by Mike Philbin

an excerpt from the new novel

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



by Mike Philbin
Publisher: Silverthought Press

ISBN-10: 0-9815191-4-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-9815191-4-2

172 pages

paperback: $13.99 $14.99 + S/H

[click for details]


I awoke that fateful morning to the tail end of a cerebral whiplash. A two-tone shadow; half bright, half dark. The sun shone through the thin curtains highlighting this sneering remnant of dream space. My eyelids opened. The multi-planar shape leapt off my second-floor attic window again, like an instant replay, flapping its black then white wings a crazy monochrome oscillation. I saw how the sunlight refracted through those frenetic wings. It was a bird, but so big, so strange.

I'd been listening to them all morning. The birds. They appeared louder than normal, but that was a clear-cut case of me leaving the double sash windows open last night after I came back from the Turf Tavern, so stifling was the stillness of the summer air. That one giant silhouette, though, that was scary-crazy. Of course I knew it was because of the way a solid object bent light around it, the way a solar eclipse 'diamond rings' the sun's rays before and after apogee. My memory of the awakening painted the bird as man-sized; it was just an illusion. But I remember it more and more clearly. A man-sized bird perched there on my windowsill, chattering like a rabid clown.

I'd noted the way it periodically preened its meter-long feathers with its beak, a sound like stropped silk. I had been listening to the scrape of its curved claws on the windowsill. I could hear the wood splintering. I had this vision of the subsequent scene with my landlord.

"A huge black and white bird did it!" He'd laugh his ass off at the damage I'd caused to his windowsill and call me a "fucking drunken student prick" as I've heard him talk about some of our other tenants when he's been in our communal kitchen making himself breakfast. He didn't even live here, he was just the landlord, but he treated the place like it was his own; used the communal kitchen downstairs when he wanted to, stopped by to use the communal toilet or have a quick shower in-between his never-ending construction jobs around the town. He was always reno-vating old property into bed-sits to sell to unsuspecting students like myself. "Ready to fleece the rich," he'd say and if he wasn't working round here, he'd always take his breaks round here. He treated this place like his home. Even his mail came here.

It was a magpie. I had been listening to the solemn song in the back of the magpie's throat, a woeful warble, pre chatter. I had been listening to its creaking lungs, which sounded like an idling turbo charger pulsing soft and dangerous, like the poised neck bite of a one-night stand. I even wondered if it would slip in under the uplifted sash window. Its huge feathery head pushed through the curtains, an arm-reach away. I could see that lethal beak, then that feathery nose, then those yellow and red eyes.

I awoke because of the head-splitting cackle. That thing only realised I was lying there in the orange glow through the curtains too late. It had its black and white head and neck through the gap in the curtains. It was looking around, surveying my near-derelict living condition. It was measuring up to move in, it looked like. That giant bird wanted my bed-sit for its nest. I couldn't believe the utter shameless trespass. Just prior to working it out, I thought it might be a cuckoo female, something flashed up from my memory about ornithology and feather patterns. It was scoping out my nest for its own, waiting to move in and oust me from my own property. But it hadn't made the 'cuckoo' sound, so I… I couldn't believe the size of that thing. I awoke in mid-scream, flapping my arms and flailing at the thing, my mouth agape. I had woken myself up coming out of an awful dream about the owl-eyed thief of dreams come to peck my mind clean.

And there it stood like a concrete sculpture you see on those old mansions out in the country. It stood there piercing me with its yellow and red eyes. I could suddenly feel the crystals of sleep in the inner corners of my eyes like a high-alkalinity irritant. The bird's beak opened as slow as anything I have ever witnessed. The colours refracting through its separating neck feathers were just psychedelic. I thought I was tripping. And this deafening cackle like some enormous football rattle came out of it. The shape shifted in front of my eyes as the mechanical chatter grew to an intense jet-engine volume. Only a magpie could make such an alien noise.

The curtains settled as I unscrewed my face and let my hands fall from my ears. My heart was literally hammering against my chest. I was damn-near deafened. A soft hissing overlaid the normal sounds of the morning for an hour after that like tinnitus. Strangely, cobwebs clung to my face and hands like I'd been lying here, in my bed, gathering dust for weeks and weeks. I shakily got up out of bed then, wiping a cold sweat from my forehead. I had never known such terror. My body knew what it needed.

I gulped down a glass of water and went to work on my sand-filled leather kick bag that the neighbours below me so appreciated.

Kick Bag hung there in the accusative gloom awaiting my brutal attention. That was my name for it. Well, you gotta depersonalise the enemy, right? Kick Bag was its name and taking it hard was its game. It stood there with its virtual sneer on its virtual face, willing me to fuck with it. It was expecting me to take out my frustration and fear on it. It wanted me to unleash my anger and forget the enormous bird. It could help me forget. It had such a tempting demeanour, hung there like that, the weight of a hung man, strapped from the ceiling support beams in this old Georgian house. The landlord had done a bizarre thing with the ceiling. It had a sort of under-ceilingthat's the only way my morning brain will allow me to describe it. He had 'built' the ceiling in a concave sorta pyramid-from-the-inside shape so that I could see the ceiling supports, the rafters, and THEN the ceiling. It was like living in a pyramid in many ways, and I guess that's what really excited me about the place when I first came to view it some three years ago.

Tenants below me came and went, all of them ceiling bangers. But nobody ever seemed to tell the landlord, or he never really gave a toss if one of his paying-over-the-odds tenants whined a bit about the psycho in the attic room. I got used to the damp and the creaking of the floorboards. Many didn't and left that house after their first six months.

I'll be twenty years old in three months' time. I'm what you call a Stayer. I learned that in my youth. Find somewhere you like and stay, no matter what. Make it work for you. Most importantly, the place had somewhere I could hang Kick Bag. It was soft brown leather. The skin had cracks all over it, and I'd had to tape it up more than once in the contact zone. A grey waistband of gaffer tape held in its sandy guts. I think I saw the beams in this place and signed a deposit cheque on the spot.

I approached Kick Bag in my wretched boxer shorts. I'd had the boxer shorts on for like three days, but the sweat I was gonna have in just a few minutes meant it was pointless to change them just to spar with Kick Bag. I say spar. It wasn't a passive partner in my workouts. I'd had wooden poles about 3-inch-diameter inserted through the kick bag at appropriate intervals to punch height and medium kicking height, supported by 3-inch-diameter bright red plastic eyeholes so that the leather wouldn't rip with the first kick. It was like one of those fixed, wooden Wing Chun kick dolls, but the fact that it was made of leather, was full of sand and free hung so that it could spin and technically counter attack was the major difference. It could dance with your moves, it could spin out counter attacks and anticipate high or low countersit was nearly alive in a very abstract and performance-mirroring sense. I imagine if I were ever to be attacked in a late-night alleyway by a free-standing pole-skewered 6-foot-tall leather kick bag, it wouldn't stand a chance. I was training myself to fight these swinging assassins, which was probably the worst thing a martial artist could do were it the only training my body received, the only conditioning to the thrust and sweep of parry and attack. My colleagues at the Dojo in town saw that I never became conditioned to merely swinging enemies. Those bastards, they certainly knew how to keep one alive.

Kick Bag says punch high. Swings a pole around smooth and slow like a kitten playing with a ball of wool. I always listen to Kick Bag, even though sometimes he knows if I've hit off centre and forces me to make a very rapid ducking parry cum low punch counter. He's a mischievous fuck, is Kick Bag. In his own centripetal way he is an interesting whirling dervish of an opponent. Totally false, I understand. I do understand there's no surrogate for a real living breathing insane opponent who wants to bite your nose off, but he sure can take some good hits, joint locks that would dislocate the elbows, wrists, ribs and thighs of real opponentsone needs a testing ground where the most savage work can be tried out in relative safety. One needs the freedom to practise the killer moves, the neck breaker moves again and again in the privacy of one's own zone. Who gives a shit for a few ceiling-hammering neighbours? They'll be gone soon enough anyway, moving on to quieter ceilings in nicer areas where they can raise their 1.6 children and tend their non-communal rear garden at their leisure.

After my workout, the room was laced with a cloud of sparkling orange and grey dust from my activity with the bag. I looked at the digital clock by my bed7 a.m. on the dot. Time everyone in this house was awake anyway, but no banging on the ceiling below me. I didn't even know if there were any tenants currently in #8. I was panting and sweatingmy favourite state of being. I did some final stretching out exercises, did thirty squat thrusts and thirty star jumps, then went to the double sash window and opened the curtains to let the first light of the day in, still puffing and blowing out the remaining cobwebs of my aggression.

I saw the enormous claw marks on the windowsill and nearly shit myself. I stuck my head out and saw the bucket load of still-cooling caustic-white bird crap running down the red-brick wall. A fear I'd never known before kicked seven colours out of me.





Copyright © 2008 Mike Philbin

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Mike Philbin (born 1966 in St Helens, Merseyside) is an artist, editor and author residing in Oxford in the United Kingdom. He spent the late 1980s and early 1990s exhibiting his brand of psycho-realist paintings in one-man shows in St Helens, Liverpool and London.

Philbin's 'genreclectic' novel-writing career began in 1989 when Creation Books published his psycho-erotic novel Red Hedz (under the pseudonym Michael Paul Peter). Since then he has had five novels published in the independent press and has worked with many other collaboration-friendly writers.

According to a Philbin-penned spoof science article in issue 14 of Dementia 13 Magazine, the Hertzan Chimera Unit is a fundamental particle (equivalent to a free neutron) that predicts that gravity is the driving force in the universe via something called Universal Equilibrium. Light travels backwards towards the source as U.E. fills in, and matter is the true repulsive force. For the last fifteen years since the Dementia 13 article, most of Philbin's writing has been published as Hertzan Chimera.

Philbin is the editor of the Chimeraworld anthology, an advocate of collaborative fiction and the death of genre.

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