Friday, 26 January 2018

A Review of Reza Azlan's "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"


The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is  split into three parts:

Part One deals with the Jewish revolt against the government of Rome in Israel, which was initially successful but came to a horrific conclusion with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Part Two deals with Jesus of Nazareth: the man, his world and his mission.

Part Three deals with the legacy that Jesus left behind after his death upon the cross.

In a way, the book begins by telling the end of the story, which is an account of the legacy that Hebrew zealots, including Jesus left in the minds of their followers and countrymen. It was this legacy that inspired the Jews to rise up against their Roman occupiers and cast them out of Jerusalem in 66 AD. For 4 subsequent years Jerusalem knew "independence", before a vengeful Rome launched a brutal assault on its besieged and now starving population: massacring men, women and children and burning the Temple on the Mount to the ground.

Those that survived the rout were driven into exile. And in this the survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem shared the fate of Jews throughout Palestine, as Rome enacted collective punishment. And so the diaspora was born.

But not everyone left: a small population remained around the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa and other major cities, and peasants continued to till the land in the countryside. It was from these peoples that today's Palestinians are descended.

And thus the seeds were planted that are still bearing their bitter fruit in the Holy Land.

So Who Was Jesus?

Finding the historical Jesus was no small challenge: all the historical references the author had to go on was a brusque contemporary reference in the chronicles of Flavius - wherein Jesus is mentioned as "the brother of James, called the Messiah". This is indeed brief, but it is also significant: it confirms that, as a claimant to the title of "messiah", Jesus would almost certainly have been crucified for sedition, as this was the standard Roman punishment for this crime during the era of the Empire.

The other document is what the author refers to as the "Q", and was a collection of the sayings and accounts of Jesus and his ministry. Each Gospel author would have used Q as a basis for what he wrote. Some points in the life of Jesus then (such as his baptism by John and his arrival in glory in Jerusalem) can be taken as more likely to have happened (because all four gospels feature these events, based upon information given in Q) than others (like the full account of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem and any tales of his youth, that only appear in the book of Luke).

Azlan does not have much time for any of the details of the wondrous virgin birth in the City of David. And he pours scorn on the claim that a Roman census could have lead Mary and Joseph to seek out this place. Which beggars the question why concoct accounts such as these if they are so obviously false?

Fake News

Well, in the 1st and 2nd century AD, we are told,  "historicity" did not mean the same thing as it does today, and chroniclers of these histories would willfully change events and insert convenient new ones, especially when it came to fulfilling prophecies. This was not only not objected to at the time, it was actually expected by contemporary readers. The mindset of the 1st few centuries of what we call Anno Domini was that exact historical details were not important: what was important was the essential truth of what your story propounded (it feels strange to recount this given what goes on with the "fake facts" of today. Perhaps when analyzing the present's view of news and events it is something to take into consideration).

The conclusion is that it is very likely that the historical Jesus was both born and raised with his brothers and sisters in the tiny hamlet of Nazareth, and that nothing remarkable happened to him before he was inducted into the life of a prophet by his mentor, John the Baptist, by the banks of the River Jordan.



You Wait Ages for a Messiah and then Ten Turn Up at Once

It should be mentioned that Jesus (called "the Nazarene" by his contemporaries, and "Son of Mary" by his detractors) was far from the first claimant to the title of Messiah in Roman Palestine - nor was he the last. For in those tumultuous times the hills were alive, not only with would be Messiahs, self proclaimed kings and insurrectionists - who invariably met a brutal end at the hands of Rome or their Judaic collaborators - it was also bustling with faith healers and magicians who claimed to make the lame walk, the blind see and to cast out demons. That Jesus took the role both of Messiah and magician was something of an oddity.

It should also be said that the historical Jesus, so Azlan tells us, was very much a family man. The unearthly celestial being of much of the new testament as portrayed by the Paulian epistles, and by Catholic traditions is the figure of Christ, that was born of Mary, who is a perpetual virgin. Azlan has so little time for this view he barely bothers mentioning it, and instead gives us a Jesus with several brothers, sisters and cousins - many of who became his followers.

Who Did Jesus Think He Was?

One of the thorniest issues - and the most fascinating, as dealt with by Azlan’s work - is how Jesus might have seen himself. Did he think of himself as the Son of God? As portrayed by this book, probably not. In fact Jesus appears to be far more ready to refer to himself as “The Son of Man”. But what does that epithet even mean? I will let a reading of the book answer that question; it is personally one of my favourite aspects of this work.

But there is no doubt about one thing as far as Azlan is concerned - and that is the Zealous outlook of The Nazarene. Whether he was expelling the money lenders in the Temple, preaching the Beatitudes or analyzing the thorny aspect of who the Jews should be paying their taxes to, Jesus applied his zeal; a fiery spiritual nationalism wherein the nation of Israel would be redeemed through the destruction of the existing order, be cleansed of its occupiers and hallowed through its treatment of the poor and the outcasts - who would be raised up to rule in the imminent Kingdom of God.

Of course it didn't turn out that way, and eventually the Romans and their Jewish collaborators decided they had taken as much provocation as they could bare from this latest self styled Messiah. Jesus was arrested and, with very little ceremony, was sentenced to die upon the cross: the sign above his head, "The King of the Jews" proclaiming to the world why The Nazarene had been sentenced to his fate.



It should have ended there. Jesus's followers, including his brother James, having witnessed the humiliation of their leader and inspiration, should have melted away and returned to their homes, as one obscure rebel cult leader was consigned to a footnote in history. The mystery of why it did not will probably never be explained, save through the application of faith.

A New Religion

So the recounting of the life of Jesus ends, and the story of his legacy begins. And the story of Jesus's legacy starts with a battle. On the one side is his brother James (known to all who knew him as "James the Just" because of his piety and devotion to the Judaic Laws) together with the surviving followers who walked and talked with The Nazarene. On the other hand, the self proclaimed thirteenth apostle, Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. Saul was an implacable enemy of the Jesus movement, but after his conversion and adoption of his new identity as Paul, this perhaps original "born again" Christian has a zeal to not only follow Jesus, but to found an entirely new religion in his name.

It is perhaps the depiction of Paul, that is, arguably, the most controversial aspect of this work. The man who opened the way for the gentiles is not portrayed as a sympathetic character, and instead what we are presented with is an ego driven fanatic desperate to stamp his own mark on the nascent Christianity, at the cost of an almost flagrant disregard of what Jesus actually said and wanted. And yet it is Paul's interpretation of this faith that we are mostly left with, despite his conflicts, and at times his humiliations at the behest of his rivals James and Peter, who were Paul's superiors in the early church whether he liked it or not.

Well Researched

I read this book on my kindle app (sorry traditional format fans, however I do also still read printed books!) and was somewhat surprised when the book finished while at a status of 50% complete. This gives you an idea of how extensive the footnotes are. Fortunately these end notes actually add to the experience of the book. Here is where Azlan discusses the various theories that underpin his vision of the historical Jesus, which theories by which historians he agrees with, and which ones he disagrees with and why.

To my mind Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is a fascinating read and I would recommend it to anyone, no matter what their faith or lack thereof.




Tuesday, 16 May 2017

What's That Coming Over the Hill



Lance Bastante had always felt a certain amount of sympathy for his friend from the Kingdom of the Round Tree. Perhaps it was because of the name that his friend had been burdened with: Beosmell Realbad. It's difficult to run out of jokes about a name like that. And yet despite this ever present potential for mockery - or perhaps because of it - they had become like brothers as they went through the Academy together, back in the days when the Kingdom of the Round Tree and the fortress city of Haribo had been allies.

But things change; alliances break down and enmity rises.

And then enmity becomes war.

Things had certainly changed for Beosmell after he had volunteered for the Round Tree Super Weapon project, and was chosen to become a living super weapon. How strong must Beosmell's faith in his kingdom's cause must have been, Bastante asked himself, to surrender his humanity to the victory of that cause? What experiments had been performed upon him by nameless figures, monitoring his transformation in the shadows? What had he seen? What had he suffered? And had it been worth it? Had the mockery been silenced at last?

All Lance knew was that he would soon see his old friend once more - if from afar. Beosmell would now be at the vanguard of the Round Tree Kingdom's army of conquest, and he would be changed beyond all recognition. Today the kingdom of the Round Tree were ready to unleash the weapon that Lance's friend had become; a weapon they proclaimed would end the war once and for all.

But little did the scientists and theosophers of Round Tree know that Haribo had already developed an answer: the Unnatural Born Creature Slayer.

Today then, both sides would discover which super weapon was the more effective. Today the tide of the war would be turned, or all would be lost.

Bastante looked down at the gun he held in his hands. It was five feet long, and appeared to have been carved from black ivory. The barrel of the gun was covered in intricate designs: faces of mythical creatures and woodland Gods with empty eyes that glared at the soldier who held the weapon, as if testing the resolve of its bearer.

And how was the resolve of Lance Bastante? Was he ready for this test?

When the moment of truth came, Lance mused, and he peered at the monster through a scope that was shaped like some preternatural sea serpent, the mouth of which opened out on the forward sight, would he see fear in the eyes of his old friend? Did Beosmell even have eyes any more? Lance couldn't say; he didn't know that level of detail. But if Beosmell had changed beyond all recognition, that should make things easier, he reasoned.

At the moment of truth.

A buzz at Bastante's chest interrupted his reverie and he picked up the mobile communicator that was fastened where. "Lieutenant commander Bastante here."

"Bastante this is Major Osgood," came the voice through the communicator, "Is all still clear?"

Bastante put aside the weapon and clambered to his feet. He looked over the battlement walls that protected his fortress city, and beheld the no man's land that had become of the surrounding area. He saw smoke that rose from all around, creating a permanent mist that pressed against the perimeter of Haribo and made sighting new attacks difficult at the best of times. He saw an undulating landscape of churned ground that stretched into the hills beyond. He saw abandoned and broken machines; relics of the sieges that had already taken place during the war. Sieges that had ended in victory for the defenders; but only after much blood had been sacrificed on both sides. Elsewhere, in other theatres of battle retreats had turned into routs for Haribo.

Soon, Bastante knew, there would be another siege of his home city: this would be the last one.
"It's all clear," Bastante informed his superior officer, "for now."

But even as he was about to replace his communicator, Bastante looked out and saw a dark shape appear on the horizon. Then he saw other shapes: the unmistakable outlines of battering rams, and cannons that reared up into the air on caterpillar tracks and caused minor tremors that could be felt in the battlements even at this distance. The air crackled around the Lieutenant commander, and he heard the distant rumble of thunder. Bastante saw other shapes now, thousands of small, dark shapes were marching towards the city: a siege army. He reopened communications. "Disregard that last report," he told Major Osgood, "and mobilise the city defences. It's begun."

"Understood," replied the Major. His acknowledgment was free of intonation, though Bastante imagined Osgood's shoulders droop, and his teeth grit as he accepted the inevitability of his Lieutenant commander's update.  Then Osgood's voice changed, and he repeated words that had been drilled into them all since childhood. Words that they still believed; despite everything. "Haribo, Haribo, take me back to Haribo," Osgood chanted.

"Haribo, Haribo, it's the sweetest place I know," responded the lieutenant commander, "Bastante out."

**

"Wait!" shouted Osgood through the communicator, his voice sounding as if something had just occurred to him.

Bastante paused. "What is it sir?" he asked. Around him the city defense forces had already begun their deployment as further trembles shook the city and the deep, penetrating rolls of thunder became a constant, pervasive sound in the battlements.

"It's the weapon," said Osgood with urgency, “You need to know how to activate it.”

Bastante's quelled an incredulous chuckle. “I think I know how to activate a gun, sir,” he said with forced patience, “you just press the trigger and..."

"No, No," Osgood cut in, “it’s not that simple with the Creature Slayer! This is a super weapon remember; and the reason it’s so powerful is because it draws on the city's main power generators; and it accumulates that power via a wireless signal. But the gun’s wifi must only be activated only when it is needed, otherwise the power drain on the city's reserves would be too great. Especially considering we also have a shield to maintain."

"Why did nobody tell me this before?" demanded Bastante, his voice rising.

"They're telling you now!" shot back the Major, "this is highly classified information that is given out on a strictly need to know basis!"

Bastante closed his eyes and inhaled slowly. The activity around him was becoming increasingly frenetic as the minutes passed, and through the spy holes of the city walls the approaching army began to blur intermittently - a sign that the city's defensive shield that Osgood had mentioned was now in operation.

Shields. Energy. Power generators.

"How do I activate the gun?" he asked quietly.

The Major cleared his throat noisily. “Ah yes,” he acknowledged. “The weapon needs to be activated.”

Bassinet was mildly annoyed by the Major’s sudden turn to prevarication. “Yes, that’s what you just told me,” he pointed out, “so how do I do it?”

“How do I do it you say?” asked the Major.

“That was what I asked,” said Bastante, frowning.

“I should tell you then,” said the major.

“It might help,” Bastante agreed, nonplussed.

“Okay, then I will” answered the Major. “To activate the super weapon,” he declared, “you would obviously need to call…”

He paused for a moment, and then blurted out “the super weapon activation helpline.”

Bastante looked at his communicator opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish. Eventually he managed “You’re shitting me.”

"Don't be impertinent lieutenant commander,” the major blustered.

"But a helpline? A helpline?!” Bastante ejaculated, "You can't be serious! This is a super weapon not a house insurance claim!”

"Calm down lieutenant commander," ordered Osgood.

"I'm sorry," spluttered Bastante as he struggled to master himself, "but I just find it difficult to believe."

“Do try and be a bit more positive Bastante,” the Major admonished him, “As it happens I have it on very good authority that they give an excellent service; and their turnaround time is second to none.”

"Turnaround time?" Bastante asked doubtfully. He thought for a moment. ”So how many queries has this helpline had to turn around..." he swallowed "...concerning super weapons?"

"Well... " replied the Major, he cleared his throat again, "obviously this would be the first one..."

Bastante had heard enough. "We're fucked, " he concluded.

"Look, just call them Bastante," said the Major forcefully, "or perhaps you'd prefer to wait around until your old friend comes calling!"

"Alright! Alright!" The Lieutenant commander flipped open a cover on his communicator that revealed an alpha numeric pad. "What's the number?" he asked.

The sound of a heavy sigh came through Bastante's communicator; followed by the ruffling of papers. Then Osgood's voice began to bark out digits. "08754 90862 -"

"Slow down a bit!" cried the lieutenant.

"... 222 22222," continued the major at a slower pace, "report back when you have the weapon up and running. Osgood out."

**

Moving slowly and in concert, the great siege engines from the Kingdom of the Round Tree moved into position, forming a great, semi-circular perimeter before the fortified city walls. Attending these engines were thousands of soldiers and operators, and the fulminations produced by the combined movements of man and machine echoed through the city.

Bastante listened to these fulminations, that formed the background to a series of regularly spaced beeps that issued from his communicator. At the same time he peered out of a spy-hole in the city walls, and through intermittent distortions witnessed the movements of the powerful cannons and numerous enemy. He turned slightly and glanced at Haribo's inactive super weapon; the weapon that needed the super weapon helpline before it could be used.

Just then a bright musical jingle started to play across communicator’s speaker; and a cheerful female voice spoke over this music.

"You've reached the Haribo munitions corp weapons helpline," the voice informed him, "a helpline bought to you by our sponsors, Conflict Outcome Claims Direct Insurance."

The music stopped and another voice - male, solemn and intense - spoke out: "Dedicated to protecting you and your family. Always."

Now a rock based track began playing, and the cheerful female voice returned. "All of our operatives are busy at the moment," the voice told Bastante, "but your call is important to us. Please continue to hold."

The canons outside Haribo's walls began targeting. Coordinates and elevations were called out by operators who looked upon the city walls with a calculated detachment, and decided which points would be punished by fire immediately.

Meanwhile, the voice speaking to Bastante went up a notch and gained a more artificial edge.

"You are caller number...
"ONE
"... in the queue."

And with that the guitar driven pop song again superimposed itself on the sounds of impending bombardment. Bastante stroked his temples, trying to ward off the stress and the nascent headache building within him.

A singer began to warble over the communicator:

"Brain fried tonight through misuse
Through misuse! Through misuse!
You can't avoid the static abuse
You can't avoid the static abuse!..."

The Hariban listened unwillingly as question after question flashed through his mind: was one of those canons pointing directly at him right now? How long would the shields hold against these weapons? Why was he still waiting if he was number one in the queue?

"lieutenant commander?"

Bastante looked up to see a Haribo soldier standing before him, dressed in the bright red colours of the Haribo military, and carrying a bayonet rifle. "Sir, we've had an update from the advanced spotters operating beyond the city walls," the soldier updated him with urgent tones, "they say there is some kind of creature approaching from a westerly direction.

"Sir, they say it's something big."

Over the shoulder of the man who was speaking to him Bastante saw searchlights spring into life against the dark gray sky. His fellow Hariban stepped forward with eyes wide and tinged with fear. "I mean they say it's something really big..."

There was a pause as the soldier observed the man he was updating, and for the first time noticed Bastante's glassy expression, and the way Bastante was looking through him rather than at him.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"There's a problem with this super weapon," Bastante answered mechanically as he gestured towards the Creature Slayer, "It needs activating; and they've made me call a helpline to do it."

The soldier mouthed the word 'helpline' in an attempt to assimilate Bastante's statement. He glanced around, his eyes narrowing as he listened. "Where is the music coming from?" he asked.

"I'm on hold," Bastante replied.

The soldier regarded him in silence for a few moments. Then he was gone, and Bastante was left cursing helplessly.

But even as Bastante swore oaths, the music faded somewhat. A loud, youthful male voice forced its way to the foreground. "You're through to Haribo munitions corp weapons helpline," said the new voice,"my name is Brian, how can I help you today?"

"Hello?" Bastante half shouted, relieved solely by the fact that his call had finally got somewhere.
"Hi there caller sorry to keep you waiting, can I take your name please," said Brian brightly.

My name, he thought, right yes, my name is: "Lieutenant commander Lance Bastante of the 3rd division west Haribo defensive emplacements."

A new rumble of thunder broke out, which partially obscured the help desk operatives next words.
"-astic," was what Bastante caught, "is it okay if I call you Lance?"

"What?" Bastante shouted in confusion. The penny dropped. "Oh; Yes, fine -"

"So what's the issue Lance?" Brian asked.

Bastante made an effort to control his inhalations. He could hear voices filtering through from the siege army just outside: barked orders; answering acknowledgements. And he heard the unmistakable whine of automated canon moved into position, and the thud of shells loading up.

The reason. Yes, the reason. "I have a super weapon," he stated, forming his words carefully to ensure clarity, "and I need to activate it for use."

"A super weapon! Excellent!" Brian exulted above the din. "you've come through to just the right place!"

Bastante allowed himself the briefest sensation of hope, tempered by the uncertainty of what activating the super weapon actually entailed.

"I just need to bring up my super weapon activation screen," the help line operative told him, "if you can just bear with me..."

Bastante's teeth gritted but he said nothing and waited, trying to ignore the invisible walls of panic that were closing in. Something was coming; something very big-

"So how are you doing today?" Brian asked chattily.

"I've got to be honest and say I've done better Brian," a distracted Bastante.

"Well, that's a shame, but I'm sure this will be the start of a big improvement," Brian assured him.

"You think?" asked Bastante with a grimace.

"I'm certain," boomed the help desk operative. "so anyway what are you up to?" Brian asked, "Anything good?"

At the moment another voice rose above every sound, shot through with fear and urgency. As soon as he heard it, Bastante knew they'd run out of time.

"Incoming!"

A shell burst in mid air with a deafening roar, battering the city's shields and rocking the battlement walls. "War!" screamed Bastante.

More shells burst and he felt the ground move beneath him; cries of pain filled the air, from victims of shockwaves that knocked people over and walls that collapsed on the city's defenders. "War!"

screamed Bastante again, "This is a war!"

"Oooh, I don't like the sound of that," observed the helpline analyst with a chuckle, "those things can be pretty dangerous!"

"Are you for real?" asked Bastante incredulously as he took cover to avoid another rain of debris.

Instead of reacting to Bastante's question, Brian moved the exchange on. "Okey dokey, super weapon screen is up," he announced, "now, what I need from you is your WIFID number."

"My... WIFID number?" lieutenant commander repeated uncertainly.

"WIFID Yes, it stands for 'WiFi Designation'," Brian explained, "have you got the weapon in front of you?"

"Well, obviously -" Bastante started to say. He was interrupted by a shell that exploded against the shield above him, causing a concussion impact that made his teeth chatter and triggered the sound of exploding windows from locations around the city.

"Goodness me it's a bit noisy where you are isn't it?" observed Brian brightly.

"Just a bit," Bastante agreed.

"Okay," continued the help line analyst, speaking through the sound of defensive batteries being unleashed on the siege army, "The WIFID number should be on the heel of the gun handle. It's a seven digit number prefixed with 'HWD-'."

Bastante found the digits inscribed into the heel of the gun handle as described, though they weren't easy to read. Squinting, and shouting obove the din of an artillery exchange, he read out the WIFID. "HWD.. 429... is that a 6 or an 8? I think it's a 6... 331..."

"Fantastic!" said Brian encouragingly. "Now we need to check your wifi is working alright. If you look at the centre at the top of the main barrel, you should see a carved likeness of the Dark God Zogothloth, who is also called Joy's Bane."

Bastante sighed and looked through the various likenesses incorporated into the elaborate design of the super gun. "I do see a face with eyes that are glowing reddish orange?" he reported.

"Glowing reddish, yes!" Brian confirmed, "Glowing in a manner similar to the moment Zogothloth arose in triumph from the Netherworld before vanquishing His eternal foe, the Demon Slatternax, He that is named The Soul Compressor."

"Er... yes," was all Bastante could think of to say.

"Great, so I'm just downloading the update that will get you up and running," said Brian perkily, "and while we're doing that I'll read out some terms and conditions. Just the legal jargon, nothing to worry about...

The recital - obscured at times by the bombardment - began. "This super weapon is at the strictly experimental stage, therefore Haribo munitions corp weapons divest themselves from all reponsib..... .. ... ....equences of use. All discussion of this weapon outside the auspices of the Haribo Military, ....bo Munitions Corp, Haribo Weapons Research Division and Haribo Infantry Organisation Hub is strictly forbidden. The designation Unnatural Born Creature Slayer ver 0.8e .. ....right protected by Haribo Munitions Corp and all use thereof is strictly controlled by the Information Processor. For further information on the Information Processor please submit you requests in writing along with a postal delivery CTP slip for 6.75 Haribo sovereigns. This weapon is ineffective outside a range of approximately 20 feet and should only be transported by horse. If after a period not less than 30 days the user is dissati..... with the performance of the Unnatural Born -"

"Wait a minute," Bastante interrupted him, "what was that part about 20 feet and transportation?"

"Well, the thing is Lance," the man from the helpline responded earnestly, "this super weapon is a prototype. That means some of those annoying little glitches haven't quite been ironed out yet. As such the range isn't quite what we hoped it would be, and the weapon is given to short circuiting when transported by artificial means." His tone brightened: "But rest assured the tech guys are working like busy bees so in the near future we should have those problems sorted. In the meantime, if you want to give the Creature Slayer a try, all you have to do is pop yourself on horseback, ride to where you want try it out and away you go!"

Bastante let the communicator fall out of his hand. And as further concussion impacts rocked the fortified city, and the cries of the wounded were only partially drowned out by the constant artillery fire, he let his body droop against the battlements.

"Are you still there Lance?" the communicator asked insistently from its abandoned position on the floor.

"Lance?"

**

Ninety minutes later, and further down the battlements, two red clad soldiers employed as lookouts were scanning the landcape around Haribo, and relaying their observations concerning enemy movements and tactical placements. One of them was using a pair of field glasses, while the other used naked line of sight in order to spot potential threats both near and far.

Suddenly the lookout with the field glasses dropped his instrument and gasped, his face a mask of shock and fear. "what's that?" he called out, pointing.

The other lookout turned in the direction his colleague was pointing, and he soon adopted a similar terror stricken countenance. "Coming over the hill"! he yelled.

They heard a voice speak out from behind them, quiet but unyielding. "Is it a monster?"

They lookouts turned, and in unison replied "Yes!"

In front of them stood Lance Bastante, clad from head to toe in shining, silver armour. Bastante brandished his fully operational super weapon, that hummed with innate power, and set down his intention. "Saddle up my horse!"

**

It would have been unclear to an observer if the monster had been born, had been created in a laboratory where unnatural experiments had taken place, or forged in the factory of some mad industrialist or necromancer. What would have been beyond doubt was its enormous size - the width of a small city - and its terrifying configuration; looking like a immense arthropod of two toned shade that belched twin palls of thick black smoke from its snout, the nostrils of which sat high upon a ridge which rose to grow into a towering range of mountains that marched down the creature's back. There would also have been no doubt about the way the earth shook when the blade like limbs of the beast crashed down, causing great gouges as big as valleys to be opened in the already churned up land. These crashing steps were accompanied by a mini-earthquake powerful enough to knock a grown man from his feet.

Explosions blossomed around it; proof that the beast had been observed and targeted. But the weapons of its enemies had no more effect upon the steel like carapace that constituted its hide than gentle summer rainfall.

From time to time The monster paused in its slow but relentless progress across the battlefield. Then it reared up on its jointed legs. Its jaws gaped, glowing a fierce orange, and it emitted a deafening sound, like a chorus of angels of death that serenaded both Heaven and Hell. Then there was the sound of an explosion, and a boiling jet of magma blasted forth from its mouth to hammer Haribo's weakening shield, and send further shockwaves through the city.

Every now and then the creature would encounter the tiny, blue figures of dead bodies, body parts or heaps of bodies, lying bereft of life in the tortured landscape: fellow attackers from the Round Tree kingdom that had taken a direct hit from a defensive barrage, or had stepped on a mine, or even succumbed to 'friendly fire'. When this occurred the monster emitted a howl of rage and reared up even higher upon its segmented limbs. And then another jet of deadly magma spewed from its maw to rain further havoc and bloodshed upon Haribo.

Then the creature encountered something on the battlefield that gave it pause. It discerned the body of a man who was not dressed in the blue uniform of the Kingdom of the Round Tree; and nor was he clad in the red uniform of the city state of Haribo. Instead the man was was dressed with silver armour; though it had ultimately availed him little. Not far from the man lay the body of a horse. It was clear from the saddle that still half lay on the animal's back that the armoured man had been riding it before they fell. Curious.

And not far away from this discovery, another fallen horse could be seen, dead or dying. And this horse's companion was still very much alive. The rider, also clad in silver armour and silver helmet, knelt beside the stricken animal and stroked its mane, seemingly oblivious to the battle that raged around him. At a certain point armour clad man who still lived must have felt the monster's gaze upon him, for he straightened and slowly, he turned to face the beast.

The monster looked upon this insignificant human that stoof in its way, and it spoke.

I KNOW YOU, it said.

Bastante was amazed to hear that there was still a trace of his old friend inside that voice. And though the monster's voice sounded like a hundred voices speaking together, in tones that were as deep as epochs of cosmic time, and though it seemed like these voices that were deeper than the Universe had been filtered through a strange distortion that made them sound like they were echoing from an adjoining corridor, and that corridor was somewhere in an impenetrable maze; and that maze was lost in some remote alternate dimension of space and time. Still, buried beneath all of that was still the voice of old Beosmell.

"We were friends, once," Bastante replied, "before the war."

With that he cast his eyes around the area, careful to disguise his desperation as much as he could. It can't have gone far, he thought. If I can't find it I might as well just kill myself now.

Finally he saw it, lying in the mud where it had fell when Bastante and his companion had been hit. Barely taking his eyes off the monster, Bastante retrieved his weapon from the churned up ground.
To the monster's vision the object the little human now bore seemed to glisten and coruscate black, and it seemed the human that bore it now cast a shadow, even in this fog ridden environment.

THAT'S A BIG GUN, it observed.

"It is," Bastante agreed. He held it up for inspection, feeling its power flow through him as he did so. "The Round Tree Kingdom has its super weapon," he told the creature, "and this is ours."

He checked the WiFi connection again. He was good to go.

"Meet the Unnatural Born Creature Slayer", Bastante declared. With a flourish he pointed the gun at the beast. "It kills monsters," he said meaningfully.

The towering arthropod did not respond for a long moment. It stood, silent and unmoving before its challenger; great gouts of black smoke billowed from its nostrils and rose to paint the featureless sky a darker grey. When it did speak, its weird, cavernous, echoing multi-stranded voice was instilled with a tone of finality.

IT WON'T WORK.

Bastante was undeterred. "I think it will," he countered, his defiance enlivened him with a furious will to believe his own words, "in fact", and at this point his faith became a rapture, "I'm willing to bet my life on it."

The monster lifted one of its great jointed limbs to take a small step towards its diminutive opponent. when the limb descended and shook the Earth, it took all of Bastante's tenacity to somehow drop to his knees but retain his balance, and keep his super weapon pointed at its target. The monster spoke again, and this time its fathomless, other worldy, pan dimensional utterance was instilled with a casual shrug.

SUITE YOURSELF.

Bastante peered at the monster through the scope shaped like a sea serpent - though it was superfluous at this range - and reflected that it turned out his old friend turned out not to have eyes after all; at least not in the conventional sense. And that did make things easier now they had arrived at the ultimate moment. At the moment of truth. The creature lifted its leg to take another step forward. Bastante's finger tightened on the trigger. "You shouldn't have come back, Beosmell," he called out.

The monster froze, and withdrew its leg. Bastante hesitated.

NOT BEOSMELL, the beast declared, NOT ANY MORE.

Bastante grimaced. "Well... " he conceded awkwardly, "maybe you aren't. But once - before whatever they did to you happened to you - once you were a man, and you went by a man's name -"

I DIDN'T MEAN IT LIKE THAT, the monster corrected him, I STILL HAVE A MAN'S NAME, IT'S JUST THAT NAME ISN'T BEOSMELL. I HAD IT CHANGED BY DEED POLL.

Bastante tightened his finger on the trigger and prepared to fire. The moment was here at last. The moment of tru-

He loosened his grip. It was no good, he had to ask. "So..." he found himself saying, "what are you called now then?"

BEOWULF, said Beowulf, BEOWULF'S MY NAME NOWADAYS.

"Beowulf," Bastante repeated, blinking.

THAT'S RIGHT, BEOWULF, agreed the monster. BEOSMELL REALBAD WAS AN EMBARRASSING NAME, it vociferated disparagingly, BUT BEOWULF REALBAD SOUNDS GANGSTA.

"... Oh," was all Bastante could say in reply. His thoughts, however, were not so circumspect.

'Beowulf Realbad really is a pretty bad ass name', a voice in his head reasoned, 'nothing wrong in admitting that. When you've got a point you've got a point-'

He shook his head vigorously. What am I thinking??!!

ACTUALLY, the monster began. Then it fell quiet.

Bastante concentrated on the sounds of battle all around them. He wanted to nourish the fury that demanded a final reckoning, here and now. After all, were they not in the final battle? Was this not the last siege? He looked down at his gun, upon which all their hopes of survival rested, lying heavy in his grasp. Actually what? He thought wildly.

THAT'S INTERESTING, the monster continued.

"What is?" Bastante asked, responding before the advice of all his instincts got a say in the matter.

CALL ME BEOSMELL, monster advised him.

"I... what?" spluttered Bastante. He looked round with an expression like a hunted animal. When were they going to get back to the moment of truth?

GO ON, the monster urged, SAY 'HELLO BEOSMELL'.

The soldier of Haribo held his forehead in his hand, trying and failing to still the torment in his thoughts. Perhaps the moment of truth would come after this bit? "'Hello Beosmell'," Bastante recited flatly.

AH! exclaimed the giant arthropod. It paused again, perhaps for effect, and then said I COULD SUE YOU FOR THAT.

"You could... sue me?" Bastante asked.

What am I doing? he reproached himself. He thought ferociously of the city, under bombardment. The fear of the people. Their suffering.

He thought of his family. He thought of Mary...

Was she alive? Was she safe?

They had to end this. They had to end this now.

YES, the monster was saying, I CAN SUE YOU IF YOU INSULT ME OR NAME ME INCORRECTLY. IT'S ONE OF THE CONDITIONS OF THE DEED POLL. FUNNY THAT.

Bastante brandished the Unnatural Born Creature Slayer and roared in frustration. "Shut up and fight you big ugly bastard!" he yelled hysterically. "One of us is going to die!"

Instantly the beast reared up on it's joined legs and pointed the entirety of its mammoth hulk towards the minuscule figure of the soldier from Haribo. DO YOUR WORST! it challenged him.

Bastante pressed the trigger.

**

So this was what it felt like. Not to experience the storm; not to witness its destruction - but to be the storm itself, and to personify its destruction.

Bastante's foe was enveloped in a tsunami of white hot, destructive energy as the all the power of Haribo was channeled through Bastante. And for a moment it was as if all the electricity of the Earth was channeled through the deadly super weapon that was brought to murderous life with a touch of a trigger. And suddenly it was the monster that was insignificant target, suddenly it was the monster that was the victim of a storm that came down upon it like a sledgehammer crashing down upon a nat. Bastante felt power surge through him, power from the heart, from the soul of his city, his home. And for one dizzying instant he was ascendant; he was transmogrified; he was the alpha and the omega; he was the alternating and the direct current; he was the be all and end all.

Through the triumph, through the intoxication, Bastante dimly wondered if this was how the Dark God Zogothloth must have felt when, in time immemorial, He arose in triumph from the Netherworld.

Then the Creature Slayer spluttered and died, and the light faded away, and the thunder was reduced to a murmur. The monotonous sounds of the bombardment and its answering defensive fire reasserted themselves.

And standing before Bastante - towering above him, wreathed in smoke and clouds, but unharmed - the monster looked down imperiously.

THAT TICKLED, it said.

And Bastante knew all was lost.

A crushing feeling of utter defeat quickly gave way to overwhelming anger, as the hapless lieutenant commander vented his morbid frustration on his not so super weapon that had flattered to deceive.

"This is so bloody typical!" he opined as he sank to his knees, "I said we were fucked!"

He saw the devastation around him. And what previously had spurred him on to frantic action now showed him how inevitable his defeat was, and always had been. "I rode out here; I got people and animals killed, and for what?" He raised the spent weapon over his head awkwardly. "For you you useless piece of ill made crap!" with that he attempted to hurl the Creature Slayer away, but it was too unwieldy and instead he lost his balance, fell forwards and ended up on lying in his face on the mud.

Pathetically, pointlessly, Bastante staggered to his feet, turned and ran for his life. As he ran, he could feel its invisible eyes on him.

Would it bother giving chase, he wondered, or would it dissolve him with a jet of magma - literally burning him in hell.

It did not take long for him to get his answer, as the monster stamped its one of its huge forelimbs, causing the ground to disappear from under him, and Bastante again fell on his face. But this time he lay still.

Then creature was directly above him, and it raised its jointed limb to hover over the prostrate soldier from Haribo; a limb coated in chitin as hard as steel that culminated in a blunt, rounded point, like a gigantic pile-driver.

ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY? asked the monster.

Bastante did not reply.

WELL I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I TAKE NO PLEASURE IN THIS, Beowulf pointed out.

"Just do it," Bastante said quietly.

He shut his eyes, and then he screwed them up tightly, and an image of Mary skipped through his consciousness. "Haribo, Haribo", Bastante whispered, "the sweetest place..."

Time stood still.

Through the self induced darkness, Bastante's life played itself out. Not much overall, but it was all there was.

In the distance he heard sounds.

More gunfire?

No, it was something else...

He concentrated hard, to try and identify what he could hear, and tried not to think of anything else.
Slowly, the sounds clarified.

It was the sound of people...

Of people cheering?

It crossed his mind that it had happened; that he was already dead. Then he heard a man's voice, calling. Was he calling to them?

"The war's over!" cried the voice, "A peace deal has been brokered! You can stop fighting!"

WELL, said Beowulf. The monster's limb crashed down to the Earth, leaving Bastante unharmed. THAT'S HANDY.

Bastante opened his eyes, and just lay there for moment, listening to the sounds of joy. He realised Beowulf was probably doing the same thing. It had been a long time since those sounds had been heard in anyone's life.

Slowly, Bastante climbed to his feet. He looked around the erstwhile battlefield, where soldiers danced, threw their arms up in the air, played football or prayed for their fallen comrades. The city gates had already been opened, and former enemies greeted each other and embraced.

"What were we fighting for, remind me?" Bastante requested.

I CAN'T REMEMBER SPECIFICALLY, Beowulf answered, THOUGH I DO REMEMBER BECOMING VERY ANGRY ABOUT SOMETHING I WAS TOLD, WHICH WAS ALL THE FAULT OF HARIBO; SO THEY SAID.

"Hmm," Bastante murmured. He tried to remember what it was that had made him offer up his life minutes earlier. He was sure it would come back to him.

SO, WHAT WILL YOU DO NOW? asked Beowulf.

"Me? I'll go home," said Bastante, "to Mary. How about you, Beosme - Beowulf? What are your plans? Are you still with Rose?"

I WAS, Beowulf answered sadly, BUT SHE'S GONE OFF ME A BIT LATELY.

"Ah," Bastante acknowledged the monster awkwardly, "sorry about that." He thought for a moment, then asked, "Say, you're not stuck as a monster are you? I mean, can you change back to human if you want to?"

I'M TOLD THERE IS A WAY, Beowulf replied with a hesitant tone, BUT IT'S NOT ONE I'M KEEN TO TRY.

"Oh." Bastante decided not to inquire further into whatever 'way' the transformed subject of Round Tree was referring to, and instead offered his farewells. "Well, good luck Beowulf. I hope things work out."

ALL THE BEST LANCE, Beowulf replied, I'M GLAD I DIDN'T HAVE TO KILL YOU.
"That makes two of us."

The soldiers parted company, one to return to home and family, the other to a less certain fate.

**

It was night, and the monster stood alone in the wastelands, straddling a river that wended its way aimlessly across the empty hills and valleys. At its feet was a tiny particle, an object of almost microscopic size compared to the gigantic arthropod. But this object spoke to the creature. It spoke with cheerful tones.

"Tired of being an indestructible monster now are we sir? Is that why you've come through to the new amalgamated Haribo and Round Tree Super Weapon Helpline?" the voice through the telephone asked brightly.

WELL, answered Beowulf wearily, THERE DOESN'T SEEM TO BE MUCH POINT IN BEING ONE, NOW THE WAR'S OVER BRIAN.

"No?" mused the helpline assistant. "Well, I suppose you could go rampaging through a city," he suggested, "and catch your reflection in the windows of a skyscraper which would send you into an even more incandescent rage," he chuckled, "Just my little joke Beowulf. You don't mind if I call you Beowulf do you?

"Now, before we get you back to being an everyday chap I'm going to need your TEELIN."

 MY... TEELIN? said Beowulf uncertainly.

"Yes TEELIN, that stands for 'Transmuted Life form Identity Number'", explained Brian, "now, the way to locate that is by looking at the underside of your hind limb which is reverse articulated."

REVERSE ARTICULATED! exclaimed the Round Tree super weapon in mild panic.

"Yeah," confirmed Brian with a chuckle, "that means you can bend your leg backwards mate, how cool is that!"

ER...

"So," Brian summarised, "all you need to do now, is find a way of twisting your torso round 180 degrees, then you bend your leg backwards and duck down, have a look, and there's your TEELIN reference. Simples!"

A great pall of black smoke from Beowulf's nostrils as he considered his predicament.

SHIT.



Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Le Voyageur



The first glimmer of awareness caused him to flex and wriggle his fingers. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and for a moment he thought his world had turned blue. He realised he was lying on his back, looking up at the sky. Following on from this realization, the next challenge he faced would be to sit up - and that would not be straightforward - he was wearing a spacesuit. When the size of this challenge sank in he was not inclined to do anything for a while, and he lay on his back looking upwards, with a feeling that he was floating through the depths of an endless cerulean Universe. A feeling of peacefulness descended. Eventually, however, this feeling faded away, and was replaced by the urge to survive, and to move on, and to discover. He had always been this way.

And so he began to rock backwards and forwards. As he did this he began to pick up momentum until he rocked himself to his feet. Following this he stumbled and swayed a couple of times as he almost over compensated and threatened to send himself back to square one. But eventually he felt his feet lodge themselves on the surface of whatever country he now stood upon, and he was able to take in his surroundings for the first time.

He stood upon a sandy landscape that stretched for miles around, and rippled like the ocean on a calm day, and was pockmarked with stones and boulders. A light breeze pushed against the fabric of his spacesuit, and on the horizon he could make out the shapes of hills and mountains that could not be discerned with real clarity, but instead appeared but as shadows; thus giving the impression that they were almost not really there, and that however much one tried to approach them these ephemeral peaks would never get any nearer.

But there was a feature of this landscape that appeared as very real. Without thinking he took a step towards it; and everything changed.

The deep blue sky disappeared as day turned to dusk; and he saw that above him the unsleeping stars and a crescent Moon shone forth. The stars and the moon highlighted two huge structures that he now looked towards, and the sudden change in the state of the world made them stand out even more starkly now against their impalpable background. It was difficult to make out whether he was looking at a pair of huge sculptures or two towers that had been worn away and shaped by the wind and erosion of centuries upon centuries, until they looked like the figures of people.

He walked towards them, and he found that the motion of his gait was smooth, swift and effortless; and it felt strangely like he was skating across the rippling sand towards the buildings or statues that grew in stature and size, and in doing so became more ominous as the moments passed. He quickly discovered that he did not have to think about the strange nature of his motion, but instead could give his attention to the structures that he approached, and the sounds that began to reach his ears.

If one were to take it that they were sculptures of people, then the people that these statues had been modeled upon had been bowed by troubles or toils, or the deep thoughts that they pondered, or perhaps a combination of all three. The figure on the left was perhaps the shorter of the two, and its figure was pockmarked with oblong openings that may have served as huge portals or windows in a castle. The figure on the right was slimmer, and its back was smoothly curved, and next to it was situated a ruined archway. Both figures cast long shadows, and both of them looked downwards - perhaps at the same spot - and vegetation grew about them and from them, and about their heads birds were flying.

At the same time he took in these details he could hear the wind blowing, though it sounded stronger than it felt to his encapsulated body. And voices could also be heard, that echoed in his consciousness. He could not quite make out the words that were spoken, but he had an impression that they had to be very profound.

He saw two people - real people - up ahead.

There was a man standing next to small boy who he took to be the man's son. With one hand the man held the boy's hand, with the other he waved and gestured towards the structures that drew ever closer. The man's lips were moving and, as he passed them, he wondered whether what the man was saying formed part of the echoing dialogue that took place in his ears and in his mind. It was difficult to tell. The traveler moved on.

Now he was beneath the structures themselves. Despite the limitations placed upon his movement by the spacesuit, he managed to briefly look upwards. From this position the faces of the figures looking down upon him were like oval voids of opaque darkness in the twilight, and were framed by the constellations that twinkled in the firmament.

He heard a ringing sound.

The sound was coming from the tower to his right, as he approached the two sculptures. He noticed both towers had doorways, and he moved towards the doorway from which the sound emanated. The ringing he heard was truncated and regular, and it struck him as both anachronistic - because it was so out of place in this strange world - and old fashioned, because it was the sound of a technology that was long outdated.

He entered the structure and saw that it was a bare, vaguely rounded enclosure featuring a spiral staircase that climbed the walls and disappeared into the darkness above. The only other feature inside the structure was a desk; and upon this desk there sat a ringing, antique telephone. Except it was not quite a telephone: because instead of a receiver, it had a lobster.

He looked at it, ringing, and resisted the urge to pick up the lobster and position the crustacean over his ear.

Who would do this? He wondered to himself; who would replace the receiver of a telephone with a lobster?

But there was someone. Yes, he realised - there was a man who would do such a thing ...

And then he had passed through the building, or sculpture, and out the other side; past ancient stone pillars steeped in greenery, and on to the wide expanse beyond.

The ringing faded, and a new sound reached him - it was the sound of singing. The voice he heard was pure, almost angelic, and he shivered inside his spacesuit when he considered what this might imply.

In the distance, he saw what looked like a young woman dancing in the twilight, and he realised it was she whose voice he could hear.

One part of him wanted to approach the woman and speak to her. But he did not, because the way she moved disturbed him, as did the sound of her voice, and her ephemeral substance which was like the hills and mountains behind her. It was with relief that he spotted another object out into the plains, and he made for that instead.

As he drew nearer to it, he saw this new object was a stripey red, purple and white deckchair for the seaside that faced away from the two huge structures shaped like people. He also saw it was occupied. When he reached the chair he found himself looking down at a middle-aged man who wore a loose fitting suit, and brandished a cane that he held upright on the sandy ground. He had black hair that was slicked back, but by far his most distinctive feature was his moustache, that stretched out on either side of his nose and ended in long, tapered points.

"Senor Dali," he whispered in disbelief.
Dali looked up and smiled. "Exactement!" he exclaimed. "And you are?"
"A traveler," Said the traveler.
"Ah, good!" Dali boomed with an approving nod. He did not seem to require any further explanation.
"This appears to be your world," the traveler observed.
"Yes!" agreed Dali, "Amazing is not it?"
"It certainly is," Said the traveler, "absolutely incredible, though I have no idea how I got here."
"Where were you before you got here?" Dali asked.
This question made the traveler stagger and raise his hand to his helmet, as the question from the surrealist triggered a flood of memories that threatened to saturate his mind. "I was traveling in space ..." he managed to say.
"You're a spaceman!" Dali exclaimed in wonder.
"I passed beyond the limits of the solar system;" the astronaut recalled, "the first human being to do so. But not long after I left the Heliopause behind my instruments picked up signals from a black hole. It had never been discovered, and by the time I knew it was there it was already too late. I remember being stretched and crushed and agony beyond anything I could imagine. I thought the end had come. And then I found myself here. "
He looked around the world of the man that sat in the deck chair before him. "It's feels so strange to recall where I was before now I'm here ..."
"The Persistence of Memory," Dali remarked.
"Ha! Yes," the traveler agreed with rueful nod.
They fell into a comfortable silence, and listened to the voices that whispered upon the wind.
"So," Dali said eventually, "this is your purgatory, do you think?"
"I guess it could be," mused the traveler, "Either that or they found a way to get me out of there, and this is some kind of coma dream."
"Or perhaps you fell into the black hole," offered Dali, "And while we speak your body is hovering at the event horizon of a singularity as the laws of physics and nature break down around you. And there you will stay; trapped in the moment of transition between life and death, until the end of time."
"I do not think I like the sound of that," said the astronaut unhappily.
"Gah!" Dali exclaimed with a careless wave, "You are an explorer - embrace it!"
"That's easier said than do -" the traveler began.
Without warning the ground shook; and Salvador Dali and clapped his hands with joy. "¡Los elefantes bonitos!" he called out, "My beautiful pachyderms!"

From out of nowhere a herd of huge creatures had appeared right before the two observers: a parade of gigantic elephants with impossibly long and spindly legs above which pale, floating obelisks stretched into the starlit sky. The multi-jointed limbs of the impossible animals lifted and dropped, propelling their great loads forward and causing mini-earthquakes when they crashed back to earth.

The traveler would have marveled and expressed joy at the appearance of another of Dali's creations that suddenly filled the expansive plain they looked out into, were it not for the fact that one of the elephants loomed above them, and he realised they were directly in its path.

"Shouldn't... er, shouldn't..." the astronaut stammered, trying to suppress the sudden panic that assailed him, "Shouldn't we think about getting out of the way?"
"Gah!" Dali exclaimed again dismissively above the din of the herd, "We are perfectly safe. They will not harm us!"
"They- they won't?" asked the traveler uncertainly.
"Actually I don't know," Dali chortled, "I sincerely hope not!" With that he burst out laughing, and then the monstrous pachyderm was upon them.
As they saw its massive foot descend towards them like an Imperial Walker, the astronaut shut his eyes tightly and mumbled to himself, "I wish I'd been an IT consultant ..."
And then his voice was drowned out by a series of fresh earthquakes, and the earsplitting trumpeting of the creatures as they communicated with one another.

For a few seconds his world was filled with darkness and noise and fear as his eyes remained shut tight, and he again waited for his end to come, and he whispered his invocations for a more mundane career.

It took a further few seconds to register that the sounds had faded somewhat.

The astronaut opened an eye. Then he opened the other. He turned to see the elephant that had walked over them already receding, its great spindly legs carrying the creature and its towering, levitating obelisk away from them in an ungainly but swift gait.

"See, what did I tell you?" laughed the surrealist. "That's a relief!"
"Well ..." Said the traveler, collecting himself, "I think I might go and see what's inside your other tower over there."
Dali approved of this idea. "The Archaeological Reminiscence? Yes, you should look! Go! Go and explore!"
The traveler nodded. "I will take my leave of you then," he said, "It was great to meet you, Senor Dali."
"Igualmente," replied the master fondly, "Fare thee well, spaceman."
"Thank you," said the traveler.

He turned back and made his way towards the human like structures that he now knew to be huge recreations of one of Dali's most famous artworks, his motion as he traveled still smooth and curiously dreamlike. He headed towards the slightly shorter and more "chunky" of the two figures. Inside the other structure he had found the lobster telephone. What would be in this one?

His answer came initially in the form of the sound of music. This was not part of the curious background noise he had encountered in this world, and it was not like the hypnotic singing of the dancing woman that had so haunted him. He realised as he drew close that this was another unexpected anachronism. It was psychedelic rock and roll!

The traveler entered the second structure, and again found himself in a roughly circular chamber that enclosed the the cavernous interior. Upon his entry the volume of the music increased: harmonizing electric guitars with sitars over which a Lennon-like voice was warbling imprecations of love and peace. He saw a translucent man whose entire being was a kaleidoscope of colours like a rainbow. The translucent man was dressed like a 1960s dropout, sitting cross legged and rotating slowly in midair. When the man saw the traveler his face lit up. "Hey dude," he called out, "are you an astronaut?"
"I am," replied the astronaut.
"That's totally fab!" exclaimed the hippy with glee, "How did you get here?"
"Fell into a black hole," Said the astronaut.
The hippy hooted and slapped his thigh. "That's the freakiest thing I've ever heard!"
"How about you? How did you get here?" the traveler asked.
"By a not so dangerous route," laughed the hippy "We were meditating with our guru in Nepal, ya know, and I took something to help me open my mind out a bit? One minute I'm sitting on a mountainside surrounded by yaks, and the next thing I know I'm here! It just blows my mind, man!
"But still," the hippy concluded wistfully, "I wish I'd been an astronaut ..."
"We both ended up in the same place," the astronaut pointed out.
"Hey yeah, that's true!" the hippy acknowledged joyfully, "Just think, the drugs do work after all!"
"They certainly do."
The traveler leaned back so he could view the winding staircase that climbed up to the structure. "Well," he announced vaguely, "I guess I'll walk up there and take a look at the sky ..."
"Great idea!" the hippy enthused, "Say hello to Lucy for me!"
"I will."

He began to ascend the stairs, and as he did so, the psychedelic sounds that accompanied his encounter with the sixties dropout faded, and the unworldy sounds of Dali's dreams reasserted themselves. As he climbed higher he found he could look upwards, seemingly unhampered by his spacesuit, and as the summit of the structure grew smoothly and inexorably closer, he felt like a phoenix, rising from the ashes; or like Lazarous.

Finally he stood on a platform that was formed from the shoulder of the giant. Above him the sky brightened and dimmed, and the moon and stars rose and set in the space of a few minutes. Across the wide open spaces of the plane below him he could see the long shadows cast by Millet's Angelus that mingled with the shadows of Dali's elephants, which marched to their mysterious destination and trumpeted to each other. And the voice of Dali himself whispered in the ear of the astronaut with words that veered in and out of definition. "Live, in one dream ..."

He found himself thinking of his family, and feelings of warmth and love overwhelmed him.

And then he heard another, faint voice, so distant it could have traveled across the Universe. It was filled with static and interference, and it broke through into his perception as if leaking through a hole in reality.

Ground control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom ...

And he closed his eyes. "Yes, I can hear you, Ground Control," he whispered in reply, "And I hope you will hear me, in times to come". He smiled faintly, "if memory persists ...

"This is Major Tom, signing out."




Dedicated to Dali and Bowie, all the dream weavers that inspired them, and all those they will inspire.

And for Don

"Dreams of Dali 360o": https://youtu.be/F1eLeIocAcU

Sunday, 18 September 2016

I Always Feel Like


I raised my eyes to the sky, which was grey and forbidding. And yet, as I lowered them again, I could still see for many miles. For my vantage point was the courtyard of a temple that sat atop a mountain. In the distance I could hear the ominous clanging of a bell; a sound that vibrated through the mountain and thus vibrated through me. The sound, to my senses, felt as far away as the furthest ocean, but deeper than the roots of the lofty peaks that surrounded me.
                In front of me there stood a tall priest who wore elaborate, ceremonial robes. His bald head reflected the morbid skies, and in his hand he held a mighty staff. “Ask your question,” he commanded me. “Ask of me the thing that you have travelled so far to discover.”
                I inhaled slowly, and asked the question. “Who Watches the Watchers?”
                In reply, the priest swung his staff around and pointed towards another temple that also sat atop a mountain far away. “They do!” he declared, “It is they who indeed Watch the Watchers!”
                “And who Watches them?” I demanded to know.
                “They do!” the priest answered me. As he spoke there was another clap of thunder, and he moved his staff to point at another Temple that was adjacent to the first. “They are
Watchers who watch the Watchers Watching the Watchers!
                “But perhaps you wish to see more?” he asked me, “Then look at them!” he commanded, and a chime boomed out, making my teeth chatter. He pointed at another temple far away which rested upon another mountain top.  “At that place live the Watchers who observe the Watchers who watch the Watchers Watching the Watchers!
                “But there is still more!” the priest proclaimed, and pointed to yet another temple on yet another distant mountain top, as the wind howled like a banshee with a megaphone. “For living in this place we will find the Watchers who scrutinize the Watchers observing the Watchers who watch the Watchers Watching the Watchers!
                “And there is us,” the Priest concluded, “we who live here, for we are the Watchers who have our eyes upon the Watchers scrutinizing the Watchers who observe the Watchers Watching the Watchers that watch the Watchers!”
                And now, finally, I had come to the moment when I would ask my main question. And so I drew myself up as best I could and offered a challenge to the tall Holy Man who barred my path. “And who watches you?” I said, my voice bordering on accusation.
                There was a silence then. The weather and the gong grew still. It was a silence that I felt in my very soul; it was a silence that muted angels and demons, held the planets in their place and halted the movements of the Galaxies.
And then the priest pointed his staff at a new location.
                “They do!” he revealed. And at his proclamation the Universe came to life again, the gong gonged and the lightening thundered. He pointed out another temple now, much nearer, the existence and sight of which I had hitherto somehow not been aware. “For it is they,” he continued, “who Witness the Watchers that have their eyes upon the Watchers scrutinizing the Watchers who observe the Watchers Watching the Watchers that watch the Watchers!”
                The angels sang now, and the demons laughed. Worlds span upon their axis, and the forces of nature compelled the atoms of reality to obey. And the priest took a step towards me, his expression crafty. “Now I expect you wish to know…” he gestured towards the temple that was last revealed to me, “who watches them?”
                The gong gonged, the thunder rolled, and a fork of lightening split the heavens as though God wished to illuminate this moment and witness it for Himself.
                I scratched my chin and considered for a minute. “Nah, I think I’ll leave it there,” I decided.




Monday, 9 May 2016

The Silent Sentinels



They stood there in silence for an endless age
Their pact their compulsion, their promise a cage
To stand in attendance, a vigil sublime
Steadfast and unswerving ‘till the end of time

Armour was their raiment, their weapon a sword
On their lips was offered a silent prayer to the lord
Their charge was a secret to protect at all cost
And failure would mean all they held dear would be lost

And so they stood like two statues of stone
No promise of rest, no place for a home
Loyal and steadfast and quiet as the grave
No trifle would distract these Sentinels brave

Then one day it happened, the merrymakers came
Boisterous and happy, their joy without shame
The silence was shattered, but they little cared
When saw them the Sentinels, they stopped dead and stared

They saw two dark figures which stood straight and tall
Next to whom a giant would seem small
Most would have been cowed by these gladiators of old
But not the head merrymaker he shouted, bold

“What’s this here friends? Here’s some new sport
What about that quiet one, he looks a sort!
What about the other one, all silent and glum
Let’s stay here a while, and have us some fun!”

And so it began, distraction was the game
Would the Sentinels flinch or would they stay the same?
The merrymakers searched for some kind of token
That would render the Sentinels’ vigilance broken

Look!  One yells out challenges and invokes his gods!
Look!  One’s mouthing insults – he’s shouting the odds!
Look!  One of them’s laughing to see such a farce!
Look!  One’s dropped his trousers – he’s waving his arse!

The party it threatened to last for all week
Insults and gestures and things thrown in cheek
Yet through all the chaos, the deafening noise
These mighty Sentinels not once lost their poise

Silent as the void, immovable as granite
No force that had ever been born on this planet
Could test the resolve of these warriors true
And soon the merrymakers ran out of mischief to do

But the leader of this party, whose name was Stan
Had altogether a much darker plan
Quietly and deftly, away from the action
He drew his dread weapon, the Sword of Distraction

This weapon was forged in the fires of Hell
Upon it was bestowed the most evil spell
‘Twas there it was cursed as a Sentinel’s bane
That would bring them down screaming and dying in pain

Stealing in quietly he brandished the sword
Uttering oaths to his Satanic Lord
Stan slashed at the guardians, drawing their blood
Aiming to finally finish them for good


And as the Sentinels staggered and collapsed
Before any significant time had elapsed
They heard a sound that would haunt them in the hereafter
The sound of demonic triumphant laughter

Trapped here when still the world was young
Guarded by both of the Sentinels as one
A demon whom Hell called the foulest of all
Was free to bring about humanity’s fall

Stan, who thought he could bargain with the beast
Stared in surprise, the first life to be ceased
The monster swallowed this foolish man whole
Then greedily feasted on his mortal soul

And then the merrymakers’ laughter, like their dreams
Was forgotten in the wake of their agonised screams
Fighting, fleeing, pleading, all no good
And the ground disappeared, awash with their blood

Soon all the land was an orgy of death
As millions lay gutted and drawing their last breath
From the entrails of children it constructed a nest
Its helm was from bone with a skull as its crest

The beast fed on human life to sate its foul hunger
The more people died, the more it grew stronger
‘Till the last human’s flesh was shredded and unfurled
And the demon prepared to devour the world

Yet even as the monster opened its huge jaws
Even as Earth’s future seemed a hopeless cause
The Planet found hope in its hour of strife
For the Sentinels still clung to a slim spark of life

The Sentinels had not perished as Stan had supposed
While they lived, the enemy of life they opposed
And uttering their silent prayer to the Lord
They reached for their scabbards and each drew a sword

The demon had grown to a monstrous size
Feeding not only on life, but on lies
Two weapons could stop it, forged in the world’s youth
The Sentinel’s weapons, the great Swords of Truth

The demon ceased feeding, for something did rankle
A pain and a coldness spreading from its ankle
‘Twas there that the Truth Swords did pierce its skin
And the demon stopped growing, so the shrinking could begin

And then something truly amazing occurred
Voices that in history had never been heard
Rang out to invoke on the demon a curse
The demon’s voice had been fearful, but the Sentinels’ were worse

“Back, demon!  Back to your cold, empty cage!
An end to your mission of evil and rage!
Back to the prison from whence you were sprung!
To stay ‘till the end of the Universe is come!”

With a great howl of anger, then a scream of despair
The demon diminished in a cold rush of air
To be sucked back into its terrible cage
To stay till the cosmos would die of old age

And so for the Earth, the ordeal was over
Its animals had life; its forests were in clover
But no human now lived, to stand, rise or fall
The folly of one man had ended them all

On a world now bereft of man, woman and nation
Stand two Silent Sentinels, guarding all of creation
Advice to passing beings, by all means look at them
But if you value existence don’t go and distract them!



Friday, 15 April 2016

Here's Where the Story Ends



The apartment was just as I remembered it. An expansive living room that looked out upon a lush green landscape. A desirable living space, and yet empty and neglected, as if its owner was a bachelor who was wrapped up in other things, aside from domestic bliss. But the cat was there, and she looked at me impatiently; affectionate and yet exasperated - maybe because of something I had or hadn't done? Perhaps she had a point. I still missed her.

There was a knock at the door. "Wait there," I told the cat and went to answer.

At the door there stood a tall man in a dark suit. He wore sunglasses and an expression of severity on his craggy features. "May I come in?" he asked me.

"I don't know," I replied nervously, "are you one of the Men in Black?"

"No. But you would, I'm sorry to say, consider me to be something worse," he said, "I am in fact from the Ministry of Creativity."

"The Ministry of what?!"

"Creativity," The Man repeated patiently, "May I come in?" he asked me again. Though still in a state of confusion I stepped back and opened the door wider; The Man in the black suit swept in carrying a brief case.

We took a seat at a large round, glass table in the middle of my living room. It was the kind of table I would have liked to have in my living room but never did. As I sat down, I saw that an object was lying on the table in front of me: it was a wristband that was made from brown, smooth, strung together beads. I remembered it had been given to me as a parting gift at a rock festival, but I had lost it long ago. I picked it up and turned it over in my hand, and something occurred to me: "I'm dreaming."

"Yes you are", confirmed The Man from the ministry as he took the opposite seat to my own, "this is where we make our client calls. In dreams."

"And what is the purpose of this call?" I asked him.

In response The Man put the brief case that he had been carrying on the table in front of me.  The two catches that served as the release mechanism sprang open, and from the case he passed me a document. "Here you are," he told me, "this is the next story that you are going to write."

"Oh right," I said as he handed me the article, "and why is it being delivered to me like this? I can't remember having any calls from the Ministry of Creativity before."

The agent regarded me expressionlessly through his dark glasses. "That's because this story will be the last story that you will ever write. There will be no more. Your creative licence has expired."

I gazed back at him blankly. "My creative licence? Has expired?!" I said in confusion.

The Man took this opportunity to explain. "Every living being is born with a certain consignment of creativity. You may use this creativity in different ways: writing stories, formulating theories, painting pictures, designing machines and so forth. But when its gone its gone I'm afraid. Also, in these times of austerity, we've had to make cuts to existing consignments. Therefore the remaining creativity in your consignment has been reallocated to a more high achieving recipient."

I looked at the file in front of me, feeling an ache within as I listened to these words, as if something was being torn from my soul. "No more stories?" I asked.

"I'm afraid not."

"What about poems?"

"No, none of those either. Or lyrics. Or music. Or jokes."

I scratched my head, trying to take in the enormity of what he was saying. "no more drawings?"

He had to think about this one for a moment. "Doodles should be OK," he decided, "but you'll have to stick to the tried and tested ones. Like the cubes and the aeroplanes you like to draw."

"What about random little tunes popping up inside my head?" I asked

"Sorry."

"And what about problem solving?"

"You'll have to get advice," answered The Man from the ministry, "That shouldn't trouble you too much - you have to get advice on plenty of stuff from day to day as it is. Now you'll just have to do it a bit more."

I sat there for a bit longer, still stunned and still struggling to comprehend. An empty life was stretching out in front of me. "Are you alright?" The Man from the ministry asked in a perfunctory tone.

"I... " it seemed difficult to articulate myself in this harsh unreality, in this dream that was not a dream. "But what about all the stories I will never write?" I managed to ask, "What if someone saw them and was inspired? Even one person? How... how do you know?..."

"The answer is we don't," the government representative admitted, "I mean, what if we make cuts to healthcare and someone dies because of it? We might have cut healthcare to fund the building of weapons, and then many people would die. That is the responsibility of government. And life is cruel."

I nodded mechanically, feeling crushed and resigned, and considered the document that had been presented to me. "Is it a good story?" I asked.

At this the The Man's expression softened somewhat. "I believe you will be pleased with the idea when writing it," he told me, "but in the future such things will be not be easy to judge, as you will find the story difficult to revisit; after all, it is your last one."

I nodded and looked down at the document again. "Here's where the story ends..." I mused.

"Hmm," said The Man, "that's a reference to a song isn't it? Very appropriate. That's what you should call it. You like doing that kind of thing."

I shrugged, but as I looked the words "Here's Where the Story Ends" formed on the cover of the document.

"Well, that's settled then," said The Man from the Ministry, "And now I must leave." He stood up.

I looked up at him, one last question lingering in my mind. "Is there a Ministry of Silly Walks?"

The only reply I got was an echoing beat, as of approaching thunder. The drumbeat became louder and louder, until it filled my mind, and I found myself becoming conscious. I opened my eyes and saw that I was surrounded by darkness. Beyond the windows of my room a car was driving down the street, its sound system booming out a rhythm so loud that any music that may have accompanied it was obscured. The beat became yet louder before eventually beginning to retreat, its thunderous emanations further distorted by the Doppler effect. I rose from my bed, crossing the room to the window.

I had been dreaming, but whatever I had experienced in my unconscious mind was now fading like the last rays of an Autumn sunset. But the picture of my cat by the window reminded me that she'd been there. I was glad of this, however I got the impression my nocturnal experience had not been a happy one.

Happiness, I reflected: in an existence of pain, grief and monotony, what was it but a string of moments scattered haphazardly across a lifetime?

Just imagine, I speculated further, if there was a drug that could collect together those moments and give you one intense high...

Now that's a good idea for a story...