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It was early days for them and they were running out of their home.
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This was the time when Flickr was a darling of the valley and wasn't acquired by Yahoo yet. Chris and I were talking, sitting around a dining table with a bench and some chairs. I remember there was a lot of light and windows all around.
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Toni his wife was handling customer support from a room upstairs. And there was a dog, I think. It was a breath of fresh air for me! In a place that has a deep-rooted infatuation with building products on raised capital, they were running their company as a small business. They were going up against giants like Snapfish, Shutterfly, Google, Yahoo and a bunch of others in a crowded space. Unlike those giants, they were charging money for their service!
And they had the audacity of doing it under the name SmugMug. I recall Chris grinning about how much some people hated the name SmugMug! This was the only time I met them. I've thought back to that meeting many times over the years.
I found that to be uplifting then and I still do today. Every couple of years I'd go to their site and see how they continued to grow. And each time it would bring a smile to my face. That they ended up buying Flickr is so darn sweet I could not hoped for a better cherry-on-top to how I personally view the SmugMug story. So I guess he learned a few things there. She, unable to contain her pride, her palm resting in the small of his back.
He, explaining that he built it all for her. But it is not Albie, and each knock yields more disappointment.
A maid calls on behalf of her mistress who wants a stuffed hummingbird for her hat. A boy in a velvet jacket browses endlessly and finally buys a butterfly brooch, which Silas sells with a quiver of disdain.
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All the while, Silas moves only to place their coins in a dogskin purse. In the quiet between times, his thumb tracks a single sentence in The Lancet. Upstairs, an attic bedroom; downstairs his dark cellar. It is exasperating, Silas thinks as he stares around the pokey shop, that the dullest items are those which pay his rent. There is no accounting for the poor taste of the masses. It contains vermilion butterfly wings which he traps between two small panes of glass; some are necklace baubles, others for mere display.
Foolish knick-knacks which they could make themselves if they had the imagination, he thinks. It is only the painters and the apothecaries who pay for his real interests. And then, as the clock sings out the eleventh hour, he hears a light tapping, and the faint stutter of the bell in the cellar. He hurries to the door. Thames fog snakes in.
The ten-year-old child grins back at him. Silas glances down the dead-end alley, at its empty ramshackle houses like a row of drunks, each tottering further forward than the last. The foreleg of a Megalosaurus, or perhaps the head of a mermaid?
A pocket of air escapes, gamey, sweet and putrid, and Silas raises a hand to his nose. He would like to uncork the miniature glass bottle of lavender oil that he stores in his waistcoat, to dab it on his upper lip, but he does not want to distract the boy — Albie has the attention span of a shrew on his finest days.
The boy winks, grappling with the sack, pretending it is alive. Silas summons a smirk that feels hollow on his lips. He hates to see this urchin, this bricky street brat, tease him.
But Silas says nothing. He feigns a yawn, but watches through a sideways crocodile eye that betrays his interest by not blinking. Albie grins, and unmasks the sacking to present two dead puppies.
At least, Silas thinks it is two puppies, but when he grabs hold of the limbs, he notices only one scruff. The skull is segmented. He holds them up, sees their silhouette against his lamp, squeezes their eight legs, the stones of their vertebrae. And you can come in, visit my workshop. Albie hawks and spits his disdain on to the cobbles. Would you have a lad starve? He steadies himself on the cabinet. He glances down to check the pups are still there, and they are, clasped against his chest as a child would hold a doll.
Their eight furred legs dangle, as soft as moles. They look like they did not even live to take their first breath. He has it at last. BOY After Silas slams shut the door, Albie bites the shilling between his front tooth and gums, for no reason except that he has seen his sister do the same. He sucks on it. He is pleased; he never expected two bob. But if you ask for two bob and you get a bob, what happens if you ask for a bob?
He shrugs, spits it out and then tucks it into his pocket. There is a second hemp sack next to his Dead Creatures bag, which contains tiny skirts he sewed through the night. He is careful never to mix the two. Sometimes, as he hands over the bag at the doll shop, he is convinced he has muddled them, and he feels an arrow-quiver in his heart.
He blows on his little fists to warm them and takes off at a run. The boy zigzags through the streets, rickety legs bowed outwards. He runs west, through the muck of Soho.
Gaunt whores track his racing limbs with tatty eyes, just as worn-out cats watch a fly. He emerges on to Regent Street, glances at the shop which sells sets of teeth for four guineas, taps his single tooth with his tongue, and then catapults into the path of a horse.
It bucks and rears. She picks at a loose thread, then knots it. Even though it is almost noon, her mistress Mrs Salter is yet to rise for the day. Her twin sister sits behind her, head bowed over her sewing.
She lowers her voice. Have you ever seen her stick out her tongue? His mucky blonde hair, his single fang, his soot-stained face: In another world, he could have been born into their family in Hackney. She planned to put it towards a new sheet of paper and a paintbrush. Iris watches him go and allows herself to inhale. He may be a filthy little urchin, but even so she can never understand why he stinks quite so foully of decay.Black Eyed Peas - Meet Me Halfway (Lyrics on screen)
He felt his stomach twist, a fizz of terror squeezing the tip of his tongue. Had he been hit? He strained around in his seat, staring into the twilight.
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The sky was empty. No puffs of ack ack, no Spitfires. What the hell just happened? Could he make it back across the English Channel, back to the German base at Coquelles?
But not up here. He must drop down, hide in the cloud base, let the engine cool. His hand was trembling; he must steady himself. The engine cut and he was gliding now, his breath booming in his helmet as he watched the needles drop.
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There was even time to glimpse enemy fields between the breaks in the clouds. They were white with snow like the Alps of Swabia. He felt calmer, listening to the gale outside, calm enough to wonder if he would ever walk in the mountains again, see the ice crystals forming rainbows in front of his eyes.
He pulled off his oxygen mask to give himself more freedom and a smell smacked into his nostrils, hot metal and fuel. Waves of panic swelled inside him, pushing up into his throat. He was low now, eight hundred feet, grey clouds boiling all around him. Time to fire up the engine again. Metal screamed against metal, his ears pulsed under the agonising volume then… Silence. The engine had seized. He needed to move fast. He tore off his flying helmet, his elbows crashing against the cockpit.
He grabbed at the lever and jettisoned the canopy. The sudden explosion of wind and noise was terrifying. He gasped, gulped at the freezing air. The canopy was wrenched from his hand. He heard it grating along the fuselage behind. He released his seat belt, pushed up into the slipstream.
His parachute pack was wedged, the gale raging around him, forcing his body down. Beneath him he felt his plane begin her final dive, a roll to the right, a drop of her nose. He was going down with her, down into the void. With a great pump of adrenaline, Lukas leant into the roll and pushed with all his might.
And he was out, rolling along the side of the plane, the powerstorm tossing him like a rag doll. He tried to brace his head with his arms, certain he was going to smash into the tail section but then he was falling.
Tumbling through the sky, he reached up, grasped the handle and pulled. He was dropping like a stone, the wind thundering in his ears. Fields widened, expanding beneath him as he plummeted. Cold earth, hard as iron, rushing towards him.
Billows of silk and line bubbled up by his side, wrapping itself around his arm. Lukas twisted and tossed his body about to give it free passage. Silk streamed past him.