A selection of images including the cover to Titanic Terastructures, A Quiet Afternoon 2, Thirty Years of Rain, New Maps, Shoreline of Infinity, K-Zine, Flotation Device and Magical Crime Scene Investigation.
In the centre are two painted images, one of a frazzled ginger haired woman drinking tea and one of a Sikh gentleman holding a bucket and sword and facing pink tentacles

The Writing Is On The Wall

The Writing Is On The Wall

Brian M. Milton

Susan flailed her arm around, finally finding the telephone. She picked up the handset and brought it to her ear as it poked out from under the duvet.”Hello?”An American accent replied. “Hi there. Is that Miss Erskine?””It’s pronounced Er-skin, not Ers-kine. It’s also the middle of the night so this better be important.””Oh it is ma’am. I need your assistance with a felon.””I’d guessed that.” Susan pulled herself upright and blinked at the clock’s glowing red display. “Its three o’clock in the morning! You Americans never get that do you? Probably because your spandex is too tight.””Err, ma’am, I am sorry to inconvenience you but this is important.””Oh, I’m sure it is. It always is. Right, I can be at the lockup in half an hour. I’ll see you there.””Ma’am this is really terribly urgent. I could come directly to you.””Oh I don’t doubt that, all flapping cape and shooting across the sky like a plane. But I still have to get to my lockup and I have very strict rules on not being flown there. Makes me ill. So, Nitshill Bowling Club on Prestwick Street, building round the back. The sign’s on the door.””The Shimmering Siren implanted a map in my mind ma’am. I know the way.””How lovely for you. I’m off to find some tea. See you in half an hour.””Half an hour, ma’am. Goodbye.”Susan dropped the telephone handset onto her duvet and cradled her head in her hands. Did these people know when she had been out the night before? Just once she would like to have a drink with her mates and not then be woken in the middle of the night to uncover some mental scheme involving taking over New York with monster jellyfish. Susan got out of bed, rubbed her eyes and shuffled for the kitchen.
Twenty minutes later Susan stumbled out of the door of her tenement and onto the street. She was a short, dark haired woman wearing a raincoat over a t-shirt, tracksuit trousers and a pair of old, battered, slippers. Half three in the morning ranked as one of the better times to be out in this part of Glasgow. It was quiet. It was also raining but this was not exactly news. Susan shuffled over to her car, got in and turned the blower to full heat. Starting the engine she received a jolt of air which, along with the large insulated cup of tea she was already half way through, pulled her to a level of consciousness which was legally allowed to drive. Susan sighed to herself. It was times like this she wished she had not kept to soft drinks with her friends. Just once she wanted to be able to tell some costumed oaf that she was too drunk to drive to work. That ended with being flown and then throwing up on Nitshill Road last time so she put the thought from her mind again.Susan was just about to pull out onto the road when a blur of orange suddenly resolved itself into a hero and captive. The hero was classic American costume. Tight spandex over excessive muscles. A silly looking little cape fluttering at his back. A domino mask that hid next to nothing of the face and a large emblem on the chest. In this case a representation of an atom, solid nucleus and spinning electrons, that could have been drawn by a five year old child. AtomoMan. Big, powerful, often in the news and apparently thick as two short planks.Susan wound down her car window and gave the hero a stern glare. “I said meet me at my lockup.”AtomoMan’s voice boomed out, reverberating from the walls of the tenements all around. “I wished to save you the trip, Writing Is On The Walls.””Two things. First, shut up with the stupid name. I know I needed one to keep you costumed lot happy but it doesn’t need shouted out on my front step. Second, it is The Writing is on THE Wall. Not The Writing is on Any Old Wall. And none of these are the walls in question. So bugger off and meet me behind the Bowling Club.””But I have the felon here.””Well take him there.” Susan wound up the window and in a crunch of gears drove away. The American stood still for a moment, entirely non-plussed. He then looked down at the captive in his hand. A thin man with a rough beard and a battered leather jacket. He had a bruise forming on his jaw and was shivering.”She is a very rude woman. I will complain to the Shimmering Siren about her when I get back.”The thin man grinned, showing several missing teeth. “The Great AtomoMan shouted at by a little girl. This day ain’t so bad after all.”Suddenly a window on the far side of the street shot up. “Would you shut up! Or do you want me to come down there and shove that cape down your throat?”“Sorry sir.” AtomoMan waved at the dark window and then shot up into the air.#Ten minutes later Susan drove into her parking spot. It was now four in the morning and the rain was getting heavier. Through the damp smears on her windscreen she could see the low industrial building that was her office, the small metallic plaque on the wall proclaiming “The Writing Is On The Wall” in direct opposition to the large, peeling wooden sign over the door that read “Campbell’s Dairy”. To her left, standing by the Bowling Club gate and looking entirely lost was the American and his captive, who looked thoroughly bedraggled. The man in spandex was looking around himself at the other industrial buildings, a Plumbers and a Car Mechanic, and at the pristine green lawn of the Bowling Club as if he had never seen anything like it before. Susan got out of her car and pointed towards the grass.”It’s called Lawn Bowls. No pins and played outside. You are in the right place.” Susan unlocked the shutter over the door and rolled it up. She then unlocked the door itself, pushed it open, reached in and flicked a light switch. A square of pale white light flickered into existence on the tarmac. “You had better come in before that wretch you’re carrying catches his death of cold.”Susan led the way inside. There was a large open area, forty by sixty feet, with some 

dusty, dented steel containers connected by snaking pipework. To one end was a plain brick wall with several seats in front of it and finally, on the left of the door, a small plywood office construction into which Susan went to fill up a kettle.”Are you going to hold that man all the time or do you think you could let him have a seat while I arrange tea? In front of the end wall if you would.” Susan yawned. “Do either of you want tea?”The skinny man nodded. “That would be very kind of you.””He is an evil criminal mastermind! Why are you speaking to him like that?”Susan glared at AtomoMan once again. “Have you ever heard of Innocent until proven Guilty? Also, he looks frozen and I need more tea. Doing this half asleep is no fun you know.” Atomoman’s prisoner smirked. “She’s got you there, big guy.””You can shut up too. I doubt he brought you here for a joyride. Now, both of you, sit down over there and tell me, what do you take in your tea?”The hero moved over to the far wall, dragging his unresisting prisoner with him. “I’ll just take a water, ma’am, if I may.” The prisoner asked for milky tea and Susan took herself off to the kitchen.#A pint of tea for herself, a smaller mug for the thin man tap water poured for the hero, Susan sat down at her desk. It was a simple flat pack affair with a small drawer. Out of that she pulled a notebook and pen. Across from her, sitting in two plastic chairs, were the hero and his captive. The skinny man was slumped in his chair, wincing whenever he moved, clearly badly bruised. Atomoman was sitting bolt upright, giving the impression this was the most 

uncomfortable thing that had ever happened to him. Susan took a big gulp of tea and squinted at the wall behind them.Slowly, words began to appear, the cracks and lines in the brickwork resolving into text. Snippets of sentences. Single words. Occasional random punctuation. The words flowed across the wall, fading and appearing as the thoughts they represented faded and appeared in the two men’s brains.”Right, gentlemen, you are both busy little thinkers aren’t you? Mr. Atomoman, first off, please relax. I will get this over with as soon as possible so you can get back to America. I always like someone who cares for their mother that much. I’m sure she will appreciate the present.”Atomoman started in his chair. “How did you know that?””The Shimmering Siren hasn’t told you how this works has she? Just that I could read the minds of criminals? Did it not occur to you that if I can read anyone’s mind who sits in front of this wall then that includes you?”Atomoman spun round to look at the wall which, from his point of view, was entirely blank. Just some bricks and a pit of old plaster. He turned back to look at Susan.“Clearly not. If anyone is in front of that wall I see words forming on it. Sometimes like graffiti, sometimes much more formal. Depends on the person.”“But why this wall, ma’am?”“If I knew that I would do something about it. I don’t want to pay the rent on this old dairy. All I know is it works here and I can get more information out of a stubborn criminal’s head than anyone else. Now, I’m going to have to ask you to move over a bit, you are filling up the wall and letting Jimmy Thin here hide his thoughts.””But he is a dangerous criminal, I should keep hold of him.””If you want to do that you will have to stop thinking so much then. You’ve lit up my wall like a billboard. I could probably read it in the dark.” Susan pointed at the wall which, to the two men, showed nothing but some old bricks. “Look now, bright pink text too. I find it useful to have a few pieces of information on all the heroes who visit me, mostly to ensure they pay, but normally it is a bit harder to get. There is stuff up there so personal I doubt you even admit it to yourself.“Oh, yes, there is the proof now. So, before I learn enough to impersonate you to the taxman, step to the side Lionel.” Atomoman shot Susan a look of panic and smartly stepped away from the wall. “Cheers for that. I was getting a migraine trying to read through all that.” Susan took another swig of tea and rubbed her eyes before looking back at the wall and then the man sitting before her. “Mr. Jimmy Thin. You clearly have a few tricks up your sleeve that the Billboard Brain over here could learn. Small, neatly typed script. Simple facts. You are definitely in control of most of what you are putting up on the wall.“You have also seen a lot of old television if your encyclopaedic knowledge of Irwin Allen is anything to go by. Or you read a lot of Wikipedia.“Oh, you edit Wikipedia on your off days?” Susan paused and looked at Jimmy over her mug of tea. The man smiled back at her. “A very impressive job, sir. But the wall is cleverer than you think. It puts text up there in many formats and fonts, lets me tell the important facts from the noise. It is easy to move past the poorly written web pages and skip straight to the green crayon moments around the edge.“Oh yes, everyone has a bit of green crayon going on, the frothing conspiracy theory paranoia we all get. But you have more than most. And very legible too, which shows me you have thought about what it says a lot.” Susan suddenly laughed as the thin man, now sitting upright, scowled and tried not to look at her. “Now that is impressive, you have really tried to suppress that but all you have actually done is turn it a nice purple. I have a dress that colour actually. One of my favourites.”Atomoman attempted a polite cough. “Miss, er, Writing, can we speed this up a bit please?””Yes Lionel, I know. We all have places to be.” Susan yawned. “Yours is your mother’s birthday party that is just starting in sunny California. Mine is my bed, if you had forgotten. This will take as long as it takes and there is nothing you can do about it. Unless you want to try staring at the wall until you start seeing things? Who knows, you might not lose your mind trying it.”Atomoman held up his hands. “Sorry Miss.””I should think so too. Now where were we? Oh yes, purple writing. Do you know what purple normally indicates, Jimmy?”The man answered with a confident smile. “I have no idea what it means to you, staring at your wall, but it is all nonsense. The best cold readers, mind skimmers and government interrogators have tried to get inside my brain. You are just some deluded woman who couldn’t stop a kid robbing a sweet shop.”Susan blinked at the sudden vitriol. “I know I can’t physically stop anyone, Jimmy. Stop trying to wind me up on that. I know I’m no great hero. But what I can do, I can read everyone’s mind. The CIA, MI6, big lunks in stupid costumes. They all come to me because I can get that information. It’s what I do to make the world better. You are no different.”Jimmy Thin chuckled and relaxed back in his chair.Susan scowled. “Long term plans. Why that shows up in purple I have no idea but then if I knew how the wall worked I’d have a franchise running by now.” Susan paused, looked at the man with his relaxed smile and then back at the wall. “And there we go. Starting a bit of shorter term planning are we? Considering a few amendments? Very sensible. I can see why you are the brains of your operation, all those plans and thoughts buzzing away.” Susan took another drink of tea. “Oh god, do I need this. I’d offer you some, Jimmy but your brain is clearly working fast enough. Must be the time difference. Hmmm.” Susan turned to Atomoman. “Lionel, you got a pen? Might need to make a few notes.” Susan turned back to look over Jimmy’s head. “And there we go, the barriers are breaking, Jimmy. I can see you are trying to hold those web pages up there, but just too much is going on and so… oh… “Susan leaned forward. The colour drained from her face as she read the words that were now cascading down the wall in greens and blues and purples. The handwriting becoming increasingly erratic. “You wee shitty bastard!” Susan grabbed at her tea, her hand shaking as she lifted the mug to her mouth. She placed the tea back on the table and shot Jimmy Thin a look of utter contempt. The man’s smile vanished from his face.”Atomoman, you are not going to make your mother’s party. You are going to be busy sorting out this little shit’s mess. There are five hostages at his boss’s restaurant in the basement, one may be dead by now. There is also a shipment of arms coming in from China on the ‘Lotus Blossom’, heroin on a yacht just leaving the Caymans called ‘The Laughing Mermaid’ and paperwork in a safe in his cabin in West Virginia which will let the Canadian authorities lock up at least half the gang for tax evasion.“After that, dig up his mother’s back garden. They have all been there at least twenty years and he has probably covered his tracks well enough that nothing will stick. He certainly thinks so. If you drop the bastard in the middle of the sea on the way back I’ll let you off my fee.”Jimmy jumped to his feet. “What? You can’t say that, you’re the good guys.””Naw mate, he is the good guy. All square jawed American in fuckin spandex. I am a wee wumman fae Glasgow forced to get up in the middle o’ the night and read all the shite that has just spewed from your brain and no able to dae anything about it. All ah can dae is just tell this bloke here who’ll probably just save the hostages for the photo op. You’re sick and you deserve a lot worse than this numpty will give you.”Atomoman stepped forward and took hold of Jimmy’s shoulder. “I am not a vigilante. I work for justice and when I have checked what you have said this man will get the justice he deserves.”Susan snorted. “Aye right. What he deserves is to be set alight on an iceberg in the Arctic. Just get the hell out of here and let me go home. I need a drink.”Atomoman took a tighter hold on Jimmy Thin and then turned back to Susan. “You have a great burden to carry. You can see the evil but you cannot fight it directly.”Susan finished her tea. “Aye. Considering what I would do to wee bastards like him that is for the best. Now piss off and let me go.”Atomoman hoisted the criminal up, executed a crisp salute at Susan and walked out.Susan walked to the office and dropped her mug in the sink. She then turned out the lights and pulled the door closed as she left. She locked the door, pulled down the shutter and then lifted her face into the rain as it softly fell through the early morning sky.


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