So I shoot my attention upward … and I find you, Pippa, naked in your big double bed in your depressing, cluttered bedroom, with your eyes wide and glassy. Just your presence in this bedroom gobbles half the room’s space, for even when you’re out, your emotional machinery remains here—parked across the end wall, complex and heavy as an outsized organ, with struts and pipes and pedals and a rack of tubes and valves, half atrophied […] a haunted organ playing in an empty red theatre that’s been locked for years.
A thousand faces flick across your bedroom’s television screen, muted, from that other world outside you. Some of these faces stare right at you here in bed, craning their heads in to peer through the glass screen as if through a window in the corner of your bedroom, mouthing things you cannot understand.
Your ears push five slim pale-brown fingers out, one by one, into the dim room: you feel each finger squeeze out its girth with a pop, wriggle off across the pillow, then halt at the pillow’s end and sniff the air, scratching and stroking at the cotton with its long crimson nail. The fingers melt to snails’ horns, twirling at the pillow corners, each one freezing as it sees the people pouring through your bedroom from the TV screen: a cavalcade of bones and air and dust beneath the glamour of their chatter and their flesh; celebrities twitching in the back seats of limousines, pretty little skeletons, brittle dry voices… Their teeth gibber words out, which hang upon the silence pressing in from behind.
A sound-stream you’ve heard across the years rushes past you: an actor bites an apple in a spotlight while a pre-recorded crunch booms out from hidden speakers; the empty bus at night hums and wheezes through the empty square; a buzz of hornets cuts the air, and artificial bird-song warbles and trills above the manufactured sound of a fresh, moist meadow. A grand noise of yearning beauty swells, then inside it in the distance is the sound of children playing in that wasteland between the Arverne projects where you grew up. You think you hear your own childish speech among these voices, and the five-year-old buried in you stirs. Again behind the stillness you can hear the greater silence, and the even greater darkness behind what’s visible. Mercifully at last, a cone of black descends, and sleep.
…But while you sleep, the hits just keep on coming, Pippa Vail! You raise your heavy skull up off the pillow and you peer out from inside, from just behind the eyes—watchful for meaty furry spiders on the walls behind your angel statuettes, where they often crouch, flexing their hairy thighs and picking at their teeth. Before they can beckon you to lick them, as you usually must, you’re startled to notice that your television’s on. Did you leave it on, at lights-out? Surely you wouldn’t have. It shows, furthermore, a thing it’s never shown before, in all these years: a simple, plastic, old-fashioned wall-clock, in black and white, mounted prosaically upon an institution wall, its second-hand sweeping round behind the window-bars… The picture cuts to you, where you clutch at your fire-escape railings, in the sky. Around you are long, bendy, lighted candles swaying in a faint breeze. A dry nose pushes from your left, and inside you the fossils of your lust stir a second, but it’s obvious from the space in your eyes that for you the sky’s gone out: your face has grown blind as the face of the moon. You see no further out than the colours on the inside surface of your skull—brown, black and purple. You hurry up the steps of your fire-escape, swilling and pushing along within your coat of flesh; the handrail is worn thin and limp by the touch of many dead hands. You see your goal ahead: a brittle husk, frail and translucent, hung aloft against the blackness of the cavern of your head. And the stairs up inside you end in death, with a stabbing scent of cheeseflesh and blood-lemon streaming away from your ears like the memory of a dream at dawn.
Soon it will be dawn and the end of this night. And within you as you sleep, the thing that never had the strength to birth itself, thus remaining trapped there and leaving you intact, stirs now, pressing slowly and carefully at the inside of your abdomen. Thin skin seals its eyes; webbing coats its teeth and joins its fingers. You stir with the thing inside, and underneath the curve of your sweet little snub-nose, your mouth grins wetly in the dark.
For more about "The Imagination Thief" by Rohan Quine, see
For some great reviews of it, see
And to pick it up from whichever retailer you may prefer, the retailers’ links for the paperback are at
and for the ebook at