Dan Holloway, super-genius 🙂
You can find more of Dan’s writing on danholloway.wordpress.com
(If you want to write and self-publish, you can find my advice by clicking here)
L xx 🙂
The Story of Technoviking: The Film
The Story of Technoviking, release date today, 15 Oct 2015 (50m06s, free to watch online): http://technoviking.tv/film
Writing parody mash-up on my blog while looking for inspiration in movie scenes made me realise two things: (1) That it’s still my strongest point writing-wise, and (2) Youtube kicks everyone’s ass!
In terms of public use, Youtube is the home of re-imagination. Whether the original muse is a movie, news story, pop promo, video game, or social commentary meme, it’s where users upload their re-interpretations, parodies, mutations, reactions, songs and art inspired by images appearing in the curated mainstream and entering the awareness of the social media sphere.
Perhaps the earliest cult internet muse inspiring an ongoing global artistic phenomenon is the Youtube uploader Subrealic.
Subrealic is the user name of Matthias Fritsch, a film-maker from Germany who took what appeared to be random public footage in a series of different locations, and posted them independently some time before joining Youtube.
The video in question was a candid single-shot in-camera sequence called ‘Kneecam No.1’ captured by Matthias at the Berlin Fuck Parade, a protest street event in response to what many underground EDM (electronic dance music) fans considered to be the over-commercialised Love Parade taking place in the city at the same time in 2000.
Matthias says: “The reason why I filmed this was to document the Fuck Parade as an event. Why I published this sequence was not to show the Fuck Parade but to raise a question for the audience: Is what you see real or staged? To create an uncertainty. I named it ʽKneecam No.1’ and ʽNo.1’ stands for a series of experimental videos that deal with the role of the camera… I started to upload my videos to YouTube to make them more accessible because it was much easier to host videos there than on my own website.”
The Kneecam No.1 video showed a short segment of the street protest party, filmed from the back of a moving trailer playing a mix of rave tunes by Can-D-Music and Winstan vs. Noia, while party-goers followed.
It captured a small moment of conflict, and its resolution by a figure intervening on the distracted parade with undeniable alpha-male status, who then reasserts the purpose of the event by leading the group in dancing behind the trailer for several minutes, before disappearing again.
Although the earliest reactions to the video came only in the form of comments debating the authenticity of the piece and whether it was an arranged set-up, once it began to be shared and re-posted on forums and other websites, the cult of personality of the alpha-male ‘character’ in Kneecam No.1 developed.
Matthias was on a trip to China when he received this email comment: “The video has been posted by someone 2 days ago and now there are 1 990 256 view. I have never see that before on the web. What is the name of those songs in the film? He needs to be on a T-shirt too. Thank you very much.”
Commenters on forums responded to it with custom memes and reaction images, and shortly, reaction videos. In one forum, the ʽstar’ was nominated for a title:
“He doesn’t dance to the music, the music dances to him. His name: Technoviking.”
As soon as the nickname Technoviking was coined, the cult status of the video was confirmed. The character was given the type of hero status reserved for action movie icons, compared to Chuck Norris.
Matthias began to collect and document Technoviking references to study what was occurring in the virtual world once it became apparent that this was a viral internet phenomenon.
“A whole Technoviking universe seemed to appear. So what I did was collect all those responses to my video. And of course most of them were remixes of the original video. So I put together an archive based on this Technoviking meme in order to study the behaviour of users online.”
Youtube users, artists, cartoonists, toy-makers, printers, songwriters and console gaming fans were soon using the original Kneecam No.1 film as a muse to create objects and scenarios in art based around the perceived leading character. The subsequent productivity and social awareness that surrounded Kneecam No.1 far outweighed the original – it had a self-regenerating, self-perpetuating, self-mutating life of its own.
Kirby Ferguson, from the film Everything Is A Remix Part 4, 2011: “This is evolution. Copy, transform, combine.”
Over the years, the film has been re-contextualised with alternative music, animations, re-scripted subtitles and voice dubs. It has been re-enacted hundreds of times over, with students, dolls, hula-hoop performances, in living rooms and outdoors, and uploaded by Youtubers sharing their enthusiasm for the Berlin Fuck Parade encounter scene and the mysterious individual known only as Technoviking, originally curated in Kneecam No.1.
Heinz Drügh, Professor of New German Literature and Aesthetics at Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, states: “It is a bit like the butterfly effect. Something that was not created for a big dimension got such a huge echo. Especially by taking into consideration that most things in the Internet are not getting any attention.”
Technoviking as a cult celebrity figure has been printed on mugs, t-shirts, appeared in graphic novel sequences, and even as in-game characters, epitomising the alpha male action hero – only as inspiration taken from real life, not a Hollywood movie set.
Matthias, his film only the trigger for all of the extended creativity that followed it, made a modest sum of money over a period of two years when Youtube invited him to monetize his video with advertising, and by selling a few t-shirts. The majority of his efforts were focused on studying the viral influences of Technoviking, where the marketing of products by others based on the video’s character were more visible and aggressive, and where other individuals in the world were sharing and reinterpreting its influences.
He was also making efforts to trace the man himself, hoping to share the phenomenon with him and ensure that the benefits of the original video’s cult status were available mutually.
“…After the video went viral in 2007 I started to search in different gyms by calling them, because I thought he is from Berlin and a body builder, so he must be known in one or the other studio…”
He kept coming up against dead ends, but eventually after a number of years, contact was made – in the form of a Cease and Desist order from the individual’s lawyer.
The most famous unsuspecting internet cult hero of the early 21st Century only wanted his privacy and ‘the right to be forgotten’.
Matthias had to agree to remove the original Kneecam No.1 and all of his own ancillary products.
That part was simple enough. For the complainant, there are a myriad more cases of ‘use of his image’ and constant re-postings of the video by other users to pursue.
It’s a case of ‘Life imitating art imitating life’ – a character inspired by a real individual, given the themes of justice-seeker and superhero by the public, arts and the entertainment world, prompts the individual concerned to pursue his own global justice and protect his own right to privacy.
The man formerly known as Technoviking will indeed take you down, just as the many memes suggested his character would.
Remember also that this is a private individual – not a celebrity. He has nothing to lose by pursuing enforcement of his image rights.
Antonio Broumas, Digital Rights Attorney, Digital Liberation Network: “I am very interested in the result of this case. It actually determines many things regarding what we are doing on the Internet. What can be uploaded to YouTube? How can we use people’s photos in public places? What is permitted and what is not? And I believe that the aim of the court in these cases will have to be to make things clear for the citizens.”
Meanwhile, Matthias Fritsch, the Youtube uploader formerly known as Subrealic, has made a case-study documentary of the Kneecam No.1 viral video’s influence to date and the worldwide phenomenon it prompted, leading to the image rights case being brought against him by the perceived ‘star’ – the individual concerned. It’s both a cautionary tale and an evolutionary one regarding the global arts community, including commentary and interviews with legal, social and arts experts.
The documentary covers issues an artist will encounter when using material ‘found in reality’ and regarding visual image copyright and distribution when the image contains persons and their rights. There are forms of explicit consent required for specific further use of the images, beyond merely collecting them.
It explodes the myths regarding the right to use images or footage from crowd scenes, namely the ‘Five or more persons’ myth.
Louisa Specht, Personality Rights Expert, ZAR Karlsruhe: “The ʽ5 Person Myth’ doesn’t exist as a law. I am allowed to record parades and demonstrations without the agreement of the depicted people, but when an individual stands out from the crowd this exception doesn’t apply anymore.”
It also dissects what is essentially art and public property – such as whether an individual can claim rights over an image that contains elements of earlier appropriation, whether those are actions or personal style, or the context of their appearance and behaviour. The argument over ‘fair use’ has grounds in whether art inspired by individuals and scenes found in reality, whose own inspiration for image is inspired by earlier identifiable arts and personality icons, can even be claimed as a private or personal image in any new context that an artistically-revised version gives it.
Felix Stalder, Professor of Digital Culture and Net Theory in Zurich: “The owner has to be aware that he takes or that she has taken from the public – so he/she has to grant the public also the right to take from him/her.”
Something that’s inspired me in the past is the trend on Youtube for re-edits of trailers and movie clips, by fans. My brothers and I used to do our own re-dubbed voice-overs for Star Trek when we were kids, on an ancient VHS rental with a Play/Rec/Dub setting. Must have been the earliest invented!
For example, I published my parody The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum after writing it chapter-by-chapter on my blog, linking to movie scenes that were my muses and mashed-up music remixes on Youtube. I wanted to show where my influences lay. While searching for the scenes, with the most popular ones I would come across dozens of alternate versions in a creative online explosion, similar to the demographic portrayed by the ʽspawn’ of Kneecam No.1.
I don’t just mean ‘re-edits’ as in, a fan’s favourite bits of the movie put together as a tribute or slideshow. I mean where they’ve used the original as an artistic prompt, and changed the implied genre, or storyline, as a transformative work. Look up the political-thrillerised version of ‘Splash’. That’s really creative, and the great thing about Youtube is everyone can share and appreciate a different slant on what Hollywood does.
And completely reinvented mash-ups, taking an existing concept and changing the context, like the re-imagined works initiated by Subrealic, aka Matthias Fritsch. One example is Youtube uploader Ryan (user name: nigahiga), known for a spoof of the social media game Candy Crush Saga by re-inventing it and shooting it as a Hollywood movie trailer.
It has been done in books already – most notably with ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ by P.D. James, and ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Two different interpretations of the same Jane Austen romance. James took the original characters from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but not the original book or prose, and penned a murder mystery in place of a happy ever after – but her imitation of Austen’s style is spot on, so it is the genre which has changed, but not the voice as such.
Grahame-Smith took the original text – legally, as it is in the ‘public domain’ meaning out of copyright worldwide (literary copyright expires in most countries at the wonderful-sounding date of ‘death [of the author] + 70 years’ or in a few cases ‘death [author] + 100 years’) – and added butt-kicking martial artist zombie-killer action to it.
If you plan to do similar, as in either of these examples, make sure the original content you are planning on mashing up is in the ‘public domain’ (as defined by the time-spans above). Public domain does NOT mean ‘the characters have been discussed in the Daily Mail’ or that they have fan pages on Facebook, or profiles on Wiki. One thing I was asked about by a cover artist – no, images on WikiCommons are not ‘public domain’ – they are provided for contextual use only.
Be wary of falling into the trap of assuming ALL books who fulfil the ‘date of death of the author’ are in public domain. Estates are often set up for prolific or famous authors – for example, the late British author Arthur Ransome.
Under normal circumstances, his books would enter public domain status seventy years after his death. However, the existence of an estate to protect his work, and an existing fan-base, means this is unlikely, and copyright may be renewed before it expires. This came as a surprise to at least two authors I have worked with – one who mistakenly assumed you could appropriate anything ‘from any book over seventy years old’ (misinformation about copyright lifespan, see above for definition), and one who thought you could publish new stories about an author’s famous original leading characters and situations so long as the author was dead (post-burial optional). As discussed before, that’s fan-fiction, and can’t be published for financial gain.
You also have to be aware of when a central character is not public domain, while the source story might well be. The fairytale of Sleeping Beauty is ancient and can be re-imagined by anyone. But Maleficent the character, based on the original ‘evil witch’ from the fairytale, as portrayed in all forms by Disney, was created and is owned by Disney. Again, this is similar in context to Stalder’s comment “…he takes or that she has taken from the public – so he/she has to grant the public also the right to take from him/her.”
Genuine Disney merchandise doll in original packaging on the left, with my re-dressed and repainted custom OOAK version on the right, made for myself as a fan of the character. Even more relevant – the doll on the right that I customised was not a genuine Disney original, but a bootleg version manufactured elsewhere and found online. So the Maleficent doll design has been ‘re-mixed’ twice.
It is possible to develop a new, copyrighted product inspired by public domain work. You cannot legally reproduce Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty or Maleficent, or any of their named character designs, and equally neither you or Disney can claim the copyright status of sole use of the original fairytale. But you can write your own version of the original fairytale from scratch, change the title, change the point-of-view, add new characters of your own devising (called O.C.s by fan-fiction writers) and you may copyright your own unique version.
This is where the debate rages over transformative works, especially when they cross back and forth over the transmedia line, from imagery to written word to gaming to product marketing and back again. It happens with cultural appropriation in music and fashion – mutual admiration or artistic appreciation of lifestyle across communities leads to imitation, reworking, a new and temporary ownership of those styles for a period of time, and then transition again.
Domenico Quaranta, Art Critic and Curator, Link Art Center, Italy: “The idea should have the right to evolve, and who did something shouldn’t have the right to value, to judge the following variations of the idea that he contributed to. Because if this contributed in a significant way to the evolution of the story, this contribution itself must be significant.”
Parody, as made by National Lampoon, and the Barry Trotter books etc, is a reworking of a genre, of a recognisable copyrighted current franchise – but with new characters, which may sound and act similar to the originals, and also importantly, with jokes in. Although ‘parody’ is still not recognised in all countries. Some territories consider it copyright infringement where readily identifiable, and deem them not publishable either, as with fan-fiction.
Many books and films, especially fantasy/humour (including Pratchett’s Discworld series) pay homage to earlier works in ways that the reader or viewer can identify with.
For this to work, the parody element – or the tribute, or homage – has to be something that connects broadly with the audience. Kneecam No.1 gave the audience the ʽsuperhero’ identification scene. In generally accepted storytelling, you have a scene with a damsel in distress, an injustice, a battle or a risk to life involved, and a mysterious, larger-than-life stranger swoops in to save the day. After succeeding and re-establishing the status quo, reminding the rest of humankind to look out for one another and what their current priorities are, the superhero vanishes again. He has other places to be and problems to solve. This is the story archetype for that character, and the role that Technoviking immediately fulfilled in the imagination of the audience.
Maxa Zoller, Film Curator, Cairo: “I think it’s a certain male desire to become this CGI, muscular, protective archetype of a man. These guys, when they imitate the viking, film, edit, upload and watch other examples – and that’s also where the fun comes in – there is an affective context that is not just popular culture, that has a certain quality.”
Although these stories and scenarios exist as common archetypes, Hollywood homage and copyright is a fine line. George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino are artists in their own right who have included style reference to their influences in their work. Steven Spielberg too. Hollywood director Chris Columbus used his own Young Sherlock Holmes cast and script as reference for many scenes and characters when directing Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone. My mother recalls watching Young Sherlock Holmes on TV as ‘that old Harry Potter film with the unconvincing Dementors running around in dressing-gowns. The one where Hermione gets shot at the end.’
A line is crossed in film when an entire story and its parallel sequences are seen to be ‘lifted’ from one other recognisable work – you can look up Disturbia/Estate of Alfred Hitchcock vs. Sheldon Abend Trust to research how one such case of two films and the original story was raised.
Any writer automatically owns their own prose. That’s word order on the page. Not title, not idea, not basic plot. If someone is proven to have Ctrl+C-ed and Ctrl+V-ed (copied and pasted) from another author’s non-public-domain work, or reproduced chunks of it verbatim, that is written copyright infringement in a nutshell.
A well-reported case in the last few years involved passages lifted from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, among others, by a hasty crime thriller writer, drunk on the lucrative new publishing contract he had received (Assassin of Secrets by Q.R. Markham, pen-name of Quentin Rowan, 2011). The portions of work that were stolen were quickly spotted in review copies by existing fans of the originals, and shared publicly in online reader forums. The plagiarising author’s book was withdrawn, and thousands of orders and pre-orders had to be refunded.
Titles, and names such as Discworld can be protected by registered trademark. You can go on that journey if you wish – trademarking is not automatic, unlike copyright, and must be applied for. You will have to prove ownership, originality, and that the word, image or phrase is not in common public usage. Look up the following two words together – ‘space’ + ‘marine’ copyright, for a good example of trademarking which has had plenty of online coverage (see Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 v. M.C.A. Hogarth)
It’s rare to see trademark owners attempt to get it enforced retrospectively, but it does happen.
However, unpublished and indie authors occasionally come out with the well-roasted old chestnut: “I’d love for a huge publisher to steal my ideas, because then I would sue them and be rich.”
When is the last time you heard of this happening? I haven’t – yet I have seen several instances over the years of where a case might be made. The only case I saw followed through and resolved, hopefully to mutual satisfaction, was in the case of an indie author’s unique and personally commissioned cover art on the Authonomy website (now defunct), which was clearly imitated on a different book announced for release by the host publishing house. The publisher blamed the individual working for them on cover design, and had not checked their sources or inspiration – even though they owned the promotional website that the design was lifted from.
Major publishers and film companies always have to be prepared for a deluge of copyright claims, and legally, the complainant has to prove the theft, that the opportunity was in hand. If you research JK Rowling and her product distributors regarding individual authors’ attempted copyright cases against her work – there is a whole Wiki page’s worth – you will discover that the claimants have been bankrupted by such efforts, not enriched.
Even if the small fry have afforded their losing legal costs, the big fish may counter-sue subsequently for tarnishing their reputation, or something called ‘lack of good faith action’ requiring substantial damages to be paid to them by the original complainant. Cue small fry bankruptcy…
You may also be in trouble if you use a celebrity as a character in your published work, never mind a private individual, such as the Technoviking case. This comes under ‘appropriating and distributing a person’s image without consent’ – a French traditionally published author fell foul of this recently, using a current Hollywood actress as the person his female leading character was mistaken for and used to her advantage in his story. He had to pay damages to her as his book was found to have defamed the celebrity’s persona, tarnishing her public image (by his character’s behaviour in the story), while further damages for appropriation of her likeness and personality had also been sought. (Scarlet Johansson v. Grégoire Delacourt re. La Première Chose Qu’on Regarde, 2014). A major console gaming designer was subjected to a similar case by another Hollywood star, who claimed that she and her clothing style, including specific visual images and a recognisable corruption of her name ‘confusing to fans’ had been used as a model for an in-game character, without licensing or consent. (Lyndsay Lohan v. Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive re. GTA V, 2014).
Lyndsay Lohan in a selfie-style pose on the left. GTA V in-game character Lacey Jonas mimics on the right.
Alexander Paschke, lawyer for Technoviking: “My client asserts the rights that he is entitled to. And if this includes a claim for compensation – then it is part of that. But again: He is not after money – it would be much easier to make money out of this in other ways – but this is about others not exploiting and commercializing his persona. If you look at it from the other side: If the violator, who is marketing somebody else illegally, if he can even keep the profits coming out of the violation – what kind of understanding of rights would this be?”
In non-fiction, there is the established referencing system for quotes and sources. Even if your own work is a paraphrased version of the source and not quoted directly, a lot of non-fiction requires supporting evidence, not just credit to the originator. Verbatim quotes will still need permission, including for credited song lyrics. Look up the Harvard method of referencing to fill out your bibliography of research to include in the endnotes of your book. (See Dr Raj Persaud plagiarism case).
That’s the bare bones of it. The part I can shed a positive light on today is the genre twist option, accessible to authors. Where, like P.D. James, you take an old public domain tale, and tell it for a different audience. I hear that very kinky things are currently going on in the world of crusty old romances at the minute, never mind murder mysteries and zombies.
By the look of things happening elsewhere in fictional mash-ups and re-inventions, Technoviking got off lightly. The audience in general respected him.
Wolfgang Ullrich, Professor of Art History & Media Philosophy, Karlsruhe: “If one wanted to speak very traditionally and philosophically, one could see a phenomenon such as the Technoviking as a nice piece of evidence for a thought that was first prominently formulated by Immanuel Kant in his book ʽCritique of Judgment’ in the year 1790, where he asks himself the question: “How does one recognize a work of art?” – and he explicitly means a great work of art, the work of a genius. And the criterion for him, which is actually the only criterion for him, is the reception, the effect of this work. For him it’s clear: The work is a work of a genius if there are copycats, if there are a lot of copycats, if it has something compelling that other humans can’t resist its effect. This would be an indicator of the original’s power, that created new rules and established new forms, and for Kant this would be the proof for a really great art work in the case of the original video of Technoviking.”
Supposing as a writer, for example, you became such ʽa copycat’ and took the genius of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, re-writing him in the style of Bridget Jones’ Diary or Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Or Frankenstein in the style of a CSI police procedural, analysing all of the body parts going missing. I’d like to see Kathy Reichs do that one… It was done fantastically with Johnny Depp as a police forensics expert in ‘Sleepy Hollow’ – so it’s not an entirely new concept (just look at the action-style on show in the last Sherlock-based TV and movie releases, which are frequently re-invented for new audiences), but potentially there are many forms of almost-unexploited literary mash-up yet to reach the mainstream bookshelves.
You just need to find your genius to emulate – that’s unless you manage to become one, in your own right.
Matthias gives the impression that he still hopes to share an open dialogue one day with the reluctant star of his early film project.
“There is not only ʽmy intellectual property’ but also his, the work of the DJs, the people who made the music, the background dancers – they also were part of the creation – and therefore I don’t see myself as the only originator that owns everything.”
However, if you’re an author investing your time in words on the page, you’ll have to run to catch up with the creativity of online users making re-cut trailers and their own tribute videos on Youtube. That’s if the man formerly known as Technoviking doesn’t get to them first.
The documentary by Matthias Fritsch is released today on http://technoviking.tv/film – it’s free to watch, and compulsory viewing for anyone interested in the future of artistic interpretation, image rights, copyright, global cultural appropriation, viral marketing, and the individual right to privacy and maintaining the personal context of one’s own life, given today’s open social media culture. It’s a fascinating case study, showing how the phenomenon grew chronologically and in its exponential aspects, in which Matthias, the originator, had no promotional role.
Felix Stalder: “Transformative uses – using something to make something new out of it… In a way this is covered theoretically by fair use in the US. But the way fair use has been interpreted in the court, it is very very narrow.”
Thanks to Matthias Fritsch of technoviking.tv for permission to quote from interviews in ʽThe Technoviking Story’ and to share the documentary
Stephanie Meyer revisits Twilight with a gender-bend portrayal in the Tenth Anniversary dual edition.
I love how mainstream authors now acknowledge the worldwide audience for fan-fiction, parody and tribute stories by taking the time to re-invent and re-imagine their old books.
EL James recently did it with Grey, but she now looks set to be upstaged by Stephanie Meyer. Rather than simply switch POV in her new edition, Meyer has changed the sexes of her characters, in what is known as a ‘gender-bend’ version. A popular method with writers of manga and anime fan-fiction, it looks like her new version of Twilight (called ‘Life and Death’, released in this dual edition above) will take her fandom by storm.
I’m not a Twilight fan, but as a fan of creative mash-up, re-cut and re-edit culture, I’m really looking forward to reading it.
Rather than bore you all with what would otherwise be viewed as yet another critique-based post drifting around cyberspace by a grumpy indie on the ‘talents’ of such authors and whether or not they need the money, I’ll just do my usual and see what happens when I try it out on my Zombie Adventure pet projects. Urgh. I think this might be unwise to read alone… 😀
DO ZOMBIES DREAM OF UNDEAD SHEEP?
(the gender-bend version of THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM)
I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.
I see a young man. That’s a relief. A man with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m shaving around my sideburns – yes, still got two ears. Phew.
My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my teeth at the godforsaken hour of ten a.m. How dare he go for his STD check today, and pack me off instead to do his media studies homework? Couldn’t he have caught chlamydia some other time?
I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Kristen Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. She’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring her office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.
Whatsisname, my housemate, says that he’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.
So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the Body Farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.
He’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. She’ll have changed so much the next time I see her…
I leave Whatsisface, my best friend, packing his rucksack for the clinic.
“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”
“I’ll bring you back some condoms,” I concede, and slam the front door.
* * * * *
It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my mother’s trusty Fiat 500 in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.
Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.
The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blond Calvin Klein model dude is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.
“I’m here to see Miss Kristen Dry,” I announce. “I’m Basil Ganglia. Mr Thing from the University sent me.”
“I’ll text her,” says Brain-Dead, picking up his phone. “Have a seat.”
He eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded deck shoes and YSL suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.
“She’s on her way down,” he says, after a moment. He reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”
I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest he hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed YSL.
The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.
I know, the moment I see her.
The black dress. The pallor of her skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!
“Kristen Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.
“Mr… Ganglia,” she moans softly, extending a ring-encrusted hand.
My heart palpitates wildly, noting the ragged cuticles, and the long, blue-tinged, prehensile fingers.
“My housemate,” I begin. “Mr Shitface – he couldn’t make it today. Having his down-pipes cleaned out and serviced…”
I grasp her outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. Her jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and her upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?
“Were you offered a refreshment, Mr Ganglia?” She gestures towards the famous vending machines.
I shake my head, and she turns to glare at the receptionist. He cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear her emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in his drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.
“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.
My knees feel weak as she holds the door open, and beckons, her head at a quirked angle.
“This way, Mr… Ganglia.”
How she rolls my name around her tongue makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of her doe-like footfalls in my wake.
“Straight ahead, Mr Ganglia.”
Her voice is like tissue paper being unwrapped from around a stone urn. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.
Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my sweet Miss Wheelie-Bin…
Her arm extends past me to swipe her security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her poppy-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.
“Go through, Mr Ganglia,” she practically whispers in my ear.
The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blond is banging his head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.
“Kevin,” Miss Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in her voice? “Take Mr Ganglia’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Mr Ganglia.”
Kevin turns to look at us, his flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. He holds out his arms to accept the navy-blue YSL and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol soup can t-shirt. Mr Brain-Dead Mk II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where his head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.
Kristen Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with her rolling, loping stride, like that of a wounded deer.
“My office…” she hisses, swiping her security pass a second time, and ushering me through.
It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.
“You like my art, Mr Ganglia?” she murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.
“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom tattoo bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit female mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”
“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” she confides in a husky voice.
“It must be expensive.”
“Very,” she agrees. “Sit.”
I plant my nervous glutes onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in her office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.
Kristen Dry watches me, calculatingly. She circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.
“Would you like something to drink, Basil Ganglia?” She moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.
The sound of my full name on her lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…
“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Miss Dry. Thank you.”
“What would you like?” Her hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”
Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!
“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.
“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”
“Yes please – the last one…”
I watch as her elegant fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.
I wonder what sort of businesses she supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.
She brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way she arranges herself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.
Oh no. She’s so married… the way she’s fidgeting her earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking her knee with the other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of married…
I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.
“It’s very hot,” she says, in a warning tone. It startles me.
“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?
“The soup, Basil.” Her mouth twitches in the corner, and her black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if she can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.
“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at her curt nod. Definitely married. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”
“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”
“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”
“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” she assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”
The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up her argument. But still…
“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.
“I am not saying anything, Mr Ganglia,” she muses, her eyes still faintly entertained, her head still quirked. “But you are, it seems. Is this some sort of empathy test?”
I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.
“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that her eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Miss Dry?”
“With excellent book-keeping.”
I look up at her, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. She is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of her eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of her lips, and the rumpled raven mane of hair, still intact. Her square shoulders and tiny waist in that black power-dress make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, dude? She’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of her within minutes, same as all the others…
I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and she has a cool answer for every single one.
“Are these questions designed to determine whether I am a businesswoman… or a zombie, Mr Ganglia?” she asks in return.
My blood runs hot and cold both at once. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.
“…Finally, Miss Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”
She indicates the décor of the office.
“Black,” she confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”
Her face darkens. She looks away.
“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.
“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”
“You mean gr…”
She puts her finger to her lips.
“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”
She’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another married psycho cougar. I return to the final questions.
“And what music do you listen to?”
“And last question. What car do you drive?”
“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR assistant soon.”
Outside the window behind her, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, she produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.
“Thank you, Miss Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with her. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”
“Indeed?” she asks, rising out of her seat. For the first time I notice how tall and shapely she is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”
I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.
“I will have to show you out,” she reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Mr Ganglia.”
Her voice is driving me crazy. And her hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blond Mk II.
“Thank you for your time, Miss Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blond the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”
“I’m sure it will be,” she agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Mr Ganglia.”
I run to the Fiat in my shiny deck shoes, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside her office, on the far side of the building.
Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare she hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare she make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…
As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is her pale and amused, sardonic and angelically attractive face.
Deckard meets Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’
See the original chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:
The intensity in the atmosphere is excruciating. Me, Crispin Dry (vending machine CEO of Dry Goods Inc., nouveau morte and bon viveur) in my element as host to a tasty morsel, exploiting all that the vast kitchenette of my Grade II-listed mansion has to offer. Chopping, dicing, blending, and mixing up the previously-mentioned cocktail, which is tailored especially for my salivating guest.
Her: Sarah Bellum – mild-mannered pizza delivery girl by night, ambitious Forensic Anthropology student by day, and incurable romantic. Apart from the very much alive Ace Bumgang, who she likes to watch from a distance through the chicken-wire fencing of Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard – especially when he’s outside his site office with his shirt off – bastard – the only male bodies she ever sees are in various stages of decay, on the Body Farm.
Not for much longer, baby. Have patience. Braaaiiins…
I’m lucky if I get five reports a week of her routine. So intriguingly little to go on! Her best friend and housemate is quite demanding, in contrast – with her electronically-tagged boyfriend, with whom Sarah also seems to be smitten.
More competition. I suppress a snarl, as my competitive libido broils, sending twitches to my flaccid appendix. What does she see in them?
And there is her dearest one at the Body Farm, Mr. Wheelie-Bin Under The Silver Birch Tree, a domestic violence victim. His hair, hanging off his scalp, like a bad ginger toupée… Another corpse to compete with. And he comes with a sympathy angle too. I thrust the five-star restaurant quality Sheffield steel cleaver back into its oak knife-block, picturing his festering innards in receipt of the same. Well, that won’t last – I will make sure of it…
…I regain my composure as I slide the completed tray along the counter. A work of art.
“No peeping,” I murmur, and she nods, confirming that her eyes are still obediently closed. Good girl. “Perhaps we should retire to the other room, where you will be more comfortable. Take my arm.”
“Where are we going?” she asks, sliding off the seat at the counter.
She had been enjoying the food game. The noises indicated that her stomach was still hinting it had room for more. She reaches out for the cold cloth of my sleeve, and the even colder press of my flesh underneath tucks her arm intimately into my side, to guide her along.
Even closer to her braaaiiins…
“Just across the hall,” I confide. “There is a very nice late evening lounge.”
“You have a lounge for different times of day?” she asks, making careful effort to keep pace with my stride. I slow down even further, to draw out the enjoyment. She bumps against me with every roll of my limp, like butter to my biscuit. If I had a biscuit, that is.
My one responsive gonad agrees.
“I have a room for every time of day, Miss Bellummm,” I assure her, heavy with implied meaning. “Turn around,” I whisper against her ear, my other hand on her shoulder, pivoting her to face me. I test the sleeve of her Pizza Heaven work fleece. What other delights could be beneath? “Would you like to take this off?”
“Er, well, actually…” she coughs, trying to sound nonchalant. “I kind of had a nap before work tonight, so this is all I have on. Er. Underneath. Just me.”
“Intriguing,” I merely say, approval in my tone. She gulps.
I move forward just enough to help her take a backward step into the soft give of a cushioned seat at the back of her legs.
“Make yourself comfortable,” I say, and she drops thankfully onto the velvet cushions. “I will return with the drinks. And still no peeping.”
“I promise,” she nods.
“I think I will take out a little insurance on your promise,” I remark, and I undo the knot at my collar with swish of silk. “I will use my tie to blindfold you. Do you mind?”
“Is it another game?” she asks, accepting the strip of material as I place it gently across her eyes.
“Another sensory game,” I agree. “Not taste, this time. I think your tastes are well-established.”
“Good,” she says, relaxing a little. “Because blindfolds and food combined could create a potential choking hazard.”
Trusting her to wait with patience for me, I cross the marble hall floor, back to my vast food-court of a kitchen. She won’t so much as smell anything disturbing in that room. Not even a joss stick, or deodoriser designed to mask the scent of a personal hygiene problem, or anti-social habit. Braaaiiins… Nor sound. While I prepare, I strain to hear anything other than her trepidatious breathing, the well-being of my morsel – I mean, guest – of paramount importance. I announce my return with the clinking of glassware on the tray in my hands, and the shambling shuffle of my footsteps approaching her again.
Blindfolded, she leans into the embrace of the couch, trying to appear relaxed. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact that the back of the couch is a lot further away than she thought, so she falls through the loosely-heaped pillows in slow-motion, until nearly prone.
Mmmm – like on a slab, ready for dissection.
“I see you are getting comfortable, Sarah Bellummm.”
I tease her with the sound of her own name. I know that all she gets called at work is ‘Cheese-Bag’ or at University, ‘Bell-End’.
The ink printed on her birth certificate has never sounded so sexy.
The couch dips beside her, as I sit down casually. Her abdomen rises and falls feverishly in response, like an onset of dormant malaria.
“We are going to play a game of touch,” I say.
“Soccer?” she asks, puzzled. “Blindfolded?”
“No, the sensation of touch.” I attempt to contain my excitement. Must not lose control. “With your permission I will draw some different objects across the surface of your skin, and you will guess what they are.”
“Oh, like Draw My Thing?” she concludes. I grit my teeth as jealousy wanders pervasively through my remaining organs, flinging the confetti of minor insecurities in its path, in a cavalier fashion. One of her favourite pursuits on the internet in the evenings, while not doing homework assignments, is to try and get Ace Bumgang to Draw his Thing and email it to her. And I bet his never plays dead on him. Lucky bastard. “Do I get three clues as to what you’re drawing?”
“If you relax, we shall start,” I say at last, swallowing down my rage. “And the game will explain itself as we go along.”
“Sure,” she shrugs, and rolls up her sleeve. “Nothing on the face. Or below the wrist, in case it doesn’t wash off. People don’t appreciate seeing knobs drawn on your hand when you’re delivering their pizza…”
She breaks off with a gasp, feeling something icy cold slide up the sensitive skin of her inner arm.
“What do you think this is?” I ask, as the tingling cold sensation slides slowly all the way down again, and back up, under my deft manoeuvres.
“Er…” The cold seems to have alerted parts of her that I didn’t even know were peckish. She could use another bucket of chicken wings, never mind that cocktail. Perhaps she’s hungry for something else… I try an adjustment of my groinal regions. Damn it. Still nothing! “Um, can I ask for a clue?”
“If you ask a question, it must be in the form of a question with a Yes/No answer,” I reply.
The icy cold sliding, torturously, all the way back down from her shoulder to her wrist. So different from playing online – she understands now…
“Okay,” she says at last. Her mouth is dry – it must be almost like sandpaper by now. Is that a twitch from below? My hope of satisfaction flares, before she voices her query for a hint. “Is it to scale?”
The original Zombie Adventures. Now on sale for the summer – 0.99c or equivalent from the Amazon Kindle ebookstore worldwide. (Also available on other reading devices)
6th July – After today’s latest updates go live on Amazon, you will be able to download The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum (standalone full-length parody novel, 180,000 words approx) for 0.99c (or equivalent) from Kindle worldwide
After over 100 downloads through KDP Select over the weekend (Lucky you if you managed to grab a copy!), I’ve now reduced the price for a summer sale on The Zombie Adventures, if any of you were still wondering what all that ‘Grey Matter’ (to be continued) stuff was based on 🙂 Now includes the two bonus chapters “from Crispin Dry’s point of view” 😉
(Find your regional Amazon product page listed below).
Thanks for all your follows and likes, hope you enjoy the read! xx
UPDATE: 5th July – still showing up as Free on Amazon worldwide, last chance to download for free today! Get in there! 😀
I hear the Pizza Heaven scooter protesting as it approaches up the mile-long driveway to my enormous stately home, and my equally huge anticipation is turgid, almost vibrating. I’ve never called out for pizza before. Chinese, Korean, sushi, fish-and-chips, shish kebab – many times. The little two-stroke engine is making those annoying noises, only slightly more annoying than the noises that Mrs Fritatta makes when I ask her to change the sheets for me – on the occasions that I’ve had a few too many braaaiiins, or a Jägerbomb cocktail more than three inches deep.
Good Lord, the suspense is killing me… Fuck. I can already smell her braaaiins.
My black stretch Cadillac limo is parked at the foot of the steps, the engine and exhaust still ticking quietly as it cools, as I have only recently arrived home. She will have to pull in behind. My eardrums pucker tightly, straining to hear every detail.
Footfalls scale the enormous marble steps. I wonder what shoes she is sporting now. Boooots?
In spite of the clear view of the morsel on my stoop from the security camera, my hitherto apathetic prostate leaps to attention at the press of the buzzer. Thank God, the damnest thing – it still has life in it! Ignoring the intercom, I loosen the resulting wedgie and attempt a nonchalant saunter across the grand entrance hall, hoping to build up my visitor’s own sense of anticipation.
She evidently gets a shock when the door is opened silently between us. She looks as though the world has just dropped out of her bottom. Or mine, for that matter.
Standing in front of her, my matt-black tie undone and just-dead hair hypnotically dishevelled, is me, Crispin Dry – vending machine magnate, entrepreneur, and the sexiest corpse she’s recently seen – at least, since 4.23p.m. last Thursday, in a wheelie bin under the silver birch tree at the Body Farm, or so the reports tell me…
What does she see in him? A mere Forensic Anthropology donor subject? Bastard…
“Mr. Dry!” she squeaks, terrified – and immediately thrusts the pizza box under my nose. It does not avert the even more delightful smell of nervous pizza-delivery girl.
“Miss… Belllummm…” I slur, and feign innocence. “What a pleasant surprise. Do come inside. The kitchen is just this way.”
I turn in the doorway and shamble into the opulent entrance hall, beckoning for her to follow. Come hither, baby.
She has no choice. Sarah Bellum pulls the gigantic door closed behind her. I wonder if she now knows how Gretel felt, upon entering the gingerbread house…
My kitchen is vast – like a bowling alley. When I open the great refrigerator, and start selecting my condiments, I know she half expects to see the bottles deposited mechanically onto the shelf, like a set of ten-pins.
My spine tingles, sensing her tentative approach. Fuck. I never felt this alive in the presence of a woman – even when I was alive…
“I’ll just leave it right here, shall I?” she suggests, sliding the box onto the glassy-smooth granite counter-top. I picture her sliding across it herself, in turn.
I know what I’d rather eat.
“Join me, Sarah Bellummm,” I say, surprising her. “I believe you might be famished, after your long day…”
She looks doubtful, and a flicker of jealousy flares unbidden, in my left gonad, while its master remains cold and unaffected. Bugger. It had better not fall off.
Dinner with me will scupper her usual Friday plans, of waiting outside Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard with a Chinese Meat Feast. Ace Bumgang always pretends to be surprised, which actively encourages her for some reason, and sometimes he even takes it with him. He’s usually in a big hurry to meet up with his friends at the boys’ club, Gentlemen Prefer Poledancers – which I am privy to, as I own the place. It means he’s telling her in his own special way that he’s not settled for anyone important yet… Why is he stringing her along? Isn’t it perfectly clear they’re not suited?
“Well – I think the last thing I ate, was a sip of chicken soup, from the vending machine at your office earlier…” she admits, timidly.
“Toooo long,” I agree, and give her a devastatingly wonky nod. “Take a seat. And close your eyes. I have a surprise for you.”
A big surprise, baby. I consult my downstairs menswear department hopefully, but still an armed response from there is pending. My other appetite, however, is already open for business, at full throttle. Braaaiins.
She slips off her George and Mildred and tries to make the most of her helmet-hair as she arranges herself on the seat at the counter. I dart her a meaningful look, still foraging in the refrigerator, and obligingly she closes her eyes.
I wonder if she expects a big tip.
You won’t be disappointed, my love. Haha. My inside leg measurement remains obstinately unchanged. Bugger.
“Is that your Cadillac outside?” she asks, passing the time with small-talk, while I’m putting dishes on the counter in front of her.
“It is just a courtesy car,” I say, dismissively. “The Bugatti and the Maserati are away for servicing, and I only use the Diablo on holiday weekends, when I go hot-air ballooning.”
“Hmm,” she murmurs, disbelieving. Probably picturing more guys like Ace Bumgang, who have a couple of sports cars, a racing bike and a speedboat scattered around, as petrolhead mechanics always do… but she has no idea of what lights a businessman’s candle in the motoring department. A fleet of 1.2L commuter compacts, if anything…
“I hope you are hungry,” I say, rather darkly, interrupting any of her fantasies intruding on us about Ace Bumgang. “I have an idea of your tastes already. Open wide.”
She promptly rearranges herself on the seat.
Braaaiiins! Oh dear Lord – I wish I had something to put there! Perhaps I will have to get a clockwork one…
“I meant your mouth,” I croon, hiding my regret, and she slams her knees together again, like a barn door in a tornado.
Nervously, she lets her mouth fall open, in a textbook Q.
“Put your tongue in, pleeeaase,” I moan softly.
Her tongue is like an inviting ramp. Lead me to your braaaiiins… I can almost peer right into her skull. It’s so beautiful. A man could get lost in that empty space for days…
The Q becomes an O, as requested.
Her stomach rumbles immediately in response as I feed her the first tidbit, and she chews enthusiastically.
“You approve?” I ask, hopeful.
“Yum,” she nods. “Is there more?”
I will not admit to her that it is my own recipe. Not yet. I have been trying to perfect these Korean Fried Fingers all week.
“Nine more, I believe,” I confirm, as she runs her tongue around her teeth to dislodge any gristly bits. She coughs on something dry, and removes a crispy fingernail from her cheek, which I quickly brush aside. “I think we have found your acquired taste exactly.”
“Do you have anything to drink?” she asks. Her eyes are still rapturously closed, all thoughts of the tanned, toned and droolworthy Ace Bumgang evidently forgotten.
So keen! Her thirst makes my own liver turgid with agreement.
“Be patient, Sarah Bellummm,” I whisper. “I am sure I have a cocktail worthy of you.”
I shock her with my intimate tone.
“It’s as if you were expecting me,” she gasps, blushing.
“But of course,” I say, so close to her ear, she nearly swoons off the chair. I inhale surreptitiously, savouring her heady, pulsating aroma. My stomach acids pump, in a most gratifying response. “I even made sure to re-stock the vending machine in my bedroom, right before you arrived…”
Nothing between us but braaaaiiins, baby…
As I approach the reception area of my office on the beach, through the tinted glass door I espy an attractive, brunette newcomer get up to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest handed to her by Heather, my secretary, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. She pulls it on grudgingly over a badly-fitting Chanel. It looks borrowed.
She appears awkward, like a gazelle through a huntsman’s gun-sights. It sends an arrow of excitement to my rotting guts. Braaaiiiins…
The adjoining door creaks, as I push it open, and she turns, still adjusting her Velcro.
She knows, the moment she sees me.
The black suit. The pallor of my skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. The limp… Her knees are trembling. She will be putty in my undead hands…
“Crispin Dry?” Her voice catches in her throat.
“Miss… Bellllummmm,” I moan softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand.
I see her deliciously alive heart palpitating wildly, noting my ragged cuticles and my long, gray, prehensile fingers.
“My housemate,” she begins. “Miss Shitface – she couldn’t make it today. Got the uterine bailiffs in…”
She grasps my outstretched hand in greeting. So warm… and yet so apprehensive… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and she snatches her hand away quickly, as if scared of her own delightful response. I know my jet-black eyes are glittering, hungry and cold, and my upper lip curls in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Braaaiiins, baby.
“Were you offered a refreshment, Miss Bellumm?” Remembering myself, I gesture towards the famous vending machines.
She shakes her head, and I turn to glare at the receptionist. Heather cowers visibly, and I emit a long, low, guttural sound. Braaaiiin-dead bitch. The receptionist scrabbles in her drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.
“I’m fine, really…” Miss Bellum croaks. Her throat does sound terribly dry. Such a wicked little liar. Mmmm – living braaaiiins…
Her knees appear even weaker as I hold the door open, and I beckon, my head at a quirked angle.
“This way, Miss… Bellummm.”
How she staggers through the doorway makes my own gait feel more impeded than ever. I stumble hazily behind her through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and only the shuffling, shambling sound of my footfalls in her gazelle-like wake.
Braaaiiins. Must haaave…
“Straight ahead, Miss Bellumm.”
Her breathing is like snowflakes falling onto a headstone. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my disintegrating spine. It resonates with my deepest, darkest, hungriest thoughts.
Things I had not entertained notions of since breakfast…
Sexy braaaiiiins. Gimme…
My arm extends past her to swipe my security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her Pears soapy scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.
“Go through, Miss Bellumm,” I whisper in her ear.
The door clicks open, and we step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and she gasps. Another personal assistant is banging her head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.
“Debbie,” I say, a tinge of disappointment, or possibly disapproval in my voice. “Take Miss Bellum’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Miss Bellumm.”
Debbie turns to look at us, her flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. She holds out her arms to accept the navy-blue Chanel and hi-visibility vest as Miss Bellum shrugs them off, vulnerable and exposed now in an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe t-shirt. Boooobs…
Debbie takes her jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where her head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.
I take Miss Bellum’s arm to steer her past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from her. She must be so aware of my long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the soft warm flesh of her tricep… she trips fawn-like along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with my rolling, loping gait, like that of a wounded panther.
I want to lick her ear. Braaaiins.
“My office…” I hiss, swiping my security pass a second time, and ushering her through.
It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.
“You like my art, Miss Bellummm?” I murmur, seeing her openly gape at the piece.
“It’s yours?” She sounds really very intimidated. She will find much more to be intimidated about, regarding my appetite. “It’s beautiful…”
“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” I confide in a husky voice. “Sit.”
She plants her quivering haunches onto the soft leather, and starts to take out her notes. The only sound otherwise in my office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.
I watch her, calculatingly. I circle around the sofa opposite, not yet seated, assessing her professionalism in getting ready – for me.
“Would you like something to drink, Sarah Bellumm?” I move languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.
The sound of her full name on my lips causes her own to part involuntarily, like the opening of a beautiful white lily…
“I am a little parched,” she admits. “Yes, please, Mr. Dry. Thank you.”
“What would you like?” My hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”
“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear her say, and her stomach grumbles in agreement. I recall the report of the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza she ate for breakfast, many hours ago.
“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?” I prompt. She could use fattening up…
“Yes please – the last one…”
She watches as my clever fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.
I can sense her wondering what sort of businesses I supply this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. They are at the very bottom of our budget range.
I bring it to the low onyx table in front of her, and present it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way I arrange myself laconically on the sofa opposite, seems to disappoint her slightly.
She looks disillusioned, while I fidget my earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroke my knee with my other hand – I thought women were less threatened if a man threw at least fifty shapes of gay… Perhaps I should tone it down a little. But not too much machismo. Just enough heteropolitan transmosexual metrochismo to tease her braaaiiins a little bit.
She struggles to focus on the list of questions written out for her. She’s starting to worry that maybe she won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them. Haha. Braaaiiins, baby.
And when is she going to start eating? I’m literally dying to see her masticate. My bile gland twitches and swells in agreement.
“It’s very hot,” I say, in a warning tone. It startles her.
“Hmmm?” Is she always this jumpy? Perhaps I’ll have to tie her down and use the braaaiiin hooks…
“The soup, Miss Bellummm.” My mouth twitches in the corner, and my black eyes crinkle slightly. I can see into the dark shadows at the back of your own mind, baby. Braaaiiins.
“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” she says, brightly, apparently batting away the shadows in her head at my curt nod. She definitely assumes I’m gay – I must work on that. She looks down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”
“No.” I’m disappointed in turn. This is not the sort of question I hoped for. My answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”
“Right…” She scribbles this down, in what must be her best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”
“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” I assure her. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”
The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up my argument. But still… she doubts me! The complexity of her mind must be delicious… I cannot wait to savour it. I almost croon out loud. Braaaiiins…
“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” she asks, not a dampener to my appetite in the slightest.
“I am not saying anything, Miss Bellumm,” I muse, my eyes still faintly entertained, my head still quirked. “But you are, it seems.”
She stares down at the page, and blushes at having spoken out of turn. That last question was not on the list, her own impetuous mouth running away with her. Not one of the listed questions at all. Let me punish you, Miss Bellummm!
“Moving on,” she says swiftly, aware that my eyes are mentally dismembering her. She looks at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Mr. Dry?”
“With excellent book-keeping.”
She glances up at me, as if uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. I am still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of my eyes resting on her steadily. Her own eyes follow the line of my jaw, and the rumpled Bohemian mane of hair, still intact. My square shoulders in this black suit make her feel weak. What’s wrong with you, girl? It’s just a pretty corpse! You’d be bored sick of me within minutes, same as all the others…
She presses on with the duller questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and I have a cool answer for every single one. I’m relieved when she turns the page, and I find the closing questions are brief.
Finish me, baby…
“…Finally, Mr. Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”
I indicate the décor of the office.
“Black,” I confirm. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”
Braaaiiins. My face darkens. I look away.
“White?” Miss Bellum suggests, obviously thinking of the painting.
“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”
“You mean gr…”
I put my finger to my lips, caressing them to tease her further.
“Best left unspoken.” My black eyes burrow into her head, and my remaining adrenal gland surges tumescently, with unexpected concurrence. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”
There it is, baby. She looks distinctly uncomfortable now, and returns to the final questions.
“And what music do you listen to?”
“And last question. What car do you drive?”
“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR girl soon.”
On cue, outside the window behind me, I hear something crash wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Fuck – there goes another jealous secretary. No braaaiiins in any of them. Without looking around, I produce a remote control, and close the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.
“Thank you, Mr. Dry.” She’s on her feet in that instant, suddenly appearing too wary of being in an enclosed office alone with me. That’s right baby – you should start running. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of her mind, at the closing of the blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”
“Indeed?” I ask in turn, unable to resist a further moment of mental torture, rising out of my seat. It gives her time to notice how tall and manly I am… was, I correct myself angrily. Big fucking braaaiiins, baby. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”
So arrogant! But she loves it!
She just nods, blushing fiercely, and heads for the door. Run away, baby, as fast as you can…
“I will have to show you out,” I remind her, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany her. “It has been a pleasure, Miss Belllummm.”
Her trembling is driving me crazy. I can’t resist putting my hand on her arm again, guiding her out of the door and into the corridor. She practically scampers ahead, snatching her coat back from Debbie.
Run – run – I want to part your cranium and taste your terrified braaaiiins…
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dry,” she says, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Heather the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get a new one. Sarah Bellummm would be – most serviceable. “It has been very educational.”
“I’m sure it will be,” I agree, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Miss Belllummm.”
She runs to the Hummer in her pointy Pigalle pumps, and locks herself in, while the gulls continue flocking to the spot on the beach outside my office, on the far side of the building.
I watch her mournfully.
I reach for my cellphone, and dial the house.
“Mrs Fritatta,” I greet the housekeeper. “You will not be required to cook tonight. I wish to order in a pizza.”
The full-length original The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum parody is available in print and ebook on all devices – search for it in your e-reader store 🙂
The closest to Boba Fett that anyone was able to procure for the Prime Minister was an undergraduate in geochemistry found to be pilfering Bounty bars from a Southampton university cafeteria. The unfortunate coconut-flavoured chocolate-hunter was taken to Downing Street by police escort, and narrowly avoided being de-briefed on the way by Detective Sergeants Florence & Fred, bra fetishists and doughnut abstainers.
“Ah, Boba Fett,” PM Clony Tamarind greeted the young woman once she was shown into his Ovaltine Office, waving a hand to decline half of a Bounty bar proffered in greeting. “Tell me how we are to make carbon out of nothing. I need to ensure that the public continue to feel responsible for global warming so that we can raise taxes with the promise of reducing carbon emissions on their behalf. This idiot Professor Nagy claims that creating more carbon than already exists on the planet is impossible, unless you are an alchemist.”
Professor Nagy waved from behind his giant brunch burrito, courtesy of Guy Fieri, currently being held hostage in the kitchen of No.10 by the children, along with their favourite band, Minus One Or Two Direction.
“Ah, Professor Romeo Nagy,” said Boba Fett, whose name was Ekaterina Whiskas. “I didn’t recognise you with my clothes on. Please wash them before returning this time.”
The Professor smiled, and dusted a few kidney beans from the front of the pink frilly negligee he still sported, since being summoned to the Ovaltine Office himself that morning.
“Carbon?” the Prime Minister prompted hopefully, while Miss MoneySupermarket cranked the handle of the clockwork tea urn to the jolly tune of ‘Dead Man’s Chest’.
“Oh, you don’t have to make extra carbon,” said Undergraduate Whiskas. “It turns up by itself. Uninvited, you might say.”
The Professor nodded gloomily in agreement, his mouth too full to comment.
“When does this occur?” demanded the PM, nonplussed. “And how do I charge people for causing it?”
“Nobody causes it,” said Ekaterina Whiskas. “It falls from the sky. Exoplanetary carbon lands on Earth all the time, in the form of space dust. Cometary waste, meteorite particles etc. Estimated at anywhere between 3,000 and 60,000 tonnes per annum enters our atmosphere, combined with iron, silica, platinum and other minerals. Eventually Earth will mop up enough space dust on its orbit to dry out completely and overcook, just like Mars did beforehand. But I expect the human race will have moved on by then.”
“Are you telling me,” Prime Minister Tamarind fumed, “that Earth is being treated as… as an extraterrestrial dumping-ground for their hothouse gas-producing waste? Without official policy or permits in place?”
“Just say yes,” Professor Nagy chipped in. “If you agree with him, you get a free lunch.”
The PM had taken out a pencil, and was scribbling hasty calculations on the back of Deputy PM Rick Shaw’s iPad.
“And the extraterrestrials responsible for this carbon dumping on our planet, which has been occurring since…?”
“The dawn of time, sir.”
“The dawn of time… that means in terms of licensing, permits, compensation, carbon offset fees, planning application fees, airspace visa requirements…” The PM muttered to himself for several minutes longer, while the clockwork urn reached a crescendo, and in a freak tea cranking accident, Miss MoneySupermarket was hurled into the crystal chandelier, dislodging the entangled Ovaltine burglar (who had fallen asleep after a painful Skype conversation with his mother), several security cameras, and a rare feathered python escaped from the private collection at Longleat Safari Park.
“One extra for tea, Miss MoneySupermarket,” the Deputy PM observed, as the burglar landed in his lap, and with a slip of the stylus caused him to unintentionally win his game of 2048 on the 3DS.
“Right away, sir,” said the secretary, and knotted her hair extensions together to lower herself from the chandelier to the floor. “Can I take your feather boa and put it with the coats, Miss Whiskas?”
“I believe it’s a feathered python,” said the Undergraduate. “But be my guest.”
“…So, with the additional costs incurred by issuing the appropriate forms and an immediate Cease and Desist to the extraterrestrials involved, I believe a considerable taxation sum is due for this illegal exoplanetary carbon dumping activity,” PM Clony Tamarind announced, against the background noise of strangulated screaming from the secretary battling with the more endangered of the coats in the hallway closet. “Now, all we have to do is make the public feel responsible for the harbouring and protection of these aliens, and we can defer the tax increases to our own citizens for the cost of this extraterrestrial carbon landing on our planet and irreversibly heating it up.” He tapped his pencil on the back of the iPad. “By my calculations, I think an average tax increase of one million sterling per household per week should mean we recoup our costs just short of the next millennium.”
“All in favour?” queried Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had dropped by to borrow some jump leads for his delivery truck.
“I think we need to show a united front and a demonstrable plan of action first,” suggested the Deputy PM, once his 3DS battery was flat and he realised he had left his charger at his children’s nanny’s house. “For example, have the Americans an example we can show the British public whereby a company or government environmental agency has successfully sued for damages over the illegal trespass or trafficking of space dust into Earth’s biosphere?”
“Ah – Deputy PM, is it time for your nap?” Clony Tamarind clapped his hands. “Miss MoneySupermarket! Rick is whining for something, can you warm him a bottle and bring the Farley’s Rusks, please?”
“So basically, the government wants to scaremonger the public into paying more taxes in vain hope of stopping or reversing the irreversible global warming caused by the aggregation of cosmic dust that will eventually turn Earth into a dead ball of dry rock like Mars?” Undergraduate Ekaterina Whiskas enquired of Professor Nagy, ownership of the underwear he currently wore forgotten, at least temporarily.
“So it appears,” the Professor agreed. “He has already bored Great Britain’s most senior scientists to death or tears. But mostly because one of them wanted a Garibaldi with his tea, and the PM sent for an Italian opera singer instead of asking Jeeves from Tesco’s to get some.”
“Hmmm,” said Ekaterina. “Has anyone suggested moving more carbon-based materials off the planet’s surface? As a thermal exchange mechanism?”
“Well,” Professor Nagy pondered. “Not until now. I suppose they could start with moving the Labour Party headquarters to the Moon, for example?”
“Why not Mars?” suggested the burglar, while the PM’s face lit up. “It’s not like you could make Mars any deader.”
“Yes…” The PM leapt to his feet, sending his collection of super-villain cats yowling and flying for cover, and knocking the escaping Jeeves to the floor with a well-timed crochet antimacassar to the head. “An interplanetary exchange program! Until our elusive extraterrestrials come forward with the appropriate compensation, losing opposition parties and minor offensive governments will have to move their command centres to Mars – to offset the unavoidable cosmic dust entering our carbon cycle. Miss MoneySupermarket – fetch me a pigeon from the roof. I must send an urgent message to Richard Branson immediately regarding the availability of interplanetary flights for the transport of opposition leaders and their members at once. You two – Professor Nightdress and Whiskas Fett – you will do the sciencey stuff for the press and the media; Jeeves, you will be in charge of fulfilling Martian Tesco dot com grocery orders; you there, the chap in the ninja mask who fell from the chandelier, round up my cats; and Deputy PM Rick Shaw, my most trusted confidante, go and see why the children are so quiet down in the kitchen. Guy Fieri has not screamed for help for at least an hour.”
To be continued…
“I say, Jeeves!” Prime Minister Cloney Tamarind shouted one morning during breakfast, spluttering Krave crumbs all over his recently-updated Facebook status. “What’s this filthy rumour that we’re not producing more carbon? How are we supposed to charge people for something we don’t actually deliver?”
“So what’s new, dear?” Mrs Tamarind muttered, sipping her Chai Red Bull. The word ‘charge’ causing her to make a mental note to replace the batteries in her bedside drawer, after yet another all-nighter with the PM away at his desk, playing Draw My Thing and Words With Infidels online.
“I don’t know, Sir,” said Jeeves dutifully, topping up the Worcester sauce bucket in the modest silver breakfast table cruet, with the ceremonial watering-can. “I’m only your Tesco’s delivery driver.”
And he left the receipt on the table, before being strong-armed out of No.10 by the children.
“Someone is spreading lies about there only being a finite amount of carbon on the planet!” the Prime Minister said grimly, narrowing his eyes at a post by Markiplier about the conspiracy of squirrels, as he bit suspiciously into into his peanut butter on crumpet. The crumpet duly squealed, and got down from the table in a huff to go and powder her nose, and he hollered after her. “When you come back, Miss MoneySupermarket, I want you to schedule an emergency meeting with… with… the chap with the briefcase who reads out my annual bank statement to me, and some top scientists! Preferably ones that are not in the middle of writing their autobiographies, speaking at TED talks, or filming for the BBC!”
“This is how it works,” said the PM in his Ovaltine Office, while Deputy PM Rick Shaw took notes and wrote a song for the bluegrass band he was planning to run away with on his imminent retirement at the next election, and Miss MoneySupermarket changed the most senior scientist’s nappy. “We tell the public that we’re still producing too much carbon. And carbon is a bad thing. It makes the air smell like poo and we all have to wash our cars more often and Hollywood actresses tell our children not to eat it as it’s bad for your image. So the public feel guilt. That’s the emotion we all need them to feel because it makes their wallets fall open more easily. And they give us more money, and we promise to clean up the carbon we make every day to power their homes and cars and let them lead happy lives with happy Facebook status updates saying how much of the planet they’ve saved today by walking the dogs instead of calling them a taxi. And now I’m being told we don’t make carbon. It exists in different states and goes around and around by itself like a rotisserie chicken, which incidentally, if left on the spit too long, turns into a block of black stuff that is essentially carbon. So how are we not making any new fucking carbon?!” His voice became the shrill squeak of a Clanger. “How do we claim there’s a carbon footprint when I can’t show them even a fuzzy Youtube video of a giant fucking footprint? How do we stop the damned carbon that we do have from degassing into the oceans and decaying out of plants and dead things back into the soil and reproducing into armies of adopted celebrity children and their godforsaken acres of burger meat that they grow up on, so we can prove there’s a problem? How do we make it get off its carbon bicycle and off the geological ring-road? I swear I can hear the same carbon atoms laughing at me every time they pass out of the Queen’s bottom on parade!”
“Well,” said the most senior scientist, once he was back in his pram and holding the official Talking Stick. “In order to actually create carbon, you would require an alchemist.”
“Like the chap on Harley Street who writes out my wife’s prescriptions – Doctor Theophilus Hoodoobeggar?”
“Even more powerful than that, sir.”
“Wonderful. Find me such a person.”
And within a short interval, wherein there was popcorn, crisps, a brief performance by Shakespeare’s Sister, and Deputy PM Rick Shaw had his Large Coke confiscated for burping carbon atoms in a sarcastic tone of voice, a small waxy-complexioned individual with a foreign accent was ushered in and asked to sweep up the crumbs. This was minutely embarrassing when it turned out that this frumpy individual with the odd knee-socks and pink housecoat was Head of Alchemicals at the University of Southampton (Ten Years Since Last Burned to the Ground).
“Tell me, young man,” began Cloney Tamarind, once the brush and dustpan were discreetly taken away from Professor Nagy and he had been furnished with a chair, one with built-in cushions and tie-dyed antimacassars, courtesy of the children. “Is it possible to make carbon out of thin air?”
“If that air contains, for example, traces of methane, CO2, volcanic aerosols,” said the young professor dismissively, swinging one leg over the arm of the comfy chair and loosening his early-morning pyjama-bottom wedgie.
“Remind me to have a word with the Queen about rogue volcanic aerosols on parade in future,” the PM muttered aside to Miss MoneySupermarket, who was now on dustpan duty, giving him a very sour look from under her falsies. “But Professor Nagy – tell me, how do we make carbon from nothing? We’ve been telling the public about our overproduction of carbon for decades. We can’t have them all going on Wikipedia and finding out that no matter how much we dig up or burn, the Earth just – sucks it all up away again.”
“Oh, you don’t make something from nothing.”
“I think you underestimate politics and taxation, young man.” Prime Minister Tamarind wagged a finger, until the Deputy PM managed to wrench his own hand free and return to drawing a picture of an eye from a tutorial on DeviantArt. Eventually, this would become the logo of his bluegrass band, and hopefully BMG or Virgin would copy it and have to pay out royalties. “You are Head of Alchemicals at a top… an outstanding… a not very recently burned-down University, at… is Southampton a real place? I always thought it was like Mordor, or Narnia… rumours of organised football matches being played, huge, balding men roaming loose, wenches roaming looser… nothing else… anyway, you must know something useful, yes?”
“A very clever deduction,” said the Professor, and lifted his top hat to take down his elevensies, which with foresight he had brought with with him. As he opened his packet of cheesy Quavers and dunked them in his Earl Grey, he announced vaguely. “I can make gold, of course. But not what you are interested in.”
“GOLD?” everyone else in the room echoed, including an Ovaltine burglar who was hiding camouflaged in the chandelier above them, in a silver rhinestone ninja gi, and Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had forgotten to pick up his plastic carrier baskets.
“Not out of carbon, I hope!” the Prime Minister clapped a hand over his mouth, and this time Deputy PM Rick Shaw had to use a baby-wipe to clean the smear of L’Oreal For Gender Neutral Persons What Shave Often aftershave balm off his fingers before returning to his Nintendo 3DS, now playing Monster Hunter Ultimate in a team with Kim Jong Un. “Excess carbon is worth more than gold in guilt extortion value terms, I hope you realise.”
“No, not carbon.” The Professor unwrapped a complimentary chocolate mint from a private stash purloined from the coat-check girl at Bournemouth Spearmint Rhino.
“Then what do you make gold out of?” demanded Miss MoneySupermarket, speaking out of turn and still on her knees, elbow-deep in shag pile carpet, probing for popcorn kernels.
The groan in the room was audible. In fact it was so audible that Audible automatically deducted its monthly Amazon account payment from the entire Conservative Party, as a result of trying to sneak a free download.
The ninja in the chandelier began to cry, and was heard Skyping his mother in Malaysia, who was apparently not in the best of moods either judging by the verbal lashing that ensued.
“Fine, as soon as Jeremy Clarkson has finished scraping all the platinum off the roads of the UK and Isle of Man with his tongue, you can have it and turn it into gold for all I care,” the PM seethed. “What I want right now, is a shit load of carbon. I want to be able to show people a carbon mountain on the News at Five. I want those Bigfoot hunters to find a carbon footprint so big that it’s only identified by the corn on its little toe proving to be Alaska. Fetch me someone who can make carbon out of nothing. Fetch me – fetch me – Boba Fett!”
The groan, still fading into echoes around the Ovaltine Office, abruptly became a gasp. And then a horrible, gagging, choking, furry noise, as Miss MoneySupermarket had inhaled the sheepskin rug, right from under the most senior scientist’s bottom…
To be continued… 😉 xxx
Bird… bird… bird… Personally, I prefer the Skrillex/Trashmen mashup versions 🙂
There are two types of unintentional repetition in writing. I’m not talking about intentional repetition, related to storyline or humour (the only thing you need to be concerned about there, is that your plot makes sense for characters to revisit scenarios more than once, and that your hilarious repetitions in dialogue and description are in fact funny).
Unintentional repetition comes in two forms.
The first is word-blindness, where you have used a key word more than necessary in a passage, making it sound clunky to the new reader. These are usually forgivable, and easy to miss for the novice writer while rushing through a proofread:
She shut her eyes as she heard the door shut behind her. Why was he shutting her out like this? She shut the thought off immediately. She decided to go to the store instead, but then remembered at this time of night it would already be shut.
This type of repetition is usually cured by checking a thesaurus:
She closed her eyes as she heard the door slam behind her. Why was he excluding her like this? She blocked the thought immediately. She decided to go to the store instead, but then remembered at this time of night it would already be shut.
Not every word you replace has to have the exact meaning. Note that ‘slam’ is more descriptive of action and emotion, while ‘blocked’ is a different internal action, but serves the same purpose in illustrating the protagonist’s attitude. You don’t have to replace every incidence of your ubiquitous word – it’s fine to keep one in where appropriate, and you’ll find it becomes much less of a nuisance when pared down to the minimum of appearances per scene.
Another form of word-blindness is The Room Full of Pillars:
She stepped out from behind the pillar, and faced the pillar. Pressing her back to the pillar at first, eventually she stepped bravely away, passing the pillars, until eventually she reached the pillar in the middle. The pillars stretched out in all directions. She looked back longingly at the safety of her pillar.
The same scene could take place in The Forest Full of Trees or The Auditorium Full of Seats.
If you have a scene which involves more than two of anything – pillars, kittens, cars, nameless children, police officers, protesters, apples, pubs – find some way of describing the scene to your readers so that they can see what you see in your mind’s eye without feeling as though they’ve been left in a stock warehouse of your writing without an inventory.
With children, animals and crowds, it’s easy enough to give them names, or a passing description. Even a car can be described shortly, without sounding clunky or dated – ‘the red car’ or ‘the red muscle/sports/hatchback car’ is sufficient, while ‘the red Audi R10 with super-slick wheels’ will have your readers recalling how it caught fire on Top Gear several seasons ago. So unless that’s your intention, try to limit your taste in consumer product envy regarding briefly transitional objects.
People can be described in all sorts of ways. Depending on the tone and attitude of your protagonist/narrative voice, accompanied by varying levels of political correctness or offensiveness. You would be safe to describe a child in a woolly hat, or a man with a limp in order to identify them. You might cause a few bloodstreams to boil if you referred to the child’s ethnic group in slang terms, or the man’s conveniently obvious mental condition in the same way, when his only purpose in your plot is to fill a gap in the crowd. But with satirical novels, as with the author Tom Sharpe, even that borders on acceptable in context.
Mix it up a bit, though. You don’t want your crowd scene to be depicted as a parade of differently-coloured woolly hats – you’ll run out of colours, for one thing…
The child in the red hat was being chased by a dozen children, the ringleader in the pink hat, closely followed by one in a yellow hat, one in an orange hat, and then three of them were wearing very similar blue hats, but Officer Rainbow could see that one was turquoise, one was Royal blue and one was aquamarine, a child in a magenta hat was egging them all on, especially the one in the peach hat, and the only one who appeared to be in any doubt was the one in the chartreuse hat, which the Officer would later describe in his report as ‘Forest green, possibly Kelly, but not quite Khaki’.
…In the same way, a crowd scene can be crippled (pun) by over-enthusiastic issuing by the author of quirks, disabilities and passing viral infections. Do not hand out warts, boils, speech impediments, age-related conditions and man-flu in a cavalier fashion. For a start, why would any of these people be in a crowd scene, unless they’re keen to catch something new???
The man with the running nose and thinning hair picked up the pool cue and launched himself at the one-legged lady. The boy with the rampant teenage acne snatched the dartboard from the wall, and knocked the girl with the lisp unconscious. Three seconds later, two children in a red woolly hat and an aubergine woolly hat respectively, one of them eating a Dairylea Dunker and the other one with Asperger’s Syndrome, picked up the snooker table, threw it across the bar at the barman who couldn’t speak English (not the one with the Rastafarian toupee, weeping facial bedsores and an aunt with morbid consumption), and all hell broke loose.
N.B. The above scene might work if it takes place in a doctor’s surgery or hospital waiting-room.
Back to the embarrassment of scenery/furniture that has bred beyond all control in your story. Of course, you can’t put woolly hats on pillars, name them Fred, give them chicken pox or an allergy to small coinage. Pillars, coffee mugs, front doors etc. can be any colours you want, made of a wide variety of materials (although again, once you’ve gone from sandstone to bronze, you’ve still got to fit in a story around your vast knowledge of chemical compounds and load-bearing solid matter). The best way to get around a multitude of identical inanimate objects is to think outside the box – what their properties are, their purpose in the story, and their effect on the characters:
She stepped out from behind her shield of stone, and faced her target. Pressing her back to the pillar at first, eventually she stepped bravely away, passing through the tall shadows, until eventually she reached the featureless tower in the middle. The other pillars stretched out in all directions. She looked back longingly at the safety of her hiding place.
‘Other pillars’ is a manageable reference to the first pillar – but you can only get away with using it once.
This leads us neatly into the other form of repetition – the repetition of Actions, that our characters seem to think is what makes them three-dimensional, living, breathing, frequently sighing, eye-rolling and bottom-lip-chewing flesh and blood beings.
From The Room Full of Pillars we dive straight into The Lovers’ Arms:
Her eyes filled with tears as she leaned forward and took his left hand in her right hand. In her right hand she had hold of the horse Shalimar’s reins, and in his left hand was his briefcase and her Harrod’s hat-box. A tear rolled down and landed on their joined hands. “Oh my dearest,” he sighed, leaning forward and cupping her chin with his hand. “You have no need to cry.” Tears sprang to attention in her eyes as he leaned forward towards her, while his eyes shone with tears. He wiped them away with both hands, sighing in frustration. “But you are the only one!” she sighed, leaning forward and seizing his lapels passionately in her fists, weeping profusely. Their fingers still entwined, tears pricking at her eyelashes, he leaned forward, simultaneously brushed back her hair, gave the horse Shalimar a sugar-lump and a friendly pat on the hindquarters, clasped her face between his two hands and leaned forward to kiss her. “My darling,” he sighed, and his tears torrented forth while she bravely held hers in check – he mustn’t see her as weak! “I believe you!”
Unless your characters are the ten-armed aliens of Betelgeuse, remember that your characters are limited to one pair of hands each. Try to remember where they are, and when they were put there.
Also, try to recall the correct sequence in which crying happens.
How often are your character’s sighing, and is it related in any way to a medical condition?
And also – there are only a fixed number of times that a person can lean forward before they have prostrated themselves fully on the floor.
The same goes for characters who frequently ‘turn to look out of the window’ or ‘turn away to gaze at the distant mountains’ either mid-speech, between contemplating their own navel, or to function as a narrative pause in any other events at the time. If your character is directed to look away from the plot and out at the scenery at any point, make sure something is going on out there requiring their attention. (If it’s distant mountains, they had better be massively significant later on).
I know how it works. You are watching the scene unfold in your head, the dialogue is flowing, and you know, at key moments, that your characters will show some form of reaction, illustrating their emotions or mind-set. So you reach for your ‘realism’ toolkit of shorthand reactions. Rolling eyes. Biting lower lip. Scratching head. Wringing hands (as many as they’ve got). Scuffing toecaps. Farting nervously? No – better stick with rolling eyes again. That’s realistic enough… If your character is a rabbit with myxomatosis, go for your life with the optical twitching and chewing on one’s own body parts.
If you find you are fond of a trait you have ‘invented’ for your character, try counting the number of times you show this trait in your prose so far. Whether it’s that she chews on her hair, or he fingers his moustache. Why authors find these sadly-afflicted nervous wrecks attractive as protagonists (and antagonists) is a mystery, but a reader should not be brainwashed by the end of your book into pulling their own hair out by the roots one at a time, or letting their eyes roll around like marbles, particularly while driving. Keep your character’s nail-biting, earlobe-tugging, mouth-chomping, foot-stamping and hair-tossing to a minimum. More than once, as with anything else, and it loses its impact.
That’s the point. You want your story to have impact, and you want your characters to leave an impression.
A love scene is not defined by the number of times the characters say “I love you” – more than once each in exchange, and the power drains out of it. The same goes for sighing, storming out, slamming doors, stamping, bursting into tears, and blatant attempts at attention-seeking.
Someone who suddenly cuts out 6000 calories a day and reduces their portion sizes is on a diet (or possibly a hunger strike). Someone who has only eaten a lettuce leaf a day for the past 20 years just has a small appetite (or is a rabbit, hopefully not with myxomatosis). The difference is change.
If your characters are constantly demonstrating repetitive ways of illustrating their mood, mindset, and characterisation itself, they are static – even predictable. Nothing about them changes, moves on, develops, affects the plot, or in turn, is affected by the plot in your story. Just because your protagonist chews gum while she thinks, or flicks his Zippo on and off when trying to control his temper, doesn’t make them enthralling characters to the reader. Not after the sixth or seventh time it happens, especially.
Does your heroine cry crocodile tears every few paragraphs, and is your hero crying wolf with his adolescent tantrums? How are you going to make the reader care when something really dramatic happens – and if you’ve used up all of their ‘personality’ already, how are you even going to portray it?
How do your characters put up with one another?
The other problem for you as the writer, is that repetitions at this scale mean your book is not ready for an editor to look at, let alone an agent or publisher. It does not yet contain enough of your writing. It merely contains a bit of your writing, replicated a number of times and in various word order. If you ask an editor to fix it at this stage, the result of such major surgery will not be your writing – anything they create to replace your repetitions will be their writing (you will basically be needing a co-writer or ghost-writer to rewrite your book for you, rather than an editor to proofread, correct grammar, and spell-check). These additional, necessary ‘edits’ will be reflected in the huge unsightly gaps that subsequently appear in your bank balance.
In other words, address the problem yourself first, before reaching for your wallet and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.
Realism is smart. But repetition is not.
L 🙂 xxx
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