[DOUGLAS PAYNE’S JOURNAL ENTRIES 1987]
January 27th, 1987
Checked out the hardware store today, the one that just opened. Something fishy about that place. I mean, it’s good you don’t need to go into the city now for stuff, but a place like that doesn’t just open. They’re supposed to be in the family for years, yknow? Man that works there seems excruciatingly knowledgeable. Started reeling off a PhD’s worth of crap about allen keys. I feel like he was trying to distract me, tells me he’s trying to fashion One Key to Rule Them All, the key that would Unlock Everything. Of course he’s winding me up, some kinda sarcastic west coast banter. I was suspicious though; it’s all an act. See the thing is, I sort a weird hinge behind one of the shelves and it was like there was a door behind there. And then when I was crouched down to look at the paint cans on display there was a similar hinge in the floor. He could tell what I was up to. I need to find a way of getting into the store when it’s empty. Why would anyone open up here on this site? After the floods of ‘78 when the rivers burst or more to the point where lightning strikes more than twice. So close to the trees. I stood outside with a bag full of screws and listened to the midges humming. It didn’t sound like midges though, more like electricity. The pylons nearby sweep over the buildings. It was close in my ear, like tinnitus. I was sick with a headache for three days afterwards, not sure if I should visit the hardware store again in a hurry.
September 3rd, 1988
They’re in the woods, I can tell. I swear to you all this time they’ve been in the woods they’ve been busy. I tried to tell Martha but she wouldn’t believe me. My own sister and she thinks I’m a crackpot. I went round to fix her sink but the water kept gushing out like a whole river was jammed up in there. I brought all manner of tools but nothing would fix it. So of course she phones the hardware store to see if they know a plumber and they very promptly send round the guy that works there--not the old guy but the young one, maybe the son or something. He arrives wearing overalls, a shock of dark hair, and looks so pissed off you’d think we’d asked him to bury our mother. His fingers are all covered in black grease and I notice the tips are scarred with white protruding pockmarks--burns maybe. He has them all up his arm as well, like some sort of mushroom or barnacle, sparkling in the kitchen light. When he sees me looking he pulls his sleeves down. He fixes the sink up in a jiffy, which frankly I can’t believe as I’ve spent hours on the thing, reading every manual. Starting to think it’s a setup etc. Something about the way he stares at my sister. When he leaves I get in Martha’s car to follow him, pretending I’ve got errands in town. He pulls up outside the south entrance to the woods, clutching the old washer part he took from the sink. There’s definitely some operation going down. Over the next few days I stalk this guy around town, following the van with the mysterious char marks etched on its side. I wonder what kind of an accident left it like that. He goes between houses, the store; returns to the woods. Martha talks about him in a dreamy way, says he can work miracles. As if I wasn’t suspicious enough as it is. Neither of us know his name, but that doesn’t stop her. I catch her one night in his van.
October 24th, 1988
So this is a funny one. Went round to Martha’s because she’s got this new machine that makes homemade pasta, apparently. Arrived at her kitchen to find screeds of the stuff, all ribboned in bundles of gluten like some sort of ornamental feature. Felt a bit suspicious and seemed dubiously edible. She gives me bread instead and after a silent dinner she tells me she’s got something else to show me. Mail order catalogues! She says breathlessly. I really think she’s starting to lose it at this point. I go into her bedroom and there’s this bloody glass cage--nearly as big as her bed--of scorpions. Literal, living arachnids, all scaley with their question-mark tails. Sort of prowling around, you can hear them rattling a little in the creak of the cage. Martha’s hurled a pile of sand in there, some banana leaves and woodchips. A few are jet black and shiny, while others are sort of wheat-coloured, with flecks of red. “I dip them in oil,” she admits, eyes gleaming. What the fuck do they eat? She tells me she keeps crickets and cockroaches in the freezer. Frankly I’m utterly disgusted and refuse to come over until she’s got rid of them. There were at least seven in there, and what if they lay eggs and start breeding? My god.
October 29th, 1988
Dreamt of a scorpion last night. Martha left me a voicemail to say she’s got more rocks for the tank, and that the creatures spend most of their time hiding out behind those rocks. She says if I come over I don’t even need to know they’re there. The voicemail cuts off mid-sentence, which is mildly alarming but it’s three in the morning so I’m not gonna do much, let alone phone her back. In my dream there was a lot of oil, like proper melted PVC stuff, and upon that oil was this massive scorpion, its tail suspended in the air erect, dripping the oil back down into the blackness. I woke up with a feeling of all that oil churning round in my stomach, as if I’d let it get inside of me, the blood of an engine.
November 13th, 1988
Determined to start building again. Let the project unfold. One of Martha’s cockroaches turned up in a lasagne she brought round and she swore it was an accident. I nearly cracked it between my teeth, thinking it was just a stubborn piece of polenta, that orange stuff she gets from trips to Glasgow. God knows. We haven’t seen each other in a few days. I can’t even think about it right now.
December 5th, 1988
Bought several old parts from the store today. They seemed reluctant to sell, but I offered a pretty penny. Have been doing odd jobs for the old folk, landscaping gardens and such. I wrote a letter to the Guardian about extraterrestrial phenomena and they liked it so much they decided to publish it. I got £500 but was disappointed that they published it under fiction when it so clearly followed the conventions of factual writing. I do not write lightly on these subjects. Nevertheless. In other news, Martha has started doing deliveries for the folks at Vital Materials. I see her in the van all the time, often alone. She refuses to talk when I ask her, refuses to disclose what the hell she delivers. When I find myself sharing a sofa with her, my dear sister, I share a sofa with a stranger who must know a plenitude of secrets. And yet she remains reticent. I fear they have her under some spell. That look in her eyes again, a depth and distance, a twinkling LED light.
March 18th, 1989
Something about the weather. Wondering if it’s an utter waste of time to write about the weather. There’s a great deal of snow, enough to coat the town in all deceptive Christmas cake beauty. Unable to sleep in the cold room, I left early for a walk this morning. Everything blanketed, pure and serene. Every house with its milk bottles, tinkling in the soft breeze, catching the odd shard of light. Unseasonably cold weather. I find myself at the Vital Materials store, passing by with vague intentions of skirting the woods. The place was surrounded--and I mean utterly circled, circuited, again and again--by footprints. Footprints of many shapes and sizes; only a few looked human. Some were small enough to belong to children or woodland mammals, but it’s rare to see a deer this close to town. Foxes, perhaps, though I suspect something else...
They’ve started dumping things out the back where a swing park used to be. Great hoards of rusting iron, tangled excreta of presumable engines. A sight for sore eyes indeed. This morning, however, everything was covered in frost and snow, quite interminably beautiful. Something about the strangeness of form, of assemblage. It was like a waterfall caught unawares, crystallised in the chaos of a moment. Everything tumbled, collapsed in fragments. An absolute tragedy, perhaps, that within the hour the sun would melt the top layer off this sculpture. If not a tragedy, then a waste. A waste of waste. I took home a few things: just a few wires, an old circuit-board, a piece of crystal that looked like something torn from inside a radio. I doubt they’ll prove useful for anything, but something compelled me to glean souvenirs. I might have a tinker, sell something on. Martha can help me; she spends enough time shunting these things from place to place. don’t know how they make any money in that store; there’s hardly a single punter in there. They must have their clients elsewhere.
October 31st, 1989
Martha really cracked it this time. I had no idea things had taken such a plunge. She was back on the stuff and I don’t know who was getting it for her, but she was burning out her lungs and one day they rushed her to the hospital. They’re sending her away to the city for treatment, I forget the place. I doubt I’ll ever see her again; I don’t know what’ll happen to the scorpions. I’m just gonna leave it to care services and the lawyers. They can dig those goddamn bugs out the freezer. I write this because life seems a meaningless trail of desperation, each event leaving gulfs between the next. I suspect writing is the only way we might bridge things. All I could find in her room were sales receipts, a series of miscellaneous tools and what I take to be narcotic paraphernalia, though it looks unfamiliar. The glass tank. There were at least two arachnids missing, but I’ll try not to think about that. I took a glass of wine to the window, watching old men shuffle down the street when the pub closed. I found myself letting it slip from my glass, shattering on the concrete below. There were shouts all around. I returned to Martha’s room, sat on her bed and started reading. I will read all these books, all these eloquent tracts on the extraterrestrial, until it starts making sense. The asynchronous weather, the discs of light in the sky, the constant apparitions of peat-smelling mist; they cannot entirely be disparate. There must be a process, a shadowy network at work underneath. I am not a god-fearing man, but my god something spiritual has touched me.