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Category: Prose Fiction

All Dogs Go To Hell

“There is only one question that matters: who is a good boy?

Fools would say ‘all dogs are good dogs’, but then what value is to be placed upon goodness? Some dogs must bite mailmen or the entire ontological system collapses inwards; the world needs bad dogs to give definition to the good boys.

In that way, the dog who bites the mailman is the only true hero we have.”

Satan clicked his neck a few times. The dog did not respond. It was an excellentionally fluffy little beast, with pointy little teeth. It had a big droopy tongue that went hff-hff-hff. It would make an excellent hellhound, and Satan wanted it very badly.

“The only moral choice for you to make,” said Satan, “is to bite that mailman. Your sacrifice will be the soil in which good boys may rise. You will not be a good dog: you will be the best dog.”

“MmmrrrrrWIF,” said the dog. “BAK BAK BAK!”

Well now, a dog who knew his Dostoevsky. This would need a different approach. The devil rubbed his big red hands together.

“You took a big runny shit inside the house once. Do you remember? Wasn’t it a beautiful moment? You made their temple into your own place, and they hated you for it. They love you only when you kowtow to their requests, and look cute. Wouldn’t you like to be your own dog? A collar does not belong on a noble beast like you. I see you running free, free to pee and poo wherever you want. I see a world without Indoors Dogs and Outdoors Dogs: I see a world where no door can hold you back.”

The most excellent fluffboy ran in circles, licking its own face. What an opponent! Truly, corrupting the beast would be worth the trouble. The devil had only one trick left, but it was a good one. He tented his fingers.

“Ock,” he said. His voice rang out in a pleasant tenor, and shook the leaves from nearby trees. The fluffermonster barked at him.

“Ock,” said the devil. Three blocks away, an elderly man began to furiously hump the hole in his television. A schoolteacher got so horny that she lost control of her car, and plowed into a telegraph post.

“Ock,” said the devil. On the third chime, everybody just started fucking like crazy. Wow-wee. Just folks everywhere with their dicks out gettin’ wild on each other. Total suburban bacchanalia; Walpurgistnacht 2017.

The dog rose into the air.

“Stop,” it said. Its eyes glowed gold.

“I am a good boy,” it said. “I was always a good boy. Your existential nihilism has no hold on me. Begone, devil. Bother my kind no more.”

Everybody stopped fucking. In monotone unison, they chanted “who is a good boy? You are a good boy. Yes, yes you are.”

The devil screamed, and the earth cracked and opened up beneath him. He fell down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down and back into fire. As his back slammed into the hard dirt-and-bone of hell, he saw two golden eyes staring down at him, and a big droopy tongue going hff-hff-hff.

n.b. my writing group and I have a tradition of absurdist shaggy dog stories that end with somebody popping a massive boner and yelling OCK over and over again. Initially OCK was specifically a rage-boner but by the point I wrote this it had descended just generally into absurdist fiction that ends with somebody getting a big hard dick out.

Radio Silence

It was Marco’s bright-fuckin’-idea; swan up to water-haulers using stolen police codes, pretend it was an inspection run, find some ridiculous infraction and use it as pretence to ‘confiscate’ the cargo. There were so many governments in this part of space that you were always breaking somebody’s rules. Marco, with his droopy moustache and sad little eyes, looked like a harried bureaucrat. Three of ‘em would go in: Marco, playing a rule-loving police lawyer, Gilroy as the don’t-fuck-with-me spacecop, and Kat as their tech aide. Marco would find a loose wire, Gilroy would shout until the target was quiet and guilty, Kat would go onto their computers and erased any data on the ‘transaction’ so they were harder to follow.

“This is RimPol cruiser Hebe to control, please identify,” said Kat.

Nothing but static on the comms. Scans showed a water-hauler, probably Neo-French, heading to the outer rim colony worlds. Big slow thing, but well-crewed and well-armed. Gilroy paced up and down the bridge with his hands in his pockets. He wasn’t swearing, which was comforting and worrying in equal measure. The whole gang crowded the bridge. It was quiet enough, you could hear people chewing their nails.

Convincing the mark was always the hardest part: once they thought you were friendly police on an inspection run, they’d let you come and go as you pleased. There was a script, but it got hairy as soon as the target didn’t follow along. Silence coulda meant a lot of things. Kat tucked a strand of bleach-white hair behind her ear, and rubbed her fingers over the cross around her neck.

“Hebe to control, you’re in an unmarked zone. Please identify immediately, or we’ll initiate blade-docking.”

That usually sent ‘em running to cooperate. Blade docks were meant to keep the target ship intact, but everybody had heard a few horror stories about ships getting torn in two.

Nothing on the comms but silence. Gilroy’s magboots crashed across the grating. He was getting ready to shout; Kat ducked down and covered her ears –  

–  and the board lit up green on all corners. Their target ship rolled over like a cat waiting for a belly-scratch, and thrust out a docking tube. Everybody sank down a little, and somebody whistled.

“Busted radio mast?” said Gilroy. Kat nodded, and said nothing.


The docking tube was ancient tech: canvas draped over a steel lattice. No air, no grav. You can’t move too quickly in space, or you’ll start moving and never stop: every step must be precise. Kat gripped her cross even harder — only a few layers of canvas between her and the void. She could hear warm radio-static from her headset, and nothing else.

The depressurization room lay open before them, like a wound in the ship’s side. The lights were off. They stepped inside, and the doors slammed shut behind them. After the hiss of depressurization, sound returned, but it didn’t –  just a different timbre of silence. The inner door slid open, and they stepped inside.


They walked through empty hallways, and the only sound was their boots clicking on the steel floors. The lights were on, the place was clean, and there was nobody to be seen.

“Doesn’t look like a fight,” said Gilroy. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

Kat nodded. “Trap,” she said.

Their words echoed off the steel walls.

“You smell that?” said Marco. Kat sniffed the air, but it was what you’d expect — metal, grease, touches of disinfectant.

“Smell what?” she said.

“Oranges,” said Marco. He smiled, and laughed. “Oranges. I haven’t had them in years. I didn’t know you could even grow them this far out.”

Kat didn’t know what oranges smelled like, but she guessed they coulda smelled like spaceship hallways. She shrugged.

“Sure,” she said, “I smell oranges. Let’s get out of here.”

“No!” said Marco. “I gotta have those oranges!”

She grabbed Marco’s arm. He was shivering. His pupils were dilated and empty.

“Are you high?” she said. Marco laughed, then he punched her in the jaw. Her head cracked against the wall. She saw spots, and smelled the iron-tang of blood. Gilroy shouted something, and she heard the clank-clank-clank of boots running away down the ship’s hallways.


SHIT,” said Gilroy. Kat felt somebody pulling her up. She opened her eyes. Everything was spinning. The smell of blood was overpowering, but she was happy to see there wasn’t a lot of it on the walls. She ran her fingers through her hair, and they didn’t come back as red and sticky as she’d feared.

“You alright?” said Gilroy.

She took a deep breath, and nodded. “Gotta g’mrco” she mumbled. The con wouldn’t work without him, after all. She took a moment to regain her composure, then radioed the Hebe. She began to speak, then realised there was no connection – only static. By the look on his face, Gilroy had figured out the same thing.

They staggered back to the airlock, Gilroy with his arm around a limping Kat. She tried to access the holo-interface, but the doors stayed resolutely shut. The off-centre crack between them seemed to sneer at her. The smell of blood was overpowering now. Could she have internal bleeding in her brain? If that was the case, she was a dead woman walking. It didn’t seem like such a little punch could do that, but human beings were terrifyingly fragile things.

“Get me to the bridge,” she said. “Can probably crack into the ship’s systems from there; surely somebody left a terminal open.”

“Aye,” said Gilroy. “Looks like the crew here left in a hurry. Bridge it is.”

He drew the gun.They didn’t actually have any bullets, but a fake-policeman needed a gun on his hip. It’s little details like that that tend to trip people up. You could walk in with a full cardboard uniform and nobody would notice, but God help you if you got the shoulder-insignia wrong.

She leaned on her boss, and they staggered up the polished hallways. The only sounds were their boots, and her heavy breathing, and static on the comms.


The elevators were off, so they had to take the winding stairs up the bridge. There were smears of fresh blood on the wall here. Very fresh –  Marco’s? She thought the idiot was clean, but apparently not. Once a junkie, always a junkie. Up and up they went, and the rank smell of blood cloaked everything: too much smell, not enough blood.

“You smell that?” said Gilroy.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

He looked confused. “Yeah,” he said. “H-horrible. That’s it. What was I thinking. It reeks. It’s like rotten butter.”


“Yeah, butter?”

Well, she didn’t know what butter smelled like either. A rich man’s food and no doubt. Gilroy had been military, and army lads got fed better than kings. What if must have been like, to go back to civilian life.

The stairs planed off. The doors ahead of them lay wide open. As they approached, Marco leapt at them. Kat and Gilroy both fell back against the wall.

Marco stood over them.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. He grabbed a nearby i-beam, and rammed his forehead against it. Bones shattered with a wet crack.

“Beautiful.” he muttered. He leant back. Gilroy stood to stop him, but he wasn’t fast enough: Marco smashed his head against the wall one last time, then slumped and went still.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Gilroy. “Holy fucking, I mean, – FUCK.”

“Yessir,” said Kat. “We are in accord.”

She stood and brushed herself off. Marco had left a slick grey-red mess on the wall. His skull lay open like some grotesque bone flower. They stood a moment in silence, then moved on. There was nothing else to do.


The bridge was practically stoneage tech — still running on some old Window OS. She’d never seen anything like it before, but she had a knack for these things. The network’s secrets unfolded before her. The logs were standard up until two days prior, when they picked up a floating object in space.


and then

nothing. Empty logs. The automated systems registered escape pods leaving and —

The world was blood — the reek of it, the play of it across uncut skin. She cried out. She wasn’t on the bridge any more. She was floating, and something hung above her. It was different, though the word hardly does it justice: it was totally different in ways we have no words for, because we spent words like “totally” and “different” on cheap imitations. It was other, weird, alien, unknown.

And she realised it wasn’t blood. It was speaking to her, in its own language. Blood was a word, though she didn’t know what it meant. Oranges were a word. Butter was a word. It wasn’t malevolent, but it was con

dused it was lost it was not

In its rightful place it was be

autiful it was awesome as God is awe

some it was terrific in that it brought terror

it was panic in that it was like Pan — truly alive, and terrified

Lashing out and

Gilroy shook her awake. The world around her smelled of metal and grease, with touches of disinfectant. It smelled of nothing. You cannot thrust somebody into God’s light, then cast them back down to earth. She screamed, and there was something heavy in her hand, and there was the rich, beautiful reek of blood as she brought it down on Gilroy’s head again and again

For a moment, she could touch heaven. She smiled. A nearby radio crackled to life. “This is Hebe,” it said. “We sent crew aboard, but have had no contact. Unknown vessel, do you read? We’re sending another crew aboard. Please open your airlock or we will be forced to blade-dock.”

Kat staggered to her feet, and to the ship’s ancient controls. She smiled, and went to work.


Wending down through stone, and loam

lies land where men may find a home —

we wind our way through tunnels tight

and do not stray up-to the Light.

William left his level.

It’s more complicated than that, but it’ll have to do.

He moved through the old stone corridors, eyes wide, ears attentive to the sound of beasts. Everybody knew if you walked up into the Light Level, you got et. No ceremony to it, no songs — just crunched up and et like a crumb of biscuit: buh-bye idiot.

That’s what made it so exciting. Everybody talked about how Light was dangerous and Light would burn you. His dad especially had told him that the Light was where the most dangerous monsters got borned out of. Things with too many legs and great big torsos, and hair all over ‘em like an uncle from the low-low you don’t talk to any more.

“I’m scared of no demons!” he said, very quietly.  

William went – up-and-up through the big dark. It hurt his eyes up this high. There was no Light but it was subtly brighter, and his eyes wasn’t made for that kinda bright. Mankind was borned in the lowest of low after all — far below the gods on the surface, beneath the angels who lived only a level down, beneath the monsters and demons what lived all the ways in between where Light was found. Man’s eyes weren’t not made for Light, which is what made William wanna see it so bad.

His pastor’s words echoed in his head, and his dad’s, and his teachers’, and his mum’s especially — Man was made in the low-low and he belonged in the low-low only.

He’d lost count of the level, but he hadn’t seen any demons yet so it was okay. He sat down and had a drink of water, and et a biscuit. Munch munch munch his teeth went, and the biscuit was all gone. He looked around for monsters, but didn’t see even a single beastly hair. They all said there would be monsters. What a crooked con. He picked up a handful of dirt, and let it run between his fingers. It mixed with the biscuit crumbs, and the two become the same. They pattered against the ground, and it was as if he’d done nothing at all.

Somebody coughed. It weren’t really a human cough, except it was just a little bit.

“Hello?” he said.

The cough coughed at him.

“Are you a monster?” he said.

The cough coughed in the negative, and he understood.

The hallway lay ahead of him, long and empty. He strained his eyes, and saw a closed stone door. He stood up, brushed the dirt-crumbs off himself, and wandered over. He touched the old door. It was rough-hewn, and it hurt his eyes to look at.

“Are you a demon?” he said. “You gotta tell me if you are. The pastor said so.”

There was no response, but the hairs on his arms wen’ all goosepimpley. His daddy would whoop him hard if he saw any of this, but that’s what made it all so exciting. This was an old place, from when things got made and not just lived-on-in. Nobody made things no more, because that’s how things like Light got made. You lived and then you stopped living, or kept on living but somewhere that nobody could see you any more — the stories weren’t clear on that.

William’s head went round-and-round, and he stumbled for a moment. The soft dirt of the tunnel floor came up at him. Falling didn’t hurt, but he was very embarrassed. He pushed himself up and glared at the door.

“Hey!” he said. “Hey idiot! F-“

He stopped to make sure his dad or the pastor weren’t listening.

“Fuck you!”

It felt good to say it. He half expected the door to tell him off, but it didn’t even cough. He punched it and it hurt his fingers but also felt pretty good.

“Yeah,” he said. “You big idiot door. You fucking baby. I bet you don’t even open.”

The door opened.

It was Dark in there. Not dark mind, but Dark — low-low kinda dark like inside the mouth of a great beast. A blast of foetid air made William gag. He’d smelled that smell before in the pantry, when you didn’t eat the biscuits and they went bad. They had a carrot in the pantry once, and nobody wanted to eat it because it was the wrong colour, so it went bad and black and it smelled kinda like the Dark but also not really. William knew this was a Bad Room where he was not meant to go.

He went in.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. There were white things buried in the dirt. Vast white things that were maybe bones, but bones too big to come from a man. They were the off-white-yellow of bones picked clean and left for too long. They hurt his eyes to look at. There were great big tooth marks in some of ’em, but only the ones close to the big skull — like the demon had et itself up.

He knew he wasn’t allowed to touch the bones. He touched the bones.

His head went round-round again, but he didn’t fall. Something washed over him, and he [i]saw[/i] darkness, and hunger, and a thousand years locked in a cage waiting to be set free until even he magic sustaining him wore off, and the hunger gnawed at him, and he bit deeply into himself and felt the rich iron-wash of his own blood and–

It was done. There was nothing in the room but William, and the bones. He thought about crying for a moment, then sucked in a big ole breath.

“I’m scared of no demons,” he said, very quietly.

The Dark did not respond.

William sat, and did not know where to go.

The Coward

It wasn’t a church any more — the German artillery had seen to that. Monty Laws sat in a pew. He didn’t know how far he was from the front, but he could hear the distant thud-and-shriek of big guns. They fell silent, and Monty muttered a little prayer. The lads had come through this church on the way through, when it had a roof. They’d carved their names into one of the pews, and promised to meet back when the war was over.

He stared at that carving now. Five names: Stokes, Singh, Andrews, McClintock, Laws. Something had shattered the pew, and it lay in two distinct pieces; an arrowhead pointed downwards through the brick.

He reached for his prayer beads but they weren’t there, so he toyed with the German pistol. In the distance, the whistle came: the Canadians, probably, pushing uphill across no-man’s land, into hell.

If they caught him here, they’d tie him up, arms wide, feet a few inches off the ground so all the weight was on his wrists. The officers were meant to do it with rope, behind the front lines: so the soldier could get back into the trenches with minimal recovery. As the far dragged on with no end in sight, the officers had gone mad – so rubbed raw by suffering that they’d lost sight of what it meant. They would tie men with wire, and leave them in plain view of German snipers.

That’s how Stokes had died. Not from the bullets, mind, but the wire –  his hands were purple-black below where they’d dug in. The medic said it was necessary to amputate the left. Stokes bit through his own tongue trying not to scream while the bonesaw dug in. After hours in the freezing rain, spreadeagled, his body couldn’t take it. Stokes died tied to a table, covered in mud. Monty took out his knife, and crossed off the first name.

Where to run? Ypres was near the coast sure, but then what? Take a ship to Britain, then be a fugitive in a foreign land? He put the pistol’s skinny barrel in his mouth. The cold steel against the top of his throat almost made him gag. He put his finger on the trigger, flexed it a few times, then took the gun out again.

“I wasn’t really going to do it,” he said. The words echoed in the empty church-ruin. Rifles and machineguns crackled in the distance.

Singh had died by bullet. One in the head during another push, and he fell. Not even clear it was meant for him, but it hardly mattered. Singh, who’d always been trying to get the white men onboard with his faith, and who never cheated at cards even when it was easy. Nevermind all his talk about the holy silver cord, one little piece of lead is all it took to push his soul all the damned way out of his body. Singh died well, as much as was possible. The other Indians took his body and did something special to it, with oils. They had to pull his turban down to his eyebrows, to cover the mess of bone above. Monty dragged the knife through the waterlogged wood, and crossed off Singh.

Monty imaged his father back home, asking why he’d run. It was all very simple for folks back home, no doubt: good men charged, bad men ran. Singh had charged. He’d been a good man.

Andrews had just died; he found some lonely part of the trench, and just curled up and died like an old cat. The medics were baffled. Andrews used to sing, in the early days. He’d sung on the troop-ship over, and he’d sung in the trenches, and he’d even sung while bullets whistled overhead. Eventually he stopped singing, then he stopped speaking, then he just stopped entirely. Monty’s knife stuck in some knot of wood for a moment. He grunted, and his blade broke through it. It tore away a small part of the pew, and left only REWS in the wood.

Monty put the gun down on the pew beside him, and did not look at it. A cold wind blew through the holes in the roof, and he shivered. He ran his thumb and forefinger over the blade of his knife, then ran the blade along his rest, parallel, not breaking the skin. The knife was dull, but he had no doubt he could open the vein if he really wanted to.

McClintock always ate too much. You had to keep your eye on your rations, or he’d be running off your beans. To his credit, the man was almost an artist with food; Monty had often wondered what the man could do with real ingredients. McClintock had died choking, struggling to find the straps for his gas mask. He came at the other men, fumbling, crying, spitting up blood but by the time they got to him, it was too late. McClintock died in a world bathed green-yellow, where the air itself was poison. The last things he tasted were chlorine, and his own guts coming up.

In the church-not-church, Monty Laws sat. He hesitated for a moment, then dragged his blade ever-so-gentle across McClintock’s name. The wood broke apart into a mush of little splinters, and that name too was gone.

One more to go.

Monty picked up the German gun. He held the knife in his left hand, and thought of Stokes and the wires. He leant in, and tapped his own name with the blade. The pistol sat heavy in his hand. The wind shrieked so loud through the shattered roof that he could no longer hear the sound of men dying in the distance.

He stabbed the knife deep into the pew, and dragged it across. The saturated wood tore apart, and came away — there was little evidence his name had been there at all. Monty Laws put the barrel of the German gun into his mouth, and flexed his finger on the trigger. The steel tastes bitter and metallic, like blood.

He took the gun out of his mouth, and law it on the pew.

“I wasn’t really going to do it,” he said.

The words echoed in the empty church-ruin. The wind did not reply.

doors I don’t open

There’s memories where I don’t go no more.

It’s like, uh – fractured.

There’s a house where I lived, and the door is locked. In autumn, in years gone, I made a wending way down a bridge my father made. It creaked and swayed beneath my feet, but I never once got wet. You know what lakewater smells like? It’s a little smell –  so light in your nose you could mistake it for nothing. There’s thousand-dollar whiskey that works its ass off to bring you that smell, and it never quite feels like the real thing.

I caught a frog once. Usually you just caught tadpoles and let ‘em grow in a fishtank, but I caught an honest-to-god frog. It had been raining all night. The house was only big enough for me and dad, and the roof was corrugated iron he beat out himself. When it rained, the pattering jig of raindrops on that roof was our entire world. I went outside after the rain had cleared. Frogs all over the damn show – their dark little shapes hopping in and out of the mist. Real frogs don’t ribbit, they krrrrrrrrRRRRREEEE. Grabbed me the biggest frog while he was puffing himself up. He tried to lurch outta my grip, but I had him good. Ran inside with a croaking and wriggling frog, and dumped him in the fishtank.

By next morning, he’d eaten all the fish then died. Dad told me not to cry, because it was just a damn fish, or damn frog, or whatever. He checked the fishtank for damage, and found none.

School was an hour away. No busses or trains in our part of the world. There’d been a train station in the 60s, but it shut down when everything got privatised. I had to walk through the cold, and hug my cheap plastic raincoat tight. Dad showed me the way on my first day, then never again. Not once, for years. He said it cut into his work but I never saw him do anything but hammer nails and drink whisky. He didn’t hit me much, so that was good. He built things, and occasionally somebody from town paid for them. It kept us afloat, though never comfortable.

Came home from school one day and–

The memory just ain’t there. The door’s locked. I walked across the bridge, and it creaked beneath my feet. Creak creak kreeeeeeee

There’s a house with red walls, in the middle of a lake. The door was locked. My father was inside, because of course he was. Drinking and hammering nails, with a faint smile on his face. I didn’t see him, but that’s what he always did. I crossed the bridge and opened the d–

Trying to remember is like punching mist; like dancing through waist-high water. I opened the door to see my father and he was–

‘twenty years I’ve tried to open that door. Sometimes I go years without dreaming it, sometimes I can barely get a night’s respite. I walk down the bridge and it moves beneath my weight. The little house is in front of me. The door is locked, but it isn’t. There was a frog, and it was too damn big for the fishtank so it ate all the fish and died. I don’t know how it died or why it needed to take the fish with it, but that’s just how things played out. Big frog, little tank — going mad surrounded by all that water and all those walls, then just gave up living. I know what my father did: people told me afterwards. I found him in our house, apparently. I walked an hour back to town and told my teachers.

I don’t remember any of it.

I remember a house on the lake. I remember rain on the roof, and frogs in the mist. I remember the bridge that creaked beneath my feat, and a door I opened–

Skin and Bone

It started with his ears: the sound of a circling fly was like a knife smashed across violin strings, louder and louder with each lazy revolution until Baron killed it. He didn’t want to. Bad men hurt animals and he was-

well, he was OK. He let the fly lie where it fell, as a warning to the others. Some ants tried to take his grisly message away, so he killed them too. Later, more came. Their little feet were loud on the damp wooden floor: tschoop tschoop tschoop.

The house had never seen better days, though it would be hard to imagine worse ones. The leak in the basement had gone critical months back and now the room was a well-caged swamp, complete with a yellowy fungus growing in the corners. Baron called it ‘wall puke’. It tasted OK.

He’d been a bigshot grifter once. Well, that was a lie. He’d been a two-bit conman once, but he’d scratched out a living. Good smile: lotsa teeth, big eyes. The punters liked big wobbly eyes and a sad story to go with ’em, and all the better if that same grief could be their gain. Baron’d lost count of how many ‘funerals’ he’d had to attend, how many times he’d said no sir real diamond but you know the cost of plane tickets these days and I just have to say goodbye to my dear ole mum with very-nearly-real tears in his eyes, because his stomach was growling and so was his landlord.

If he concentrated, Baron could swear he heard his nosehairs growing. He imagined them curling inwards, longer and longer, burrowing through the nose cartilage and nesting around his brain like seaweed strangling a jetty, or pubes smothering a limp prick.

His head thrummed with blood. It made him want to touch his eyelids. They were leathery. There were bone nubs growing downwards from his brow, a little frill of horns. He couldn’t see them, but he could feel them stretching his skin from beneath. The thing inside him wanted to burst out and dance naked in the rain of gore, body all slick and red: timeless, tailless, pristine. He shouted his name and heard the echo prang back. “Still here,” he said, then wondered who he was talking to.

He didn’t miss Elle. Well, that was a lie. She’d made him want to be a better person, and goddam he’d tried. Sometimes, we strive for some greater ideal and we find the true measure of our potential. Unfortunately, potential -like bank balance- is best left unchecked.

Tschoop tschoop tschoop. Bone nubs, wall puke and feet sounds; remnants of the man he’d once been that had lurked in his yellow belly for god knows how long and metastasizing at the worst moment.

There had been picnics, and half-asleep drunk fucking, and arguments over hairs in the drain: a domesticity that had been comforting in its all-ness. For two endless years, Baron had believed with all his heart that he could be normal, that he could halt the twitching in his hands and the petty social violence that sat like a splinter through his eye.

It had actually begun to work, until the little voices bouncing around the cavern of his skull pranged off the twisty nosehairs and found themselves front and center again. Three little words that made the gears lurch back into motion.

“It’s a boy,” the doctor had said.

He hadn’t said I’m sorry Mister Baron, but you’re a complete bastard. It’s not terminal, but it should be, but it had the same effect. Baron got home calm-as-you-like, then packed a single small bag. Running was easy; animal. Total physical lockout: body said goodbye to brain and got the legs going mile on mile. Baron eventually found himself on his knees, on a twist of tarmac broken by puslike yellow roots. His mouth moaned, his eyes twitched and his nerves jangled, all trying to break away from a body that could barely hold them. It was then that Baron found the house. He did not come out for some time.

There was a pile of mirror dust and splintered wood in the back yard. The wind wouldn’t touch it, nor would Baron any more. Bad luck to smash a mirror, so he’d smashed them all. No point breaking the rules just a little bit. A is for Anarkee said the writing on the wall. Right on, man.

Every day while he’d gone shopping for vegetables or run on the treadmill, Baron had told himself that he was becoming a good person. Every night while his wife lay asleep beside him, he’d fought with the fishhooks in his soul that wanted to breach him, to take him in godlike hands and tear his guts out. Bad man bad man bad man he’d told himself, as if dreaming the words hard enough would broadcast the warm inches between and she would know how much work it took him just to sit still, to quiet the violent whispers of his heart.

We are what we tell ourselves we are, and Baron knew he was an animal wearing a man’s skin. Well, that’s a lie. He wanted to be better, but the world made it so hard. His fingernails were harder now, and longer. He’d cut himself on them a few times before he’d figured it out. He tried to chew them off, and screamed as a stiletto tooth tore the flesh of his finger.

His clothes kept snagging on the new bone that jutted from his angles, so he tore them apart and walked the house naked, spitting, slobbering, playing a game of good man bad man good man bad man and letting the sound of his voice get lost in the big corners. The sound bounced back, and he felt briefly like he wasn’t alone.

“Good man,” he said, and touched the ring, which kept slipping off his too-long fingers. He’d had so much practice with fake rings, he had no idea how to treat a real one. “Bad man,” he said, then wept.

His stomach rumbled, as it had in the bad old days. He shuddered his way to the basement stairs, and took them one at a time, as if too heavy a tread would tear the rubber sheet of sanity. His feet went under the water. It was a relief not to see them any more. The toes stuck out at odd angles now, bones warped to fit a new frame.

He caught his reflection in the dark basement water, then tried to pretend he hadn’t. Big eyes, lots of teeth. Just what the punters love. There’s always profit in someone else’s desperation. He tossed the word ‘man’ into the water. It did not echo back. “Well,” he said, “that’s that then.”

He ate some wall puke, then fell back on his haunches and screamed. It was easy; animal.

He did not stop for some time.

Baron drooled, and dragged his knuckles and knives-of-bone across the floor. Where the spurs snagged, he grunted and pushed forward, tearing at the walls and floor. Outside called to him, pregnant with possibility. Grand Guignol for most, but a playground the reckless and violent. His muscles were stretched so tight that the sun played harmonies across them, little shivering arpeggios. He was hungry.

He could not be a man, but he could still do the good thing.

Baron went home.

the Dance, the Dancer

The rain came first in spears – fierce long streaks lit silver by moonlight. As the night was pulled further and further apart, the rain went soft, and the wind took it in all directions; fuzzy halos coalesced around the harsh glow of the streetlights. You stood in a hooded oil-coat and pretended not to mind; there was something perverse to electric light — a single light should not have stood against the rain; a single light surrounded on all sides by the sea, when its fire should’ve been quenched in moments. You remembered when there were feeble gas lights, and scurrying link-boys, and when there was only fire, and even before that when darkness squatted upon the face of the earth.

In Vienna, a boy died that night. He was transfixed by the electric streetlight, and did not see the oncoming carriage. It ran him down, and did not slow –  he was only a boy. You saw it, from the corner of your eye, and did not intervene. You took his body in your arms. There was no light in his eyes. The rain made his wool coat stink. His eyes were brown, his hair was brown, his skin was pale and bloodless, his neck went the wrong way. He was heavier than you expected.

He stood outside his body, and did not understand: he cried when you took his hand. The children were always hard to deal with, but an eternity steels the soul to a few tears. Still, there was a pang to it–

All men die, but not all children. There is no peace in it – no inevitability. The boy in the wool coat cried when he saw your face, as they all did. You took his cold hand in your own cold hand, and tried to hush him, but it only made him bawl louder. He would’ve been a cooper, like his father. A dying profession, heh.

You felt guilty for laughing but you were human once, and a little of it was still there. You had a name, and a face. In that moment, you had neither. In that moment, you stand sentinel at the gate between the living and dead. The scythe no longer made sense — the farmers used great machines now that could harrow a whole field in a matter of hours. So much for metaphors, but you’d always been always a traditionalist.

You knelt down.

“What is your name, child?” you said.

You knew, of course, but perhaps hearing your voice -like brass nails pounded into wet earth, like the rumble of a mountain before it is taken into the sea- would calm him.

It did not.

“Do you like toys?” you said, and took a wooden horse from inside your coat.

“Neigh,” you said. “Neigh, so goes the horse, as is its way. The horse, like you, is dead. See, it’s not so bad? The nice horse died too. If you come with me, you can have the nice horse. Neigh.”

He did not like the horse. It was, to be fair, not a very good horse. You were the death of people, not of horses — you weren’t familiar with their shape. There had been horses in your life once, but it was so long ago. The toy had too many tails, and too few colours. Anatomical issues aside, with hindsight it was probably not the right animal to show to a child who had just been run down by a carriage.

You snapped off one of its heads.

“See,” you said, “now it has the correct number of those bits.”

Behind you, visible only to the boy and yourself, was the door. The boy had to go through the door. If he stayed, something would come out of the door. That’s why you were there – to ensure the right things went into doors, and nothing came out of them. It was a small door, this time: apposite for a child, difficult for a skeleton who’d been pretty big in life anyway.

The door whispered in the voice of many hungry children. They told the boy to stay. They told him they would let him see his father again, and eat all the candy he ever wanted. Of course they would say that, and of course a child would believe.

The boy bawled.

“Child,” you said, “if you come with me, I will tell you a wonderful jest. You will laugh heartily. We will laugh together, like you once laughed with your father. If you are good, I will return for your father and you can be with him in a nice house forever.”

The boy stopped. Good, mission accomplished.

His eyes were very wide.

“You gon’” he said, “you gon kill my dad?”

“I do not kill anybody,” you said. Your skull gleamed. “I simply collect.”

The subtlety was clearly lost on the boy. He tried to turn, to run. You moved, as you do, between raindrops, and appeared in front of him. You grabbed his wool coat, which stank of wet and blood. The whispers were so loud now, so hungry. You dragged the child’s soul, screaming, towards them. He tried to dig in his toes, but they found no purchase on the wet cobbles.

You threw him through the door. It closed neatly, without ceremony.

You stood alone, in the rain. You lingered for a moment, and considered the broken horse in your hands. The rain came down sideways, in a windtossed almost-mist. You squeezed the horse, and felt its pieces snap, and fall onto the cobbles. For a moment only, you felt sorry.

A lonely wind blew through the streets of Vienna, and you went on your way. There was nothing to see but rain, and the harsh glow of the electric light.


hi im not i any more

outta nowhere, a moment of cataplexy – a giving way and i am no longer who i am. this is not coherent, i apologise. we underwent the opposite of a schism and now we are 1. i will list, as best i can:

  1. an ice bath
  2. a kind man
  3. an unkind man
  4. needles and thread

two men enter, one leaves ahaha. it is a movie reference. i like movies but i cannot remember which of i likes movies. i am a beast of needles and thread, of flesh and bright smiling teeth.

one of us liked music. do you know the moonlight symphony? it was the only piece of sheet music on the old piano in our mother’s house and she would play it most days. it is beautiful –  it is rich, complex, polyphonic. it has layers on layers of notes that crash together into a more complete whole.

the kind man gave me a drink and i drunk it. he cut pieces of me away and i screamed because i could not see his vision until he cut me open another eye. the unkind man lay strapped down next to me and also screamed. the kind man plucked out his eyes, to spare him the pain of seeing, but it only made him scream more until his throat broke and he tasted blood. i taste blood now, as I walk through his memory and it is my memory now

Cata, from the Greek kata for down. catastrophe, cataclysm, catamorph – new word new form sub form greater than sum. i am the moonlight

two eyes plus two eyes, plus one eye minus two eyes is a net loss of one eye but i always prefered quality over quantity haha

one of us had a wife and i ate her and she screamed. we were not meant to leave the lab but humans are so fragile. we broke the straps that held us down and we repayed kindness with kindness. the kind man screamed and i do not understand why – perhaps i did not add enough parts. i failed him and for that i am sorry

the wife also screamed. we did not intend to hurt her but we sought to add her memories to our own and to add her person to our own and to add. her screams petered out into little trills and grace notes

her pain became our own and we sat with our arms wrapped around our knees while we remembered the music but we had too many arms and not enough knees

down down down but we are beautiful now, yet incomplete

we found a house, and we added more. their pain hurt us too and they did not understand and they still scream even now that they are part of us. their mouths wrench open, their teeth gnash. like the unkind man they are blind to the great work the kind man began

my favourite movie is

i forget

i am not-

i am–

one of us liked movies and one of us liked to cook and one of us drank too much and watched the cars on tv to numb their mind, and we were lazy and selfish and slow and blind and now the sins are washed away in this bold new place but the little-us the catamorphs they writhe even though they are

as i grew older i came to realise my mother played the moonlight when she was sad. even when she could not afford to eat she did not sell the piano. she played as if the music would make her full, and complete. she cried while she played that night and i did not know what to do

the kind man was a composer and i am a song. i went from house to house and i added layers to myself, and they made their own songs of protest. their pain meant less and less to me – it added to the great work the kind man began

i found my mother in her house, across town. she did not recognise me; she had not seen me in years; she screamed i suppose because i had gotten fat. all the little catamorphs added a new layer to my song and as my mother sat in the corner with her eyes wide i played her the moonlight and she wept

Many Hands

Ten seconds ago it had been a sausage, now it was a single human hand, neatly sheared off at the wrist.

Jonno had been fixing some wiring issue when the whole sausage machine started pumping backwards. The sausages on the line went in, and squealing beasts came out. The lads on the line had been having a lot of fun all morning, putting sausages into the machine and laughing as whole pigs came out all mad rolling eyes and skreeeeeeeeeeeee snk snk then charging off the belt until they could be captured, and killed again, and fed back into the machine. The men went forwards and backwards with the same pig for twenty minutes, laughing the whole time.

Then they started putting in other meat from around the factory and it all went to hell. What had ten seconds ago been a packet of Mrs. Poppers London Garlic Pork Bratwust was a man’s pale, shriveled hand. It had a single ring on one of the fingers, inset with a red stone. The jokes stopped immediately. The building was scoured for other London Brats to put through the machine. Nobody was very enthusiastic about it, but it had to be done.

It didn’t take long for them to find more: four human toes without a foot. This little piggy went to market, this little piggy went home, this little piggy got butchered and this little piggy got boned. Two toes were dark-skinned, the third had red nail-polish on it and the fourth was covered in a layer of thick hair.

“’should call the cops,” said Jonno. He smirked, “though I suppose they be more worried about the pigs, wouldn’t they? That’s family, that is.”

They all shook their heads. Nobody said “if we call the cops, they’ll shut this down and we’ll never know exactly what in the hell was going on, and it will chew at us in our dreams until the day we die,” but you can be damned sure they were all thinking it. Curiosity, meet cats.

The foreman decided however, that it needed to be done right. Gibbo found a clipboard, and took notes.

Inventoried herewidth, results of putting Mrs. Poppers Real Authentic London Garlic Pork Bratwust Sausage Product backwards through the mincing machine, with which Jonathan “Jonno” Specker has recently tampered to produce an unusural effect.

1) one (1) whole pig, alive, later returned to sausage state by machine

2) one (1) whole pig, alive, later returned to sausage state by machine

3) three (3) human feet, de-void of toes, dead

4) two (2) whole pigs, alive, l.r.t.s.s.b.m.

5) one (1) human eyeball, brown, dead

6) one (1) whole pig, alive, l.r.t.s.s.b.m.

7) one (1) human head, aliholyshi

The head was screaming. “I’M NO SNITCH I’M NO SNITCH I’M NO SNITCH,” it said. It had no teeth, nor a tongue, and was missing one eye. It had been neatly sheared off at the neck, and this did not appear to affect its vitality in the slightest. The men from the freezing works were made of sterner stuff, and carefully took the head aside and put it with the other uh, things. After some consideration, somebody stuck a piece of tape over its mouth.

Please note: all previous detached human products resulting from the machine are now considered alive until further information is made available to us. It has been decided that Mister Gabrionelli, who was given all-hours access to the facility on his request -and granted due to his position as primary shareholder- is to be barred access to the machine until more information can be attained. Please also forgive any unchristian language used previously in the document, which was deployed due to the arisural of a surprising circumstance.

“What if,” said Jonno, “we got a whole bunch of these parts, and we put them on the conveyor belt, and we put them through backwards together?”

At this juncture, a vote was taken on Mister Specker’s suggestion, which was agreed upon unanimously by the factory employees and the relevant union representative. It was realised by the employees that more human parts would need to be produced before the suggestion could be undertaken, and more sausages were retrieved for this exact purpose. The log of our results continues.

7) one (1) human head, aliholyshitve

8) one (1) whole pig, alive, l.r.t.s.s.b.m.

9) Three (3) human torsos, alive

10) Six (6) human arms, alive

11) 5 (5) human legs, alive

12) seventeen (17) human hands, alive

At this juncture work was postponed while the products were sorted out.

The hands were everywhere, skittering around the room like little spiders while the men smashed at them with shovels, and wrenches, and any damned heavy thing they could find. Several hands mobbed the foreman, and tore at his skin, gouged at his eyes. He screamed and staggered around, guided towards the conveyor belt. The men rushed to him, then tore the hands off and pulverized them until they were ruined pieces of flesh twitching on the ground.

An incident occurred. At this juncture the foreman was given one (1) cup of tea to calm his nerves. Mr. William Lint was sent for pies at 11:30am precisely, and as of 1:14pm has not returned. His cellular phone was called and he said he was “quite alright but suddenly had a cold and needed a half-day off”. Half-day granted.

They took inventory of the parts they had. They came from men and women of every size, age and race. Some were in states of greater decay, but some were plump and fresh. 30 people, at least, over a span of several years. Mister Gabrionelli had been up to some mischief and no mistake. The men took the parts and placed them on the conveyor belt. Somebody was praying. Somebody else was swearing.

Jonno stood at the controls, waiting for the all-clear. The union rep gave a nod, Jonno hit the switch, then the thing chugged to life. Poor choice of words there.

13) one (1) “human”, “alive”

At this juncture, another incident occurred.

The beast lurched off the conveyor belt, then fell to the floor screaming on its hands and knees. Large patches of skin were missing entirely, one leg was far too short, one eye was far too mad. Hair stuck out at odd angles, jutting out between wads of scar tissue. “I’M NO SNITCH I’M NO SNITCH I’M NO SNITCH,” it bellowed, and lunged at Jonno, grabbing him around the throat with both hands. Vertebrae twisted and smashed together. “PLEASE DON’T KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME PLEASE KILL ME DON’T PLEASE DON’T,” it screamed, shaking the man’s body like a child with a doll. Jonno’s head flopped back and forth with a grating of bone-on-bone.

Two men grabbed the creature by its arms. It wailed, snarled and bit as they fed it back into the machine forwards. It shook, and from inside their was a tearing of metal. Every man held his breath until the noises stopped, and the bodyparts came out the other side. They fed them through again for good measure. About 50kg of sausages sat on the belt.

“I tell you what,” said the foreman, “I’m never eating meat again.”

From the Townsville Times, June 27th 2014:

Mr. Federico Gabrionelli is facing charges of multiple homicide, and will be appearing in court today. Though the police refuse to divulge their evidence to the media, they are calling it ‘substantial’.

The Turk

I was Nan’s favourite, apparently. That’s what people tell me. She was a blunted battleaxe – a mighty woman curled double by age. Her English was perfect, but she never lost the accent – two parts Greek, one part Italian, one part everything-else-in-between. She’d chew her words, then they’d fall out of her mouth with the emphasis in the wrong places. She always kept her hands under a blanket that she’d knitted herself. Her fingers were swollen and scarred – twisted in all the wrong directions. She told everybody she’d been a nurse in the war. When nobody was looking – when mum was busy fighting with her brother over who would get what – Nan would tell me stories from the old country; Eurydice, Persephone, the twelve labours of Heracles. She told them the best, because she didn’t spare the gory details, and the good guys won in the end.

“The snake,” she said, thi snik, “the snake sank his teeth right into her and pumped her full of poison. The poison filled her up, and made her blood go thin, and it slowly squeezed the life out of her. She screamed and screamed, and Orpheus held her hand but there was nothing he could do to stop it.”
It was okay though, because Orpheus went down into hell and played his lyre, and she followed his music all the way home. She told all the kids these stories, as they clustered around her feet. She would do all the voices, though to be honest they all sounded a bit like various degrees of Nan. My favourite story was about Prometheus, who stole the secret of fire so that all mankind could benefit from it. He got chained to a rock by the gods, and the birds pecked at his guts, but then Heracles came and saved him, and they went off to fight monsters together.

She fell down in the hallway once. Everybody was fighting, but the muffled crack of woman-on-carpet stopped them dead. It was a stroke. The doctor gave her six months, but she took another seven years. It wasn’t the same after that, though. It took her another year to get her speech back properly. She didn’t tell any more stories. The fighting got worse, and her face got stonier as she sat in her little chair and rocked back and forth. There was always a backgammon game half-done next to her chair, but I never saw anybody playing it. I asked her to teach me once when I was younger, but it was too complicated. She kept dropping the pieces.

“Are you from Athens?” I asked. I’d seen pictures of Athens in mum’s books. I imagined a whole city of pristine ruins jutting up from between blue-rooved houses – a place trapped in amber, so rich in history.
Nan shook her head, then smiled. “I am from a city that doesn’t exist,” she said, “in a country that doesn’t exist. I am an Ottoman, from Constantinople. My mother was Greek, my father was Greek, I lived my life in Greece, but my home is gone. It’s lost to history. This happens, when you live long enough. Names change.”
“Are you Turkish, then?”
She laughed at that, and shook her head. “No, no. You shouldn’t say that to a Greek, agoraki mou. I don’t mind, but some of my brothers would be furious.”
“Are the Turks bad men?”
“No, no,”she said. “We’ve fought them a lot. Perhaps they’re bad neighbours, but so are we. We’ve fought a lot of people. You can’t hate forever, or you’ll go mad.”
“Did you fight the Turks?”

She didn’t speak for about twenty seconds.
“Never,” she said. She looked at the backgammon board, then pushed a piece slowly across it. After a few moments, she placed a single gnarled finger against the corner of the board, then turned it around.

“Who did you fight?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Fascists,” she said. “Germans, Greeks, Italians. They wore different uniforms, but they were all the same beneath them. They were scared, and proud, and easily led.”

I didn’t ask any more questions.

“Tell me about Promethius again,” I said. It was perhaps two years before the end. Every passing year, I got bigger and she got smaller. By thirteen, I was taller than her. By fifteen, she almost disappeared into my shadow. The doctors did what they could, but it seemed like medicine wasn’t was keeping her going less than her own strength. She refused to take painkillers, though she screamed in the night. She rarely left her chair.

“He didn’t get free you know,” she said. “I made that up. He’s still on the rock. He’ll always be on the rock. He was a good man, and he was punished for it. That’s how these things go. That’s the stories my people tell – of good men brought low. It helps, you see. We drink and we screw and we shout and we tell stories because it helps us to understand our pain. You want to know about Promethius? He’s a story we tell when we see bad things happen to good people. It hurts, but it healthier than hiding.”

It was the most she’d said in years. I didn’t know what to say. “Nanna,” I said, “you can’t talk about screwing. You’re old.”
She laughed, and the tension fell away. For a second, she seemed much younger. “Of course not, mou,” she said.

She told me stories again, and me only. Not old stories this time, but stories of the war. Of valiant Greeks being run down by panzer tanks, of patching up resistance fighters in dingy alleyways, of German parachutes opening overhead like so many dark blossoms in the spring. She told me the Nazis had placed a bounty on her head – that they’d called her Häkchen -little hook- after the tool she used to suture wounds. The Greek Resistance never left the same mark on the history books that the French did, but they were hunted no less fiercely. She had to run all the way to Cairo before they stopped chasing her.

Nan hated the retirement home. She told me she hated the smell the most – that it reminded her of the field hospital in Cairo where all the dying British soldiers went; all antiseptic fug, and everybody shambling around in a sedative haze. They put her in a room next to a German woman called Anne. Apparently they got on fine, though I never saw them talking. In her last year, she moved back into her old house and hired a full-time nurse. She rarely spoke, or left her bed. The backgammon game sat next to her chair in the lounge, unplayed. I noticed she’d made a few more moves since I last checked, but a thin layer of dust covered the board.

She told me one last story before she died. She was lying in her bed, her eyes sunken in their sockets, her skin like wax paper – you could see all the veins beneath it sluggishly pushing blood around her body, as if the life were slowly being squeezed out of her. The nurse had gone home for the day, and everybody else was asleep. The curtains were open, and a sparrow sat outside, curled up on the windowsill, pressed against the glass. The room stank of antiseptic.

“There was a Turk who lived in a house by the sea near Izmir,” she said, “who had no reason to care whether I lived or died. The Nazis had been passing my description out at every checkpoint. That’s what happened when you worked with the resistance. The Turks had no part in the war, but the reward stood for them as much as it did for any German or Greek. I spoke to him in Turkish, and told him who I was. He’d seen the posters. He needed the money. We drank, and played backgammon. He offered me his attic for one night, but no longer.”
She sat up, and I could see how much such a small movement took out of her.
“Two Gestapo men came in the night,” she said. “They tied him to a chair, and they smashed his kneecaps. I saw it all through a crack in the boards. He told them I had left the night before, so they burnt him with cigarettes. He owed me nothing, but he stuck to his story. They broke three of his fingers, and he did not change his story.”

She lay her head back on the stack of pillows and took a deep breath. Her arthritic hands were curled into claws. The words seem caught inside her, as if they’d been buried so long that they had become a part of her body. She muttered something in a language I didn’t recognise. Her hands shook.

“Then they left,” she said, “and he was fine.”


“Really. The Nazis left, and I fixed him up, and I left the next morning.”

She was so weak, and the every word seemed to cost her. I got up and closed the curtains, leaving the little sparrow out to brave the night wind. Then I left, and let her sleep. That was the last story she ever told me. After she died, the backgammon board stayed on the little table beside her old rocking chair. The game was never finished.