Saturday, 28 September 2013

Angel (2012)

Drawing for Daiana Jansson. Pencil.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The New War (2010)

A short story which is after quite a few years still looking for a home. Thought it was time to give it one.

She leaned back in the ditch, a trench of soaking mud, entrails and blood. The monster leaned forwards, next to her, his teeth dripping of saliva. He was hungry, lips extracted from gums and snout excited by smells. The bombing drummed on but further from them now, metal creaking from rain showers during the night with water tip-tapping onto rusted joints. The industrial revolution of the digital age cried its pain for life with weaker brass horns loud and then humming into the night. Here now was the interval, the silences between the battles as each side gathered strength for the next one.
The monster, a hound, wolf and man, shifted in his skin, gun in his hand, and dared to peak above the surface.
“Gone for now,” he growled. “Should one seek safety with the Angel[unit]? Do we proceed in attack?”
“The two of us?” she laughed, peering over her dead companions. Her ears hurt in ominous tinnitus, head pounding like the bombs. It would have been unbearable, had she not been so scared.
“The Angel[unit] has fled now. Demon[legion] won’t be of help.”
“We must follow them. Implant the virus. How’s the machine?” Drool slipped off the monster’s jaw as he spoke. The full moon hung pregnant and menacing above them, but there were no stars. Only heavy clouds of desolation.
She looked at the shattered and out-dated computer. It was gone but not dead. The white plastic was cracked with tiny little lightning veins across the front. It was surprisingly sturdy for something that cracked so easily. The fruit on the cover was gone. As was all fruit, and had been for a long time. She had re-wired this computer many times before. And they weren’t the only ones carrying the virus. Every section had a computer, kept like treasure, in case they were allowed close enough to the KONEISTO-XYi to infect the Revolution. But The Mhaskina Revolution denied all access and destroyed the earth in its raping pilgrimage.

A new age, a new time, humanity chewed and spat away.

The monster sniffed the air, petrol and iron, burnt rubber. So some wires had been damaged in the battle after all. He could hear pounding, thumping alongside his heart. It was hypnotising and regular, like machines manufacturing machines by a conveyer belt. He’d heard it so many times before. Menacing.
“Come on!” he growled and the girl followed, crawling in the mud in quickly, hiding behind each pile of bodies, behind scattered pieces of broken vehicles. But their army was gone now. The monster knew where the KONEISTO-XYi and the HD were hidden, underneath the ground and always near the centre of the fight. It was as if desperation and pain fed the heart of The Mhaskina Revolution energy. And perhaps there was electricity to be found inside human emotions, perhaps that’s was why there were so many humans that loved the HD and the ID, the two connecting cables keeping the heart beating. A connection, a trail.

The girl was surprised to find herself, apart from the agonising pain in her ears, completely unharmed. Everyone in her unit had died as soon as the harka-bomb penetrated their cover shield. The pressure had been immense, ripping most of her soldiers in half, splitting their skins. She had been forced to execute a suffering companion soon after, but it was not the first time she had mercifully murdered one of her own.

HD and ID, cables and wires, bright salvation.

“Move, quickly!” the monster yelled in front of her, paws sinking into mud and suddenly crashing through a familiar ribcage. He ripped himself away, shocked as if he had delivered that fatal blow. Another monster was under him, glazed stare into dirt. A companion and lover, a victim of the New War. The monster knew how to grieve, but could not bear to be discovered because of his blazing feelings. Feelings of hurt, rejection and loss. That was what the HD and ID ate. He was certain of it.
She halted behind him. Her impatience was revealed in a frustrated frown, she knew as well that there was little time to lose. She would not give in to despair. The army of The Mhaskina Revolution would soon recover and then there would be even a smaller chance of success in infecting the heart. The KONEISTO-XYi was near somewhere, and the hardware would self-destruct if they didn’t speed up.
She didn’t believe the cables lived off emotions, not one bit. The monster believed that was why the heart had difficulties locating her in the battlefield. She followed orders promptly and wasted no time on superstition. That was what kept her alive.
The sun begun to rise, shining through the smog in a suffering struggle, suffocating all noise. There was not much time before they would burn along with it.

Words and debris. (Segern är din)

In desperation the monster began to dig. He threw his companion aside without more thought. His fur was fizzing. It was morning and rain clouds lost their weight, disappearing in the sun’s furious rays. It rose too quickly and it rose in anger. She covered herself in mud, but it heated and caked and fell off her skin. Dipping her head in a pool of water and blood she hoped to keep the fire away from her hair. But there was not much hope. Her uniform caught fire. Panicking, she began to roll in anything she found cooling. She screamed out, blinded and wasn’t able to feel the large hand that got hold of her sleeve, and pulled her into a deep darkness.
Safety here was an illusion. Unless they’d reach the KONEISTO-XYi beneath them within minutes? Seconds? it would self-destruct.
She recovered her eyesight with blurring sensations, it was her eyelids that now hurt more than anything else. They had found the HD cable. But it was useless for the virus. There had to have been a malfunction in the destruction process. Because they were still alive.
“I thought I could smell burning wires,” the monster added, examining the dead surface.
“Impossible. The heart would not allow mistakes. It is perfect. It created itself.”
The monster shook her disbelief off. “Even so, perfection is always flawed. It may not understand mistakes. It might attempt suicide.”
“ The heart, self-destruct?” she said. “Impossible.”
“HD and ID always allow obliteration after the battle. Perhaps the heart is considering re-creating itself.”
The walls of the KONEISTO-XYi were smooth and perfect. Best welders, machines. She could not help to admire the faultless structure. That the heart would allow mistakes was not possible, not with creations such as KONEISTO-XYi. Why there was always one located underneath the centre of the battles, she could not tell. The monsters always spoke of emotions feeding it energy, but that was nonsense.
They had the virus near a useless HD cable. To infect the system now they would have to reach the heart itself. HD would connect to the heart, and they had an unharmed HD to lead them to it. The information panels, with little green notes travelling across the screens like a language of its own, revealed that the HD had registered itself as destroyed. It showed no progress in reporting the destruction to the heart. She didn’t know how the heart would react when realising that HD/1957235659 was intact. The heart might conclude that no one survived the battle to discover it. Would the heart itself be guarded? She thought so. But this HD cable could not carry the virus when it thought that it was dead.
Her chance to save the world had actually become possible now. She kneeled underneath flashing alarms, and cursed when she cut her finger on the wires to her computer. It needed fixing. She didn’t want to find herself with a broken arrow at the time of the strike.
The monster knew fuck all about machines. He was an organic engine, with senses stronger than the average human. He was muscle and instinct while they were intellect and strategy. But he knew that when she repaired that old machine it meant that they were not done fighting. It pleased him.

Finding the road to salvation, catch the train from the high platform and dive into a non-existent sea.

“How are we to proceed,” he asked when the computer gave its familiar beep of life.
“We need to dig,” she replied. “Follow the cable. It will lead us to the heart.”
“Will that not be dangerous?”
She had to laugh. “When was the last time any of us were safe?”
“It will take a long time. A tunnel might collapse. It could take weeks, and they’d find us before then. We have no food to keep us alive if they’re delayed. It is not a viable option.” He couldn’t believe that she’d come with such a ridiculous solution. She must have been desperate, but he didn’t think to ask. “And the HD will be guarded when the heart discovers it’s faulty. The defence-mechanism might already have registered the malfunction.”
She shrugged, and didn’t care for his doubts. It was the only way. But he shook his head.
“The heart feeds off emotions. The cable will forward empty information. The KONEISTO-XYi is clearly still functioning to that extent. It simply hasn’t self destructed properly.” He gestured to the information panels.
“What are you talking about?”
“It feeds off the soul, it’s what I have been told.”
“Superstition,” she exclaimed.
“Both you and I know the heart must be destroyed and here we have a chance to do it. This mistake may show that the heart has grown weak. It will have to face the music. Your route is the impossible one. We go through the cable. Don’t you want to conduct the orchestra?”
“Fuck you,” she said, losing patience. “Cables are compounded of wires, electricity running as a current.”
But he shook his head again. He could smell them. Giant nostrils expanding, spirits and souls. That was energy. Emotions harvested and stored. That was power. Following his snout, he sniffed the surface on the cable. Then switching the programming on his weapon, he burned through the cable surface with the laser. She peeked inside, and backed up stunned. It was empty.
“What the fuck is going on here?” she shook her head, mistrusting her damaged eyes.
“One must believe,” the monster said, grinning. He was happy that he was right.
“Fuck you,” was all that she could manage.
“There is a force running through here, a current. I can feel it. So can you. But it’s not electricity, as we know electricity.  We have struck a nerve, and now we can travel with the nerve into the heart. Imagine yourself a message to the heart.”
“You’re thinking of the brain. The brain registers pain through nerve endings.”
“It’s the heart that keeps the brain alive.”
She looked into the HD again.
 “It might kill us,” she said.
“We die for our cause. At least we won’t be wasted on digging.”
She had to agree, though she still was not entirely convinced. But it did seem like the only way. He cut a larger hole, viewing it carefully. He then cradled her in his mighty arms and she was surprised how comforting he felt. He dived inside the colossal tube, holding her as close as possible.

The force was incredible. The noise passed comprehendible levels. Sounded like a wail, complaining as they shot down the abyss. It manifested from the lower notes of a cello, and escaladed to the highest screeches of the violin. It hurt her and the pressure ate into her. Her ears began to bleed again, her heart thumping and drumming inside her head alongside the alarm that pushed through her eardrums. She couldn’t grasp time and gravity. Her mind was thundering, but there were no thoughts.

Eternal life, damnation is blessed.

Then she felt the monster’s spine crack violently as he crashed into a solid surface. The first thing that she did, acting quickly and refusing the confusion of the physical impossibilities of such a journey to take over her thoughts, was to check the computer she had hugged on to so firmly. She was relieved to find it intact. Next she surveyed the area. She couldn’t see anything in the darkness. It took her a moment to realise that she was deaf. She was certain however, that they were in a dark place, rather than her being blind. She told herself that it wasn’t because of pressure damage to her brain. ‘If there was light, I would be able to see it’, she told herself, mouthing the mantra without making a sound.
The floor shared no vibrations, nothing to indicate that they had set off alarms. And if they had, an attack would have already taken place. She then felt for the monster’s pulse and found nothing. Her mind told her that she should grieve, however, she couldn’t see the point. She would die soon too, that was inevitable.
If it was the heart, then it was nothing like she thought it would be. The dark showed no signs of life. Perhaps it had already been infected by another battle. Her quest here could have been in vain, yet she felt indifferent and set on her mission. She had to finish what she came for, it didn’t matter if the heart had already been destroyed. Her hands searched the floor, hoping to find a wall, an outlet. She crawled away from her dead companion.

Success. The wall was like a gigantic central for plug-ins. She was certainly in the heart. But where were the machines? Her fingers dug for tools in her scorched pockets to open the portal. She could connect her computer here through one of the outlets. The physical damages the journey had cost her wouldn’t stand in her way either. She could do it in the silent dark. But she couldn’t understand why there had been no resistance from The Mhaskina Revolution yet. She became desperate, and was messier in her work than usual, in fear of running out of time. Cutting the wires and connecting it to her computer she switched the computer on. The war would be over now.

Suddenly a force went through her, eons of screams and tears. Fear shone into her and love ripped her muscles in spasms that flourished across her body. The last fragments of her uniform turned to dust.
It was music. It was words. It was the slashes across the strings that were wires. It was the sparks from welding copper and metal. The shower of emotions came like a tidal wave, and she was drowning in it over and over again. Feeling more than she ever had before, all at once in orgasmic punches, returning in a rhythm, she found the physical sensation of it receding and relapsing into violent blows. Her skin was stretched across the frame of the drum that was her body. Each punch echoed in her as loudly as the last. She lost all sense of self and couldn’t tell if she enjoyed this or not. She was merely a function. There was no sympathy in her symphony. The codes flashed before her eyes, ticking by, telling of battles nearby and the success of her creations.
She barely noticed when the HD and ID cables connected wires into her veins through the wrists, when her blood was replaced with electricity achieved from human emotion, harvested in death. Her body became one with the machine, and the machine kept her alive, invited by her virus. The heart had now a host to beat that drum with more force.

A new age, a new time, humanity chewed and spat away.
HD and ID, cables and wires, bright salvation.
Words and debris. (Segern är din)
Finding the road to salvation, catch the train from the high platform and dive into a non-existent sea.
Eternal life, damnation is blessed.
Her words. Her report. Her song. The heart beat again.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Eletriptan or Why We Can't Own A Gun

Illustration for Steve Nash's poem with the same title, published in his collection Taking the Long Way Home (Stairwell Books, 2013)

Buy the book from!
More from Steve at

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Where the journey is the destination

Kaisa & Christoffer Leka: Tour d’Europe

Book Review, written and later updated in 2011

It’s no secret that Tour d’Europe is a thriving product from the long journey in the self-publishing sector. Within a year of its publication it has gained excellent commercial success, winning such prestigious awards as the Finland Prize, and voted one of Finland’s most beautiful books in 2010. Sold worldwide, like many other of Kaisa Leka’s previous successes, it is an important milestone in the couple’s creative career.

The book itself is cross-pollinating various genres, it’s a graphic novel and a meditative tome pondering the philosophy of the road, a contemporary travel guide celebrated in each section of the bookcase. But it contains so much more than a bicycle tour. It follows the thought process that develops during such a journey, during the monotonous pedalling against wind, rain or under a burning sun dragging the protagonists down, and the luscious landscapes with the variety of bright characters they meet, feeding their passion to keep going. Their goal is Nice, France but that is not the focal point. Like the mouse-Kaisa reflects: it is the journey that is the destination (p. 643) and that is what this novel represents.
The two aspiring bhaktas named the book ‘Tour d’Europe – The Yoga of Road Cycling’ which describes the journey between Porvoo, Finland and Nice. However, it is not an attempt to invent a new form of yoga. Instead it adapts the yogi frame of mind to digest experiences in a calm and reflective manner, accepting mistakes and wrong turns as necessary for the lesson to be learnt, for the journey to be the destination. At the beginning of each chapter there’s an introductory summary on the experiences that follows. It also contains a lovely small detail: the general pronoun considering the sexless yogi is in the ‘she’ format rather than the traditional and patriarchal ‘he’, something Christoffer suggested during the writing process to keep the text contemporary and with a strong feminist undertone.

Visually, it is stunning. Kaisa Leka is known for illustrations with a naïve edge, not restricting her imagery with much detail but rather giving the reader a chance to grasp her words in large white spaces. In Tour d’Europe she plays with space and detail in each spread, mapping out entire landscapes of forests or architecture, but equally may have the following spread free of anything but large wind farms growing up the page. Or then a sudden abruption presenting the story from a completely different angle – in letter form written to Kaisa’s friend, on various different motel/hostel stationary.
Her drawing style has matured but maintained her trademark simple outlines, and influenced by Christoffer’s use of perspective and detail they have achieved a book that is curious to read. In a detailed spread of a leafy residential area the road becomes like a labyrinth which is not restricted with traditional comic book narration frames (of which there are none present in this novel) yet very little is coloured space which makes it easy to locate where the protagonists are on the spread. It is a clever way to emphasise the density of the surroundings without constricting the flow of the narrative. And it certainly flows.
The colour scheme is light, Leka’s choice of the outline colour is not black but a dark brown, which is not only a method she uses frequently in her previous books to soften the colour contrasts, but here is also a supporting factor in maintaining the physical appearance of an aged and well-travelled book. Even the cover is a sepia infused grey photograph, the book creased at the spine, image slightly ripped and stained. The product is finished with a rubber-band, enclosing a large map between the pages. If ordered directly from Absolute Truth Press it arrives wrapped in brown paper and parcel string, decorated with stamps, and is so delightful and elegant it seems a shame to open it.

Tour d’Europe is not a book preaching about the achievements of such a journey, it’s not a competitive sports journal or a philosophical guide. Christoffer and Kaisa aren’t athletes, quite the opposite - Christoffer is tall and gangly and Kaisa a double leg amputee. It follows their journey as people, with some setbacks certainly, but the focal point is not on disabilities and phantom impossibilities. It is their report of experiencing Europe from the saddle of a bicycle. And it has fuelled further cycling journeys – they recently travelled around Iceland, followed by a cycling trip to Russia and are currently planning a tour to Odessa in Ukraine.
Where the journey is the destination a story has emerged, one they wish to share with anyone who has thought about seeing the world, revealing that there’s more to the road than the road and it is there for anyone explore. They present this journey, this report, this philosophy in a contemporary and beautiful package, inviting everyone to take part in the travels. And with such a fantastic adventure ahead, who could resist?