the lost ones, is pelting her window in the guise of raindrops. “I know you,” she whispers, “I know you all. Have you come to watch me keep my silence and to witness my ever-growing sorrow?”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 7

Solemn Dancer – by Jac Forsyth

Faded and feathered know the solemn dancer. They fold with it and scold with it, and heaven knows they grow old with it. The land crawlers ticker-tape their warnings in a million parades, the biters growl and howl out uncertainty of tribe, and better than most the shallow breathers know how it plays out in drum and scum all the way down to the sea.

Truth is that ten thousand starless nights have taught me the flash of its soliloquies in scale and tail as well as I know my own. The mending of me was stank from the minds of fin and they play out that leap beyond soul more than any I have ever met. They live it like they live the ocean. The source it is, but not the knowing. And in all its abundance I too had forgotten that those who know it best no longer have a need for names.

So what of it here? Here with the takers and the breakers? So many pretty portraits painted that it’s hard to remember they all have the same stink ink behind their smiles. But it seems to me, child, that in all their certainty they still hunt and flee in the same direction.

I know you still see it too, crayoned in the scratchings, mapped out in the meaningless ribbons of their tempered tapestry. Because in all the wreckage of this unheeded I can taste the scars again, rust right through to mercury.

They play hummingbird with unasked questions while the plungers stay solid in their lifeboats and curse the sting of silver air. And so their denial soothes away the salt from my bones. The tower of minuets rings, the table shatters and I cocoon another piece of flesh from its toll. Strange that I had forgotten the hope of never feeling this again.

And what of your home, rag and bone? Will you watch the windows again? Will you waste the night with your thought taking? I have spoken with too many ghosts to imagine that life is the real priority here.

Fear I am but do not call me fear. For in all this broken water you still think of me in nouns. And I am fugitif.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 6

My Candle is Dead – by Ash N. Finn

All in my head. All in my head. All in my head. All in my hay-ay-head.

She rocks back and forth on her haunches, knuckles bone white from gripping her ankles. The storm rages and batters the inside of her skull with a thousand burning drumsticks.

Don’t cry, my child. Your mother is dancing around the rag tree by the old black well to the wail of the banshee.

The angry ocean tosses the ship high and low until it breaks in two. Your father feeds his rattling breath to the eye of the storm. Like every lost sailor before and after him. This here rag is for you, my child. Sing a wish for your father to the torn shroud. It’s going on the rag tree by the old black well. Your mother won’t let the banshee steal it. Take solace from your mother’s ancient practice. Sing your song in your father’s tongue.

A hand, icy to her burning skin, grasps her by the shoulder and stops her rocking.

“Evelyn, please, open your eyes, look at me. Here, take this with some water and you’ll feel better in no time.”

“Tell them we have to find the children and grandchildren of the lost ones before it’s too late!”

“You just had another one of your episodes, dear. Take your Xanax, please.”

The nurse places a pill on Evelyn’s tongue and lifts the glass to her lips. Evelyn swallows obediently, the whites of her eyes ablaze with the remnant of her vision. She grabs the nurse’s arm and pulls her closer.

“Who is your father, child? Do you know the singing child? Promise you’ll tell them. They need to find the singing child, find the children, the children’s children. So many lost fathers. So much anger and desperation. The children,” Evelyn’s voice trails off and she allows the nurse to guide her onto her bed, “Promise you’ll tell them.”

“I will, Evelyn, but it’s all in your head. Rest your poor head now. Here, I’ll hold your hand until you fall asleep. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. Sleep now.”

Evelyn drifts off into an uneasy sleep. The singing child smiles and places a rag over her head, prête-moi ta plume … pour écrire un mot … ma chandelle est morte … je n’ai plus de feu … ouvre-moi ta porte.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 5

The Dead Have Their Needs – by Phil Huston

Caswell set his guitar on the sofa beside him, picked up the vibrating phone.

“Cas –”

“You sent a women’s world ginger looker with a sassed-up mouth up the elevator this time, Caswell. I have whining from six directions.”

“She came on her own.”

“She knows your name well enough. Special Investigations lets you pick them now?”

“Yes, but she picked me for this one. And she’s three times as smart as she is good looking. Who’d she piss off?”

“A scrupulous, rule bound and higher ground young ladder climber a few flights down. He wants her disciplined. Something about a donkey?”

Caswell laughed, out loud. “You’ve pulled her file?”

“That’s why I’m calling. She makes too much noise we’re all miserable. How does a pushy Irish lass get a hand signed thank you from HRM?”

“She figured Henry’s headless wives magically piling up in the shadow of the Queen’s front gate, and nothing on CCTV. Why did you call me?”

“We need to talk.”

“You and Shona need to talk. She knocked, not me.”

“You think –”

“I think being a lady copper smarter than the lot of us is a shit job. She needs to know you respect her, not me or the letter. Be a gent. Call, meet her in a village pub somewhere away from the cameras, give her what you have. And you and I never spoke.”

“Then?”

“Then that mouthy ginger looker and I will make whatever is still an embarrassment to the Crown’s alphabet of ministries, after lo these many years, go away. Quietly wrapped in a whack job murderer.”

“What if there’s more to it?”

“Job security, mate.”

***

Shona sat back the half mile from the rusting hulk of the Juliette Simone with her binoculars on the dashboard of the complete piece of shit pinkish metallic 2001 Vauxhall Corsa they’d given her from undercover’s garage, simply because she didn’t have time to flirt with them, and read over maritime records and tables from October 1918. In French. Looking for some record of the ship in front her that had been flying a French flag, with no registry to be found. She glanced up in time to see Kylie and her unobtrusive belt pack full of swabs and vials and dental picks sideways herself into a fissure in Juliette’s hull.

She pulled her sunglasses down when a tall, thin, youngish man in wrinkled slacks, shirt tail in the breeze and Jesus sandals, who’d lost his razor a good few days ago, exited the BMW that parked twenty yards from her. He carried a rolled-up blanket under one arm and an oversized phone in his other hand. And he was headed straight for the Juliette. Shit. She texted Kylie to kill her torch, get back up into tourist land inside the hulk. She let out the breath she was holding when “OK” came up on her phone.

Wrinkled was navigating the sand and rock in the direction of the hulk when a man and a red setter appeared from behind the shallow cliff to her right. She picked up the binoculars.

Dammit. Kirklin? What the hell was he doing? He was retired from doing things for the government the government didn’t know about, and there he was with a frisbee and an Irish Setter on a collision course with Wrinkled? A frisbee toss that looked errant, but was perfect, sailed close enough to Wrinkled’s head to make him duck. There were smiles, a frisbee hand off, a brief conversation. Wrinkled patted the dog, walked off talking on his phone until a yellow VW parked next to his car. A woman ill dressed for the beach climbed out, took two steps before she leaned on the car and set her high heels on top. Wedding ring. Sensible suit. She took off jogging as well as she could in the suit and sand toward Wrinkled. Kirklin and the dog stayed by the Juliette, played a lazy toss and fetch game of frisbee.

Shona tapped out “False alarm. Back to work” on her phone

“?”

“Binkie beach shag. With the other”

“😊”

***

Shona and Kiley clapped politely, whistled lightly when Caswell’s band of oldies playing even older oldies mixed with blues called an end to their early set in the Frog and Peacock.

Shona breathed “Thank God” through her smile.

“I liked them. It’s fresh their way and the one looks like an old hospital mop can still sing. Too loud by half, but they’re old and deaf and probably have no idea there’s technology can do it without the volume.”

“He knows. He won’t.”

“You’re a pair, then. Old ways, hard work, results are all.”

Caswell pulled a chair, dropped into it.

“Cas? Kiley. She’s –”

“The singing forensics. Kylie? Seriously?” He hit his beer, set it down. “I know exactly how old your mum is. You, too.”

“She won’t like that, you being a bit of a heathen who might tell shag in a lay-by stories on her.”

“Not her. Her older sister is a different tale told.” He pulled the new manila envelope out from under Shona’s elbows. “Any the wiser, are we?”

“I ran into a cheeky, by the book, aromatic, stiff hair and creases wall in London. Two days later I had a ring from the Tower of Secrets. What do you know about that?”
“Nothing.”

“I’ll call that a fatherly lie. Kirklin out of the fog with his dog, probably his Walther, on the off-chance of weaker sex copper mischief?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s another.” She flattened a few folded papers. “As nothing’s are on the table, there’s nothing about our once floating catacomb. French flag, French papers that lead back to nowhere and a supposedly ‘oops, murdered by frightened farmers’ British crew.”

“Supposedly British or supposedly farmers?”

“Both.”

“Expendable crew, order bound soldier assassins told the mutinying enemy was afoot, no documents we can see. What did your friend in the tower have to say?”

“Gas.” She used her fingers for quotation marks. “Possibly”

“Nerve gas?”

“He insinuated that it was more than nerve gas. Something they had refined to not make victims twitch and spaz like a backline dancer on Madonna’s Your Nasty Grandmother tour while their skin melted. ‘Madness’ is what he said. Timothy Leary gone full on, ‘if I could put that up in my young brain.’ I told him Leary was after the last big war and he said that LSD was a weak, housebound half-sister to whatever this was, if it ever existed at all, which again he wouldn’t confirm.”

“Kylie?”

“From what I could pull through the black ink, it appeared to be chemically targeted to create almost instantaneous, short circuited brain failure. Every channel on every satellite, every song on every iPod letting go all at once in your head. Your childhood, your dreams, your fears. Your monsters under the bed and your realities and yesterday and right now all swirling around behind your eyes. The brain we use is a forty-watt bulb in a thousand-watt socket. Crank the voltage –” She popped her thumb out of the top of her water bottle. “Something has to give. When it does, everything shuts down. Drop to your knees death. By brain freeze. If it was fast acting and atomized or broke down quickly, when the bodies were discovered there’d be no trace of a chemical attack. The only curiosity being death masks of unimaginable fear.” She rolled the water bottle in her hand and sang, softly, “If you leave me now, you take away the better part of me…”

“Chicago? Fine, but not the ballad slop.”

“Ballads have their place.” They both shot him a look across the table.

“Right. Journey’s next, then. We have acid’s pumped up twin riding the sand storm of evil. Bottom line, Shona?”

“The test subjects mightn’t have all died. The Tower of Secrets is thinking if any didn’t, they might never.” Their little table became the center of a quiet universe for a few beats.

“Ab fab, Dahlings. I put in a word, Kylie’s DNA scrapings are rising to the top with nary hindrance or question.” He nodded toward the small stage. “The boys want another short go.” He held out his hand. “Kylie?”

She went beet red, held up both of her hands like shields.

“Like that, eh?” He stood, tugged on his belt loops and adjusted the baggy corduroys. “When the next victim of the evil sand storm turns up we’ll have you back for a go with a proper reggae ‘Down On the Sloop John B’.”

“‘Pirate’s Bride’ would be nice.”

“Sting is it now?”

“I told you, ballads have their place.” She looked almost fretful. “I sing to them because…Well…”

“Ballads are solace for the living, Kylie.”

She looked him straight in the eye. “The dead have their needs as well, DCI.”

“Cas. Caswell. Old bastard. We’re a team, not titles.” Caswell reached across the table with both hands, squeezed their outside shoulders.

“I knew she was the one for this bit, Shona. Good work, both. Requests?”

They glanced at each other. Shona offered, “Unplug, call it a night?”

He finished his beer, winked. “Don’t know that one. Put Kylie on it, she’s nothing to do until the sand storm of all that’s ill calls another sailor to the Juliette Simone.”

Kylie rested her elbow on top of her car, looked across it while Shona unlocked her rolling embarrassment. “What if we disagree with him, Shown, or come up with alternatives? His team bit covers that?

“I’ve called him a stupid, buggered old fool more than once.”

“Did he set you straight, stern and proper?”

“Yes. He said, ‘Prove me wrong’.”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 4

Do the Stars Still Tell Our Fortune? – by Jac Forsyth

They say that drowning feels like falling asleep. But child, the sweet nicotine of breath runs first in, last out. And I can tell you now that drowning doesn’t feel like falling asleep any more than being born does.

Drink the ink, be the stink. I watched you washed ashore, your mind shattered and scattered in a billion grains of glass. And it’s true that there were worse things than deserts and oceans inside my head that day.

I drew your name in the sand but the sea took it back. And in the darkness I still remember the shape of the moon, its smile chalked across the blue of an empty sky. Galaxies and star-chasers hidden, and for a while we were those who found design in entropy. But what of provenance down here in the seventh circle? Do the stars still tell our fortune, my love, when all that’s left to guide me home is the luminescence of jellyfish?

Take your hand from your face. What is it you’re afraid of seeing? Starlight is for the living, they say, and there are only dead suns and broken promises to be found on the endless beach.

Drowning doesn’t feel like falling asleep. To taste the exquisite torture of that one last breath as it waits in blood and mud? To hear the ending scream of your heart? To kill for one last look at the light? It seems, my love, that even the best of us are hardwired for murder. Hush now, child. Hush. Take your hand from your face. Drowning doesn’t feel like falling asleep.

But dying does.

You look to the sand for answers and miss the storm that carried it. And you should have left us alone, rag and bone. You should have left us alone.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 1

The Art of Drowning – by Jac Forsyth

There are times when the wind takes hold of the desert and carries it far out to sea in sandstorms too brutal for even memory to hold. And I was lost and found in the firelight of whispered stories, heroes of ruin sung into lullaby with the sweetness of rum and reminiscence. And maybe there were warnings there, but I was still too young and caught up in the riptide between tales to hear them.

It was vultures that finally drove me down to the abandonment of shore. In my arrogance I called it destiny, but pride is always the last one standing and heaven knows the raptors were patient.

We were a thousand miles from land when the sandstorm took us, and even before the first warnings were called it had ripped away the sea and inked the summer sky dark with scours of long away sand. I should have remembered the stories then. But while the wisdom of sailors cursed in the cabins below, I who had traded my life for the shackles of freedom, stood on the deck and screamed at god.

But sand doesn’t care about the difference between entitlement and entombment and it will tear flesh from reason soon as you can think it. And I tell you, when you taste the first crippling of those loving arms around you, it’s too damn late to forget which way the horizon is supposed to run.

So it was that we were lost to the drownings of contradiction. The others wept out their endurance for a while, but I have a will for adaptation and to be honest, it’s hard to tell the difference between heaven and hell after a while. Somewhere up there daybreak comes flawed from poison night, stolen black and beaten white and the wrecked and wreckage ebb and flow with the circling of planets. Sure it’s not perfect and the fish have no concept of personal space, but this place is more home than I have ever known.

Carve a stone with things you want remembered, say a prayer if it helps ease your mind, but don’t you come looking for me. I have crawled too long in the desert to find anything but sanctuary down here with the bones of sailors.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts