The Chinese Trilogy
The Mother's Story
The silence disturbed her the most. Everything was so still. The strung body frozen in a moment and the taught chord so motionless. The alien objects had become part of the room, part of the furniture, they belonged here now having earned their place. He had simply transitioned from silence to death. From morose to gone. He hadn’t spoken much since he lost the job but he still had a hope, she had told him. This was him flinging that hope back in her face. His body once a pendulum, swinging in time, she guessed, having kicked the chair away. Now he would simply be a photograph in the state’s suicide file. She should have felt grief she told herself. Why wasn't she placing the upturned chair back underneath him, attempting to reverse his actions? Cutting him down. Holding him.
Someone told her later, much later, that he had sent a text before he had died. That was how they were able to place a time of death underneath his photograph. She wasn't interested in what the text had said or whom it was sent to. That fork in his life was finished now. It was simply herself and Bai now. She kept a photograph of him, one from happier times, next to the lamp in the living room. It was to show Bai that his being here now was worth something. That his father was capable of holding a smile, of holding her hand. Both his hands on Bai’s shoulder.
Bai was not rebellious in an expressive way. The revolution that he wanted within the world played out within his own mind. His imagination. Telling himself how it should be. He knew that his friends saw it too but he knew they were too afraid to break their own futures, to swing an axe into the window in front of them. His friends wanted girlfriends and conversations about music and magazines, about the internet. About travel. All of these things were laid out on a tray before them and one by one they wanted to select and taste each one. Bai wanted these delicacies too. But he wanted to be the one offering the tray to his friends - to be in charge of the supply. To be the keeper. The dealer. And to be that he had to stand away (for only a short while) he told himself. What Bai had tried to publish in the secret (and what he had supposed was an anonymous) arena of social media was a voice for himself and his friends - a manifesto. He had no idea it would lead to his arrest, to the death penalty. Yet as he embraced the certainty of his situation he also used it to underline why he had done what he had done. After all now he had a real platform from which to shout. Part of him assumed someone would step forward, someone like him. That they would stand with him, shoulder to shoulder and state, they can’t kill all of us. And as he stepped back into reality, his mind turning off a light, as he discussed the legalities with lawyers, negotiated the silences with his mother - he felt a ringing numbness. It was so strong he felt it would shatter his soul. And as this feeling grew so the doors kept slamming in his face, the legal meetings growing shorter, the lane narrowing and the forest on either side was growing thicker and thicker. The sunlight, like his options, was growing dimmer each day. Thinking only about that final millisecond before his life would end.
If “The Stars in Your Soul” spoke to you, would you move heaven and earth to accomplish your goal?
When “The Weight of Wisdom” becomes too much, do you back down or stand up and become one of the counted?
Are you looking for “The Tranquil Garden” or perhaps a church in your back yard?
In September 2015 a friend recounted a story concerning the executions of individuals proclaimed guilty within the Chinese judicial system. He told me, ’they are taken down the steps of the court into a small room and shot in the back of the head’. I picked up on this story and tried to find out how this was happening. How was it even allowed? Were these individuals guilty of a crime so heinous that it would warrant such a throw-away death? The discoveries led me to write a set of three short stories, each one touching on a subject matter far worse than that of state capital punishment.
In China, in 1997, a decision was made by the government to use converted police vans to execute convicted prisoners. Prisoners were placed into these execution vans, strapped down and a poison was administered into an arm. A report also suggests that the organs from the dead prisoners bodies are then ‘harvested’, for patients in need. Every organ that is apart from the heart, which is too damaged by the poison to be of any use. Although the number has not been confirmed by the People’s Republic of China, it is estimated that around forty execution vans are in use today.
With that small, concise and horrific piece of information I started to formulate a set of stories. It has taken a year to complete and I am now in a position where I am ready to publish the pieces under a title called ‘The Chinese Trilogy’. The stories are short - and deliberately so - and even though I do follow a human angle, they are hard hitting in every sense.
The ideas for the stories propagated during the furore surrounding the Jungle camp in Calais, France. When I visited the camp with my daughter to deliver donations from friends and family, there were shops, cafes and restaurants. Even a makeshift church. Today the camp no longer exists, its occupants dispersed now throughout Europe via various charities and government agreements - although horribly, a number of children remain, left behind, the powers that be still arguing about who is responsible for their relocation. Politics replacing humanity. Within that bracketed period the media fed on stories surrounding the plight of refugees - where they were fleeing to mostly, ignoring where they had come from and why, We saw images of dead children on beaches, abandoned lorries full of suffocated people trying to reach a land of normality and away from violence. People smuggling was now big business, the price of wanting to live had become a commodity. We watched television programmes following desperate people trying to reach a safe part of Europe, the subliminal message being, be thankful that you are living in a safe pace already. Think how bad it could really be.
And all the while there was the distant evil threat of ISIS that had now arrived on our shores. Threatening freedom of speech, holidays, concerts. Strolls by the beach. Evil was finally now out in the open. But what was it really? Were all of these deadly actions made because they were under orders, or deluded, or seeking a final religious reassurance? Had evil seeped into their souls? Were they ‘brain washed’ or just deadly certain in what they were doing? These were the themes I wanted to explore. Within a factually true infrastructure, set within a distant culture where reportage is clamped down upon. Where was the human factor and who, not only creates the evil orders but carries them out?
Firstly the title. ‘The Chinese Trilogy’ - this is a tip of the hat towards my favourite american author Paul Auster who wrote ‘The New York Trilogy’ in the late 1980’s. If I were to aim towards any particular writing style it would be his, as he manages to take hold of ordinary characters and make them extraordinary. Paul Auster does not believe in coincidence. Many of his characters end up within odd situations, yet how they got to that point appears utterly normal. As if it were pre-written somehow. There are several truisms within my three stories. Of course there is the fact that the execution vans exist - although very little is reported about them. (In my story they take on the form of execution ambulances.) Secondly, when I was exploring the idea about the presence of evil within actions, particularly those who decide who is to be executed, as well as those that carry out the final execution - I came across a story concerning the writer Aleister Crowley, who was often described as an occultist. Crowley purchased a house in Scotland in 1899 purely because it was ideally positioned for him to be able to carry out chanting sessions, in his aim to discover a new religious order. Originally he had planned to commit to six months of daily chanting through which he would summon the twelve kings and dukes of hell. However he was called to Paris in the middle of his task and it was never completed. There was a suggestion that he had opened up some sort of evil door that remained open after he left. This is where I picked up on the idea of evil ‘lying in wait’. Of a portal. Evil searching for a crack through which it could seep. Into a human mind perhaps, during a bad argument, or a moment of utter madness. A moment where love switches off. In the third story a patch of earth sits within a garden - never growing anything that is planted within its soil. It is simply evil in waiting, or perhaps an extension of the house owners already evil mind.
A further truism included in the trilogy concerns a death camp that existed in North Korea, from which my character manages to escape into China, across four miles of heavily mined land. This did happen and I recall seeing the escapee interviewed after he had crossed the border into China and how traumatised he was. And that he had left his family behind. He looked utterly empty. Like an everyman refugee.
My aim within the three stories was to capture a modern day feeling of chaos. Where refugees are once again being treated like unwanted commodities. Where faraway wars fuel the fears of the mind and social media spins out of control forcing governments to act secretly - removing unwanted elements from society, perhaps executing them then selling their body parts on the open market. None of the characters are heroes. They all either turn their backs, walk away or choose death over life. Life has become overwhelming.
The final truism in my book is that the Chinese have started to build churches underground. Christianity is ‘frowned upon’ in China so the ‘basement’ approach makes sense. I pick up on this in ‘The Tranquil Garden’, the final part of the trilogy, as an idea of digging down to meet evil - meeting the devil face on. A sense that - we have had enough. Of terrorism, of war, of inhumane treatment of refugees. A sense that, evil get ready because we are coming for you.
‘The Chinese Trilogy’ which includes the three short stories
The Stars in Your Soul
The Weight of Wisdom
The Tranquil Garden
will be published by Troubadour in February 2017
Ian writes with one eye on the turntable and the other on the truth. Influences include Paul Auster, Graham Greene, Paul Heaton, Paul Weller and Gil Scott-Heron. He can sometimes be found in France.