Welcome to the first instalment of our new bi-weekly creative writing series TUWL (The Urbanista Writer’s Ledger). We will be publishing extracts, short stories and poems from some of the best writers in the city. This series is designed to showcase Liverpool’s literary talent and to give a platform to the diversity of voices which make our city so great.
First off, we have an extract from Damian Jones’ first novel, A Singularity which will be published in November. The story is set in the near future where the world experiments with a revolutionary drug. Dreamers enable users to experience prescribed adventures whilst they sleep. A Singularity is set to a background of rampant climate change, technological dominance, political instability and domestic terrorism; above all else it is a love story. Here’s an extract from the opening chapter.
In that bitter night she wondered when he would try to kill them.
If she could stop him. Or even how.
She looked out to the dark churning sea, sat upon a log by the shore. Waves rolled in ceaselessly, breaking by her feet, and stars speckled the sky as though woven in an ancient tapestry. By their winking light she searched for an answer, for guidance, but was left bereft and hollow.
From behind she heard loose stones clacking, their sharp clocking-knock making her jump, until a slender man stood beside her. The tip of the cigarette between his lips glowed as he drew deeply upon it. He regarded the lapping waters for a few moments then looked up, craning his neck, holding that pose like someone hoping to crack his back into place after a hard day’s work.
He gently eased himself onto the log, grimacing as its balance shifted, and exhaled a funnel of grey smoke. “Do you not think you should be sleeping?”
She said nothing, had not moved.
“It is important to stay focused.” His shirt was stained with dried blood.
She crossed her legs over and stared out into the endless black. In the far distance golden specks bobbed on the horizon’s edge, a small vessel perhaps from Marseille. That place felt so far away now. A gentle breeze rippled her dress, frayed and dirty.
“In these situations,” he added, wiping a sleeve across his forehead, “some people react the same, yes. It’s no surprise. But no sleep? That is not good. You will thank me when the time comes to leave. You need to be ready.” He flicked the dog-end onto the rocks, cascading into sparks as it cart-wheeled away.
“Is he asleep, Jacques?” she asked hoarsely, drily.
He nodded slowly. “Ah. She still speaks,” he said. “Yes. He sleeps well. And before you ask, Ali will come again tomorrow.”
“If he comes,” she said quietly.
“He will come. Ali knows to come. Santes has told him, I have told him. And you told him too,” he added, “many times. We have used him before.”
She turned to him. “For situations like this?”
“No, not exactly.”
She sighed. “Have you been watching me?”
Jacques played with a small silver lighter, rolling the flint with his thumb. “There is no need to now, I understand. Where he goes, you go. And for now he stays, so you stay. I did not watch you, no, but believed you would be here, sat again on this lump of wood.”
“And you were right.”
“Yes.” Jacques rubbed his stubble. “What is it you look for when you are down here, up there? Each night you come down to this place. I worry my company is not good enough.”
She stifled a sour laugh. “To think. To watch.” Her head lolled forward as though to be sick. She inhaled deeply again, steadying herself.
“What is it you look for? Space ships? Shooting stars?”
She smiled thinly. “There’s a peace there. A solemnity. Something constant.”
She leant back slowly. “It reminds me of something.”
“Ah.” He placed a fresh cigarette between his lips which he lit. He puffed out smoke and played with bandaging around his left wrist and hand. His features were more pronounced in the shadows, more angular. “Not so like here? Peace, I mean. I think for me what is closer than farther away is most important. My family. It is their lives, and the lives of those who have been lost, who motivate me.”
She remained quiet.
“My brother, he had a telescope once. He watched the sky at night for many hours. He could not explain what he looked for, either, but said the universe made him feel small and insignificant.”
She said nothing.
“Why puzzle over mysteries far away, Selene, when we have plenty before us?”
“I never said I could not explain it,” she said. The rhythmic pace of the breaking waters soothed a sliver of her soul. She steeled her flayed nerves. “It is something that comforts me. A constant. Okay?”
“We all have our private sorrows,” Jacques continued, drawing on the cigarette tightly. “That is why you are here and why I am here beside you. Do I think of my brother? Always.” He held the smoke in his body for a few moments. “And what is done is done. We cannot change now. People’s decisions bring them to these moments, bring us to these outcomes. That is all life is. A series of decisions and outcomes.” He paused, savouring his words, exhaling slowly. “Decisions and outcomes, Selene. Anyway, did you see yet? You were on TV again. The red case, too. Monique was right about that. It looks great.”
She looked at him. He stared right back, eyes glinting in the dark like a cat.
“Yes? We must do as we said we would. To wait. They have said they are looking for two people. Two terrorists.”
Something in his words glazed over her, an icy hypnosis. She shivered and broke free from it and dabbed tears away. “Terrorists? He lied to us. Santes lied to all of us. I don’t even care if you knew or not. I just want out of this, I want us out of this.”
“Listen,” he chided. “There were no lies. Only an accident. Why don’t you hold my hand, and I can take you away from this?”
She recoiled, meeting his gaze. “How could it be an accident? She said fifteen metres, twenty.”
“Selene, Selene. My dear Selene. Do not trouble yourself with this concern now. Presently we have closer worries – closer than fifteen fucking metres – to you, to him, to all of us. I think tomorrow he will come, maybe the day after. He knows to come. Listen. We are where we are. That cannot be changed. We must stay until we are safe to leave. Do you understand?” He spoke as if such nocturnal meetings by the shoreline between them were a regular occurrence, tapping ash onto the rocks. “I did not know this would happen. If you believe me or not, that is for you to decide.” He shook his head. “But what matters is we keep our plan. Santes will come Friday latest. If not I will call him again, but not from here. From only the town, and only me.” He looked at her and she did not look back. She stared into some part of the depthless black beyond, transfixed. “Do you understand? We keep our plan.”
Selene assented, nodding slowly.
Jacques stood up and extinguished the stub on the log. “One of us should be inside. I am going to sleep soon. You should come soon, too.” He adjusted the ivory grip of a pistol sticking out from the small of his back. Water lapped lazily over the rocks, hissing and fizzing, like wind washing through a forest. They listened to its cadence, the motion immemorial. Jacques rolled his shoulders and stretched out his arms, raising them above his head.
He yawned. “I thought you would spend more time with him.”
She turned sharply. “I have. I do. I come here to think. Don’t you dare even say that.”
He shrugged. “For me, I am tired. It is time to sleep. You want one?” He offered her a cigarette from a pack of blue Gauloises tucked in one pocket. His other hand was clenched.
“You have given up?”
“Given up on what?”
Jacques laughed. “On everything.”
He opened his fist and raised it to her face. She flinched. There were two small diamond pills in his palm. “Or what about these?”
Selene shook her head. “You’re crazy, Jacques.”
“Am I? You once said you liked them.”
“I did. I used to. But not now.”
“Such a changeable mind, Selene.”
“I need to stay here. In the real world. I don’t want to dream anymore.”
His fingers curled back over the pills. “It’s good I am not easily offended.”
She looked away across the waters and Jacques regarded the rising moon’s glittering path upon the dark sea before them. “No matter. I don’t need to repeat no mobiles? No communication. People might watch for us, now or later. We can be seen, still, heard too. Eyes and ears all over, even here. Everywhere.”
She shook her head.
“Tomorrow you will feel better for what has passed.”
She didn’t reply.
“Let us see what comes,” he said finally, and made his way back up the path. He turned back. “How long do you plan to stay here for?”
“As long as it takes,” she said, half over her shoulder, and did not see his casual shrug.
Then she did watch him, rocks knocking together under his feet, shirt and shorts fading ethereally into the night, and smelt the smoke still hanging from his last exhalation. Just his torso lingering then that dissolved too with his footfalls, and she was alone once more.
She knew she had to go back herself.
Yet she looked back to the sea and hooked her auburn tresses behind her ears. She let the building wind wash over her. It stirred the trees, rifling through the branches as though searching for something. The butterflies in her belly were harpies scratching urgently at her innards. She looked to the moon for solace, for meaning, for a sign that would never come. It hung there like some arcane jewel, a buttery luminosity, the old orb illuminating tufts of cloud like speech bubbles she could find no words to fill.
She knew Jacques would kill them both but did not know when or why he had not tried to already. In her broken sleep. A pillow over her head. A bullet from his pistol. She imagined he would try to strangle her if he was allowed, yet something still stopped him.
They had to escape.
She thought about the things that had recently happened and they all collided wildly.
Santes. It had to be Santes. They were still valuable to him, for now.
He had to be the reason why they still lived.
In the ylem of creation he groped blindly for purchase.
Words echoed, rippling through currents of dark matter, a nothingness so vast it was his mind entire.
He drifted from one cosmos to another, a naked being carried on interstellar winds, blown past meteors whose silver contrails of memory were just out of reach, where coruscating squalls glittered across the fringes of the universe’s edge.
Then searing blots of pain in a brightness so immense his eyes boiled blindly white, like every sun rising at once.
A new light, softer, dawned.
Now – now he saw it.
He saw a body.
Forcing it to move a finger, flicker an eye lid, tense a muscle.
It felt like a great weight placed over his every inch. From the corner of a large room filled with chrome machines bristling with wires and people stood around him dressed in white gowns he wished himself to breathe; he wanted lights to dance on the machines again.
They were stood in a tight circle around the bed he was laid upon, faces obscured by small white surgical masks, saying words he did not recognise. All of them waiting. He saw from another corner a crooked window and beyond a valley lashed by a tumultuous storm which rattled the glass. Flashes of lightning illuminated a cobbled yard and an orange orchard.
The bed was familiar – a thick patchwork quilting of many colours, heavy and snug, his tiny frame smothered beneath it.
He blinked and the people were dressed in black, their faces veiled.
All of them in mourning.
They were sat on the bed, leant back against the headboard.
He wrapped the red ribbon around his wrist first, then looped it several times around hers. She watched him, fascinated.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said. “Trust me.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“Yes babe. Trust me.”
Then he wound the ribbon around both of their wrists and lower arms, now holding hands and their skin was touching. Pulling it tight with his teeth into a knot, he dextrously tucked the end away.
“Will this really work?” she asked him. She saw the red suitcase above the mirrored cupboard. “How long will it take?” She traced her fingers crossed the quilted duvet where a line of patchworked stitching had come undone, their legs swaddled beneath it.
He nodded. “Like I said, trust me. Maybe fifteen minutes, twenty. And relax too. We need to be relaxed when we do it, as we fall asleep.”
“We can really share our dreams?”
He paused and opened his other free palm, and gradually brought it close to her face. She blinked. In it were a pair of small diamond pills, embossed with two letters: AR. “We can, with these. Just relax.”
She squeezed his tied hand tightly. “Okay.” He squeezed hers back.
“Just relax.” He grinned. “I love you, Selene. I really do.” He looked around the bedroom, dimly lit by the heart-shaped fairy lights she had insisted on. He had found them chintzy at first with their gaudy plastic glow but had grown to like their warmth, laced from post to post; something in the simplicity of their message. “If you want babe, I will go first?”
She smiled – a bright radiance which shone upon him. “I love you. I really do, too.”
They sat there for a few moments, eyes fixed, in a silence which was always enough.
“Okay,” she said. “You go first.”
“Pass me the water please babe,” he asked.
He kissed her fully and they lingered like that for a few moments, lips mated, their bound fingers tensed.
Then he swallowed one of the pills, washing it down, and he passed her the other.
She held it there, tiny and dark in her palm.
All work is copyright of the author. If you’d like to contact the author then please do so by twitter @tandempr.