Here's a series of opening paragraphs. If you see one unfinished story that grabs your attention, feel free to grab mine and prompt me to do something with it. Really, I need much prompting. With sharp sticks or sharp tongues.
It was a quiet street, up a slight incline from the main road where I'd disembarked from the tram. There was no traffic along this side-street, though the pavement was lined with parked cars as far as the street's end, old cars I'd never seen the like of before landing in the Czech Republic. The buildings were all tall, grey and uniform, presumably a mix of office blocks and apartments, their ground floor windows revealing blinds and darkened rooms behind frosted glass. The doorways I'd passed, those with clear glass panels, peered into short halls that led into dark corridors and stairwells. Much like the one where I stood now. Through the window I could see the narrow corridor stretching towards the back of the building, tucked alongside a flight of stairs leading up to the next level. A few doorways offered alternative exits, though they appeared without exception to be plain and heavy looking wooden doors, without significant defining features.
I checked against the list of names, and finding the name Horáková prepared to ring once more. As I did so, I noticed a woman descending the staircase, middle-aged and wearing a long brown dress and a grey cardigan over the top, her hair braided and tied into a bun behind her head. As she got closer she glanced up, made eye contact, smiled, and crossed the short distance between the bottom step and the front door. As she opened the door a crack, she smiled once more. "Dobré jitro..." she said, wishing me good morning or something like that, the end of the sentence carrying enough inflection to suggest a question, curiosity as to who I might be.
"Hello. Mrs Horáková? I'm Ewan Brook. We spoke..."
She smiled again, nodding and pulling the door wider. "Yes. Come in, please." She stepped aside, holding the door open until I had managed to pull myself and my bag clear of the street. "It's been quite cold this week - can I get you a warm drink? Some tea, perhaps?", she offered, leading me towards the stairs. "Yes," I said, "tea would be lovely."
How long have I been here?
I sit in darkness, the giant screen in front, bright in my face, hissing at me, noise illuminating every inch of glass, dancing around like bees in a monochrome hive. I'm staring at it, have been for countless minutes. There are vague shapes dancing amongst the patterns on the screen, lit up in neon. Is that a woman's face, frozen mid-laugh? I blink, to make some sort of sense of the image, and she's gone, replaced by the chaotic dance of noise. Watching it, trying to tune into the world being projected into this room, I grasp the sudden realisation that the world I'm watching is seperated from my own by a layer of glass. Everything that has consumed my pattern of light, cast out of a screen and bathing me in it's illuminance. I get the sudden sense of being here, being somewhere, and my mind begins to query just where that somewhere is. The edges of the screen sharpen crisply, defining the white noise in a familar rectangular shape, whilst the walls around me slowly lean into view, and the weight of a chair begins to reassert it's presence around me. The light dances across the surface of my skin, and I fold my hands in my lap as I become aware of them, of my legs stretched out before me. Slowly I break my gaze away from the screen, looking to one side of me. I am not alone. Vague figures caught in thin strips of light either side of me, sitting on the same chair, watching me, smiling in the darkness. I'm comfortable, I'm warm, I'm not sure quite what's going on but I'm relaxed.
The outline of one of my nearest companion's heads molds itself into the contours of the chair beside me, and I wonder just how many people are here in this room. In the darkness I make out further shapes, a doorway, a clock, a strange silhouette shifting across erraticallty patterned walls, words and pictures dancing in and out of focus. I turn my head again, my attention drifting towards the dancing lights in front of me. I think it's the noise that becomes clearer first, the hissing static retreating enough for me to recognise the drumming of heavy rain. After that the clarity begins to spread, the screen momentarily showing me a skyscape of dancing stars before reasserting it's identity as a window, it's pane distorted by the splash of a hundred raindrops, in a constant state of movement but oh-so-solid and real. Solid glass, between the cold wet world outside and the room within. The image of the laughing neon lady has become the vague outline of an illuminated street sign outside my window, whilst within the features of my room begin to map themselves over the figures around me, the smiling faces and silhouettes.
The seat begins to feel firmer around me, no longer a shapeless warm sensation around me. In the dark the lights through the window have caught the edged of items around me, marking out hard lines and soft curves as the sweep of someone's arm, the tilt of someone's head, casting other shadows across the wall. The walls, I recall, are covered in newspaper clippping, stories about reality spilling in through the cracks, about the truth digging it's way up from beneath the streets, stories I've painstakingly collected over days, weeks, months...
How long have I been here?
"How long have you got?" a smiling voice asks from the darkness.
"Resolute is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here..."
It's cold. Whatever else the great, magnificient and terrible wilderness at the top of the world is, it's cold. Believe me, I know. There aren't that many places on God's earth that man hasn't conquered, but up here, up in the Arctic, where the sun sometimes disappears for months at a time, this is one of them. Man has, simply through plain common sense, left most of the Arctic circle to the few animals born to live in such a climate. Aside from maybe a handful of Inuit settlements, and the ocassional weather station or military outpost dotted across the icy landscape, man is a rare sight . The human race, it seems, would rather be somewhere a little more hospitable. Who could blame it?
There's an Inuit settlement in Canada, one of the most northernmost settlements in the country, that goes by the name of 'Resolute'. You might be forgiven for putting the name down to the people's resolute attempts to dig in deep and brave the freezing winds and bleak landscape but, no, it's named after a ship. The HMS Resolute was a Royal Navy Arctic discovery vessel that got trapped in the ice, as part of an expedition of four ships in the 1850s. They'd been sent to discover the fate of a previous Arctic explorer, who'd gone missing with his own expedition of two ships. If history has told us one thing, it's not to sail your boats in Arctic waters. The Resolute was lucky, and was freed from the ice the following summer, after all it's crews had found safe passage away on other vessels. The fate of the original expedition, well, that was never discovered.
At times like these I wonder how much easier things might be if we'd come up here to go searching for missing expeditions and boats. As it is it's about all I can do to distract myself from the icey burning sensation spreading through my limbs. I have to keep going.
Resolute may well have the most northern commercial airport in the world. I don't know. My research didn't cover airport details - I didn't even book the tickets, right? But I'm guessing Resolute Bay Airport is the most northern commercial airport in Canada. Hell, yeah, it must be. There are only a few inhabited places this far up the map. As far as big settlements go, and we're not even talking that big, there's only Resolute and Grise Fiord further north, on Ellesmere Island. Still, Resolute has a little of the tourist haven mentality. Not much, but a little. Let's face it, beautiful though the region is Resolute is essentially a series of gravelly roads, maybe a hundred houses, and a whole heap of ice and snow. And yet they've got their gift shop, with their Inuit carvings and 'not the end of the world' t-shirts. No five-star hotel complexes just yet, but they've got running water, they've got heat, they've got internet in case you don't want to wait a fortnight for mail. In this climate it's a slice of heaven.
We stayed just a couple of nights in Resolute before flying further north. Flying further north requires flight by HC-6 Twin Otter, the small sort of plane that you tend to see people jumping out of in the movies. A small plane that could fit maybe twenty people, wings spread wide, with propellors close by either side of the cabin, and balanced upon three wheels, it looked relatively delicate. Fragile, even, compared to the commercial jets the average city-dweller is used to. And, well, guess what? That's me.
There were too many of us to fit aboard the one plane. At least with all the equipment. Logistically the only way to transport all seventeen of us and our supplies, we'd need to charter two planes. Back then we'd only had a rough idea of how things were going to pan out, of how we'd be working. Of course, if we'd known exactly how it was going to pan out, none of us would've got on the damn plane. None of us would be dead. And those of us still alive wouldn't be battling to stay alive.
I'm pulling the coat closer, tighter. It doesn't really do much good, but it makes me feel better. I think that if you keep your body - what is it they call it? - your 'core' warm, then the extremities take care of themselves. Or at least you tend to stay alive longer. Something. Something I read somewhere, or someone advised.
David. It was David.
Poor old David.
Please, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. I want you to feel relaxed before I begin. It's not so much a story I have to tell as a collection of stories held together by a common theme. Are you ready?
I guess, at heart, I'm a collector. I like to pick things up, turn them over in my hand, appreciate the details in a piece of jewellery or artefact or, conversely, it's simplicity. I travel a lot, so I get the opportunity to pick up bits and pieces from all over the world. My collection really pools together some amazingly beautiful pieces from all over the world, invaluable and rare and an amazing insight into the cultures and personalities of far flung civilisations.
Nothing really shows that more than my collection of masks. Each mask indicates a story common to a particular society. Here there are masks of gods worshiped by isolated tribes, gods unknown beyond their small and simple world, there we have contemporary mask, complex hybrids of metaphor and symbolism built shrewdly by educated theatre set designer. Black masks, white masks, every colour under the sun masks, and plenty coloured by moonlight too. Gods, heroes, villians, man and beast, comedy and tragedy. Every player from every stage.
Understandably, that's a concise introduction to what is an extensive collection. I think I'll probably do the collection more justice to tell you the story attached to some of these masks. As a collection themselves they are simply an array of different faces, but by stepping behind each one and looking out into the world through their eyes, you'll begin to understand a little of the various people of the world and where their stories fit into their communities. And with that in mind I can't think of a better mask to begin with than this one.
When Roger Charles Bell woke up, he instinctively knew that there was someone else in the room. He had awoken suddenly, perhaps in response to a bad dream, his heart beating a little too rapidly, his eyes and ears alert. Glancing around the room he quickly dismissed the idea, seeing nothing but the gloomy room around him, clothes hung up over a chair, his few possessions neatly standing in their usual locations. The familiarity of the darkened room brought a sense of relief, and he lay down again, pulling his covers back over himself.
He lay down in his bed, his racing mind trying to calm itself as he stared at the blank ceiling above, his eyes picking out vague patterns in the grainy darkness. He still couldn't recall quite what he had imagined in his sleep that have awoken him, but as he tried to reflect on it, taking apart the possibilities with a rational mind, he felt the lulling sensation of sleep creeping back over him. He welcomed it, closing his eyes and letting his thoughts drift.
His eyed flickered opened again, painfully aware that he was not alone.
A white sun hangs low in a golden sky, it's glow warming the otherwise cool mountain air. Far below me amongst the trees of the forest I hear the morning chorus of birds. By my side my companion, a small dog, stirs, resting his head in my lap and rolling his eyes in my direction. Smiling down at him I gather my belongings, and we both climb to our feet.
I frown as I notice a white rose growing from the rock-face. I bend down, and pluck it free, as my friend yaps at my side. I hold the flower up in the sun-light, some distant memory trying to surface.
The petals fold around my face like a mask, and through the eye holes I see a dark void before me, swimming with faces. With a sudden rush of noise and a flicker of light I find myself falling...
Please. Poke me. Pick a story and prompt me to finish it. And maybe I'll start sticking some completed ones up.