- June 8th, 2010
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Sleeping so soundly
Softly smiling, holding tight
Your arms around me.
Posts Tagged ‘Writing’
Sleeping so soundly
Softly smiling, holding tight
Your arms around me.
Here, at the end of everything, the sun never sets.
The ocean meets the land with perpetual violence. Her constant assault increases her territory, inch by inch, century by century.
Etude stood on the very brink of the world, two hundred feet above the raging torrent of Mother Ocean. The ragged edges of the crimson ribbon around his wrist snapped and flailed in the wind.
“As I promised, so I do.”
He untied the ribbon carefully and held it at arm’s length, gripping it with the three remaining fingers of his right hand. In his mind, he saw her smile. He opened his fingers and the wind plucked the ribbon from his hand. The silk hissed softly as it drew through his fingers and danced merrily into the eternal daylight.
He sat on the lush grass along the clifftop and looked out into the void. The sun roared at him through the ocean spray and the wind whistled and howled like one possessed.
“For you, I do this.”
The endless road behind him weighed heavily on his back. Thoughts of the journey; the pain and anguish, the unending, unendurable solitude, crowded in his head, jostling for attention.
“Sitting here, on top of everything, I see it was worth it. It was all worth it.”
“I am not alone.”
There’s nothing more alarming than walking down the street minding ones own business only to find oneself caught in the middle of a hole-storm. I huddled in the doorway of a dingy looking greengrocer and shivered as millions of tiny holes hurtled earthward, making little popping noises as they winked out of existence on the grimy pavement.
To add insult to injury, peering through a particularly slow-moving hole revealed that it opened out into a rather pleasant looking meadow, furnished with long, waving, grass and glowing with yellow sunlight.
As I waited for the shower to pass, I drifted into my usual daydream – of building a machine – a Machiavellian arrangement of gears and magnets – to collect the holes together before they popped in order to make a gateway to somewhere – anywhere – better than this.
It was during a particularly pleasant part of this daydream – the part with the girl – that I noticed that one of the tiny holes hadn’t popped. It simply sat there, on the pavement, looking at me.
“Oho!” I thought, hardly daring to hope. Another hole fell beside the first and the two coalesced into one slightly larger hole.
“OHO!” I cried. More and more holes fell, bouncing and skipping onto the pavement instead of popping. Little silvery rivers flowing inwards, seemingly drawn towards what was rapidly become a swirling whirlpool to somewhere else.
I peeked my head as far forward as I dared – trust me, you really don’t want a hole in the back of your head – and gazed into the swirling eye. The view beyond the coruscating wheel of liquid glass was idyllic to say the least – the sun setting in a brazen sky sending lances of orange fire across rolling hills covered in the greenest grass I’d ever seen. Multi-coloured birds fluttered and swooped and their muted cries drifted up to me as though from the memory of a beautiful dream.
The deluge was slowing when the outermost surface of the spiral began to foam and effervesce.
“Oh bugger!” I cried, realising with horror that – if I delayed – the portal would be gone forever. I tensed, ready to spring into a new life in another world, when the dingy door behind me flew open and a grizzled looking old chap in a dusty floral print dress appeared behind me.
“Away we ye, ye stupid bloody things!” he bellowed, and sloshed a bucketful of dirty water and potato peelings across the pavement. The portal fizzed and spat violently then vanished, the energy of its passing casting peelings and grime skyward.
I gazed blankly at the stinking heap of peelings with a heavy heart, and imagined their slimy counterparts descending from the clear sky and soiling the meadow in that other place.
“What have you done?” I whispered.
The old man hiked up his tights. “Stupid bloody holes. Leave sticky bits all over the path. Shouldn’t be allowed.”
I’ve had a few requests for this in an offline readable format, so here you are. Typeset in LaTeX and provided in lovely printable PDF. This will also display fine in most ebook readers.
The Survivors’ Club by John Dow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 UK: Scotland License
David stared into the bowl of soup where the face of Jesus had materialised and wondered why The Man looked so much like a serial killer. “I mean, if you’re the Son of God you can look like anyone, right?”
The face widened its eyes a little, rivulets of Heinz Cream of Tomato streaming to the sides of the plate like the parting of the Red Sea in miniature. For an entity without even a whole head, it did a remarkably accurate approximation of a shrug.
â€œWell, what’s that supposed to mean?â€
The manifestation of the divine smiled and opened its mouth. Thick reddish orange liquid bubbled around the words. â€œI look as you expect me to look.â€
â€œBollocks,â€ David said. â€œI expect you to look like Robert Powell. And don’t give me thatÂ disapproving look â€“ you’re a bowl of soup. I can talk to a bowl of soup any way I like.â€
â€œGonnae keep the noise doon, Chief?â€
David looked up. Gordon was sitting at the table opposite with his own bowl of soup upturned by his side. As usual, he’d been finger painting and the front of his hospital gown was covered in a lattice of thick orange smears.
â€œKeep it down yourself, Gordon,â€ David scowled. â€œI’m trying to have a conversation with Jesus.â€
â€œYer talkin’ tae yer soup again, boy. D’ye no think it’s time ye stopped it?â€
â€œDo you hear me passing comment when youâ€™re smearing shit on the walls of your ward? Or screaming abuse at the seagulls? Have I ever said a word about you sitting up half the night chatting to the furniture?â€
Gordon thought about this for a moment. â€œNaw, Chief. Yeâ€™ve never said anything. But then, Iâ€™m just a mad bampotÂ – youâ€™re a bloody doctor.â€
So, this pneumatic blonde practically leaps at me as I walk into the hotel function suite. She’s waving her arms and squealing an introduction in a high-pitched nasal whine. I have to stifle a snigger as she tells me her name is Candy. She’s like a five-foot-nothing self-propelled stereotype, shoehorned into less lycra than the average swimsuit model.
I smile and shake her hand as I wait patiently to get a word in.
“So, yah,” she says, “I was at Camp Comanche in ’02. You know, the Hatchet Jack thing?”
I think about this for a moment. Hatchet Jack was that caretaker â€“ the one who had a thing about collecting the heads of the summer camp supervisors. By the time I recall this, Candy has launched into a graphic description of how she alone managed to escape the killer and bring him to justice. Sounds like bullshit to me.
“So what about you?” she asks, finally pausing for breath. “Who did you survive?”
I pause. Ok, so I knew that this question would come up multiple times during the weekend, but I still feel a little unprepared. It was all so recent, you know?
“I was at the Macefield Prom. You know, the one in the news a few months ago.”
“OMG!” she says. Actually like that. Ohh-Emm-Gee. “That’s so amazing! That guy killed, what, two hundred people in one night?”
â€œTwo hundred and twelve,â€ I correct.
â€œHow did you escape?â€ she asks, her eyes like saucers.
I repeat the story I told the police.
â€œWow! Hiding for all that time! You must have been terrified!â€ I see the usual look of disgust in her eyes as she pictures me hiding in the store cupboard while people were being slaughtered like cattle within a few feet of me. I don’t give a shit.
â€œYou do what you have to,â€ I say brusquely. I glance around the room. There are about fifty people present; some of them seem as animated and excited as Candy; some are nervous, withdrawn. One girl sits on her own in the corner, her dark hair hanging down over her face as though she’s trying to hide. I wonder what her story is.
â€œSo,â€ I say, â€œthis is my first time here and I don’t know anyone. How does it work?â€
â€œWell,â€ Candy says, â€œwe just kind of chat informally for a bit until everyone’s here and then we have a talk by our founder. For the rest of the weekend we have workshops and stuff. The timetable is on the noticeboard. â€œ She points across the room.
â€œWho’s the founder?â€ I ask.
â€œOh I dunno his name,â€ she squeaks. â€œSome bigshot shrink. That guy who was trapped in his own psychiatric ward when the patients got out.â€
â€œYeah, that’s him. He’ll talk about, like, whatever, and then he’ll get one of us to tell their story. Hey, if this is your first time, I should introduce you to some of the regulars.â€
â€œYes, that would be good,â€ I say.
I flinch as she grabs my hand, but manage to stifle it. She drags me over to a pair of women who are talking excitedly by the bar. One of them, a tall redhead, seems to be recounting something involving a knife to a shorter dark haired girl. She makes exaggerated stabbing motions in the air.
â€œLaurie! Jolene! Guess who I have here?â€ She pauses for a moment and then turns to me, with no sign of a blush. â€œWhat’s your name?â€
â€œJosh,â€ I answer. â€œJosh Scott.â€
â€œIt’s Josh Scott!â€ she says. The sighs of â€œOhh!â€ and â€œAhh!â€ fail to disguise the blank looks. They’ve no idea who I am but that’s ok â€“ I don’t know who they are either. The difference is, I don’t really care.
â€œHe’s the guy from the Macefield thing! Remember? The guy who hid in the cupboard?â€
All of a sudden I gain a deeper insight into Hatchet Jack’s motivations. Light dawns in the girls’ eyes and one of them breathes â€œWow! That was, like, two hundred people, right?â€
â€œTwo hundred and twelve. So what’s your story?â€
â€œUhh, I’m Jolene,â€ says the redhead. â€œMy friends and I were abducted by that weird inbred cannibal family.â€ I nod attentively as she details her escape. She spends a significant part of her monologue describing the hideous ways in which her friends met their untimely end. I offer sympathies for her loss.
The dark haired girl speaks next. She introduces herself as Laurie and immediately regales me with a convoluted tale of hockey masks, gardening implements, and lots and lots of blood. Her eyes are glittering with excitement as she demonstrates the killing blow she used to decapitate the frenzied deformed kid who’d been stalking her and her friends all summer. I try my best to remain focussed on her story, but I worry that the deep twist of revulsion that sits in my stomach is showing on my face.
I nod at the girl sitting alone in the corner. â€œWho’s that?â€ I ask.
â€œThat’s Sandy. She doesn’t talk much,â€ Candy answers. A look passes between the three women. Was that a suggestion of an eyeroll from Laurie.
â€œI’ll just say hi,â€ I say. â€œNice meeting you.â€
â€œSure,â€ says Candy, pouting a little.
Candy, Sandy, Jolene and Laurie, I think. It’s like a b-movie script gone mad.
I walk through the yapping crowd, occasionally nodding and smiling in response to interested glances. The girl is sitting at a small round table, a glass of fruit juice untouched before her. I clear my throat and she looks up.
â€œHi,â€ I say. â€œMy name’s Josh.â€
â€œSandy,â€ she answers, her voice barely audible.
â€œDo you mind if I sit down?â€
She shrugs, so I sit. She’s pale and pretty and very nervous; she picks distractedly at her fingernails. She interests me.
â€œIf you don’t mind me saying, you seem a little out of place here,â€ I say.
â€œWhy?â€ she asks. â€œIt’s a support group. I need support.â€
I think about this. â€œWell, yeah, that’s what I thought too. A support group for the survivors of violent crime. That’s why I’m here, but…â€
She looks up at me. â€œBut?â€
I shrug. â€œI dunno â€“ just seems a bit more like a social club to me.â€
â€œThe Survivors Club,â€ she smiles briefly. â€œYeah, it can get like that sometimes.â€
It occurs to me that she hasn’t asked who I survived or how many of my friends were killed. The silence between us is uncomfortable and I wrack my brain trying to think of something to say. I decide to be upfront and ask her what brought her here when I’m saved by the bell: there’s a squeal from the PA system and a bass thumping as a microphone is tapped. A mellifluous voice bids us all good evening, and I turn towards a small podium in one corner of the room. A middle aged man in a rumpled suit is standing there beaming at the crowd. The good doctor, I assume.
â€œGood evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming. As most of you will be aware, this is the fifth meeting of the Victims Support Group. We have a great weekend of workshops and therapy sessions lined up for you, but to kick things off I’d like to share with you an inspirational story from one of our founding members. Please give a warm welcome to Jason Boyd.â€
There’s a smattering of applause as an athletic looking young man steps up to the podium. He introduces himself and begins talking. My attention drifts within seconds and his voice becomes a background drone. I sneak a glance at Sandy. She has a look of complete boredom on her face. I lean towards her.
â€œDon’t you think it’s a little weird?â€ I ask.
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œThe way they seem to enjoy telling their stories so much. Almost like they’re bragging they were more clever than everyone else, even though they really just got lucky.â€
She shrugs again. â€œIt’s just their way of coping. They’ve triumphed over adversity â€“ doesn’t really matter if they did it through violence, or running away.â€ She pauses. â€œOr hiding in a cupboard.â€
I smile. â€œYou heard about that, then?â€
There’s no returning smile. She seems quite insightful. I’ve no idea what she’s been through and get the impression she’s unlikely to talk about it with a stranger. Which is a shame, really, as she’s probably the only person in the room I’m interested in hearing about. Still, there’s plenty of time over the weekend to get to know her.
The guy on the podium is still droning on and making hacking gestures. I glance around at his spellbound audience and note the sparkling eyes and the the looks of bloodlust on their faces. I’m sitting in a room full of monsters. The knot of disgust tightens within me. They’re all so proud of themselves. It’s not such a big deal to survive something. Anyone can do it. Admittedly, it helps when you’re the one doing all the killing. It’s going to be a fun weekend.
i. Chrissy Dances
And the waves lap gently at the sand, pushing it up and pulling it back, undecided on whether they should stay or go but nevertheless forced into constant motion by the irresistible pull of the moon.
Chrissy sits and waits on the shoreline for the dashing young man who must surely happen by soon. But the waves lap, and the sand stirs, and Chrissy’s shadow lengthens across the hard packed rippled surface and still he does not appear.
Her crown sits askew on her golden head and her eyes gaze vacantly down at her feet. She wriggles her toes into the sand and watches as the saturated ground gives up its water in tiny pools around her feet.
The sun dips lower in the sky, resting its head on the horizon, and sends glowing amber beams of sympathy to soothe the young girl’s pain. Chrissy smiles back sadly, and looks once more along the empty beach.
She folds her arms over her knees, rests her chin on them, and begins singing softly to herself. A light breeze creeps cautiously from the ocean surface and sidles up the beach. It lifts a few strands of soft, fine, hair and strokes them gently. “Everything will work out fine.”
She rises and stands before the ocean with her arms held out. The breeze grows a little more excited, flicking at her white linen dress, and whispering in her ear. She spins slowly on the spot, a careful pirouette. She points with her right foot and inscribes a perfect circle for her Prince to cross. She raises her arms in a graceful arch above her head and pivots forwards, raising one leg in an elegant Arabesque.
The lapping waves give a gurgling chuckle at the dancing girl while their parents roar approval from further afield. The wind cheers and whistles as it flows alongside her, constantly caressing, touching, guiding and leading. She dances up the beach. Her shadow flickers and wavers and the sun turns the water to fire as it clings to the last scrap of the sea. As she dances across the demarcation line between the oceanâ€™s domain and the landâ€™s, the dry sand leaps excitedly in the air around her feet, kicked into glittering tornadoes by the energy of her passing. From over the border, the brine-soaked ocean sand looks on with envy.
Then he is here, clad in black, tall, lean, his face indistinct with the sun at his back. She dances around him, laughing and crying, desperate for a glimpse of his long awaited face. She spins towards him and the last ray of the dying sun burns fiercely in her heart before vanishing, leaving her alone and silent on the empty beach once more. Her arms fall to her sides and her gaze turns down to the eternal sand. She sinks to her knees with her arms outstretched. The beach takes her hands; the ocean strokes her arms; the slowly spreading darkness caresses her golden hair.
And the waves lap gently at the sand and the wind sighs its pity. Chrissy sits and Chrissy waits for another glimpse on another day, while the weeping sun rolls its moment of magical twilight around the world.
ii. Reuben Stands
The darkness approaches, rushing on the wings of ravens, and Reuben runs through its heart. He feels the gentle tug of the world’s turning and the less gentle pressure of the whispering night which surrounds him.
Voices cry to him from the darkness; joyful laughter, angry shouts, tears, grief, and the unbearable keening wail of longing.
He turns to face the latter, his face transfigured in recognition, and throws his voice forwards into the smothering night; â€œI am here! I am always here!â€
The unseen coils of the darkness lash and flex around him, striking his arms, his legs, his back. He stumbles and slows and feels the night thicken. The cry of the longing tears at his heart, pulling at him as he in turn pushes through the murk, and the power of the cry grows with every step he takes.
Reuben redoubles his efforts against the slick, invisible bonds as a distant roar approaches from somewhere behind. It grows lighter ahead. Something shifts beneath his feet. The smooth glassy surface becomes buckled and twisted, pitted and scarred. As he forges forwards, it pulls and sucks at him, slowing him further. Sensing triumph, the invisible coils of night slither and contract around his waist.
Reuben cries out as his feet begin to sink. An icy chill embraces them and the all-too familiar hand of fear caresses his heart.
â€œToo soon! Have pity!â€ he cries, as the cold tendrils pulse and surge up and down the length of his legs. The laughter of the darkness and the onslaught of the roaring sound assault his ears and he covers his head with his arms.
The lighter air ahead is flecked with red and gold and it is towards this small hope that Reuben strives. Bright sparks ignite and burn angrily before his eyes, spinning and dancing, coalescing into a light band below and a darker band above. The surface around his legs is liquid and icy, pricking and sticking, lacerating his flesh with vicious tendrils of cold. A wave forges ahead of him, wrapping him in its reluctance, and the darkness gloats and cackles behind him.
The soft earth touches the soles of his feet in a gentle caress. With an exultant cry he pulls free of his ephemeral bonds and sprints, head down, arms pumping, knees rising high to clear the foam around his legs. The world slips into focus; gently undulating dunes beneath a luminous sky of purple and red. The darkness falls behind, unable to match his pace now that the land is on his side, but still stalking its inexorable way towards him. The last tendrils of night spring from his shoulders as he steps clear of the shivering blackness and the gentle light of the dying sun flickers in his eyes.
He laughs and whoops, leaping the last few feet, emerging from the sea as though for the first time, and the firm sand beneath him smiles its welcome. And then, a flicker of white, sunlight on golden hair, the madly pirouetting form of longing made corporeal and Reuben stands transfixed, the pursuing horror forgotten in an instant.
She spins around him, aware and unaware, eyes flashing past without making contact. Her hair whips across her face, stealing his breath and pulling it around her. She slows, her arms raising, turning towards him; her face, in profile, pale and lovely, turning, turning as the heavy curtain of dark â€“ its path leading remorselessly to this place â€“ rests its cold hand upon his back and wraps him in its coils once more.
His heart slows and despair floods through him as the ebony claws tear at him. The world fades. The silhouette falls to her knees on the beach. The blackness is total and eternal.
iii. The World Turns
Mother spins around her centre and dances around Father with breathtaking speed. The solar winds drift across her face, billowing and blowing across unimaginable distance with the softness of a lover’s caress, and the golden light of his gaze lies softly on her cheek. She is everything that is, was, and will be but nothing without him.
And there, on the border between day and night, the thin band of dusk creeps lazily across her countenance, ebbing and flowing with the contours of her beautiful face. Glistening clouds race across lush, green, grassland; the shimmer of burning air rises above parched desert; breathless frozen air hangs still above her frozen crown and feet. And all around and ever present rolls the passionate tempest of the ocean.
And there, on the border between motion and stillness, the thin band of glistening silver sand lies streaked with red as the dusk approaches. A trail of footprints, insignificant on the face of the world, leads from the ocean to the land. A second trail spirals and spins along the length of the beach; meandering and searching, then arcing sharply towards the sea.
And there, on the border between Chrissy and Reuben, the world holds her delicate breath. For a single moment, frozen in time, the girl dances and the boy stands. Her longing heart calls out to Mother for mercy. His anguished mind calls to Father, railing against his absence.
And Mother reaches out with a gentle breeze and strokes Chrissy’s golden hair. She feels Reuben’s feet, standing calmly on her shore. The girl’s breath flows from her mouth, mixing with the breeze and is carried to the boy. â€œIn this small way you are connected,â€ Mother sighs. For Chrissy is everything that is and was and will be, but without Reuben she is nothing. â€œIn this small way we are all connected.â€
And the waves lap gently at the sand in this place of union where opposites meet.
So, I’m writing again, which is good. I’m in the right kind of mental position to do a half decent job of it, so I’m happy with that. But it really is slow-going. Careless Talk is real-world dark fantasy – which is to say that a fair amount of it requires real-world settings and the real-world laws and rules generally apply.
So why am I telling you this? Well, it’s a funny thing. When I say I’m writing again, I’ve actually spent four days reading and taking notes and haven’t actually put a single word in the manuscript. Careless Talk is currently standing at about 35,000 words – about a quarter of the length the first draft will end up. But I must have at least that many words in notes as well, and must have read at least 10 times that amount. In order to get where I currently am, I’ve researched:
Honestly, I’m knackered, and I’ve barely written a thing!
I haven’t been. I’ve let my novel slip horribly due to all the stupid but necessary wrangles that have been going on in my life.
But things are calming down a little now. An excerpt of the first chapter was read out last night, and chapter nine is underway. Just need to keep the pace up….
Edit It’s amazing how much easier it is to write an angsty novel when you’re effectively living in one. Now that things are calmer, I’m finding it very difficult to keep the tone of the novel dark. Hopefully, there won’t be a cost to my soul in doing so.
“Gardez l’eau!” the leathery little man bellowed, and promptly ejected the unpleasant contents of a small blue bucket from the first floor window.
Standing, as I was, directly underneath, I was shocked, stunned, and not a little bemused to find myself suddenley decorated in what had, until very recently, been the contents of a complete stranger’s colon. I am by no means xenophobic, but if I must find myself lathered in excrement at eleven o’ clock in the morning, I would much rather it was, at the very least, the excrement of someone I knew and preferably that of a close personal friend.
“I say,” I said, with a furrowing of my brow (which, incidentally, caused some rather nasty trickles to make their way around the sides of my face), “may I perhaps suggest a little consideration for passers-by when lobbing your unmentionables from your window, my good Sir?”
“No you may not,” snapped the little man. “I shouted the customary warning. Anyone hearing those words should consider themselves fairly warned. Your personal hygiene is not my responsibility.”
I squinted up at him, mopping ineffectually at my face with the morning newspaper. “It is also customary,” I began through gritted teeth, “to allow a little time to elapse between calling the warning and letting fly with the bucket of effluence.”
The little man’s leathery visage set hard, looking for all the world like a gorilla’s palm. “I allowed more than sufficient time for a plan of evasion to be produced and executed,” he stated.
“You did nothing of the kind, I cried, shaking my fist. “The two events were as near simultaneous as makes no odds! You need to leave a margin of at least a few seconds to allow the individual occupying your intended strike-point to take himself out of harms way – otherwise you end up in a heated debate with an enraged and excrement-soaked stranger.”
He leaned out from the window and studied me intently. He did at least appear to be giving the suggestion a reasonable amount of thought.
“So you’re saying,” he began slowly, “that I should call ‘Gardez l’eau’… and then wait?”
“Yes,” I said. “You should wai…”
The second flood of noxious semi-solids struck me full on the face, and the bucket followed less than a second later.
I danced from foot to foot in a furious little jig and shrieked incoherent outrage up into the annoying little man’s face. “Why?” I bellowed. “Why would you do that?”
“By means of demonstration,” he cried, offended. “As you are being so good as to assist me in improving this essential life-skill, I felt it only fair that I should take the opportunity to demonstrate that I had assimilated your information correctly!”
“But you didn’t have to actually throw it! And you certainly didn’t have to lob the bucket down afterwards!”
“Ah yes, I do apologise for that – I’m afraid I became a little over-enthusiastic in my learnings. In my defence, however, I should point out that you had adequate time to prepare yourself but chose instead to stand chatting.”
“What?” I gasped. “Because I didn’t realise you were going to throw another bucket of foul water on me!”
His eyes fairly bulged from his shoe-like face. “I cried the customary warning!”
“In demonstration!” I shrieked, recommencing my little hopping dance of fury. “In conversation!”
“When someone says ‘gardez l’eau'”, the little man said carefully, “It should be perfectly evident that something unpleasant is likely to follow. Whether in conversation or not.”
Before I could gather my rapidly spinning thoughts, the third deluge of filth sluiced down from above with the sound of an overinflated snail.
“Gaaaaaah!” I cried, and was suddenley cut short as a large galvanised steel bucket wedged itself firmly over my shocked head.
I staggered to and fro for a moment before grasping the bucket with slippery filth-soaked hands and pulled it from my head.
“That was deliberate!” I wailed.
“Of course it was deliberate,” said the little man. “That’s why I said ‘gard’…”
“Shut up! Shut up!” I roared, incandescent with smelly rage. I raced across to the other side of the street as the little man disappeared back inside the building. As I stood panting and leaning against the wall, he reappeared bearing what looked like a firehose.
I gaped in horror. “What do you have there, Sir?” I whispered.
He thought about it for a moment and then smiled.
“Pressure,” he said. “And range.”