‘Obsolescence’ (an extract)

My short story ‘Obsolescence’ is the story representing the country of Norway (and the city of Bergen) in The Lifted Brow 6: Atlas. There are stories, songs, poems, illustrations and limericks representing every country in the world in this amazing, ambitious issue (book + 2 CDs). I’m so happy to be among contributors like Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Douglas Coupland, Reif Larsen, Christos Tsiolkas, David Foster Wallace – and some of my favourite people and writers Krissy Kneen, Chris Somerville, Fiona Wright, Josephine Rowe, Lorelei Vashti, Benjamin Law, Chris Currie, Ruby Murray and many more. The art and graphics are worth the cover price alone. The works here are creatively celebrating our shrinking, shared world and every fascinating, odd, sunny or dark corner of it (and its past, present and possible futures).

Buy the issue here, now!

Here’s a short extract from my story:


Knut disposes of the guilty in the city of rain. On Friday, his shadow was thrown across Mrs Brysken’s umbrellas. She heard the clang of the door, felt the rush of ice and cocked her head up from the cache of new stock—white umbrellas with wee black owls. The man was gristly like a troll, rune tattoos over his forearms, visible where the white shirt rolled back. He didn’t seem to feel the Bergen winter. He had on a black leather vest and looked down, his eyes opening her like an item of her stock.

‘I know why you have come,’ she said, swallowed, dropped the owled umbrellas and trembled back from the counter.

Knut had been surprised to find, when he started this business, that the guilty came easily. Each was willing to confess and be punished, their conscience having burdened them too long. So now, without a word, he slipped his forearm through the small, fat lady’s and led her out into the rain. Her hands shook too much to pick up an umbrella.

Knut’s cabin was on the face of Fløyen, one of De syv fjell—the Seven Mountains—that surrounded Bergen. Beside the mountain was a steep fjord which collected day and night the city’s detritus, swept in by the eternal rain. On the rare sunny days, Knut could not conduct his business. He could travel only under the cover of grey.

His cabin was stone, with a grey sky-coloured roof; far from the red, yellow, and blue fishermen’s houses. Unlike them, he would never be long enough away to forget where it was he lived. The woman shivered in her seat by the empty fireplace, the flowers on her dress bumping and grinding, too bright for the room.

‘I ate the whole cake, every day,’ she said. ‘I didn’t mean to. I… felt hungry still.’

After Mrs Brysken’s body had rolled like a barrel down the mountain, a familiar sensitivity crept up on Knut. He had been sent here, to do this, to remove the quivering, false members of this city. But there was always a snag these days, just after the deed was done, somewhere near the front of his shirt. He rubbed the ræið on his chest and decided to focus on tomorrow.

In the heart of the city, facing Byfjorden, Knut is invisible to all but the guilty. But there are so many of them now. The city has its garbled faces, but some are white-round beacons of misdemeanor, depending on how closely they tie themselves to their crimes. He has also noticed, in the years since 1702, when seven-eighths of the city burned and he survived by hiding in the bay, that the nature of their guilt has changed. Once, there were thieves, murderers, rapists, pedophiles, adulterers and the incestuous. Now shone such crimes as gluttony, greed, sloth, and dishonesty. And guilt was even smeared on children’s faces, like Freia Melkesjokolade chocolate. It was on the elderly, for the care their sons and daughters disposed. It glared at him from the doors of Lagunen Storsenter, where shoppers exited with more than they had intended to buy.

He had on his list to watch: a fishmonger, an attendant at the Christmas shop, an artist and the antique dealer. The rain was abundant but the market still busy when Knut approached Wilfred’s table. The man whistled as he sliced and bagged the salmon. Knut could see the guilt weighing upon each shoulder, making the slicing slow. Wilfred looked up, and raised the knife at Knut.

‘I need you to come with me,’ Knut growled. Wilfred’s shoulders lifted a little. He set down the knife, and was led.

Read the rest by buying the world it’s contained in.

N.B. ræið is the name of a rune, old-Norse for ‘ride, journey’.

3 thoughts on “‘Obsolescence’ (an extract)

  1. Nice work. Great mood to this piece. And yes, everyone must buy the Lifted Brow Atlas Issue. It gives so much and asks so little!

  2. great extract- I’ve been trying to comment for weeks on your blog but HATE the fact that i have to sign up for yet another online account- wierd. i’ve done it now but tempted to unsign-up myself …

    anyway- yes Lifted Brow is fab!

    just in case I do unsign myself, love your blog, keep it up…consistently high quality writing…yay!

  3. Pingback: Cut, print, that’s a wrap: 2010 – LiteraryMinded

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