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About the Author
Ben Brooks was born in 1992. AN ISLAND OF FIFTY is his third novel. He currently lives in Gloucester, England.
Read an Excerpt
An Island of Fifty
By Ben Brooks
Mud Luscious PressCopyright © 2014 Open Road Distribution
All rights reserved.
Marsha lays paths & tears them up.
The mill is in sight.
Eyes are wretched chunks of light.
I carry in my palms her heart & it throbs with the pulse of a lion. She drinks oxblood on the island. There is a mill on the island. I am weary but my feet pulse with the throb of a chariot: ONWARD.
Marsha talks of beauty with the Hotelier. He is African-American. Watch his gargantuan jaw swell with words.
They stand beside the marble monolith, beside the mill, beside the chariot, beneath the charioteer.
The charioteer, the hotelier claims, breathes saffron & lives within the trunk of a great oak. He bites into the claws of crabs & washes taste away with woodbines. He pays for cold coffee-skinned girls from the ships to gyrate against his spine.
Marsha feigns horror & lifts her skirt. She draws the cross over her breast. The blades of the mill begin to show cracks & the orphans grow restless. People are checking out. There is a small man in the mill who spins thread & bloodies his wrinkled fingers.
One day they will fold, his mother says.
Let them die, he tells her.
The Hotelier lights torches & shrieks. He has struck silver brass copper gold; we can mould an industrial civilization he screams. The charioteer pauses. Horses urinate into pockets of poppies.
No bother, he says, all civilization will water into streams.
No. You don't understand. You understand nothing. You kiss your Pegasus & I will flourish.
She sets fires for the forests that bloom.
Sweet Acacia watches the island from her island.
My island, she sings songs from the black book. A book of ten curves, a sky, an unplotted trajectory.
Cradling a copper shotgun in the hem of her pinafore, she sips liquid gold from a wooden flask.
Acacia, I see them. I watch their bodies sway in the solar wind. Beautiful frames of bone, stretch the skin over & paint them with ochre. Red ochre from Arnhem. A bird with the spirit of a man. He perches on my wrist & caws declarations of an apocalypse, unrequited love, the discovery of bastard minerals. My ears are small & choked with wax.
They have discovered silver on the island, Acacia.
Uncloak your head.
She narrows green eyes to scarlet keyholes & barks orders to her body through a thousand nerve routes. They splinter. They are a thousand. They are led.
Blowing sharp oil fine over the moths.
They will glow white hot on our hands this evening, Acacia.
We will send them to the island quarry. We will not dream.
They have struck industrial civilization.
Stop them before it is too late. Teach them to build walls around their lusts. Teach them it is impossible to pocket cloud.
Crush the tendons in their hands to spices!
Flavor the stained lambs & throw them to waves.
Acacia, we sung the moths' hymns until the mother boxed our ears & took them on her shoulders. She wandered through the night like a biblical drunk.
White sheet over thin body.
I watched her. I saw. My eyes caging.
Her eyes are on the island. Industrial civilization. I see ethereal shapes rising.
I see hypothetical statues of peasants clutching hypothetical statuettes of industrial giants.
Island minds impregnated with wild dreams of green paper stacks & worship. I hear their dreams murmur numbers into white ears.
They want to know, Acacia. They want maps.
The charioteer chases thoughts of avarice into the clouds & cries inside the hollow of a sycamore. I see woodbine smoke gulp from the ends of branches.
Give up give up give up give up give up give up give up give up give up.
I feel the hot wire of a wooden cage. He sleeps beneath the wings of sparrows, hawks pick them off as metals emerge from the rocks.
I watch Marsha spin hearts on bare earth. She plucks vegetables & muddies her sweet symmetry.
We will need more, she says. & they send for bricks from the ocean.
Paris welcomes ships into the dock he has shaped with rock & scarred hands. Even sky curls at change. Our hands are small but we have minds.
This is the start of industrial civilization, he says. Paris is a quiverer.
They have sent for red bricks to build red brick houses. Nuclear families will live out textbook dreams.
The island has a cathedral now, the island has steam.
The Miller bleeds tears over his frayed knots. He thinks of the gold & hunts for amber among the branches of a sweet chestnut.
This is a revolution for the young, bent priest of dead arcadia.
It is a fuchsia night & a scarlet morning will follow.
He collects wood, wire, & steaks from the Wagyu cattle. Tobacco smoke hardens tears to resolve in the dark of the mill.
Paris claps a captain's back & whistles for the Charioteer. The Charioteer (& he shall be known as Hector) shook birds from his hair & eyed the new stone with suspicion. He gripped the reigns of his horses like a mother as the crew talked riot behind his mind. Paris beams at a richer future. Hector slaps his thighs. Paris, what can you not see? Whispers turn wheels; & the Hotelier sent smoke into the sky! The Miller saw smoke & cried into his hands. He thought of his wife & ran cotton around his arms until they turned white without blood. He felt the red water soar into his head & a hot melancholy overwhelmed him. The crew arrives at the renamed NEW STATE HOTEL & flicks flecks of gold at the sleeping Hotelier. In marble chambers they drink themselves apart with vodka. To a new world, they cheer.
They dance. They will go to find greater lands than this, clutching at nothing but slim hopes & solemn bottles. From birth they heard the motors & heralded the gold. In dull light they fall over each other. The Hotelier sighs & picks gold flecks from the carpet.
These are roots.
Does gold feel warm?
I believe in gold, yes.
The sailors leave tales & tales carry the young like fire. Fire cannot break bone. Fire can melt skin.
I will embrace the new world with fists. I want for gold & marble. The marble palace, they will say. Blow smoke rings into the ceiling & lick your lips. I am going to be a rich man, watch my chest expand; there is a white dream inside of my ribcage. Am I beautiful?
& at night?
No, not any more. Why want with such an exquisitely brazen light beside your heart? No, I can crush flies with my fingers but this is more, this is an ocean. Labor & war.
Marsha boils potato for her Uncle & smokes his dark tobacco. The house smells of beeswax & mud.
A scarlet morning will soon eat this; wooden shack lying on the line between village & forest. Everything is gone.
I fire her dress to hear her laughter. She has the most rapturous laugh. It grips my arms & blows streams of sweet jasmine through my ears. The Miller spins cotton & sings a song of timber. He hears Chariot wheels skim stones over the paths. We are an island of fifty, he sings.
The body of the charioteer's wife watches the beams of their cottage bend.
He does not remember how she died.
Marsha spoons potato into her Uncle & cries silently. She weeps prophetic into his gray beard as he prays in streams of thought.
Marsha wishes for white fire &thick skin.
The Miller's mother laughs from beneath her thin duvet, hysteria!
Moths sit white hot on the hands of The Miller & he knows that it is time for dream.
On the first of the fuchsia nights, Hector does not run dreams.
He smokes woodbines but does not eat & when the Milliner's son arrives with a hatbox he breathes saffron so hard into the boy's eager eyes that it turns to frost & makes the child run.
The night turns red as he watches dreams descend tentative from naked skies.
He remembers. He watches avarice twist itself through the minds of orphans sleeping in the basement of the mill, he watches majesty slip through the mouths of women in The Moon & Earth, he watches blindness tumble through the ears of men drinking in mud shacks.
Hector drinks gin & slaps his head against the corpse of his wife. He stokes the fire.
He does not remember how she died.
The fire trips over itself. He cries for the dreams he has not stopped. He prays to his wife that the world will not collapse. The Charioteer hears his horses whine ash into the night & he cries for them. He passes through to the stable & lies in matted straw beside a chestnut mare. The horse beats its hooves into the air; a dream of chasing nothing through nowhere. Sorry, Hector says.
In the scarlet morning Marsha rakes dry earth & whistles promises to the land. She listens for the chariot trot & can hear nothing. The charioteer sleeps with drunk dreams in the hollow of his willow tree while his mother screams prayers into the sun.
She prays for gold & coal & steel, her dreams have brought her lust & they shake her rotting body to life.
Brown teeth are bared in excitement. Let the ships sail, she howls, let them bring us wealth. Still her son sleeps with his dizzy dreams of forest. He is one of the lucky few. Marsha sits alone on the beach with her rake & watches the waves. She drinks from a flask of oxblood.
They bring fortunes from the east. She curses them with spit & lights a pipe. I will search out the source of the dreams of Industrial Civilization, she vows.
The waves murmur of discontent in circles. They claw at her feet.
The Hotelier serves platters of fish & potato to the visiting crew who laugh saline spittle over his dishes. They toss the platters of earth's food & call for wine & veal. Industrial civilization, he whispers, picking up shards of clay, industrial civilization. He watches them ink anchors on each other's thick arms & he sighs. The hotel must be made. Marble floors & broad staircases. Chandeliers.
There must be chandeliers, & tiled baths. Copper taps will shine. & a safe, a safe will be needed. Inches of steel will keep me safe.
Red brick houses begin to replace mud shacks as the village men mix cement, topless in the scarlet sun. Their wives gossip in the cathedral. They talk of fortunes to be had & exotic fruits to be found. The bishops paint their crucifixes with gold & fix the spines of bibles. The cathedral glows with the sweat of men polishing its stone.
The Miller burns his thread. He hooks wire around the wood he has collected & then pins steak to the finished trap. They are set around the shack.
The industrial giants will not reach me, he says. Cradling his legs, The Miller calls for moths but they do not come. Scarlet morning shatters into white afternoon.
Marsha draws maps into the sand of the beach. LET THEM COME, The Miller screams. His mother beckons him to bed.
Pray with me, she bows her head.
Rain falls in vats.
Let us pray for gold to fill our mouths & choke us.
He runs from the house & falls into a trap. His thin leg bleeds sludge over the slice of steak.
Tripping wild into a cage. He runs for the forest, for the charioteer.
COME, he cries.
The charioteer climbs naked out of the tree trunk in drunken haze, a long cigarette hanging limp from his lips.
Give it up, he says, turning his back on The Miller, let them win.
FUCK. The Miller throws his weight into a slap against Hector's cheek. LOOK AT ME. The charioteer falls & The Miller sits over his bare torso.
They are coming & they will keep coming while the dream sdie & keep coming & keep breaking good minds to bad bents with drunken painted portraits of happiness is wealth.
Hector's glazed eyes. His eyes are wet. Tear.
Please, The Miller says, I will run dreams with you. He climbs off the man's body & they sit side by side. We can't stop them, the charioteer says. Shrug. We will run dreams tonight. & EVERY NIGHT AFTER THAT The Miller adds. & every night until we are broken, Hector says.
I make promises to Marsha & set her wet heart back inside her chest. I watch her leave. I look at her Uncle. It's just us now I say, laying wild garlic beneath his pillow.
The young too fast to throw their nets. Hector tries, we ride, too far fuchsia. You see my knees? Fight violence with violence, I won that off a merchant in The Moon & Earth. I don't believe in the sharp metals.
She screams yes. Dreams have lodged like chicken bones inside her throat. All she can do is scream & sleep. Watch her in the winter, she will drink it all down. Her lungs will sag below her feet.
A stream of oil between our feet perhaps. A crack above our heads. The last tree will spill soil over the water & the glass words will be blown red before our eyes. I believe in sky & grass.
In the days to come?
Smoke it down, drink it down, make yourself vomit. Vomit over polished bullion bars, take it back.
Acacia watches the island from her island. She polishes her shotgun & laughs at the drunk crew flailing on their moored boat. She sees it set sail & prays it sink while the men laugh hysterically.
Boats come daily.
Drink liquid gold.
They bring red bricks & strange foods. Marsha does not sing from the beach any longer, she notices. The port has become hard gray lines. The ships have become steel faces tearing merciless slits in the ocean.
Bandage the sea. Bandage everything.
Acacia picks vegetables, fruit, then smokes a cigarette & watches the sky burn confused. The sky sorrows. She can see that the people are growing restless in the greenhouse heat of growth. People want.
She remembers old time; Old town. She remembers farming, sweat with trade. She remembers the cobbler & The Miller drunk. She remembers Marsha skipping surf in mornings. She remembers naked flames. She remembers arms & women & wine & song & wood & scent & smile & dance & sparrows & moths & chariots & yellow days, black nights, open palms, the gift of silver, flat land, safe land, empty hotels & faces. She remembers people. She remembers people sweating, working under a plastic sun as willing slaves. She remembers love & not courtship. She remembers the absence of a cathedral. Man's phallus in God's young sky.
The cathedral built from red bricks was the first pike to tear the sky above our island.
Paris conducted the men who snapped spines heaving blocks from the port around town in circles.
The bishops drank vodka & mocked the sins of workers.
Snares & lashes beat a rhythm even Acacia could hear. They sat back through crimson night, Paris & the bishops; they smiled at progress & thanked God for all things high. All things green cowered black beneath the new sky.
The charioteer cried heretical into his hands & broke the branches from his Oak. The Miller whispered. Everyone whispered. People whispered equality, people whispered; its just the way things are. The workers' wives bleached their hair. They smoked menthol cigarettes & whispered. The whole town whispered their inhibitions to a sky that set late beneath the pin pricks of a thousand cigarettes.
The moths landed white on their hands but dreams did not come.
The dreams had been set. Acacia felt the burn of moths on her hands & on her arms & on her eyes. She dreamed for days.
She dreamed a crone smoking a cigarette & flicking the butt into a forest which blazed. Naked children ran laughing from between the trees. Acacia rolled in the ash plains left behind & then woke. When she woke a lamb was slaughtered & her copper shotgun polished. She eyed the islanders. They smoked & cast suspicion over her flasks of liquid gold. The cathedral shook.
Marsha grips her wet heart & faces the forest. Industrial civilization, she whispers.
The trees, unaware, dream, bark begins to peel.
There is a Lunatic who stalks badgers through the forest. His soles are hard & shot through with pine needles. Marsha whistles God's grievances & tidies the forest paths. She sweeps with bare hands & works tirelessly. As night penetrates the spaces between leaves she sleeps with a single moth in an abandoned badger set.
The root of dreams of industrial civilization will be a steel giant & I will feed him my heart. This town for my bundle of dreams. I will never let them shoot needles through my spine. Watch me.
I can throw rocks into the ocean.
Everything will live.
A steel boat hits the harbor with pointed blue hull. History, she is called.
The islanders gather.
The charioteer sits in his Sycamore & watches men open their arms. An army of men in desert tan boilersuits file out of the ship & a giant in an olive drab woolsack proudly smokes beside them. He turns to the townspeople. MINE, he says grinning. Streets of red brick houses form grids over the island. The hotelier grips his wife's hand.
They sweat. The town sweats. The town's sweat trickles into the ocean & the ocean layers with scum & the scum filters down the throats of swallows who fly in twisted circles, broken wings & drown. Brine welcomes flightless bodies into its great cape. Oh great fold of salt & muscle. Sinew stretches the skin of birds. I think of beauty & they think of the beautiful.
The olive drab woolsack man points fishbone fingers at distance. Edges of the town; plains, hills. This small scale coal riot. Desert tan boilersuits quench a voyage lasting years with watered down gin at the hotel.
The charioteer plots for a coup, Acacia polishes pistols.
Excerpted from An Island of Fifty by Ben Brooks. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Distribution. Excerpted by permission of Mud Luscious Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Maps: I, II,
Plague: I, II, III, IV, V,
Tunnels: I, II, III, IV, V,
Scabs: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,
Justice: I, II, III, IV, V, VI,
Hymns: I, II, III,
Poppies: I, II, III, IV,
Shou Sui: I, II, III, IV,
Hunger: I, II, III, IV, V,
Heart: I, II, III, IV,
Lights: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII,
Sun: I, II, III,
Lessons: I, II,
Disease: I, II, III,