“I am a winged creature who is too rarely allowed to use its wings. Ecstasies do not occur often enough.” Anais Nin

It has gone midnight when I cross the park but he is quite visible by the street lamp. Stick limbs. Wild hair. The sickly-sweet scent of honey. He is filthy and beautiful, this Monarch-Man, my Emperor of Flies.

I have been following him for months now. Sometimes it feels like my whole life has been lost to his search. Rather, it has been lost to my search for him. He takes no part in my hunt. I would be surprised if he knew that I sought him at all. But I had, I have; from the first moment I set eyes on him, crawling from the tube station.

I alone watched him tumble through the turnstiles and into the street. He reached the curb on his side of the road at the same time that I did on mine. I could not have said what it was about him that made me stop and stare, but stare I did. For a second he lingered there, hovering on the spot between pavement and road. Lifting a bare foot, he seemed to test the air, as though tasting the city with his soles. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he fluttered to the gutter.

He looked small at the roadside, smaller even than I was sure he was. His coat was much too large, and I was reminded of a child wearing his father’s clothes. In another life he might have been carved from marble; smooth lips, blonde hair, eyes vast and shadowed in the hollows of his face. But he was no classical beauty. His skin was pale and marred with fatigue. Hunger had made him lean, and in a darker street I might have mistaken him for a woman. A taxi braked beside him, its headlights in his face, and for one moment his eyes shone like gold. Then he recoiled, his hands flying to his face, and the taxi drove on.

I saw him many times after that first encounter. Perhaps it was chance. Perhaps it was that face. I can see it now, upturned to the street-lamp, bathed in the orange glow. I see his tight lips, his dusty skin. His eyes are like two orbs of polished stone. I see myself in them a thousand times over, growing larger as I approach through the park.

The third time we met was at rush hour. That day I had waited for him, and I thought my heart might burst when I saw him stagger from the station. A dozen men and women swept after him, throwing his face back at me from the polished toes of their black shoes. It was the evening commute, the streets busy, and his reflection was a hall of mirrors in their gleaming footwear. I am not sure that he saw himself, whether he can see at all, in fact, but I saw. Standing outside the large bank on the opposite side of the road, I listened to the drone of traffic and the chatter of conversation and the raw voice of the Lebanese singer on the street corner, and I saw his face a hundred times over.

When I think back to the dozens of times I have seen him, it is easy to imagine the world fast-forwarding around me. I see streets filled with blurred shapes as people speed home, streaming through the city in a black tide of business suits and smart shoes. Traffic becomes one long course of light and motion; a film strip racing on a reel. Everything stretches and grows, even the dying sun melting in the sky, except for the man on the pavement, my Monarch-Man, the Emperor of Fractured Faces.

The Lebanese singer frequents the station at least as much as me. I suspect she does well for herself there. On those occasions when we are both there at the same time, her songs carry clearly across the street, made stronger by a microphone, and I imagine her voice is the wind. Sometimes I turn to her while passion spills from her mouth. Her eyes are usually closed while she sings. Seeing this, I close my eyes too and allow myself to be carried away by her voice. The sound is heat and flowers and dry summer air. I can smell roses, taste honey on my tongue. When I open my eyes again, I am always staring at the man in the gutter.

I fancy that I can smell roses now. It is not an impossible notion, in the park, and yet I know rose-beds are not the source. In thirty seconds I will be standing underneath the street lamp beside him. It will be the closest we have ever been to each other, and I imagine it is honey making my throat stick. Outwardly he is no different to the dozens of other homeless men and women whom I have encountered throughout my life in the city. His clothes are soiled but well-cared for. This close, I can see that rips in his jeans have been neatly stitched. The jeans themselves are faded almost to death. As I marvel at the needlework at his kneecaps, I wonder if he stitched them himself, or if he knows someone who fixes them on his behalf. I wonder how much the jeans mean to him, and when the last time was that he took them off. I wonder if I have ever cared about anything as much as he must care about the denim on his legs. I know that I have, because I have found him.

He smiles as I swarm in his eyes, this Monarch-Man, my Emperor. I smile back. Slowly he turns from the street lamp to face me. His arms are thin, bare bones really, concealed inside the loose sleeves of his old coat. I do not know for sure that the coat is old but it looks it; beige and filthy and treasured. He shifts slightly and I think I glimpse colour; a vivid flash revealed by his collar. I glimpse other things, too, under the coat, under the flesh, too much for me to take in all at once: the flailing limbs of a drowning spider, an egg as it cracks and drips with bright yolk, the sound of the egg’s shell as it breaks open and the crunch of mandibles and a cloud of butterflies, swirling silently over a flowering field. In the face of him, and in the fractured surfaces of his eyes, I am annihilated a million times over.

I realise I am cowering on the floor. My heart rages against my aching ribs. The first I feel of his touch is his hand against my own. I know it’s not a hand in the true sense, any more than those are fingers clasping mine, but that is what I can liken it to most. His fingers slide up my arm, dry and smooth like velveteen laces, until they come to rest beneath my chin. They hover there briefly, stroking my neck, their featheriness soft against my skin, before gently lifting me upwards. Then he takes my hand again, and together we dance around the street lamp, and the night whispers with wing-beats.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved

Medusa Burns

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
Aristotle Onassis

Cars stream past the service station. From his seat at the window, Richard has a clear view of the car park and the road beyond. It is not much of a view but it is still preferable to the sight that greets him on his plate: a limp, Full English fry-up swimming in ketchup and grease. He is not an enthusiastic diner, unless he counts his evening cigarette as some sort of nourishment, but he can’t remember when he last ate, so he forces the food down. There is coffee, at least. Black, without sugar. Mopping up some of the ketchup with a slice of toast he returns his attention to the road.

Dusk burns in the distance, illuminating every smear on the restaurant window. Staring through the dust into the horizon, he entertains the thought of stepping into its fire and being consumed; a blazing end to an unremarkable life.

He has not always felt this way. For years the portraits in his studio kept him sane; friends, family, company in the night when it grew dark and he had no one to talk to, or dream of, except those whom he had brought to life with watercolour. Fondly he remembers Friedrich and his expecting wife, little Felix who dreamed of one day flying with the birds, old Joseph, who gazed back at him so openly from his canvas. When he smiled, he fancied the portraits smiled back at him. If he joked, they laughed, their faces swimming like disturbed water. Looking into their eyes, he felt they knew him, or at least understood who he was.

His heart pounds as he relives the moment that he realised they were flawed. He had loved his portraits desperately, but that love had blinded him to their dishonesty. He had only to walk down the street, to sit on a bench and watch the people passing by, to see that his paintings were nothing like those people. It was a love affair with art, with life; the greatest there could be. Then the affair was over and he was alone; the kind of aloneness that came with being surrounded by faces he no longer knew or loved. With his new perspective he had painted other things. Pictures that better reflected the world as he saw it. Wives became wolves, their female snouts shining wet in the moonlight. Schoolboys grew beaks, black marble eyes and feathered wings. Joseph transformed; smudged mouth screaming silently while cavernous holes where eyes should have been watched him from under their brow. Skeletal things crawled through thin alleys drowned in darkness. Sometimes stars filled the sky; tiny lights like bullet holes bleeding in the night.

He stays sitting by the restaurant window until the sun dies. When it hovers on the horizon, he slides from his seat. Service-station chatter fills his ears, then the automatic doors sweep apart to let him pass and he is outside, with nothing but the roar of traffic and the cool breeze against his face. He swallows the lump that is settling in his throat. Bitter grinds linger in his mouth.

It is not a real horizon. Just a road filled with cars capturing the last of the day’s light in their windscreens and on their metallic hulls. He can’t remember the last time he saw a horizon that was not a tower block, a building roof, a stretch of road just like this one. Like the amphitheatres of old, the ancient myths, the worldly heritage he had studied as a young man, those horizons are lost now. Like the paintings in his studio, they mean nothing.

At the roadside he feels the rush of speeding cars against his face. He might be standing at a precipice; an abyss made of shining metal, glass and stinking rubber beyond which lies nothing except the empty sky. He has but to step forward and it will all end.

He thinks about several things, in that moment. He remembers what it means to love the world, and to hate it. He remembers sitting on a bench, the day everything changed, and watching as a homeless man and his dog begged for food. More than anything else, he remembers his last painting.

In the painting, beige skies stretched above dark soil scattered with sketchy ruins; the remains of a nameless city reduced to matchsticks. There were shapes in the ruins, which might have been toppled columns, or the black charcoal bones of a world burned. A number of thin figures picked their way through the gutters. Dozens more lay like rag-dolls in the ruins and underneath them. Their faces were grinning bovine skulls.

A single figure stood in the foreground. It was pale, the watery shadow of a classical statue, except for the dark mass of serpents on its head. Slender limbs stretched into the sky, entangled in the blur of black snakes so that the figure seemed to be falling. Its mouth was a silent circle sunk into its face above which two eyes stared without seeing into the sky.

When the painting was finished, he slept. On waking, he drank; vodka over some ice. Then he set fire to the studio. The flames took to the artwork quickly. He remained watching for as long as possible, petrified, while the firelight gave life, movement, light to the darkness he had captured in watercolour. In those last seconds, the painted city had really burned. Medusa herself moved in death, swaying but never falling as the canvas around her crinkled, became black. He can still hear her roar with the voice of fire. Then he had left and driven here.

He has waited all day at the service station for dusk, and a glimpse of the abyss beyond. He would have waited a lifetime, if he had to. He walks over to the easel, set up in the car park when he arrived this morning.

The world is dark and full of fear. A thousand times a thousand people live and breathe pain each day. This is their legacy; this is what it means to be alive now, the ugly truth revealed in a dozen watercolours. But as his studio burned, he had watched that pain burn away, and as it burned, it sang. It shone. It danced with life, even as the canvasses on which it was shown shrivelled and died. Ugliness had been made into ash, but before it was ash he saw beauty, and from those ashes he will see beauty again, the world resurrected in the exact moment it dies each day; dusk blazing in windscreens and on car bonnets.

He begins to paint.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2014 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.


As I look down at her cuffed and shackled form lying in its own filth and squalor on the stone floor, I feel no pity, no remorse, no compassion for what has been done to this pathetic creature before me. I feel revulsion and shame – shame that she would allow herself to come to this.

She begs me to free her, to release her from this pain and torment. Though she may be ignorant of the consequences, these things she asks of me are within my capacity to grant. Reaching down, I grasp her collared throat and pull the wretch towards me, snapping free wrist restraints and the chain that attaches her collar to stone. Blood trickles freely where her bonds are torn. She pleads with me not to hurt her. Hurt her? I would never harm that which begs for its own mercy, I would not debase myself in such a way. I wish only to have her pathetic carcass removed from my view and rid myself of its vile stench. She may not be of a mind to understand this, but we all serve a master – and mine requires I perform this act of compassion towards this putrid thing, my choice unconsidered.

Into a sunlight she’s not seen in years, I drag her writhing body. She yelps at being treated so, hauled across the soil in my vise-like grip. But having been kept chained in darkness for so long, there is no fight left in her.

Reaching a calm pool of water trapped in the curve of a small sun filled recess alongside a river, I toss her ripe and blood caked body to the ground. With a gentleness she does not expect nor deserve, I kneel beside her as I remove the symbols of the sins committed against her; the first of which is the collar I too have used to tame her.

Unsure what to make of such an act, she looks on me with both fear and desperation. An overwhelming desire to believe I am her savior crawls through her amber stare. This wretched girl, this torn and shame ridden child of man, covered in her own vile excrement and foul drippings – she wears her guilt as though it were a queen’s cloak, yet soaked in the foulest of deeds. Salvation she wishes for, in her eyes she is not to blame for all that has transpired. Is there yet kindness enough left within me to offer her such a thing, she silently begs. Yes, I believe there is.

Removing my own shirt, I dip it into the clear water at the river’s edge. Tentative of my ministrations at first, she cowers as I use the garment to cleanse not only her damaged body, but also her ruined soul. I allow the cool water to rinse over her hair, down her face, her exposed back, baptizing her body once again in a purity she cannot even remember she once possessed.  Washed clean she is a thing of beauty even to my time ravaged eye; it’s no wonder I found her trapped in such a pit. Beauty is the trickster’s tool – it is a thing to be cherished, a thing of great value, a thing most would hold in high regard. But beauty is also a curse that cannot be outrun when the shadow of evil takes notice and comes to call, exacting payment for just such an indulgence.

Gazing at the creature before me, I admit her beauty seems near a virtue, or I should say may have at one time. Having been used and wrung dry, this beauty is scarred so deeply on the inside that I almost feel pity for her – almost.

I watch her for quite some time; captivated by the mere sight of her and the quiet joy she seems to extract from her new-found freedom. My gaze cannot help but wander her exquisite form. She opens her eyes. No longer filled with fear, I see admiration and gratitude for this benevolence I have shown her.

As her hair blows in the soft breeze, I lean over her, our raven locks intertwine as if to embrace for a lover’s dance. She gently shuts her eyes as my hand strokes through her hair, down her cheek, coming to rest on her alabaster throat that is turned up and exposed to me in a gesture of supplication. I pause long enough for her to open her eyes once again, long enough to breathe in her breath, long enough for her to fully convey an acceptance of my wants as a sign of gratitude for all that I have done for her.

My eyes peering into hers, our lips barely touching, my fingers still caressing her soft flesh, I snap her neck as though it were a bothersome twig in my path, and her limp form falls to the side.

I stand for a moment looking back on her. She retains a beauty and grace even in death, more so perhaps because of it. Her sins absolved? I hardly think so. She begged mercy from her god, a mercy that would set her free. Little did she know he would send a darkling in guise of beauty itself to free her of all her sins, even those she had not yet committed.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright 2012 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.