Archive | November, 2011

punctuation.

20 Nov

This is a band called fun. and I quite like this song, so I’ll be interested to see what the upcoming album is like.

And me oh my, this guy’s accent. You know you’ve found an excellent feel-good band when the lead singer rolls the ‘r’ in ‘thrills’. The View did that song about wearing jeans a lot, which was my subconscious theme song this semester.

Love to your mothers.

Song of the day

16 Nov

I like this song. You should too.

Procrastipoll!

13 Nov

So far I’ve sewn up a disembowelled white tiger, written out most of the lyrics from Modern Life Is Rubbish on pieces of cardboard, acquired a huge stack of albums from the late 60s, early 70s, started a file in De Blob 2, walked my dog at least twice a day, assisted in the construction of a Mars Bar mud cake, and successfully introduced my mother to the wonders of Blur.

I have not studied as much as I had planned to.

As a final (yeah, right) act of procrastination, I’ve decided to pick a subject for next semester. I’ll do a second research project for chem, and *one* other course. Somehow I’ve rigged this so it can be any course I desire. Anything at all.

So here’s a poll of current contenders. Leave comments if you have suggestions that aren’t on this list, or secret insider info on quality of courses. Help me procrastinate/finish my degree!

 

As a ‘thank you’ for helping out, here is a picture of an aye-aye.

Even Better

9 Nov

…and here is my rewrite of the first chapter of Something Better. I like it much more now.

Something Better
A tale of adventure, romance, death, and pastry
By Eleanor Campbell

Chapter 1

It was a grasshopper, actually.

Aloysius Ursus had been roused from his sleep by the tickle of tiny legs on his chin. Throwing the blankets back with gusto, clawing wildly at his face, and screaming the word ‘spider’ repeatedly had been for naught.

The realisation he was safe from arachnid attacks washed over him, and he slumped back into his pillow. The grasshopper chirruped and sprung towards the open window. Why the window was open, Aloysius couldn’t recall. He wished he’d had the foresight to draw the curtains when he’d stumbled in late last night. Now the sun was streaming across the plush carpet, mahogany bed-frame and silk sheets, into Aloysius’s particularly sensitive eyes. He made a sound part-way between a sob and a groan, and dragged himself out of his bed and into his slippers. Shuffling awkwardly to the kitchen, Aloysius caught a glimpse of himself in the hall mirror.

“Oh…”

At least he didn’t feel as bad as he looked.

* * *

Teacup clutched to his chest, Aloysius gingerly made his way outside, into the morning sun.

The previous night was hazy. Aloysius could remember Jasper and Sander Olive insisting he accompany them to the college pub to celebrate the fact it was Thursday. Beyond that, the evening drifted through his mind like a series of strange and disjointed snapshots. There had been some odd purple-coloured liquor, and a group of girls studying eighteenth century literature, then a man wearing a smock, and a small cart being pushed into the lake.  Aloysius had found three socks in the kitchen, none of which he could say with any confidence he owned.  He hoped he hadn’t brought one (or, God forbid, two) of the eighteenth century literature girls home with him. He wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do with girls after making them a cup of tea. Entertaining ladies was more Jasper’s field of expertise. Aloysius’s field of expertise was making tea.

Aloysius made his way to the Market Town with a half-formulated plan to buy a tincture that could numb his headache. The morning air, still cool with night-time, carried the wet scent of cut grass. The Oxford Market Town was a wide, sunlit expanse bordered by long, stone buildings on all four sides. Between cobbled paths and streets spread verdant lawns, clipped and well-behaved. Aloysius scuffed his slippered feet along the path towards the chemyst’s shopfront. On finding the ancient wooden door shut tight and the yellowing sign hanging CLOSED-side out, Aloysius nearly wailed. It was only his Oxfordian restraint that stopped him. He settled instead for a measured head-shake, then tightened his dressing gown and sipped his tea.

Of course it was shut. Classes were running at this time of day, so Oxford’s students (at least, those dedicated enough to be out of bed) would still be in the Academy Halls and libraries, pretending to be studying. Attention spans shortened when the warmer weather rolled through, bringing with it a much anticipated decrease in the length of skirts. As he began his limp back to his quarters, Aloysius wondered for a moment whether Sander Olive’s girlfriend would hear about last night, and whether she would leave him once and for all this time. Elspeth was easily one of the prettiest girls in their year, and she’d topped Salve Synthesis last trimester. No one was quite sure what she saw in Sander, whose claim to fame was that he’d once thrown a glass bottle right over the steeple of the residential hall.

Aloysius was lost in thought, wondering whether Elspeth would agree to tutor him in Professor McCullough’s Ointments lab, when something caught his eye. A sheet of paper stapled to the very middle of one of the Market Town’s ancient oaks was wriggling uncomfortably, picking at its corners with papery hands, trying to free itself. Aloysius scuffed towards it, and cleared his throat. The sheet of paper ignored him.

“Excuse me…” said Aloysius. The paper said nothing. It was now trying to twirl one of its corners underneath a staple and jiggle it loose. It was only succeeding in tearing itself slightly.

“You’re just going to end up dog-earred if you keep that up,” ventured Aloysius.

“I don’t remember asking for your input.” the paper replied. Aloysius mumbled an apology.

“I should think so,” said the paper. “Now be a good lad and unpin me.”

“I shan’t. Not until you sit still so I can read you.”

The paper raised an eyebrow, then stopped moving about and proceeded to read itself in a voice like a town herald.

To whom it may interest, excite,
inspire, titillate, terrify, mortify, apple pie, aggravate, misappropriate!
Life-changing research opportunity! Summer scholarship! All-expenses paid* exchange program! Course credit! See the world and expand your horizons!

If interested, ask for Stephen at the Oldest Tavern.

( * excludes accommodation, utilities, food, and travel)

The sign, finished with its booming announcement, looked at Aloysius expectantly. With a slight sigh, Aloysius plucked the staples out of the oak with his neat fingernails. The paper fluttered to the lawn, dusted itself down, and ran off with a rustle. Aloysius was left standing at the oak tree, nursing his now-cool tea. There was something oddly appealing about the idea of a summer scholarship. It would look very nice on his curriculum vitae. Aloysius was not one for snap decisions, but his head was still swimming from last night, and the promise of course credit was attractive. In a moment of bravery (and what he would later claim was madness), Aloysius decided to get out of his pyjamas and investigate this life-changing research opportunity.

* * *

The Oldest Tavern was a far cry from the warm timber and clean surfaces of the college pub. It seemed to be built entirely out of grime and stereotypes. The wooden sign hanging above the door creaked ominously, the floor squeaked with every step Aloysius took, and the barman’s elbows groaned and grated as he dried tankards with a cloth that looked as though it had been sneezed in.  Aloysius’s voice wavered when he asked the barman for Stephen. The knobbly man smiled a purple smile, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, towards a closed door behind the bar.

Taking a deep breath, Aloysius pushed the door open.

“Alright?” a rather chipper voice enquired.

A heavy, wooden table stood in the centre of the room, maps and books spread across it like frosting on some sort of knowledgeable cake. Around the table were four wooden chairs, three of which were occupied by three people Aloysius had never seen before. The man who had spoken was pale of skin and hair, except for a shock of tomato red in his fringe. To his left sat a bookish lad, his glasses perched on the very tip of his nose. Despite the warmth of the room, he wore a heavy tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. He had not looked up from the book he was poring over. To his left sat a slight girl, probably eighteen, her face obscured by a black hood and veil.

“Come on then! Don’t hover in the doorway.”

Aloysius realised that in his nervousness, he had levitated about an inch and a half above the dusty floorboards. Embarrassed, he willed himself back to the ground and made his way to the empty chair.

He sat, and the hooded girl offered him a slice of toast, so he fell quite in love with her. The romance was short-lived.

“I don’t like the look of him, Stephen,” the girl said. “His hair is very…combed.”

The bookworm glanced up, made a soft noise of assent, then returned to his reading. The pale man tutted.

“Best we don’t alienate our guest quite so early on, don’t you think?” The pale man’s accent placed him somewhere northern, perhaps above the border. Aloysius swallowed nervously. The hooded girl sniffed. The bespectacled lad turned a page.

“Stephen,” said the pale man, offering his hand.

“Aloysius Ursus, of the Oxford Ursuses.” Aloysius shook Stephen’s hand, praying the tremble in his wrist wasn’t noticeable.

“Ah, an established young man, are we? Mother and father have lots of money? That’s what we like to hear. You’re studying?”

Aloysius was confused. The man’s tone was not unkind, but there was something disarming about that slightly crooked smile.

“Final year pharmacy and chemystry. I’ll graduate in September with honours.”

“Hear that, Julian? He’s a proper academic like you!” Now there was something slightly mocking in Stephen’s tone, but Aloysius pretended not to notice. Julian closed his book and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“Could be useful having a pharm kid come along,” he said. His voice was soft and musical. “Balms and poisons.”

Stephen laughed heartily.

“Won’t be a need for poisons, I don’t reckon!”

“Could be useful, is all I’m saying.”

Aloysius was now quite certain he was dreaming. He’d forgotten whatever courage had possessed him to come and meet with these people. He felt like he was auditioning for some horrific production. He was searching his mind rapidly for an excuse to leave when Stephen suddenly slammed his open palms onto the table.

“Alright! Aloysius. Allie. Al. Can I call you Allie? Allie, you’re looking a bit timid. Let me ask you something. Have you ever heard of Horizon Wood, where the trees grow sideways? Bit north of Peatmoor? Or the Sky Desert that floats above Newcastle upon Tyne? Did you know that for eight days every year, Loch Morar freezes completely solid and the fishermen bore a tunnel right to the bottom and pluck eels from the ice with their bare hands? No? Have you ever been outside of Oxford?”

“My aunt lives in Kent, we go to visit her in the summer…”

“You’re nearly a full grown man and you’ve never seen nothing worth seeing, or done nothing worth doing! Allie, we need you and your chemystry set. Come with us and we’ll give you a better education than books ever could.”

Julian mumbled disapprovingly. The hooded girl remained silent. Aloysius could feel his cheeks getting warm, and his heartbeat was approaching panic-speed.

“I… It’s an interesting… what I mean to say is that I’d like to see the world, but I don’t think…”

The hooded girl spoke.

“He’s a pharm kid,” she said to Stephen, “He won’t be able to refuse if you tell him what we’re after.”

Stephen nodded and nudged Julian, who opened his book again and began to read in his lilting voice.

Across a mirror ocean
Flecked with pinprick lights,
The glassy sea reflects the face
Of endless emerald nights

Arrive ashore ‘twixt knife-edge cliffs
On sand of broken bone,
A wasteland where the clouds cry blood,
Black Mountain stands alone

A gaping maw in mountainside
Lined with granite teeth,
The tortured scream of wrought rock guards
The cave that hides beneath

Within the cave, there sits a box,
Within the box, a key,
The key unlocks a portal
To a roaring orange sea

Upon the sea there is a stone,
In the stone, a knife,
On the knife, an ancient balm,
To bring lost souls to life

One tiny cut is all it takes,
A split in human skin,
To open up the dead man’s eyes,
and let the light back in…

Aloysius blinked as the realisation hit him.

“Deathsbane…”

“Aye,” said Stephen. “That’s a salve your kind would love to get their hands on, isn’t it?

Aloysius spluttered an affirmative. How many lectures had he attended on the topic of chemical resurrection? How many of his mentors had dedicated themselves to the research of Deathsbane? A sample had been found close to a hundred and eighty years ago. A few grains. The late Professor Theodore Boulstridge revived four mice using an unfeasibly dilute solution. The potency of the compound could not be denied. Nor could its rarity. Stephen knew he’d won.

“It’s a pleasure to have you on board, Allie.”

* * *

Aloysius knocked on Jasper’s door. His arm felt heavier than normal. He couldn’t decide how much of that was due to his hangover, and how much was sheer terror at the prospect of leaving Oxford. Jasper was taking his time answering the door. Aloysius leaned against the cool stone of the residential hall and did his breathing exercises. In…one, two, three…and out…one, two three… In…

Jasper appeared at the door in nothing but a towel and a pair of navy blue socks. His hair was a mess and his eyes were red.

“Who in the hell is…Oh! Whish! What the blazes are you doing here?” He sounded all the world like an Eton boy, but Aloysius knew it was all put on. An accent to match Jasper’s normal attire; the casual pinstripe suit and wide boater hat. Today he was looking a mite less dashing, all scrawny and pale and startlingly hairless.

“I’ve come to say goodbye, Jas,” said Aloysius. “I’m off on an expedition.” The words did not seem right coming out of his mouth. He suspected it would take several days for his brain to catch up with the events of the past hour. He had left the tavern with Stephen, who told him to pack a suitcase and be at the Market Town fountain at afternoon tea time. Julian shook his hand, and when Aloysius asked for the hooded girl’s name, Julian mumbled that she was a criminal and not to get attached.  Aloysius explained all this to Jasper, who yawned twice during the tale, then scratched himself in a most ungentlemanly fashion.

“That sounds like a jolly good romp, Whish,” the towel-clad man said finally. “You’ll have a grand time, I should think.”

“I’m not certain I shall, but course credit is course credit.” Aloysius gave Jasper a friendly nod and turned to go. Midway down the stone steps, he had a thought.

“Oh, Jas?” he called back. “Could you perhaps say goodbye to Elspeth for me?”

“For you?” Jasper replied, slightly confused. “Tell her yourself!” He turned and shouted back into his room. “Elspeth! Whish is going on some adventure! He says to say goodbye!”

Elspeth appeared from around the doorframe, clutching a blanket to herself like a toga.

“Oh good luck, Whish! You’ll be smashing.”

Jasper closed the door, and Aloysius scuffed towards the fountain, feeling anxious and deflated. It was shaping up to be an unusually unpleasant Friday.

Horrible English class story, slightly improved in four easy steps

7 Nov

1. Add awkward eye contact
2. Add overdescription of setting
3. ????
4. Profit

Tabby Cat

Tabby Cat crouched, her fur fluffed up against the cool evening air. Her tail was coiled tightly, her muscles tensed, her eyes closed. The sounds of the city fought each other: a squeal of brakes then the voices of three or four different car horns, the peculiar rhythm of the pedestrian crossing signal, the clatter of a tram with its heavy wheels locked into steel tracks, a bell clanging from somewhere higher up. Underneath it all was the drone of engines, voices, and electricity, too distant to pick out individual noises. Everything became a low pitched growl that Tabby Cat could feel in her chest, right next to her rapidly-beating heart. She was restless, but with anticipation rather than impatience. He would walk past her alleyway soon, after the cathedral bells rang out five times and the first of the evening-rush trams rumbled past.

There. The soft scuff of those steps. Never mind the drumming of hundreds of other shoes on the street. His steps were slow and echoed differently, and made Tabby Cat’s ears prickle in strange ways.

She waited until his footsteps had passed the alleyway. Green eyes flicked open, and Tabby Cat slowly unfolded herself. She arched her back, and a ripple of soft fur ran the length of her spine. With an elegant flex of her back legs, Tabby Cat jumped from the cold cement to the brick wall running alongside the church. She walked the length of the wall, her tail drawing sinuous patterns in the air, and then sprung to the narrow wrought-iron fence that stretched down the street. Her ascent was noiseless, except, perhaps, for the tiniest clink of claws on metal, but a clink is easily lost in the rattle of a city.

From her new vantage point, Tabby Cat’s green eyes found Footsteps. His back was to her, but she knew him from his sound and silhouette. He walked with his shoulders slightly hunched and his hands in his pockets, taking long, slow strides. His jeans were faded and fraying around his ankles. It was cold, but he only wore a t-shirt: soft black cotton, a bit threadbare. It hung from his body strangely, clinging to his chest, then falling loosely to the top of his jeans. Tabby Cat watched how the fabric moved against his frame. Slender was the right word, or slim. The top of the iron fence was barely wider than Tabby Cat’s paws, but she moved confidently. She kept her balance fixed over the fence, and her eyes fixed on Footsteps.

He reached the end of the street and waited with the crowd of ordinary people for the traffic lights to change. He kept his arms folded tight. Tabby Cat dropped from the fence to the footpath. The traffic lights changed, and the crowd surged forward into the street. Tabby Cat crossed a little way up the road, under the now-stationary cars, and using a series of windowsills, climbed to the awning that jutted out over the path. The air smelt like petrol, but there was a warmer, nicer scent in the air now too. People were starting to eat dinner, sitting at little tables outside, smoking and laughing. Tabby Cat didn’t dislike the smell of cigarettes, but she was glad Footsteps didn’t smoke. His scent was musty and spicy, like the library two streets behind them, or the post office near the tram station. He emerged from the crowd, now walking towards Tabby Cat on her awning. She could see his face, heavy eyebrows, distracted frown. His eyes were hidden by the shadow of his fringe. They’d be dark, she thought. Dark brown, or dark blue, or black.

Tabby Cat’s eyes widened as Footsteps moved closer. A soft breeze rolled along the street and made the slippery material of the awning flap slightly, just enough noise to raise Footsteps’s gaze to the source of the sound. For one terrifying, exhilarating, glowing second, his stare met Tabby Cat’s. She sat perfectly still, not breathing, her body tense from adrenaline and her ears flat against her head. Footsteps raised his hand and scratched the back of his neck, then his gaze returned to the street. Tabby Cat blinked and twitched her nose, astonished.

Green. His eyes are green.

Tabby Cat watched him reach the next crossing, and took a deep breath.

She continued to follow him through the city, his normal route across the long mall, through the tunnel under the highway, then four, five, six blocks further, a left turn down a narrower street. Every moment was dream-like, her heart still beating fast from that moment of eye-contact. Her paws found ledges and gutters and fences automatically; her mind had wandered back to the awning above the restaurant.

Footsteps turned down one final street, quiet and leafy, and Tabby Cat followed. She found the most comfortable branch of the tree opposite Footsteps’ tiny house, and watched him fumble in his pocket for a moment. He flipped through every key on his key-ring, trying several of them unsuccessfully. She’d never seen Footsteps pick the right key before making at least three attempts. It’s always the bronze one, she thought. The locks don’t change while you’re at work. But she liked watching him try the little silver one, then the bigger silver one, then the orange one. He would get frustrated and run his hand across the back of his head, through his hair.

Footsteps finally found his house key, and pushed the door open with unnecessary force. Tabby Cat heard the rattle of his keys hitting the table beside the door, then the heavy clunk of the door closing. The curtains were drawn, and music was playing, maybe from a television. She dropped from her perch, crept along the cold cement, and sprung to the windowsill. Curling up, her fur pressed against brick and glass, she closed her eyes. Deep, forest green. Just like Footsteps’.

 

* * *

 Aw. So sad. Amirite?