Shark Woods

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2014

I want to go to that shark infested forest –

you know the one?  The shark forest?

It’s in Guam or darkest Peru
or Vietnam or somewhere like that – the one
where stray knocked-off branches canopy the floor
like so many chopped-off bones and they’re covered
in shredded leaves and shark sweat and chipped teeth –
the one where thick finned beasts slink through trees
looking sideways like tigers and hammerheads wait
in the bits of the blue to sink quick onto your head,
split your cheeks and rip you from eye to chin and say
Smile you son of a bitch! and mash your pulp to
mist with the same serrated paper shredders they
use to say it. You know,

the woods where you look up and the sky’s sliding
with fat-middled bodies and lithe grey lumps with
empty eyes, a spring in their slide and nothing
in their mouths and I don’t know how they got up there
you know? Suppose they just push their way up through
the green-wreathed pale oxygen like human beings climb
into coral when their eyes slip back and their teeth are wet
you know the way I mean? The kind of feeling that
makes you jump backwards into the black and seeth,
I exist to eat smaller fish and mammals if I have to-
and you make your voice cut through the blue sap
inch by inch until you’re in — until you’re swimming in air,
breathing without thinking,

probably something like that.

I don’t know. But you know there’s no time to
work it out down there, deep in the reddening midst
of it, lost in the shark woods down where the bears
daren’t have their picanick, no bleeding body dare risk it,
and everyone knows the sharks don’t share their
splintered wood – if you step inside you’re after your
own hot blood, you’ll be tasting it in the great white’s
slipstream breeze – it’ll rush right through you,
tear you to pieces and scatter your scraps in the bracken
bits of stripped ribs and hands and knees on the muddy bed
below you, you’ll look like a lifeless mermaid lying
sidelong in an indoor fish tank, the paint licked off your
matt-black skin, and buried.

That’s where I want to go. The shark infested forest.

I want to sleep with the dead and live with the big fishes,
make people scream when they see my head crop up, chopped up
loose and changed, fleshy, hanging like languid meat in the
shallows, open like a doll’s eyes, like a dogfish flies – slack
maw, gulping gasps of air like water backed up to the stomach
and bounding up and down and every way through it just spitting
and swimming and chewing whatever I want. That’s what I want,
I want to meet the maneaters in no-man’s land and catch their eyes-
taking sick red chum in my hands and snow white flakes in my
fingers, and grind, like a mad Captain Birdseye who’s dived through
their table and shattered it, upturned the surface and wrecked it,
come to Hell with high water and sucked it in and sunk it down dry,
let it settle. And circled.

I want that. I want to feel as full as this and never have to talk.
I want to breathe in my sides and never see the tops of trees.
I want to swallow
deep and smooth
cool as a copse
and not have to stop.

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Pins and Needles

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2013
From the collection Growing Up Too Fast

Red Riding Hood stared
at the wolf man
at the crossroads
at the path of needles
and the path of pins.
The meaning was lost on her.

His yellow eyes were saturated
with wisdom.
The wolf knew
grandma would know
and the woodcutter could cut.
The girl had no idea.

The black paths had names
to do with sewing.
To solve the riddle,
to get through the woods,
you have to work out the best way,
the safe path.
Her feet were tingling.

Grey wolves are old sinners.
They know the stories
and know the needles
are easier in the long run.
The girl was big enough
to learn to sew the hard way.

Or else she was small enough
to be eaten up.

Whole.
Her choice.

The Vampire of Three Acres

by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2012

It was late September when Michael slipped away from his family’s house and ran to the woods. With cold hands in his hoodie pockets he jogged down the main road, under the watch of street lights who looked as though their thin metal poles were drooping under the weight of their orangey heads and the white-yellow fog they emitted. In minutes he reached a little turn-off with a little second-hand car in it and a little handmade sign advertising it for sale. The Three Acres wood was not accurately named, for over the years it had shrunk to accommodate more roads like this, and more cars, but it was deep enough to satisfy the strange urge that had overcome our young hero.

He had burst out of the silence of his bedroom all of a sudden, and never really had the time or interest afterwards to explain why. But at that moment he was sure that he wanted to go to the woods and be alone, and perhaps to die. He had no plans for this death, but he felt that he would have welcomed it, were it to take him, and he thought it might dwell some place dark and unfamiliar. This mood held until he was deep enough that the lamplight fully faded. There was moonlight in fits and spurts, when the pinkish, purplish clouds passing overhead were thin.

There came a point, sooner than Michael would have liked, when he found he had no direction. He was surrounded thoroughly by trees. His fingers and nose were still cold. He was growing tired. He did not know the woods’ layout but he suspected that if he went deeper he would only encounter paths, stiles, coke cans and faded crisp packets. One of the trees ahead was short and full-black. Guided by curiosity alone he strode toward it. In five paces he realised that it was not a tree and he stopped.

The vampire’s teeth were less like a serpent’s thin needle-fangs and more like sharpened tusks, like a saber-toothed tiger’s. Its mouth was wide and angular and its ears were slight and pressed-back. The skin was off in more small ways than it is worth getting into, but these accumulated into an altogether inhuman appearance. The creature, all in all, looked more like some prehistoric cousin of mankind than any vampire Michael might have imagined or seen in films or pictures, and yet without doubt he knew that a vampire is what it was. It is impossible to say what clothes the creature wore, except that they were black and still. It never spoke but it moved decisively and strangely. It met and held the young man’s eyes from somewhere in its own face, and the lips moved briefly over the teeth.

Michael became aware of the sound of a distant stream he had not noticed, and he thought it was pleasant. He mused that during the day, or alone, he would not have noticed this, or if he had he would not have enjoyed it. But it sounded lovely.

The vampire approached, now, and howled. By all reports the sound was not especially like any animal howl we know, but it was loud and shrill. Michael’s body froze. He heard his own fast breathing, too fast to let him speak, and he thought that perhaps he smelled blood.

The monster’s eyes were visible in the moment before poor Michael lost either his consciousness or his memory; it is hard to say which it was. They were brown, the eyes, like anybody’s. They were round and unremarkable, and blunk when they needed to and had lashes. Michael watched them screw up in a snarl, and he thought of the eyes of school bullies and angry parents and excited soldiers.

He thought of how angry his father would be at the next parent’s evening. He thought of the new end-of-year exam that had been established in place of the old ones, and how frightening and important the newsreader had made it sound. He wondered what he would do at the weekend and who with, and what everyone else would think of him for it. He panicked about other things that were more private and which he would not have liked to see repeated here, the thought of which made a spreading, watery heat rise up from his bottom lip to the bridge of his nose and all across his cheeks.

He felt ashamed that he couldn’t stop that heat, and he felt paralysing anger toward the vampire’s brown eyes. He wanted to shout and swear at them.

That howl again. Michael collapsed, hitting his head and landing heavily on one arm.

He awoke in a uniform-designed, antiseptic-smelling hospital; the same one where he had been born, so he was told, and where he had stayed when his ankle snapped in that rugby match the previous year. The same place where he had always been driven by some frightened or miserable adult, whenever some friend or relative had been taken ill, and usually recovered shortly after their arrival. A nurse had noticed him waking before he had seen her, and as she towered over his bed she smiled.