Thursday, 30 July 2009
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Jean Beast was, objectively speaking, quite a fearsome beast, she thought as she curled back her rubbery red lips and bared her nine-inch fangs for brushing.
She stood about eleven feet tall, a good height; very intimidating but not over-the-top. When necessary she could, for example, still hide in a (large) bush.
And, while she lacked the horns of a male Beast, her neck crest was large and a very impressive deep scarlet.
Her external, major mandibles were large, the talons faced inwards symmetrically and held dripping blood very well.
She could run at up to 44 miles per hour for short bursts and she could rupture mammalian eardrums with even a moderate roar. Her body was covered in a thick layer of chitinous scale, which cracked into knife-sharp ridges around her joints, and could tear most outer skin layers with a casual swipe.
Like all Beasts, her wings were vestigal and could not support true flight but, when extended to their full twenty-two foot span, and with her crest engorged, she could still cut rather an imposing figure.
But today was one of those days. Jean Beast had been working for Outworld Material Acquisition Solutions (Armoured Battalion) for most of the summer. The work was good; she enjoyed it. Of course, it would have been preferable to be making kills with her own claws, as it were, but, as her father had always said: Better to be in a tank than an Arial Offensive Bombardment Glider – they were for sissies.
The guys at Armoured Battalion were a decent sort of a bunch. Or, at least, she had thought they were a decent sort of bunch. Until Gr’Ah!Krk from Bestial Resources had turned up.
Gr’Ah!Krk was one of those Beasts that Jean could have happily gutted and worn as a very ornate hat. Not only did he take his (rather silly) job far too seriously, he also insisted that everyone around him talk the same rot, and got them into trouble when they didn’t.
He wore every synthetic enhancement it was possible to have. He even had those tacky rocket launchers on his back. As if he would ever need those! Stuck in his office, poring over his tables and graph-tablets. Staring into 3D holo-spreads with those cold, dead eyes. He shouldn’t have had the eye-stalks added either; on some Beasts it looked intellectual but he just looked cross-eyed.
Jean hated him and everything he stood for. And that was yesterday. Today, well…
It was like being back at school again. All the schools. She was lucky that her father’s job took them all over the place, so she never had to stay in one place for too long. Because they always found out. Always.
Mother had said that she was named after a warrior-queen but, as soon as they did even the first module of Human Studies, the jokes started. It wasn’t even true, Jean found out later. In fact her mother had found the name on a gold-plated necklace on one of her early victims. It had become stuck in her teeth. She’d just liked it, she said. She thought it was pretty. Some said her mother was short in the cerebral ganglian. Sometimes Jean thought they were probably right.
Jean hated being teased; she would mostly be found at break-time, while the other Beasties were taunting prey in the Pit, sitting with her wings folded over herself and her pale, pubescent neck-crest wilted and saggy.
For those first few days at anywhere new, when she was still Zak!R’aah (actually a direct translation in the Elder Tongue, if anyone had ever bothered to look it up), she was popular; happy. But it always came out eventually.
The worst time had been when she’d fought back and ended up eviscerating and roasting an entire hatchery-worth of little Beasties. They’d marked it up as high spirits but she knew she wasn’t welcome afterwards.
So she’d carried on moving around and, when the time came when all the bitches had properly-grown crests and fronds, and had started talking about nothing but the bullocks, she couldn’t join in. Even seriously maiming her fellow bitches and forcibly mounting the bullocks had been a hollow victory. Her hearts weren’t in it, and she ended up on her own at the end of every night out.
So, when she’d applied for the place at OMAS(AB), as Zak!R’aah naturally, she’d been really hoping for things to be different. Her first chance out of school to be who she wanted to be; who she could be. She’d slaughter more innocents than they could shake a power-lance at, and they’d never know about her stupid, secret name.
And then Gr’Ah!Krk turns up saying there “seemed to be some irregularities with her records”. Trust him to find out.
They were all gathered around the Armoured Transport, with only a few prey still running around, mostly crippled for the party later. And he’d come straight out with it. For a moment, they just looked at her. Then the laughter started, and didn’t stop. The whole frontline team roaring, stamping and slapping with a noise like thunder.
Gr’Ah!Krk looked at her impassively. She looked him up and down. Yes, he was quite well kitted out in this season’s armour, but really, when all’s said and done, it was just armour.
A funny thing happened to Jean Beast. She didn’t whimper, she didn’t run away or hide in her wings, she just stood there, looking at him. And she considered Gr’Ah!Krk.
‘Fuck it’, she thought, and she gutted him, sliced off his arms and legs and stuck him on her head, like a very ornate hat.
‘Never liked him!’ she roared, her throat rippling. ‘Drinks are on me!’ And she wore Gr’Ah!Krk all night, and everyone thought it was funny, especially when one of his rocket launchers fell in Pl’ur!rk’s drink.
And, although it was never quite the same again, and although they would still sometimes call her Jean, just quietly, mostly things were ok, and Jean Beast got away with being Zak!R’aah for ever more.
Atherly Gilgeous burped loudly and lay back on the roof tiles. The cigarette was making him feel quite sick, and he was worried about burning his fingers. Not to mention the taste and smell, which were ruining what he believed was probably a very good glass of brandy.
The brandy was easier. Especially if he chewed fruit pastilles at the same time. It tasted much nicer than the whiskey, which reminded Atherly of some particularly traumatic cough medicine he’d once had.
His father got the whiskey in un-marked bottles, with just a thick paper label and a batch number on them. Atherly didn’t know where they came from but he trusted that some very important people in the world of whiskey were really ever so fond of cough medicine.
The brandy, on the other hand, had a name and everything, albeit a name in French which Atherly couldn’t read and, even if he could, he would have pretended not to. Atherly Gilgeous hated French, and not just because of his French teacher. She obviously thought far too highly of herself and that was enough by itself, but the way the other boys fawned over her made Atherly sick. He’d never stoop so low. I mean, if he ever were to make a move it would be something fucking romantic actually, not just chocolates and roses, or those stupid Le Creuset stockings.
Not that it mattered one bit what she thought. The point was, Atherly Gilgeous was having fun. And he was going to damn well carry on having fun if it killed him. Conceivably it could kill him, getting drunk on the roof. What would they say then? What would they say if they found him dead? Well, Mah-Mah would probably completely blow up her top and Pah-Pah would, presumably, finally just stop speaking altogether.
He stubbed the cigarette out a little too early, and a little too inexpertly, causing it to fall in, let’s face it, a fucking poetic way, right onto the front steps.
Well, he wasn’t going to just leap off the roof. That would make things far too easy for them. They’d had him in the first place anyway, hadn’t they? Well, they’d have to take responsibility for him now, wouldn’t they? He’d show them that he could handle being by himself, so that they’d finally take some responsibility. He was running the whole house by himself right now, wasn’t he? Of course he could manage a little place in Camden.
And he’d make sure it was a fair house too. People could come and go as they pleased, have some food and things, just as long as everyone was relaxed and chilled and no-one was just normal.
Really, that was the problem with Atherly’s parents. They were just so normal. Why couldn’t they just let him express himself a bit. I mean, just look at this garden. It looks like a stately home. Just what some commoner (yes, commoner - Mah-Mah be damned!) would have if they won the lottery. They could make a proper difference in the world, not just spend all their money on this stupid brandy.
Now that he thought about it, Atherly could feel that it was having some sort of an effect. But he was definitely still sober. He could’ve had a talk with the headmaster right there and then, and no-one would ever guess he was drunk. So he must not be drunk enough at all.
He put two fruit pastilles in his mouth, a red and a black, and took another slug of the brandy. He tried swilling it ‘round his mouth a bit, but it burned and he spluttered, getting some of it on his shirt and tie. Well, it wasn’t such a bad thing if his tie smelled of alcohol. Maybe he wouldn’t mind it if everyone at school knew he’d been drinking.
He was naturally well in advance of his years anyway. He knew he made some of the other students nervous, just by being, well, just by being the way he was. It wasn’t everyone who’d read as many books as he had at his age. There were plenty of proper adults, with their own houses in Camden, who’d probably not read as much as him.
So, if they knew that he enjoyed a drink every now and then, what was the harm? Although “enjoyed” was probably putting too fine a point on it. But still.
Yeah, why couldn’t they just do something? I mean, God! They’d probably just waste away in their oak-lined bloody hotel of a house if he wasn’t there to shake them up once in a while. They were just so stuck in their ways! Some proper, radical thinking would really do some good.
Like when he’d had that idea about letting the homeless chappies sleep in the stables. I mean, it wasn’t his fault, was it? Pretty unusual thing to happen anyway. I mean, normal people just don’t do that sort of thing, do they? You’d think they’d be grateful, living out in the country for free. You’d have thought he might get a ‘thank you’ or something.
Anyway, he needed to think bigger if he was going to properly change the world. He needed to think about his image too. A beret or something. Maybe some sort of beard? He stroked the downy stubble on his chin pensively and frowned. Wouldn’t take all that long to grow a beard, would it? The trick was to be iconic. Not "handsome", like all those stupid boys, but iconic. Yes, he could certainly grow a beard.
He took another large mouthful of brandy, and winced. Why did they have to waste all that money? He didn’t need their money. He’d do it by himself. Really, when you thought about it, it was the money that was the problem.
Another swig. He’d almost got through half the bottle now. About half of what he was aiming for. Pretty good going really. So, it was the money that was the problem, was it? Then maybe, just maybe, if he just took all their money away from them…
Well, obviously, if there was no money then there’d be no problem, would there? Money’s ruined this whole stupid planet, hasn’t it? They say you can’t take it with you but when was the last time you saw some old person giving all their money away? His Grand-daddy was old, but he never gave him anything, did he?
You can take your true feelings with you though, can’t you? I mean, God, or Buddha or whatever, would probably let you. Everyone’d be free. The more money you have, the less you have true friends; the ones who really matter. And then the terrorists wouldn’t have any money too!
Bloody brilliant! Atherly Gilgeous could certainly drink to that! Abolish money and change the world.
He was extremely drunk. His head fell back heavily, and he fell unconscious in the happy knowledge that, tomorrow, the world would be a better place.
And, the next day, Atherly Gilgeous went on to abolish human suffering and make everyone truly happy, even Mah-Mah.
Friday, 17 July 2009
Thalita Human was extremely disappointed by her new hairdo. She couldn’t get her face to stop being red, and she couldn’t help glancing in every window of every car, shop and house she passed and wincing at what looked like a wig sitting awkwardly on her head.
A healthy-looking, tanned young man with sun-bleached hair, who Thalita would really have rather liked having a drink with, passed her and gave her a very slight glance with his deep brown eyes. It was far too brief for any sort of communication, conscious or not, but Thalita looked down at the kerb, flustered.
Thalita had never been happy with her looks anyway, even before the haircut. Several years ago, the boy-next-door had told her she was beautiful, but he was drunk at the time and wanted to sleep with her. Later, she had asked him about it and he’d said that he’d meant that she would be beautiful, once she’d grown into her looks. Now, she doubted whether she ever would.
She was only twenty-three but she knew that she was only going to get odder-looking.
It was her skull that was the problem. That and her eyes. Her stupid, slightly-too-bulbous, annoying, slightly-too-sticky-outy, starey, eyes.
And the problem with having a weird skull is that, no matter what, no-one will ever, ever tell you exactly how it’s weird and what could possibly be done to un-weird it. And, even though she’d stood, sat and lain down in front of all sorts of different mirrors, she’d never been able to put her finger on it.
It was sort of as if it was just a little too steeply domed at the top, and sort of as if it was slightly wasted and thin at the sides and sort of as if, well, there wasn’t a word for the shape it was, but it wasn’t exactly head-shaped.
And now it had a stupid hairdo on top of it. Stupid bloody hairdresser. You don’t get thanked for trying to be interesting in this life, do you? Perhaps if it hadn’t been a gloriously sunny day, perhaps if she hadn’t had wine with lunch, perhaps if she’d remembered to retain just a tiny bit of cynicism, she wouldn’t look like she had a sodding barcode on her head.
“Oh, I don’t know. You’re the expert! Whatever you think!”
Highlights! These weren’t highlights! They looked like the shreds of an exploded blonde wig that she’d glued onto her scalp.
Her face, somehow, flushed hotter and redder for a moment. She looked up at the window of a Boots as she passed. “Because you’re worth it”, shouted the subtly-highlighted, seven-foot tall, pore-and-blemish-free face in the window display.
Thalita went in through the automatic doors and saw the enormous cardboard promotional display straight away. She looked at the six-and-a-half thousand identical boxes in front of her, and selected Brazen Chestnut from the Autumnal Hymns collection.
That evening, with the ammonia smell of public urinals all around her, Thalita carefully unwrapped the cling film from her hair, bent over the sink, and held the shower over her unusually-shaped head. A thick, dark brown liquid, like perfumed, ammonia-ridden diarrhoea, flooded her sink, staining the limescale around the plug.
She straightened up and wiped the condensation from the mirror, smearing a tiny amount of brown water onto it.
Without her glasses on, and with the steam in the air, and the water on the mirror, and her hair wet, it was hard to see exactly but there was no denying the truth of it. Thalita Human now had green highlights in her hair.
With trembling hands, she picked up the packaging. “Do not use on blonde hair” whispered a warning near the bottom of the box in a jaunty orange typeface. Thalita couldn’t hold back the tears any more. She went into the front room of her flat and opened the fridge door. There was a little more than half a bottle of white wine in there, looking frosty and cold.
When the wine was finished, she looked around for more. She knew there wasn’t any more, but she made a show of the looking, so as to persuade herself that what she was about to do was really the only option under the circumstances. After all, she could hardly go out looking like this, could she?
With eyes reddened with tears, and just enough drunkenness to think it was a good idea, Thalita Human popped the champagne cork from the bottle she’d been saving for nearly a year, just in case anything worth celebrating happened, and drank it.
The next morning, when she woke up, she decided that she wouldn’t be eating breakfast today. In fact, the way she felt right now …
She ran to the bathroom and threw up into the toilet. Quite a lot. After a little while, that felt like a big while, she sat back on her haunches and stroked her hair back from her…
A cold shudder ran through Thalita Human from her scalp to her knees, making her wretch again.
She remembered the tears, and the scissors that wouldn’t cut the way she wanted them to, and the razor, and the Tesco’s bag full of brown and green hair, so much more than she’d expected.
She stood up slowly, steadying herself on the lip of the sink, and saw a completely bald head appear with her face underneath it.
It was almost unbelievably white. There were also patches where she’d not shaved especially carefully and the little areas of stubble made it look like there were strange shadows. With her glasses off, through her slightly watery eyes, she looked, unbelieving, at what she saw.
Then she stooped, rinsed her mouth out, brushed her teeth, went back to the bedroom, put on some soft clothes that wouldn’t disturb her hung-over skin, put her glasses on and returned to the bathroom. She took a new razor from the plastic bag of new razors, stroked shampoo all over her head and started to carefully tidy up what hair remained.
And, as she did this, a curious thing happened. Thalita Human realised what had been wrong with her head all along. And it wasn’t her skull; it was her hair. Whether she’d just been unlucky enough to have a series of hairdressers who’d let her down, or perhaps she had some sort of eccentric growth pattern which made it lie irregularly and no-one had ever spotted it, she wasn’t sure.
What she was sure of was that there wasn’t a problem any more.
In fact, she thought, as she conscientiously rubbed moisturiser into her head, her whole face looked better like this. It all made sense.
Later, when she’d managed to eat some toast and drink most of a cup of tea, she left the house and, wearing sunglasses to save her from the worst ravages of her headache, she glanced in every car, shop and house window and thought she looked pretty hot, all things considered.
And when a rather attractive young man with fashionably dishevelled hair passed her on the pavement wearing a t-shirt advertising a band Thalita knew she wasn’t cool enough to have heard of, she smiled coquettishly, and felt ok about it.
And Thalita Human stayed bald and happy, happy and bald for ever more.