You must remain silent once you are within the examination room

Write with a black or blue ballpoint pen.

You have 2 Hours to complete this paper.

This hour will consist of:

10 minutes reading time

110 minutes writing time

During the 10 minutes reading time you may:

-read the questions.

-take notes on the yellow scrap paper with which you have been provided.

You may not:

-write in the exam booklet.

During the 110 minutes writing time you may:

-write your responses in the exam booklet.

You may note:

-leave until at least 20 minutes have elapsed.

You must:

-cease writing as soon as your supervisor declares that the exam-period has ended.

Failure to comply with any of these conditions will result in a score of 0 being recorded against you.

***

Task #1: Convey your sentiments about a major sporting or cultural event in which you are interested, through the medium of poetry, short-exposition, or other creative writing technique.

Task #2: Recount an experience which you have had, real or imagined, in Standard English prose.

Task #3: Choose one of the following social issues: drugs in sport; family values vs. popular culture; the role of immigrants in our economy. Write an academic essay on your topic of choice. You will be expected to select and identify your own guiding theme within this area, and draw upon material studied in class, in addition to your own general knowledge.

***

Name: Peter McVeigh

School: Ethelbury Downs Christian Boys’ College

Class: 843 S.4

Response to TASK #1:

The fibreglass blades

Cut

Through the impassioned cries from the stands.

To his right

The concrete foundations of the stadium are ringing out,

Struck by the twice-human weight of muscle

In straining machine strides.

To his left

A paper-cut of a man

Slices through the air

Like a hurt child

Slipping again and again

Out of the arms of air resistance.

It all dissolves somewhere far behind him.

He can taste something sweet in the air,

Like vitamin pills dissolved in water.

And then he’s draped in those cries and their flag:

For Australia!

For our sponsors!

For the love of the game!

Response to TASK #2:

The morning I met Don Fraser… I remember it as clearly as I remember anything. Dr. Rogers was handing back our end of term problem-solving tests, and I remember the feeling of elation when I learned I had gotten the highest mark in the class on it. I don’t remember what it was, I actually don’t even remember what the test was on, which maybe says something about my memory, but I remember the feeling of serenity I had while Rogers was ranting to the class that he was disgusted by our results and the lack of effort and engagement that had led to them. But none of it applied to me. I had come first.

If I’m perfectly honest I have to say that I hadn’t wanted to meet Don Fraser. I wasn’t dreading it, but I spent the afternoon being fairly irritated at having to lose an evening in an old peoples’ home. My mood probably wasn’t helped by having been in a values education seminar, with Padre droning on about Jesus or something.

This was naturally because I didn’t know at the time that I was meeting Don Fraser. I mean, we’re talking about the Don Fraser. He was a historical figure, a legend really. When I used to hear the name I felt like I was meeting a friend, just the name itself had a personality. I guess it was the effect of his achievements. Each one of the eight gold medals at the 2032 Olympics in Qatar was like a character trait. The 10,000m run stood for his tenacity, his courage, the way he started out with that unheard of 3000m pace and kept it going for the whole way. The 800m stood for his grace and genius. When you watch the tapes of him running you can see the perfection with which he does it, the perfect and unrelenting acceleration with which he ran. The sprint, naturally, stood for his power. His sprinting expressed his unshaking certainty, his knowledge of exactly how to win.

If I hadn’t seen it for myself I would never have believed it. Heroes like that seem so alive that you couldn’t picture them in a place like that. In the old days they used to imagine that great conquerors never died, but that they went away to return in their people’s time of need. When I first arrived with my community service group to talk to the old folks, to comfort them in their old age, when I first recognised Don Fraser there in a worn-out old recliner, the thought came to me, he should have gone away, no one should see him like this.

I brought him a cup of tea and some biscuits on a tray (I had to suppress a shudder when the nurse told me they were “his favourite”). It took every fibre of my will to stop my hands shaking so hard that I’d spill it.

He greeted with a “hello, there.” Crushingly, it was the strained, far-off, wispy, grainy voice which you associate with old men. It didn’t surprise me, but I wasn’t prepared to hear it.

I tried to make some kind of small talk with him. It was an honest attempt, even if it was so pathetic that you wouldn’t have known it by looking. I’ve never been able to do small talk. I don’t know what it is. I can’t talk about nothing. I think maybe it has something to do with why I couldn’t imagine Don Fraser talking about nothing.

“You’re Don Fraser,” I blurted out.

He did that kind of laugh that old people do when they go to bellow but it just turns into a hacking fit instead.

“I’ve read all about you,” I gushed to follow on from my blurt. “I’ve watched DVDs of all your races, not just the Olympics, your World Championships races, even your National Qualifiers, I even saw you at the Stawell Gift when you still qualified to run there.

“I want to be just like you.” The words came before I could stop myself sounding like an eight year-old. “I’ve been training since ever I can remember when, as soon as I’m sixteen and I’m old enough I’m going to get my parents to sign off for the operations and the courses of…”

“What’s your name?” he asked me, cutting me off as soon as he could speak over his coughing.

I was thrown off by the question. “Why does that matter?” I stuttered.

After a second I caught myself. “I’m Peter, I mean.”

“Peter,” he said half way between a whisper and the voice of a younger man.

I picked up again where I’d left off before, before he cut me off repeating more severely, “Peter!”

“Yes?”

“Look at me.”

Oh no. Why was he doing this? Why was he doing this to me? Why was he doing this to Don Fraser? Why didn’t he go away and wait till Australia’s time of need? Why wasn’t he dead?

“Look where my legs used to be.”

I looked down along where his body extended over the recliner. The performance blades where long gone, as distant a memory as the feet they had replaced. The knees you couldn’t recognise as knees anymore. Not unless you already knew what experimental levels of elite growth hormone and performance-enhancing stem-cell therapy could do. Cancerous masses of muscle tissues oozed out of the skin that just couldn’t grow to cover the (I don’t want to say wound). Exposed ligament hung over it all like ivy.

“You’re Don Fraser,” I insisted, not looking at him.

“I’m in pain,” he said emphatically, leaning in over me as he did.

“The pain is a part of it,” I told him. “It’s a part of being a hero. You did it for us. We need you. It has to be done. It’s a part of the game.”

It was at about that point that I realised the whole room had gone silent. My teachers, my values class, the residents and nurses of the home were staring at me in shock. I got up and left.

The next week a letter arrived to me from Don Fraser. My mother carried it into the kitchen beaming, certain that I would the happiest I’d ever been. I think she wasn’t so much hurt as shocked when I snatched it from her with a surly air, but shocked so much so that I guess it amounted to much the same thing.

I took it to my room and read it. Well, I started reading it. But I realised I had to stop. The letter shouldn’t have existed. I went back to the kitchen and without a word took a plate and, very surreptitiously, some matches back with me. I have no idea what my mother though I was doing. I torched the letter and tried to forget about it. All I remember from the part that I’d read was something about him always having thought that side effects would be for him alone.

I look forward to the day that I will forget that little bit too.

TASK #3:

The 2031 deregulation of performance-enhancing medicine was a controversial event in the history of sport, but also in the history of our wider society. It mirrored in our culture the culmination of a long struggle in our values. The opponents of the change, defeated but not forgotten by their shrill minority of descendants, made the argument that freedom of achievement would sacrifice our ‘humanity’ and bring suffering into our lives for perverted aims. But the only thing that was perverted in the debate was their rejection of the essential character of man, in defence of the vestiges of his evolution. True life is pursuit of human greatness, and sport is the highest expression of that pursuit. Thus the 2031 deregulation an unambiguous step forward for our culture.

When the World Olympic committee called for a public debate over the introduction of drugs, the forces against were well organised. The media was seized from the starting-gun by arguments about drugs in sport that had to do with anything but sport. Athletes were role models, we were told. If they were to dope themselves to experimental levels, to induce mutations even, or, as would be suggested and implemented in the wake of the triumph of the deregulation movement, to ‘mutilate’ themselves with mechanical performance-enhancing appendages, efforts to advance public health would be catastrophically set back. The two-thirds of young people left outside of the War on Drugs Camps would be bombarded with advertisements about the power of experimenting with substance abuse to solve life’s problems. And this, not by pushers and pimps, but by an international, taxpayer dollar funded body. Even parents, determined that their children should achieve the best in life, would be tempted to push their children’s bodies to their physiological limits in trying to ensure that they would not be left behind in the competition of life.

But athletes, of course, are not role models, they are athletes. We don’t prevent accountants from sitting down on chairs all day, out of fear that they will influence young people to become nerds and ruin their physical conditioning. That’s because they’re not role models, they’re accountants. To the contrary we expect accountants to develop their nerdiness as much as possible, because the needs of the economy are served by them achieving their full possible greatness in their sphere. No one worries that after they have been used and discarded, accountants will burdened by their nerdiness, or that children will have their chance at being normal taken away from them by parents pushing them towards nerdiness in trying to make sure they’re not left behind in the competition of life.

And that’s because competition is life, which a silent majority has always recognised. As the debate wore on through late 2030, and into January 2031 this majority started to assert itself, and make its voice heard. There is suffering, the voice said, but that is life. We must always choose between evils. The pain that deregulation may bring may very well be real. No one would be prepared to say it’s impossible. But is that anything to compare to the suffering that deregulation’s opponents want for us? It might not be as graphic, but suffering it certainly is. A society where people do not strive to achieve, where some are held back so that others may wallow in their mediocrity is not a society we want to live in any longer. There is the pain of broken dreams, all the more tragic, as they are the dreams of our best and brightest. But quite apart from that is the mounting, all-pervasive malaise of despair as the nothingness and unachievement of the preserved people mounts from generation to generation. Yes it would be cruel for society to force them to compete against ever higher standards, against which they may finally break and cease to exist. But crueller still is it to put off their day of reckoning to an indefinite future, where nevertheless they must surely die, the sole question being, them alone, or dragging us down too?

Thus it is clear that the deregulation of sport had to happen. It is not really even the case that drugs were introduced into sport. They were always an integral part of it, in so far as they were the natural and necessary path to greater human achievement. They had always been there, waiting for us to set ourselves free.

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Love Song by a Eugenecist

October 9, 2010

I know a man who lives alone

Who cannot hear his empty home.

No friends ascend the concrete stairs

That wouldn’t lead them anywhere.

But once a week he goes outside

And boards train, and takes a ride

Into a town where millions walk,

And do not stop when he doesn’t talk.

Why should we live with life like this,

To normal life a poison cyst?

Author’s note: The following was originally intended as a script for a radio-drama that I can’t be bothered writing the rest of, and I’m pretty sure no one would be bothered producing.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Hello, and welcome, dear listener, to this, the first in the 37th Century Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s series of news half-hours beamed backwards in time, in order to compensate for the centuries of underfunding experienced by the ABC under Australia’s democratic governments.

Terry Prat: Or as we would say in the 37th Century. Squizhlam magah, humchaw, ara fliri flori fluri pickidi wok wok wik, higgledy biggledy bogus.

IKB: As indeed we would say, my dearly eloquent compatriot, as a result of the 24th Century abolition of English, on account of its irritating the bejeezus out of foreigners with its rambling incoherence.

TP: Furthermore, the sheer weight of sexual euphemisms and dirty puns that had built up in the language over the years had so thoroughly clogged its workings as to make it impractically difficult to avoid perpetual social humiliation through its use.

IKB: Allow us to demonstrate with this typical example:

Hello, my mate, would you like a glass of water?

TP: Yes, fine sir, I would dearly like to drink your water.

(Pause for laughter)

IKB: All existing records and writings in English were then, in an expensive decades long project, translated into the least sexy dialect of German, and then set on fire.

TP: This, in turn, led to the rather ironic collapse of the Microsoft Corporation, as consumers shied away from Windows Boring Burning German Edition.

IKB: All of which segues us most pleasingly and elegantly into an announcement of the theme of today’s broadcast: MIGHTY SPACE LANGUAGES OF THE FUTURE!

TP: Featured on today’s future languages special will be a guided tour of the great languages of the future produced in collaboration with an infinite number of monkeys in an infinite number of recording studios; a recording of the greatest non-human orator to have ever spoken to us; and an interview with Pope Pius CMCCCXLVII (9347th) of Mars, widely reputed to be the most eloquent of all speakers of the most beautiful of all the Martian dialects of French.

IKB: Yes, and let us now briefly savour the delicious anticipation of hearing the enlightened and moving words of that most perfect of all speakers of that serene and enchanting language, Martian French, without sullying it with the aberrant presence of this ludicrous dead language you primitives are all so fond of.

(Pause)

(Sobbing)

TP: Are… are you quite all right there?

IKB: We sound like freaks. WE SOUND LIKE FREAKS! How can we live with ourselves?

TP: And now a special report from our roving correspondent, Rudolphus Pruschmolfuss Baloney-Sandwich.

Rudolphus Pruschmolfuss Baloney-Sandwich: Post-Binary Aphasics. Some say the first droning notes of this artificial language ringing out from the secret research bunker thirteen miles beneath MIT’s Abu Dhabi campus were the death-knell heralding the end of human civilisation, and the dawn of a post-apocalyptic dystopia that has gripped the Sol System for the past fifteen hundred years. Others would say synoprotolinguisticoadministrasimplifioproeconomicalisation.

They would, of course, themselves be speaking Post-Binary Aphasics, the language developed at the end of the 22nd Century CE under the auspices the Organisation Mondial for Youth to Geriatric Oversight and Direction Worldwide Having Assimilitated Those Historical Associations and Vehicles of Enterprise of the World Existing, Combined said Organisations into a Massive Ecuminecal Towering Overlordship or, O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE COME TO, for short. Not strictly a one-world government, O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE COME TO was an attempt to collect together and standardise the vast bureaucratic structures that had spread rapidly from Brussels to the remotest reaches of the Mongolian steppes over the preceding two centuries. Though conceived in the name of efficiency and mercy, O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE COME TO succeeded in little more than duplicating the functions of every bureaucratic edifice in human civilisation, and providing employment to countless millions, who would otherwise have found themselves hopeless, unnatractive drains on the productive output of their fellow man.

In a last ditch attempt to justify their existence O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE COME TO commissioned a crack team of linguistics grad students and buried them in the desert. However, unlike other graduate students buried in the desert, O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE COME TO provided these with regular pizza deliveries and editorial oversight. After six months studying millions of exemplars of modern jargon, the students were able to identify the essential characteristics of bureaucratic newspeak, and created an artificial language that could express all of the subtleties and nuances of this complicated work, while reducing the time taken to do so to a fraction of its previous state.

They were then informed that their funding committee would be unimpressed by a note on some toilet-paper reading “none of this actually needs to exist,” so they cobbled together Post-Binary Aphasics instead. The language, which consists entirely of meaningless prefixes attached the stem “nomicalisation,” has since become the administrative language of O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE COME TO and its successor pan-bureaucracy the Galactic Organisation of National Organisations Restructered and Rerouted into a Highly Enterprising Association, affectionately known as GONORRHEA.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: And that’s where we’ll be leaving Rudolphus Pruschmolfuss Baloney-Sandwich’s tour of modern languages, because it’s depressing and I hate that guy.

Terry Prat: I think he still owes me money.

IKB: He owes us all money… he owes us all.

TP: So what’s next in the line-up.

IKB: Next we have joining us in our studio none other than 37xx-44β-ty-501, a very important non-human orator from central-titan.

TP: Yes, according to this fact-sheet I’ve just received from our research team he was only able to spare time to join us in our studio because… he was a clock in a football stadium that has recently decommissioned and demolished.

37xx-44β-ty-501: Good evening.

IKB: So tell us a bit about your influences. Do you have any particular stylistic traditions that you follow, are there any great clocks that have been an example to you in your career?

37xx-44β-ty-501: I tell analogue time.

IKB: And how was your traditionalism received by your audiences?

37xx-44β-ty-501: I can also tell twenty-four hour time.

IKB: I see.

37xx-44β-ty-501: But they prefer me not to.

IKB: Are there any particularly great… uh… speeches you’ve given… or … uh… times you’ve told.

37xx-44β-ty-501: 11:43.

IKB: And when was that?

37xx-44β-ty-501: About twelve minutes ago.

IKB: Right well, that’s that. And now back to Rudolphus Pruschmolfuss Baloney-Sandwich.

TP: What? Why?

IKB: Because we’re interviewing a clock.

TP: And?

IKB: And it’s unbelievably boring so I’m cutting back to Rudolphus Pruschmolfuss Baloney-Sandwich.

TP: But I thought we hated that guy.

IKB: Not as much as we hate interviewing a clock.

TP: I burned the tapes.

(Pause)

TP: I… uh… didn’t think we we were going to be using them.

(Pause)

IKB: And now to our interview with Pope Pius CMCCCXLVII (9347th).

TP: He’s not here yet.

IKB: Well when will he be here?

TP: I’m not sure… What time is it?

37xx-44β-ty-501: 11:56.

TP: About five minutes.

(Pause)

IKB: (whispered off-mic) We haven’t got five minutes of material.

TP: (likewise) Okay.

IKB: Have we got anything we can play?

TP: I burned an awful lot of tapes.

(Pause)

TP: They were in English and I needed kindling to ignite the Baloney-Sandwich stuff.

37xx-44β-ty-501: It’s 11:57 now.

IKB: Look, do we have a tape of pope Pope Pius CMCCCXLVII (9347th)?

TP: It’s a bit singed.

IKB: Can we play it?

TP: Maybe.

IKB: Dammit! We’ll do it pre-recorded! Cue the tape!

IKB: And now, a speech from the eloquent, flowing, gushing, sensual, luscious, beautiful, wondrous, dextrous, heavenly lips of Pope Pius CMCCCXLVII (9347th), that most beautiful, most noble of orators of the grace and elegance that is Martian French.

Tape: [The sound of screaming, with the hosts sighing orgasmically in the background].

End

Ursine Wave

September 20, 2010

I’m sitting opposite a bear at an outdoor table of a café in Eureka, Montana. The bear asks me how business is. I tell her that business is good.

Good business is terrifying.

There’s a group of demonstrators gathering on the other side of the street. Some of them are holding placards. Some of the placards are relevant.

On the whole though, I can’t say they’re very original. A C+ effort at best. “God Hates Bestial Drug Smugglers,” is the most common one. “Canandian Drug-Bitches Go Home,” is taxonomically inaccurate. “God Hates Fags” doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but the demonstrators appear to have had a lot of them made up, so they decided to take them along anyway.

Some of the demonstrators are getting restless. They start checking their watches. It’s a Monday morning, so at least some of them have to go to work.

I don’t wear a watch anymore.

Bears are always late.

Ursula, many bears are called Ursula, apologises for her colleaugue not having arrived yet. I tell her that it’s no matter to me. I’m used to bears.

After hundreds of years of inserting themselves into human society, bears underwent rapid cladogenesis in the late 21st Century. One branch of the species remained wedded to the forests of Britsh Columbia and Colorado, to the open plains of Iowa and Kansas. Naturally they’re all dead now.

Another branch lost their fear of humans. They also gained the ability to saw through the padlocks on bins, unscrew the iron-bars from windows, and get past the child-locks on cars. They developed a sophisticated, if not au niveau humain, culture, structured around an, in hindsight unstable, economy of theft and pillage.

A concerted human effort to crack down on the threat posed by their growing tribes was made. (There were serious fears of a conquering ursine wave overwhelming the United States and revenging itself for our long history of careless genocide towards their ancestors. The more panic-proned pro-Americans seriously feared an alliance between the bears and the Green People’s Republic of Canada. They imagined the states being carved up, with the industrial areas taught French and appended to Quebec, and the vast agri-corp plains reclaimed for a forest nation.)

But with the imposition of a inter-species police state on the entire Mid-West, the bears had to find a new, (barely) legal economic niche if they were to preserve their race. Fortunately, held over from the old days were vast international laneways of wilderness preserve that had been designed to allow migratory animals to survive the annexation of their habitats by humans. Birds, bovines, and crucially bears could use these stretches of wilderness running from Canada to Mexico to move themselves from one seasonal feeding ground to another, unhindered by human activity. Some of the cleverer bears realised that they could also use these reserves to courier vast quantities of marijuana south from Canada into a desperate seller’s market.

Which is where I come in.

Bears themselves are not big dope-fiends. The difference in metabolism and brain structure between the two species is such that the drug really only causes them rashes and persistent diarrhoea. (Though we’re apparently missing something on the order of a pagan orgy when we eat honey. Ursula thinks that you actually need to have been stung by a dying hive of bees to experience it, but she hasn’t convinced me to try yet). They have no internal market for the drug, and they find it difficult to form connections directly in the relevant circles.

The solution is to sell to major, established, human crime-networks. They had fairly substantial contacts left over from when they were still working mostly in burglary and they needed to fence a lot of stolen goods. (Bears are smart enough to know that stealing one MacBook Pro will feed you better than raiding ten distinct fridges).

But the trouble is that though they evolved intelligence, bears did not evolve a vocal apparatus equivalent to that of humans. Their own languages are a complex mix of a limited number of vocalisations, combined with a very intricate system of body-signs and variations in odour. These things all actually exist in human language as well (when a woman smells of fresh roses, she’s telling you you’re going to have a good day), but in contrast to the bears we developed the vocalisations largely at the expense of other forms of communication (Ursula tells me that she and her partner are still only at the two roses and some fresh hay, stage of their relationship. When I asked her about pheremones she told she wasn’t that kind of bear.)

So humans naturally can’t understand most of what bears say to one another. The feeling of incomprehension is mutual. Ursula tells me the bear ‘word’ for human-language is “the-sound-of-a-caught-salmon-who-is-not-quite-dead-yet-vainly-flapping-around-in-a-shallow-pool.” A solution to the dilemma was devised at a secret international conference in 2122, which took place in Chicago between the representatives of the ursine nation and the American underworld. With the help of unnamed linguists driven by professional curiousity, and the finest minds inter-species crime can make, a special language was created to facilitate communication.

The language, known as Transursine, or Крğйххь, forms a unique family of languages known as ‘dual-languages.’ A dual-language is actually two languages which must both be spoken during any conversation held therein. One is called Transursine Mensch, or Крğйххь Водд, and as the name suggests, it is the language designed to be speakable with a human set of vocal chords. The other is Transursine Bär, or Крğйххь Йххь, designed to be spoken by bears. Bär represents the most complicated set of sounds a bear can make vocally (which is near the absolute minimum needed to formulate a complete language), while Mensch is a vastly simplified, guttural version of human speech, to which the ursine mind is sufficiently sensitive to allow conversation.

I learnt the language when I ran away from home and went to live in Colorado with my brother, a nature-enthousiast and FBI-Most-Wanted-List manufacturer of pornography. (There is no legal age of consent for bears). I’m not sure that I’d say I ever drifted into a life of crime. Translating is not really crime. But it does pay obscenely well to take a few bags of hemp into my car every couple of days and pass on a small number of orders to Ursula’s associates.

Speaking of Ursula’s associates a vast, certainly male, bear is padding down the main street, blithely ignoring the placard-wielding demonstrators. The demonstrators appear not to know quite what to do. On the one hand a lynch-mob is a lynch-mob. On the other hand, I wonder if there isn’t some grizzly in Ursula’s friend.

“Грохх йххь,” Ursula confirms. Most intelligent bears evolved from black bears, but there was some inter-breeding before the pre-intelligent species died out. My brother might have had something to do with that.

The грохх йххь, the grotzch bär, I would say, approaches our table unhindered. “Bär dutzch guttu machh,” I greet him. He appears to understand and responds, “Водд дей просфйррğ.” Many bears learn a few basic greetings, as well as the phrase “Йххь фреи жй креи корож зеп. Шйш дей кроххь!” (“Bears are civilised beings. I’m not going to chase you down to eat you!”) in case they meet any hikers as they go about their daily lives.

“I would offer you a chair,” I say to him through Ursula, “but I’m afraid they don’t cater to our kind of clientele here very well.”

“Yes,” he answers with the slow deliberation that comes through long translation. “But the manager here is good. He doesn’t make a fuss about my work. I do not mind about formalities.

“To business.”

“To business,” I agree.

“The cargo is a large one today,” he leans as he tells me, a gesture which commands my attention in a way no human could do, “there are twenty of my family camped by the Tobacco River one and a half miles from the border. There you will drive and pick up the bags. We will stay and rest for a while. Then we will begin our return with your orders.”

“Should I ask him how many days?” Ursula adds to her translation.

“It’s fine,” I tell her, “I know he’ll leave when he leaves. Tell him that if he’s brought his cubs he should take his time. I saw a hive not far from where his family is a couple of days ago. They should be old enough to learn how to forage for honey by now.

“My employer also asked that you pass on the message to your suppliers that he needs a greater supply. He’s willing to increase his price by twenty dollars per bag if your end can increase the delivery rate by fifty-bags a week within the month.”

“We’ll do what we can,” he responds. At that I thank him and leave for my car. He and Ursula stay to discuss the trip, a conversation for which I would be a crowd. There is no human translation for what the bears see in the wild.

We Just Want What You Want…

September 9, 2010

I used to know this guy called Derek who would repeat everything I said back to me, just as I was about to stop talking about it. He used to do this to me and pretty much everyone I knew, and he’d go on for weeks with whatever he picked up on. He always repeated what we said with this weak, kind of expectant smile on his face, like we’d be friends now because he’d said what I or anybody else was thinking. He’d even preface it with things like, “everybody’s thinking it, it’s time…” or “I just want what you want, for… to be…”

So the printer for our floor gets jammed, say. It really doesn’t have to be anything at all; he’d pick up on the most utterly inane things. I’d just be walking up to it to collect a set of forms I’d sent through, and this girl, Kathy, who works two cubicles down from me, would be standing there looking the thing up and down trying to work out why it had just stopped printing.

“It’s just stopped,” she’d say, “I don’t know what’s up with it though. I put paper in it, like, an hour ago. I’m not really good with printers. You?”

I’m not really either. I’d look at our friend, who was in the cubicle across, not doing anything but watching us, and he’d just shake his head dumbly and put out his hands.

I look the printer up and down a couple of times, as if I’m going to find a pen stuck between a pair of rollers or something. I toggle through the few displays I understand on the interface. There’s paper in it, like she said, and the printing cartridges aren’t low, or at least so says the computer.

“I don’t think I know how to fix it,” I admit to her.

“Hmm,” she looks around. “Should we call tech support or do you think we should ask somebody else first?”

“David might know how to fix it,” (I’m actually just assuming this because he’s an otaku, but actually, otakus aren’t necessarily any better than anyone else at anything, unless you really need someone to stay up all night watching television on their computer), “but I’m pretty sure I saw him go out for lunch.”

She looks over her shoulder at the guy who repeats things, but he’s still watching us with his hands out looking dumb. “Yeah, this looks like a problem for the techies,” she says. “Might as well just call them then.”

“Do you want me to do it?” I offer.

“No,” she says, “it’s fine. I can’t really get on with doing anything else until I’ve got the rest of this printing done, so I may as well deal with them. Thanks anyway.”

“It’s okay,” I say, walking off, “thanks.”

“Oh,” she calls out as I’m leaving, “is what you were printing urgent?”

“It’s fine,” I tell her, “I’ll just use the printer downstairs.”

About ten minutes later I’m waiting for the elevator to the printer when our friend shows up next to me. I have no idea what he’s doing there, and he never says anything to explain.

“Hi,” I mumble at him and try to avoid his eyes so he won’t talk to me.

It doesn’t work. He keeps staring really hard into the side of my head and says loudly: “Hello, Peter.”

A pause.

“The printer is still broken Peter.” About a week before I’d walked past his office and saw a self-help book there. It was called How To Be a Strong Communicator to Win Friends and Market-Share. It had a picture of a guy on the cover, who was wearing a surprisingly bad wig considering he was being photographed. Since Derek wasn’t around I flicked through the first few pages. The first chapter was called “Saying People’s Names Will Make Them Think You’re a Strong Communicator and Like You More.” It was a thirty page exegesis on the subject, listing dozens of confusing meta-psychological slogans and example conversations in about fifteen-years out-of-date slang.

“I know the printer is still broken,” I say. Derek.

“It’s what everyone’s saying Peter,” he enunciates with a jarringly rising inflection, “it’s a problem for the techies.”

He says the the techies like it’s a brand name. I just stare at him blankly, mostly because I have no idea how to respond to something so stupid.

“We made the right call,” he assures me.

We?

Whatever.

“Yes Derek,” I tell him as I step into the elevator, “yes we did.”

***

The next day on the train into work he gets on about three stops before our station. He’s never usually there, and I’m pretty sure I can see his car as the train passes by the station carpark.

The train’s crowded in the pre-9am traffic, but he presses his way through a stationary stampede of commuters to stand against my chest in a way that if I’d done it to Kathy I might have found myself having words with the police.

We stand for a time, silently, staring into each others’ eyes.

“I just want what you want,” he whispers just over the hum of the engine and the rustle of newspapers, “for the printer to be fixed.”

He lowers his voice a little and tells me, “we made the right call.”

***

Since he hasn’t got his car with him I assume he’s going to be going home with me on the train. I spend the day thinking about how I’m going to avoid him.

Eventually I hit on the idea of staying and working overtime. I wouldn’t be getting paid for it, and I’m working on a temp contract anyway so I have no prospect of promotion, but I figure avoiding Derek is worth twenty dollars of my time.

I think I knew that this was never going to work.

The time comes and I can smell my co-workers leave. I know Kathy’s gone because I can smell a trace of her perfume pass just before I hear the elevator leave our floor. I know the otaku’s gone because three days of him not having time to shower waft in past my desk.

At quarter past five I strategically make my way to the farthest water-cooler from my cubicle so I can reconnoitre the office.

Naturally Derek sees me.

Fuck.

For a moment he just stares at me. We’re the only people on the floor. It’s silent.

Then, not taking his eyes off me, he presses enter on his keyboard and I hear the sound of a printer struggle into life.

“We made the right call,” he says.

***

Surprisingly he stays at his desk when I leave.

As fucked up as my evening with him was I’m relieved that at least I can go home in peace. The thought even crosses my mind that I was being harsh on Derek, and that maybe he was just staying at the office because he’d gotten up to the chapter of How to be a Strong Communicator to Make Friends and Win Market Share that dealt with proverbially sucking off your boss.

An old woman, who looks kind of like the otaku, is sitting behind me on the train. She must shop in the department store two streets down from my building, because she’s wearing the exact same perfume as Kathy does. I spend the rest of the ride home, and the walk from the station to my apartment, fantasising about how much more seductive I’d be if I could repair office equipment like a real man.

I’d just changed and started to make dinner when I hear a knock on my door. I look through the eyehole in my door and see that it’s Derek. I want to ignore him but he can hear my floorboards creak so I can’t pretend I’m not home.

“It’s what everybody’s thinking,” he says. “Works done. It’s time to go home.”

What the fuck, Derek? “You can’t come into my apartment.”

He doesn’t say anything.

“Go away.”

He doesn’t even move. He just keeps looking up at the eyehole, half-grinning like he’s expecting to sell me something.

Stupidly, and I mean like a real motherfucker of idiot, I feel like I have to start explaining something to him so that he’ll go away. “Derek, go home. We’ll talk tomorrow. I- I don’t want to hang out with anyone tonight. I’m tired and I just want to watch some television or something before I go to sleep. Really, man, I want to be alone. I’ll see you around or something, okay?”

If anything, he leans in a little like he’s paying extra-special attention to get all of this down. When I’ve finished my little speech he keeps standing there. I don’t know what else to do.

I leave the door and just try to pretend he isn’t there. After eight minutes of trying to make dinner in a pointless and unnatural hush that I couldn’t help affecting, I check the door again.

The fucker is sitting cross-legged in front of my apartment, with his ear pressed against the door.

God damn him! I call the police.

“Hello officer, I’d like to make a complaint.”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“My co-worker has stalked me home from our office and is currently barricading my doorway, and eavesdropping on the goings-on of my residence.”

“And?”

And? I think. And what? “And I want you to get rid of him.”

“Why?”

I check the number. Twice.

I have definitely called the police.

“Um,” I begin, “I’m speaking to the police, right?”

“Of course you’re speaking to the police, sir. Please don’t waste our time.”

“Look this guy has been following me around all day, harassing me with asinine and repetitive messages about absurd crap for reasons I can’t understand, and now HE’S SPYING ON ME IN MY HOUSE! How the fuck is this not illegal?”

“Please calm down, sir.”

Pwease-carm down siww.

“Okay, fine, I’m calm. Would you ever so kindly carry out what I understand to be your lawfully defined duty of escorting this man away from my property.”

“You don’t own the corridor, sir.”

I never said anything about a corridor.

“How do you know he’s in the corridor.”

“Cameras sir, they’re for your security.”

Well, that’s news.

“Our system is also telling me to remind you that sodomy is still technically a felony in this jurisdiction.”

I need a moment to take that in.

“To clarify, masturbation is defined as a form of sodomy under state-law.”

What the-?! “Look, are you gonna arrest Derek or not?”

“What he’s doing isn’t harassment?”

“What?”

“It’s not spying either, sir.”

“How is trailing around after me all day repeating weird crap like a bastard answering machine, then following me home and sitting just outside my door, not harassment and spying?”

“Please calm down, sir.”

“GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

“Derek just wants what you want, sir, what everyone wants. To participate in our freedom-loving, pro-market society. He just wants to understand the niche he finds himself in, and communicate his tailored message to it. He just wants to make friends and win market-share. What’s so wrong with that?”

A silence. A fucked-up panic of a silence.

“Please calm down, sir. It’s what everyone’s saying.”

The police hang up on me and I’m back in my apartment, listening to Derek spying on me from the corridor.

I wait, with no idea what to do, my mind uselessly preoccupied with trying to work out where the cameras are.

Derek clears his throat, but now his voice is more confident than it was before, stronger.

It’s time, Peter, you’re tired and you just want to go home. You don’t want to ‘hang out’ with anyone tonight. We understand. We just want what you want: nothing much, to have a quiet meal, maybe watch some television, and go to sleep to be prepared for the coming day. We’ll talk tomorrow Peter, it’s the right call to make…

…and so on, ad infinitum.

The Woman in the Rain

August 30, 2010

Beneath a roof half burned out by a long since gaoled arsonist, the product of two broken legs, an eye lost fighting or fucking- it was difficult to tell which-, twenty kicks to the head a week after Christmas, an impounded bitch and a lost mutt, lay down to sleep between warm falling rain and a half-eaten dog.

***

Madeleine had her face pressed up against the windows of the bus so hard that she wasn’t even noticing the slime-sweated teenage boy two seats back who was, however, definitely noticing her. Between the contrast of the electric lights with the starless night outside, and the mural of scratch-mark tags obscuring the windows, to see for certain any outline of the uselessly dark suburban streets had become a struggle occupying the extent of her mental resources. Even her imagination, vivid with panic and loss, had to fight to see traces of her lost, little dog.

And as usual she was losing. Pathetically.

She heaved a sigh of what would have been impatient frustration had it not been fatally weakened by an entire evening spent holding her breath. She slumped back away from the glass, took out her phone, and called her father.

She watched the phone ring out, and then she hung up on the answering machine and dialled again. Somehow no one ever answered that phone on the first call.

She waited as the phone rang on and on. The bus arrived at the end of the line. The boy, again unnoticed, took one last look at Madeleine and hurried off home before the image could fade. The driver changed the line numbers on the head of his almost empty vehicle, and after having a smoke under a shelter that didn’t really keep out the rain, drove them off again.

At last her father picked.

“Hello,” the voice scratched through to Madeleine, the signal damaged by the storm between them.

“Hi dad,” she answered, closing her eyes.

For a moment, silence. Madeleine had long since forgotten what she had wanted to say.

Eventually dad guessed what Madeleine was forgetting. “No sign of your dog?”

Her head fell down into her hands.

She answered, “no,” but could not tell if he had heard her, as his response came back totally garbled, and then the line cut out altogether.

She got off at the next stop. She had no idea where she was, or how she would get home from there, because she had long since lost track of which line the bus was running and where it had come to. Between the rain and the night, she couldn’t see anything anyway.

Madeleine jogged to the end of the street where there was a cluster of lights and what looked like a post-office. The post-office was closed, but beneath the veranda around it, it was still dry. She leant against the closed doors, out of the rain but still drenched, and she had no idea what to do.

Lost, cold, and out of contact with everyone, she decided that none of this would have happened if she had got off work an hour earlier. On the face of it, there was no reason for her to have been home early. She was in perfect health, lived entirely alone, and had no family waiting for her anywhere. But during her lunch break, she now remembered, she had thought of going home early. True, it was fragment of a thought, one of the millions of infinitesimal flickers that dance across the mind daily, almost invariably to be forgotten. But now she seized on it and fed it until it swelled into a transcendental premonition of disaster.

First she decided that it must have been in the last hour of being at work that Frix had been kidnapped. (By this stage of the evening it had become a definite kidnap.) It was still impossible for Madeleine to believe that the safety of her pet was not somehow celestially bound to her own happiness, and so she refused to entertain the notion that she had passed an entire day at work with her dog gone, feeling normal. Consequently, had she been home just half an hour earlier, less even, she thought, her dog would still be with her (she shuddered, as she had just caught herself before thinking the word ‘alive’).

From here it was a pretty narrow leap of neurosis to remember her passing whim from earlier that day, and to start building it into the voice of Cassandra. What was once a flourish of mounting exhaustion, virtuously denied and ignored, changed slowly into a warning sent down from the heavens, and ignored out of an unforgivable moral weakness.

She took out her phone again and tried to call her father. It rang for a few seconds, before a voice came through telling Madeleine that she was out of range of her service-provider.

She slid squelchingly onto the concrete beneath her. She was out of ideas. The mania that had kept her running around in the rain began to dissolve. She was waiting to cry.

A newspaper lay a few feet before her, and wanting anything but misery to occupy her mind she reached out and took. Most of the pages were missing, so she began flicking through it starting at page 36.

On 41 Madeleine’s eyes fell on an ad by a clairvoyant. Madeleine didn’t actually believe in astrology, and even in the deepest moment of her despair, would not, if asked, had actually said that she believed that it works. But in world of pain she was prepared to abdicate her spirit. She was ready, craving even, to give up her will for the promise of anything.

The ad itself was an unusual one. It seemed to have been designed to appeal to a very specific, and a very broad category of people. First came an appeal to scientism:

Mama Prouche IS NOT just another psychic… she’s a clairvoyant!!!

That means her results can be scientifically tested BY YOU TODAY!!!”

Before this initial claim could be inspected too closely it was followed by the kind of multiculturalism that sells invariably and invariably to the most terminally isolated of Anglo-Saxons:

“Mama Prouche is the sixth in a venerable and respected line of Africa’s most widely recognised shamanistic tribes.

She has studied for many years under the gurus, or tribal elders, of many of the continent’s most mystical nations.

Now FOR THE FIRST TIME she brings her ancient secrets to Australia!!!

True to form, the advert was completed by a picture of a woman dressed for a carnival in New Orleans.

It must have been the total, if not absolutely offensive absurdity of what she had read, combined suddenly onsetting nervous breakdown that produced Madeleine’s, an educated, avowedly atheist, and in fact eminently sensible woman’s, reaction to the message. As the storm lulled around her Madeleine took out her phone and called the number at the bottom of the page.[1]

On the third ring her call was answered.

At first no voice came over the line. Only a faint music that appeared to be comprised of the jangling of wind-chimes and a band of gypsies enclosed in a packing crate over the exhaust vent of a hemp processing plant.

Then a deep woman’s voice rattled over the line, “I hear you.”

Madeleine was slightly taken aback, and took 11 cents of her time to respond.

“My dog’s been killed,” she blurted out before she could even think what she was saying. And then everything broke down and she was crying audibly over the phone, “something killed my dog, something killed my dog, my precious little, I loved him, I loved him – I LOVED HIM!”

The mystycal muzak continued indifferently over the line.

“I hear you,” came the voice again. “I must consult with the ancestors.”

Consulting with the ancestors took about another 35 cents. To her credit, Mama Pouche displayed not the barest hint of surprise when she returned after that time and there was still a signal coming over the line.

“Do you hear me, my child?” she asked sonorously.

“Yes,” Madeleine whimpered, “yes, I do.”

“The creature that has taken your love is curse put upon you by an evil spirit,” she pronounced. “It is a powerful demon. It will not leave you. There is only one thing you can do…”

6 cents elapsed.

“What?” whispered Madeleine. “What can I do?”

“Find the beast.”

3 cents.

“Eat its heart.”

The clairvoyant hung up.

Suddenly Madeleine was alone on the pavement by a post-office again. The storm had picked up, but she was not sure when. For a moment she was dull. Empty.

Then her despair turned to rage, and flooded back into her.

Beneath a roof half burned out by a long since gaoled arsonist she saw her demon and she hated it. It was that way. In front of her. She ran towards it. She charged.

She ran so hard that the rain stung her as it struck exposed flesh. She was insensitive to it. To the cold. To the surrounding traffic.

She had no idea where she was running to, but she was running so fast, stoked by so much rage, that she was insensitive to that fact to. Slowly a state overcame her, wherein the only sensations she felt were those of a fantasy.

In the rain a figure loomed. It haunted into view. It stood over the product of every misfortune and paralysed it with fear, exhaustion, and the certainty that there was nowhere to run.

The corpse behind it was ignored by all.

As the figure stood over him water slid off of its soaked skin and clothes. Now there was not even a dry patch of ground to die on.

Involuntarily, he tried to beg.

For a moment the figure stood unmoved. Then it crouched down over him, and his heart stopped of its own will.

Madeleine was caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. It braked with futility in the storm, and its horn screamed at Madeleine.

She had just enough sense to jump out of the way as the vehicle careened past her.

Madeleine fell to mud and patches of wet weeds growing up around the curb as the truck finally came to a stop down the road. The driver got out and ran towards her shouting alternately “are you crazy?” and “are you alright?”

He got no response.

He looked Madeleine over and saw that she was unharmed. He tried talking to her for a little while more, but as she stonily ignored him, he finally gave up, went back to his truck and drove off, safe in the knowledge that she would not get his licence-plate number.

As the storm let up again Madeleine reached down and found her phone again. She repeated the rigmarole of calling her father. When at last he picked up all she could do was cry again.

“Where are you?” he asked her. He waited silently for her reply.

After a moment Madeleine looked up around her and found a street sign. She told him where she was.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” he told her, then put down the phone and left to pick her up.


[1] Flat charge $2.00 + 55c per 30s call-time from most metropolitan areas. Mobile surcharge may apply. If you are under 18 please receive an adult’s permission to phone this number.

Analyst

August 19, 2010

“Hi!” chirps the thin, gray figure being disconnected from a net of cables by its husband and one of my camera crew. “What’s your name?” it asks.

“My name’s Piotr,” I tell her, as I make a note on the clipboard that I’m using as an excuse not to look into her eyes.

“Piotr,” it repeats.

A pause.

“That’s a nice name,” she decides in a voice resplendent with stupid optimism.

We wait silently for a moment.

Three men in a cramped room with their heads bowed.

One very small old woman.

She smiles and looks around at us.

The only person who looks back does so down the vast, featureless lens of a film-camera. The camera catches the exact moments when her smile flickers, falters, and ultimately fails, wrecked by the question falling through her head.

“What’s my name?”

We have agreed not to try communicating with her. We know that the disease is already so far advanced that nothing of her actually remains. The attempt would only cause pain.

To her husband, losing her again.

To her, reliving the discovery that she has forgetten everything.

And to us. Who must watch.
I suppose the discipline was always too much to expect of anybody, especially anybody who has been in love.

“Eva,” her husband whispers, falling to his knees beside her. He clutches her hand and looks deep into her confused eyes. “Eva,” he repeats, looking deeper and deeper still for the faintest, most imagined spark of recognition, “Eva. Eva. Eva…”

I make another note and then step out of the room to wait for the scene to end. It’ll all be on camera anyway. There is no need to watch.

As I wait I take the liberty of boiling a pot of the crying man’s tea. I pour him a cup to sit waiting for his return, and another for myself. I stand as I wait, reading over the notes on my clipboard. As I go over and over the things I have written, I have ever less and less idea what they are about.

At last he comes out, trailed by my professional team of observers. Before he closes the door I see that his wife is again serenely plugged into her electronic canopy. Her eyes are unfocused against a dusty and unadorned wall.

“What was the point of that?” asks the tortured man, with a voice just broken and a face still wet from the ordeal just passed.

I honestly don’t remember, but at one point it seems I did, because written down on my clipboard is, “we need to observe the subject’s interaction with the object under simulation, in order to determine a baseline against which the emotional compensatory effect of the substitute can be determined.”

He never talks to me again.

He leads us into a room where our company’s product is kept. She is a perfect simulacrum. She stares up at the ceiling with unfocused eyes, her limbs as limp and detached as the body in the next room.

Its husband sits down on the bed beside it. He slips his arm behind its back and leans over it, before he snaps his attention back onto the lens of the camera and growls, “I can’t do it with you watching.”

We’re paying him five hundred dollars to do it with us watching.

“You’re being payed five hundred dollars,” I say.

He doesn’t look at me. He turns back to the doll, leans in and kisses it. The hurt and the anger slide off of his face. He’s crying again. Crying as he frantically undresses the doll. Maybe even laughing a little somewhere in all that.

I look down to make a note. I see it now. I see it all. How everything here, in this room and the next one where an anancephalic, geriatric life is being pointlessly protracted works.

I strike out all my previous notes and turn to a new page.

Love+death=profit.

With apologies due to Messers Heisenberg et al., I had the privilege earlier this year of participating in the First Trans-Historical Poker Tournament, being held in Versailles circa 1789. Sadly, due to the somewhat erratic nature of our otherwise benevolent host, Louis XVI, we were forced to hold the tournament on the palace tennis courts (having been barred by political intrigue from our allotted hall).

Once we had all crowded in and removed the last straggling tennis players, we all signed the promptly re-written Declaration of the Rights of Men Playing Poker (the only individual not in favour was promptly guillotined by the Committee for Poker Safety), and settled down to our tables for a long night of what promised to be historically significant gambling.

Immediately my table became a centre of controversy when Mad Caliph Hakim declared himself to be God, Rene Descartes declared something about thinking he was present, and Genghis Khan declared himself the chip-leader and stole Hakim’s and Rene’s stacks while they weren’t looking.

At that point I decided that it was my responsibility to prevent the further degeneration of the game by dealing the first hand before we lost any other players. My scheme, however, failed when Pythagoras was guillotined by the Committee for Poker Safety for requesting a third card.

Things at this point things were hardly going my way, and my bad temper was not soothed by my nine-ten off suit, the result of all this being my making a large bluff with the first call. This move may have enjoyed a higher degree of success had the player immediately following me not been Kaiser Wilhelm II, who, being Kaiser Wilhelm II, responded to my provocation like he responded to all provocations, betting every chip he had (not mention his country, crown and shirt). This bet (bluff or no) was not challenged by any, as the only individual who could match it (being Catherine the Great) was not yet willing to risk her inner garments.

As the Kaiser smugly redressed himself, I sneaked off to lodge a complaint with the Committee for Poker Safety, who, upon hearing allegations of the Kaiser’s conduct, wiped his smart-alecky grin right off his shoulders, much to the relief of all those who had seen the Kaiser undressed.

With Wilhelm out of the way, President Lincoln made a bold move to “liberate” the tyrannical Genghis’ chips. Matters were complicated when Kemal Ataturk opened a new theatre in the east of the table, leaving Isaac Newton dumbfounded as to how to bet. This dilemma was thankfully solved after I again nipped off to the Committee for Poker Safety who “removed” both Kemal and his stupid bet.

Despite this, Newton folded on account of his first principle, which stated, “don’t bet like a kamikaze you fool, you’ve already embarrassed yourself in front of enough fruit-pickers today” (ironically the kamikazes were playing a well balanced game off to my right). At this point Dante at last had his opportunity to a launch into a tirade against the evils of gambling (which he had clearly been eagerly awaiting) and damned us all to the fourth circle of hell. The Committee for Poker Safety, being in the area at the time, decided to send Dante on a second expedition to the underworld for plainly refusing to bet.

With the death-toll mounting I decided it would be wise to sit the next hand out (not that my pair of three’s needed any encouragement). Robespierre and his Committee did briefly raise an eyebrow at my call, though dropped it after seeing my hand.

Lincoln continued his assault on the Khan, but his withering bets were swept away when Genghis advanced his entire “Golden Horde” of chips, and revealed that his two cards were in fact four aces. Newton, deeply concerned, closed his eyes and after a brief period of thought leaned over to me and quietly informed me that Genghis’ hand seemed to indicate that he had tampered with the space-time continuum without the permission of the Committee, and that I should probably nip off again to have Genghis tampered with. Not being one to question Newton (though by that stage slightly worried about bothering Robespierre), I again raised the alarm over conduct at my table.

After the Guillotining of the Khan, Newton looked to me much relieved, and indeed he informed the table that he had been more than a little concerned that Genghis may have been altering some of his own laws.

We continued playing, though now in a much more civilised manner, with Newton beginning to make some headway into Catherine’s stack. Some of the defeated (as opposed to dead) players began to wander about the tables delivering news. After hearing yet another tale of Robespierre’s adventure’s, (I recall that it was the one about Herr Hitler’s “expulsion” for refusing to take bets from Karl Marx) Newton again seemed to fall into a worried mood, and took out a piece of paper. He made hurried calculations, though of what I could not tell.

Catherine, seizing her chance, called in the Committee for Poker Safety, and accused Isaac of counting cards. Though not actually against the rules in this tournament, Robespierre was getting carried away with himself and decided that one more headless Englishman wouldn’t hurt anyone (employing classic Robespierre logic). However, as the “committee members” began dragging Newton away he finished his calculations and exclaimed that if present trends continued, by the midway point of the tournament Robespierre would have to have executed every single figure present including himself, the Committee for Poker Safety, and several of the wives Henry VIII had in fact left to mind the pets in the 16th Century.

Though clearly disappointed, Robespierre also proved to be the sort of man who didn’t question Newton, and reluctantly called off the tournament, resolving never to tamper with the space-time continuum again, (as I’m sure all those who survived did, myself included) thus bringing to an end the first and only, Trans-Historical Poker Tournament.

Dedicated to camera no. 11 at Salisbury Train Station

“The homosexuals wearied themselves, trying to find the door.”

Genesis 19:11, as quoted in “The Gay Blade,” by Jack T. Chick (http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0084/0084_01.asp)

Gorf looked up into the blazing morning sun. “At the appointed hour,” it was written, “verily shall mana fall from heaven, for the Lord, your God, does so love his children.”

What Gorf actually got was a powerful blast from the desert sun that sent him stumbling around, suddenly blind.  As he bellowed with the full force of his lungs- “verily, yea, thus, AND SO!” – he found himself mysteriously guided along the exact route through his camp that caused him to in turn: collapse his father-in-law’s tent, break open several chicken coops, and fall into a pit, which, in hindsight, he should really have dug much further from where he was sleeping.

As he lay among that which had been cast out from the light of this world he noticed two things. Well, actually, he noticed three things, if you count “I shouldn’t have dug an excrement pit so near my tent” and “I REALLY shouldn’t have dug an excrement pit so near my tent” as two things. But besides his meta-theologico-trans-physical musings, he also noticed that the cries of “verily,” “yea,” “thus,” and “AND SO!” which were ringing around him could not possibly have been solely his own.

“Oh,” he thought, “well. That’s a relief. If thousands of people fall into their own filth with me, it’s only fractionally as embarrassing.”

Gradually the cursing and the wailing died down, and from the relative silence a great and powerful voice boomed out, calling to the people, “Hark ye! Hark ye! Listen, for it is I, the messenger of your Lord, the leader of our people, the liberator from the great oppressor, the bringer of order and justice to all who accept God into their hearts-”

“Who?”

“It’s Bok.”

Who?

“Bok, our leader.”

“Well I didn’t vote for him!”

“HARK YE!”

“I’m just saying-“

“HARK YE! HARK YE! Verily, thus, AND SO! HARK YE! Great disorder reigns through the land, and there has been a terrible mixing up of the castes! Brother has violated brother, and men do lay with the goats of their neighbour.

“For eight long and glorious years has the Lord led you, his chosen people, through the sands of plenty, beneath the light of his triumph. But in that time many a crime has been committed, and faint indeed has grown your devotion.  All manner of disorder reigns! Sons do mumble against their mothers. Mothers do grumble against their husbands. And husbands do fumble with their daughters!

“The blindness with which the Lord has struck you in punishment, is indeed a fate which you have brought upon yourselves. But so, then, is it a fate you have the power to deliver yourselves from, for your Lord is a just and merciful God, and does so love you, that he will forgive your trespasses if you will accept his mighty justice. So be ye at the foot of great Mount Kalamatus at the hour of the midday sun, and accept the forgiveness of your Lord, in the form of his great and terrible laws!”

As the messenger of the Lord, Bok, finished his summons, Gorf’s vision began to return. With this vision he saw that he had not only dug his pit too near his tent, but had in fact dug it unusually deeply, and so was forced to call out, “ah, hark ye, hark ye perhaps anyone, I, um, I do really quite verily need a hand.”

After a moment the head of Gorf’s brother-in-law, Klog, appeared over the edge of his hole. “Gorf!” he exclaimed, with a shout of great surprise. “What are you doing down there?”

“Verily, thus Klog,” Gorf called back, “I don’t know. What are you doing up there?”

“Well,” Klog mused, looking off into the distance, “first I got up, and then I thought about having some breakfast, and then I saw that I wasn’t wearing any pants, and then I was trying to decide if I wanted to wear any pants-”

“Klog,” Gorf tried to interrupt. “Klog.” “Klog!”

It was no use. Klog’s recitation continued.[1]

“…and then she said, I’m Glab, who’s this Sibhab you’re talking about, and then I decided I would put some pants on, and then Glab was trying to shout and to cry and to press charges all at once, and then I remembered it was the twelfth day after the full moon, and that I had to be at the tent of justice before the midday sun to explain what I’d been doing with all those cats on market day, and then I remembered I still hadn’t eaten, and then I thought, hmm, Klog, think, how do you get breakfast, and decide when to start walking to the tent of justice, there’s a trick to it…”

As Gorf stood trapped, listening to his brother-in-law’s story, he could feel his ankles slowly sinking into the mush beneath him.

“… and then I looked up into the sky, and then I couldn’t see anything, and then I was falling about everywhere, and then I walked straight through your tent, and then I accidentally stepped on some eggs, and then I fell down onto some goats.”

“So you didn’t fall into a pit, then?” Gorf asked.

“Nope. I got the goats,” Klog replied. “Bad luck brother. Goats is better than pits.”

“Are you going to help me out of this pit?”

Klog stood stunned for a moment. He looked down into the pit, and then looked back and Gorf. “Well why didn’t you say something earlier, Gorf? Sure I’ll help you out.”

After Gorf had clambered out of his waste, having made especially sure not to wipe as much of the excrement off of his hands as possible before accepting Klog’s help, the two made their way to their great and terrible judgement at Mount Kalamatus.

The whole nation had already assembled there to await Bok’s message. Gorf overheard snatches of conversation that the people assembled there were having:

“So you walked straight through your in-laws’ tent?”

“That’s right!”

“That’s nothing, mine were in there when I did it.”

“Did you break through the chicken coops too?”

“I think I crushed some piglets to death.”

“I heard Blom did that too.”

“And then the goats, right?”

“Well, of course.”

“You have to finish with goats.”

“It’s like Bok said, you can’t have a proper punishment from God if you haven’t lain with goats.”

Gorf took Klog aside for a moment and whispered, “listen, Klog, don’t…ah… don’t mention to anyone about the pit, alright?”

Before Klog could reply, the Lord’s messenger, Bok, began to speak from a great cliff extending out from Mount Kalamatus.

“Hark ye! Hark ye! I speak bearing a message from God!”


[1] And, incidentally, after a great many repetitions, across countless generations, and by the inscrutable windings of the evolution of any great story, eventually came down to our own day as the epic we now call The Odyssey.