Xogulano: Demanding Answers (penultimate episode)

Note: I did not have time to carry out new investigations today, so sketches are taken from previous explorations of the islands.

plants 11 - Copy (6)

Again my dreams were crowded, but this time the shadowy figures that shoved me had intent. While I tried to explain that I was a British citizen, with certain rights; they cut out my organs, one by one and inserted them into the plants growing around us. Wispy fingers holding scalpels, sliced and diced, and my heart was cut free and lovingly placed in a small shrub.

I woke up gasping, relieved to find myself intact, but feeling more than a little ill; feverish and shaky. My feet were wet again. Despite my wobbly legs, I decided I had had enough oddness and I wanted answers: from where did these dreams come? Who was entering my tent while I slept to make my socks soggy? I went in search of the fisherman who always seems to seek me out. The fever was causing me to hallucinate phantoms that vanished the moment I looked at them.

When I found the fisherman sitting on a rock, I was exhausted and frazzled, but my determination was strong, I would know the truth! I blurted out,

“Tell me what is happening? Tell me who are the Lost Men? Tell me what’s wrong with me? Why do I feel so ill?”

This was more emotional than I’d have liked, but the fisherman was not fazed,

“A thousand years ago, the Lost Men lived on the island, they were men of science. They played with animals and plants, fusing one to another. It was an abomination, so the sea swallowed them. Swallowed the whole island.”

plants 2 - Copy

“But you’ve told me that. That doesn’t explain why I’m ill.”

“They are still playing. Still meddling with nature, now they are meddling with you too.”

“Meddling with me how, what are they trying to do?”

“When the islands rose again, my people would visit these islands. They would come fishing for monster fish, they would hunt the monster animals and eat the monster plants. They didn’t ask why such monsters existed, they simply stole. Then the footprints started appearing, but my people said, ‘these are just marks in the rock, a coincidence, it cannot harm us.’ So they continued to hunt and fish. And then the dreams began, and they said, ‘this is only a fever, it will pass.’

“What they didn’t see, was that their nature was already being stolen. The plants they dug up, regrew in their likeness. This was the Lost Men claiming their souls, stealing their existence so they could never leave. We don’t know what happened when the islands sunk again into the sea, we only know that most did not come back. And now, they too leave footprints. Now, they too play with the animals and the plants. Creating new monsters. Animals within animals, souls within souls. Animals connected to plants. The Lost Men will keep increasing in number. And now they have you, the plants have stolen your likeness and you will never leave.”

And without another word, the fisherman walked back across the island, throwing stones on the ground as he left.

Dr Florence

Flash fiction: Misunderstood Genius

All objects are art, it just takes an artist to point it out. But my mum literally cannot see that. It’s like she has a piece missing in her brain. Instead she sees all this irrelevant shit. Says stuff like,

“That’s not art, that’s a bit of the hoover. I need that to clean up this pig sty of a house. You’ll have to dismantle your sculpture.”

Dismantle my art? Doesn’t she know anything? That could kill me, it’s like tearing out a piece of my soul. So I say,

“No, mum. Actually that’s a physical expression of all my childhood dreams in a unbroken representative space. Reminiscent of Renoir, as seen through the eyes of a millennial in torment.”

Then she says,

“You don’t even know what half of those words mean!”

“No mum, you don’t know what they mean. I looked them up.” That told her.

Flash Fiction: The Cult of Zac

Zac had swagger and grace. He wore his ego like a crown and his hair like a dandy. He was his own creation, a walking work of art. Missing a vital component from his integrity and with an arrogance borne of luck not bravery, he had no reason to question his role in the world. He was on top, because that is where he deserved to be.

“Nothing can stop a man with the right mental attitude,” he would say; he had it written on his business cards, embossed with gold. And nothing could stop Zac, because if charm didn’t work, he could buy his way through.

As someone who grew up with money, he never needed to seek out more. Business opportunities simply appeared when he met up with rich friends for luncheon.

“Nothing can stop a man with the right mental attitude,” he said, wondering why the unemployed didn’t simply take one of the many opportunities that must appear with every meal. He assumed it was laziness.

His demands for adoration were always met by a noisy crowd. They gained nourishment from loving someone so beautiful and he absorbed their love like soaking up rays of the sun. It was a symbiosis.

If some unbeliever dared to criticise his spoilt soul and ignorance, Zac would dip his head and look up coyly through his eyelashes, in a fake gesture of humility. Then with a wave of his hand he would summon his worshipers to snarl and snap like a pack of dogs at the witless serf.

As he strutted in distressed denim and flicked his quiff, he had no idea that his ego was outgrowing his brain, a tragic degenerative condition with no cure. At first nobody noticed that the twinkle in his eye sometimes became a blank stare.

But soon his naturally quick mind was smothered by his self-belief until he was barely able to articulate a thought or choose a new hair product.

“Nothing can stop a man…” he would say, and then forget the rest, a look of desperation lightly grazed his good looks.

Luckily his adoring fans knew his opinions well enough to voice them for him, and his team of personal assistants could maintain his coiffured exterior.

“Nothing…”he would plead, as they fussed around him, ignoring his distress and focussing on the quiff. There was no need for change, the cult of Zac continued in earnest.

Xogulano: Siamese Plants

Previous episode here

Another night of bizarre dreams, of shrouded beings jostling me, while muttering. This time, when I woke, I found not only my feet, but up to my knees wet. Again the rest of the tent was dry. I am a woman of science, rational and not easily disturbed by superstitions, but I felt disquieted. It took a particularly syrupy shot of coffee to dissipate my funk, and then I went exploring.

siamese plant
Plants connected: Inosculation

Rather than visit one of the other islands, I took my boat around to the opposite side of the island that I slept on. A steep cliff face and jutting rocks had always put me off this area, but when rowing past, I had seen that a number of plants sprouted from the scree, and this justified braving the difficult access.

After rowing back and forth across the perimeter, I managed to find a natural jetty jutting out from the rock. I parked my small row boat, and with a rucksack of supplies strapped firmly to my back and clambered up. The plants I had seen were easy to locate, being the only ones growing there, and they were well worth the journey, revealing a nature unseen in all of science!

There were four plants of different genera stood in a line, each of a completely different habit. Each was a typical desert style plant, with sparse, fleshy leaves. However, they were connected. A woody stem protruded from each grew into the next, the different plants fused together.

Now I knew this was possible, it’s a phenomenon called inosculation and it occurs naturally with a number of trees. Usually with trees of the same species, but not always. However, it occurs when trees happen to be growing in the same space, or when forced by humans; not as a deliberate seeking out by one plant to the next.

My curiosity aroused, I prodded the plant at the end of the line, each of the plants drooped their leaves, presumably as protection against a perceived attack. Again, this has been encountered in science – the leaves of Mimosa pudica will shrivel up if touched, making it look unappetizing to potential mammals; but that was the only plant I knew of with such a skill. Yet here were four more species.

siames 2
Plants Under Threat

I spent a fascinated morning, sketching, experimenting and finally dissecting. Aside from the inosculation and sensitivity, the plants were normal, inside and out.

My endeavours were only disturbed once, when my fisherman visitor came by. Naturally he was not pleased with my work. He took his awkward straight line method of walking, trying to fit the straight lines around the rocks, all the while throwing small handfuls of stones that he took out of his satchel.

“You already saw off the spirits on the island,” I said cheerfully, hoping for a relaxed conversation without the usual confusing threats.

“They never leave, they live here,” he said. “You should leave that plant alone, it will steal your nature,” he said and my hopes were dashed.

“You keep saying things like that, yet here I am with my nature intact!” I said, cutting off a leaf and watching in delight as a different plant in the line withdrew its leaves right into the stem.

“Your nature is not ok. I can see it stolen by the islands. You’re having the dreams.”

Well this comment pulled me up short.

“How do you know about the dreams?” I asked suspiciously. He smiled a smug smile and started to make his way back across the rocks without speaking. I shouted after him, even started to follow him, but he moved like a cat across the rocks and was gone in a moment.


Flash Fiction: In Spines Forever

graffiti cactus (2)

He carved her name on a cactus leaf, that way she would know just how much he loved her, would love her forever. She kissed him and he felt all his fevered hopes collide with  reality. He wanted to be lost in her arms, the moment that he had daydreamed about, but he was only thinking of the spines in his fingers.

Weren’t some cactus spines so tiny that they could embed deep in the fingers impossible to remove? Couldn’t they last for years, decades even? Could he really love her longer than the time it took for the splinters to ease themselves from deep in his flesh? Just that sense of time stretching out ahead gave him chills. To listen to her donkey laugh, to pander to her petulant whims and soothe her tantrums; all the while the cactus spines would be pricking at his fingertips. Forever seemed like no time at all, but a year? A decade? He panicked and ran, leaving his love behind him.

BI Blog: Expanding on Spoon Theory

Spoon theory is here

When I first read the Spoons description of being ill, I thought That’s it exactly, surely every healthy person will understand now!  But I still read people dismissing it as whinging and not getting what is being described. And of course, it didn’t explain how to deal with that situation of limited energy. So this blog takes a few tentative steps to solving those two problems.

The Crux of the Problem

When somebody you know is ill or struggling, it’s easy to think ‘toughen up’, ‘make an effort’, ‘you’re giving up before you even try’. You may actually be sort of, sometimes right, but you also may not be right at all. By simply looking at someone, you can’t know how hard they are trying and what they’re capable of.

Just to complicate things further, if you are the chronically ill person, you probably also don’t know what you are capable of, because it changes day by day.

My Experience

When I first got sick I didn’t believe it. Having a brain injury, I was living in a half-haze most of the time anyway, so I just slid my attention away from the reality of illness. This meant I could avoid completely giving up hope, but it also meant that I kept doing ridiculous things. For example I’d go out to meet friends in town and get so exhausted that I couldn’t find my way home again. I couldn’t remember the route, couldn’t read train timetables, couldn’t understand bus routes.

Pushing myself in this way was harmful, but after a lifetime of living at normal speed I didn’t appreciate that I just needed to slow right down and rest. And while there were supportive people in my life telling me to slow down, there were also many people telling me to push myself, stop being lazy. To them I didn’t look ill, because they only saw me when I was well enough to leave the house, and I tried to hide symptoms until I was on my own.

Energy for the Sick and the Healthy

Eventually, I worked out it was like this. There are different types of energy:

  1. Easy, healthy energy
  2. Energy that you have to push for
  3. Harmful, desperate energy


  1. Easy healthy energy

This is the energy that you use up freely with no ill effects.

When you are healthy, you mostly operate with this kind of energy – you use it to go to work, hang out with people you like and look after your basic needs. It sometimes feels to a healthy person that these things are hard work, but once you push yourself to doing something, you don’t suffer any bad effects afterwards, and probably feel better for having achieved something.

In chronically sick people, this energy can be brief or non-existent. It might be used up getting out of bed and getting dressed. And that’s it.

  1. Energy you have to push for.

This is the energy that gets used when you make an effort, but has few ill effects. It’s a good energy to use, the one that enables you to do new things, take on new challenges.

For a healthy person it can take determination to go to a party where you don’t know anyone, or to go for a run early in the morning on a cold day, or to mow the lawn. A few side effects might be aches and pains or some awkwardness. Once it’s over, you feel fine, perhaps better for having accomplished something.

In a sick person, this energy is also brief, you might use it to read the paper or make yourself dinner, and then it’s finished.

  1. Harmful desperate energy

Using this energy causes physical damage that lasts for days/weeks. You should only really use this in exceptional circumstances.

Healthy people will rarely ever use it. If you talk to someone who has run a marathon, this is the energy they use. It involves pushing yourself beyond the exhaustion barrier, time and again. Afterwards, you are not just tired, you are destroyed, and your body is suffering for some time as it recovers.

A chronically sick person uses this energy a lot, it may be all they have. Because they are only doing simple tasks that should be easy, they don’t think at the time they are using harmful desperate energy, and often there won’t be the immediate physical symptoms that a person gets while running a marathon. It may only be when the activity is over and their body is in pain, leaden with exhaustion and they can’t think, that they realise they have overdone it.

Using the Right Energy

It took a long time to work this out, but slowly, and with many mistakes, I stopped using the harmful energy. I put restrictions on myself, on seeing people, on how many things I could do in a day.  I started using mostly the healthy energy, occasionally the push energy. It was the right thing to do, because it gave my body the rest it needed to heal. And I was lucky enough that it did heal.

But then, over the next few years, that belief that I shouldn’t do things became my disability. I wasn’t lazy, I hadn’t given up, I was just trying desperately to look after myself, to treat my body with kindness. Out of fear, I stopped using the push energy at all and my health stopped improving.

Once I realised that, I began to head in the opposite direction once again, to push myself, to take risks, to take on tasks I felt I was incapable of. Because by this point I had much better health, it was possible to actually achieve some of those things without ever using the harmful energy. And in doing those things, I gained in strength, optimism and my health improved.

 So to sum up

  • When you are very ill you need to learn how to slow down and stop forcing yourself to carry out activity way beyond your abilities.
  • As your health improves you need to start gently pushing yourself and finding out what your boundaries are.
  • There is no clear way of knowing when that change occurs, and it is not smooth or a clear point. Nobody else can tell you when that point is, but you will also struggle to recognise it.

How to Figure Out What You’re Capable of:

For a sick person:

Experiment – the only method that worked for me was to experiment gently, slowly increasing activity and doing so without stress or pressure – avoiding stress is especially important with BI, frustrating though it is, you need to be gentle with yourself.

Mistakes are ok – accept that you will sometimes get it wrong, and that’s ok.

Vary activity – for times when you aren’t feeling motivated or inspired, have a list of hobbies ready (see previous post on this: https://inkbiotic.com/2016/04/15/brain-injury-refinding-purpose/)

Listen to your body – one of the most useful strategies was learning to recognise the messages my body was giving me.  Mindfulness and meditation help with this a lot. Time spent just paying attention to pain and anxiety will help you learn to listen to your body and brain.

Other people – listen to what people you trust are saying, ignore completely what other people  are saying (they may well mean well, so no need to be nasty about it, just smile and ignore them).

For a healthy person:

Looking back to my life before I got the BI, it fills me with shock how much I didn’t do because I thought I couldn’t. I put up imaginary boundaries all the time: not taking jobs I thought were beyond me, giving up on learning new skills because I seemed so crap at them, being creative to the point where I got praise and then trying no harder.

When I was trying to recover, everything was so insanely difficult that I discovered just how much effort is possible. Not that I was a lazy or undetermined person before, but compared to the effort of learning to read again (for example) it was nothing. No effort at all.

Talent and intelligence are useful, but they are nothing compared with effort. Speaking as someone who has less intelligence now; I am way more able, have achieved things I never thought were impossible before the accident, just because I try so much harder.

I suppose what I’m trying to say, is when you get the urge to say to a sick person ‘try harder’, say it to yourself instead, because you are the one that definitely needs to hear it and they probably aren’t.

TL;DR If you aren’t the one with illness, you don’t have a clue what the sick person is capable of. If you are the one with the illness, you have only slightly more of  clue.

Questions for all of you…

Sometimes writing a blog can feel like throwing tales out into the void. I’m lucky in that people do comment on my blogs, but that just gives me a tantalizing glimpse into your minds. So this is to expand on that. I welcome anyone to answer, whether you’ve ever read my blog before or not.

Tell me about you…

  • What are the 3 best things that happened to you this week?
  • What are the 3 worst things to happen to you this week?
  • What secret skills do you have?
  • What would your superpower be?
  • What would you like to change about yourself?
  • What would you like to change about your life?
  • You have a time machine, you can use it three times, when would you go?
  • What subject do you wish you knew more about?
  • What do you think of as your job? Do you like your job?
  • What is in your pockets?
  • What is your favourite TV program/ magazine/ book?

My answers

What are the 3 best things that happened to you this week?

In no particular order

  •  I finished rewriting my book, which is why I have time to cogitate on blogs like these.
  • My boss liked how I pruned a fig tree, said it was perfect.
  • A good friend of mine is getting married! She’s dreading it!

What are the 3 worst things to happen to you this week?

  • Had an argument with a colleague, I think because he didn’t like how I pruned my fig tree and so he picked a fight over something else.
  • I had one of those uneasy dreams, where people close to me are acting weird as if they’ve been taken over by aliens. Spent the day feeling nervous.
  • I’ve got this new niggling pain in my back, I think I may have started sitting wonky.

What secret (useless) skills do you have?

I can write backwards, upside-down and then backwards and upside down at the same time.

What would your superpower be?

The ability to show people how others see them. I have a suspicion that nastiness is often a result of people not realising they are being nasty; that anxiety comes from believing other people actually notice and care about what you do when they don’t; and people I love don’t seem to have a clue about how much everyone else respects them. So I’d want to solve all these problems with my truth lasers.

Either that or really springy feet that I could use to leap my way around buildings and up trees.

What would you like to change about yourself?

It’s a dull answer, but I’d just like to get rid of anxiety and stress-based exhaustion. They taint friendships, adventures, hobbies, work. They improve nothing.

What would you like to change about your life?

To have some success with writing. To own a cat. Or a dog.

You have a time machine, you can use it three times, when would you go?

  • Assuming my time machine has a few attachments that allow me to survive in inhospitable landscapes and translate speech into something I understand. A few hundred million years into the past to see all the bizarre ocean animals, the first plants and fungi to evolve.
  • Ancient Greece, the time of Aristotle. It seems such a sophisticated time, but with many curious twists to their politics and morals.
  • The future – I’d probably regret it, but the curiosity would be too much. Are we heading for the destruction of the human race? Will the changes to our environment lead to an evolutionary burst of new animals?

What subject do you wish you knew more about?

History. I have only fragments and no way of holding it together, because my knowledge is so patchy.

What do you think of as your job? Do you like doing it?

I added the first question for people who do a job that means nothing to them, but do something else that’s very important. Or people not currently employed, who of course still have passions and labour that occupy their time.

For me, I think of work as the thing I get paid for. I’m a gardener, I love it, but the place I work is unusually complicated and competitive for gardening and I find that stressful sometimes.

What is your favourite TV program/ magazine/ book?

Currently Community (although in the past it was 4400 and Red Dwarf)

New Scientist

I’m not a great reader these days, back when I was smarter it was Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington and The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Berniere.

Xogulano: Spider and Ant Colonies

Story recap: Dr Florence has been carrying out investigations on the Lost Islands of Xogulano for some weeks now. The islands are home to many endemic creatures and plants never seen before. She continues to sleep with a flotation device wrapped around her because the islands are said to drop into the sea periodically and without warning. On one occasion she woke to find her device had been burst.  Her interaction with the locals is fraught, they see her as being disrespectful to the islands, she sees them as foolish in their superstitious beliefs. The locals claim that bad spirits live on the islands and that their footprints and handprints can be seen in sand and rocks. Dr Florence has seen such evidence, but believes it to be the work of the locals themselves. Is she right? Or are there  spirits on the island waiting to turn on her?

Spiders and Flies

This morning had another alarming start to the day. My dreams felt crowded and busy. However when I woke the memories fled as I realised in panic that my feet were wet. Of course, my first thought was that the island was flooding, but I found no other water inside my tent, only in my socks that were sopping wet. There was no sign that someone had entered my tent, and flummoxed by the mystery I decided to make myself a fire for coffee and the drying of socks. The mystery deepened when I put my hand into my pocket to find my lighter and pulled out a small volvox colony, the large cells falling apart and slithering to the ground instantly.

The mystery of the wet feet unsolved, and the sun rising high, I set off for a hitherto unexplored island, one in the shape of a comma. There I discovered an incredible colony of spiders, living harmoniously with ants! The colony covered about 3sqm, on rocks, in cracks and swarming over nearby plants.

There are of course many recorded incidents of spider colonies and ants are known for their sociability, but ants and spiders tend to eat each other, not work together. I sat sketching the movement of the colony for some time. Particularly creepy was noticing that a number of the bugs swarmed in small areas, and looking closer, I could see that this swarming occurred on isolated  footprints in the sand, and even one impressed into the rock. More games from the locals?

I decided to see just how far the colony collaboration went. I put a large cake crumb into a crack in the rock near the ant-spider hive, and then smeared some Vaseline on the edges of the crack, so that no bugs could crawl easily to the crumb. Within a few minutes, about thirty ants had formed a bridge across the hole. A spider then walked to the centre of the bridge, and with an ant clinging to its body it dropped into the hole on a single thread. Within moments, the dangled pair had rescued the crumb and taken it back to the hive. (diagram below)

Ant and Spider collaboration

I was watching the final part of this daring adventure, when my fisherman friend (whose previous visit had ended badly) arrived and cautiously approached me. He walked in his odd straight lines, clutching a handful of stones in case I did something blasphemous and he needed to warn off the bad spirits. It seems that our previous dispute was forgotten and he sat on a rock and watched the colonies with me. I pointed out one of the swarm filled footprints and asked if he knew anything about it.

“He told you,” he said proudly, “he told you there were footprints of the Lost Men.” I did have a vague memory of such a conversation had when I first arrived, but not the use of the words Lost Men, so I asked,

“Lost Men? I thought it was spirits.”

He chuckled a little and looked at the footprints with the same dazed fascination with which one gazes into a crackling fire. When he spoke, the chuckle had gone,

“They lived on these islands long ago, they were like you, believed they were clever, believed they knew more than nature itself. They played with it. They created new animals, animals within animals, monsters.”

“How did they create them?”

“They had many skills, powers. The power to bend nature to their will, but they abused it. They forced unions that were no good. They bound creatures to plants.”

This sounded fascinating, if slightly unlikely. I asked if any such hybrids still lived on the islands. The fisherman huffed a non-committal answer, so I tried a new tack.
“So what happened to the Lost Men? Why aren’t they here now?”

“What happened to them is what happens to all who meddle with nature, they are swallowed by the sea.”

He clearly wanted this to be a dramatic end to the conversation, but for me it raised more questions than it answered. Why would the sea swallow them? And if they drowned, why are there footprints in the sand? When I asked these questions he became a little terse.

“I didn’t say they drowned, I said they were swallowed. And if you continue to mess with the beings of these islands, they will swallow you too.”


Flash Fiction: Superhero Encounter

It was a bog-standard task. Take the cherry picker up to the roof and fix the leak. To be honest I could do it without the machine, there’s loft access and apart from a few holes, it seemed pretty solid. But that wouldn’t justify us spending over a thousand on the cherry picker itself, so for that reason I was sitting in the cab about to go sixty feet up in the air. And then I heard the shouting.

I saw the two men running towards me, their shiny spandex suits rustling, silky capes flowing out behind them, that’s how I knew they were superheroes. Although I didn’t actually recognise them, a couple of the more minor characters, I guess. I was leaning over, trying to understand what they were shouting about, when the larger of the two men leapt up into my cab in a single bound. The other struggled a little, the bars were too far apart and I’m sure he caused himself some pain, but he made it over.

“Hey missy,” said the superhero, “get us up there, now!” he was shouting unnecessarily, he was only a few inches from me. And I don’t appreciate being called missy either, I’m a woman doing my job, not an insolent child.

“You can’t come up here. This cab isn’t supposed to hold more than two,” I started to explain, but the bigger chap was having none of it.

“Listen, we’ve got five minutes before that building explodes,” now he was doing that forced whispering that superheroes do, and he gestured to the very building I was meant to be fixing, “and there are people trapped inside. We have to get up there now!” He shoved past me and began fiddling with the controls. I looked at his sidekick (clearly he was the sidekick) who gave me an apologetic shrug.

I turned back to the bolshie superhero, not particularly worried, since he didn’t seem to understand how a dead man’s handle worked and was pressing every button and pushing every lever in a totally futile manner.

“It seems to me that if the building is about to explode, then we want to be as far away from it as possible,” I said. To be honest, I didn’t believe him at all, these superhero types are always kicking up the melodrama. However, the caped crusader wasn’t flagging, he put a hand around my throat and shoved me up against the railings, hissing into my face,

“Take us up there, now!”

Seriously, is it that difficult to say please? Anyway, I took us up there, slowly, because the machine doesn’t go up fast, no matter how much a superhero screams at you.

To cut a long, anticlimactic story short, I got them both up to where the super villain held the woman. They smashed through the window and swooped inside. The window was open, so I don’t see why smashing was needed. She started screaming, which helped no one. They rescued her, she got her shoe caught in the window frame and started screaming again – seriously? Where do they find these women? There was a tussle with the super villain, who I was quietly rooting for. More screaming, whispering, and smashing stuff (I feel sorry for the cleaners). They rescued her, and I took them back down again. Slowly.

She never even said thank you to me, just stood leaning back against the railing (I made her put a harness on, she had no awareness of safety) and snogging the superhero. The sidekick ran out of quips about half way down, so we continued the journey in silence, just the slurping of the other two to listen to.

And of course it was them who got the TV interviews and the front page photo, nobody asked me. The superhero even lied about how he got up there, said he flew, the twat.