*

The Zodiac of Murkales

My name is Murkales Mannion, the Reincarnator; and I have re-entered your lives to tell twelve further stories each with a moral in its tail.

(Part i)

Dame Florence Wilson ran the Ladies Group like a religion of her own making: the worship of everything female. Her lieutenants, Lady Dora Slight and Ms Ample Clavinty, on the monthly meets, would set up the icons: to the Menses of Our Lady; to the now legendary Lord Menorrhagia (who having transfigured himself from man to woman, was the ultimate, incontestable proof of the dominance of the container over the contained); to the Great Goddess Hysterectomy (who was represented by a statuette made from a mineral that reddened at the same time each month and on special occasions); and, lastly but not least, to another one time member of the Ladies Group by the name of Wanda Reack (she had commenced her subscription by aggressively petitioning the ways of man in her own mien, dressing in three piece pin-striped suits and kipper ties, but ending up an outcast, a martyr, the one female the other ladies sacrificed to fulfil their own redemption), Wanda’s icon being a huge phallus seeming carved from the finest alabaster…

Such icons were placed upon the platform in the meeting hail, logos that were the essence of the Group’s message. Ample and Dora often squabbled over the relative positions, but Her Nibs the Dame, in her typical overbearing Earth Mother mode, uttering soothing, clucking noises, would arrive and shift things back into the mantra of her own choosing.

Then the other members would troop into the hall, chanting lesbian hockey songs, waving plaster cast images of their husbands’ phalli at the end of whips and bowing three times to the icons on the platform, before reaching their seats … where they knelt, eagerly awaiting the sacred white tampax to be placed by Her Nibs upon their outstretched tongues.

Then the Dame would formally open up the discussion group and promised coffee to any who had not left before the end.

She spoke of how the Group had developed from the small beginnings of an undistinguished women’s institute gathering into the now big ends of a charismatic movement, a booming cult of womanhood and femalekind.

Ample and Dora would then in turn place their mouths in a light kiss upon each icon. Dora always laid hers lovingly upon the representation of her late husband, George, now sanctified as Lord Menorrhagia, and prayed that his soul was at peace within the cosmic womb of the real Goddess Hysterectomy. He had truly shown the way, proved that the only positive exit from life was by one’s own hand, pummeliing away like mad until the lifeforce merely shrivelled up.

But a religious group could not thrive by suicide alone. So, Her Nibs the Dame Florence Wilson instilled a respect in her followers for the icon of Wanda Reack, as a counterbalancing force whose life had ended by *others’* hands. Then, having set up such wondrous awe of it, the huge white phallus on the platform (while Our Lady’s Menses and the plaster image of the Goddess Hysterectomy pulsed with alternating seeping redness on either site of it) would slowly start to bow up and down, even curtsy, to the audience of members, like a giant wrinkled worm, as if the worshipped had indeed become the worshipper. This ever ended meets on a positive note …

Nobody suspected that the phallus had a radio-controlled mechanism inside it, controlled from Dame Flo’s presidential plinth.

And so to coffee and gossip …

“The moral of my first tale,” Murky imparted to the sparse gathering around his feet, “is, never cross a woman … nor, for that matter, woman a cross.”

(Part ii)

Fred Tyrrell had tried his hand at everything, flitting from job to job like a honey-bee in bob-nailed boots. Despite such fickleness, he was a plodder, never to be hailed as one with a brilliant touchstone brain, but merely adequate, mediocre, passable, just another face in an ordinary crowd marching along the bridges of self-deluded permanence, over the rivers of transience…

That had always been the case. Even as a small child, one minute he was the blackboard monitor, the next in charge of the short-arse bottles of milk,… only to end up later carefully stencilling a black “D” on the white pointed hat that was kept in the corner.

But, today, Fred Tyrrell thought he’d at last discovered his vocation; after years of experience in bull-necking terriers, gloom-clearing with a dusk-pan, graph disrupting with false data, oiling machines with unwanted children, he was to put all to good use and become an Agent of Employments. It all sounded too good to be true, matching non-existent jobs with even less substantial people, it was as simple as shelling toes. He set up stall at the end of London Bridge, to catch the office rush, crowing of this or that career, waving influential looking documents that only needed signatures to be activated, riffling wads of monopoly money into pin-striped faces and, finally and most effectively, doling out pension rights as a free gift for every job purchased.

Eventually, it dawned on him, as a bit of a shock, (and shocks* can* come gradually) that most clients were not prepared to pay him for the jobs; they actually expected the direction of the money to go the other way!

So, as the end of the day, Fred packed up his stall and crept home to his wife and kids, giving them all the jobs he had been left with. And, having none over for himself, he squatted in front of the television for the rest of the night (pity, though, that he could not afford to feed it with electricity, but the blank screen was good for the imagination). He dreamt of his own next job – selling toll tickets to those office-workers who wanted to get past him on to London Bridge. That should be fun, he mused.

“A strange tale can lead to even stranger morals,” summed up Merchant ‘Murky’ Mannion. “Being a tale without sex, violence and horror, it’s the strangest one I’ve ever had to tell. It seems rotten to spoil it with a moral, but here goes:

It’s OK if you’re a plodder

it’s probably OK if you’re a will o’ the wisp

but if you’re both of them (like Fred) you couldn’t even sell the two halves of your still dripping, steaming brain as a job lot to a zombie.”

(part iii)

It was at this point that Murkales departed from the story-telling room, leaving in his stead a revolving cylinder of his voice, that proceeded to blunt a needle with words it could not pronounce. For the purposes of this broadsheet, a transcript has been obtained of which the live audience, secondrate to you readers of course, had no benefit.

Siamese twins, Clovis and Tristan Camber, did not come from Bangkok, but they always joked about their resemblance to a drunk Oriental with two heads.

The surgeons had tried to unsplice them at birth when, as the theory goes, the flesh is softer, the connection less vital and the only likely after effects restricted to mind-switching between the individual twins or, at worst, mind-halving

But their mother, who was a woman to whom you would have been well advised to give a wide berth (she *did *after all deliver Clovis and Tristan alongside each other), interrupted the operation, rolling in from the convalescent ward, voice raised:

“Don’t you dare – I don’t want to look after* two* brats — when you think you’ve got one under control – the other’s bound to have wandered off somewhere – it’ll be much easier for me if they stay stuck…”

The surgeons looked at each other askance. They had the double-handed axe ready poised above the rump-joint which seeped blood through every pore. The axe-blade sparked along the edge in evident anticipatory relish.

“If we don’t take the bull by the horns, Ma’am, we may never get another chance. When such twins are old enough to leave home, they may not want to be burdened with each other’s body…”

“Chop ‘em when they’re 21, then.”

“That may result in complications, like bones having grown between by, then, like engrafted branches of two trees. It will be then more like riving one body in two…”

The babies were squalling in unison, their four eyes symmetrically slanting tears across their round, wide faces. It was difficult to decipher* their* particular preference.

But it did not seem to matter. There being such an enormous impetus built into the descending axe, it fell of its own accord, slid through the secret byways of the meat-on-the-bone with the sacred butcher’s art and even cleanly took a wedge from the blood engrained trestle-slab beneath.

The wailing ceased on cue.

But it was taken up by the mother, who seemed to screech with two independent tongues, so loud and persistent was it.

She kept them in the same narrow cot, praying that the two spines would ratchet out from each anus towards one another and infurcate…

Nobody knew whether she was successful, for she tried to keep them away from prying eyes.

… Until, one day, I approached their log cabin, as Christmas neared, and vaguely perceived two children playing on a see-saw, silhouetted against an over-large moon. Their voices were deep, but their hearts were evidently youthful with light.

Busily fixing his flies, Murkales returned just in time to give the moral in person. He inspected the stylus and tut-tutted.

“I’m afraid I can’t give you a moral this time because the whole thing was pretty pointless.”

(Part iv)

Samuel Rigger sat mooning by the lake for hours on end, not exactly fishing, but slowly reeling in the memory of his mother. Her death was now twenty five years old (whether death *can* grow old, he was uncertain) and, during those years, he had positively tried to expunge such a memory, particularly because he had good reason to blame himself for the nature and timing of her departure. Ah, but, then, death isn’t really the final full-stop, not even an ordinary midpage full-stop, but more like a semi-colon, or that’s what his mother’s religion had taught him.

He had now come up against a comma, he thought, a watershed, a way station for the cross purposes of his life. He really needed to haul back the image of his mother to assist him, there never having been any other member of the fair sex central to his concerns.

Wreaths of mist gently circled above the dawn-bejewelled surface of shinering lakewater, as if God had playfully breathed smoke-rings upon it after inhaling His direct pipeline to Hell. Birds, hidden by their feathers in the bare branches of the gathering trees, squawked to one another, sounding to Samuel that they were complaining of the world being just one big battery farm.

Any lesser mortal would have simply plunged into the mirroring sheen as it stretched from his dabbling toes to a horizon that was distant and wide enough for a full-fledged sea to be proud of it, let alone just a mere lake.

Then, as he lowered his gaze and stared at his own image in the weed-choked margins, he drew his breath in with a gasp. It may have been the hesitant reflection created by his toes or it may have been just a case of wishful transvestigial narcissism, but he saw a woman staring back at him: a young, beautiful creature, with hair lapping cheek by jowl. He suddenly recalled a snapshot of his mother as a girl, when she had been full of hope, innocence and unfulfilled love, without even a suspicion of the encroaching senility that was destined prematurely to seep into her head, just at the time when more understandable, if gorier, seepages dried up at the other end.

As Samuel averted his eyes from the guilt lying beyond the vision’s two-dimensionality, he abruptly remembered the whole scenario: inadvertently, at an office party, he had tipped off a thug (masquerading as a colleague) of his mother’s address, the fact that she often forgot to lock the door … no, that was not it … he had let slip the nature of the coded knock he, her son, would always make on visiting.

He wept. The only time he had consumed alcohol was at that very office party. Not a drop before or since. Now he felt unaccountably intoxicated by his own tears, but also strangely peaceful, reflective …

The whole mighty lake drained away before his eyes, and thus the image … as if his extended member was a direct pipeline syphoning it up to feed his tears.

Sadness caught in his throat, as Murkales delivered the moral of the fourth tale:

“Those head over heels in love with death, will cry themselves dry when they eventually realise that even death may die.”

(Part v)

The town of Dormitory would never be the same after they closed down its by-pass.

Dogmucker Lean, as he was often affectionately and euphemisticallly known by the inhabitants, was to be the leading force in the campaign for the ending of the sapping by such an arterial road: the traders backed him to the hilt, preferring the juggernauts and holiday traffic to wend their foundation-juddering paths through the winding, top heavy streets of the inner conurbation, than lose their potential custom to the money-grabbing towns that had purse mouths wide open further north, eager to tap the life juice streaming with the convoys of the motorway.

Deadlocker, Lean’s sidekick, often drove through Dormitory in his Morris Minor, trying to lead the overnight lorries by the nose via the town centre. He even resorted to twirling road signs on their plinths… But, nothing short of closure of the by-pass would suffice, and Dogmucker Lean, having once been Dormitory’s only private detective (rumoured to have actually enticed those hard-bitten crooks who swarmed the big City down south to Dormitory so as to increase his business and potential crime clearance rate…) was, to Deadlocker’s mind, the only leader born to give back to the town its lifeblood commerce.

Dormitory had no history. It seemed to grow up abruptly as a heavy industrial town in the thirties, sprouting factory chimneys overnight as it were: the inhabitants at the time were said to lie awake at night, listening to the groaning, grinding noises of the engineering plants emerging from the cracked meadows like metal behemoths from Hell, with railing fences ratchetting in concertina fashion and cul-de-sacking all the roads.

Lean had been raised amid the aftermath, and he well remembered his bleary-eyed elders staggering off at five o’clock in the morning, as if mesmerized by the rhythmic bursts of factory hooters.

Then, as if out of nowhere, the tangential by-pass appeared silently sliding past the town in the night, its concrete carriageways extending before the very wheels of the lead convoy. From that day forth, nothing was delivered to Dormitory, no raw materials; nobody came to the shops that depended on passing trade; even the tourists (once avid for any remnant of Britain’s quaint Industrial history that had been engendered in their minds by Blake’s beauteous lines on Satanic

hills) had found themselves inescapably diverted into the desolate wastes further north (their fate unknown).

Nobody bought the holiday postcards depicting the chimney-tangled skyline: there was a glut of Dormitory memorabilia, such as the tea towels grimed in genuine black sludge from the factories or lavatory seats sat upon by generations of the honest-to-goodness working class…

Dogmucker Lean, one time crook, more recently arch crime-buster, made Deadlocker drive the morris minor, at the dead of night, to straddle the mighty six-laned autoroute. That should do the trick, he had mused. Born leaders were born to think of such brilliant but deceptively simple ideas … of which most ordinary mortals, such as you and I, are bereft.

Well, he did have the good sense not to accompany Dead locker.

Dormitory’s undertaker would have been delighted with the custom arising from the biggest motorway shunt in history – but since the undertaker was Deadlocker himself, as you have guessed, even this business had to be farmed out, leading to a bigger trade gap than ever before…

The mighty gore-machine pile-up of metal and bone and blood that had grown its tower overnight on the motorway’s hard shoulder, glinted in a sun that shone everywhere except in Dormitory’s narrowing streets.

Murky was shifty-eyed. Eventually he came clean:

“The moral is that leaders, like towers, are not born; they have to grow overnight from Godgiven raw materials.”

Nobody understood it, so they eagerly brayed for the next telling tale,

Part (vi)rgo

Longiand Jones remembered being a boy. He kept a stickleback in a jamjar under his bed, but later forgot it was there.

Now he’s grown up, he has far more respect for detail.

He was once told by a solicitor that he could change his name merely by standing in the corner of the room and stating aloud: “I hereby resolve to change my name to…”

Of course, it would need to be evidenced in writing (by Deed Poll or whatever) if there were already contracts to which he was party under the old name. But, other than that, the standing in the corner process was the correct thing to do, as legal as most things can be, give or take a slight tolerance either way stemming from typical human imprecision.

Longland Jones vaguely recalled, as a boy, hearing a bedtime story about a chap named Kane who owned a long fence that stretched straight through the middle of his own land for no apparent reason…

It’s a strange cast that often appears in the eye of memory.

The story came flooding back: about how Mr Kane tried to paint the whole fence as white as white could be. Then … the dreams came, more substantial than the usual sort of dream that affects sleep, for they left dark, unsightly blotches all over Kane’s painstaking white brushstrokes. He ended up burning the fence down with a blowlamp, because any amount of white paint could not then diminish the concept of those nagging, lurking stains…

Longland became so obsessed with the story of Kane (which was in turn about an obsession), that he wondered why a little kid, as he had been then, was treated with such a story upon which he had to go to sleep.

He abruptly remembered the stickleback. On looking under his bed, he realised that the bed itself had been changed years ago (the mattress having crumbled away under the onset of his teenage incontinence), so it was very unlikely that the stickleback would still be there. But, no, he was wrong, there it still was, a jar of yellow slime tucked away in the darkest nook of the bed’s shadow. However far he stretched, he could not reach it. He was almost certain that the stickleback must be dead … how long had it been? Twenty years? Thirty? More? But stranger things happen in stories.

He strode to the corner of the bedroom and rattled off a statement that had been mulling away for some time in the soft underbelly of his brain:

“I hereby resolve that from heretofore I shall be known as Longland Kane.”

He now looked under the bed and, with relief, saw that the jam jar had disappeared.

He rushed to the window and was pleased to see a mighty fence tapering into the distance like a coiling serpent, perfectly, glisteningly white in the renewed sunshine.

Sitting on the fence was a little imp, grinning mischievously, as he dabbled his arrow-point tail in a tin of what looked to be black gloss paint. Another one, further along hanging his tail over the side hoping for a bite…

Longland rushed back to the bedroom corner praying that, legally, the process could be reversed.

Murky knew all his stories off by heart, but he seemed to find it very difficult to recall the moral of the current one.

“Errr … Longland was such a stickler for detail, he felt able to differentiate between fact and fiction. However, when he got down to actually inspecting the Deeds of his property, he discovered that the fence … ummmm … did not exactly cross through it, but separated it from dreamland. As for those sitting on the fence, they really ought to have appeared in my next zodiacal tale, for obvious reasons…”

Forgetting that his audience was not clever enough to read between the lines to catch the moral, he quickly forged on to tine next tale.

Part (vii)

I am playing on my see-saw, up and down, up and down, I go: the gentle creak creak is the only item to mar the country quietness: my invisible playmate at the other end is balancing my weight with perfection.

It’s getting late, but I can’t bring myself to decide whether to dismount and let the other one down with a bump (to run to my mother’s arms in time for bed) or stay here into the darker reaches of twilight. I’m usually told that I’m not really old enough to make up my own mind. So, if that’s true, I shouldn’t have been left out here to my own devices at all, but being old enough actually to realise that fact, must make me sufficiently mature to create a proper working mind for my body.

I whisper to my friend:

“It’s been nice playing with you all day, but who are you?”

“I’m the Weirdmonger,” breathes the sudden wind.

“Who? That word’s too long for me to say or understand.”

“Why does your mother let you out so late when you look so young?”

“Because she lends me her mind to while away the endless summer evenings … for she sits at home merely darning my father’s socks and she needs no mind for that.”

“So, if you’re equipped with a woman’s mind, small girl, why cannot you get your tongue round my name?”

“Because she was never good at English at school, always sat down first in the spelling beam, when words were still at their shortest.”

The sun has now dipped below the treetops, catsing perfectly straight and angled shafts of golden light across the meadow. The birdsong wells upon the wind only to die in the abrupt misty calm of night amid the branches.

I feel the see-saw shudder as my partner weighs me up in the air, where I stay put as he (or she) prepares to dismount. Now further up in the sky, I can just about smell the fumes of supper emerging from the cottage chimney.

After minutes of telling silence, I wonder if I should climb down the plank towards the pivot, for my partner has either disappeared merely leaving his bodyweight or he (or she) is just sitting there staring up at me … I hold down my skirt over my knees, so as not to look improper.

Before I can reach the middle of the plank, the light finally seeps out of the sky, leaving me just an island of consciousness, unable to move up nor down, just frozen with fear and apprehension.

“Little girl, I’m still here, you know. Come down towards me. Both our weights at this end will sink us further into the ground…”

“Was it … Weeerd-Mungger … you said your name was?”

“Yes, you’re correct. The night has brought a clearness to your mind.”

I find myself moving down the plank as it it’s turned into a well-oiled playground slide … and I feel his (for I know now it is male) arms gathering me to him as I arrive at the bottom.

“Hello, my dear, you’ve arrived at last. Your decision has been made for you. I’m your father and your husband, and we shall forge another little girl between us … who can in turn take your mind on twilight games and endless summer fun in the wan, hazy meadows.”

I merge with the night and dream of another world where I would be darning socks and stirring supper.

Murky smiled. “A beautiful tale deserves a beautiful moral, but to weigh death and life in the balance, as well as night and day, winter and summer, dream and reality, good and bad, you need to have a foot in both camps, as the Weirdmonger does when he bring us weirds to sell and words to spell.”

Part (viii)

The City streets vie with each other to avoid entering the mainstream of history. They know they will end up widening into dual carriageways in the godforsakem sticks if they actually cross the boundary of the Square Mile; so they have become a tangle of blind alleys, backdoubles and dead-ends in overkill.

He who knows their ways better than most is one Dognahnyi. Some say that the tubings of his own body’s innards are self-perpetuating, too; parts of them sticking out of his various orifices and joining up (by means of rubber seals and washers) with the close-circuit of the City sewage system. Incredible as it may seem, Dognahyi saw himself as a filtration plant for the slurry emanating from all the wine bars, banks, insurance companies and low dives.

Therefore, he moved about the City under cover of darkness, in case all the pin-striped yuppies could see the bare ends of his jump-leads poking from his trousers. He docked and undocked himself with all the interceptive pipe-joints that were protruding from buildings and lurking under man-holes. Not that he was exactly shamefaced: he was secretly proud of his role, passionate about his knowledge of the City’s underworld (which was even more entangled than the scribbling of the map-maker each time he had to survey the area for the A to Z).

But, as the years passed, he became more secret than passionate, more passionate than proud. His favourite haunt was in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, because its particular shadow was lighter than normal night. He would enjoy tapping into the effluence that the religious order granted to their crypt latrines. Sometimes, he would rub his suckers (specially nurtured along the nodules of his backbone by years at self-induced metabolic nightmares) up and down the lower reaches of the cathedral’s mighty walls: drawing into himself the centuries of faith that those walls had soaked up from within the vast echoing helmet of the interior.

He saw God. He actually saw God itself, a huge umbrella of webbed spider-legs, creaking and groaning above the world:

unseen and unheard by most mortals, because it used the apparatus of the building in the sky as its disguise. But, with all the rich juices of humanity (its hopes and despairs, its useless body waste and salvage, and above all, its dark, deep, secret passion for proud death, as opposed to shameful life) racing through his arteries like night turned into slime, he saw God itself more clearly than others.

However, one day, he wanted out. He was tired of being the world’s martyr, the one taking all its burdens upon his narrow shoulders. He unplugged himself, one night, from a particularly virulent wine bar’s overflow pipe, and ran for all his worth towards the edge of the Square Mile. Until he realised he was running in gradually more and more imperfect circles.

The City workers were bemused by the sight of this wild shape scattering wanks of dark snot in his wake, as he reached the frenzied proportions of street-jacking. They shrug, and forge on to their desks where they turned many over, money feeding on money to make more money for those who already own

it. They do not even notice that they don’t go home of a night any more, what with the 24 hour global exchanges and the drugs that keep yuppies alive without sleep.

Murky gives his moral with a short burst of meaningfulness:

“Men walk the world with eyes shut and minds insulated against the infiltration of their bodies’ inner fluids.”

Despite being a statement rather than a moral, the audience seemed to take the point and put fingers down inside their throats.

Part (ix)

Max Haze was a reporter on a provincial rag (though he probably considered himself the Thief of Baghdad on a magic carpet), who chugged around all the suburbs of various towns in his green and white 2CV, a car phone ever plastered to his ear in attempted contact with the intermittent diatribes of his longwhile editor Luke Grubbins.

Today, Max felt it in his bones (and in the very juddering of the car) that this was going to be a big job, a once in a lifetime scoop, at which Luke would pat the handset of his telephone back in the newsroom and perhaps (rather unlikely though) give Max a raise. It was one of those days when, stemming from no accountable visible influences, he felt expansive and in charge of his own destiny. The 2CV free-wheeled down the longest slope towards a township that did not seem to appear as either a blob or a cross, on the roadmap he had used since 1953; it cluttered the impending valley with the spokes of several church spires arising haphazardly from amid the disgeometry of clambering houses … as if the town council had long spurned the advice of the architectural fraternity.

Despite the evident age of the stone that acted as substructure of the chimneypot-pourri, Max wondered if it was still being built around the day to day lives of the townsfolk, for ladders of all sizes leaned from gableposts to fluestacks and stretched, like the climbing-frames of steeplejacks, from looming churchtops to mock-Arabian towers of the masonic hall (wherefrom, Max imagined, if the town were not amid the hedgerowed allotments of England’s green and pleasant land, the muezzin made their haunting, echoing dawn chorus).

The 2CV drew to a halt in the market square, just as another gentle slope rose steadily in the opposite direction out of the town. Those people he thought originally were swarming in unguessable patterns across the square, in and out of the deceptively positioned alley-mouths, had disappeared. He only felt the twitching of curtains at those garret and attic windows built, like eyes, into the ramshackle, teetering roof-systems; but, soon, even that hint of life ceased and Max turned on his car engine to expunge the frighteningly deafening silence of a town that should have been athrob with Saturday trading.

He spoke into his phone: “Hello, Luke, are you there? I’m on to a big one….”

“Haze, Haze, I can hardly hear you. Speak up.”

Max stared back at the handset as if it were alive. He held it further away from his mouth and shouted at the top of his voice:

“This set-up I’ve found, Luke, it’s not even on my map. It’s out of time, somewhere,,.”

He could see the headlines already:

ALTERNATE WORLDS ARE GO!, or

PARALLEL EXISTENCES ARE FOR REAL, MATE! from your favourite paperazzi, or

TIME HAS NO BOUNDARIES FOR MAX HAZE, or

LOCAL HACK IN Sci-Fi SENSATION!

He cringed as if he apologised for every lie he told.

Luke was now struggling through heavy static on the line:

“Haze, where are you? It’s as if you’re too far away for a cordless phone to work. It’s a pity there are no more of those proper GPO boxes… I’ll hold the front page till you can get through.”

The line then went dead. Max clambered from his timepod (as he now preferred to call it, having turned of its lawnmower engine). He scratched his bonce, looking for one of those long extinct red telephone boxes that once inhabited the laybys and street-corners of our world. He suddenly realised that Luke himself back in the supposed Daily Jupiter office, must also share the same alternate reality as himself. He cursed. The story was dead even before it started … for their readers also were surely part of this particular existence.

Eventually, he strolled, at peace with the world, into a nearby tavern that, before his very eyes, emerged organically from the moving feast of the town’s non-euclidean masonry. Therein, he had a quiet pint with a friendly local who told him he was the third reporter to visit the town that week.

Even the scoop that all the townsfolk were window-cleaners was as stale as yesterday’s time travel story.

Murky moralised: “Reality is full of stories, and all are true, somewhere, somewhen.”

Part (x)

Alzheimer’s goat was the mascot of the Ladies Group. It was kept in a field most of the year at the back of Lady Dora’s estate, chewing ruefully upon the dietary cycle engendered by the clumps of grass. However, at the annual spring fete, when the funds of the Group badly needed replenishing, Lady Dora would hitch it to the nanny-cart and urge it to lug it into the grand arena, where all the children of the town (born from marriages and mis-marriages alike) would vie with each other to pay their tuppence-ha’penny for a ride.

Dame Florence Wilson had been dead now several years, since the scandal when (as many suspected) the Group (originally intended as a polite, sitting-room attempt to further the already acknowledged right of way of ladies in the world at large) tended towards a more religious, cultish “worship” (what else could us outsiders call it?) of the feminine condition, almost creating deities from woman’s physical shortcomings… That had been a scandal indeed and, since Dame Flo’s timely sudden demise (at the hand, some rumoured, of a resurrected, martyred Wanda Reack, who was at great pains to put out positive feelers from her earlier abashment and abasement as a man), the Group had reconstituted, forged new consolidations and (for a time) withdrawn into its institutional shell like a clitoritic snail.

Ms Ample Clavinty and Baroness Barmbrack, two other erstwhile active members, had brought the residue of the Group (following Flo’s departure) into a huddle like a rugby scrum (without any of the bad language) and kicked the ball out to Lady Dora Slight who then threw it steadfastly into the slips where the wing-threequarters Wanda Reack made a nifty run for the line; whereupon the try was converted and the Ladies Group breathed anew, like a spring lamb.

Fete-time approached apace. Alzheimer’s goat was treated with every titbit that the membership could salvage from their husbands’ tables (“Oh, my dear, I’ve done you two nice chops, so that you can donate one to charity”; “Hubbie, please don’t eat too much, the goat will prefer your left-overs whole as opposed to regurgitated”).

Consequently, the goat grew fat, as the untamed grass abounded about it like hair on the Godhead… Many had tried to put out of mind their earlier spiritual leanings (when every particle of the world (even their husbands’ skid-marked underpants) used to be an ingredient of a pantheistic whole) but, even so, echoes of the erstwhile charisma of the One Undersoul of the Bleeding Woman still permeated their dreams: even the noxious, scabby head of the Goddess Hysterectomy reared from the bowels of Hell’s sleep to remind them of their eventual destiny, fete or no fete.

Then the day arrived. The whole town (even the men and boy children) gathered in the Recreation Ground to try their luck on the Chance Dip, the Bottle Stall, the Tombola, the bottletop Bingo, the Raffle for a 2CV car and, even, the coconut shy that Lord Menorrhagia had agreed to run because he was shy and coconuts themselves reminded him of something vital in his pre-female life.

Alzheimer’s goat with the cart eventually trundled into the arena, Lady Dora (Vice-President elect), vestigial whip aloft, in the harness seat, the animal, being now older than anyone cared to recall, found it very difficult to pull such a load so far. Eager children clustered round for the first ride (hustling Lady Dora from her plinth), awaiting the signal from Wanda Reack to start the fete proper (a finger pointed straight up into the sky).

But, Wanda was *not *in the commentary box: only the celebrity from the local radio station waved back … and he was a man.

The goat collapsed, in full view of everyone. A little girl (by the name of Rachel Mildeyes who, if things had gone differently, would have fulfilled the future role of President in a flourishing Ladies Group – Wanda Reack happening to be her Great Aunt) later told the gutter press that Ms Reack’s own pitiful eyes had stared back out of the goat’s dying eyes (as if she’d holed herself up inside its skull for the duration of her premature death by mindblowing), trying to tell them all something important before it passed away.

Murkales faced the stony silence of his audience, who were predominantly female. “Woman is but a cornucopia of surprises….” he stuttered.

Part (xi)

Digory Smalls was a little lad for his age. The stunted arms and legs, the hydrocephalic head and the developed mind of a pre-born, did him no favours at all.

Many wondered how he had survived so far. But his parents (if they actually admitted to such a birthright) nourished him in a large house at the edge of a creek. They allowed him to tote water from the well … and back again. Religion had taught them that people could only exist if they had a purpose in life, so they gave Digory this small chore to perform. The rest of the day he would roam the battlements of the roof (using the suckers at the end of his foreshortened limbs to clamber from one cornerstone to another), watching the specks of ships wending their spice trails along the horizon of the distant sea. He yearned in some deep, unknown part of his soul to be one of the crew of such floating communities: he thought he could be at least half useful as one who could tote sea-water from in front of the prow of the ship to behind the stern.

Digory had several brothers and sisters, all whole in limb and mind. The parents, though, often resorted to the master bedroom trying to create a sibling more suitable for Digory than the beautiful maidens and handsome youths who already abounded in the interlocking rooms of the house … and who taunted him unmercifully when the parents were so otherwise engrossed in family planning.

Digory’s life was a misery. He looked to God to help him grow straighter: for *all* his bones were hinged like the elbows and knees. His one talent (other than the water toting) was creating electric currents along the surface of his skin: he did not know how he managed it, but certain nodules in his otherwise dormant brain had qualities of electrodes, sparking lightning between the pylons of his extremities.

This scared his brothers and sisters, who would slouch off holding their tingling fingers aloft, as if that would ease the dose of pins and needles fomented by Digory’s touch. Some even went down to the edge of the sea to douse them in salt-water. So, everybody (except the now increasingly absent parents) hated Digory Smalls.

One day of storm, the spice ships floated nearer to the house than Digory had ever seen before, He could watch them in the intermittent half-light of a lugubrious dusk, edging ever into the hazardous backwaters of the creek. He could even spot the sailors clambering the rigging like tiny spiders, desperately hauling in the billowing sheets. Lightning forked cruelly from mast to mast, as if God was threading needles with uninsulated power cables. Digory disbelieved God could be so nasty, for some sailors fell dead into the roiling sea like fireflies, all dreams of the spice lands being relegated to their cowardly surviving confreres in the hold.

Soon, one ship came so close to the eaves of the house, Digory managed to jump, with the aid of a mutated spring-like coccyx at the base of his spine, into its rigging … whereupon he set about furling and unfurling the sheets, in a strange, arcane rhythm which tapped the winds and lightning-strikes with an efficiency tantamount to hyperdrive and faster-than-light travel (about which science fiction, at the time of our tale, had not even dreamt, let alone invented).

The whole fleet, led by the nose as it were by HMS GULLIVER (the ship upon which Digory had happened to launch himself) arrived safely in the spice lands… where he received a telegram that he had been blessed with a bouncing sister with rosebud limbs and a hairlip that would fit his kiss exactly.

Digory Smalls sobbed … because he could not choose between the spice lands and the dream of one he could love back home.

Murkales, now on the safe ground of a tale with a real moral, did not even bother to say it, for by saying morals, they become less than they were when unsaid.

Part (xii)

Murkales had reached his last tale unscathed and sooner than he anticipated. He was surprised to discover that most of his audience were still sticking with him to the bitter end, unlike many of the previous occasions when he had embarked on such a project.

He went round collecting the used sick bags, because most of them were now full. The story of Dognahnyi in the City had done most of the damage there.

“What, no tales of Padgett Weggs, Blasphemy

Fitzworth et al this time, Murky?” one asked as he handed in the squelchy innards of his stomach.

“No, but my last tale, fine friend, is to be of myself, Murkales, which, together with that narrative concerning the inscrutable Weirdmonger, should fulfil your lust for tales concerning my more familiar characters.”

Refreshed, relieved and, with the end in sight, the audience settled back for the last tale in the present sitting.

“My friends, as this tale concerns myself, I will ask someone else to tell it for me.”

He drew back the black drapes at the rear of the stage, to reveal a tall, androgynous figure, whose face darted so quickly from expression to expression, none of its features could be defined. Many guessed that it must be none other than the Weirdmonger, though few were certain. The creature spoke through its snotty nose, as it twirled its capes like a dancer of Hellish Fandangos: –

“Murkales has been dubbed the Reincarnator by some. I call him something different, but it means the same. His mortal coil is a slimy snake of a spiv in an East End trading-post whose name is Merchant Mannion. His heavenly guise is a sheet of lightning as big as the sky, that strikes fire as long as there are days left to divide night from night. His story-telling mode, as you yourself have seen … well, how can I describe it? … I am neither male nor female, I carry the attributes of both and of neither … Murkales, on the other hand, is likewise a creature neither good nor bad, or both, one who hides beauty and ugliness behind each other, so that beauty and ugliness can eventually shine forth with renewed power by contrast of its surroundings. He has used the symbolism of the zodiac to underpin morals which he wishes to be remembered rather than the tales that gave them birth. He has laid the golden fish that now lies flopping and flapping on one pan of the scales, whilst weighing it down on the other pan is my scrotum womb opening and shutting its mouth in rhythm with the air.”

The Weirdmonger (whether it is or is not, does not matter) retreats behind the threadbare drapes with a bow.

Far from demoralized, I, Murkales, step forward with the last word:

“They say that creatures weigh more dead than alive… and as the world’s air becomes the placental fluid that brings us full circle, I will either die clogged to the gills with my own disgust or, perhaps, swim from one pan to the other, where I can nest, like a flaccid phallus, within the chrysalis of wrinkled fleshskin that my counterpart has shed.”

Applause mingled with tears, as the narrator dispersed from the stage. Nobody being a stickler for detail, the amateurishness of the whole performance had gone quite unnoticed.

(published ‘The Scanner’ 1990-91)

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