BRITISH PEOPLE IN HOT WEATHER

September 29, 2008 by


by John Tottenham

There are few sights more ridiculous than a grown man wearing a pair of shorts.  Back in my day, grown men simply did not venture outside clad in shorts.  Anyone choosing to appear in public in such outlandish garb would be laughed off the streets.  Scorn would be heaped upon them.  If shorts were to be worn at all, it would be indoors, in private, or while engaged in some form of strenuous recreational activity.  Nowadays, of course, the situation is completely out of control.  The mania for shorts crosses all lines of race, class, age and climate.  There are more shorts being worn today than ever before, and if this insidious trend continues at its current rate trousers will soon be a thing of the past, a quaint anachronism, gone the way of the frock coat and the chamber pot.  Shorts are almost aboriginal; they reek of the primordial ooze.  Throughout history the drift has been towards transcending one’s primitive physical state.  As the ancients understood, clothes should cover as much of the body as possible.  Nowadays, it seems, most people are bent on reverting to a state of near-nakedness.  Apparently it is all right to throw on any filthy rag with scant regard for such niceties as condition or cleanliness, as long as it covers the privates.  Clothes, as it has been noted, are the outward sign of the inner man, or, as Joe Strummer once observed, “like trousers, like brain.”  If the pioneers of the Western Territories could return today and witness the crass beshorted manner in which their progeny are carrying themselves abroad, they would foul their buckskins with disgust.  Fluminis ingentes fluctus, vestemque cruentent.  It is only recently, with the craze for casualization that is killing much of the spirit of this country, that shorts have achieved such disturbing predominance. Stonewall Jackson, Casey Jones, Wild Bill Hickock,  John Henry, Minnesota Fats, Peg Leg Howell, Funny Paper Smith, Little Hat Jones, Furry Lewis, Big Boy Cleveland, Mooch Richardson, Chicken Wilson, Bogus Blind Ben Covington, Daddy Stovepipe, Hambone Willie Newbern: none of these great Americans would be caught dead wearing a pair of shorts.  There is a large category of people who simply do not belong in a pair of shorts: roughly 99% of the population.  Preferably they should not be worn at all.  But there are a few exceptions to the rule.  During first or second childhoods, shorts may be tolerated.  Shorts behoove a toddler.  Neither are they out of place on an old man.  Indeed, shorts may even achieve a felicitous effect when sported by an old-timer, especially when accompanied by long socks and garters.  Such a spectacle is a pleasure to behold for even the most virulent shorts-hater.  Shorts of the neatly pressed and starched variety are appropriate wear for military personnel stationed in sweltering climes.  Shorts are sometimes acceptable on women, depending on the leg.  As a rule, shorts should be worn approximately three inches above the kneecap.  Anything higher or lower borders on indecency.  Shorts should never be worn to promote slovenliness of lifestyle or as a sartorial embodiment of mental shabbiness, as they so frequently are in this day and age.  Shorts are vulgar and immodest.  Cut-off jeans are particularly repulsive, flaunting as they do an attitude of insipid smug defiant sloppiness on behalf of the wearer.  Any combination of shorts and sandals is, of course, beneath contempt.  The store-bought variety are also reprehensible.  It is difficult to imagine entering a store and actually selecting a pair of shorts from the rack:  the nice denim pair with the neatly trimmed edges or that wind-sock-like garment that reaches almost down to one’s feet or that flour-sack masquerading as an article of clothing.  They strain credulity.  Shorts are nearly always disproportionate to the wearer’s figure.  Baggy shorts on thin men, short shorts on baggy men, long shorts on short men, ad nauseous infinitum.  Shorts are not only a sign of low character, they look stupid.  Some people are proud of the well-defined musculature revealed by their shorts.  They are ludicrous enough in their own right.  But more often shorts expose mysteries of the flesh that would be better off hidden: flab, pallor, blotchiness, pock-marks, wrinkles, encrustation, festering sores, morbid growths and silly tattoos protruding in an ungainly manner from millions of pairs of ill-fitting shorts.  The shorts crowd cannot wait for summer to come to town so they can contaminate the avenues with mass brazen displays of unsightly beshorted flesh.  But the bane of shorts, unfortunately, is not limited to summertime.  More and more, shorts-wearers abound during the most inclement winter months.  Presumably they relish the sensation of an icy blast of wind coursing around their privates.  They are out to prove their virility, and they fail miserably.  Shorts represent the ultimate triumph of utilitarianism over aesthetics.  There are some men who defend their shorts on the grounds that they are comfortable; others insist that shorts bring them into closer harmony with nature; while others claim that they are above considering such trifling matters as personal attire.  But neither innocence, ignorance nor indifference can exculpate the tastelessness of the shorts-wearer.  There are two kinds of men:  those who wear shorts and those who would not be seen dead in them.  It is as simple as that.

THE QUARTET OF DOC SHANLEY

September 29, 2008 by

By Adam Davidow

“So it’s decided then.”

“Sounds like it.”

Marvin walks over to Helen who is sitting at the table eating a carbohydrate rich breakfast. While Marvin clumsily dumps his dishes in the sink, making a louder than normal crashing sound and hurrying over to Helen, the piercing sunlight lights up his button down shirt and reflects off his three day old facial growth. He bends down and kisses her hand, then her arm, then her shoulder, her neck just under her ear, and finally a long kiss before pulling back and running his hand through her hair.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too. But, I want you to call Doc Shanley and have him snip that thing of yours. I thought you were too old for this.”

Marvin seats himself next to her.

“You thought I was too old? You’re the one talking about the “change” all the time like it’s the end of your life.” They both laugh.

“I’ll be shooting blanks in no time.”

“Are you sure you’ll still be able to fulfill your duties after this?”

“Doc says he’s never had any permanent problems with any of his patients. I asked him if he ever had a patient go limp as a result of a snip job. He said no. That’s good enough for me. In two months we’ll never have to worry about this again.”

Helen squirms at a thought.

Marvin leans in and plants another long, meaningful kiss on her perfectly shaped mouth. She looks at him as he slowly pulls back.

“I’ll see you later.” Helen coyly looks at him as he walks out of the kitchen.

The front door closes. Oscar, tall, lanky and with not an unblemished facial complexion swiftly descends the stairs and walks into the kitchen. His mother is reading a newspaper. Oscar carries his backpack and viola. He opens the refrigerator, grabs a brown paper bag and stuffs it into his slightly unzipped backpack.

“Bye, Mom.” He leans in to kiss her cheek, supported by her neck, slightly askew. He walks out. The front door closes.

A few kids are playing volleyball in the distance while most of the kids eat their lunches on the grass or the amphitheatre at the end of the building. Oscar walks lazily over and sits down next to another boy and three girls.

“’Sup, my boy?” Arturo asks, and turns to the girls. “Our boy here got busted in math class. Tell ‘em what happened.”

Oscar slides his backpack away from him a bit and lies back on his elbows and answers without making any eye contact with his friends.

“I drew a picture of Mr. G______ in the back of my book…and he saw it.”

“That’s so mean,” Letty empathizes. “He’s just an old man about to retire. His wife is dead, he’s old and lonely…”

“He’s a fuckin’ asshole,” Arturo interrupts.

“You’re SO mean.” Letty punches Arturo in the arm.

“Whatever. Dude, so what did Ms. W_______ do when you got to the office?”

“Told me to leave him alone from now on and to sit on the bench.”

“See, she know’s he’s fucked up. Did she call your parents?”

“No, thank God.” Oscar takes a bit if a cracker and puts the rest back into the bag. He takes a juice box from the bag and drinks it down with one big swig. He then takes out his viola and plays Berlioz’s “Messe des Morts.”

“Did you guys watch X-Files yesterday?” Letty asks.

“Cancerman rules.” Arturo notes.

“Letty has a thing for Krycek.” Laughter. “It’s his amputated arm that really gets her going.”

“Shut-up, Sam.”

“What? You told me that the other day.”

“At least he’s young! You like Cancerman.” They all laugh.

“Just his voice, not his looks…Close your eyes and it doesn’t matter what he looks like.” More laughter.

Oscar continues playing and upon finishing he puts the viola back in the case. The bell rings and students rise from their places and/or scurry more quickly back towards classrooms. All five rise from their places. Arturo tosses Oscar his bag of trash and Oscar combines his bag with Arturo’s and tosses both into a trash can.

“That’s two.”

The girls put their yogurt containers into plastic bags, zip them up and put them back into their backpacks. Partings are said, hugs and kisses given and everyone goes on their ways.

Helen drives home from her part-time job making desktop backgrounds out of the previous day’s baseball double play footage. Two bags of groceries sit next to her on the passenger seat of her 4-door mid-late model Japanese car. She looks in the mirror and wipes a bit of dried saliva from the corner of her mouth then rubs it into her index finger and thumb. Coming to a stop, she takes a deep breath and sighs, then relaxes her whole body and melts into the seat. She reaches down and scratches up and underneath her skirt. She shudders and then smiles.

Walking down a suburban street a couple of blocks from home, backpack hanging low from both shoulders, sixteen year old Oscar is carrying his viola in one hand and trying to rid his fingers of chewing gum with the other. A dog barks and he looks up and over without stopping. Finally he walks to the curb and reaches down, dragging his fingers across the curb until the gum rolls up and off. He runs his fingers through the grass in the yard adjacent to the curb at which he stopped. His fingers are green and wet and he wipes them again on his pants, transferring the stain. The viola slips off the curb and Oscar successfully yanks it up before it hits the street and continues his walk home.

‘I have to get this in the oven!’

Helen virtually throws the casserole, landing with a “clang”, onto the rack. The oven mitt, with a move becoming a martial artist, slides from her hand and flies across the kitchen, landing little more than halfway on the cold, dark marble countertop. She wipes her hand on a kitchen towel, decorated with chickens and which she takes from the refrigerator door, and tosses it on the counter atop the mitt, which falls to the floor. As though everything rides on this, she lunges and tries to break its fall. She doesn’t. I’m fed up with this world, she thinks. She puts her hand on her slightly distended belly. ‘November,’ she thinks.

“Hi Mom!”

“Hold on, sweetie.” The grating sound of the oven door opening reaches Oscar’s ears. “I have to get this in the oven.”

He closes the front door and leans in just enough for his backpack to slide off of his shoulders and down to his hand. He enters the living room, last decorated in 1987, and heads toward the stairs. Using the rail for leverage, Oscar centripetally propels himself up the first few steps, slowing for the rest of the climb. At the top of the stairs he makes a sharp right into his room.

“OK, Oscar,” she leans in from the kitchen, “Oscar?”

He throws the backpack in a corner and places the viola on his bed. Pushing the viola to the side, against the wall, Oscar lies down and shuts his eyes. After a minute he grabs his remote control. X-Files is on TV and he jumps up to grab his viola. He plays along with the program’s theme music.

Oscar sits at his desk, drawing. The room is dark: dark blue music poster covered walls, purple sheets covering the window, black sheets and comforter, lightly stained, and dark brown carpet. To show he is the same as everyone else, a stolen metal “No Parking Anytime” sign hangs above his bed. The sun has been drawing a bright line down the southeast corner of his room for the last thirty minutes. He shifts at his desk to allow as much light as he can on reach his work.

His desk is covered with expensive pencils of various colors, erasers, a sharpener and two multiple pocket expanding file folders. Halfway out of one of the folders lies a few issues of manga graphic novels and comics. Next to those is a book called How to Draw Manga. Oscar’s head rotates back and forth between his paper and the book. He shuffles a couple of comics out from the folder, then looks back at the project. He erases frantically. The phone rings.

“Hello…Hey, What’s up?…Not much, I’m doing some drawing…Yeah, come on over.”

Marvin is ready to go home, having spent the better part of two weeks working on the latest in a long line of useless projects designed to keep him busy, nothing more. He checks his email one last time, sighs, then shuts down his three months since obsolete computer. His cell phone appears through his right chest pocket, warped from the weight of the phone.

In back of his 1970’s brown metal desk, on a gray-beige matte finished wall, is an inspirational poster with the caption “Perseverance” and containing a photograph of a man climbing a granite monolith. A couple of family photos stand in one corner of his desk in back of an electronic pencil sharpener. An “in-box” on the opposite corner is mostly neatly stacked with inter-office envelopes mostly addressed to Marvin. His “executive” style chair squeaks as he spins and leans a bit in all directions trying to get comfortable. Marvin dials in.

Not another voicemail upgrade, he thinks to himself, when this contract expires, I’m fuckin gone. He listens, presses a few buttons, listens some more, then chuckles to himself.

“A deleted message recovery feature…now I have to tell it twice to do what I want it to do.”

It takes him a few minutes to get through the voicemail upgrade instructions. Marvin lets out a quiet snort as he listens to his messages. He presses the delete button, packs up his bag, and squints as he rises from his desk, putting his hand on his desk and pushing slightly for assistance. After recovering he walks out and shuts the door behind him. The other denizens are locking their cubes and going somewhere. Loosening his tie, Marvin walks down the fluorescent corridor.

“Are you serious?”

“Yep.”

“Wow. So how do you feel about that?”

“Well, I’m fine with it. I mean, I’ve been an only child for over sixteen years and they know that. They said they don’t expect anything from me except to be supportive.”

“You’re parents are so cool.” Samantha lies back on Oscar’s bed and looks up at the ceiling for a moment, then back at Oscar. “Except now you’ll be a typical two parents, two kids family, like mine. Kinda boring.”

“My family will never be typical. And as for boring…ah, excitement is overrated.”

Samantha rolls her eyes then looks back at the ceiling.

“That’s it? They didn’t say anything else?”

“What else can they say? I told them congratulations and of course it’s gonna be kinda cool to have a brother or sister. What else is there to say?”

Samantha gets up from his bed and walks to the desk.

“What are ya working on?”

Oscar covers up a piece of thick paper with a comic book.

“I’m trying to get ideas for drawings. Manga looks so feverishly drawn, it gets my mind racing and helps me come up with ideas.”

She leans over and tries to get a peek but nothing is exposed.

“Trevor likes that Japanese porno cartoon stuff.”

“Trevor, eh? Funny. You’re parents let him?”

“They don’t know. Are you drawing that stuff?”

“Some of it might cross that line between Hentai, what Trevor has, and plain Manga.”

“I don’t want to know what Trevor does with that stuff.”

Oscar laughs.

“Some of those chicks are pretty hot.”

Sam looks jealous and then laughs.

“Some of the guys are too.” She winks. Oscar looks appalled then laughs. He grabs her around her waist and pulls her in close. She smiles then leans down; he forcefully pushes his mouth into hers.

“Chris Carter has another series,” calls Helen from under the grey jersey-knit covers of their full-size bed. She looks over at the bathroom door, slightly ajar. The space between is full of Marvin’s pleasingly nude body applying shaving cream. Steam wafts into the bedroom as the bathroom cools down. Helen watches a towel spread out and wrap aound his body. He turns, allowing her the small of his back, his shoulders, his legs. She leans a little.

“Did you hear me?”

He leans to see. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

“I just said that Chris Carter has another series. It’s called ‘Millennium.’”

He continues with his shave. She watches through the cracked door as his arms move up and down and then shake, rinsing the razor in the sink. A swishy sound. Scrape. Scrape. Swish. Finished, he emerges wiping his face on a towel.

“Very nice.”

He looks down and winks. She rolls her eyes.

“What’s this one about?

“Huh?”

“What’s the new Chris Carter series about?”

“Serial killers.”

“Bah. Serial killers were always a bore in my book. About as intriguing as retired people in Winnebago’s.” He goes back to the bathroom, turns off the light and returns without the towel.

“Why is a series about serial killers called ‘Millenium’ anyway? Is it about the tribulation?” He laughs to himself. “God’s gonna kill everyone one by one?”

“Always the misanthrope.”

“Joking about serial killers, old people and God is not the sign of a true misanthrope. All three are hardly lie-affirming ideas.”

“Just come here, old man.”

He climbs into bed and pulls the covers up. Helen moves close to Marvin, nuzzling her head against his chest, his arm around her. She reaches down to touch him.

“How do you think things are things down there? Doc Shanley said you should do it this week?”

“I’m gonna do it tomorrow.” He opens his drawer and shows Helen a clear plastic cup, sealed, sterile, with an orange top and Marvin’s name on it. He smiles.

“Oh, well, do you need some privacy?” She looks at him, almost laughing.

“Nah, he didn’t say anything about not contaminating it with saliva. So you can do your duty.”

Helen looks at him, appalled.

“What are you gonna do with it?”

“Put it in the fridge I guess. What else should I do with it?”

“Do they need to be cold? They’re gonna die, right? Or should you freeze it?”

Marvin laughs, then looks at her, puzzlingly.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter if they’re dead so long as they are there, right? They aren’t gonna go anywhere.”

“I don’t know, what did Doc say?”

“He didn’t.” Marvin hands her the cup.

“Filler up.”

Oscar and Arturo sit on a sloping green bank sufficiently away from the rest of the student body yet close enough to be within reach of the audible sounds of the lunchtime hour. Arturo, sitting with his back against a tree, eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and is having trouble removing bread from the roof of his mouth, looking much like a cat spastically trying to capture something that exists only in it’s own mind. Oscar, sitting cross-legged and hunched over, flips through a series of tri-folded papers with drawings on them.

“Alright, you wanna know what I’ve been working on all this time?”

“I don’t really care anymore,” Arturo snidely replies.

Oscar arranges the tri-folds, four of them, into a fan in his hand.

“Pick one.”

“They look like those safety card things you see in the seat pouch on airplanes…the ones that tell you what to do in case you’re gonna die.”

Arturo opens one that is lined on one side with solid one-inch band all across the top. On the front is a drawing of an airplane very similar the kind seen on passenger airline safety briefing cards. A small gust of wind blows the front-page open. Arturo secures it in his hand, opens it up and looks at it. He looks at a smiling Oscar. Arturo bursts with laughter.

“Pretty good, huh?”

“Stylistically, yeah. I’ve only been on a couple of airplanes but from what I remember that’s pretty much what the drawings look like.”

He peers closer at the card, pulling it towards his face, sitting up and leaning in.

“Dude, this is hilarious. I wonder if there is a market for this stuff. Will people buy this?”

“They buy Hentai and K/S erotica.”

“”What’s K/S erotica?”

“It’s this genre of gay porn literature involving different scenarios, all involving sex ultimately at least, and all involving Captain Kirk and Doctor Spock.”

“No way. That’s some fucked up shit.”

Arturo looks over the card in more detail. His breathing increases a bit, he begins blushing.

“How do you know about that stuff?” he looks at Oscar peculiarly.

Oscar leans back on his elbows and brushes a couple of tri-fold papers aside, fanning them out, and twists his head to get a better look. He reaches out and grabs the card back from Arturo.

“Gimme that back. And you wonder if there’s a market for it. I think I’m best friends the market for this stuff.” Oscar laughs. He tucks the card into his folder,

“So anyway, last time I flew I wondered if there was such a thing. I was looking at the passenger safety cards and noticed that the pictures are pretty descriptive and instructional, I mean they get the message across…the ‘how to’ aspect of the safety instructions. But I was thinking that the people are so blank, non-descript, except that you can tell they are human. It’s kind of the opposite of manga characters. Then I just started drawing, fucking around.”

“What’s that?” Samantha walks up behind the boys and slides down with her legs around Oscar, grabbing one the cards that lies fanned out on the ground next to him and softly kissing and licking his neck. Oscar tries to prevent her theft but is distracted. Letty sits next to Arturo and gives him a punch in the shoulder. Arturo smiles.

“Hey. Gimme that.” Oscar finally awakens.

Sam gets up, walking away briskly a few feet away and looks at the cover inquisitively. She opens it up and starts laughing until a look of concern covers her. Letty and Arturo look on.

“Is that a good laugh or a bad laugh?”

“I don’t know. When did you decide to do this? What made you decide to do this?”

“It just seemed fun. Hey, Trevor would like that, hah?”

“Shut-up.”

“She looks at the card more closely. The top of the card says “Safety Instructions: Aer Lingus – BJ-69” and shows a couple, in an airplane, step-by step and square by square, engaging in a 69 position. One representation each for: a water landing, crash landing, with oxygen masks, holding onto the seat cushions for floatation devices, sliding down the inflatable escape route. Arturo watches Sam as she shakes her head. Sam walks over and takes the rest of the ”cards.” Each one is a different sexual position in each of the airplane’s possible emergency circumstances.

“Do your parents know you do this?”

“I told you my family will never be typical.”

Marvin walks into the medical clinic holding his briefcase.

“May I help you?” The nurse asks. Marvin rustles around without looking, inside his briefcase.

“I have something for Dr. Shanley.” He smiles.

“Oh yes, Dr. Shanley.” She smiles back and winks. Marvin abruptly straightens up. He continues his search, this time propping the case up on the counter and opening it.

“It’s not here.” He mutters under his breath, laughing to himself. “I’m sorry, it’s not here. I’ll have to bring it in later.”

He closes up the briefcase and walks out to his car, taking his cell phone out of his pocket before opening the door and climbing in. He speed dials a number.

“Hello.”

“Hey, did you do something with my boys? I opened my briefcase and they aren’t in there?”

“I didn’t do anything with it. Did they run off somewhere?” A passenger in Marvin’s car could hear Helen’s laughter through his phone.

“Very funny. It’s embarrassing enough to go in there at all, doggy bag in hand, but then to not have it at all. Shit!” He looks through his briefcase again and slams it shut. “I guess they’re at home.”

“Who is at home?”

Marvin has to pull the phone away from his ear.

“It’s not funny.”

More laughter.

Oscar and his friends are calming down after much laughter and Oscar puts his cards away in his backpack. Letty and Sam eat carrot sticks and celery, respectively; both with peanut butter. Arturo is eating microwaveable taquitos.

“These things always make me shit within five minutes. I don’t know why I still eat them.”

“You sure it’s not just a clandestine way of binging and purging?” Oscar asks, taking his lunch from his backpack.

“Gross, you guys, and mean.”

Arturo shrugs and continues eating, as do the girls. Oscar opens up his lunch bag and peers inside. He lifts the bag towards his face and looks closer, squinting. Lowering the bag and reaching inside, he turns his head and gives Sam a questioning look. He pulls his hand out of the bag and holds a specimen cup, no longer sterile, with the name “Marvin N_______” on the side.

HIGH TENSION LINE

September 25, 2008 by


by Adam Nuisance

1.

“Why pylons?”

To this question, which has been put to me so many different times and in so many different locations by so many different people, all with the same disbelieving and mocking expression on their stupid faces, I offer this seemingly too-clever-for-its-own-good response: why not? Everyone should have at least one obsession in their lives, something to yearn for whilst sitting through another mind-numbing meeting, something to look forward to when scuttling out of the office at five o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Mine just happens to be electricity pylons… well, actually, just one in particular.

We lived in a village that you’ve never heard of, the buildings of which were clustered around a low hill near the flanks of a river valley. In the middle of the valley stood The Pylon like a rocket waiting to blast off into space, equidistant between the two lines of flanking hills. Its neighbours stood aloofly several hundred yards either side of it, like disagreeing relatives at the reception of a scandal-ridden family wedding. It towered over its colleagues, the rest of the valley and my village and it was simply known as The Pylon for this very reason. It was built markedly taller than the others in order to carry its cable cargo over a small copse which, ironically, was flattened by the farmer a few weeks after The Pylon’s construction had been completed. The river snaked around it, as if wary of it.

My earliest memory is of The Pylon. I must have been about four years old; Mother was taking me somewhere on one of the rattling buses that bumbled along the valley. On the journey, The Pylon was omnivisible, if there is such a word. I had pointed The Pylon out to Mother through the bus’s rain-streaked window as I had probably done millions of times before; I distinctly remember her telling me that it was the leader of a band of Evil Giants which had been frozen solid by Good Giants during an attempt to kidnap a beautiful princess who lived in a castle further up the valley. Its petrified flesh had immediately shattered and all that was left was The Pylon, its gleaming skeleton a monument to its terrifying punishment. The cables were the Evil Giant’s frozen tears, linking it with the other members of its gang of would-be abductors.

My school summer holidays were always spent in the vicinity of The Pylon. I’d cycle the mile or so to the bottom of the valley and spend the seemingly endless days in the adjoining fields, hiding in the grass, making dams, swimming in the river and playing Pooh sticks. During the rare wet days, I would visit the local library to find out information about The Pylon. It was an L8 model. It carried 13 power lines, each of 400 kilovolts. It was 72 metres tall and had an arm span of 32 metres.

Initially, I never dared get close to The Pylon, having been warned in no uncertain terms by Mother that to do so would be a Bad Thing and I would be punished severely if I was caught anywhere near it. I envisaged my flesh instantaneously falling away as my hand made contact with it, my white skeleton the sole testament to my misdemeanour. As I grew older and entered into my teenage years, stern words like Mother’s threat became more of a temptation than a warning, and one summer holiday when I was thirteen years of age, the temptation became too much. I distinctly remember the thrill of climbing over the gate into The Pylon’s field and reflexively half-crouching as my feet hit the floor on the other side, half-expecting Mother’s angry voice and the resulting clip around the ear as the great sin was instantaneously detected. After a few moments of heart-thumping terror, I straightened up. I realised that I wasn’t going to get caught. There and then, I dared myself to touch The Pylon by the end of the holiday.

As each day passed, I would venture further across the field. I moved closer and closer to The Pylon, as if extending the thrill, savouring the pleasure, enjoying the fear. I’d bring my old cassette Walkman with me and listen to suitably epic music – recorded haphazardly off the John Peel show late at night – whilst lying in the field, my eyes continually tracing the geometric lines of the steel girders which made up The Pylon’s superstructure and the cables which seemed to stretch away to eternity. At this point, can I just add that if you’re planning to do something similar to this, may I suggest that Flying Saucer Attack’s “My Dreaming Hill” is the ideal opening song.

The last day of the holiday was overcast and humid. There was the feeling of rain in the air, as if the skies were about to open at any moment. As I cycled somewhat hesitantly to The Pylon’s field, I thought that I heard the muted rumble of thunder further down the valley, as if the skies were preparing to unleash an enormous storm upon the land. I threw my bike over the gate and then climbed it myself. I was sweating slightly and my heart was pounding with excitement, my breaths short and sharp.

I approached The Pylon, my eyes fixed to it. It stood as proudly as always, its graceful allure seemingly beckoning my stumbling feet towards it. My previous closest point to it was a bush about fifteen feet away from one of the great legs; there I stopped and nervously licked my lips. I had an odd feeling in my stomach, as if I was about to be sick. My mouth was dry. The breeze which ruffled my hair as I cycled to the field had died. All around was silent as the thumping of my heart filled my ears. I knew that the longer I stayed at this point, the more likely it would be that I would chicken out, which I couldn’t do – I would regret it. With a great surge of adrenaline, I found myself striding forwards to the closest of the four massive legs. Its surface was dull, seemingly rough. I quickly extended a shaking hand and placed it upon the steel, letting out a sharp gasp as I gripped the icy coldness, like grabbing a spear made of ice. As I did this, my peripheral vision detected a flash and I instinctively moved my eyes heavenwards. What happened next was probably instantaneous, but to this very day I remember it as if Time itself had slowed to a crawl, like thick wallpaper paste seeping through an hourglass. A bolt of lightning had exploded from the uniform cloud base a few hundred metres away. My eyes locked onto it as, with unerring accuracy, it speared its way through the air to the very top of The Pylon. The flash as it connected with The Pylon was bright, its jagged image burning into my eyes. Even brighter was the one which occurred as the bolt raced down The Pylon’s structure with fearsome velocity, tracing a line of fire downwards towards me like the path of an arrow made of white-hot magma, and connected with my hand.

It was from that point onwards that I could hear the electricity in my head. I could also sense other people’s electricity too.

II.

If I was less rational, I would have come to the seemingly obvious conclusion that my new ability was, somehow, a gift from God. But I’m not, so I didn’t. I wasn’t directly connected to The Supreme Being by an electric hotline or anything – I received no message to take to the Heathens. After a few moments of confusion, as I regained my wits, I simply got up, having been thrown several feet away, shook my head, dusted myself off, checked for obvious injuries and, finding none, went home.

I did not touch The Pylon again for several years.

After I had regained my hearing, I noticed that I could hear the electricity in my head. It was a constant quiet crackling sound, like low-frequency tinnitus or the burble of a stream at the edge of my hearing. After a couple of sleepless nights, I got used to it; the sound merged into the daily ambient noises that one hears but never listens to – the thump of blood in veins or the sound of a gentle breeze gently blowing past one’s ears. The only exception to this was when I went close to The Pylon and then it seemed to grow, like young shoots desperately stretching towards a light source. It strengthened and seemed to merge with The Pylon’s crackles and fizzes, producing strange and beautifully discordant drones which only I could hear.

As for other people’s electricity, if I concentrated on the space about two or three inches above their left shoulder, I could get a “feeling” of a vague shape, almost like the wavering readouts you see on the ancient oscilloscopes in ancient footage of white-coated scientists huddled around some fabulous futuristic experiment. I got a reputation as a daydreamer, as I didn’t seem to be listening to people when they talked to me; in actual fact, I was concentrating on tuning in to their electricity. I marveled at the range, colour and variation of the forms which appeared before my eyes after a few seconds of mental effort. However, it wasn’t some kind of secret power which gave me an advantage over everyone else; for me, it was just another aspect of someone’s personality which could be evaluated according to personal preference.

Still, I managed to do reasonably well in my studies, even if I was branded a daydreamer; well enough to reluctantly leave The Pylon and take a degree in Electrical Engineering at University. But you might have guessed that was going to be the subject I chose to study…

Probably the thing which most amazes me, even to this day, is the speed with which the society we knew, loved and were a part of broke down during the second half of my penultimate year at University. It is difficult to pinpoint one singly definitive event which initiated everything which happened afterwards, but a major factor was certainly the ongoing fuel crisis. The arguments concerning oil production had been brewing for a number of years with the West, now firmly ruled by the rampant spectre of the Internal Combustion Engine, becoming increasingly desperate to secure larger amounts of fuel just to function a day-to-day basis. The oilproducing countries, realising their bargaining power, raised the stakes and began demanding higher and higher prices for their ever-dwindling supplies. Western Governments off-loaded this additional expense onto their tax-paying citizens for as long as they could, without being voted out of office and then called the oil countries’ bluff, unable to use their military might, due to a mixture of reluctance to initiate action which could escalate into a global conflict and a lack of strength ironically due to their units having insufficient fuel supplies. The oil countries stood firm and the fuel simply ran out. The home situation declined rapidly; from the inevitable enormous protest marches, it seemed only like a matter of days before the armed forces were called out in order to control the precariously balanced situation in the larger cities.

Additionally, a number of damning scientific reports were published around this time which, on a scale much larger than had been previously thought, made conclusive links between, on the one hand, the electric fields produced in high-voltage power lines and leukaemia and, on the other, high frequency radio transmissions – particularly mobile phones – and a number of potentially fatal afflictions, such as brain cancer, tumours and Alzheimer’s disease. It seemed that the basis of day-to-day living as we knew it was being literally undermined before our very eyes. As I half-heartedly began to revise for my end-of-term exams, it was to a soundtrack to a country on the brink of civil unrest.

Mother, being quite prescient and full of common sense, ordered me to return home immediately when she realised that the situation was getting out of hand. One evening, I packed a few items of food and clothing and headed out of the city on Marchant, my trusty bicycle, carefully picking my way along some of the quiet, deserted back streets. An hour later, from one of the surrounding hills a mile or two from the outskirts, I looked over the houses and factories and littered supermarket car parks and counted at least a dozen fires burning merrily in various parts of the city, the remnants of rioting and the general breakdown in law and order, no doubt.

The story of my 250-mile bicycle journey from my University lodgings to my home village across a paralysed country – abandoned cars littering the carriage-ways and rabbits running freely along silent railway tracks – is an epic one, but rather too long to recount here. Needless to say, when I arrived at Mother’s front door late one spring evening three weeks later, like some swallow which had completed its lengthy annual migration from the south, I was battered, bruised, filthy dirty and starving hungry. But I was alive.

I immediately realised something was wrong when my Aunt answered the door. I pushed past her and ran into the house. Mother was upstairs in her bed, seemingly sleeping peacefully. Four days previously, she had suddenly blacked out whilst hanging out the day’s washing and hadn’t regained consciousness. The local doctor’s practice was in the next town, some eight miles away. All the phones were out of order and we had no way of transporting Mother there. With increasing desperation, we tried to get hold of someone to help. The local midwife, the most medically experienced person in the village, examined Mother and, wide-eyed, turned to me fearfully, indicating a large lump behind Mother’s right ear. I didn’t say anything to her, but I already knew that something was awry; Mother’s electricity had a strange fluctuation to it which I had not noticed when I left for University at the start of term. Three days later, her electricity disappeared completely; I had watched its peaks and troughs slowly but surely fade to nothing over a number of hours as I sat at the side of her bed. After the funeral, I stood in The Pylon’s field on my own for a long time, my grief soothed by the melodies produced by The Pylon’s reassuring crackles and fizzes blending with the soft buzzing in my head.

From the news reports I saw, it seemed like the situation around the country was going two ways at the same time. In the larger conurbations, people seemed more inclined to anarchy, roaming the streets in groups, fighting other gangs when they were not fighting themselves in a frantic desperation to survive. It really was survival of the fittest – evolution brought down to the most basic level. We saw footage of scores of bodies, presumably starved or beaten, lying on the streets where they had fallen. Smaller places, such as our village, resisted the pull of barbarianism and pooled their resources in order to survive. My village elected a Ruling Council to coordinate matters. It was headed by a portly baker affectionately known Big Chief, who had been the local parish councillor. We shared our food with each other so that no one went hungry and started growing our own crops in the numerous fields which surrounded the village.

Being somewhat mechanically minded, I became one of the village’s band of odd-job men, putting every last piece of wire, scrap metal and castoff plastic to good use. We constructed lines of greenhouses, repaired aging gardening equipment and mended rusting tractors. I started experimenting with the construction of solar panels for heating water. It was enjoyable work and I learned a great deal.

Then one day I was found in a compromising position with Big Chief’s beautiful and voluptuous daughter.

An impromptu trial was hastily convened in the village hall. The self-appointed presiding judge, Big Chief, threw all semblance of justice out of the window and adopted the stance of an outraged parent. When he asked how I pleaded against the frankly laughable charges of “indecency” and “treason,” I said nothing.

I was convinced that his daughter was the only person I’d ever met who had electricity which was compatible with my own. How could I tell him that?

III

I was probably the happiest jail inmate that had ever existed.

Including myself, there were five “prisoners.” We lived in a hastily constructed walled enclosure on the valley floor, measuring some fifty feet square, around The Pylon. Located centrally directly underneath The Pylon was a hut, roughly fifteen feet by twenty, like some kind of misshapen corrugated iron egg sheltered from the Antarctic blizzards by a massive steel penguin. Dug underneath the hut was a cellar, in which was a reasonable supply of food. We also had an old generator which I had repaired in the preceding weeks and which provided the hut with a meagre supply electricity for a few hours worth of television, the aerial of which extended unsteadily up from the roof of the hut partially towards The Pylon’s pointed crown. The rest of the floor space of the enclosure was taken over with row after row of vegetables in some vague attempt at being self-sufficient. Every few days, my fellow villagers would deliver a few supplies, throwing a few battered cans of fruit or a rusty barrel of fuel over the rickety wall.

I eschewed the hut and its inhabitants, preferring to sleep in a tiny ramshackle shed which held various pieces of gardening equipment and was located in one corner of the enclosure. By doing this, I could awake in the morning to the spits and crackles of the electricity of both The Pylon and my own mind. Whilst asleep, the two would merge in my head and give me psychedelic dreams of dramatic colour and blistering light to a soundtrack of static harmonies and discordances.

Why did the villagers contrive to put us underneath The Pylon? Perhaps, what with the reports of what high-voltage electricity had been alleged to do to people in mind, it was some kind of macabre experiment in order to see whether we’d turn savage within the prison and turn upon one another. Looking back now, the irony of our location isn’t lost on me. I’m probably the only one still alive.

Why didn’t Big Chief just dispose of us? My theory is that he was a sly old dog; almost all of us had skills which, if things improved, would come in useful to him. I say “almost all of us” because Doug, the accountant who had been locked up for stealing food from his elderly neighbours, seemed to have no skills whatsoever. He certainly was devoid of personality, charisma or any obviously redeeming qualities. His electricity was ugly too. We, as a group, didn’t use many resources in the scheme of things and we were at least attempting to grow some of our own food. Hence, we were spared, at least for the meanwhile.

As the weeks went by, the situation around the country became more violent and chaotic. My colleagues spent more and more time huddled around the TV, arguing over the increasingly static-riddled footage of bloodshed, riots, fighting and civil warfare. London was ruled by gangs. Most of the army had deserted, or joined their so-called enemies, using their weapons against their former comrades. There was no such thing as a government, all the resourceful politicians having long since fled the country. The villagers’ deliveries became less frequent, with only a few meagre provisions thrown over the wall every five or six days. We had sufficient stock for the meantime, but I could see that if this situation was going to continue for an extended period, we would have to start rationing our food. My fellow inmates didn’t seem to either mind or care but assumed the same morbidly fascinated glazed stares around the cathode ray-dispensing Idol as if they were some privileged voyeurs watching all that was happening elsewhere.

One evening, whilst lying on the cool ground in the dusk after a particularly hot summer afternoon, I was listening to the electricity of The Pylon whilst watching some high-altitude clouds lazily drifting across the sky. My eyes followed the clouds as they moved overhead and across the valley, where they met with… met with what? There was a column of thick smoke, rising from a source unseen beneath the level of the wall, about a mile or so away.

I sat upright, mouth agape.

My God! The village is burning!

And it was if the realisation that this battle for survival wasn’t just being acted out on the flickering television screen had opened the floodgates of my deeper subconscious mind. It immediately assessed the situation in calmly rational terms and told me in no uncertain terms that I had to do something about my situation, and I had to do it soon.

So I did something. Exactly eight days later, whilst fearsomely waiting for the inevitable horde of axe-wielding vigilantes who had burned my village to arrive at the enclosure and brutally slaughter us all in cold blood, I killed the other residents of the prison. Whilst they were huddled around the television, still desperate to see the latest footage of violence, chaos and anarchy, I used the aerial, cunningly spring-loaded by myself the previous night, to contact the high-voltage wires held aloft by The Pylon. I had volunteered to go outside and waggle the aerial as the television picture, static-ridden at the best of times, had seemingly gone for good. The aerial brushed one of the wires, like the reassuring caress from one lover to another at a wearying work dinner party. Four hundred kilovolts of energy blasted down the aerial cable and into the hut, where it connected through a network of wires to several explosive devices which I had hidden within the building over the previous few days. The devices were made from a mixture of weed killer, rotorvator fuel and paraffin, purloined from a secret stash I had hidden away in my shed. The largest explosive was hidden in the back of their precious television – which, of course, was why it wasn’t working properly – and there were two other devices in the bowels of the sofa upon which my cohabitants had been sitting.

For me, having frantically run away from the hut as soon as I saw the aerial, top-heavy as it was, slowly but surely begin to lean in midair closer and closer towards the power cables, that thunderous explosion of noise followed by an even louder silence harked straight back to the fateful day when I had reached forward and touched the icy skeleton of The Pylon, many years ago.

The blast completely destroyed the hut.

Let me just say at this point that I’m not proud in any way of what I did. I don’t look back with any sense of victory or triumph; it was a desperate situation and, as such, my act matched that desperation. The others would have ultimately been too much of a drain on the meagre resources we had at our disposal. They were also cramping the space of the prison and their incessant chatter tended to interfere with The Pylon’s singing. I had to get rid of them.

Ultimately, it didn’t really matter about their interference; an hour after the dust had settled and the smoke from the hut was reduced to mere wisps which were whipped away rapidly by the breeze, the Pylon stopped singing to me.

IV

It took a fortnight of cutting with an impromptu angle grinder assembled from the remnants of the rotorvator to cut through two of the legs of The Pylon. As the blade came free, I dropped to the floor. I was exhausted. I was also ravenously hungry, the food stocks from the hut and the meagre pickings from the mangled remains of my former jailmates having run out two days earlier.

Fourteen days earlier, I had sat up puzzledly, and shook my head. The Pylon was silent. It was as if, after umpteen years of tinnitus, the sonorous sounds had instantaneously been dispelled by some master magician with a deft flick of his wrist. The noises which I had become accustomed to during my imprisonment just weren’t there any more. The silence was deafening. I waggled my finger in my ear. I could still hear, the sound of the gentle breeze attested to this. My own personal electricity was still there, like the dull rumble of a goods train passing in the middle of the night. But The Pylon was silent, towering above me like some kind of dead tree. It was almost as if it had served its useful purpose and was now standing before me like some impractical, grandiose folly in a manor house’s garden.

I’m sure that I could have found some way of getting over the wall and escape by using the resources I had in the enclosure but, at that moment when I realised that The Pylon’s music had stopped, I knew that I wanted it to set me free. It had got me into this predicament and even in its lifeless state, it was going to get me out again. It had escaped from me somehow, yet it wasn’t going to get away from me without at least giving a little back. I wanted my pound of Pylon flesh.

My cutting task completed, I dragged myself away from the severed legs of The Pylon to the shed. I waited, nibbled on the last crumbs of my emergency stock of food and tried to conserve my energy.

Two days later, a storm rose late in the evening. It was a big storm. Before it galloped down the side of the valley and stamped around above the enclosure, I could feel it in the air, a kind of wild energy accumulating over the surrounding hills, gathering itself for some uncontrollable act of violence.

The wind rose, blustery and untamed. It started raining, fat, lazy raindrops at first, then heavier, then torrentially, streams of rain, blown almost horizontally. The shed lasted but a number of minutes before it collapsed around me, the wind tearing the roof away as if it was a piece of paper. I hid under a wildly flexing piece of corrugated iron, partially embedded in the ground, and held on as if for dear life. Blood flowed down my fingers and merged with the rain deluge as the spearlike edges of the iron cut my skin. Above me, The Pylon began to sway. I could hear its latticed superstructure creaking and groaning as it desperately fought against the immense power of the wind, a seemingly unstoppable pressure, twisting it one way and then another, unremittingly attacking The Pylon’s instability. This was a different kind of music to the type I had heard before. Previously it had been singing lullabies to me; now it was an agonised cry of death, of dying. Then, suddenly, a crack, as if from a gun, from high up in the darkness. A cable had snapped! Then another bang! And another! It was almost as if the wind had suddenly realised that the cables were The Pylon’s Achilles’ heel. It maliciously honed in on them for the kill. A number of further cracks, seemingly at once. The cables fell away and then there was only The Pylon, standing free, separated from its distant neighbours for the first and last time. Bravely, it stood defenceless against the wind which had seemingly risen even further, sensing victory, now screaming. The Pylon’s creaks became louder and more protesting as the wind pressed harder and harder against it, hurling itself against The Pylon in a blind rage. For a moment, I thought that The Pylon might somehow miraculously survive, the definitive example of Man’s ultimate success against Nature, but an enormously hideous groaning and shrieking and screaming and crashing echoed down the valley as The Pylon fell to the ground.

I slept dreamlessly as the storm howled its victory cries across the sky.

V

Dawn broke this morning to a scene of destruction. I see that The Pylon fell away from my impromptu shelter into the enclosing field. Some fifteen feet of the enclosure’s wall has been destroyed.

I have just carefully, if somewhat unsteadily, picked my way over the rubble which had previously been part of the enclosure’s walls and climbed over the mutilated remains of The Pylon’s fractured skeleton into the field. The Sun is shining in the cloudless sky and some ghostlike wisps of smoke from the ruins of my village, a mile to my left, drift lazily down the valley. Perhaps it is not smoke at all, but the souls of my fellow villagers being transported to Heaven. Perhaps the village’s conquerors, seemingly a long way from this place now, took the electricity from The Pylon. Perhaps I’ll never find out what happened. There’s no sound from the landscape around me – no electricity crackles, no birds, no wind, no distant tractor from the long summer afternoons of my childhood to break the silence. I’m about to step down from The Pylon’s metal superstructure onto the grass, free from my place of detention but feeling oddly numb and unmoved by the situation which now faces me.

I can assure you that I haven’t emerged from the prison triumphantly like some action hero to save the world or become some kind of epic freedom fighter. The Pylon is dead. Now I need a new obsession. I need another source of electricity to sing to me, to combine with the frequencies that still crackle and splutter, never-ending, within my head.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.