Thursday, 10 November 2011

Turtles All The Way Down

00:03:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , 3 comments
On my second attempt at National Novel Writing Month I decided to write science fiction. I don't read much sci-fi (not true sci-fi) but I've dabbled in fantasy and watched a few episodes of Horizon. How hard could it be? The answer is a 28,000 word document which lost its way. I wasn't just in over my head, I had buried myself beneath the ocean bed like a shy manta ray at a skate convention. Something just wasn't right and this time a random plot twist couldn't save it. The novel was to be an exploration of hierarchy. Below is an extract which concerns the Megalatal. The Megalatal is a creature within which most of the action in the novel takes place. The Megalatal has no idea of the drama going down in its belly. It has its own problems to worry about...

Semi-transparent ice clouds moved like shy, slow moving creatures across the sparkling sands which covered the southern quadrant of the silver planet. Amongst the sands and beneath the frosts billions of tiny shrimp like creatures dug with a quick fervour for the even tinier sand mites which rose to the surface when the frost clouds moved south.

Rising up from the sands and towering high above the clouds, glittering structures like smooth spiralled cacti wormed their way towards the yellow sky. The towering plant life was a deep, nutty brown, spotted with smooth plaques of orange where the slug like Moosurls made their homes. Behind the solid orange exterior these creatures lived in a syrupy mass, which contained enough food to last the solitary inhabitants an entire year.

At the summit of one of the structures, a dark mass moved its weight around the smooth surface. Its sticky paws adhered to its new position instantly. Its fur covered body hung down behind it like an empty sack and its head dangled beneath this, a mottled orange, closely resembling the plaques that surrounded it. The head twisted as it rocked back and forth and a large, oval black eye, covering almost an entire side of its head, blinked several times as it looked across the tops of the structures that surrounded it. Beneath the enormous eye a miniscule black dot appeared and the solitary Megalatal emitted a sad, piteous cry; a long whooping sound that fell an octave from start to finish. The sound ceased and the dot became invisible once more.

Detaching its smooth paws from the surface of the cactus once more, it moved a little further down the structure and slightly round the circumference where it twisted its dangling head and looked once again about it before emitting that same, strange sound.

After waiting several moments the Megalatal turned its eye towards a plaque on the tree and once again opened its tiny, black mouth. This time, however, no sounds escaped in a sad reverie but instead a small insect appeared from the circular gap, ant like but wielding a dangerously sharp tail. Whether the ant was attached to the Megalatal was unclear but it appeared to be a voluntary inhabitant of its head. The ant was attached to a retractable stalk which projected it towards the tough exterior wall of the Moosurl’s home.

In a series of deft, accurate movements the ant delivered shattering hits to the plaque with its tail which looked at first to be completely useless but after the seventh or eighth shock the plaque began to crack and finally the tail vanished for a moment inside the crystalline walls. The small bullet like hole that was formed in the wall was not large enough for the Moosurl to notice but it was large enough to allow some of its food to escape. The ant disappeared back into the Megalatal’s mouth which was then pressed right up to the plaque so that the sweet, energy giving substance could be slowly extracted.

From across the plains to the north of the forest a collection of moaning voices could be heard joined together in rejoicing the end of the day. A small colony of Megalatals sung together in the cacti to the north in a happy crooning song with harmonies and ecstatic trills. Amongst the mellifluous tones of the females could be heard the excited squeals of the young and beneath it all the low, croaking sound of the wider mouthed male.

The feeding Megalatal turned its head from its cactus, leaving the thick gloopy liquid to ooze from the hole and move slowly down the trunk. Its head now looked north and its eye blinked several times as it tried to determine the exact direction of the colony. Finally its paws expanded slightly as a fine spray of lubricating powder shot from pores in its genitals onto the surface of the cactus. Moving one paw at a time the Megalatal coated its appendages in the powder creating a greasy substance which released it from its position at the top of the structure. As it released the final paw it began to slide rapidly down towards the sands, it head dangling dangerously beneath it.

Before it reached the bottom the Megalatal let go of the cactus, falling with a flop onto its fur covered back and crushing around a hundred of the shrimp like creatures at the same time.

The Metalatal walked clumsily on its great paws to the edge of the sparse forest. It walked backwards dragging its large, bulbous head behind it. When it felt the rippled sands of the edge of the plain beneath its paws it stopped and waited, listening for the sounds of the colony beyond. It hadn’t long to wait for it heard the jubilant squeaks and bubbly pips of the young carrying across the plain. At the sound the Megalatal wrapped its loose body and short legs around its head, its great eye firmly shut. It secured itself with its paws which had regained their sticky texture and, having formed itself into a near perfect sphere it took off across the sands, rolling towards the next forest and the sounds of its relatives.

It had not rolled halfway before the black clouds arrived, dashed there by high speed winds on the upper atmosphere, frozen and beleaguered with great clods of ice. Within moments all trace of yellow had vanished and the shimmering plains were transformed into a shadowy wasteland. A great crack signalled the beginning of the storm and a torrent of hail, like sparkling white cannonballs fell from the sky, devastating the land.

Behind the Megalatal, its cactus was hit by a large lump of ice and split in the middle, with the top portion falling to the ground. The frost clouds were dispersed as the ball fell into the sand, throwing up cascades of tiny creatures. Several of the rocks came hazardously close to the Megalatal, and they fell all around him as he continued in his frenzied roll over the plain.

Within minutes the storm was over, having spent its load quickly and furiously. Still the Megalatal rolled, keen to reach the forest to the north of the plain despite the obstacles which the sky hurled in its path. Many times it rolled into one of the great hunks of ice, which had fallen to the sand and remained there in the freezing ground, but it merely paused for a second to redirect itself before rolling around the over-sized hail stone and continuing towards the forest.
When it finally arrived at the plain’s edge it unravelled itself and its body and legs fell with a flop to the ground. It lay there for a moment, its great head looking like an orange version of one of the balls of ice, with its great eye blinking slowly as it stared towards the sky which had regained its clear yellow hue. Its paws groped at the air about it in fidgeting movements as it listened intently for the sounds of the colony. All about it the tiny creatures which inhabited their own, quite separate community, worked on consuming adequate amounts of energy to survive.

The Megalatal crooned once or twice in a questioning tone, its notes long and high, and its mouth small and black. It lay still beneath the tall brown and orange towers of the northern forest. Occasionally a frost cloud would pass over it, obscuring its view of the sky. Finally the yellow sky turned to bronze and the creature was forced to drag its head over to the nearest cactus and, turning its body, pull itself slowly back up the structure, towards the sky. Beneath its limp, flat body its head hung loosely, one great eye gazing in the dimming light across a quiet, abandoned forest, its paws clinging fiercely to the smooth surface of the giant plant, its small black mouth invisible and silent.


Ste said...

I hope this works... I like the tongue insect! Can I buy one? And I love the method of travel. I feel sorry for the Megalatal, though strangely I want to be one. Thanks for starting my day with a story. Great link as well, though I think I'm incapable of writing a novel in a month. It took me an hour and a half last night to write 20 words! Now please post, please post... (Just in case this does manage to post - Lara I loved your greenhouse one as well.)

Ashley R Lister said...


This paragraph is the reason why I've taken so long to respond:

Rising up from the sands and towering high above the clouds, glittering structures like smooth spiralled cacti wormed their way towards the yellow sky. The towering plant life was a deep, nutty brown, spotted with smooth plaques of orange where the slug like Moosurls made their homes. Behind the solid orange exterior these creatures lived in a syrupy mass, which contained enough food to last the solitary inhabitants an entire year.

Slug-like things? You could have given me a warning. I'm sure you know I'm phobic.

Otherwise, once I'd returned to this and gone to the next paragraph, I enjoyed it enormously.



Lara Clayton said...

Brilliant post. There have been some really imaginative posts this week - still love seeing how we each approach the theme in such varied and individual ways...