|Aylett takes SANDY AUDEN around Accomplice|
|This article first appeared an thealienonline site, HERE|
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"So this is Accomplice?"
Steve Aylett nods sagely.
With Jericho Bridge and the reeking Swamp of Eternal Enmity / Degradation behind us, we take in the view of the settlement. We are both covered in rubber seaweed and poison barnacles but Aylett assures me this is a normal side-effect of the trip. The skyline here is low, punctuated only by a domed roof, a square tower and a church building. Most of the houses appear to be sunbleached wood and suit their rural surroundings. It all looks pretty normal really, but there's a frisson of strangeness in the air, the taste of something unpredictable. There's going to be more to this tour than I'd expected, methinks.
"This way," says Steve, leading off to the right at a brisk pace, walking parallel to the oozing swamp. This is Aylett's world. Accomplice - town on the edge of nowhere - and its denizens have been the subject of four of his novels. Steve kindly volunteered to show me around and so here we are, walking to the edge of town.
"This is Ladderland, Barny's house," Steve says. It looks a bit like a kid's adventure park - multiple levels with ladders connecting the decking terraces outside and an almost tree-house simplicity. "Barny's a bit of a simpleton really. He got a job as an exterminator once and used to clean the flies and that, getting the gunk out of their compound eyes, and polishing the roaches. He loves the winged and stepping animals of the earth, and that will be his undoing, Tom.'
I remind him that my name isn't Tom, but he's already indicating an Aztec-style pyramid structure several hundred yards behind Barny's. "See that building?" Closer to, some buildings are ribbed and chalky, grown from bone. "That's the Bata Motel, Edgy's place. He can't pay, so he stays there by pretending to be a ghost and scaring the landlady. He sets fire to rubbish, then directs the smoke in a way that looks a bit like a floating ghost. Actually the landlady just thinks he's a bloke who's always setting fire to rubbish and she's scared of him for that reason. It goes to show, there's always a way."
We walk past Barny's front gate and down the street towards the centre of Accomplice. The buildings close in on either side and there's the smell of something exotic sizzling on the air. It's not long before we reach the source of the aroma - Snorter's Cafe. Just inside the door we can see two customers eating enthusiastically (and a little messily) at a small wooden table.
"And there's Edgy himself, with Gregor," says Steve, introducing the pair. "Looks a bit like a dead firework, doesn't he? Hello Edgy, how's the gullet? He's laughing at that. The bloke with him, the one who looks like a potato, that's Gregor."
Gregor looks up from his food and starts giving me the eye. Breaking into a lecherous grin, he waves at us. "He thinks you're a failure, and that turns him on. Time to go," says Steve before Gregor can finish his meal and come over.
Before long the street opens out onto a large public square dominated by a grandiose building. "Yeah, the Mayoral Palace," says Steve. "Home to Mayor Rudloe. He distorts every fact he can get his hands on." Aylett laughs, looking up at the mayoral balcony. "Went to the glass hospital a while ago. There was a beak at the middle of his heart which nipped the surgeon. Staff embarrassment and smirks in the observation window. One of the students called through the glass 'Chest snout eh? Chlorine fixes that.' It doesn't of course." Steve slaps the side of the building. "It's called Rudloe Manor now."
There are many different streets leading off the town centre, but Steve takes us across the entire length of the square to a small street where a plain building sits, austere and functional.
"The Sorting Office," says Steve and the soft sound of crying floats up from the basement. "As Jeff Lint said, 'Employment is atrophy speeded up.'"
Continuing up the street we pass a variety of colourful shops selling everything from blood corn to abasement trolleys. One strange, dark shop-front has a loud cawing sound coming from it and, having an interest in feathered pets, I go over for a closer look. 'The Shop of a Thousand Spiders', it says above the door. I turn to frown at Steve but he's already moving past me to hold the shop door open. I dubiously murmur some thanks as I enter, then pause a few steps in to let my eyes adjust to the dim interior.
"You can find all sorts of weirdware here," says Steve closing the door. "It's a bit dim," he warns, guiding me through the murk. "And slimy. But by god, the bargains - look at this." He picks up a a pentagram skillet from a dusty shelf. "A Vanta grid. And here's an october switch for making visible what is invisible, betsy lamps for attracting ghosts and irreversible trauma, a benthic brace, a bottle of bone, a cathay claw, a cornercage, skull sandpaper, mole pearls and umbilia." Reaching among the shelves of lethal novelties, he picks up a book bound in glass. "The Tao Te Jinx, a collection of Bingo Violaine quotations. Listen to this: 'Government is like domestic abuse - it manages to make the victim feel guilty.' And this one: 'Infinity has so much structure, it has no structure.' And then: 'Insanity happens when all your adjustments to the world meet up by accident' And here's an old favourite: 'Pity the spectators of revolution... its success is not their success, and nor is its failure.'"
I gaze around at the other artefacts, especially those on the wall behind the counter. With a start, I realise that the sales assistant in the half-dark behind the till is actually a rigid goat, perhaps stuffed or made of wood, observing and weighing its judgement. Uneasy, I look for the door.
We emerge blinking into the light and I pause to take a deep lungful of fresh air. The movement brings a tall square tower into view as my gaze swings upwards. I'd seen the tower from a distance when we'd first arrived and, grateful for anything to distract me from the contents of the shop, I ask Steve whether it is the tallest building in Accomplice.
"Wesley Kern thought so, and chose it as the vantage from which to fire on the Mayoral Palace. It also supposedly houses the Moral Fibre, but I suspect that's just a bit of ham." We put the tower to our backs and walk away from the town centre,
"C'mon," says Steve, "the gardens are lovely this time of the day." And off he strides. I catch up with him at two large stone posts that stand either side of an opening in a six foot high wall. "Scardummy Garden," Steve says as I follow him through the entrance to be greeted by a host of sculpted statues.
"Why's that one wearing a donkey jacket and bobble hat, Steve?"
"Because it can. Every citizen in Accomplice has a statue born here. Doomed Eddie Gallo's is covered in mushrooms, I think. And look at that one, with its chin knocked off. I wouldn't want to go out with her."
We wander north onto some fallow fields. Here and there are cacti skeletons and the bleached bones of carnivorous pianos. Next to a dead shed, a hole in the air radiates a sickly light. Aylett walks toward it, kicking through gems. A grandfather clock lays nearby like a coffin. "I forgot about this - it's a creepchannel entrance."
"Demonic subway system - nightmare network. Smells like vomit doesn't it? Let's go in a way."
Aylett pulls me up the diamond-strewn slope into the warping gap and my head is filled with a scramble of migraine static. I dimly recall Aylett gesturing to a briefcase-clutching lawyer embedded in a cavern wall, ants pouring from its eyesockets. Aylett is saying 'No reason for the interval between death and death,' or something like that. Corrosive yellow light is blasting across us.
The next thing I remember, we are back at the entrance to the Scar Garden and Aylett is showing me a trick with some barbed wire and an egg.
I catch the metallic tang of the sea on the breeze. Face to the wind, I can just make out the liquid horizon, undulating gently in the distance.
"Baffling Ocean," Steve explains. "Completely baffling. Moves forward, then back, parts of it are dark, others light, it gets all frothy at the edges..." He shakes his head slowly. "Madness. Absolute madness."
"And that chimney over there?" I ask, indicating a pencil-like structure out of town, towards the coast.
"The boneseed factory - it produces the spore mix used to grow some of the more stupid buildings around here. It was discovered when King Verbal accidentally spilt some sort of experimental fertilizer in the graveyard - that's what made the Bone Coast, ribbed for your pleasure." He points at the twisted wall of calcium which rears against the west horizon.
We move off down an alleyway between the houses to the next street, emerging near Spacey's Gas Station. Opposite us, the huge domed roof of an observatory rotates and the slats begin to open. An armoured demon crouches on the telescope like a dried spider. "I've arranged irredeemable errors to the cardinal points of your life, hope you don't mind," the creature calls out.
"Not at all," Aylett hails in response, waving. He turns to me. "The demon Dietrich, hell defector. But old habits die hard."
Opposite the observatory is Spacey's Gas Station. The sleeping, inert form of Spacey lies sentry. "Look at the car here," says Aylett, approaching a rusted red chassis. I touch the hot tin roof. "Feel the radiator grille." I do, and it's gilled like a mushroom. "This a Ford Vimana, a scarcar. To travel through the creepchannel it has to be part-organic."
We hurry on through a gap in the hedge before Spacey spots us. We find ourselves in the grounds of a large glass lattice structure.
"Here's where some useless vegetative heads are grown. Most of the heads are shipped to the courthouse for jury use, the idea being that since it's the only time their opinions will be listened to in a way which will affect anything, their decisions come out weird and distorted, informed by a lifetime of grudges and resentment. Look at the face on this one." Aylett pulls a weird bole from the ground, its underside a drift of wooly roots. The shallow impress of a face is detectable on the cabbagy surface.
With the hydroponics on our right, we walk on. The smell of cooking wafts over us again.
"Snorter's already?" I ask.
"Snorter's is a bit further over there," says Steve, pointing over the rooftops to the left. "We're close to the Chef school and Ultimatum Restaurant here. The chefs worship a sort of frilled seahorse in a painted cabinet. Wouldn't we all, if we could? Look inside - see the large slimy padlocks of stuff on the plates? Pasta: the lowest of detritus redefined as food. Look at the customers. There they sit like farmers, aching for the end. This is a terrible place."
Passing through a small cobble courtyard and between houses again, I see a building covered with ladders and realise we've some full circle. Barny is out in his garden playing with his pet lion. He looks up with a smile and a wave. Steve waves back then turns to me.
"Well, there you have it. The town that stole my eyebrows. Don't step on that snail, they use those as lightbulbs around here."
He raises an arm to indicate the way back, away from Accomplice town. As we get back to Jericho Bridge I look back over my shoulder. I was right, it has been interesting and not without its horrors. I look forward to seeing what happens to Accomplice's denizens in Steve's next book, Karloff's Circus...
...which is currently available from all good bookstores, 48.2% of the lousy ones, and the online literary emporium Amazon.co.uk. More about the author (if you dare!) at www.steveaylett.com.
Copyright © Sandy Auden, 2003