Thursday, 4 July 2013


Imaginings of the past

We had been walking for seven sunrises when the walled city at last came into view, stretched out expansively below us on the edge of the dusty plain. It was an impressive sight, the setting sun casting long shadows in the sand. We laid down our burdens, tethered our beasts, and set up camp for the night. Lembo and I took some gourds down to the waterfall to collect fresh water. We knelt beside the stream and splashed our faces with the cool water. We took off our threadbare leather sandals and sat for a while in the gathering twilight, bathing our feet in the shallows and soaking the dirt out of our cracked blistered skin. Our shoulders ached from the heavy load we had carried many a league from the wintering grounds. It had been a long, exhausting, dangerous journey, and its end had come none too soon.

Back at the camp, meat was already roasting on a spit and the group’s spirits were higher than they had been for some time. Hannibal sat alone by the hearth, apart from the other travellers, his tanned serious face illuminated by the firelight. He stroked his beard, seemingly lost in thought, as he stared into the flames. ‘There’ll be rich pickings tomorrow,’ he murmured quietly.

A cry went up from the look-out behind us. Lembo and I and some of the women rushed to the top of the slight rise just in time to see a sea of tiny lights sailing silently into the sky above the walled city like a swarm of fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight. ‘Paper lanterns,’ cried Uma, ‘the Moon Festival has begun!’

We rose at dawn, packed up the camp and headed for the walled city. As we approached the huge east gate, flanked on either side by tall turrets manned by archers, every one of us was fearful, terrified of being apprehended by the guards. All except for Hannibal, who appeared as cool and immovable as stone. In our scruffy robes, dirty and frayed from the journey, we looked more like mendicants than merchants. But at the gate Hannibal pressed something into the hand of one of the guards and we were waved through into the jostling crowds of the city.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Memories of the future

Centaur tapped lazily at a small white icon on the screen of the Cloud, lay back on his pillows and waited for the pharmaceuticals to take effect. He didn’t have to wait very long. Almost instantly, a rush of pure pleasure coursed powerfully through his blood stream and into his brain, a flood of ones and zeroes digitally simulating the effects of pure heroin. After the initial rush had abated, Centaur lay there in a dreamy daze, musing absent-mindedly on the safely mediated wonders of the Cloud. In the bad old days, he had heard it said, people used to spend large sums of cash on such pleasures, risking the perils of a contaminated needle, a criminal record and the untold horrors of addiction. But the Cloud rendered all of these inconveniences quaint relics of the past. Centaur drifted off into a relaxing haze.

When he woke several orbs later, he was feeling pleasantly aroused. He reached out for the Cloud on the bedside table and tapped again at the screen. Toggling idly through a series of avatars, he found the one he was looking for. Tonight he would summon Elektra. He had missed Elektra’s charms lately. Centaur dropped the Cloud on the bed, closed his eyes to the brightness of the room and found himself sitting in the garden of a Greek taverna. It was a sultry Mediterranean evening. Cicadas buzzed among the trees. Birds issued fluty calls. The air was heavy with the perfume of exotic flowers. The table was lit by a solitary lantern. Elektra was seated opposite him, wearing a long flowing dress of purple silk. Her honey-brown hair was tied up in a bunch above her head, emphasising her long, brown slender neck. Spiral-shaped earrings dangled from her lobes. Her almond eyes smiled sadly at him as her lips began to move. ‘How could you neglect me for so long, Centaur?’ She wore a fragrant scent, which teased his nostrils. The overall effect was so intoxicating he couldn’t take his eyes off her. At that moment waiters dressed as satyrs appeared from the darkness armed with plates of food: dolmades, hummus, and delicious flat breads. One waiter filled the couple’s silver goblets with blood red wine. ‘Never mind that. Let’s eat,’ Centaur murmured, taking a deep draft from his goblet and for the first time noticing the spangled stillness of the starlit sky. They ate in silence. The meal over, their stomachs full and their minds gently intoxicated by the wine, Centaur and Elektra strolled hand in hand down to the plunge pool beside the stream. Slipping off their clothes, they bathed gratefully in the clear waters. Elektra was an eager lover, taking him to heights of ecstasy that he could scarcely have imagined. Afterwards, they lay exhausted for some time on the bank of the stream, their bodies entwined, gazing up at the blinking stars. Centaur couldn’t remember falling asleep. It wasn’t until the Cloud’s insistent bleep roused him from his deep slumbers that he realised he was back in his room in Century Towers.