Authors: Dan Carver
© Not So Noble Books
The Twentieth Century slunk off in disgrace, its knickers in a bag and a carpet burn on its chin.
The promised apocalypse stayed home. Jesus was a no-show and, most disappointingly, the Y2K bug failed to detonate Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
The Twenty-first Century fared no better, arriving in an expensive dress then passing out in a pool of its own urine midway through the festivities. The misquoted Mayans stayed silent as 2012 came and went and the Aztec Antichrist stayed hidden in his South American hidey hole. The sun kept shining through American carbon dioxide, the sea remained wet and blue around Japanese whaling ships and the Earth kept on spinning in a universe God didn’t create. The great nations faltered, the not-so-great nations fell and the United Kingdom dismembered itself.
CJD, BSE, RQP, Foot and Mouth, Bird Flu, Swine Flu and Ostrich Pox – burning animal carcasses turned our skies black. What wasn’t cremated went into feed-mix, rendering poultry inedible. Attempts to factory farm domestic pets resulted in a plague of distemper and saw an end to cats and dogs. Mink spread from the countryside to the cities, wiping out every small animal species that couldn’t out-breed them. Pigs got lucky, – reserved for organ transplants – horses didn’t, whinnying their way out of the stable and into our staple protein and a nation of little girls wept into their microwave lasagnes. The public proved reluctant to eat donkeys, but it was clearly on the cards.
Our industries collapsed and pundits noted that the only thing we seemed to export was vomit to European beaches. Oh, and Islamist terrorists.
With our good name tarnished by numerous ill-conceived and illegal middle-Eastern conflicts, a ridiculous hyper-inflated currency and the politically correct assimilation of every God-bothering lunatic going, the European Union dropped us like a hot brick. Inspired by Ireland’s example, Scotland declared
independence and blockaded itself in. The Welsh disappeared into the mountains, where they may or may not have become extinct.
The French, fearing waves of English asylum seekers, mined the shipping lanes and filled the Channel Tunnel with raw sewage. We were isolated. Quarantined, if you like. The Great Separation had begun.
We were starving. Paralysed by its own incompetence and, politicians being politicians, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, parliamentary process descended into a caustic cocktail of feudalism, nepotism and behind the scenes beatings.
Criminals ran riot. Gypsy warlords pillaged the streets and everything metal was stolen and melted down for bullets. An attempt to impose martial law foundered when the black-market failed to deliver the crack cocaine necessary to keep the troops motivated.
Starving refugees sought shelter in the surviving supermarkets who, sensing the change in the consumer climate, took advantage of their international supply chains and restructured themselves as private armies. Civil war raged, fuelled by arms airdropped by Tesco and the Walmart group.
With all our coal, gas and nuclear resources stripped and shifted, the supermarkets upped-sticks and shipped out, leaving nothing but shell-shocked former-soldiers shivering in rubble.
An irregular militia composed of disgraced military commanders and God-knows-whoever marched upon the capital. They took it, and some kind of peace ensued.
The semi-official police force imposed curfews enforced by carnivorous animals. The release of leopards onto the streets had the knock-on effect of reducing the homeless population and boosting the re-legalised handgun economy.
Ostracised from the rest of the world, we salvaged what we could and rebuilt from wreckage – Frankenstein buildings and mongrel motor vehicles powered by our own shit. Juvenile delinquents took to the air in home-made zeppelins filled with suspect gases. Defecating on foreign air traffic became the new extreme sport.
Finally and incontrovertibly, a gene was discovered that proved a cast iron link between political ambition and sexual perversion. But we all expected that anyway.
Welcome to my world. It’s fucked.
Bullets bounce off the ‘
Downing Street’ sign. Mortar chunks spring from the brickwork and concrete atomises in small, grey puffs as rebounds and ricochets tear chunks out of ministerial buildings. Security Guard One waves his rifle in authoritarian protest, to be met by a wayward bullet glancing off pockmarked paving stone and finding lodgings in his leg. Security Guard Two surveys the scene from the safety of a reinforced hut.
And whilst One lies prone on bloodstained tarmac, screaming for assistance, Two takes up a pistol and shoots him cleanly through the head thus making proceedings much easier for all involved. He returns to his magazine.
The airship spins on its axis, pointing its nose and four machineguns toward the main building. A cuddly donkey nailed to the door bears the legend: ‘One Ass Too Many! Bring Back Our Mules,’ and a palm print of human skin sizzles on the electrified doorknob. Welcome, my friends… to
Spraying bullets as it descends, the makeshift zeppelin lowers itself to the window, aiming for the sturdy figure pacing, cigar in hand, behind the Plexiglas. But the Plexiglas is bullet-proof. The man turns, unhitches his trousers and exposes his backside to the attackers; his buttocks glowing like two pale moons in the half-light of the office.
Inside the cockpit, a masked figure loads spherical capsules into a paintball gun. He leans out of the side door and spells the word ‘Twat’ across the wall in thirty-seven smeary shots. Mission accomplished, the airship turns to make its retreat, the occupants congratulating each other on how ‘anti-establishment’ they are. The sturdy man – his arse re-holstered – unlatches the window. His features stay set as he slides up the sash and pokes out a rusty service revolver. A few lazy pot shots and the airship explodes in a ball of flame.
“So glad we made these things legal again,” he laughs and turns with an affirming, masculine grunt.
This rambunctious bugger with a penchant for posterial exposure is a Mr Humboldt Bactrian – seventeen stone of personal hygiene issues crammed into a snug-fitting, charcoal grey suit and coated with a permanent film of enthusiastic moisture. He isn’t what you’d call handsome, being redder than a baboon’s backside – but, then, neither is his companion, the bag of knees and elbows they call Benedict Malmot. The bat-like Mr Malmot is tombstone grey with the venal stare of a geography teacher waiting for a student to turn sixteen. He isn’t what you’d call pleasant. Or trustworthy. In fact, some hesitate to call him human. And the joke is that these two run the country.
It seems everyone loses something they love and mourns its loss for the rest of their existence.
‘Dubious Freddy Welcomes
’ flashes the sign in tart’s-knicker pink, as its crepitating electrics transform every insect within a twenty-centimetre radius into a charcoal pellet. Crack! Ping! And our insect plummets down toward a waiting tin lid, brimful of little cremated bodies. The tin’s stuck to the floor with some kind of cigarette ash and beer paste, much like Freddy, who’s staring over his large nose and even larger moustache, evaluating which customers he can short change without getting a pool cue in his already misshapen face. But avert your eyes from Freddy. He’s not photogenic. Amputee dwarves seldom are. No, focus your attention on the twenty-six years of angst congealing opposite the sign, counting his blessings on one hand and listing his curses in cramped handwriting on an A4 sheet. His curses are many and varied. And I know. Because I’m him.
Curse One: The name: Hugo Jupiter. A conglomeration of the pompous and the ridiculous, and entirely wrong for somebody raised within the care system. So sling me a metaphor someone…
“Jupiter: a large astronomical body; core of liquid hydrogen; spins so fast it distorts its own shape; notable for its giant, red spot.”
See where we’re going with this? I’m tall and I’m volatile. The giant spot lurks beneath a plaster on my forehead. My wife says it’s probably the boiling up of inner torment but, if that’s the case, then she’s the major contributing factor. Common sense tells me it’s bad diet and Freddy’s grimy pints. I’ve had plenty of those thrown down my throat recently. But I wasn’t always so disgusting. No, I’ve worked at it.
Curse Two: My ridiculously hard life – highlights including the death of my mother and my father’s subsequent mental breakdown. Not to mention the requisitioning of my donkey yesterday morning by armed government stooges.
Now all this would be vaguely tolerable. Misfortunes are comparative and mine are mild. Look out the window and you’ll see an old lady beating off a leopard. She doesn’t complain, just gets on with being eaten. And
don’t complain. I just state the circumstances and get on with drinking myself to death. But my final millstone doesn’t have the decency to do that, despite my best efforts. No, he’s a veritable wellspring of self-pity. Whatever it is, it’s always everybody else’s fault. Always. This is Curse Three: the sinister rock caught in my orbit. His name is Elton. And may God help us all.
So, I’m sitting in my Tesco-issue army fatigues. Elton returns from the bar with two absinthes and a suspicious yellow spirit that smells of mink piss. I can’t prove Freddy wrung it from an animal but I wouldn’t put it past the miniature fiend to try. Elton pre-empts me as usual:
“I know it stinks. But it was cheap. Like life in general.”
You see, Elton is a Cockney, “born within the sound of the ‘Old Bowel Bells’,” or whatever it is they say, and he shares their genetic talent for segueing the most trivial of observations into a recital of life’s injustices. Whereas my miseries remain, on the whole, my own business, Elton’s are never more than a trip and tumble away from his
tannoy speaker mouth.
So we’ve had the platitudes and now for the Sob
, polished beyond familiarity and into the realms of incest. Like a parrot repeating the same phrases decade after decade, that jaw works up and down. Can I shame him into silence? Is there anything from my own back catalogue that might put his meagre tribulations into perspective?
“You see that fly-killing thing there,” I say, pointing. “Do you see how it works? It electrocutes. Like my mother. You remember her. She died screaming from a thousand volts. My mother who burned to death in front of me.”
But the indigenous Londoner is a self-centred species and his woes will always outweigh the violent demise of a colleague’s mum. His eyes well up into concentric rings of various nasty purples, culminating in black, dilated pupils. His sinuses liquefy and his lips quiver and somewhere inside his crazed little mind the violins strike up. Excuse the accent; they’re not my strongpoint:
“I miss ‘
er!!” he starts up like a car alarm. “You wouldn’t fackin’ understand! You ain’t lost no-wun!”
Well, as a matter of fact I had, many times over, and I’d just said so.
“Booaaaargh!” he grizzles on repulsively. “[Sniff!] I miss her
it’s tearin’ me apart! You don’t understand! It’s like someone’s just punched frew my ribs and grabbed me fackin’ ‘art and…and…just ripped it aht! You
understand! No facker understands! It’s like…like being…”
Yeh, yeh,” says I, “torn apart.”
Been there, done that, I’m thinking to myself. But the family I lost were real – not a product of my imagination. But this counts for nothing.
Elton bawls on. Had I given you the impression we were alone? We weren’t. We are now. Our companions have vanished, along with my will to live.
So, Elton’s missing things: dignity and an understanding of acceptable behaviour chief amongst them. Meanwhile, I find that by moving my barstool, just so, it makes a creaking sound that my drunken acquaintance takes as an acknowledgement. By steadying myself with a hand on the table and rocking my hips, I can pick beer nuts out of my teeth with a matchstick and still sound like I’m being completely supportive.
“She’s gone. I know that.”
“Creak,” goes my stool.
“Can you believe it?”
“She’ll never find me. [Sniff!] ‘Ow can she? She can’t trace me through the phonebook. She won’t know me fackin’ name! Boooarghh! [Sniff.] Booaaaargh!”
“Unless she saw you on that television show... wrist-deep in a dead swan,” I mutter under my breath, “and she doesn’t want to find you.” But the stool still goes ‘creak’ and then it goes ‘crack’. Then it goes ‘snap’ and I go ‘thud’. Elton doesn’t notice my downhill plummet - too busy having an identity crisis. He has two identities you see, each as annoying as the other, and they fight for dominance.
I know him as Elton. I fought alongside him as Elton. I scooped up his innards, and glued him back together, and the name I saw on his dog tags said ‘Elton’. But Elton doesn't trust me because I used to be a doctor.
No, Elton is an artificial construct foisted upon him by sinister, unnamed psychiatrists. His real name is ‘Richard Mitts’, music hall entertainer extraordinaire. His place is onstage with a wooden dummy and his time is The Second World War. He doesn’t explain how he dodged national service.
Memories of this former life come to him in sudden anachronistic flashes: pre-decimal coinage, seamed stockings – obviously – and a peculiar recurring dream about fish. All this he relates to me in infinite, expanding detail with hours devoted to involuntary teleportations, sinister operating theatres and more unnamed doctors – this time demanding his kidneys. He hasn’t informed the police, he says, for fear they think him mad. Which he is. Completely.
I don’t dig any deeper – that would imply interest or an emotional connection. I pick up my pen. I draw a cuckoo clock on my A4 pad, linking it with an arrow to the words ‘Curse Three’ and the letter ‘M’. I sigh, run clawed fingers through my hair and start considering my exit strategy. And soon I’m clunking together the
Meccano pieces of a devious plan: simple, elegant and featuring my trademark mixture of subterfuge and mind-destroying quantities of alcohol.
“Absinthe?!” I suggest, my eyes flashing enthusiastically. “Yes, I think so! Absinthe’s what you need! If you can’t forget your troubles, obliterate the recollection of remembering them!”
Elton gives a recalcitrant grunt and I lurch toward the bar, empty glasses chinking in my hand. Freddy clumps up in those ridiculously high platform shoes of his, trying to steady the bottle with a metal claw and it slips and smashes whilst he’s cursing in the name of some foreign prophet or other.
I don’t ask how he lost his hand. I know he went on holiday with a full set of digits and came back three months later with a hook and a steel plate in his skull. And, at four foot high, well, he’s just the right height to go scuttling around in low tunnels, planting bombs. It makes sense if you think about it. But I don’t like to think of it, really. I’ve never liked bombs.
So Freddy’s missing his hand, Elton’s missing his marbles and I’m missing a mother, a father and… and something else. But the hurt’s fresh and I’m wasted, so give me a minute... I have feelings. Doesn't mean I have to like or use them.
We drink a lot in England nowadays. Combine alcohol with emotion and you get the worst kind of boozy sentimentality. Couple that with the invention of the telephone and you have the potential to make a major embarrassment of yourself, worldwide, and not remember until you have to pick up the pieces the next day. Believe me, I’ve reaped the whirlwind on that one. So, to my mind, it’s best to keep things under wraps. (Or to confine your drinking to the tops of mountains, in countries where no one speaks your language.)
But the more you lose, the more you cling to what you have. I had a donkey. He was called Bongo, and I clung to him like mad. I remember my father telling me:
“Young man, you need a stable and a calming influence. And there’s not much that’s more stable and calming than a mule.”
Dad was right. That smelly, floppy-eared bastard was a part of me. He was stubborn and lazy and all the things I would become. But whilst the bond between man and donkey is pretty much the strongest of all interspecies platonic love – I’m just one man and no match for a van full of council heavies. And now, as I look down into my clenched fist, I see a requisition form and a receipt. Not much to show for a twenty year friendship and the last link to my childhood. So to Hell with the council and to Hell with Elton. I’ve had enough. I signal Freddy.
“Absinthes,” I say, “three of the sods.” And then I think better of it. “In fact, you better double that...and add another two!”
So I shimmy back to the table with a kaleidoscopic display of shot glasses. Elton’s face is a picture – something nasty and German Expressionist, by the looks of it.
“For you,” I say. “Because you’ve suffered so very much.” And I smile, like a lizard. “Down in one.
fack,” he says, “there’s millions of ‘em!”
“Because you’ve suffered so
much,” I continue in my pungent croon.
He doesn’t pause to think, just grabs the first glass and throws it down his tubby neck. The next two disappear in quick succession. There’s three gone before he realises I haven’t sugared them and his eyes take on a frogspawn cast. But he still bangs back two more. His last shot has an ominous air to it but, misery leading to consumption, he throws that in after.