Three tasters from the novella Hallucination in Hong Kong
In Hallucination in Hong Kong by Rohan Quine, sliding from joy to nightmare and back, a plane flight frames a journey into Jaymi’s and Angel’s polarised identities and perceptions, where past and present merge in an obsessive fantasy of love, death, horror and apocalyptic beauty.
First taster of Hallucination in Hong Kong, from chapter 2 “Love among the spires and the fountains”
[…] The next day. Two-fifteen, and there you were. Your T-shirt was turquoise. “D’you know about the garden?” I asked.
So out from the bar and down the back road we bubbled, to the corner where the path between the hedges begins. Cyclists swerved to pass us. By an iron gate we stopped. You darted up to peer between the bars and shot a glance of excitement at me over your shoulder, as you saw for the first time the lawn sloping down to the silver birch glade where the sap burned heavy through a lazy sway of branches. Behind us somewhere in the distance on the wind, over roofs, played a clarinet. Reaching around you, I slid the heavy key into the lock, turned it gently and pushed.
With a low squeak, the gate swung wide.
Inside, I pushed it shut. You scudded through the bushes to the edge of the expanse of lawn and stopped. Cedars rose in state beyond the grass out of high beds of foliage, where other secret regions of the garden could be glimpsed. Gnats danced pin-pricks in the air above a sundial, like the ticking of the seconds—like a hundred years before. Above, blue radiance.
You gave a sort of wiggle as you reached to touch my arm, while the colour and the light within your eyes were as your whisper—“This is magic!” Through your hair shone the sun, as sirens sing. Between us now the crackle was electric.
Setting off across the space, I turned to meet you running up behind me with the smile of a child. “Let’s go!” I said.
And so we went; and sitting in the glade, together alone at length and sweetly, we talked for many hours—a talk that felt like running through a field. Laughter flung our friendship up in shafts, till our words were made of instinct and intimate inconsequence. We fell quiet at last, no need to speak. Clarinet strains lapped again across the lawn and through the glade, and came to mingle with the ripples of the sunny sea of leaves upon whose amber crackled surface we were buoyed.
Then, with the simplest of manoeuvres, your warm shy body lay alongside mine, and the touch of its affection felt to me as sun on stone.
I looked at you, and happiness flowered in me like a burst. Your eyes gazed at mine through your lashes; turned away. (No, you weren’t very good at eye contact then.) I held you closer still and whispered in your ear. And so we lay, till liquid birds lulled and coaxed through the rich soft dusk.
Then we sneaked quick and quiet across the twilight of the lawn, past the sundial and back through the shrubs to the gate. Your upper lip sweated faintly. My mouth was alive, juices like wine…
Behind us, the gate swung shut with a clang.
Second taster of Hallucination in Hong Kong, from chapter 2 “Love among the spires and the fountains”
[…] Soon afterwards, at night, through suburban streets from elsewhere: you and I, returning home, saying little. Among the chimney-stacks, as if among the blackened points of pine along a dead plantation road, wept the wind.
Inside, dog-tired, we crept through the building to your room, where I lay upon the bed. You put a tape on, wandered round and sang distractedly, an effortless falsetto so bloodless and beautiful, my head swam. Vague, you came at last to join me, lay your body’s light and weight on mine, encircled by my arms. Caress of lips and lashes; through our clothes along my limbs a glimmer ran warm and wide. Close above me clanged the symmetry and measure of your cheekbones and eyes, like a gong: desert-like, deadpan, softly they killed. But there was no communication there, not since I’d played you my music. Had I played it too soon? I attended to the track we were hearing, which I knew but had never really listened to. A love song, sweet, slow and sad, sung well with simplicity, sincerity and every other trick—and now it hit me. A dangerous sense of loneliness hovered just above me, poised, then slipped and enveloped me, clamped on my mind—on its separateness from you. A deadly pulse, I felt it grip me, fill me, drain me… Slowly, deeply, darkly and passionate we kissed, ineluctable as breathing: though the burn of your lips to me was agony, I couldn’t stop. All that stirred were our tongues, playing, sliding, stroking. I felt as if I stood back to spectate, a dark and lonely watcher at some doomed and slithery ballet. How arbitrary this union was, like any other: I and You in a random room, random building, random district, town, country, era—one twenty, one nineteen, and each supposing he is closer to the other at this moment than he was the day before they met or will be when they both start to rot. We each might as well have been another. I felt so alone, or ceased to kid myself I wasn’t. This was the first moment anyone had broken through the bubble I inhabited. I felt it was my bubble rather than yours that had broken. Your bubble touched me now, the unsheathed me. What if your bubble broke as well, to leave us touching? Would I weep, would I tremble as I clung to you? You lay your head face down upon my chest. I kept preparing words, kept seeing how inadequate they were, and always stopped myself from speaking. How to better “I love you” when it’s all there is to say but still a shortfall? I think I murmured it in any case, deliberately controlled, to stop you raising up your head to seek my eyes out with your own and draw me into them—to mask from you as well the agonised imploring face I shot around the room while I hoped (fearing to search) that there was not some dark coincidence of mirrors where you watched me and wondered what the hell I felt. What was happening? Where were you? Should I break through or not? How I wanted to, but knew I didn’t know what I would find, what reception I’d be given—didn’t know the risks involved. To melt your bubble open, or to seal them both again? It could still go either way…
Another second, then I chose. Chose to shift; and shifting, broke the spell. One move sufficed to seal me up again and leave you sealed: the victory of survival over grandeur. At first you didn’t stir. Then you had to, with a token noise.
No reunion, then, not yet. Just a separate tired proximity on a bed in North London, as the rain stung the windows.
Third taster of Hallucination in Hong Kong, from chapter 1 “So here is the horror, to sicken the sun”
[…] Hong Kong. The night arrives. I’m on the stage. The stage is dark and quiet.
I look down upon a cityscape of heads and sweating towers, where a murmured babble rises in the air. The gas burns high and clear a hundred metres either side. Ahead of me the moon is tinted peach, hanging heavy on the sharp black sky.
I turn to face the Peak, its bulk my backdrop. East and west, flame-lit crags start from shadow, flicker in silence to the rhythms of the dance of the jets. Underneath, softer slopes ripple out and fade away. Above me, phosphorescent sky, my ceiling.
A thud from high to right and left escapes the darkened speakers: skeins of birds fizz out from each, coil up and twinkle and evaporate, to prick the tiny sidelight nestling up beyond the cornice of the Peak.
Behind the stage, the screen, gigantic and dark, projecting focus of the multitude, aglow for my anticipated image.
Hooded figures scurry in the wings, and then are still. I shift my weight from side to side, then poise…
A single strident note from lead guitar rips out to crack the sultry night above Hong Kong. Four synthesiser pips attend the echo, at their leisure. (Clatter of distant pebbles from the rock face either side. The human stew is mewing massively behind me, too, soon to be drowned.) Then the Peak emits another blast from lead to split the air between the tower blocks and shoot across the bay to mainland China, where the Guangdong Hills curve up behind the plains beyond Kowloon to form the back wall and the cheap seats of my natural auditorium. This second stroke is tweaked three seconds later, like the first, by a hiccupping pip from synth—a drip of fat that glistens at a jagged skewer’s end. Another drip, another, and another, and another—then again the heavy skewers twang, as long as trains, four end-on-end, each double-shafted, splintered, spiked, corrosive black. Now the music dives to gain momentum for the onslaught it has so far merely fanfared, with a barrage of five battering-rams of sound launched in turn, the third and fourth a Double Dare aimed higher than the other three, the last one tailed by a cowlick of clicks like a pennon… Here the searchlights blaze and flood the stage; the screen lights up, to show a long shot of the flames and all between. I see myself, a speck of black upon a central shelf of white, my back to audience and camera, growing larger by the second as we zoom in close towards me. Five more battering-rams, again a tail, and whine of feedback. As the camera streaks in closer, I prepare to turn. The viewpoint dips and lurches over valleys full of heads, to frame my swelling silhouette against the screen: on screen, on screen, on screen—for now a regress yawns and flickers round my static head and tunnels as I stare and am caught up with, through the Peak, the Sea, the Ocean, to the Ice and out beyond… Five more battering-rams. Then the drums explode in a lazy burst, cascade, and land in rhythm on the beat they now inform, both slave and master—pre-volcanic, unrelenting, like the metronomic bomb-blast from the foundries in the centre of the earth! I turn to meet the swooping camera, gently smile at it, and spit. In fear the human wavelets near the stage attempt retreat, but only bunch up into dunes. Central by the footlights, like a prompt-box, is a monitor relaying for me what is up on screen: my face close up, my golden eyes triumphant, dark and lethal, burning level-gazed as if to scorch in double path the lightless wastes of Asia… Separate sectors of the multitude as prearranged are floodlit, one by one, in direct echo of the movement of my eyeballs on the screen. The music has grown richer now and fuller than you ever thought it could be (I address not you, my Angel): dense as print, its layers and its columns, every sound in precisely the role I allot. The size of its ego, which is monstrous and beautiful, makes of it not a hemisphere that seeks to find completeness in your listening, but a sphere—well, nearly that—of vocational charisma, for your wonder, celebration and resentment. It is rape, glee, destruction, assault with intent to engulf. As invitation to dance, unacceptable, for proffered by a giant too big to engage with. In any case, you cannot tell its sex: it appears to be male but displays upon inspection several curious transcendences of gender. Your choice, then; decline from the wallflower beds, or be swept up and carried where you never knew there was… You hesitate. The giant stoops to grab. You try to bolt—he claws you up. You struggle—he grips, you shriek. You feel the crack of breaking bone. You try to shout but cannot. Whistling air, then you smack into his shoulder with a crunch, where you dangle, cling and ooze, moaning faintly to the beat, with a smile. But now beside you from the giant’s neck, as if a glint of steel were pushing out through the flesh to pierce the chitin and unfurl and cut the air, erupts a blade and licks itself—my voice at last! My voice has come, to sing for your destruction. At its ruptured scream the giant roars in pain, clutches vainly at this scythe that slices out below his chin to kiss the air in which it hardens as it twitches, then he flounders on a swell of sound encroaching from behind, bogging down his every step. Glancing back in panic, he can see the music pouring from the Peak—as if from its entire length the mountainside were belching out a glacier of blackened flesh and metal, flowing out above the stage across the jets (around my feet its shadowed outline, chewing sluggish teeth of sightless grated white, like divers’ pains) then out and down among the millions, inexhaustible and hideous as a vision out of Giger. The giant tries to run, but waves of darkness overtake. From their surface shoots a spume of treble sound, the jagged top-case of a carriage of immaculate complexity whose lowest treads, articulated wheels of bass as never heard, on caterpillar tracks as tall as towers ride up over any barrier, with majesty inhuman, biomechanoid, insane… Down the giant is sucked and ground to splintered pulp, his size too great (unlike your own) for him to find a space to perch among the gears or on the tungsten flanges round the undercarriage edge. But there you nestle, you who toppled from the giant when he fell, where you squiggled and you bickered for the crannies—yes you did! Cower now, then, and shake to hear that voice stride infernal and divine across the wastes of metal sky above the framework where you hide; for as it enters you, diffuses, throbs inside you like a drug you cut with ice and powdered glass before you shot it, every shrivelled twist inside you will be infiltrated—sternum, ribcage, heart and eyes! My spider-movements’ legs are bass guitar: its claws are snouts, to rear and lick you where you shiver… I glimpse a sudden image of the singer on the monitor, his skinny leaping body as his echo thunders merciless, immense and redly gashing on the blackness of the music. My own voice and actions mate with his and ride upon him, cut him open, mingle with his blood—ram him through and flow around, assimilate him whole, to multiply eleven-fold the ecstasy and agony he stirs. I see a close-up, shafting out across the multitude my singing mouth, my eyes, my leering face, my open head and gullet, shrieking guts and arteries. Yelps of guitar shoot up the corners of the sky in branching clumps and flower in umbrella sprays of yellow. Bass shakes the bones in the boulders of the sea, while the hills blaze hollow eyes and groan! Heads and bodies bubble in the distance all around me. Don’t you hear me now? Don’t you feel me down inside you, you before me, every one of you? D’you kid yourself that you’ll escape the damage I intend? I think you do! So watch me now… Lights weave and lash. You are rapt, you are stunned, you are limitless and legion, tier on tier as up the sides of a satellite dish. Through screens and speakers round the world, I control, hour on hour, centre-stage—your collective fascination’s poisoned cynosure. I drink the lurid limelight as a desert gasps for fluid, while a billion spotlight eyes are drinking me. My mesmeric voice resounds and soars and swoops, and softly lacerates (omnipotent, relentless, for a night). As the vaults of heaven boom, the firmament reverberates; Hong Kong, the continent, the oceans and the world at last are borne up and churned in a storm-coloured vortex on the cyclone of the sound. Smooth as china now, its lesion: magnetic in its dominance: in power, sublime. Your understanding stretches to its peak, then floats on a plateau of air at the foot of a further scale of impossible peaks to stretch towards. Jangle of blades in your head—then the music implodes. The carriage disappears as black spaghetti through the mouths of the Peak; its echo dies, like a house that snaps and totters and collapses, to be sucked through a furrow in the carcass of the toad that rots and winks above the lift-shaft in the earth below the cellar.
I bow my head a moment, turn and leave. The stage is dark and quiet again.
Shorter teasers of the three chapters of Hallucination in Hong Kong are here:
Table of Contents of Hallucination in Hong Kong
1. So here is the horror, to sicken the sun
2. Love among the spires and the fountains
3. Oh, my Angel