Friday, 25 February 2011

Writer's circle post - February 2011

Snap

"Tom Cruise?"

"Yours."

"David Beckham?"

"Yours."

"Robert Downey Jr?"

"Mine."

"What?" Spluttered God, spilling his orange juice into his goatee. The juice dribbled down his chin and soaked into his Hawaiian shirt, staining almost instantly and leaving him looking like a sweaty fruit salad. He sighed heavily and bought both hands across his face, removing the facial hair and shrinking his nose while widening his cheekbones. With a flick of his wrists, the soiled shirt became a white t-shirt printed with the slogan 'I'm with stupid.'

"I do wish you wouldn't do that." Said Satan, peering with fascinated disgust at God's latest face. "It really creeps me out. Besides, your eyebrows are wonky."

God ignored him.

"Why do you get Robert Downey Jr?" God asked petulantly. The Devil took a sip of orange juice from his glass in order to delay answering. The glass - an ornate goblet made from the inverted skull of a shop-lifter - looked somewhat out of place in God's new walnut and granite fitted kitchen. Like eyeliner on a budgerigar. Still, Satan liked to maintain an air of malignancy, especially at brunch.

The Devil buttered a scone carefully and took a small bite, chewed thoughtfully and then swallowed. He took a crimson handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans and wiped his mouth slowly. God knew that he had to indulge Satan when he was in one of his antagonistic moods, or risk him sulking and holding his breath until he fainted. Again.

"Come on now" Said Satan, in answer to the question posed some paragraphs ago, "You know the rules! A prison stay, drug abuse? He's clearly one of mine."

"It just doesn't seem fair. You get all the rock stars and gangsters and all I get are the philanthropists, noble prize-winning scientists and country and western singers. If I have to hear about the discovery of the double-helix one more time, I think I'm going to scream!"

God sat at the breakfast bar (which the builders had kindly installed free of charge when he caught them pissing in the sink) and sighed again. "Sure, Darwin was fun for a while - remember when we showed up at his funeral and you told him he was going to your place for what he'd said about evolution? And I was dressed in my finest smiting robes? I hadn't worn them since the old days! The look on his face! But now who have I got to look forward to meeting? Justin Beiber?" He dissolved into silent sobs.

Satan sat down opposite God and patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "There, there. You've got Mandela to look forward to."

God's shoulders stopped juddering and he looked up through newly-grown pink dreadlocks. His red-rimmed eyes twinkled with recognition. "Yeah," He said, "Yeah, I bet he'll have some good stories to tell!"

The Devil looked down at his perfectly manicured fingernails for a few moments, and a sly smile crept up his neck and onto his face like a particularly acrobatic woodlouse.

"Of course," He said slowly, "Mandela has been incarcerated."

God's face, now that of a stern West Indian woman, crumpled and fell.

"But, that was a corrupt regime, he was innocent, surely that doesn't count?"

"Rules are rules," Said Satan, massaging his knuckles gleefully. "My Goodness! What fun we'll have! Cocktails with Nelson and Adolf on the veranda, with a marvellous view of the fire pits. I can introduce him to Vlad and Benito, and Caligula will be thrilled to finally have someone to play boules with."

God was crestfallen. He demanded that they consult The Rule Book. The two deities spent twenty minutes searching for the text, which they found being used to prop up a wobbly table leg in the study. In removing the book from under the table, they displaced the cat from her perch atop a yellowing collection of What Car? Magazines. The cat had been lazily musing on the nature of existence, and whether God could be tried by the court of human rights for calling her 'Mrs Pussy Lumpkins.' She had concluded that, being a cat, she was not entitled to due judicial process and resolved to speak to her representatives about putting together a case for extreme mental cruelty. She was tipped from the table and shooed from the room. She croaked her displeasure, and went to phone her solicitor, to see if she might be entitled to compensation for wrongful dismissal.

Satan whisked the leather-bound Rule Book from God's hands and opened it out on the table.

"Here," He exclaimed after several minutes perusal, "Rule 64. No soul held in penal servitude can be eligible for entry into the Glorious Hereafter. See!" He picked up the book and shoved it in God's face. God squinted at the print before snatching the book from Satan and pulling it close around him, so that the Lord of the Underworld could not read it. God furtively removed a biro from the dinner jacket he was now wearing and hunched over the book. The sound of scratching came from within.

"Ah ha!" Said God triumphantly, a moment later, "You forgot to read the exceptions! You're going to be disappointed!"

The Devil smiled a tight-lipped smile and scratched his cheek with his middle finger, simultaneously making a rude gesture at his host. God didn't notice.

"'No soul, blah blah blah, except prisoners of war, Boy George and Nelson Mandela.' So there!"

"Boy George?" Satan pulled on the covers of the book, forcing them downwards and towards him, pulling God's fingers away one by one from the spine. He coupled this attack with a jab to the ribs and bit down hard on God's left shoulder.

"Now come on!" Said God, in a perfect parody of the Devil's pomposity, "Rules are rules, you said so yourself!"

Satan kicked him hard in the shin and God relinquished his prize with a yelp of pain that dislodged his eyebrows once more.

The Devil held the book open at arm's length above his head, while God danced around him, trying to catch hold of it again.

"Hold on," He said, placing his palm on God's nose and forcing him downwards and out of the way. "Wait a minute! That last bit is written in pen! In your handwriting!"

God shrugged. "I knew it was a bad idea to put Boy George in there. I got greedy - I'll admit that. But I just love Culture Club so much!" And with that, he stretched out flat on his back on the floor and sang Karma Chameleon at the top of his voice.

Satan listened for a while, but by the end of the second verse his patience began to wane. How could dreams and love be coloured red, gold and green? Not only was it inaccurate, it was positively garish. The Devil had always preferred Duran Duran.

"OK," He relented, "I'll give you a chance to win Nelson back. Think of it as a wager. A challenge. We'll play for his immortal soul!"

Those expecting a dramatic clap of thunder at this point will be left wanting, although the cat did emit a small burp from her seat on the stairs. Mortified at her own impropriety, she retreated to the relative safety of the bedroom.

God pulled himself to his feet, with the aid of a conveniently-place lamp-stand, which clattered to the floor as he rose from it. His face had changed once more, so that he now resembled a old farmer, complete with cloth cap and mutton-chop sideburns.

"Chess?" said God hopefully.

"No," Replied Satan. "I am sick to the back teeth of playing chess with you! We'll play cards, and you'd better turn off your omnipresence. I know you've been cheating at Gin Rummy. Poseidon has lost a lot of money through your tomfoolery!" Satan pressed his pockets, searching for a deck of cards. "And don't you think of cheating like you did last week with Diana."

God smiled benignly. "What a lovely girl." He said. "To be honest, she wasn't really qualified for your place."

"No, but she'd have some stories!"

"She does indeed," Said God smugly. "Why, only last night, she and Mother Teresa were discussing..."

"Shh,I'm not interested. I just don't think its fair that you failed to mention that you were the Deities and Demi-Gods Secondary School Tiddlywinks champion for six years running!"

"What can I say, I was athletic in my youth." Said God, without a hint of irony.

They had, by this time, returned to the kitchen and were now sitting opposite one another across the breakfast table. The scones and jam sat between them. The Devil produced a deck of cards from his left sleeve and gave them to his opponent to check.

A lengthy discussion followed about whether it was appropriate to be gambling for a man's immortal soul with 'Dr Lovelength's Extremely Naked Ladies' pornographic playing cards. Finally God found a more appropriate pack in his kitchen cupboard.

"Five card stud?" Suggested Satan, fanning out the pack with his thumb and shuffling the cards deftly. "Aces are high, jokers are wild?"

"Snap."

Satan dropped the cards mid-shuffle.

"You chose last time," Said God, "It's my turn to choose the game, and I choose the most formidable test of skill and dexterity, of observation and cat-like reflexes."

"Snap?"

"Snap."

So the game began in earnest. God placed down a jack, Satan followed him with a four. God played a six, the Devil countered with an ace. God put a king down and Satan conceded a ten. Sweat began to form on Satan's brow as he watched the pile of discarded cards grow with not a pair amongst them. God's fingers shook as he placed a nine down over a seven. The tension was almost non-existent.

Eventually, after what seemed like hours, each entity was down to his final card. The ace of hearts sneered belligerently up from the top of the deck, the only member of the cohort to truly recognise the ridiculousness of the situation.

God looked Satan square in the eye and pressed his last card into the deck. The two exchanged a long stare, neither wanting to be the first to break eye contact, yet both desperately wanting to see the card. In an instant, both pairs of eyes snapped down towards the pack.

The ace of spades.

God's reflexes were sharp, but Satan was faster.

"SNAP!" The Devil bellowed, as God slapped his own hand down impotently. "SNAP!" He shouted again, "And I think you'll find that means that Mandela is mine!"

God shot him a sour look.

"That's not fair!" He whined, "You cheated!" God folded his arms. "I'm going to tell on you!"

Satan sighed. The Man Who Ruled the Universe did not approve of God and Satan bickering. He would probably stop their pocket money, and Satan had his eye on a lovely new tidal wave.

"All right," Satan sighed, "I'll let you have Mandela." God's face shone with pleasure, which was especially eerily now that he has luminous green skin. "But," Satan continued, "You have to let me have Boy George."

Turmoil etched itself into every line on God's face. It was a tough decision.

"All right." He said at last, "You can have Boy George."

Satan cursed inwardly. He had always preferred Duran Duran.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Madness of Lyssa

Jimmy had never held a gun before. The smooth wooden shaft, which had at first been so cold to his touch, had now warmed beneath his grasp, until it was almost an extension of his own arm. It felt as though the blood that coursed in his veins also flowed through the workings of the machine, in a kind a perverse symbiosis that had begun as soon has his pale fingers stretched across the hellish device.

Moonlight glinted off the metalwork as Jimmy stood by the empty house. The scene was a study in shades of grey, as unreal as a black and white movie, in which his own eyes served as shutters. He pushed his eyelids shut, and kept them that way for a long time. The continuing weight in his arms confirmed the reality of the situation.

Unlike most in his position, Jimmy had never felt the need to own a gun. His father had a few shotguns in the house, but those had long since fallen into disrepair. Besides the land on which the herds grazed was so remote that cattle rustlers were seldom seen, and any thief foolish enough to creep by the house would be seen to by the dogs. He had locked them in the house tonight, but they didn't bark and whine like they might ordinarily have done. They were scared too. This was not a night for dogs.

Jimmy moped his brow with the back of his shirt-sleeve, juggling the weight of the shotgun from arm to arm as he did so. The yard was still in the moonlight. Not the calm stillness of a summer's evening, but the tense, expectant silence of a narrative yet to reach completion. Jimmy looked about the yard furtively, the gun poised against his shoulder, muzzle pointed out ahead like an eyeless touch. He knew that she was locked in the barn, but the trip to buy the gun had taken longer than he had anticipated, and there was every chance she might have worked her way loose from her temporary prison.

The madness had descended suddenly upon her that day – like a mist rolling in from across the hills – leaving behind little but a familiar husk, empty like the discarded skin of a rattlesnake. She tore through the yard, hissing and snarling, baring sharp teeth and lashing out at the farm hands as they tried to calm her with gentle words. Jimmy had called to her with infinite softness, and seen her turn from him in confusion and denial. It was then that he realised that he must purchase a gun.

He couldn't buy one from the village. He was too well known there, and folks would like it odd that he had chosen now of all times to suddenly acquire a firearm. No amount of explanation would quell their feverish curiosity. It was better to be secretive, and to end an epidemic before it was given the chance to take root. Jimmy was afraid of prison, but he was more frightened of the suffering that she might endure if he failed to act quickly. She had always been loyal to him. It was only right that he perform this final act for her.

So the gun was sought with quivering hands, purchased at a store two towns over, from a man who didn't ask questions and didn't check his cards. The gun was sought and driven back to the barn, which lay still and silent in the twilight, a sharp contrast to the disturbance of his mind.

As Jimmy stood facing the barn across the yard, he shivered, though the evening air was frustratingly close and warm. The house at his back did not feel like a protective cavalry, as he had hoped it might. It was more like an accusatory jury, peering down at him from the darkened windows, judging him before the crime had even been committed. A nervous cough escaped his lips, as he tried to clear the cotton that choked him. The sharp noise awakened her and the inhuman howling began afresh. The barn door shook in its frame as she threw herself at it again and again, trying in vain to escape, and to bite. Snarling, frustrated and increasingly unhinged, issued from the building, like the howling of a trapped animal hungry for flesh. She threatened him through unseen jaws, her unintelligible ranting making Jimmy's heart thud painfully against his chest, willing him to fly and leave her to starve in solitude like rat in a trap.

The frame of the door buckled and sagged against the barrage and Jimmy could see the whites of her eyes, red and streaming, searching him out through the cracks in the panels. Those eyes that had once looked at him with nothing but obedient affection were now so filled with menace and fear, as if she were drowning in her own maddening rage.

Without warning, Jimmy's knees failed, and his legs collapsed like a folding chair beneath him. He landed face down in the dirt, prostrate before the rising tide. The gun pressed painfully against his ribs, cradled between his body and the earth, as if he were shielding it from the horror of the night. He could still hear the bolt straining to contain her as she heaved against it with all her strength. He could still hear her shrieking and howling, her yelps twisted by fear and malice. These sounds seemed fainter now, as if he were suddenly very far from the scene, and all the time moving further away. The earth smelt familiar and comforting against his face.

He did not know how long he lay there, drinking in the heady scent of earth and slipping in and out of consciousness. When he finally rose, shaking, to his feet, the gun still clutched close to his body like a treasured infant, the barn was quiet. Had she exhausted her passions or had the door been broken in weary persistence whilst he slept? The barn remained intact and he stroked the shaft of the gun absently, relieved that the defences had held during his absence.

Without knowing just how he had achieved it, he found himself at the entrance to the barn, looking back at the dark shadows of the house and the scuff marks in the dirt where he had fallen. Now that he was closer, he could feel a low growl emanating from the building, like the grinding of a rusted engine, painful and pitiful in comparison to the sounds of blind fury which had preceded it. She was entering the final stages now, exhausted from the thrashing terror and consumed inwardly by the disease. There was still a chance that she might lash out when cornered, and an infected bite would draw the madness deep into his own blood. There was not a doctor for miles, and the cure was worse than the disease.

His hand stretched out towards the heavy iron bolt, as he struggled to position the shotgun against his shoulder, which was bruised from the fall. In his youth, he had often seen his brothers shoot tin cans, and tried to remember the correct stance. The bolt in the centre of the door was rusted and creaked as he touched it. The soft growl within grew louder. The breath caught within his chest as he wrenched the bolt sideways and swung open the door.

Nothing.

The growling continued, coming now in laborious, racking bursts, almost like sobbing. Jimmy stood motionless on the threshold, waiting for something to happen. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could see her, stretched out across the bales of hay in the centre of the room. She was panting heavily; her eyes rolled upwards into her skull and her head jerked backwards in painful spasms. Her limbs were contorted beneath her, twitching and flexing in agony as she struggled to breath.

Jimmy steadied the gun against his good shoulder and took aim. He closed his eyes tightly and, conflicted by sin and duty and half hoping to miss, he fired a single shot. All at once, the panting ceased.

He threw the gun aside and ran to her. He couldn't touch her. The fur of her chest was already thick with matted blood and the froth that had blossomed around her nuzzle would still be infected. Vowing to get the rest of the dogs vaccinated first thing tomorrow morning, Jimmy wiped his eyes, and went back into the house.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Child-Catcher Seeks Employment

“Thanks for coming, take a seat,
We're pleased that you could make it
We'll try to keep this short and sweet
But we hope, if the job's offered, you'll take it.

We hear you're from Vulgaria?
Do you have a permit to work in the UK?
The locals would lapse into hysteria
If there was any migration foul play.

A lolly-pop attendant is a grand affair
The reflective jacket confers social stature
But it seems you have experience in childcare
Though here it's 'child-minder', not '-catcher.'

We'd like to offer you the position
I'd feel safe if my kids were in your care
Receiving a CRB check is our only condition.”
And with that, he was gone, like thin air.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Unrequited

Fold my shoulders
crack my back
let me know you're mine,
my chiropractor
like a tractor
ploughs the furrows of my spine.

Move my muscles
sooth my skin
I've lost all track of time,
musculoskeletal
experimental
every second Thursday at nine.

Transcendental
almost sexual
our bodies entwined,
origami
a spinal Swami
our sessions are sublime.

But you chriopract for others?
And worse than that, you're wed?
I thought you and I were lovers?
I'll take my knotted body elsewhere instead!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A commendation

My 100th post, and a spot of good news! I have received a commendation for my piece 'The Astronaut' in the Leaf Micro-Fiction Competition 2010. My short short-story will be published in their anthology and I'm really excited! It's not first place, but it's certainly a step in the right direction!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Self Service Seduction (Or being in love with the self-service checkout machine)

Press her touch screen,
touch her dials,
a velvet-voiced vixen,
with artificial feminine wiles.
You've got your favourite,
the one by the door,
you've tried to keep away,
but always go back for more.
She's a dogmatic dominatrix,
in tones of harsh insistence,
she'll mock your prowess,
'please wait for assistance.'
If you go too fast, she gets quite cross,
she's impatient if you're slow,
and if you treat her badly,
the whole shop has to know.
She's a temperamental nightmare,
a machine that's hell-conceived,
and her obsession with the clubcard
has to be seen to be believed!
You've tried to live without her,
but real assistants aren't as great,
and there's something weirdly satisfying
in the way she makes you wait.
She's a supermarket sauce-pot,
she makes you feel inferior,
But the way she beeps so teasingly
makes you long for her interior.
You want to put something unexpected
into her bagging area.
It's self-service seduction,
a plain and simple fact,
And since you were caught with your tongue in her coin slot,
you won't be invited back.