Gaseous Clay and Other Ambivalent Tales – John Travis


My previous reviews of John Travis:



My previous reviews of Eibonvale Press:

When I read this book in 2022, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

17 thoughts on “Gaseous Clay and Other Ambivalent Tales – John Travis


    “; I shrieked, I shrank,…”

    A disarmingly plain-worded story that gradually becomes, in the eye of the beholder, a hilarious apotheosis of telling temerity — and what a startling affirmation, too, of my fearless faith in the meant-to-be acts of reading and reviewing fiction literature in real-time, towards a Jungian gestalt, inasmuch as this afternoon, about an hour before reading this story about a downtrodden, severely unconfident and Travisionary travelling-salesman, from seedy hotel to seedy hotel…yes, astonishingly, I had read and reviewed a quite different story by Tem (here) involving blind eyes and portraying just such a Twofold Temerity: a synergy that the word ‘temerity’ has always conveyed to me, a combo of shrinking from an inimical world and its threat of death as well as a feisty looking-death-in-the-eye — and, here, in the Travis, a wonderful synergy of a shrinking-man story (‘he made me look this big’) and eventually, by dint of this story’s remedy or cure, the man’s bold looking-life-in-the-eye!
    And there are wonderful scenes in the Travis, for example in a modern art gallery with a satirical look at some strange paintings and a portrait with the two eyes, escaping the eyebrows, having travelled elsewhere in the body … and, later, a hotel with the seediest aspects, involved tinned mushrooms, bedbugs and an Aickman-like scene at breakfast, and the timid salesman’s battle with a woodlouse and a spider, and his using, inter alia, various male and female eyebrows as weapons! Too much else to tell you about here.
    Loved the last sentence’s perfect ending to this remarkable fable…


    After the narrator (writer of these words as his statement in duplicate in case one gets lost) discharges himself unofficially from hospital, he arrives at a co-vivid dream of a fairground or even, as palimpsest, a real fairground (with many sideshows, rides and characters of such fairgrounds that I recall from my past, here evocatively conjured up). A story that first reminds me of Aickman’s ‘The Swords’ but then becomes its own man in remarkable apotheosis. Crowds as the sordid games they play, as well as the gory glory-holes where we keep hybrid toys and animals as people, or vice versa. Pierced by points and then shrunk in a prize trice like balloons of skin. Surely, an important example of great weird literature that needs reflating, I guess.


    “…the world was a different place, an enormous canvas on which everyone filled in a small section for themselves…”

    This is a wonderful story about a man called Eberol (a name that sounds like a curative tablet one takes, a regurgitated medicine perhaps as the cure of himself we see at the end after crashing out?), a story that embodies for me the raison d’être (note the elbow-circumflex there to go with Eberol and what went on, inter alia, in his down-below towards the vales of bowel), the raison d’être of ‘gestalt’ and all the concomitant themes in Eberol’s life that cohere at the end of this off-kilter work, including the tissue art (or phlegm?) of his nephew and niece and the new fortuitously come-together Banksy he later splatters on a motorway bridge’s wall, and much more, scatological as well as eschatological, just as my own long-seasoned gestalt-real-time-reviewing plasters my own brainstorming thoughts upon works of literature that appeal to me, like this Travis travelling towards its own motorway wall, and all of us creating the ultimate gestalt soul of literature to become a legacy of each death that we face, all of us, elbow to elbow, indeed facing what is to come and what has just gone — another of the remedials, a cure-all for EVERYTHING, not only for those negative feelings of self-worth that we still all feel. In or out of EiBOnvaLe.


    Below is a full copy and splatter-paste of my review in May 2009 of this author’s story entitled NOTHING…

    Unlike with most of the other stories in this book, I have been familiar with ‘Nothing’ for a few years. It is close to my heart.  I can only say – upon re-reading it just now – it remains a genuine classic for me, a story that should win awards and be filmed or dramatised and anthologised in famous books.  The only story that is genuinely successful in depicting dimmer-switch controlled identities – a most beautiful treatment of love and bereavement…

    And, in my current frame of mind, this quite short story is tantamount to the noth or nth degree.

    A declining intransitive (or intravistive) verb: I noth, you noth, he noths, he is nothing, I am nothing, I was nothing, I had been nothing, we would have been nothing, you nothed, we had nothed, I will noth … not so much the opposite of ‘become’ but rather its necessary partner in a symbiosis of verbal power.  The plurality of both.  The singularity of neither. 

    “…but still he couldn’t be with them, as they filled every room and cranny and nook.” (28 May 09 – 2 hours later)


    “And while your about it, I notice Boris is still there.”

    A story first published in 2003, and it is a really odd one, even silly enough to be called silly. But I always thought Boris to be a bit cuckoo. A flit who is a bit of a ….
    Well, you know what!

    Whether about a spider or a recurrently spring-loaded Travisitant from the innards of a clock, or a nightmarish combination of the two, this story does in fact grow on you, with a couple of nifty verse-rhymes included, a story about a pensioner couple, who have just moved to a place called Acrebridge where there seem to be a lot of silly bye-laws as peculiar to just that place. Laws to stymie a man with a blacked-up face called Stanley Winship who played pranks on the people there…
    This story plays pranks, too. Spring-loaded into the words. Enough to be relevant whenever you read it, as if this story is reading the ley-lines of the times around you, whenever and wherever you live. But there should be a law against any by-lines owning up to writing it, I guess. Lawyer or Liar?

    “Eh? Oh, I just had this really odd dream. The Police were arresting me. And you were one of them.”

  5. Pingback: Cuckoo Clocked | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  6. Beware possible spoilers below…


    “I could say ‘who knows how their minds work at that age’, but that could easily apply to me.”

    And at my age — even older perhaps than the female narrator and the woman she watches across the street called (Pres/ Pris)’Cilla Abcott (who reminds me of a version of Stanley Winship) — it is not surprising that I do not know what to say about this very odd, arguably silly, story of a bottle of tequila stuck with a striped straw and baited with a worm at the bottom by ‘Cilla to make a bird drunk with articulate mocking insulting English words for a man who had earlier insulted ‘Cilla. Don’t go there!
    Suffice to say that my clever theory is that the root meaning — that would make this story as clever as me — is one of ventriloquistic prestidigitation, but that may be just me.



    And now for a story I have read before, because I published it in ‘Horror Without Victims’ in 2013… and this is what I wrote about it then…


    The Cure – John Travis
    “By thinking these thoughts you will be bringing your illness to the surface, which will make it easier to remove.”
    This ever-growing-on-you story presents a pilgrimage like those earlier ones to the Cabin or the Red House – but here the pilgrimage (of a businessman with terminal cancer) is an accompanied journey by plane to an unknown island (like the one in ‘Lost’?) and seems a mission more contrived by others for their own purposes rather than a pilgrimage that is ‘driven’ by the protagonist’s dream or personal impulse – or is it by ‘fluke’ or ‘destiny’? We are never sure. And that is perhaps how life and death proceed in any event, as a mixture of faith and fate jostled by others’ intentions. Here, involving a form of Rennie’s and Wilkinson’s constructive torture mixed with a religious assumption, a remarkable open-ended Cure ensues with a climax which, outside of this context, would have otherwise made a memorable finale to any tale in the Pan Book of Horror Stories. The paradox somehow invites you to start the story again…
    “Overhead the sky was almost painfully blue.”

    And it struck me today in 2022 even more powerfully than it did then, particularly as I was diagnosed in 2015 with an illness (that was probably already inside my body when writing the above comments in 2013 and is still recurring, subject to treatment, today), indeed an illness perhaps similar to that of the businessman in THE CURE. And I now see for the first time, perhaps, that the mention of the word ‘leather’ at the start of the story possibly prefigured the nature of this story’s cure itself… and perhaps, in some strange absurd way, I am still alive simply because I was once the First Mover cause (if indeed I was) of this excellent story to have been written in the first place by my setting its theme of ‘Horror Without Victims’? Whatever the case, I see now it may have helped me feel myself to be a Victim without Horror.

  7. Pingback: The Cure by John Travis | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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    “Next day, the first of the statues appeared in the local sculpture park.”

    A legacy as a dreadful world’s potential cure, this story itself the author’s legacy or its fable about a legacy of a sculptor who calls himself RATED X, both as X as a tick of nemonymity and wrong as an X marked in a schoolchild’s book, also as part of this ‘ambivalent tales’ book, its gestalt, and the pareidolia in the gaps of its clouds. The act of my asking — well, this is merely my interpretation — the question:- who turn’s first? Medusa or Lot’s Wife? Our lot in life as the still emerging moral of this utopia as dystopia or dystopia as utopia. An equivocal parable perhaps, not a fable. Whatever the case, it made me feel more positive than negative by the end of it. Rated X, too, as a warning, though, in case it works the other way for you. Moulding or sculpting? Gaseous clay for kiln or chiselable stone for killing?


    “In the bottom left-hand corner of the flat stone something else had been inscribed: 614384”

    E2A27D3D-565D-49E4-855B-9C3A24DD9542I was intrigued and mildly amused by this strange ghost story of bony revenants from under gravestones near the eroding cliff of Whitby Abbey, with some adeptly spooky descriptions of these things roaming the town, as told by the older version of one of the beer-drinking protagonists who had ignited, when a young man, such ghoulish goings-on by ringing each telephone number inscribed on the gravestones!
    [But then I suddenly seemed to have deeper thoughts about the nature of these matters in interface with the Dracula legend as a Mendelian phenomenon, i.e.clones or orthologs – and I found it quite a revelation when I looked up catalogue no. 614384 In the ‘Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man” (OMIM) data, as shown.]

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