Short Story: Celebrity Sociopath

The prime minister, commonly known as Ethelred the Inept, was fiddling with his calendar. The date showed 15.02.2301, which was correct, but he wanted it shown as a series of pictures; he hoped that would cheer him up on what was turning out to be another crappy Thursday.

He had been chosen to run the country as damage limitation. A global financial crisis had been arranged to properly distribute more money to the very rich and as always, the result was a grumbling and dissatisfied public. In order to provide distraction and a clear focus for anger that would lead away from the actual cause of it, a buffoon had been promoted well beyond his abilities to head the country. And besides, no one intelligent wanted to do it. Ethelred’s job was to be incompetent in a flamboyant and headline grabbing manner, something he had achieved with aplomb. However now the situation had spiralled out of control, hatred towards Ethelred had resulted in strikes and explosions, so urgent meetings had been held among his advisers to come up with an alternative plan. Ethelred was not invited to these meetings, he didn’t know of their existence and only got to hear the final decision.

While Ethelred fumbled with the wavy finger technology on his calendar, a civil servant called Jim attempted to explain the situation.

“It’s important to focus the public’s anger on simple targets that aren’t you, prime minister,” said Jim. Ethelred gave a big sigh,

“But why do they hate me? He said, plaintively.

“Well, in part it was losing Big Ben to a Russian diplomat in a dare, sir.”

Ethelred gave a coy smile,

“High jinx!” he said, Jim remained impassive.

“And the pig brothel,” continued Jim.

“It was consenting!”

“Not the dead one, sir.” Ethelred started to play with his calendar again, he found it boring when people criticised him.

“So we’re going to bring back Big Brother, the TV reality show,” explained Jim.

“Oh yes, that was brilliant, all those idiots!” said Ethelred, perking up again.

“And useful, sir. People would pour all of their energy into hating the powerless and completely ignore what important people were up to.”

“Why did they ever get rid of it?”

“They simply ran out of people desperate enough to be on it. It was inevitable really.”

“So presumably you have a plan to get round that?” said Ethelred, checking his reflection in the back of a spoon.

“Yes, sir. We’ve decided to combine reality TV and cloning.” Ethelred dropped the spoon.

“What?”

“We’re going to use DNA from some of the most famous murderers of the last century. Proper serial psychopaths. We’re going to clone them and put them in a house together.”

“And they do what?”

“The usual tasks, silly costumes, electric shocks, bargaining, and of course the public will vote to throw them out.”

“Wait, you can’t just release murderers to the outside world.”

“Oh no, anyone voted out will be executed, of course.”

“And the winner?” asked Ethelred, Jim gave a small embarrassed cough,

“Will be released to the outside world.”

“Wait, but you just said…But the people won’t stand for it will they?”

“On the contrary, the public will love it. They love an evil rogue turned good. He’ll be welcomed into the community. His lovable quirks, cheeky grin and refreshing honesty. We saw it time and again with hated celebrities. Truly awful people would go on Big Brother, and act slightly less awful than people were expecting and everyone would love them. Think how dramatic the turn-around would be with Jack the Ripper or Sweeny Todd.”

“It’s a brilliant plan, let’s do it!” said Ethelred clapping his hands, completely oblivious to the fact that the decision had already been made.

Short Story: New Jesus

Mosquitos are whining in my eyes and my trainers are thick with mud. We left a week ago, in such a hurry of religious fervour that none of us thought to pack a tent or a change of clothes. Now I’m still trying to keep the faith, but there’s a definite chance that this New Jesus is a right numpty. He keeps talking about how sacrifice and abstinence are the way of the Lord, but I feel a few loaves and fishes would brighten up this trek no end.

“The star shall lead us on,” he keeps on saying. When we first started out, I was excited about that star; we were on a mystical journey, guided by the heavens. Then after a couple of days of tramping through stinging nettles and ditches, I started to get a bit sick of it.  On the third day, Kevin muttered,

“I bet it’s just a satellite,” and I couldn’t stop giggling. The New Jesus gave me glowering look and then carried on, sandals clapping against his feet, white dressing gown catching on tree branches.

Thinking about it, how is it possible to get anywhere by following a star? Don’t they just track across the sky every night, very slowly? If we keep going long enough, we’ll walk right round the world and end up where we started. I didn’t think about any of this at first, I was too giddy with joy and my trainers weren’t clinging like sodden, muddy rags to my poor feet like they are now. Then a few nights ago, we were sitting in a very makeshift camp in a field when the cynicism started to set in. We were trying to open a can of baked beans with a stone, when someone piped up,

“Surely the first Jesus was born under the star and other people went looking for him? He didn’t go in search of his own star, did he?”

With beady eyed petulance, the New Jesus boomed,

“I am not the first Jesus.”

Morale was pretty low for a few hours after that, then he put his arms to the sky and a streak of lightening shot down and split the tree in two, revealing a store of roasted chestnuts inside. I used to love it when he did stuff like that.

Then last night I looked at him, really looked at him as he gave his sermon. Watched how he kept flicking his hair out of his eyes and doing his weird wavy-finger gesture that looks like he copied it from a magician. He looked ridiculous, and I was embarrassed that I ditched my old life to follow this pranny. I’ve felt hopelessly disillusioned ever since. But what can I do? Walk home? Tell my boss,

“Oh yeah, sorry, you can remove your job from your arse now, because it turns out he wasn’t the New Messiah, just some gimp in dressing gown.” I should have thought harder about all of this before I left. Still, I’m not the first person to be taken in by a bit of charisma and a few magic tricks. He did get that woman’s boils to disappear, after all. It’s the way of the world today, isn’t it? We all want to be the ones there at the beginning, the first to gaze at the shining face of a glorious saviour. We all want to believe it when he tells us to throw away our mobile phones and dance naked in the forest like children. Then as the cold starts to bite we realise, I don’t know where my trousers are and I’ve got no phone to call a taxi. So we keep going out of inertia, one squelchy foot in front of the other.

 So now we’re walking through someone’s garden and Jesus stops and stares up at the star. I just know he’s going to say something irritating because he always likes to build the tension when he’s going to be profound. Of course, we all stop to listen, it would be strange to just ignore the New Jesus and carry on walking without him. Tempting thought though, there has to be a pub round here somewhere. I could stage a mutiny, maybe one of the other followers has his own company and I can persuade him to give me a job. A couple of these guys have expensive suits on, they must have walked straight out of their executive boardrooms.

The New Jesus turns so that we see his profile, the line of his nose and his strong chin. That’s something I’ve noticed, every pretender to the celestial throne has a strong chin. I suppose it contributes to their delusions of grandeur.

“I know that some of you are weary and your faith grows thin,” he says with typical understatement.

“How about a miracle for these blisters?” mutters Kevin and I get the giggles again. Jesus looks over sternly at me, I don’t want to hang my head, but the reaction is automatic, I’ve seen him drop birds out of the sky with that gaze. He may not be the Messiah, but he’s got something.

“I know that some of you are doubting your Lord,” he looks at me again. “But the time draws near. The star will guide us to the Holy place. Once there, all your fears shall fall away like the petals of a dying flower. And then, my children, you will understand.”

I can tell that some of the suited fellers don’t like being called children, and this isn’t the first time their feathers have been ruffled. When the New Jesus changed the traffic lights to red so that we could cross, I heard one of them mutter,

“Very irresponsible,” and the others made throaty noises in reply.

As we keep making our way across the gardens, there isn’t much concern for where we’re walking, only that we follow the star. In the beginning that made sense, after all we were walking with the saviour, what’s a few delphiniums compared to that? But now we move more apologetically as we trample over a fence. We try to push it upright again, but an irate woman doesn’t appreciate this and comes storming out at us, her face blotchy with rage. The New Jesus puts his hand on her shoulder and her mouth goes instantly soppy, like when someone gets drunk. She shudders a little, then falls into step behind us. She’s the third one to join us like that, The New Jesus doesn’t have much concern for private property. Or free will, really.

“Look, the star’s getting bigger!” shouts the young kid who was cured of his stutter. He’s right.

“Is it coming towards us?” asks one of the suits. We all stop and look up. It is getting bigger quite fast, like something falling at a great speed straight towards us. Even the New Jesus starts to shuffle a bit from foot to foot, ready to leg it to the nearest shelter.

“It shouldn’t be falling should it? I mean, it should stay in the sky shouldn’t it?” says the newcomer lady, trying not to panic. The New Jesus says something in reply, but I can’t hear him because of the great whooshing, whistling sound of a giant star falling right towards us.

Most of us dive for the alleyway down the side of the house. I’d like to say that the New Jesus stands with his hands raised as he waits for his star, but actually he leaps over the low fence at the back of the garden. The star lands a few moments later with an impressive thud that uproots two rhododendrons and a stone statue of a badger.

As we all creep back out of our hiding places and cough our way through the dust, someone says,

“That’s not a star!” It’s the youngest of the group, a girl of about fourteen with a pierced nose and eczema, “that’s a ball!” she is absolutely right, I’ll give her that. The thing we’ve been following is a sphere made of solid glass. I look over at the New Jesus, hoping for a little reassurance, but he looks as dumbfounded as the rest of us.

“Oh for God’s sake! This whole thing’s been a complete farce from beginning to end!” splutters one of the suits in disgust.

“Yes, following a bloody glass ball, I’ve never heard of anything so stupid.” adds one of the women. The New Jesus is looking very sheepish now, staying low behind the fence, pretending to look at the moon.

“I’ll stick to evangelists off the telly next time” says a young woman.

“Yeah, he didn’t even fix my eczema,” says the teenager. So we all trudge wearily out of the garden and into the street, each of us wishing that we hadn’t thrown away our mobile phones.

3 Days, 3 Quotes

“I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

This is my third and final quote. It’s more important to me for its meaning rather than where it comes from (no critcism of the Narnia books though).

It reminds me that you should strive to act like a good person, no matter how much the people and situation around you are not good. It’s frustrating when I see others acting cruelly or selfishly and justifying it by saying, ‘that’s just the way things are’, and even worse when I find myself doing it. We all help to make our society and by acting as if being kind and rational are defaults we are helping to create a society where they actually are.

When I remember this and start acting the way I would like everyone to act, then people respond to me with kindness, and I realise that I’ve been part of the problem.

And in case that is a little too serious, here is a quote from Catch 22…

“Yossarian was flabbergasted. His leg went abruptly to sleep.”

 

3 Days, 3 Quotes

Second day and this is the quote

“When the brain blazes like a bonfire, we no longer need to ask why we are alive.”

From The Occult by Colin Wilson.

The Occult is a book I read many moons ago and enjoyed, but don’t remember now so well. However, that quote leapt out to me at the time and I wrote it down and kept it, because it is for me so totally true. When I get bored in life, I start to feel a bit lost and pointless; not unhappy, just feeling that maybe being here on this planet is a mistake. Then something stirs me awake (usually when ideas for a story start jumping around, but it can be spending time with good people or studying or discovering some bizarre truth about the world too) and all doubts vanish as my brain blazes. It’s like pure energy bouncing back and forth, sparking up neurons and connecting ideas. At the moment I’m going through a sluggish phase, and I need that quote as a reminder, I hope it means something to someone reading too.

3 Days, 3 Quotes

So I’ve been nominated for a quote challenge by Making Sense of Complications, who has an interesting blog of scolarly ideas and curious words.

For this challenge I need to

1. Thank the person who nominated you

Thank you Making Sense!

2. Post 1- 3 quotes in three consecutive days.

First quote:

“When you throw everything up in the air anything becomes possible.”
―  Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

3. Nominate 3 bloggers

Always good to give some attention to bloggers I like, but I wonder: where will it end? If each blogger nominates three more, won’t it spread like a virulent disease? First one, then four, then thirteen, then my ability to do maths runs out. Eventually we’ll exhaust new nominees and we’ll be stuck renominating and quoting each other for all eternity. Still, I guess it will keep us out of mischief. Anyway, I nominate the following, it was tricky, because there are many to great bloggers to choose from, but these three have either threatened to stop blogging or cut down and so I’m hoping to lure them out to open ground, because they are all great.

  1. Chasing Eggs for the Chickens – a chance to take a ramble through a delightful mind.
  2. Wisps of Smoke – heartfelt poetry, with fantasy and  stories thrown in. Always something new and lyrical.
  3. Siddie Bowtie & the Watercolour Orchestra – colourful, inventive and smart, wish she’d post more.

Short Story: Finding Home

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Jorgan was thirty two when he realised he was in the wrong place. He was living with his wife Betta in the suburbs of a neat, clipped town, where his neighbours spent their Saturdays perfecting the garden to eradicate all signs of nature, and their Sundays cleaning the car. Jorgen wasn’t unhappy, but he was itchy with disquiet in his blood; he felt a constant desire to squirm out of the tight confines of the manicured streets and escape, but he didn’t know where to.

Then a distant aunt he’d never met, died. He wasn’t upset by it, he only bought the train ticket out to her village on a whim. She lived in the mountains  and he’d never been higher than a hill. Betta was irritated, she didn’t like whims, but the thought of spending a day without Jorgen’s restlessness had an appeal, so she stayed quiet.

As the train clattered its way between the valleys and up towards a craggy peak, Jorgen felt his lifelong unease vanish, the higher the train trundled the more delighted he felt. The air was pure and easier to breathe, all the world seemed to be spread out before him; empty, gloriously empty. The funeral was no more joyful than was typical, but Jorgen had to fight from smiling all the way through. As they stood at the graveside, he could see mountains all around, rising up like monsters, clouds clinging to their sparse vegetation. It was breath-taking.

Returning home, the train weaving its way back to the tight-fitting streets, he felt as if his skin had shrunk and sand had caught between the layers of skin. He now knew where he needed to be and the suburbs was not it.

“Betta come with me and see it, you will love it, I promise,” he pleaded for the fifth time as she tried to watch TV. “You always complain about how much you hate it here, when you see the alternative: the snowy peaks, the distant valleys. You’ll love it.” She relented finally,

“Ok, ok, we’ll try a week. Now go manicure the lawn.”

For Betta the holiday was awful, while Jorgen’s soul lifted and swooped, Betta felt her own cower and twist.

“I can’t breathe, how can the air be so thin? There’s animal poo everywhere, goats, sheep, foxes, no hygiene. All those jagged mountain tops, I feel they’ll cut me.” Jorgen couldn’t believe she understood so little, how could she get it so very wrong? Why was she fussing about pointless details and ignoring the majesty? He didn’t understand that everybody has their place, and this wasn’t Betta’s.

“Even the flowers are small here, crouched against the ground trying to hide,” she said.

While Jorgen stood at the window, gazing out at the mountains in bliss, Betta sat huddled in front of the television, pretending that the endless sky didn’t press against the walls outside.

She flicked from one channel to another, all the world glimpsed in fragments. She flicked from dirty, smelly cities where no one looked up, to beaches, pretty but dull. And then she flicked to a film about the foreign legion. Saw the soldiers staggering across the desert, sand swirling around them in a landscape that stretched out the same as far as the eye could see. And suddenly Betta knew, with a certainty that chimed like a bell, her place wasn’t in the mountains at all. She needed to be there, where the ground is formed by the wind, where the heat bakes the day and cold freezes the night. Where you can walk for days and see no change at all. She wanted the desert.

“Jorgen? Jorgen?” she called. “I know where I’m meant to be.”

Evaporation

Howl, howl, howl at the lightbulb!

Stir the cobwebs so they waft and settle

Wrench apart the four-walled silence

Just a crack

And slip in a toothpick

 

Rage, rage at the cutlery!

Voice squeezed through your teeth

In a raggedy whisper

Like steam

Like stolen music

 

Cry at all of nothing

Huddled between your knees

Keep below the window

Like a slug

Of lunatic sleep