Fiction


Craig Woods

 

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010


Invisible Man Directing Traffic

Craig Woods

 

Some years ago I dreamt about a great war. I don’t recall the political details and, being a dream, those seemed of little relevance in any case. I do however remember a scene of great jubilation: a city like Barcelona, timid sunlight on cobblestones stained black with attrition. A child with a missing arm came running into my embrace, screaming: “We won! We won!” The child held in her frail grubby fingers the amputated arm of a plastic doll. She grinned feverishly and held the miniature artificial limb aloft, as though it signified her return to an unmolested state. It was enough to tell me the victory was real. From the walls and smoky shadows of the city, men and women emerged to rebuild and repair in a communal spirit of camaraderie and good cheer. We had won. Victory was ours. Hallelujah.

But something was wrong.

As I looked around at the faces of my brethren I was struck by the familiarity of every face and voice, each turn of phrase and quirk of dress. I quickly surmised that I knew all of these people. Every single one. I was in a City of Familiars where the last stranger had been cast out in the name of an ill-defined “victory”. The war we had won had been a folly of the most obscene puritanism. We had purged ourselves of all that was foreign so that I now found myself trapped in a bland utopia of parochialism where none were permitted to mind their own business and I was choked by familiarity on all sides. 

I awoke in a pool of my own tepid terror with this simple knowledge quivering at my lips:
Where familiarity is preserved, all revolutionary victories are basically failures. Self-defeats. Regressions.

Imagine the idiocy of a snake attempting to re-clad itself in a shed skin. Or a frog biting off its limbs in an attempt to return permanently to the underwater realm of the tadpole. 

There can be something quite anti-evolutionary about friendships. That relentless day-to-day familiarity with other human beings that causes personal boundaries to erode, secrets to be unnecessarily unmasked, thoughts unnecessarily voiced … There’s a worm in the heart of all friendships that laces trust and affection with spores of something hostile and malignant. There’s no cure. Surgery is the only option. How many of us are prepared to make that cut? Very few, and for entirely understandable reasons. So instead, when great change comes, when we stand poised at our evolutionary victory, we find ourselves looking back to the primordial swill from which we just emerged with an idiot’s sentimentality. Like Howard Hughes at the crazed end of his days - sharp enough still to take a stab at destiny but too terminally stubborn to jettison the past - we attempt to cram two entirely incompatible narratives into the movie of our life. We stand in the centre of the road like an invisible man directing traffic; the old lane of familiarity increasingly congested, juggernauts of doubt thundering back towards us in drab convoys while, on the opposite lane, the wraiths of evolution speed away from us in blatant disgust.

How literally do I mean this?

Not literally enough for Soledad at least, who even now paces the dirty kitchen behind me, her hot breath blazing a hex upon the back of my neck. 

“Crecer algunos cojones!” she snarls, “Deseche todo!” (Grow some balls! Throw it all out!)

She’s pissed with me. It’s understandable. I wrote her into a corner some two months ago and have since neglected to write her out of it. My bad. One owes a great deal of responsibility to one’s creations and that’s an indispensable lesson for any aspiring writer. A writer who doesn’t keep the good grace to worry about what predicament he leaves his characters in before abandoning them for weeks on end is no better than an absentee landlord, and Soledad isn’t about to let me forget it. From time to time she falls silent and motionless, content to cast her hybrid gaze out at the red sun setting over Glasgow’s cold skyline while I continue to type. But at sporadic intervals she will shuffle her feet, clear the phlegm from her feral throat, thumb the hammer of one of her revolvers with a dry cold metallic snap and the message is clear. I have a job to do. And I’ve lingered more than long enough in the detritus left over from two weeks ago… the waste bin spilling refuse rich with reminders of a week spent outside of time with a woman I adore … sad music turned white for a moment … familiar melody on my back felt my heart working … I had something like it in saliva … dream of her alleycat voice against my ear … monochrome years had kept her waiting … scream this building moving my tongue … ice cream for breakfast … melt away everything inside a giggle … sleep from siren hands into transparent huddle … future etched in the broken wineglass … troubled fragile features transformed while we slept … a dusty sofa interval of butterfly kisses between two tiger heartbeats …

Soledad slams a hard palm on my shoulder. “Mover o morir!”
It’s not a threat but encouragement. Hers is not the sentimental kindness of doting mothers and goodly Samaritans but the raw cosmic fire at the heart of a dark star - a factual, unequivocal force older than time yet as fresh and invigorating as morning dew. Her place is in battle and her canine jaws, idle for too long under my inertia, are eager to tear and rend enemy flesh. As a keen animal welfare enthusiast, I feel it would be deeply remiss of me to keep the hound on its leash any longer.

Sorting through old files. Stumbled upon this cut-up from four or five years ago:
“A raindrop fell on the children relentless in their savagery for something or other while blows from pocket knives strangled the funny thing”
Red sky darkening outside. Soledad draws a revolver and spins the cylinder inspecting the metal for dirt and blemishes. Smell of rust in the room and I remember a dream from two months ago:


I am an adolescent in a classroom of other adolescents - two girls and two other boys. Animal fire sparks and sputters behind our luminous eyes, providing the only light in the gloomy building. We are sat at desks adorned with textbooks which lie unopened. A word scrawled across the blackboard: EXILE. Where are the teachers? Why have we been left here in this mausoleum of ghosts? We stalk the empty corridors, disturbing spectres of chalk dust in dreary sluggish swirls. We have been at this school for several months, posing as typical children. We are not typical children. Insurgent fury thunders in our young hearts. We had come to this place to tear it down from within. Have we succeeded? Did we wipe out the vile order entrenched here with but a focussed flex of our thoughts? None of us can remember. Have we instead been discovered? And somehow forsaken -- damned to spend intolerable eternity in these maudlin ruins?

Red sky beyond the window gives us our answer. The blonde girl points with a gasp, her face a mask of rage. Something crustacean and ancient stirs in the stars beyond those red clouds. As though I have an astronomer’s telescope embedded in my brain I push my field of vision forward to see the missiles -- seven gleaming silver projectiles launched from the cold heart of the enemy, soaring through near-space to descend upon our planet like the fist of god. The rest of the world is empty. We have been duped. The teachers and parents, snickering from behind their oh-so-caring hands and their leather-bound bibles and their morning newspapers have condemned us. They found a way out in time and abandoned us to fend for ourselves at this cosmic impasse. 

Through the doors of the school we walk out into an abandoned fairground. This is what the end of the world looks like - sad steel structures declaring the end of childhood in spider-like silhouettes across the bleeding sky. We seat ourselves on the Ferris wheel and let it grind us slowly towards the stars, towards the missiles, towards our final confrontation. Perhaps we can yet carve a new eternity in this vacant vista of rust and shadow…


Only those willing to abandon everything can win anything. That’s the moral of this tale.
Soledad growls low in her throat, a gesture of solemn approval.

It strikes me now how to get Soledad out of the rut I dumped her in. Her relationship with Grey is an obscure one. Most readers will be incredulous as to why such an audacious character as she is lumped with the thankless task of acting as his guide. Of course I know the answer to this, and it will be revealed at a later point. But nonetheless there is an incongruity to their relationship. The displeasure she has been breathing against my neck for the past hour has to be redirected towards Grey. It’s time the dynamic of their union changed a little. Time for Soledad to slip out of the leash and run free with the scent of enemy blood singing tantalisingly in her nostrils.

An old hotel room. Barcelona. 1936. Where humanity stood at the precipice of evolution before falling pathetically back into its primordial excrement. This is the front line in a war beyond time. Time to rewrite the books. 


It goes like this:

The small hotel room to which Pilar has admitted them embodies both the splendour and adversity of the revolution. Once luxurious rose wallpaper peels at the edges, flaps flexing backward like stale paper tongues lapping desperately for moisture at the humid air. On the bedside table an expensive ceramic ornament of a noble black horse collectrs dust in the numerous dents upon its decaying surface. The high mirrored wardrobe, a veritable antique, also boasts several scars across its glass veneer. Soledad squints at their reflections: she perched lazily upon the windowsill, curtains swaying at her sides, a gash in the glass superimposed across her chest; Grey cross-legged upon the floor, his face buried in the red notebook, a rounded hole in the mirror’s surface creating the illusion of a bloodless wound in his stomach.

Slamming the book shut with a sharp sigh, Grey disturbs her reverie. “Sol, there’s more here than I bargained for.” He turns to her, his eyes red and aqueous. “According to what’s written in this second volume, Poppy is still out there somewhere… sometime. But…”

His throat seems to close up, the words fading at his lips. He massages his forehead gingerly with one hand and closes his eyes, a single tear declaring his dismay upon the vexed parchment of his face. 

Static claims the room and Soledad feels the mould of time festering upon her skin. Shaking herself free from its clutches, she finally nudges him hard in the side with the bony edge of her knee.

“¿Qué?!”

His eyes reopen, redder and wetter than before and roll lethargically towards her. “It looks like she’s in love all over again. With someone else. That’s what I think anyway. It’s hard to know for sure, her writing is so opaque and self-referential. But it looks that way. I may have lost her, Sol. Again. I may have lost her no matter what I do from here. No matter where or when I go, I might always be too late…” he snorts back a clod of fresh phlegm with a pathetic sound like the snivel of a spoilt infant denied his extra five minutes before bedtime. “I think this might be it. I’m sorry, Sol, I may have wasted your time. When she left it wasn’t just to escape the doctors and the medication… she was leaving everything behind, me included. And she knew it. I should have let her go. I should have stayed at home and forgotten this whole…”

Incensed, Soledad leaps from the windowsill and grips him by the shoulders, slamming his back hard against the wall. The dark stars of her eyes burn with hybrid fury.

“Maldito! Hay más en juego que tu amor! Echa un vistazo a tu alrededor! Mira por la ventana! ¿No ves lo que podemos lograr de aquí?” 

With a backhanded slap, she strikes him hard across the face. His eyes widen in shock and pain, a stunned hand hovering above the injured area. Heartbreak simmers at the edges of his expression. She does not relent, her voice escalating into a savage canine snarl:

“Si podemos cambiar las cosas aquí, entonces podemos lograr cualquier cosa! Su Amapola poco no es nada comparado con la revolución! Lograr la revolución, entonces usted puede recuperarla fácilmente!” In a final act of degradation, she grabs him roughly with one hand, cradling his balls in her hot palm. “Pero primero que necesita para crecer algunas cojones!”

With that, she stands once more and turns to face the window, letting her face soak the invigorating light of the liberated city. Outside a crowd is gathering in the square, assembling the various artefacts culled from the church raids into a ceremonial bonfire.

Grey sits trembling in terrorised silence. This is his first experience at the receiving end of Soledad’s rage and, while remarkably tame by her proven standards, it has ruptured the universe of his understanding. Upon the grimy floor of this faded hotel room, the dusts of his illusions disperse into infinitesimal particles. 


This mountain of rubbish gets no smaller. Tomorrow I will begin to tidy it. On pain of Soledad’s bullet.

This is what happens when victory becomes failure. Self-satisfaction seeps in and all the glory of even the most honourable revolution quickly mutates into new forms of complacency, leading ultimately to elitism and the same old structures, the same old hierarchies creeping in from the shadow of victory like roaches from pleasantly varnished but poorly insulated skirting. 

And so all the noble characters from the writer’s dreams and fictions are set adrift on a tide of no return; sad, broken faces looking out to an endlessly setting sun, sagging bodies heavy with defeat clad still in the now petulant costumes of would-be crusaders, anti-heroes, firebrands, deviant legends of every fabulous perversion … all of them cast out of their own story as it dies for no other reason than the lack of motivation to sustain itself after less than half its necessary pages. The children relentless in their house … their rich textures lend modern blows from pocket knives bare after that raindrop … elms and poplars came to demolish the old squats and a black thunderhead loomed in wait for them … Unknown tenants in strategic battle formations rented rooms only ten weeks before … Girls on bicycles were already down on porches or in the bodies of stunned pigs the house over deadly flames … no remorse on my knuckles … Children putting bags into the car and gargling death in tragic notes … women dissipated in the noon sky … such announcements roost among the ruined blocks … Gypsies disillusioned daylights before me … her lucidity had paved the road for this breastbone … her silky urban heart feeling warm in a desolate lonely place … Vision of the street seemed a career girl can get a phantom time zone of crippled memories … snubbed-nose children with faunish nostrils from the open doorways of that eerie place choked with weeds … Aquarium thoughts arrived at the final block to counter the ghostly shapes of two bracelets … centre of the road from water in the velvet of music … Someone was playing ammunition … daily headache of my voice … crouched shape leapt thinner and taller to its mental imprint …

There are a thousand unwritten chapters fluttering pagelessly at the peak of this mountain of refuse. Soledad has a bullet for each one of them. 

Change is the greatest weapon there is.


In a dream last night: 

An old small town, very west of Scotland. It is raining and everything is in monochrome. Atop a steep hill is an old factory, its chimneys belching silver smoke into a fathomless black sky. In bold white lettering across the top of the building’s main wall: ’JIMMY SMITH’S JAMMY BISCUITS’

Jimmy Smith is a local legend it seems - a young kid who fell into the biscuit mix and became radioactive. No-one knows how or why. They had to evacuate the whole damn town - was years before anyone could return to their homes. Well now Jimmy Smith has returned and again no-one knows how or why. 

Jimmy Smith is a pale freckle-faced lad with an unassuming expression and a head of curly rusty-coloured hair. He’s hitching a ride from a truck driver and they pass the old biscuit factory.

“That’s where I got made good and sweet,” Jimmy tells the driver, “baked the heat right into me and now I ain’t never cold on a winter’s night.”

The truck driver, realising who Jimmy is, brings the truck screeching to a halt and kicks the boy out by the side of the road, just outside the local library where a woman grips a child fiercely to her chest in terror at the spectacle unfolding before her.

“For the love of God, lady, run!” the truck driver bellows, “And take your kid with ya! It’s Jimmy Smith! The Biscuit Boy is back in town!”

Jimmy gathers himself slowly and clumsily from the pavement and a green light begins to glow around his eyes and fingertips. “Should’ve just let me play, would’ve been simpler on the lot of youl” he says as his whole body begins to spark and hum.

So Jimmy chucks his green biscuit energy all through the town and all through the town men and women and kids are mutating and metamorphosing, sprouting tails and wings and hooves and second heads and even third heads and fifth limbs and multiple rectums and a whole cornucopia of new sex organs. Within hours the whole town is an alien planet and there’s not a shred of familiarity left to choke the victory back down. 

It’s a happy ending, folks. Evolution makes no concessions. Biscuits are good for you.


Change is the greatest weapon there is. Soledad’s got a nose for it and the teeth and claws to defend it too.


It’ll go like this:

“We can go anywhere. Everywhere. Everytime. You’re right.”

Grey rises from the floor awkwardly, his strained body beleaguered with shock and exhaustion.

Her anger subsiding, Soledad turns and looks into his tired eyes. Though ensnared in siren hands, revolutionary dreams still glimmer there. She permits him a modest smile and spreads her arms. Like a child, he falls against her chest, his arms clamping eagerly upon her firmness. His crotch is stiff against her, his manhood aroused by the tension in this musty room. His voice, half-muted against the sweat-streaked skin of her breast, floods forth to the rhythm of her hybrid heart.

“I’m sorry, Sol. You’re right. About everything. We have so much to do. And so much we can achieve. From here, all things are possible, I can see that. And I won’t give up. I promise. I won’t give…” 

Bringing his face up to hers with a firm hand below his chin, she silences him with a kiss, deep and long, her hot tongue darting against his. Without speaking she pops his fly and unleashes his throbbing member.

Outside the crowd cheers and yells and rejoices as the amber glow of fire illuminates the square.

Silhouetted against the window, the two travellers become enmeshed, their mouths devouring each other, his hands massaging her hot breasts, his member stimulated expertly in her grip.

“¡Viva la revolución!

“¡Viva!”

“¡Viva Durruti!”

“¡Viva!”

Soledad snarls in victory as Grey shoots a galaxy of liquid stars across the dirty glass. All their mutant dreams and rampant desires are scrawled in molten white drops dripping against the blaze of revolution.


Back in my dirty kitchen, Soledad is shouldering her bags. She has a journey to make. I’m sending her on a side-mission to Comala in search of Pedro Páramo. It gives me time to sort myself out here.

When she returns, we start forging her some new bullets.
Change is the greatest weapon. 
Love is the greatest change.
So we start forging big silver bullets out of hot deviant LOVE

Pow! Pow! Pow!


*****

© 2010 Craig Woods

 

Tuesday, Decembe 8th, 2009

 

BOVINE X: Part 1

Craig Woods

 

Auntie Sheila’s trailer crouches modestly in a neglected patch of wasteground where the pylons cross the train tracks and the faded district of ruined warehouses crumbles into the estuary. The ancient castle looms in the background, perching upon its rock like a prehistoric bird looking out at the river, withered turrets tearing holes in the grey sky. Upon every red brick wall and corrugated roof, the dark sentries of crows survey this timeless vista.

This modest stretch of land, a derelict post-industrial hamlet of unseen activity, acts as a time track junction. Standing here among the ruined buildings and feral creatures - the cool fresh river scent of nostalgia invading the nervous system, the ghostly echo of dead industry reverberating against the decaying walls and timeless rocks - your Self comes sailing towards you on the melodies of long forgotten songs; subliminal flashes of ephemeral images from hazy dreams; sharp premonitory scraps of spectral conversations … Here is where the Angels drift from one time track to another; ragged figures with beautiful alert faces running guns and smuggling pipe bombs across the ethereal frontiers of dream and memory, preparing to blast a hole right through the myth of linear time.

Blessed with the ability to adapt to any landscape, any circumstance, any eventuality, the crows turn their invincible eyes to the task of supervising the frontier. No stray fragment of time, no shard of memory escapes their acute scrutiny. The crow stands as the only creature in possession of endurance enough to withstand the vortex of fluctuating time tracks without being consumed in the tempest. These tenebrous gargoyles are the eyes and ears, the spies and the messengers of the Angels who tread the tracks.

Should the stooges of linear time and the rigid laws thereof ultimately succeed in vaporizing the human world in a radioactive catastrophe, it shall surely be the crow and not the fabled cockroach who stands to inherit the smoking remains …

“Take a look at this shit!” Auntie Sheila thrust the newspaper roughly into my unsuspecting lap, “This is just the fuckin’ pits!”

Slouched lazily upon Sheila’s sofa bed, lulled by the trailer’s homely aroma of sweet tea and marijuana, snoozing Jack Russell terriers curled at my feet, I was shaken crudely from my reverie by the woman’s sudden and uncharacteristic loss of composure. This bed, I had mused, had accommodated a startling array of characters over the years; inimitable revolutionary vagabonds, runaway teen Angels, ragged fugitives with the ageless faces of marble idols … All had at various points passed through the timeless junction to spend fleeting but precious moments in the grace of Auntie Sheila’s noble gypsy heart where their memories forever burned. Leaning my head upon the arm of the sofa-bed, I could smell and taste the lasting imprint of each of these vibrant characters, their auras filling my mouth and lungs in the sanctuary air of the trailer. Now though, that sanctuary had been shattered and I stared down at the offending headline which had wounded Sheila’s equanimity.

‘HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRID EXPERIMENT MET WITH REVULSION ... Officials and Public Alike Voice Disgust at Human-Cattle Embryos …’

“Can you believe this crap? I tell ya, kiddo …” Sheila struck an angry match and lit an abnormally long joint, “Some folks got no fuckin’ idea what’s good for ‘em. These uptight pomps and lily-livered pseudo-liberal shit bags all grate on me like razor-edged roughcast.”

I scanned the article further, perusing the quotations from various public figures; Sick game …”Science should have its limits …”Breaking the laws of nature like that …”This kind of Frankenstein-style monstrosity should not be permitted …”

“Yeah,” I cast the paper aside, “The reaction’s pretty extreme for sure. And from both ends of the supposed political spectrum.”

“Extreme? Jesus, kiddo. It’s total hypocrisy is what it is. About half of those folks quoted are well known to be supportive of the use of human embryos in stem cell research. The process offered by this hybrid job ain’t no fuckin’ different!”

I nodded. “The whole nature of their complaint rests on the creation of a hybrid entity. It is pretty much a knee-jerk reaction. A complaint for the sake of a complaint.”

“No shit! You ask me kiddo, we ought to be thankful for any breakthrough in this area. For those fuckwits to react this way is to basically side themselves with the Christian fundamentalist loons who’d happily see the whole train stop. And for what?” The shrill whistle of the kettle punctuated Sheila’s bluster. She removed it from the hot plate and set it on the kitchen surface with a hard slam. “To please ‘god’ apparently. Or ‘Mother Nature’ whose infinite wisdom we dare not violate. Such a pile of crap!”

“It’s pretty amazing for sure. As far as I can see, no-one is suggesting the growing of a hybrid lifeform. Only an embryo to be used specifically for medical research. Odd to think that the simple idea of a hybrid entity can scare people so much.”

“They’re scared because they got rice pudding stashed where their fuckin’ brains ought to be, kiddo. And I tell ya,” she fixed tea into two chipped teacups, “Considering the unsustainable human population on this here planet earth, I reckon we ought to just do away with the stupid folks. The idiots, the shits, the liars, the despots, the oligarchs, the snitches, grasses and busybodies … Round them all up and dump ‘em on a desert fuckin’ island where they can fight and lie and fuck each other over until they’ve wiped themselves out.”

She laughed and I laughed with her. “I’m sure you have the contacts to make it happen.”

“The worst part is I’m only half joking.”

Later in the evening we sat side by side on a patch of moss-covered concrete, sharing a joint and puffing clouds of hazy smoke up into the melancholy stars. Following a lengthy silence, Sheila finally spoke again. “You know kiddo, the part that really gets to me is I can sure think of far worse ways for the human race to wind up than sharin’ our genes with cows. I mean, think about it … what the hell does a cow ever do but mind its own fuckin’ business? That seems like a trait most humans could do with learnin’.”

“Sure would set back all that expansionist imperialism, eh? No more military spending. Hell, the economy would collapse. Probably a good motivation for the government to keep their scientists on a tight leash.”

There followed another extended pause before Sheila murmured sleepily; “Such a palaver. And over cows. I mean seriously … Where’s the beef?”

The Angels shift through ever-fluctuating time tracks - sailing upon the winds of memory and dream - alighting on the wayward daydreams of bored workers - warm wet illicit fantasies of feverish adolescents - multiple jarring psycho-narratives of the inmates of all  prisons and mental institutions of the fragmented universe - coming together at crucial junctures to exchange information, techniques, equipment and weapons …

Anti-hybrid campaigners can be heard through the vortex barking in the ugly Neanderthal voices of white supremacists; “What?! You mean this presents the possibility that my children, my descendents may turn out to be different from my good holy self?! By God, I just won’t allow it!”

Were gonna tear their lousy shithouse the fuck down
Angelic infiltrators weave in and out of the rigid psyches of government agents and medical scientists - The mission is referred to as Operation Bovine X - The tracks here are cold and perilous, the dreams and memories of the enemy entrap the emissary in a series of grey cubicles and stone cells - The armoury on the horizon shares psychotic majesty - small earth miles and petty cruelties have a clear sentimentality - besiege the detritus of past times and nameless quarters - Not every Angel will make it out of here intact - like steel under suspicion to be born - some are rendered immobile, their sleek forms broken and corrupted in the crustacean shell of time’s prison - Sad frozen eyes of a sleepless boyhood night and the macabre nightmare of noise without movement -

Crows flutter upon the train tracks as an old forgotten nursery rhyme comes sailing in upon the cool estuary dawn …

There was a piper had a cow,
    And he had naught to give her;
He pulled out his pipes and played her a tune,
    And bade the cow consider.

The cow considered very well,
    And gave the piper a penny,
And bade him play the other tune,
    "Corn rigs are bonny."

Bovine X has been smuggled through the impossible route of a billion torn time tracks. Bovine X is a biochemical viral agent containing the genetic formula for a successful Human-Cattle Hybrid. The formula behaves in the manner of an airborne virus, causing instant hybrid mutation upon contact with the human nervous system.

Heavy clouds gather above the bitter estuary air … A squadron of dark crows flutters around the turrets of the crumbling castle … The morbid reflection of linear time shimmers in the frozen river as iridescent black feathers blast through a hole in the weary sky …

February 18, 1998. The United States perches once more on the precarious edge of war with Iraq. The Clinton administration has expressly refused to entertain any thoughts of a peaceful resolution to the standoff. Polls conducted by the mainstream media assert that public opinion is largely supportive of the President, albeit tentatively. Across the globe, other heads of state and prominent political and cultural figures voice their opposition to the White House’s hard line but their protests fall on deaf ears. As is to be expected, domestic reportage of the subject is conducted with a notable slant towards support for the government,. The few voices of dissent permitted are carefully screened and cut down to minor sound bites devoid of context.

The Clinton administration has permitted CNN to arrange and broadcast a ‘Town Meeting’ at Ohio State University on the subject of the looming war. The network has issued six thousand tickets for this ‘public’ event and has implemented a strict monitoring regime in order to avoid any troublesome questions from dissenters. This meticulously devised affair is publicized as a chance to “include the public” in discussions of the Iraq crisis.

Enter the Secretary of State, the Defense Secretary, and the National Security Adviser to ‘clarify’ the administration’s official position on Iraq and to field predicted questions from a handpicked audience comprised mainly of government loyalists. This entire pantomime has been orchestrated to perfection, there are to be no slip-ups, no surprises, no unforeseen or unwelcome developments.

Hybrid revolutionaries prowl among the public throng; young men and women with sharp intelligent faces and feral eyes softly glowing with an insurrectionist spark - specially prepared capsules of Bovine X tucked neatly into wallets, pockets, hairclips and wristbands. Each of these noble Angels transmits their own peculiar animal scent; a low musk smell which invades the nostrils and tickles the taste buds of the crowd. The effect, almost subliminal at first, is one of primal arousal. Glands swell, skin prickles slightly with electric anticipation, the hairs on the back of the neck stand rigid in muted hostility towards the podium until even the most forgiving of Clinton loyalists find themselves entertaining thoughts of mutiny …

A few of the Angels carry Dictaphones which they now activate, relaying muted recordings of vicious canine snarls and the wails of distressed cattle. The recordings are set at a frequency which bypasses the conscious ear and invades the nerve centres, setting the teeth on edge with aggression and anguish. By the time the speakers have approached the microphone, the crowd is abuzz with tension. A murmur of disquiet circulates around the hall, escalating gradually until jeers and hoots of derision can be heard. Sporadic at first, these cries of discord soon increase in number and volume until the speakers are all but drowned out, their rehearsed responses falling flat and ineffectual against this spontaneous barrage. The government has been caught with its pants down on live television.

A clean-cut white man in a freshly pressed shirt and tie approaches the microphone. He is young and lean with alert intelligent eyes and an Ivy League air about him.

“I have a question for the Secretary of State.” The jeers and hoots are hushed for a moment as the man’s voice echoes through the hall; “Why bomb Iraq when other countries have committed similar violations? Turkey for example has bombed Kurdish citizens. Saudi Arabia has tortured political and religious dissidents. Why does the US apply different standards of justice to these countries?”

The Secretary hesitates, the stricken look of a chastened infant claiming her puffy face. She clears her throat and fumbles with the microphone, floundering gracelessly as she searches her ill-prepared brain for a suitable response. Finally she opens her mouth to answer and in the process transmits the unwitting signal to a gathering of Angels. The Secretary’s indignant tones mask the muted clicks as scores of capsules are broken between nimble fingers, sending invisible clouds of Bovine X billowing and curling among the crowd and up towards the podium itself. The concoction creeps into open mouths and nostrils, attaching itself to waiting nervous systems …

“Let me say that when there are problems such as you have described, we point them out and make very clear our opposition to them. But there is no-one who has done to his people or to his neighbours what Saddam Hussein has done or what he is thinking about doing…”- An imperceptible haze of Bovine X enters the Secretary of State’s open mouth, its misty tendrils reaching in to attach themselves to nerves and neurons, precipitating mutation.

“I think the record will show that Saddam Hussein has produced weapons of mass destruction which he is clearly not collecting for his own personal pleasure but in order to mmmmooooooooooo! ...”

The woman’s face is a mask of shock and confusion as she brings an abrupt hand to her mouth, instinctively muting the deep animal noises suddenly erupting from her throat. A quiescent hush falls over the crowd. The Angels snicker quietly into their breasts.

The man in the white shirt grins widely and emits a loud “Mmmmmmooooooooooooo!” in return. Sections of the crowd begin to laugh wildly, sending an escalating wave of joviality through the assembly. Some of the hoots and chuckles tail off into a low bovine moan. The Secretary of State looks to her two colleagues who each shrug, strained expressions and tense postures betraying their unease. The Defense Secretary scratches feverishly at the crown of his head. Gathering herself, the Secretary of State clears her throat and endeavours to continue:

“The point is, Saddam is quantitatively and qualitatively different from every [cough] brutal dictator that has appeared recently and we are [cough, cough] very concerned about him specifically and what his plans mmmmooooooooooo-ight be.”

The man in the white shirt, eyes burning now with an animal fire, leans back into the microphone. “What do you have to say about dictators in countries like Indonesia, whom we sell weapons to, yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor? What do you have to say about Israel, who is slaughtering Palestinians and has imposed martial law? What do you have to say about that?”

The crowd is now united behind the man in the white shirt, emanating a chorus of deep guttural hums from their mutating throats. The walls, ceiling and floors vibrate with the frequency which can be felt in the belly like a primal call to arms.

“Those are our allies. Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when they commit similar problemmmmmoooooooooooooo!?”

The vast room erupts in cheers and animal cries of triumph as the Secretary of State coughs into a handkerchief, attempting to muffle the cattle-like groans emanating involuntarily from her own lungs. The Defense Secretary tears at a spot on his scalp where a ridge of bone can now be seen to protrude from the strained skin of his scalp.

“There are various, uh … examples of [cough] things which are, uh … not [cough] not right in this world and the United [cough] States is trying …” The bestial roar of the crowd drowns out this feeble rhetoric but the Secretary of State struggles to continue. “I really am surprised that, uh … people [cough] feel it is necessary to defend Saddammmmooooooooooossein [cough] when what we ought to be thinking about is how to mmmmooooooooooo-ake sure that he does not develop weapons of mmmmooooooooooo-ass destruction …”

The white-shirted gentleman moves in for the kill.

“I am not defending Saddam Hussein. I’m not defending him in the least. What I’m saying is that there needs to be consistent application of US foreign policy. We cannot support people who are committing the same violations because they are political allies - that is not acceptable. We cannot violate UN resolutions when it is convenient to us! You are not answering my question Madammmmmoooooooooooooooooooo!!”

The crowd roars and bellows, heavy stamping feet thundering upon the floor, eyes aglow with noble animal vigour. The Secretary of State, a desperate hand clamped around her pulsing throat, makes a last ditch attempt at maintaining her aura of authority as it slips hopelessly between her fingers.

“I suggest to you that you study carefully what American foreign policy is … [cough] what exactly we have said about the [cough] cases that you have mmmmmmooooooooooooo-entioned …[cough] I suggest … [cough] I suggest to you that …” She brings a hand to her forehead, mopping her brow of the cold sweat that has formed there.

Suddenly the Defense Secretary can be heard to emit a deep animal bleat as he stands caressing the stubby sharp horns of bone which have materialized upon his crown. A swishing tail springs out from the pants of the National Security Adviser who reacts with detached surprise:

“My … now that’s a doozy.”

A dark lump of manure plops from between his legs to land in a steaming pat upon the floor.

The Secretary of State labours to continue.

“I suggest to you that …” A long thick bovine tongue emerges from within her open mouth to lick the stinging sweat from her cheeks as the stony expression collapses and a wild honesty illuminates the eyes, “I suggest to you that it is all a sham! A sham! The entire case for war is a charade, a fraud! Stop us! For the love of god, overthrow us and bring some decency to the world! Stop the façade! I tell you the whole thing’s a shammmmmmooooooooooooooooo!!!!!”

This declaration is transmitted through CNN cameras and beamed across the TV screens of the world. Networks tremble and mainframes fizzle and spark. A phosphorescent glow lights up the dreary skies - animal bleats and yells resounding from the cities, plains and deserts. The stars quiver and twist into luminous hieroglyphics, the declaration banner of a hybrid world free from time …

The repressive police states of the world strike at the bovine revolution with savage force and inexorable viciousness. Desperate voices in the Pentagon and MI5:

GOVERNMENT SCIENTIST:
“The threat posed by universal mutation is quite severe. Within a short time we could see the whole populace adopting the psychological impulses of cattle.”

AMERICAN PRESIDENT:
“Meaning what exactly?”

GOVERNMENT SCIENTIST:
“Well, we’d see an increase in individuals turning their attention from external trifles, focussing instead on a more measured and rational outlook.”

AMERICAN PRESIDENT:
“What?! We can’t have people minding their own damn business like that. How on earth will they be coerced into ratting on their neighbours, goddammit?! This whole development poses a monumental threat to the American way of life! We cannot allow this sickness to spread. We must be prepared to make heavy sacrifices if we are to prevent falling into a world carved in the image of stinking fucking cows!”

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:
“Cattle ... Of all the creatures. So damn docile and autonomous.”

BRITISH DEFENCE SECRETARY:
“My God, can you imagine such horror?”

AMERICAN PRESIDENT:
“I want the former Secretary of State and the rest of the infected rounded up and sent to the abattoir immediately. We’re taking no chances here!”

Riot police engage pro-bovine dissidents in street battles. Those expected of possessing bovine DNA are annexed to offshore farms where international standards of humane treatment do not apply.

BRITISH HOME SECRETARY:
“I am tired of these perpetual calls by bleeding heart liberals for us to adhere to the Geneva Convention. Firstly, these subjects are livestock and nothing more. Each one is no more a prisoner than your own pet guinea pig. Where there is no humanity, there shall be no recognition of human rights.”

On the streets of London, armed police offers are ordered to shoot on sight those of the slightest bovine appearance. The blood of civilians stains pavements, concourses and tube trains.

 

*****


BOVINE X: Part 2
(Part 1 Below)

Craig Woods


CATHERINE FRICK MP (AMBITIOUS GOVERNMENT MINISTER):
“I didn’t get where I am today by turning my back on a lucrative
opportunity. Four ministerial positions I’ve worked my way through in
as many years and each one has been a valuable stepping stone towards
cabinet. Why you can see my work everywhere; in the increasingly
privatized healthcare system; in the government’s freshly draconian
policies towards the unemployed; in newly imposed conditions to make
those council house-dwelling scum a little more thankful for the
privilege of a bloody roof over their heads! Every problem this noble
government faces is but an opportunity for me to exploit, and this
current bovine crisis is no exception. I hereby announce a new
government project devised in tandem with the leading multinational
fast food chains which shall see an effective depletion of the bovine
population while also producing an increased supply of meat goods for
our friendly corporate partners. I shall establish a network of
Metropolitan Slaughter Squads charged with the task of taking down
these vile beasts and delivering the meat to our friends in the fast
food industry. I think we can all agree that this is a fair and
reasonable way forward, and also offers a much-needed boost to our
economy. If people wish to maintain their right to mutate then they
must also expect to serve society as a food source. It is what I like
to call a ‘something-for-something culture’. Now fetch me a gunsmith,
I’d like to discuss my own custom design slaughter tool …”

The battles rage while the mutation sweeps the landscape as inexorably as an oil spill. With limited time in which to develop a vaccine for the airborne Bovine X, the authorities soon find rising pro-bovine dissent within their own ranks.

METROPLOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER:
“It is us or them, kill or be killed … You think I’m exaggerating the threat?”

HIGH PROFILE NETWORK NEWS REPORTER:
“I think there is no threat!”

Throng of TV journalists and newspaper hacks united in animal roars
of protest. The Commissioner is drowned out in the din, his screams of
rage muffled as the reporters strip his helpless form of uniform and
badge.

AMERICAN PRSIDENT:
“Our choice is a terrible one but clear. Either we find a way to
reverse this mutation or we take out this whole shithouse in a nuke
blast.”

CIA MAN:
“Well a goodly patriotic sort like myself has no issue with that. If
saving my country means taking it and the rest of the world out in a
mushroom cloud, I’ll gladly sign up. Just give me one more chance to
jack off over Old Glory and I’m there.”

WOMAN SCIENTIST:
“You cannot destroy the animals! The newly United Women of the World
will not allow it!”

CIA MAN:
“You make me sick, Doctor!”

MATTHEW REDMAN (MEDIA ENTREPRENEUR AND UBIQUITOUS TYCOON):
“Mister President, we cannot limit or end biologic experimentation,
it is one of the biggest industries on Planet America. It would surely
bring ruin to our social and financial system.”

MILITARY CHIEF:
“That’s a small disaster compared to what might come … A reign of
tranquility and agenda-free honesty under the cattle ... And that time
is almost here!”

As Bovine X drifts upon the air above every town and city, the first symptoms of mutation now manifesting in the populace below vary widely in intensity and character. While certain subjects succumb immediately to physical transformations, in others the changes begin more subtly with shifts in temperament and character towards openness and transparent sincerity.

INTERNATIONAL SPORTING SUPERSTAR:
“When shall we get married, honey?”

SUPERMODEL:
“As soon as we can … What’s the matter, dear?”

INTERNATIONAL SPORTING SUPERSTAR:
“I ... I don’t know. I just feel … there’s something you should know.”

SUPERMODEL:
“Well don’t keep me in suspenders, my dear. Although the whole world
knows how good I look in those …”

INTERNATIONAL SPORTING SUPERSTAR:
“See, the thing is … I don’t love you. Actually I couldn’t’t give a
shit about your skinny anorexic ass one bit. A big shot like me has to
be photographed with some high profile skirt on his arm, might as well
be you.”

SUPERMODEL:
“You beast! How could you?”

INTERNATIONAL SPORTING SUPERSTAR:
“Relax, baby. At least you got the privilege of being seen with me,
which is more than can be said for the bevy of musty sluts I’ve been
hosing behind your bony back.”

Exasperated woman at the confessional booth.

PRIEST:
“Speak my child.”

PRIM MIDDLE CLASS HOUSEWIFE:
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I did the most ghastly thing,
something a parent should never do … I told my little boys that there
is no Santa Claus.”

PRIEST:
“Well my dear, that is indeed a sin. But I’m sure …”

PRIM MIDDLE CLASS HOUSEWIFE:
“But that’s not all! I even told them that the Bible is a book of
fairy stories, that there is no god and that the only reason I make us
attend Mass is due to my own insecurity about being an utterly
ineffectual human being who is so terrified of taking responsibility
for my own life that I’d rather offload it on to a fictional deity!”

PRIEST:
“Oh cheer up, love. Could be worse.  I’ve jacked off over the thought
of both your boys at least a hundred times apiece which I’m sure makes
this rather an awkward moment for both of us, hmm?”

This wave of honesty sweeps the commercial centres and financial institutions of the planet. Billboards carry advertisements proclaiming;
       
“This product is of an acceptably average standard!”
       
“This is, all things considered, a thoroughly adequate sanitary towel!”
       
“A toilet paper that wipes your butt good …with a slight possibility of a rash for those with sensitive skin!”
       
“You are paying for the car, not the sexy model who, frankly, would be unlikely to take a second glance at your flabby, grey-haired carcass so tragically entrenched in its laughable midlife crisis!”…
       
The explosions of public violence become increasingly sporadic before finally sputtering out completely. The repressive administrations and institutions of the planet crumble from within. Dictators and despotsannounce free elections … New political parties emerge, urging the populace; “Do not vote for us. Govern yourselves. Chew the cud. Or not. The choice is yours.”

In a modest ceremony, the first bovine President of the United States is sworn in. The dark-suited figure approaches the podium - huge misshapen head swaying heavily above the starched collar, dark eyes awash with a dreamy nobility, the immaculate horns reflecting a fathomless blue sky. An audience of billions watches the event eagerly on television screens across the planet. The President leans into the microphone to deliver the declaration of a new world order:

“Mmmmmmoooooooooooooooooooooo!”

A dark squadron of crows flutters from the roof of the vine-enshrouded, moss-grown White House, spiraling up and through a hole in the sky carrying glad tidings for the Angels.

 

*****

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