Copyright of the text remains with the authors; Eley Williams, John Boursnell, Akiho Schilz, Komal Verma, Jack Swain and Ben Gwalchmai, 2013 Published by Annexe Press, 2013
Foreword Welcome, inquisitive reader, to the first issue of XZ. “What on earth is XZ?!” I hear you exclaim unto the heavens. Well, XZ is the first piece of an exploration into fiction. The idea is to dissect various genres of writing, film and drama by reconstructing them from the ground up, one story at a time. To do this Annexe is enlisting the help of writers and poets with a taste for experimentation. Each one is given a segment of a particular narrative to create and when the segments are combined, a tale emerges, whole and intact. The first genre we’re looking into is noir. Foggy alley ways, drawn out shadows and questionable characters jostle uneasily in these tales of double-meanings and double-crossings. Borne out of hardboiled fiction, like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, noir gave a moody, often gritty, aesthetic to the cynical attitude and fast-talking world of crime drama that it mirrored. To recreate a story in this style, we have six adept writers, each of which has been given the barest of frameworks to start with. None of them was given any clue of what the other five would be producing. Without further digression, turn the page and enjoy...
Nick Murray Annexe ed.
Singing The Necessaries
One This was the routine: pour the whisky the moment you wake up at your desk. The glass is ready at your elbow and your eyes can remain closed; your hand can find the bottle in its usual spot between the hole-punch and the ball of rubber-bands in the drawer by your knees. Angle the glass and bury your nose in its fumes. Don’t think about the evening previous or that blue pain in your ears and return the glass to the desk. Don’t instinctively loosen your tie: you are probably not wearing one. Now, use this unsipped glass of whisky as a paperweight all day until all the documents beneath it have been shifted, until they go from ‘To Do’ to ‘Done’. Finish the glass. Finish the bottle. Buy a new bottle, and shelve it in the usual spot between the hole-punch and the ball of rubber-bands in the drawer by your knees. The monkey will work for peanuts, the donkey prefers the carrot to the stick, and Sam Grayle would never be putting Sheaffer pen to paper or wingtip shoe to sidewalk until the bottle of Glenlivet is ascertained and close at hand. The base of the whisky glass was slightly bent which meant that sliding this morning’s slug of liquor across the fresh pile of scattered documents had a pleasingly magnifying effect on the paper beneath. The names on the folders, the telephone numbers, the time-tables, fingerprints; handwriting and typed-up notes all shifted in bulging macro-fiche under its squat, amber eye. 5
‘Am I interrupting?’ Sam Grayle looked up from the glass. He did not smile. The woman who had spoken, sitting by the door with her handbag by her feet and ankles crossed, returned the favour. ‘Do you have an appointment?’ Sam asked. He found he was squaring his shoulders and jaw, and a hand was already in his hair. ‘I did, for half an hour ago,’ came the reply. She rose and tipped the ash from her cigarette into Sam’s magnifying glass whisky. He leaned back and allowed her the satisfaction. ‘My mistake,’ he said. ‘My morning is yours.’ ‘My name is Eve Butler. We spoke yesterday on the telephone. That is, if you are –’ she replaced the cigarette dead-centre between her lips as she took in his yellowed shirt collar, the purple beginnings of a beard, the still-drying knuckles from yesterday’s alleyway, ‘the man whose name is on the office door.’ ‘That would be correct, Miss Butler. And I remember the specifics quite well from your call.’ Sam somehow managed not to glance down at the papers cast and heaving under his eye-line. ‘But perhaps we could go over the finer points again. Fraud, was it? No, to do with a man and his –’ ‘It’s Mrs. Butler,’ Mrs. Butler interrupted. Her gaze hadn’t broken from his, but the eyes had narrowed. ‘And I’m here to report a murder.’
Two 1. He pours another drink. He swirls the last half-inch of drink. He swallows the last of his drink, and pours another. He pours another drink and tops it up from the bottle. He tops it up from the syphon. He tops it up from the tap. He rinses his glass and puts it on the side. He leaves the glass in the sink and grabs a beer from the fridge. He rinses the glass and pulls a beer from the cooler. He finishes his drink and pulls a Bud from the icebox. He grabs a Miller from the icebox. He opens the beer and glances out of the window. He catches his reflection in the window and puts his beer down. He puts his Bud down. He puts his Miller down. He puts his drink down and frowns. He sighs and puts his glass down.
2. He sighs and pulls out the file. He sighs and reaches up to pull down the file. He frowns and pulls down the file from the shelf. He swigs his beer and puts the file down on the desk. He carries his beer over to the desk and puts the file down. He throws the file down on the desk. He throws the file down on the desk and flops into the chair. He flops into the chair and opens the file. He flips the pages of the file. He flips the pages of the file until he finds the list of properties. He finds the list of property addresses. He checks the list of addresses. He runs his eyes carefully down the list. He runs his finger down the list of properties. He runs his finger down the list until he finds the club. He reads the list carefully until he finds the club. He finds the club address easily. 3. He pulls his car to a halt outside. He pulls his car to a stop outside the club. He pulls his car around the corner to the club. He turns his car into an alleyway behind the club. He slams the door of the Taurus. He slams the door of the Taurus so the doorman looks round. He closes the door to his Corolla quietly. He closes the door to his Corolla quietly so the doorman doesn’t look up. He steps out of his car and watches the doorman look up. He walks straight up to the doorman. He can’t remember where he’s seen the doorman before. He recognises the doorman. He recognises the doorman from the photos. He doesn’t know if the doorman remembers him. He nods to the doorman as he enters the club. He ignores the doorman as he pushes open the doors to the club. He pushes open the doors to the club. He reads the name Strathray on the licence above the door. He goes into the club.
Three Evening was drawing in and the world was tinged blue. The streetlamps cut angle-poise shapes into the dark, and Sam Grayle stepped through them with his usual, clipping step. Something wasn’t sitting right with him about this last case. The murder. Something Eve had said. He flicked the clasp on his lighter and lit up another cigarette. He was down to his last. Time to quit. He said this to himself each time he reached the end of a pack. He crumpled the pack and threw it into an alley with a flick of his wrist. The crackle of filter paper. A glow. Blue smoke. He thought he heard a shuffling sound. Then, a cough. Quiet but unmistakable. He stopped, half in shadow, half under a streetlamp. A harlequin silhouette. His hand moved to his holster. ‘Ain’t gon’ have the time to cock that afore I shoot, mister.’ The voice was reedy, with a light whistle behind each ‘s’ sound, as if the man was missing a front tooth. Slow breath, drawn through gravel. Click and slide of a safety. Grayle felt his muscles tighten. He squared his shoulders, sucked on his cigarette, then drew the paper from his mouth, slowly. He couldn’t tell the shadows apart but held steady, making his chest broad. He felt the old rage start to flicker inside of him. Steady.
‘You gonna come out and shoot me like a man?’ He could feel his hands curling into fists. A chuckle from the shadows. Again the faint, whistling sound. And a clucking, in the back of the man’s throat. Glottal. A fat, dry tongue, rolling and stopping shut like a door. ‘Heard you been lookin’ fer me, Detective.’ The shadows parted. The man moved into the edge of the light. Tattered plaid shirt. Breeches. Brown trousers. Scuffed shoes. A moth-eaten scarf loosely knotted about a scrawny neck. Everything about his musculature suggested weak, knotted bones. But there was a hard glint in his eyes and his body was wired, ready to spark. Grayle had seen his sort before. No fear. The most dangerous sort of all. ‘I’m in the business of looking. What you do, kill somebody?’ Silence. He could feel his heart beating against his ribcage. ‘Shoot or talk. But I figure, if you’ve got me here between a rock and a hard place, you want to talk.’ He was being cavalier. Another chuckle. A wheeze, hack, spit. A wad of glistening tobacco landed by Grayle’s boot. ‘The name’s Strathray.’ He tipped an imaginary hat and swung the pistol in his hand. ‘Eric Strathray.’ He hacked and spat again. Where had he heard that name before? ‘I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure…’ The last thing Sam Grayle saw was the handle of the gun bearing down on him. There was a sharp crack, a warm feeling by his eye socket, then, the ground rising to meet him. A dizzy flash of streetlamp. Strathray. Eric Strathray. A cough. A hard, lisping chuckle. Then, darkness.
Four Sam slams against the hatch door again. He shoves his shoulder into it, despite the jarring impact, despite his jaw crunching. Again. Again. The floor underneath him pitches and he sways with it, then scrambles to steady his footing. He resumes his pummelling of the door above. He has no idea about the time but he knows he’s running out of it. Anger crackles on his skin. He had woken here in the darkness, with only a flashing light for company, the spot at the back of his head throbbing with searing heat. He found his pockets empty and their vacancy mocked him. Recollections came swiftly then - his intended meeting with the prosecutor behind the carnival on the pier. Shadows behind the gaudy lights, set against the tinny music of those old rides. She hadn’t turned up. But someone else had their hands on the papers then, the ones that would put Strathray behind bars indefinitely. An almighty gust surges past him as the door springs back. He stumbles onto the deck but finds little relief being out in the fresh air. He slips to the side of the fishing boat as realisation comes, creeping up his neck like snake. The waves endlessly sway, an alluring void, eager to swallow. The distant shore is barely visible, the lighthouse beam circling lazily. “Christ.” The snake reaches the back of his head and bites.
He screws his eyes shut, wishing it all away but his senses betray him. The waves continue, the rocking continues. Sam was never a strong swimmer. His family had been one with the sea, his uncle the best fisherman in town, yet Sam ashamedly feared the waters. Bile rises up his throat but he swallows it down, knowing it’s only partly to do with the rocking waves. So many will die if his own paralysis wins. Eve’s sad and arresting smile floats in his mind - her acceptance of the inevitable. Of his own volition, he slips off his boots and pulls himself onto the edge. He does not want that image of Eve to be the one he’s left with. The water is unbelievably cold and the air instantly escapes Sam’s mouth. His arms move though, his legs kick and he sets his sights on the lighthouse. It’s slow going and his muscles begin to seize up, his lungs bursting. Water enters his mouth more than air and it stings his eyes terribly. He pushes on but the waves win. He knows his own madness, for the sea out here is not friendly. When the water submerges him, he sinks into darkness, the faraway beam of the lighthouse growing fainter. Sam is not sure he can see. For now there is a searing light above, thrusting through the shimmering ink. A line of dark loops swirl beside him and shudders, sliding up or down, he can’t be sure which. Something sharp then bumps into his shoulder and snags him. He’s losing consciousness, his head so heavy he just wants to sleep. But he’s ascending into the light.
Five Case: #TMC1135 Extract of debrief of Acting Agent in Charge Michael Banner (MB). Times refer to those on the night in question. Names abbreviated at Director’s behest. Date: REDACTED. Time: 1.30am. MB: I tailed SG all the way back to his office. Traffic was light in his part of town so I had to hold back, but he didn’t make it hard to follow. Led me straight there. Couldn’t confirm but 99% certain he had no idea of the full implications, despite protestations from team members in deep cover, namely CB and ES, that the game might be up. My part in this now was to make sure everything played out accordingly. After all, we’d come this far.
1.42am. MB: SG crashed through the door into his office. He was barely able to stand – I would guess a combination of whatever was inside him and the sudden stillness after pacing the city for so long. Not to mention his physical condition: we can safely say ***** ******** worked a treat. He ran his hand along the wall, walking the length of the room, staring at the corkboard spanning the wall on the other side. Without warning, his eyes rolled back in his head and he hit the floor. I was able to observe all of this from my car parked across the road through a pair of binoculars. SG had neglected to pull his curtains. 1.54am. MB: After several beleaguered attempts to stand up, SG finally made it upright. He fixed himself a drink from the liquor stand: 1 part water, multiple parts everything else. He stood for a while in the same spot, rolling his head between his shoulders. He looked approvingly at the half empty glass in his hand and knocked it back. I looked at my long cold coffee. Then, like he’d been sober the entire time, he strode over to the corkboard with a purpose and started running his hands all over the notes pinned up. They’d started as a neat grid of rectangular cards, right in the centre. From there they went diagonal, neat, but not symmetrical, connected by different coloured pieces of thread. As they spread out they became more sporadic, like looking at an aerial view of a city that’s lost control of itself. When did he have time to do all this? I’ll admit it, I was lost. SG wasn’t. He leaned in to the wall, smiling, like he knew exactly what he was doing, and ran his forefinger along the green thread. He traced it from the centre, along
its demented path around the board, finger turning white with the pressure, until it came to rest on the photo of a person. He drew his head back, considering it. Then he pulled out the pin and plucked it from the wall. He held the photo to the light and gazed at it with this blissed out smile. Motherfucker knew. It was at that moment that I made the call to the Director.
‘A bloody dick’ they’ll call me. *** ‘He’s a private eye, Air.’ ‘I was a private, V.’ *** The cop that cut his lip with his ring coulda killed him, the shit. Doesn’t he sing the necessaries?
Doesn’t he make an economy of quick-cuts, of kept cops, and a Grayle of Butlers? *** ‘A bloodied dick’ they’ll call me. They’ll call me an ambulance soon after. I’m unsure I need it but see the point when it’s pointed right between my eyes I can hardly help it. ‘This is the closest you’ll ever get’. He loved me; we laughed at that. *** ‘Cut ‘im a new one V.’ ‘You do it, Air.’ ‘I do what I do in private, you know this. I was a private now I just am.’ ‘Alright, I’ll play. But only to show you just -’ ‘I know just.’ The skinny armed man took V in them. You should have warned me, reader. When you said ‘Come get ugly with me’, you should have warmed me to the killing by flagging the flogging that follows.
You never heard my reply, ‘I was born ugly. Getting ugly with you would be bathing in butter.’ I will eat you. I will eat you out of your mind. ‘But Mr. Grayle, how do you know you can solve it?’ ‘Because my hands were born in the mud’. I never did solve her. No, she’d told him that the crook would be there and his love had told him to expect the double, crossing he must have forgotten, because when he got to where she said the trouble would start he’d lost focus and treated the case considerately, temperately; Private Detective Sam Grayle went to Eric ‘Air’ Strathaway’s place and was mildly surprised to find Eve ‘V’ Butler waiting then he remembered what his love had told him and he beat the living out of both of them. I’d never said I was a loving man, only others had put it on me. Nor a caring, nor a happy ending.
Well that’s it! What a story! Conceived and created by six individuals each with their own style and form. The points of origin that the writers were given were sparse at best, giving only the bare essentials needed to keep the story cohesive. Everything else, which is pretty much everything, came from the writers themselves. What has come out is far more than we expected and far more interesting than we could have hoped. The characters have been given lives and motives, both written and implied, that could only have emerged by having a collaboration like this. We’d be very interested to hear what you think of the story and how it sits together. Join the discussion over on the Annexe Magazine website at www.annexemagazine.com/xz1 So that others can benefit from the debate we intend to republish this zine in a month with an extra page for any interesting discussions had. So get your voice heard.
The writers of XZ#1 are: One - Eley Williams Two - John Boursnell Three - Akiho Schilz Four - Komal Verma Five - Jack Swain Six - Ben Gwalchmai A huge thank you to these incredible storytellers for their imagination. Stay tuned for XZ#2 in which we’ll be plunging into the chilling depths of Gothic Horror. If you want to chat to us about the series or want to get involved, drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Biographical Notes ELEY WILLIAMS is a writer of prose and has recently been given the PenTales Hemingway Fellowship. She is undertaking a PhD in creative writing at Royal Holloway. www.GiantRatofSumatra.com/ JOHN BOURSNELL is a sound artist, composer, performer and writer. He is currently touring his show, A Young Personâ€™s Guide To Musique ConcrĂ¨te. www.JohnBoursnell.co.uk AKIHO SCHILZ resides in London and writes prose and poetry, for page and performance. Her stories have been featured in Annexe Magazine and she is currently working on her first novel. www.twitter.com/akischilz KOMAL VERMA is a writer, director and film producer who writes high fantasy and magical realism prose. She is putting the finishing touches on the first of three novels, The Sword and the Scion. http://www.KJVerma.com/writing/ JACK SWAIN is writer of prose and script, currently using his lexical talents for a rather reputable advertising company. His radio play, The Breakdown, is to be released by Annexe this year. http://about.me/JackSwain BEN GWALCHMAI is a nomadic writer of sorts, having resided in London, Wales and Bristol. He has been a writer for the Welsh National Opera, an editor for Modern Poetry in Translation, a Director for Backscratch theatre and his debut novel, Purefinder is being published this year by Cosmic Egg Books. http://BenGwalchmai.com/ XZ is a sequential online publication conceived by Annexe head, NICK MURRAY. www.AnnexeMagazine.com