Copyright 2013 Randal J. Junior
Published by Randal J. Junior at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
I would like to give thanks for this opportunity of artistic expression, in the form of a fictional narrative that reflects both my experience of the world and the shared experience of other writers, both great and small (who have added incalculably to my own worldview). The artists responsible for so enriching our collective tapestry of cultures (and who will continue to do so despite the influence of religion and reactionary politics which would divide us and thus profit from the resulting conflict) are innumerable, and so too the patrons of the arts who make the proliferation of the arts possible; be that the bequest of an inheritance to fund an educational institution or just the time and energy given to the reading of this book.
I would also like to express my gratitude to those who fought tenaciously for the signing of the Magna Carta, thus paving the way for a similar legislation to be passed in response to the corporate entities of the present day (who would exploit a similar monopolization of resources in order to accrue a vastly disproportionate level of wealth for those who invest both capital and political contrivance in the afore mentioned entities).
I also feel indebted to the victims of the Spanish Civil War who suffered the direct consequences of every modern political doctrine going head-to-head, in a war that saw the dominant forces of right and left-wing politics triumph over the democratic government that was installed following the voluntary withdrawal of the Spanish Monarch, King Alfonso XIII. It was only through the sacrifice of so many lives that the inevitability of a centralized government reverting to autocracy could be observed (more so when society is subjected to the fluctuations of financial speculation by the filthy fucking rich).
I believe some sort of acknowledgment is in order for those who invented fire, the axe and the printing press, these being the primary drivers of modern culture; besides that of the steam engine, trade-unionism and the internet.
A prologue is optional.
The Oliver Twist
The old man sits at his desk and contemplates the globe spinning slowly on its axis in front of him. It is the work of a lifetime, a creation beyond any other wonder he has ever wrought by the magic of his hand. First he discovered water, a crystalline substance that exists in a liquid form if heated to a very narrow spectrum of relative temperature. Making that temperature constant was a great challenge to him, and he eventually resorted to making a G-type main sequence star that revolved around the sphere.
He never ceased to marvel at the way great rivers of ice would tear through the bedrock as they inched their way down the sides of great mountain ranges; that too was a clever invention of his, tipping the plates of mineral crust on their sides to overlap, and thus stand clear of the oceans and he really felt that there was nothing prettier than to see molten rock spewing forth in the midst of all that cacophony of water, wind and ice, especially at night when that aspect of the planet was shrouded in darkness.
Before long, the oceans were teeming with all kinds of creatures and he delighted in their antics, dancing in the waves, diving deep beneath the surface and tearing each other to shreds in their quest for survival. Then one day, a rather large freezing of the poles caused the sea levels to drop and, despite this, some of the weeds and kelp and seagrass managed to survive in freshwater lakes and ponds. And not only that but they began to spread, morphing themselves into grotesque new forms and very quickly covering the planet, existing everywhere but on the ice shelves. The species of plants became so varied and unique in their forms that there came a time when he no longer thought them to be ugly, but saw them as beautiful in their own right. And just as the land supported them, they gave back to the earth, binding it together with their roots and adding structure to its softer textures with the debris of their passing.
But more was to come and soon there was an abundance of animals all over the planet, and as soon as one type outgrew its habitat and disappeared, another would spring up to replace it, but now he has reached a quandary; many difficult tasks has he faced in the maintenance of this rather absorbing hobby, but what has presented itself before him now has him completely stumped. On the desk before him are a group of little mammals, headed by one they say is their leader. And they have a rather long list of demands.
‘Oh great lord god father, please receive us into your loving care!’ was the basic gist of it.
‘What’s wrong with the world I gave you?’ he asked them. That kept them occupied for a while, before they started beseeching him mercilessly once again. Now he has finally got one of them to make some kind of sense. ‘What do you mean you wrecked it?’ More head scratching and shuffling of feet.
‘You don’t like it anymore and now you want to sit at my right hand? But there is no grain for you harvest, and there are no animals for you to hunt!’ He really does get a kick out of the hunting, such wily little characters they are; though sometimes when they turn on each other and he has to shake his head in wonderment, such nastiness, but where there is smoke there is fire, and such things will happen from time to time.
‘You don’t think it’s a fit place to live? Well it’s not my fault, it was perfectly alright last time I looked. Just give it a few millennia and it will right itself again, always does. It’s the equilibrium you see, I designed it myself.’
More shouting, more demands.
‘You want a bigger and better one? You’ve just wrecked the one I gave you! Why should I give you another one? Do you have any idea how long that took?’ he is starting to get a bit niggly. They talk among themselves for a while before he gets a response.
‘So it wasn’t your fault. You’re blaming the others. That’s not how I saw it,’ he says.
‘Mumble, mumble, mumble…’
‘Well I haven’t got another one so you’ll just have to make do.’
But of all the strange requests, it is the next one that really stumps him.
‘Throw all the rest of them in the fireplace? But there are children amongst them! Are you out of your heads?’
Silence. More mumbling.
‘Yes I know they dress funny and they eat different food. They think the same about you! Doesn’t mean I’m going to stink up my fire with your hair and bones now does it!’ Now they are starting to get upset. Demands are made. Tears are shed. Feet are stamped. ‘Well I can’t help it if someone told you that, maybe you should have thought about it some more.’
Now something really amusing happens, a group of them march off towards the edge of the desk, going to the ‘land of milk and honey’ or some such thing. One by one, they jump off the edge and fall to their deaths below. The rest watch and wait, expectantly.
‘See, I told you so!’ shouts one of them as he takes a look over the edge, ‘we are the chosen ones! Lord god father, take us into your loving arms!’
‘Look, I really haven’t got time for this. Tell you what, I’ll get a shoebox, fix it up with some milk and cookies, and you can stay in there for the night, but in the morning, it’s back you go!’
A very long discussion takes place.
‘No you can’t have seven virgins each! They aren’t mine to give! Now make up your minds! What’s it going to be?!’ He reaches out to make some minor adjustments after he says this, cursing under his breath, ‘another bloody mammal, gone forever when I should have been watching! I really don’t need this!’
When he turns back to the little people on his desk he sees they are in the midst of a battle, the ‘shoeboxes’ against the ‘god’s right hands’. He watches with some interest before separating them, but so bloodthirsty are they that only two remain, one for each side.
‘Right, now what’s it going to be? Shoebox? Or back home to fix up your mess?’
The two little men look at each other. Look back to god.
‘What are we going to do in a shoebox?! There aren’t any women!’ they protest.
So they have their milk and cookies there on the desk, somewhere in the vicinity of god’s right hand and then shuffle dejectedly back home.
‘Well, that was a spectacle!’ says god to himself, ‘such funny little creatures! Can they have another one indeed!’ and with that he returns to his task of keeping all as it should be.
The Mouse With No Pants
Once upon a time there was a little mouse who lived in a house. The house was small, behind a brick wall with a tiny garden out the front, but the mouse and her mum liked their house and thought it was plenty big enough to house a mouse. Or two or three. Or maybe four.
But more than four would cause the house to feel quite small for one and all, and a mouse might shout to clear the house, saying “Get out! Get out! Get out the house you extra mouse! There is not room to even groom should I wish to sweep a broom, so out I shout you extra mouse!” But for the little mouse and her mum there was plenty of room, sometimes the little mouse even had a friend over to stay for the night.
One day the little mouse was dressed for school, wearing big yellow pants and carrying her schoolbag. Her mum sent her off to school and out the door she went, out the door and down the street, on her way to school. Next door to the house of the little mouse was a large, barking dog. “WOOF! WOOF!” barked the dog. The little mouse took off her big yellow pants and gave them to the dog, and then it didn’t bark anymore. The little mouse was quite pleased with herself and she said very loudly to the dog, “I’ve got no pants!” and off she went down the street, carrying her schoolbag to school.
She passed an old lady mouse in her front garden, tending to her petunias, and said very loudly, “I’ve got no pants!” and then she turned and walked on down the street. She passed the grocery store on the corner with its bright green apples and yellow bananas and orange oranges all stacked up in neat piles on the shelf.
“I’ve got no pants!” she declared to the greengrocer, loud and proud and quite outrageous for a little mouse, from a little house, on her way to school.
And on she went.
When she got to school, she threw her schoolbag over the front gate into the garden and shouted out as loud as a mouse can shout, “I’VE GOT NO PANTS!” to all the school and on she went.
Soon she was home again and her mum was very surprised to see her.
“I’ve got no pants!” she told her mum, loud and proud and full of guff.
“Where are your big yellow pants?!” demanded her mum.
“I ga’be them to the dog!” said the little mouse, still quite proud, and still quite loud.
Her mum was cross and gave her a smack and made her put on a pair of big blue pants, and then walked her out the door and off to school, holding her hand all the way so she couldn’t get into any more mischief.
As they passed the house next door, the barking dog was no longer barking, it was smiling and the little mouse smiled too because the barking dog was wearing big yellow pants!
The next day was Saturday and the little mouse didn’t have to go to school, so she went out into the lane behind their house. There was a strange man in the lane and he jumped out in front of the little mouse and he said very loud, “I’ve got no pants!” and it was true. The little mouse ran back to her house and called 911, and the police arrived and they shot the man in the head seventeen times with an assault rifle because he was a pervert. They told the little mouse she was very brave but very lucky too, and not to go out without her mum to clout the louts that hang about. And after that they got a barking dog. And the little mouse walked with her mum on her way to school.
The Underwater God
Asha’s mum is trolling through the aisles of the supermarket, nearly deserted at this time on a Friday. Her shapely form is clad in a loose fitting blouse and tight jeans, and the way she waves her hips from side to side as she pushes the trolley gives cause for more than one shop-boy to follow her with his eyes full of lust, and search for her long after she is gone.
Her selections so far consist of the basic modern food groups, frozen pizzas, milk, bread, beans and potatoes, as well as the mandatory washing-powder, toilet-paper and disposable dishcloths. But her progress has stalled in front of the shampoo and conditioners; she has spent very carefully and knows exactly how much she has left to buy some ciggies and to pay an overdue power bill.
She clutches her handbag, nervously fingering the zipper, not really aware that she does so. She has enough money for the cheap, no-name brand 2-in-1, but it makes her hair feel like a Scotsman’s pubes and the last time she bought it she threw the nearly full bottle in the bin only a day after purchasing it. It breaks her heart to look in the mirror and see her hair looking like seaweed and not be able to get a brush through it without tearing half of it out, but the expensive stuff is way out of her budget.
She knows the staff will be sure to check her handbag; she has tried that little trick one too many times before. Fucking embarrassing it was too, having to wait in the poofter-arsed manager’s office for the cops to turn up. Then pretend to be grateful when he made such a big deal of not wanting to press charges; and only because Asha has worked here since high-school and he fancies her. The prissy little bitch wouldn’t even look at her for a week afterwards, and still pretends not to know her when she comes here to do the shopping… and asks to check her handbag if she goes through the checkout she’s on! Little fuckin’ princess that she is!
‘And if she didn’t hide her shampoo in her room then it wouldn’t have been a problem when her mother ran out, would it?!’ Asha’s mum thinks to herself, and not for the first time either.
She can’t bear to go home without the good stuff, and the shampoo and conditioner are placed in the trolley before she proceeds down the aisle, the trolley skittling to the left and so diverting her attention, drawn as it is to the source of her annoyance. As she looks up, she notices a girl in the uniform of the supermarket further down the aisle, watching her as she unpacks a box of deodorant cans onto the shelf. Waiting for her to steal something.
The usually attractive woman that is Asha’s mother waits for the girl to look again, and shoots daggers from her eyes when she does so. The girl turns and walks away before Asha’s mother comes any closer, and just as well or she would have broken both her ankles with the trolley.
‘Oh I’m sorry!’ she would have said with a smile, and relishes the imagined chain of events as she lets them play through her mind.
But the shampoo isn’t going to pay for itself. Her thoughts turn to the tavern down the road from the supermarket, maybe she can drop in and see if there is a job going; Ken is a good old fella, he might have something for her.
‘Got time for a couple of drinks, and who knows who I might run into?’ she thinks to herself as the items from her trolley get packed into three plastic shopping bags. The mental picture of the low ceilings of the bar with its ranks of bottles and smoky atmosphere appears deliciously before her eyes, the stained and worn-out floor covering rolling out before her like a magic carpet.
She used to clean that filthy carpet, vacuum and mop and scrub. Thank the fuckin’ tooth-fairy she doesn’t have to do that anymore… Still, working behind the bar would be pretty cushy, pouring drinks and counting out the change.
Ten minutes later she is dropping her bags of shopping beside a convenient bar stool. A glass of beer appears in front of her, tiny bubbles hurrying to the surface, where they are lost with a million others in a thick head of foam. But this is where the fairy-tale ends and the sharp teeth of reality bite.
“Nah, he’s not in, maybe next week. That’ll be three-fifty.”
Further enquiries about the manager’s whereabouts and the likelihood of getting a job are no more successful.
“I don’t think he’s looking for anyone at the moment. Three-bucks-fifty luv.” The request for payment is given weight by an open hand extended to receive the monies. Asha’s mum has to break a twenty, and dollar coins slide onto the bar mat in front of her; she didn’t ask for the small change but the bar-attendant knows her game all too well. And seeing as she’s here… she’ll have the money for the power bill and enough to shout dinner at KFC in no time.
But still she hesitates. Memories of being burned before play on her mind. But the sweet sensation of having a win burns brighter. Looking around her, the eyes of the careworn, thirty-something single mother are caught by the twinkling lights of fortunes being promised. A shining-white unicorn beckons to her, the fabled animal come to life here, in this dingy little licensed-premises. It has shunned all other comers, waiting just for her.
In the twinkle of an eye, Asha’s mum is taking a seat in front of the mass of flashing lights and glowing emblems; it’s like a bed of coals that just needs a deft hand to stoke the fire and bring something good to the boil.
The first of a handful of coins is fed in, the machine giving out an encouraging bleep to signal that the currency was registered by it and approved of. ‘All should be in order, ma’am, you have yourself a nice day.’ All very proper.
‘Bleep, bleep, bleep.’ The coins are followed by a note. Not too much, she doesn’t want to let on that she is too eager; it has to be coaxed, gentled to her touch. But it takes more than a dollar to win a tenner and she isn’t playing for a giggle, so she’s not surprised when it requires more; its favour cannot be bought cheaply. But she can’t help but look around, wondering which of the other machines might have been ready to pay out with the big dollars. Time slips away.
When she gets to the last note in her purse, she stops. She feels the cold sensation of fear and disappointment deep within her breast, disappointment in herself, and the fear of what comes next. The beautiful white unicorn with its flowing mane and knowing eyes is gone and a mad-eyed, hateful beast stands in its place before her, demanding that she pay the toll and submit herself fully the task at hand, or otherwise slink away back into the miserable hole she crawled out of.
If she has failed then it is her own fault; she was not prepared to give everything, all of her strength of mind and resources and she has fallen short. It dares her to walk away, to play it safe; to admit her own weakness of character. And she is dearly tempted to leave, she still has enough for KFC, and at least they can eat a decent meal before the lights go out and the fridge goes off, the shower runs cold from both taps and the television sits dead and lifeless before them. KFC is Asha’s favourite; maybe she won’t mind lending her the money for the power bill so much.
Asha’s mum has nursed the one glass of beer for the half an hour it has taken her to blow a hundred and twenty bucks, sitting at a level just over half-full. If it can be seen to be so. She lights another cigarette.
Her hand trembles ever so slightly as she raises her last twenty to the slot in the machine, heavily-chromed steel awaiting the sacrificial offering. She wills her hand to take pause, to put the twenty back in her purse. To get up and walk away. And not look back. It feeds in. ‘Bleep’.
Her eyes harden, she is a more than a match for this thing, she’s seen it all before; this is her lucky last note, and she has laid every last thing she has at its feet. The god she kneels before must reward her, she who is so true in her following. And that’s when it happens.
She presses the button. Nothing. She presses it again. ‘Ding-da-da-ding!’ Free spins! The machine takes on a life of its own with Catherine-wheels of colour whirling and twirling and flashing to take her up, up and away into the land of plenty; into the land of fast-food, Hollywood blockbusters, designer jeans and electric can-openers, a world of sex, lies and sticky-tape.
The lights are burning brightly when it finally stops, a symmetry of icons on the screen is winking heavily with the wealth imbued in them. She is twenty up now on what she had when she first sat down. That’s the shampoo paid for. Lights, television, refrigerator and hot showers for another month.
But she risked it all to get here, and she finds herself asking if it is enough; the monster has cracked, she has seen through its thin veneer and there is plenty more where that came from. That she knows for sure. The lights continue blinking, and though her gaze has come to rest on the payout button, her finger is poised above the coloured plastic square that reads, ‘Play Again’.
And all is lost.
Herman the Hedgehog
Some miles away in the quiet of the woods, a deer grazes the short green grass beneath the spreading branches of an ancient oak tree, the ground thick with fallen leaves and wet with a shower of rain from the morning. The deer nips at the grass intermittently, her eyes flitting in all directions as her jaw moves in a rotary fashion, her molars grinding from side to side as she chews. The doe is a picture of nervousness, her ears twitching to catch the small sounds of the forest park around her, and her eyes large and piquant in their luminosity. Not long has she been weaned from her mother and she has yet to get used to being on her own, sometimes following the small group of does and also the buck that her mother used to herd with, but often leaving off, shy of the buck’s attentions.
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Heretical discontent; that's what this collection of short stories is primarily intended for. Some of these stories are funny. Some of them are not. One of them is about a 'truffle-hunting hedgehog' as told by a silly old piss-pot. The publishers of 'Pride and Prejudice' may want to sue for damages after they see what has become of that pompous bore, Mr William Collins. Another story is set in Brooklyn, New York, against a backdrop of ferns. All of them are influenced by the barbarian age within we continue to exist, ignorant of the fact that we cannot have our coke and capitalist edicts too. The concept of reality is increasingly vague as we proceed into the cyber-age so the author makes no apology for merging the genres of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Civil War Era historical fiction. Neither does he/she repent any offence given to conservative religious groups who pathologically fail to recognise the feminine nature of the universe within which we exist. But this is not an evangelical text proposing that Lennon's vision of a secular world free of both religious dogma and political subterfuge is either possible and/or likely to develop in the next thousand years. This is a book. Read it and weep.