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 8

Mundane Madness – by Phil Huston

Caswell reached over Kylie’s shoulder, tapped the mouse, dragged the playback bar backwards under the video. He let it play for a few seconds and tapped it again.

“There. That frame. Clean it up. Get it out to the two closest coastal territorials. If nothing drops, expand. North and south, not inland.”

“He came in from the water side.” She wasn’t sure if she should feel insulted or ordered about. “He could have come from anywhere.”

“Look at him, Kylie. He’s bloody Aqualung, having a hell of time dragging the body. Whatever he floated in on, it can’t be much. He doesn’t have a car or access to a barrow or a dolly or a friend to help. Our ‘evil wind’ put a tenner in his hand and told him where to take the body. The locals know him. Find him for us.” He could feel the room continue to tighten. “Please.” He paused a proper beat. “The camera is brilliant.” Unasked and possibly dangerous, but he left those on the shelf.

Kylie made a half turn in her chair, her eyes wide. “They’re amazing, aren’t they? They work like cellphones and they’re smaller than the rubber on my pencil.” She practically stuck the pencil in his nose to make her point. “I can zoom it in and out with my phone.” She held up her iPhone like he’d never seen one. “And I used the Juliette herself for an antenna. With a fine wire to the hull?” Maybe he understood. “I signed the req form and when I told the woman that I was working with you and Shona it showed up in two days. Two days! I never get…But, um, are you sure? About Aqualung being local?”

“Until you tell me different.”

“I’m more of a doctor. And a scientist. Than a, um, policewoman, Detect, Cas. Caswell.”

“All to say you’re a first order problem solver with the broadened perspective the heart of a singer brings. Some problems are mundane, like where did our Aqualung come from. He takes us up the ladder to where mundane stops and the puzzle begins. You’ll have your plate full of doctoring and science-ing soon enough. Send a FAX or email through the system, and wait. But not long. Let me know if you don’t get prompt and courteous responses, even if they have nil. When Shona calls, text me. I’m gone fishing.”

“Fishing?”

“For mundane.”

She wanted to ask him if they were running, or seasonal, fresh or salt water and what kind of bait, but…Most men, especially the older ones, were humorless sods. The DCI seemed different. Still, times like this she wished she’d had a father.

***

“It’s not new, but bloody hell, Shona.” Caswell let out a soft whistle, ran his hand along the fender of the dark blue BMW X5.

“The garage had a note. Four-wheel drive, no bullshit. You’ll just deny it, so I won’t ask. I will ask about four-wheel drive.”

“We need to travel close to the water. Low tide at just gone half past.”

“Looking for?”

“Where Kylie’s Aqualung could have beached his boat at high tide. I checked the charts against his arrival time. He didn’t want to drag the body far.”

“You did research work?”

“Kylie was wounded. Scientists and doctors doing boredom. Couldn’t load her up with more and you were busy getting England’s daily missing sorted for us.”

“You backed up on her?”

“She’s a sensitive lass, Shona, and so in love with her toys.” His voice was on the border of humor and sarcasm, and he followed it with a tight smile across the hood of the BMW. “More to it, like you she’s the defensive that being young and bright brings, and not used to me.”

“You’ve had more Ladies First diversity training?”

“No. Dear old Mum’s manners well preached. Good people are hard to find. Harder to keep. Especially when they’re female.”

“Caswell’s compliments and candy, eh? That’s why I’m driving the beach in a drug runner’s wet dream and you’re on goggles duty. In future, if you’ve flowers on your mind? I’m allergic.”

“All the more reason, then.” He shot the tight smile again, opened the passenger door.

***

“He stays in a stone shed on the cliffs off the end of Barnes Farm point.” No one had thanked her for finding the Aqualung suspect, which she was starting to think was an unkind nickname, and Shown was driving like a wild woman. “He scavenges at night.” She had to close her eyes. “He picks up what he can afford at the off license, but no one sees him drink, or drunk. Do you think he –” The blue SUV skidded sideways, Kylie knew they were over the cliff. Caswell was out before it stopped moving, banged the door of the stone shed open.

“Gone. Dammit.” He twisted either way in a hurried survey of their location, swore again under his breath. “Kylie. The quick look now, or with us?”

“Um, I –”

The door slammed, Kylie was thrown against the back seat and Shona was grinding grass and dirt up fifteen feet high behind them. They could hear Kylie singing under her breath, her fingertips on the window as she watched the shed fade away… “and you snatch your rattling last breaths, With deep-sea diver sounds…And the flowers bloom like Madness in the spring…”*

***

Shona killed the lights almost a mile away and idled up on the grassy rise before it turned to sand, the same half mile point as always from the Juliette Simone. They hoped the half-moon between clouds would be enough and settled in to wait. In such deep silence they could hear each other breathe.

“There.” Shona hissed, pointed at a spot halfway between them and the Juliette, thirty yards to the right off straight line.

“Kylie?”

She adjusted her night vision binoculars. “That’s him.”

Shona and Caswell were out of the car, running. She jumped out behind them and was surprised at how quickly they had closed on Aqualung. He was ten yards away when it started.

The screech was deafening. Feedback meets giant steel grating on steel. And the wind. It was all they could do to stand, much less move against it. It started to swirl, picked up speed and sand, spinning faster and faster until vision blurred and the wind became part of the screech from hell. They held up their forearms to protect their eyes, their faces sandblasted.

Kylie’s “No, no, no, nooooo….” was picked up by the wind and amplified a thousand times. Figures who could have been made of cellophane stood around the Juliette, watching, arms folded, immune to the screeching, screams and sand.

Kylie screamed “No, no, no, no, NO!” again, and Aqualung exploded into a fine, red mist that blended with the spinning sand. Sand and blood, the rags he wore and bits of bone. They could barely breathe. Shona flashed on a holiday in Brighton when she was seven, knew she was drowning. The ocean found her a skinny, unworthy sacrifice and spit her back on the beach, choking, coughing up her watery insides in giant heaves.

Kylie’s soft voice blended with the raucous agony of the wind, sand and blood, rags and bone. And it began to abate. The softer she sang, the quieter it became. The all-enveloping, self-contained twenty-yard wide hurricane dropped from somewhere over their heads, down to their waists, on down to their ankles like a dying hula hoop, eddying around their feet until it was no more.

When the song had faded from her throat, Kylie dropped to her knees and fell sideways into Caswell’s leg. He picked her up in both arms, held her like a rag doll while he and Shona stared at the spot where the fisherman they’d nicknamed Aqualung had been. A spot scoured clean by the wind and sand as if nothing had happened.

***

“A French lullaby you said?” He tossed the t-shirt they’d all used to clean their faces over the back seat and waited for Kylie to finish chugging a bottle of water. All three looked like shell shocked, blood covered sun and sand burned tourists.

“Yes. From my Gran. I don’t know why…” Kylie twisted the cap off her third bottle of water, opened another, handed it to Shona, who stuck her little finger in it and tried to get sand out of her ears and nose. Caswell blew his nose on a gas receipt, held it up for the beach breeze to carry away, poured his remaining water over his head. He bent, shook his head like a retriever before he straightened.

“No lasting harm?” He got a nod from Shona. Kylie beamed a smile, grabbed his forearm and scooted from the back of the X5. “I was wondering, working with you two, when the weirdness was going to start.” She looked into her partners’ worried, red faces, shook Caswell’s arm. “If whatever that was didn’t jam the camera? We can watch it on my phone! So much for mundane, huh?”

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

 

  • From Aqualung, copyright Ian Anderson.

The Recruiter

Brian at Bonnywood Manor voiced some concern for what a female in one of his posts had done with a clown’s balloon animals. The following is an editing casualty from The Hot Girl, Part 3. Wherein a Valley Girl Prima Ballerina tells her deepest secrets and desires. Brian, your balloon animals are always safe with me.

Chix-Stix, Beach side of the 1, Central Malibu, CA (Less than a mile from Jim Rockford’s Trailer)

“Oh, awesome! Me? I would so like totally love to play softball with the TV ladies and Kenny and you and, um, like the queen of naked in a magazine girl. Which is, um, totally not right, really. I don’t think. I mean I couldn’t, even, ever…Okay.” Logan composed herself, used both hands to move her coconut chicken bites and broccoli basket half an inch.

“Like after you’re not a virgin anymore? But just because like, you know, you’ve shown it to somebody and that’s over, right, like whew, really, and maybe somebody else, too, but to totally show everybody? I mean I don’t wear much when I dance. And you can tell like how much of everything there is, boobs and butts. But you know you can’t like see them and, um, that, in leos and tights. I guess they all look alike, so what’s the big deal with me and mine, right? Unless they’re all different, boobs and butts and, um, those. But it’s like mine, okay? And, um, not everybody’s.” She moved the basket back the half inch, took a bite of broccoli.

“But it’s okay. I totally want to meet her and everything, because I’m not like prejudiced or anything as long as she’s not a for real mega whore. Is she? No, um, because you wouldn’t, I don’t think. Would you? No? Okay.” She dunked more broccoli in Ranch dressing, turned it around in her finger tips before taking a bite. “A softball team is like a corps de ballet thing, right? With all the same costumes and everything?”

“Jesus, Logan. She’s not a whore, she’s a psychologist now, and you’ll love her. You never played softball before?”

“Yes, I think. But if I haven’t? I can run and jump and they have costumes, so I can totally pretend I know how and be besties with it, ‘cause that’s what I do. Is it the one like baseball? With the boring hard bench thing? ‘Cause that’s like…Well, ewww. Fishing! Not as gross, but for real they both have like the same fun IQ as pavement. Have you ever been fishing?” She reached across the table and took his Coke. Her eyes waited politely for his answer while she drained his cup through the straw.

“My grampa was pretty into it, and we went when I —”

“I did. Once. To be nice, you know?” She set the cup back in front of him. “But what a total gross-out waste of time. This old forgot-to-shave man? He smelled really bad. Like old beer cans you pick up and throw away but sniff first? And like the dead-fish-on-ice place in the back of Safeway by the murdered cows? My dad, we went in a boat to fish with the beer can smelly man. It was like a dad and daughter thing that was totally lame. For me. Dad drank beer so I guess, um, he had fun ‘cause I had to stop talking to him after a while. And eww-my-gawd, Jax, the smelly man? He stabbed a baby fish with a big hook! Right in front of me! I was like get out baby fish murderer! Then I thought, and my dad got mad about this, that like we could go home and I didn’t have to fish anymore after that, right, ‘cause the man was putting a baby fish on my hook so dad could take a picture and be done. And because it was hot and the boat and the man were so-o stinker. And like the whole daughter fishing thing was a huge no-go for me. But dad and the man had beers left. So…”

He looked at her over his cup he’d popped the lid off of looking for anything left inside. “So?”

“So did you know that’s how they catch fish? For real! They totally murder a little baby fish and throw the whole hook thing with the murdered baby fish on it in the water! So some bigger fish will eat the murdered baby fish and get caught! ‘Hi, I’m a baby fish, just living in this bucket of water and old smelly beer and fish guy in rubber pants stabbed me and threw me out here to get eaten! That is so-o com-pletely horrible. So, um, I am like totally off fishing. For-ever. I still like shrimp ‘cause that’s like all about nets and stuff. But not lobster. Because I got in big trouble one time when I was little. This fat man my parents hired to cook lobsters for a dance reception? I told him to like go throw himself into big pot of hot water and see how he liked it. And that he was so-o lucky nobody had a humongous pot for fat lobster cooker men and he was safe until I grew up and got to be rich and had one made for him. But um, that was before I knew dancers don’t like get rich unless they marry one of those old tuxedo men with flowers. So anyway, they murder all kinds of stuff before we eat it! That’s why Kenny is like sort of a vegetarian person. She eats that noodle-y stuff and potatoes and soup. And way too many beans. And bacon. She likes that a lot. Bacon isn’t like a vegetable, it’s like pigs, I think, but she says it has a divine flavor she is totally down with, and —”

“Logan? Softball. Focus. No bench. We talk to people, they take pictures with the TV girls, which is why I need you to help when Randi and Lori —”

“That’s why! You know, why I want to be a softball girl. Because of all the TV ladies. They are so-o awesome. Can I like talk to them and everything, you know, and be like ‘Hey, TV ladies, I’m Logan Bevan-Burns and like I see you every morning inside my TV and you totally have the most amazing hair eh-ver!’ Because they like do. And like awesomeness teeth, too. Can I ask them if they like totally bummed on their braces like me?”

“Yeah, fine. But what we really need is you and Kenny to talk to the people in the bleachers, and bring that ballerina thing because little girls like that and —”

“I can dance in my softball costume? That is so off the…What do I say to them?”

“You tell the Perfectly You is Perfect story better than anyone. I can get you some cards with a good picture of you dancing and Perfectly You is Perfect on the other side. You could autograph them or write ‘keep up the hard work’ or something.”

“Borrrrrrrr-ing. More no fun IQ. What is wrong with you? When we’re little we want it like totally big, not some sweaty girl with a ‘go get’em, princess’ routine. That’s like what dads do. It’s all smelly beer cans and murdered fish and that is like duller than my rubber pirate princess knife. When my ankle was hurt and I was rehabbing and didn’t know what I wanted to do if I couldn’t dance? I worked at Disneyland. In a candy shop for, um…well, like not very long. I wanted to wear a princess costume so-o much, because, like especially Sleeping Beauty when I was there? She was such a snot! Like a ‘Now children, bee-have’ hair-sprayed TV mom and in the bathroom she called them a bunch of handsy little shits. And, well, I think they were, you know, doing that sneaky boy thing. Anyway, this really old man, they called him the princess wrangler? I made him so mad until he like cussed and everything. So I cussed back and said ‘I’m a ballerina, don’t tell me I can’t wear a princess costume because I talk too much! Like we can never, ever talk when we dance and it’s all about the costume, dancing and not talking, you know? So give me the fucking costume and I’ll shut up and show you how princess goes.’” She took a break, squirted some more ranch dressing out for the broccoli. “So. I don’t think I’ll ever be an official princess. Except in a ballet. Are they different? You know, official Disneyland and ballet princesses?”

“Princesses are princesses, I think. Ballet makes them a little more special.”

She frowned. “Only a little?”

“A lot. Softball?” All he could do was wait. “Yes” or “no” from Logan never came without a story. Several stories.

“I have a secret.”

“I’m good.” He gurgled the last of his Coke from the ice.

“So after Disneyland? I have a secret that is way more secret than even it was me who did the big SBD at Blanco’s last time we went and not the dishwasher man who came out of the bathroom that you said dropped a green bomb. I…Oh no! I told you!”

“Jesus, Logan. What secret can be more secret than you cut a weapon grade hungry ballerina fart at Blanco’s and let me blame it on an innocent dishwasher?”

“Sorr-eeee. Okay. I know Kenny paints faces ‘cause she is so like a totally talented painter and dancer person. My secret is I want to be a balloon man sculptor. In my almost official but can’t be because it would be illegal Snow White costume. I want to be an amazing, awesome, totally the best balloon man ever. Only a balloon man girl. Who tells little girls mega super big princess stories and makes them weener dogs and crowns. And flying saucers. And dragons. With balloons.”

“You want to wear a costume and make balloon things instead of play softball? I can live with —”

“No!” She reached over and knocked on his head. “Are you in there, duncemundo? I can like totally run and do that bat thing and everything in my softball costume and then change when you’re tired of me. I can’t be like boring splinter butt bench girl just talking. Mega bor-ing duh. But the balloons would make it so…” She drifted, held up a chicken strip like she was thinking about tying a knot in it. “I, um. I can’t, really. Yet. But, um…” Her secret balloon tying anxiety caused her to almost swallow the chicken bite whole. She separated the rest of her chicken bites and broccoli into neat piles on either side of the fresh squirt of Ranch, picked up one of each, dunked them and stuffed them in her mouth. He could see her thinking.

“But, um?”

“Okay. I found a man. Not like he was lost or anything, he was in the yellow pages. I went to meet him out in the Valley and everything? But he’s like a little weird and, well, mega weird squared, really. He does birthday parties for little kids and he’s like the ultra-est balloon man in the galaxy. His hands are all way ewww wrinkly and his mustache is like white but orange in the middle. And he totally smokes so much he like smokes when he’s not smoking! He said we could work something out for lessons? And I said that was like for real not happening in any universe and so then he said it’s two-hundred dollars for three nights. And I had to bring murdered cows hamburgers for his dinner. Every night! ‘Cause he said first I have to learn how to blow them, right, and then how to make them go bent when I do, and then how to make them look like something. That’s three nights? Yes! So, um, I thought you could go with me. We can take my car with the ‘thank you Jackson and Peach’ way stellar sounding tailpipe things you helped me put in.”

“You’ve thanked me like a hundred times for that when you did all the work. There were probably forty guys standing around Peach’s Garage waiting to see what a prima ballerina from Brentwood with jacked airshocks on a Firebird would do with a blow torch and pair of Cherry Bomb glasspaks. Peach couldn’t buy advertising like that. Let me get this straight, Logan.” He put everything of his on the tray and pushed it to the side. “I need to go with you to learn how to tie balloons into things like weener dogs and dragons because the balloon man is a creepy letch. And that’s two hundred bucks. After that you’re maybe going to bring an almost official Snow White costume to the games? Halfway through you’re going to stuff your pockets with balloons and make weird balloon things for everybody and tell princess stories? Probably based on ballets? Is that my picture of Logan and softball?”

“Yes! You way have it, amigo! Only like duh, Jackson. Ballets are totally based on princess stories, not the other way. And I have an apron from a wood store. You know, like the wood they build houses with? They have doors, too. At the wood store. You know, if you ever need one.” She caught his look. “A door, silly, not an apron. Anyway, the apron has biggo pockets for the balloons if Snow White is out ‘cause of the corps de ballet softball costumes. And that’s like totally okay, if it is. ‘Cause I can’t be like the only soloist, mega look-at-me ego bitch in a princess costume. That would be so-o totally wrong and I’m not, you know, like that. Unless, like when I am the soloist in the princess costume and then it’s okay if I’m a bitch ‘cause that’s for real like, um, you know, my job.” She reached over, set her pasteboard chicken and brocolli basket on his tray, took his last napkin and his wet wipe. “So now you have to kiss me out of my dress again quick before Saturday because I heard it’s like way big time against all your rules to cruise Big-O City with the softball team girls.”

“Logan, I can’t afford balloon lessons and another new coffee table. So —”

“Puh-leeze. You don’t have a coffee table, Jackson. That was at the French lady’s. You only have those like totally the best big pillows eh-ver.”

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