Friday, 14 April 2017

Current Affairs In Cartoons

The New Ten Commandments


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Gassing Away With It


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Massive Obvious Arse-covering Bomb



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Easter


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A Question About Kashmir

This isn’t really an article; it’s a question I’ve been pondering for a long time, and I’d request some coherent answers.

This is the question:

Can someone please explain to me why the hell we need to hold on to Kashmir?

As you probably know, I wrote a book on the Kashmir insurgency, and long before I even started researching the topic, I was already thinking about this. And to this day I have no answer.

Why are we hanging on to Kashmir?

Why are we spending enormous amounts to garrison the one third of this state that we control, while pretending that all of it belongs to us and that we’ll someday get it back? (Spoiler alert: we won’t.)



Why is it that while we can’t even wipe out a relatively lightly armed guerrilla force (no anti-aircraft missiles, no mortars, no artillery, next to no landmines, let alone armour and air support; this isn’t Syria), we continue with the same tactics that haven’t secured victory in almost thirty years of fighting? How long do we want this bloodshed to continue?



Why have we alienated an entire generation of the state’s youth, and turned tens of thousands of them to violent insurgency? Why are our soldiers under such pressure to eliminate said insurgents that they have been known to snatch innocent men off the street, murder them, and pass them off as “militants”? Why do we have our soldiers posing with the corpses of dead militants/”militants” like hunted animals? Whose dignity does this enhance?



Why do we keep compelling people to vote in elections in which the turnout averages between five and ten per cent, and resort to forcing them to vote at gunpoint to make numbers look better if necessary?

Why are we murdering protestors when not blinding them with buckshot blasts to the face? And not just protestors, innocent onlookers as well? Why are we actually committing the acts the cannibal jihadi propaganda ascribes to Bashar Assad’s government in 2011? He didn’t do it, but we actually are.



Why? Why are we creating a situation which will inevitably lead to the likes of ISIS taking the opportunity to set up base in the country and making a permanent running sore?

Why, if we are genuinely concerned about the welfare of Kashmiris, if we think of them as Indians rather than conquered inhabitants of an occupied and colonised territory, do we not ask them what they want and allow their own wishes to be heard? Why are we so fixated on this state that we are prepared to turn it into a gigantic prison camp just to keep it under some kind of control?

This is not to say that Pakistan is any better; the way it has treated the Kashmiris is arguably as bad or even worse. But the point is, we aren’t Pakistan. What they do shouldn’t be a template for what we do.

Nor is it an apologia for the Kashmiris, who have also committed their share of crimes; most notably the forcible expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits). But that came after, not before, the insurgency erupted, and in all the years afterwards, India has done nothing to ensure those Pandits can go back to Kashmir. So is it even interested in that happening, or are the Pandits just an excuse to justify oppressing Kashmiris, a whole generation of whom were born after they left and have not the slightest responsibility for throwing them out at all?

What will happen if we withdraw from Kashmir? Will the heavens fall? Will the other states of India immediately begin breaking away one by one? Is that it?

And if that is it, isn’t that proof that India is an artificial entity kept together only by military force, and such an entity cannot survive indefinitely in any case?

Or is that the real reason is that our overlords need an excuse to justify their oppressive laws, their obscene military expenditure, and also a raison d’être to divert our attention whenever necessary with a nice little war scare?

Is it "strategic"? What, in the nuclear age, is "strategic" about holding on to a mountain state which is difficult to supply, is snowed in for half the year, and in any case is bordered to the south by another state just as mountainous? Do we want to pretend that Pakistani divisions will descend on the North Indian plains and take Delhi through Kashmir? If that is so, what are our vaunted military forces good for?

Why the hell are we hanging on to Kashmir?

I really would like some answers. Logical, coherent answers.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

And Then Sammyboy Was A Zombie

There were zombies wandering down the street when Sammyboy walked down the stairs from his flat. He walked down the stairs because the lift wasn’t working, and the lift wasn’t working because the electricity was off. And the electricity was off because the majority of the power company employees had become zombies.

Sammyboy hated walking down the stairs, because he was fat. He hated going outside at all, but he needed to find some money, because the rent was due and there was nothing to eat. And because there was no electricity he couldn’t play his video games. So he was coming down the stairs.

This is what happened then.  

Sammyboy hesitated slightly when he saw the zombies. Not that he had any fear of them, but because he noticed that they included a few acquaintances. Only one of them came over, though.

“Hi, Sammyboy,” she said. It was Vizzy’s girl, JonaliJonali. Sammyboy had had an enormous crush on her once, but that had been when she was alive. He hadn’t made a move on her, though, because he’d been convinced she was far too beautiful to take the slightest notice of him. Besides, Vizzy was very big and very strong. In any case, he hadn’t seen her for a while, hadn’t known she’d become a zombie.  

“Uh, hello,” Sammyboy said. JonaliJonali was still amazingly pretty, even though she was a zombie. Apart from the greenish waxy sheen on her skin and the slight blue tinge on her lips, you’d hardly know she was no longer alive. She even had all her teeth, and they were as white as ever. “I see you’re a zombie now.”

“Yes, of course,” JonaliJonali said. “I thought you knew.”

“Um, no, nobody told me.” Sammyboy tried to edge around JonaliJonali, but she had planted herself right in his path. “Where’s Vizzy?”

“Why are you asking about him? He’s gone, past, finished with.” JonaliJonali waved her hand, trying to snap her fingers. They slipped off each other with a noise like wet rubber. “I don’t care about him anymore. You, on the other hand...” She paused dramatically.

“Me?” Sammyboy said, when the dramatic pause seemed to be set to become a permanent pause. “What about me?”

“You always liked me, didn’t you?” JonaliJonali ran a finger down Sammyboy’s face. He tried not to flinch, and she giggled. “Don’t worry. You won’t become a zombie just because I touch you.”

Sammyboy stood frozen to the spot as she ran her finger down his face again. It felt quite warm, not cold and clammy as he’d expected. In fact, it felt quite good, really. It was the first time she’d ever touched him.

In fact, it was the first time any girl had ever touched him, or any zombie girl, though Sammyboy wasn’t going to admit it. “How did you become a zombie?” he asked, because he suddenly began to feel weak in the knees.

“Kiss me and I’ll tell you,” JonaliJonali said, and laughed at his expression. “No, really, you idiot. Kiss me. It won’t make you into a zombie. I promise.”

Sammyboy pressed his lips briefly to hers. The touch felt like electricity all through his body. It was, after all, the first time he’d ever kissed anyone. Then she nipped his lip with her front teeth, and he jumped back in alarm.

“I’m just tasting you, you little nit. There’s no need to be scared.” She ran her tongue around her lips, frowning, and nodded. “Yes, you’ll make a good zombie.”

“A zombie?” Sammyboy yelped. “I don’t want to be a zombie.”

“Why not? Look at you. You don’t have a job, you don’t have any money, you don’t have any friends. I’ll bet you’ve never even slept with anyone.” She watched Sammyboy flinch, not attempting to hide her satisfaction. “You don’t have a hope in the world. You’re wondering how you’re going to avoid ending up starving. If you become a zombie, you don’t have to worry about any of that.”

“I won’t have to worry about starving? What do I do then, eat people?”

JonaliJonali laughed so hard she’d have wept tears of mirth if she’d not been a zombie and had still had working lacrimal glands. “Eat?” she said when she’d stopped spluttering. “Zombies are dead, you moron. Why should we need to eat?”

“But I don’t know anything about becoming a zombie,” Sammyboy said. “I’ve never been a zombie. Everyone says zombies are awful.”

“Everyone? Awful?” JonaliJonali cocked her head like a terrier, thinking about this. “Well, in that case, you might as well listen to everyone. I was thinking of being your girl, but if everyone told you I’m awful...” She shrugged elaborately and turned away. “Best of luck, then,” she called over her shoulder, striding away.

“Wait, wait.” Sammyboy trotted to catch up with her. “Did you say you’d be my girl?”

“Yes, I did say that. You taste right. But you don’t want to be a zombie, you said.”

“Let me think about it.” Sammyboy looked around wildly. Except for a couple of human beings in the distance, everyone in the street was a zombie. One drove by in a car, eyes shut, leaning back in the seat, headphones clamped over his head. The car hit the pavement, jumped over it, rammed a wall and came to a stop. The zombie took off the headphones, got out and sauntered away. “Look at that,” Sammyboy said.

“Yes,” JonaliJonali agreed, “look at that. As a zombie he can do that if he wants. What can they do to him, kill him? What’s he got to lose? What have you got to lose?”

“I’m thinking,” Sammyboy said. He noticed, but no longer cared, that they were going in the opposite direction from the one that he’d been planning to take. “Why did you become a zombie?”

“Why? I was getting tired of being human. It seemed a good idea. It still seems a good idea.” JonaliJonali was carrying a shoulder bag. She fished a thick book out of it. “Look at that.”

Sammyboy looked. “Advanced integral calculus?” he said incredulously. “You’re reading advanced integral calculus?”

“To tell you the truth, no. But I could if I wanted, and I’d have the time to do it, and nothing to distract me. That’s why I carry it around.” JonaliJonali glanced at him. “Well?”

“All right,” Sammyboy gulped. “Just supposing I agree to become a zombie – just supposing, I said – how do I go about it? Do you have to bite me?”  

“Nothing so crude,” JonaliJonali said, grinning. “Those days of biting and clawing are all over. We aren’t savages like you humans. Come along to the Zombie Centre, and I’ll show you.”

“The Zombie Centre?”

“It’s just over there.” JonaliJonali pointed at a tall building, and Sammyboy saw workzombies fixing a signboard over the entrance. “There are so many of us now we decided we needed one. Ah, here’s Dr Necrotica.”

The good doctor was a tall woman zombie in a white coat. She nodded affably to JonaliJonali and looked speculatively at Sammyboy. “He should do,” she said. “He’s got enough body fat to power the conversion, and you say you’ve tasted his blood?”

“Yes, he’s compatible. Can we do it now, Doctor?”

“Of course. We’re always eager to have new zombies.”

“Body fat?” Sammyboy said anxiously. “What about it?”

“Don’t worry,” Dr Necrotica assured him. “If you have a lot of body fat, like you, for example, we can just power the process with it. You don’t just become a zombie, you become a healthy, fit zombie!”

“You’ll be delicious,” JonaliJonali said, squeezing Sammyboy’s arm. “Come on, let’s get it done.”

“It’s wholly painless,” Dr Necrotica said, ushering them into a white room. The walls were white, the floor was white tile, the ceiling was white, the huge machine sitting in the middle of the room was white. It was all so gleaming white that Sammyboy felt dirty just being there. “We have the latest equipment, from Sweden. It feeds Z serum into your blood. So much neater and more zombane than all that biting and stuff. Strip behind that screen, put on the robe you’ll find there.”

The screen was white, of course, and so was the robe. When Sammyboy came out Dr Necrotica had slid a shelf out from the machine. It looked like a morgue drawer. “Lie down there, please.”

Sammyboy lay down. The drawer slid shut. Things clicked and muttered, and violet and green lights began shining in patterns that quickly became hypnotic. He felt a sharp prick on one finger, and as Z-serum flowed into his blood, a warm feeling ran all through him, rather like hot soup on a cold night. The lights shut off.

And then Sammyboy was a zombie.

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They’d just left the Zombie Centre, walking hand in hand – as they could now they were both zombies, who was going to stop them, the police? – when who should come up but Vizzy.

He looked from one of them to the other. “Sammyboy, what are you doing with my girl?”

“I’m not your girl anymore, Vizzy,” JonaliJonali said. “I stopped being your girl long ago, when you...”

“I don’t care about that,” Vizzy said, snarling. He stepped forward, cocking a huge fist. “You let go of my girl, Sammyboy, or I’ll smash you in the teeth.”

“Wait,” Sammyboy began to say, but he was too late. Vizzy’s huge fist hurtled towards him and smashed him in the teeth.

Blood flowed. Very little of it was Sammyboy’s own.

“You idiot!” Vizzy yelped, dancing around, holding his fist with his other hand. “You dirty, unhygienic idiot! Look what your teeth have done!”

“I’m sorry,” Sammyboy tried to say, wiping away the few half clotted drops of blood his split lips had exuded. “But I didn’t mean to cut you.”

“You did it, though, didn’t you?” Then a sudden change began to come over Vizzy. His skin paled and his lips went blue. “God,” he whispered. “I’m a zombie!”

“But how?” Sammyboy asked. “You didn’t go into the Centre.”

“It was your blood that did it, getting in mine. You and your stupid blood. I have a good mind to smash you to pulp.”

“Wait,” JonaliJonali said. She had a hungry look in her eyes. “You refused to become a zombie when I did and so I dumped you. But now you’re a zombie too.”

“Yes, I am, aren’t I?” Vizzy looked at her. “Coming?”

JonaliJonali took his arm. “Coming.”   

“Wait,” Sammyboy yelped. “What about me?”

“What about you?” JonaliJonali said. She reached into her bag and threw him the calculus book. “You can have that if you want.”

And then Sammyboy was an integral calculus book-reading zombie.      



Copyright B Purkayastha 2017  

Syria


There is a woman called Syria.
A man looked at her one day
With greed and lust in his eyes.



He beat her and battered her
Tore at her clothes, tried to rape her
But she fought back, she fought him back
And made him afraid.



So he stood in the marketplace
And screamed her name
Filled with hate and imprecations
Said she was to blame.



Came a crowd of people
Armed with sticks and with stones
To take hold of this woman
Cut her and break her bones.



But still she stands tall and unafraid
She seeks to stay free
Syria, I bow my head before you
Give a little of your courage to me.



When your enemies retreat again
As in time they must do -
Let me kneel at your feet a moment
In homage to you.





Copyright B Purkayastha 2017 



Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Bombing Syria

As everyone knows by now, the Imperialist States of Amerikastan, under der Trümpfer, launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airport last night. About two thirds of the vaunted Tomahawk missiles actually failed to hit their targets; a number were shot down while the rest fell on adjoining civilian areas. Even so, 23 out of 59 struck the airport, destroying or damaging fifteen aircraft, killing six soldiers and officers, and igniting a fuel depot.

It was perfectly obvious that this wasn’t a strike made up on the spur of the moment; this was the same air base which, according to the Zionist entity, had dared to retaliate with S200 missiles when zionazi planes had bombed Syria a few days ago. Also, this was one of the airports, in Hama province, which was actively engaging ISIS, rather than Obama’s – and now der Trümpfer’s – moderate cannibals.

Sure enough, just as they’d done earlier after America and its vassals deliberately bombed a Syrian Army base in Deir Azzor, ISIS followed immediately with an offensive. If one were of a nasty suspicious conspiracy-theorist mindset, one might almost believe that ISIS had known that the attack was going to happen and were all ready to exploit it. But that’s just paranoid conspiracy theorising, isn’t it?

The official excuse for the attack – retaliation for “Assad’s gas attacks on Syrian civilians” – is so farcical that it doesn’t stand examination for a moment. But it was, of course, an ideal excuse to start a conflict, and der Trümpfer needed this conflict. Why?

The first reason was to defang the worst, most pernicious hypocrites the world has ever seen, the Amerikastani liberal. These vermin, who had been clamouring for war with Syria all through the liberation of Aleppo, found another excuse to needle der Trümpfer for “not doing anything” when Assad was “gassing his own people”. Their deity, the blood soaked war criminal Killary Klingon, crawled out from under the garbage to bleat that she would have been “more aggressive”. Having bombed the Syrians officially – his predecessor, the mass murderer Barack Hussein Obama, had done so “by accident” - der Trümpfer took that particular wind out of their sails. Albeit for the moment only.

Why for the moment? The reason is Russia. Russia has a large military presence in Syria now, and is deeply committed to annihilating the jihadi cannibals as well as ISIS infesting the country. Russia isn’t about to let this go unpunished, and has already withdrawn cooperation from coordinating air sorties to avoid clashes over Syria. This means that if any Amerikastani plane intrudes into Syrian airspace from now on, it is fair game.

This in turn means that, whether der Trümpfer knows it or not, he is faced with a dilemma. He can either back down or continue to escalate the situation. If he backs down, the howls of outrage from the liberals will rise to the skies. “This proves he’s Putin’s puppet,” they will say. If he continues to escalate, there will be war with Russia. It’s a corner he’s painted himself into, and there’s no way he can get out of it.

Actually, there are other reasons he bombed Syria, and these are all in favour of escalation. One is to appease the zionazis, who are desperate to prevent the Syrian government from winning. The apartheid Zionist colonial regime in Occupied Palestine wants a divided, weakened Syria. It also wants a “Kurdistan”, ruled by one of the Kurdish factions it controls, so it can exploit its resources. And what the zionazi regime wants, in any Amerikastani administration since 1967 at least, the zionazi regime gets.

Then, it was to get the military industrial complex on his side. As long as der Trümpfer was claiming to want to not engage in regime change wars, the complex was deeply unhappy, because war is just about the only industry the Imperialist States of Amerikastan still has. Now, he’s as suddenly acceptable to them as George W Bush became as soon as he attacked Afghanistan. Overnight, I predict, the talk about “impeaching” Trump will disappear from the media, and he will be rehabilitated as a patriot doing the best for his country.

That’s the idea. The reality, as the first battles with Russia will amply demonstrate, will be somewhat different.

Bring on the Apocalypse.


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Here are some cartoons. The first is a Statement of Gratitude. You'll agree al Qaeda has a lot to be grateful for.




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The second is actual and incontrovertible Proof Of The Syrian Regime's Chemical Holocaust. I'm sure you'll admit that we on the Assad side have no reply to it.



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The third is the phenomenon of al Qaeda's Air Force, which in 2001 comprised four hijacked aeroplanes and now consist of the entirety of NATO. I hope Americans are happy and proud of this. I know al Qaeda are.



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And the fourth is the Rescue Mission which the Emperor of the World had to embark on in Syria. You know how it is.


Did I use too little orange, or is it enough?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

At The Hanging Ground

Ritik’s mum didn’t want him to go and watch the hangings, of course, but his dad insisted.

“He has to go,” he said. “He needs to see what we had to do to win, and what we have to do now.”

“I don’t want him to go.” Ritik’s mum, as was right and proper, had almost never dared contradict her husband before, and flinched instinctively, in anticipation of a blow. But for once he didn’t raise his hand.

“Try to understand, Aba,” he said. “If he isn’t there, people will notice, and word gets around. We don’t want to draw attention at times like these.”

“My class teacher told us we have to write an essay on the hanging,” Ritik said.

Ritik’s mum, who of course had never learnt to read or write, lived in awe of education. She drew a shaky sigh and wiped her face with the hem of her grey dress. “All right,” she said, with a twist of the lips that might have been an attempt to smile. “If your teacher wants you to watch it, then of course you must watch it.”

“We’ve got to hurry,” Ritik’s dad said, as they left the house. “If we don’t get there in time we won’t be close enough to see anything.”

The street was already full of people, all walking towards the hanging ground. They were forced even closer because the street was not just narrow, it was filled with debris and wrecked vehicles. The burnt, overturned hulk of the lorry which had lain there for months and on which Ritik’s mother had forbidden him to play alone filled up half the street. Some girls, too young to be declared women and therefore still allowed some freedom, were standing on it, as though they could see as far as the hanging ground from atop the wreckage. One of them recognised Ritik and grinned.

“So you’re going to the hanging?” she squealed. “Lucky you!”

“Yes,” Ritik muttered. He was embarrassed at his father seeing him talking to a girl. Especially this girl, Sima, was by far the prettiest in the locality, as well as the boldest. It was well known, though nobody admitted it openly, that her parents were secretly teaching her to read and write.

Sima slid down the side of the wreck until her feet were on a level with Ritik’s eyes. Holding on with one hand to the broken stub of a rear view mirror, she leaned down towards him. “After you come back,” she said, “tell me what you saw. Tell me everything!”

“Now, Sima,” Ritik’s dad said, quite mildly. Sima’s father was important in the local self-government council and he couldn’t slap the girl as he wanted to. “Be careful, you’ll cut yourself. And we have to be going.”

“Yes, Uncle.” Sima grinned, her tongue showing between her missing front teeth. “Bye, Ritik, I’ll see you later.” Toes as prehensile as her fingers, she clambered back up, to take her place with the other girls.

“She’s going to be a problem later, when she’s a teenager,” Ritik’s dad muttered. His fingers dug into Ritik’s shoulders so hard that he winced. “Her parents don’t keep her under any control. Come on.”

As they came out of the maze of lanes and into the larger street, the crowd thickened, until there must have been thousands of people. They were, of course, all walking, because the vehicles had all been taken away and but for the government there was no fuel to be had. Policemen in khaki carrying long rifles loitered at corners and under the porticos of buildings, watching the crowd, but there was no disturbance. Nobody seemed angry, just anxious to get to the hanging ground in time. Ritik saw a couple of women peering from windows down at the crowd. One of them saw him looking at her and jerked back so quickly she seemed to disappear, like a pricked soap bubble or a magic trick.

“We’ll never get there in time,” Ritik groaned. His father didn’t say anything.

Just then there was a commotion. Policemen with sticks came past in a line, pushing people to the sides, clearing the middle of the street. Ritik heard the unfamiliar noise of engines, and saw a line of lorries approach. A great Aaah went up from the crowd.

“What are they?” Ritik asked, tugging at his father’s sleeve.

“The hanging,” Ritik’s father said. “They’re going to the hanging.”

Ritik stared, open-mouthed. The lorries were old and rust-streaked, their paint peeling, and their engines bled blue smoke, but it had been so long since he’d seen vehicles of any kind that they looked huge and fascinating. Soldiers in green-and-brown uniforms stood on them, looking down at the crowd with no expression on their faces.

Despite the best efforts of the policemen with sticks, the crowd ahead was so tightly packed that the lorries slowed down to a crawl, and eventually came to a stop. The first in line was just beside Ritik and his father. A soldier in the cabin, sitting beside the driver, leaned out of the window.

“Hey, you,” he said to Ritik’s dad. “Do you live around here? Can you tell us any short cuts to the hanging ground, without so many people?”

Ritik’s father scratched his moustache for a few seconds. “Well, if you take the first turn to the left, past the old Polytechnic institute, you’ll get into the lanes on that side. They’re relatively clear, and you’d probably get there faster than by the main road, but it’s a longer way round.”

“Do you know the way?” Without waiting for the answer the soldier opened the door and gestured impatiently to the seats behind him and the driver. “Right, get in, then, and show us.”

Even Ritik knew that when a soldier told you to do something, you did it at once. You might sometimes be able to cajole a policeman, but not a soldier. Without a word, his father pushed him into the cab and got in behind him.

“I hope it’s not going to take long,” the soldier said. His uniform smelt vaguely of lime and there were silver stars on his shoulders. He was older than the other soldiers in the lorries, older even than Ritik’s father. His hair and moustache were silver and grey. “We’re running late as it is.”

“It won’t, sir.” Ritik’s dad’s voice was more deferential than he’d ever heard it before. The line of lorries began grinding forward slowly. “Here, turn to the left.”

The lorry began to turn. The back seat was small and rather smelly, squeezed behind the driver’s and the other soldier’s seats, and Ritik twisted uncomfortably, trying to find space for his legs. The older soldier with the stars glanced at him over his shoulder.

“Your son, is he? Taking him to see the hanging?”

“Yes, sir. He’s seven.”

“A good age. Well, boy, are you eager to see the hanging?”

Ritik blinked stupidly, and only realised that he was meant to answer when his father gave his thigh a vicious pinch. “Yes,” he said. Another pinch. He blinked back tears, and then remembered what he was supposed to say. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Excellent. And because your father’s showing us the way, I’ll make sure you get a place in the front line. How’s that?”

“That’s good...” Ritik saw his father’s frown beginning. “Thank you, sir,” he added hastily.

The soldier wasn’t done. “Do you know why we’re going to hang them?”

Ritik glanced quickly at his father, but saw no way of escape. He remembered what the class teacher had said, and made them memorise and recite. “Because they’re criminals, sir. Because they want to destroy our society and make us like the animals.”

“That’s right. We can’t have them getting ideas about their station, do we?”

Ritik did not understand. “Sir?”

“Which way do I go?” the driver asked, speaking for the first time. He had a high, plaintive voice. “Right, or straight ahead?”

Both the silver star soldier and Ritik’s dad turned to look through the windscreen. “Right,” Ritik’s dad said. “There’s another turn just past this turning, to the left. And then...”

Relieved that their attention was off him, Ritik sat back, and wriggled again to find a more comfortable position. He ended up with his back to the window and facing his father. There was a pane of glass set into the back of the cabin, just at his right shoulder, and to avoid having to look at his father or the silver star soldier he turned his head to look through it at the back of the truck.

At first all he saw was the soldiers’ green and brown clad legs. In between them, lying on the lorry bed, was a bundle of blue and grey. He didn’t for a moment understand what it was, and then he noticed the pale oval of the face, framed by dark hair. The woman was sitting with her back propped up against a box, facing the front of the lorry.

Ritik was so astonished at seeing a woman in a lorry that for a few moments he seriously considered drawing his father’s attention to ask him who she was. Then he noticed that her ankles were tied together, and her arms were behind her back, and then he understood what she was there for.

“Nasty, isn’t she?” It was the silver star soldier speaking, behind Ritik’s left ear. Leaning over the back of his seat, he pointed with a calloused finger. “Just look at that face.”

Ritik looked at the face. She was a young woman, he realised, probably not even as old as Sima’s mother, who was very young. She was also very pretty, though her face was pale and there was a smudge of dirt on her cheek. Her black eyes, wide open, stared at Ritik but seemed to see him not at all.

“What’s she done?” he wanted to ask, but didn’t. The silver star soldier acted as though he’d asked anyway.

“She’s one of the worst,” he said. “She organised resistance groups and ran a network of arms to the old government’s supporters. And apart from that she refused to obey the laws. Just like the others. Some of them were running schools for girls.”

“Schools for girls,” Ritik’s dad repeated. He sounded tired. “What next, giving jobs to women?”

“That’s what they want, don’t they?” The silver star soldier pointed again. “That’s the face of the enemy, my boy. Look at her properly, so you know the type next time.”

Ritik didn’t really understand, but looked. Something strange happened. The soldiers’ legs seemed to melt away into a greenish blur at the edges of his vision; he could only see the woman, and then, even her body melted away. He was looking into her face, and her eyes, which were so wide and dark and unblinking. He suddenly felt quite certain that she was so terrified that she couldn’t even blink, let alone move.

“It’s all right,” he wanted to say, the way his mum told him if he fell down and skinned his knee. “It’s all right.” Only it was not all right, and it wouldn’t be. And he couldn’t say it aloud, anyway.

There was a wrenching feeling, and suddenly he felt himself in her body, looking through her eyes. Her body felt uncomfortable and new, too large and bulging in the wrong places. And he couldn’t feel her hands and feet, which had gone numb because the ropes were so tight.

He tried to say something, but couldn’t move her lips. All he could feel was her fear, flapping like a trapped bird inside her head, tearing with metal beaks and claws at the back of her skull to set itself free.

“Please,” he wanted to shout. “Don’t be so afraid. Please, I’m here.” Only he wasn’t, not really, and the fear didn’t stop flapping at all.

Dimly, he heard his father giving more instructions, and then with a jerk the lorry stopped. He found himself back in his body, so suddenly that he almost fell off the narrow seat. His father’s hand steadied him.

“We’re here,” he said. “We’ve to get down now.”

The silver star soldier was already down on the ground, pointing at people and giving orders. He glanced round at Ritik and his father as though surprised to see them there.

“Oh, you two,” he said. “Go stand over there, just this side of the rope line. You’ll get a good view.”

The ropes were strung up on short poles, and there were already a lot of people on the other side. They watched Ritik and his dad curiously. He could feel them talking about him. Someone shouted and pointed. It was a familiar voice, a boy from school. Ritik waved at him self-consciously.

“Here come the other lorries,” Ritik’s father said, pointing. The rest of the line of lorries emerged one by one from the lanes, six, eight, nine, until ten had followed the one he and his father had arrived on. The drivers turned them and moved them back and forth until they were all in a line, side by side. Behind them was a long wooden bar, held up on posts. It looked like the framework of a wall of a house being built for a giant.

“What are they doing that for?” Ritik asked, and then he understood. The soldiers in the backs of the lorries had lowered the tailgates. Now they began looping rope over the top bar, one rope for each lorry. Other soldiers dragged boxes to the edges of the tailgates, like the box on which the woman he’d seen had been leaning. Then, one by one, they hoisted bound figures on to the boxes.

They were all women, of course. Ritik couldn’t see all their faces, but he could see they were all ages. Some were white-haired and dressed in traditional clothes, and some even younger than his young woman, who was closest. She looked straight ahead without moving, even when a soldier climbed on the box behind her to loop a noose over her head.

People were pushing and jostling, so that the rope barrier bulged, and seemed about to topple over. The silver star soldier strode angrily back, gesturing and shouting. The crowd’s noise fell to a low mutter and the pushing eased.

Ritik hardly noticed. He was staring at his young woman, trying to will himself into her head again, to see what she was seeing, to find out if she was any less afraid. He balled his fists, trying desperately to get into her again, but it didn’t happen. He was still trying when the lorry engine burst into life and the vehicle moved off.

Things began to happen in slow motion. For a moment the woman moved with the lorry, and then she seemed to lean forward and fell off it. The rope around her neck caught her before her feet could touch the ground, and Ritik heard a faint snap. Her bound legs slowly bent at the knee, rose, and straightened again. Her head twisted towards one shoulder, she swung round and round.

She was just the first One by one the other lorries began driving away, the women dropping one by one. Most of them fell like his young woman, but one or two bobbed and twitched and kicked.

The crowd roared, the noise washing over like the waves of the sea. It was a roar of approval. Ritik could tell that because the silver star soldier was grinning and waving. The lorries had stopped a short distance away, and the soldiers began unloading the boxes.

“They’ll be cutting them down and stuffing them into the coffins now,” Ritik heard someone say, close by in the crowd on the other side of the barrier.

“It was too easy for most of them, if you ask me,” someone else replied. “They broke their necks instead of hanging them properly. It’s just the two of them over there who got what they deserve.” The two figures were still twitching and kicking spasmodically. Little by little, the kicking stopped, and then they were just swinging like the others.

The silver star soldier, who Ritik decided must be an officer, came back up to Ritik and his father. He seemed in a very good mood now, his face split by an enormous smile. “Got a good look, eh?” he said, clapping Ritik on the shoulder. “Want a closer look, do you? Go on, then.”

“Go on,” his father repeated, pushing him forward. Ritik walked forward until he was looking up at his young woman. Her eyes were closed now, and there was blood still trickling round her neck. Her feet, like Sima’s earlier, were on a level with his eyes. Somehow, one of her shoes had come off as she’d fallen, and her big toe was poking through a hole in the sock. The toenail was painted dark red. It was the first time Ritik had seen nail polish. He wanted to touch the toenail, to see if the polish would rub off.

“Ritik,” his father called. “Go and look at the others.”

Ritik nodded, and turned away from his young woman for the last time. He wondered if the bird with the metal beak and claws had fought its way free, and where it had escaped.

Once more, he tried to get into her head, but of course now he could feel nothing there at all.

**************************************************

There’s your friend,” his father said, as they walked into their lane. “You tell her what’s done to bad women, so she doesn’t end the same way. And then come in. Your mother will have dinner ready.”

“She’s not my friend,” Ritik muttered, but his father had already walked off ahead. Sima jumped off the wrecked lorry and came over. She was eating an apple, and juice ran down her chin. Ritik’s stomach growled with hunger at the sight. It had been at least a year since he’d last seen an apple.

“Well?” she demanded. “What was it like? Did you get a good look?”

“Yes,” Ritik said. “I got a good look.”

“Tell me, then,” Sima said. She stamped a bare foot. “I’ve been waiting and waiting.”

“It’s not interesting,” Ritik said. “You wouldn’t like it.”

“Go on,” Sima said, and brought out another apple from the pocket of her dress. “Tell me. Do you want this? I’ll give you this if you tell me.”

“Yes, well, thanks,” Ritik said, and took the apple.

Its juice filled his mouth with tart freshness, and he wondered for a fleeting moment when his woman had last eaten an apple, and whether in her last moments she’d focussed on that memory, thought about nothing but that at all.

"Boys have all the fun," Sima said.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2017



   Note to reader: This story is based upon, and written to exorcise, last night’s dream.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Current Affairs In Cartoons. Plus one more.

As I Was Going To St Ives



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CЯEATUЯE FEATUЯE



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Interview With A Vampire



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Sarin For The Interruption



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Crash


Nightsglow

There is an imp which lives in the corner of my room, just below the ceiling.

By day, or even in the evening, it’s invisible. It is only at midnight, when I leave the bed, that it can be seen, a clot of pure liquid darkness, with rows of thousands of tiny teeth, like stars.

I do not think the imp wants to be seen. I think it is frightened of me.

Silently, then, I leave the room, ignoring it. At this hour of night, the world blazes with light, incandescent blues and greens and violets. The sky overhead is a white sheet sprinkled with black stars.

The stairs are cold and sharp, each step like a knife to my feet. I dislike the stairs; the walls are full of faces, distorted and smeared. They always look as though they want to shout out for help, but can only gibber and mouth silently. I don’t know what they are; the memories of passions, perhaps, trapped in the walls of the stairs. I pass them by, quickly, without looking at them.

The road is a river of shining silver light, in which parked cars are half-submerged dark humps, like rocks. The silver light usually submerges me up to the knees, but in recent days it has been creeping higher. Today it is nearly to my hips. Perhaps one day it will cover me.

Something long and smoke-grey, with dull red glowing eyes, follows me, swimming half-submerged in the silvery light. It follows me every night, as close as it can get, but it cannot harm me, not yet. Not as long as I’m clothed in skin and bone, blood and muscle; it is a predator, yes; I have seen it feed, more than once. But it can feed only on things not of flesh, on the creatures of the night.

Tonight I’m headed down to the river. I can feel it calling, a call just below the threshold of hearing, like a pull at my nerves. A few people, hunched shadows, walk past me up the street, hurrying home from late shifts, wading through the silver light without seeing it. They don’t look at me, and the thing that follows at my heels ignores them completely.

The river is dark and light by turns, speckled and surging with patterns that I can feel all the way from the top of the slope. There is something there, in the water, something that I have not yet seen, but which I know is there. The thing behind me knows it, too, and begins to lag behind. Finally it turns away and disappears. The thing in the river frightens even it.

The bridge across the river is a glowing golden thread, almost too bright to look upon. Grey curdled shadows punctuate both sides, imps or ghosts or something else altogether, I have never been able to tell. They never change position, never react to anything. More than once I have passed my hand through one of them. It was like trying to catch hold of smoke.

She’s almost at the far end of the bridge, standing looking down at the water. I see her from halfway along the span, and I know it’s she who’s been calling me, summoning me. Her hair is  loose around her face, and the garment she wears falls down from her shoulders to disappear into the golden glow around her feet.

She doesn’t look around when I come up, but she knows I’m there. I can see her shoulders stiffen, her hands curl into fists. She’s called me, summoned me here, but she’s not happy to see me. She is terrified.

I have no idea who she is. I have never before been at night with someone who would talk to me, who knows what I am. I do not know what to do.

I stand beside her for a while, not speaking. She’s close enough to touch, and I want to touch her, to confirm that she’s real, solid and corporeal, but I know I can’t, I shouldn’t. She’s almost vibrating with the tension of knowing I’m there, and that she can’t do anything about it.

There’s nobody else on the bridge, no vehicles or people, or a patrolling policeman. If there were, we would probably have looked like lovers watching the stars on the water. But lovers do not stand like this, one not knowing why he has been called, the other terrified of what she has summoned.

Finally, she breaks the silence. “Why are you here?” Her voice is something that I hear with my ears, but at the same time feel inside my head.

“You called me here,” I reply, feeling stupid. “You don’t know why?”

“I didn’t call you, but I knew you were coming. Maybe we’ll find out why.” She still won’t look at me, and her face, shrouded by her hair, is still invisible. “I have been waiting.”

“For me?”

“No, not for you.” She holds out her hands, and I see the blood crawling down her wrists, drops as black as the stars prickling the glowing sky. The blood drips into the golden glow and vanishes. “That is what I am waiting for,” she says. “The blood to stop dripping. But it’s taking a long tome.”

My mouth moves. “How long?”

“Months, maybe,” she says. “I don’t know. I have been bleeding months, and months, and months.”

“What do you think I am here to do?” I look around, feeling helpless, but there’s nobody else, nobody to help. And even if there were, what could they do? Even I can tell that it isn’t blood anyone can see.

She says nothing, just holds her hands out further, past the railings and over the water, and squeezes her fists. The blood stops coming in drops and runs down her arms in two little trickles, tributaries joining the speckled water below.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

At last she replies. “Giving. Feeding. You’ll see.”

Something rises from the water of the river. I have an impression of an immensely long neck, a gaping mouth studded with needle teeth, and two vast eyes as blind and hungry as the gulfs of space. It rears into the air until it towers over the bridge, over us, and before I can even move, it darts forward like a striking snake, taking her blood out of the air before the drops can even strike the water. For a moment it looks up at us, its blind eyes filled with endless hunger. Then it is gone.

I cannot bring myself to speak.

“That was my son,” she says at last. “He drowned last year, down there. He was three years old.”

Then, at last, she turns to me, raising the hair away from her face. We look at each other.

“I know now why you came,” she says. “You came because I wanted you to see. I needed you to see. What you have done.”

“I...I didn’t drown him.”

“But he wouldn’t have been alive but for you. And I wouldn’t be feeding him...and feeding him... and it never stops. Do you understand? It never stops.”

I move, my hand rising slightly. She backs away, a flash of panic in her eyes.

“Don’t touch me,” she says. “Don’t touch me.”

Then she turns and walks away, down from the bridge and away into the glowing city across the river, and I stand there and watch her go.

The stars are black and the sky is white, and the city is full of lights, and the shadows play as the cold eats my bones.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2017

Monday, 3 April 2017

Blood and Pain and Suffering

As you all know, I enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on helpless victims, which include the pain and suffering I inflict on you all by forcing you to look at my handiwork.

Yes, I am a cruel sadist. Why on earth do you imagine I’m called Bill the Butcher? Huh?

All right, this 35 year old lady arrived with tooth pain in the lower right jaw. As you can see in this photo, there was an almost completely submerged wisdom tooth buried in the gum, with only the tip of one cusp showing.




I took an X Ray, which revealed a vertical impaction, in which the tooth is vertically embedded in the bone and gum. It’s quite a rare form of impaction, actually, and vertically impacted teeth are surprisingly hard to extract because they’re very difficult to loosen in the socket.



So I anesthetised her and started the job. Here you can see a periosteal elevator being used to detach the gum from around the tooth.



Then, with a Number 15 Bard Parker Knife, I cut a flap in the gum to expose the bone and as much of the crown of the tooth as possible. Here you can see the flap, somewhat obscured by already coagulating blood.



The tooth was mostly deeply embedded in the bone, with no way to grasp it with a pair of extraction forceps, so I cut a gutter in the bone around the crown, with a tungsten carbide bur mounted in a straight airotor handpiece.



Here you can see the gutter clearly, between the tooth and the jawbone.






This permitted me to introduce an Apexolever elevator between the tooth and the bone, and lever it  out of the jaw.





However, it did leave a gaping open socket...



...which I closed with a single black silk suture.




Any questions? Apartfrom asking me why the hell I inflict these on you, I mean?


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Godmonster


There is a message on my desk, scribbled on a piece of thick paper. A boy has brought it to me, saying that it had been left, he does not know by whom. I have read it, and I will read it again.

But first I look towards the window, and the years melt away, as I let the memories play out again before me.

**************************************************

The Lord Kalkar turned back from the window and looked at me. “The beast marches,” he said.

I noticed that he did not use the official term. “The Godmonster, my Lord?” I said, to remind him.

He snorted. “The beast.  Call it what you will, it’s still a beast. I’ll grant you the monster part, though.”

I suppressed the urge to look over my shoulder. Even the Lord’s castle undoubtedly crawled with spies, and he must have known it as well as I did. I could only imagine that he thought it no longer mattered. “You were saying?” I murmured.

“You heard me,” he said, glancing at me sharply. “I have just received a message from....a source. The beast is on the march.”

“And it’s coming this way,” I said. If the Godmonster – I could not risk even thinking of it otherwise, because thoughts could be dangerous – if the Godmonster had been going in any other direction, the Lord would never have mentioned it. “How fast is it moving?”

“Not very fast, of course. Something that size can’t move very fast. It will take a few weeks to get here. But get here it will.” The Lord laughed, a short harsh bark. “It seems as though adopting the One True Faith of the Godmonster has not done a thing to protect us.”

“The priests...” I began.

“Have the priests ever achieved anything?” the Lord demanded. “Tell me that. Have they ever done a single damned thing that helped anyone but themselves?”

I kept prudently silent. The Lord came back to the table and picked up the goblet, looked into it, and seemed surprised to find it empty. I realised that he was more than a little tipsy. “So, can you guess what I want you to do?”

“Organise the evacuation?” I hazarded. “Where do you plan to evacuate, Lord? Your estates to the south have been taken over by the priests. The Western farmland has been fallow for years, and...”

“Evacuation?” Kalkar almost spat. He threw down the goblet on the floor. It bounced. “Look at that,” he said, with grim satisfaction. “I can’t even break a goblet anymore.”

“The floor’s wood,” I pointed out, “and what’s more, you’ve got a carpet on it.”

He glared at me. “I was saying,” he replied, biting off the words with his teeth, “that there won’t be any evacuation. We aren’t going anywhere.”

“But the Godmonster will be here in a few weeks,” I pointed out, “and then there won’t be a thing to be done. If we don’t evacuate we’ll be...”

He didn’t let me finish. “We won’t let it get here, then,” he snapped. “We’ll stop it. Somehow.”

I had a sudden lurching feeling inside me, as though my intestines had been removed. “Who is this we, Lord?”

“You and I.” He glared at me so fiercely I almost felt my eyebrows turning into ash and smelly smoke. “Who else?”

I looked around. There was nobody else. Everyone else had prudently kept out of sight. “Er...”

“Er, what?” His hand moved over the table, looking for something else to throw. The only thing on the table was a heavy jewelled dagger. His fingers twitched towards it. “Er, what?”

“I was going to say, of course, Lord,” I said, trying not to gabble. “When do we start?”

“Now, of course.” The Lord thrust his beard at me. “Any objections?”

There were so many that my mind jammed trying to sort them out. “No, Lord,” my mouth said, for no reason I could think of. “None at all.”

**************************************************

The new metal studded leather armour that is all the rage these days may be tough, but it’s rigid and immensely uncomfortable. I’d have much preferred the old chain mail, but the Lord waved away my objections.

“The beast will cook you in chain mail,” he’d said, thrusting the immense helmet into my hands. The weight made my shoulders slump. “Put that on.”

The Godmonster would cook us anyway, but I knew enough not to say that. Without wasting any further breath, I’d put it on.

Now the sweat was trickling down my back and stinging salt in my eyes; and the helmet seemed determined to tilt forward over my face until it rested on my chest. Wearily, I pushed it up again. “Lord?”

“Yes?” he was riding just to my right, but I couldn’t see far enough to the side out of the vision slit of the helmet to catch sight of anything more than the tip of his horse’s nose. It made it easier to talk though I couldn’t watch his reactions. “What is it?”

“You know the priests said the Godmonster’s will can’t be defied, and it’s heresy and death to do so,” I said. “So, even if we succeed, we still aren’t out of trouble. In fact, we’re deeper in it.”

He snorted, as loudly as the horses. “The priests will change their tune as soon as they see who’s got the upper hand. The God...the beast is just a way for them to cow people into submission. Once we beat it, nobody will be afraid of it anymore...or of the priests.”

And that was precisely why they’d do anything to stop that happening, I thought, but knew well enough not to say anything.

“Lord,” I ventured, instead. “What is the Godmonster?” 

“What is...” he repeated, his voice so filled with astonishment that I heard the surprise over the noise of our horses’ hooves. “Oh, of course, you have never seen the beast, or even heard of it from any source other than the tales of the priests. It’s only a few of us who have ever laid eyes on it, and fewer still who have read the old archives. I am perhaps the only one still alive, outside the priesthood, who has done both. And,” he added with gloomy satisfaction, “nobody can do that anymore. The High Priest Kandar ordered all the archives destroyed, ten years ago.”

I didn’t care about the archives. “You’ve seen the Godmonster?” I asked. “Actually seen it?”

“Once,” he said, “and long ago, when I was only a little older than a boy. I accompanied the Lord Pachar’s Army of Heretics in its expedition against the beast. You know what happened to that army?”

“They say,” I swallowed. “They say the Godmonster ate it.”

“Ate it?” He had drawn ahead a little, enough so that I could see him cock his head to one side in the familiar gesture whenever he was giving something thought. “Yes, I suppose you could say it ate the army, in a manner of speaking. Actually, what happened to the army we never knew, because it just vanished into the beast’s flame and smoke, and never came out again. Only the rearguard was left...and I was part of that rearguard.”

“I thought the rearguard was eaten, too.”

“Oh yes, the fool who was the Captain of the Guard ordered it into battle, to rescue the army he said. Fortunately, a few of us right at the back had enough sense to realise that if the beast had destroyed the main force, the rearguard couldn’t do a thing. So we just...failed to charge along with them.”

We rode for a while longer before I spoke next. “What is the Godmonster like? Is it as terrible as they say?”

“Worse. Much, much worse.” He turned his heavy helmet enough to look round at me. “That’s why I’m not raising an army to fight the beast. It would just be wiped out, again.”

“Then what are the two of us going to do, Lord?” I asked.

“I have ideas,” he said. “Don’t forget, I’ve three advantages over anyone else. First, I’ve seen the beast with my own eyes. Secondly, I’ve read the archives, and I know more about it than most people do. And the third advantage I have is the most important of all.”

He waited for the question. I waited longer. He waited some more. Through the vision slit of the helmet I saw a substantial town in the distance. He turned his horse towards it.

“That’s Mankhlar,” he said. “I’ve got some work to do there, so I might as well get it over with. Meanwhile, keep your ears open, but make sure you don’t believe anything anyone says that comes from the priests.”

I gave in. “What’s the third advantage, Lord?”

“I just told you. Unlike you, and everyone else, I don’t believe a word the priests tell me. Not one single, solitary word.”

I watched the walls of the town come closer. “Should we use false names, Lord? In case the priests try to stop us?”

“Why would they?” he flung back over his shoulder, urging his horse into a gallop. “They’ll be happy if we get roasted to a cinder. It’ll make an example of us. So why should the priests bother?”

On that cheery note, we drew to the city gates, so I said nothing more.

**************************************************

There are rumours, that’s all,” I said the next morning, leaning forward in the saddle to ease my aching back. The mattress on which I’d had the misfortune to spend the night seemed to have been stuffed with several large and craggy rocks. I don’t know where Kalkar had spent the night; he’d met me as I was just finishing the inn’s inadequate breakfast, with a satisfied expression on his face. “People have heard that the Godmonster is moving, but they don’t know which way, and the priests are telling them...”

“...that it won’t come this way if they visit the temple and donate money and gold,” the Lord said. “Just as they always do. And when the beast appears on the horizon, heading towards the town, they’ll say the people need to pray harder...and pay harder, too.”

“Lord,” I said, “about those archives. You said they had information about the Godmonster.”

“So I did.” The Lord had been riding slightly ahead, but he slowed down enough so that we were side by side. Today I’d prevailed on him enough to be allowed to not wear the heavy helmet, which now hung from the back of the saddle. His was slung over his back by leather thongs. “You know the standard dogma of the priests about the beast, I imagine?

“That it’s the High God himself, who has always lived among us, and punishes those who transgress his laws? Of course.”

“Would it surprise you to learn that the beast only appeared a little more than a thousand years ago? And that the tale the priests tell now is something they decided among themselves, a few hundred years after that. The Priesthood itself was built out of several competing priesthoods, each of which had its own story.”

“And what was the real story?” I asked.

He shrugged so his shoulder plates clanked. “You know those ruins we keep digging up, and which the priests demand we cover up again? The world was a different place then. There was no priesthood to rule over everything. Instead, there were competing tribal entities, called nations and kingdoms, which kept quarrelling over resources and territory.”

“That sounds fairly primitive,” I said.

“Primitive?” He considered the idea. “No, not really. Not in the way you mean. In some ways it was a far more advanced society than ours, with much greater weapons. And they had tremendous wars, of a ferocity we can’t even imagine now.

“From what I read, their weapons had advanced to the point where they had the ability to destroy everything. And the two biggest nations of the time were in a confrontation, heading steadily towards a war that everyone knew was coming but seemed to be unable to prevent.

“And then it was that the Godmonster appeared. There was a gap in the archives at that point – I rather think some earlier priest had decided that something needed to be removed – so I don’t know exactly how it appeared. There are hints that it fell from the sky in a storm of fire and darkness. And as it fell, it totally destroyed one of those two nations in its fall.”

“Didn’t the other...” I began.

“Oh of course it did. Of course it tried to turn the beast into a weapon. And when that failed, it attacked the thing. With all those world destroying weapons, you know.”

“What happened, Lord?”

“What do you think happened? The beast is still here, but that country isn’t.”

“And the priesthood sprung up then? I mean, the priesthoods?”

“Not at once, no. What happened was a period of warfare among all the other nations. The beast started walking across the world, destroying everything...well, you know that...and those countries that lay in its path attacked countries that didn’t, so as to take over their territories and become countries that the beast wouldn’t destroy. The beast walked a lot more back then, and faster than it does now. So in not very long most of the countries were at war, and the amount of weapons being used meant that though the big two weren’t around anymore, the rest could still easily eradicate the world among themselves.

“And now I’m going to tell you where the idea that the beast is a god first came up. There was a man then, who was a little cleverer than the rest and also perhaps also spoke with a little louder voice. He declared that the beast was a judge, which had found the nations wanting, and was merely delivering verdict and punishment. And it would, of course, merely destroy the evil and help the good.” He laughed so loudly that his horse cocked its head uneasily. “Just like gods have always chosen the good over the evil throughout history. Anyone who wins was helped by a god, and the god helped him because he was good and the other one was evil, right?”

I wisely chose not to say anything.

“This man’s name was Mzibanga. I’ve seen a picture of him; he was past middle age, and quite thin and small. You wouldn’t expect someone as insignificant looking as that to come up with such an idea, still less get anyone else to accept it.

“This is what Mzibanga said. If the beast continued its rampage across the world, it would inevitably destroy it all, even if it did not mean to, because of the constant warfare that broke out before and around it. Even the good would suffer and die, not just the bad. There was only one way to solve the problem.” He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “Guess.”

When Lord Kalkar asked you to guess, he was issuing an order and you were not at liberty to take it lightly. “If I were this Mzibanga,” I said, wheels spinning hard in my head, “I’d try to get everyone to stop fighting. And if they wouldn’t...”

“They wouldn’t.”

“No, they wouldn’t, would they. Because the Godmonster would destroy their countries as it kept marching.” I risked a couple of moments for thought. “Then, I suppose, there is only one solution. But he must have been a truly remarkable man if he could have got them to agree.”

“And that solution is?”

“To bring their armies to the Godmonster, of course.” He grinned and nodded encouragingly, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “If the Godmonster destroyed one army, that would have been the evil side, and the other would have won. If both armies were destroyed, then both sides were evil. But if neither was...”

“Never, not once, did the beast leave both armies alone. Generally it wiped out both, but usually a few stragglers from one or the other army survived. And those few would be declared the good side, and that was all.” He snorted. “And now that its food was coming to it, it didn’t need to waste its energies moving around, so it hardly moved at all. Mzibanga had foreseen that, too.”

“And he was the first High Priest, of course?” I asked.

“No, he wasn’t. They lynched him.”

“Huh?”

“He was stupid. Once the beast had stopped moving, he dared say that the evil had gone from the world and that the remaining countries, such as were left, were all good and should try to live with each other.” The Lord snorted so loudly that his beard shook. “Not so clever after all.”

“And after that the priests started?”

“And after that the priests started. Some of them began cementing their hold on power by feeding anyone they didn’t like to the beast.”

“You mean, heretics?”

“So called heretics. Anyone whose property the priests wanted was a heretic. If you knew what was good for you, you’d give the priests what they wanted at once, before they took it by force.”

I didn’t look at him. We both knew he was talking about his southern estates. “What do you think the Godmonster really is, Lord? A real beast?”

“If it is, it certainly is a long-lived one, and one of a kind.” He laughed. “Not to speak of being bigger than a mountain range. What do you think it is?”

I chose not to answer that. “But if weapons that could destroy the world failed, how can the two of us stop it?”

“I told you, I have ideas. Think about what I told you about the archives, and you’ll understand.”

For the rest of the day I thought about it, and still I did not understand.

**************************************************

The town of Sutank was in turmoil. We’d arrived after dark, but even before we’d entered we’d known things were not as usual. There was the noise of shouting crowds, and flickering lights on the walls of the buildings lining the mean streets. Kalkar reined in his horse and sat watching for a while before accosting someone.

“You. What’s going on?”

The man was weedy and small, but laden down with a huge bundle, and at first didn’t even deign to look up. The Lord was having none of that.

“I asked you, fellow, what is going on,” he said sharply. “Answer me.”

He still looked as though he might refuse, and then he noticed the Lord’s red-and-black colours. His face filled with alarm. “Pardon me,” he said. “I didn’t mean anything.”

“You didn’t, that’s all right. But answer my question.”
   
“They say...” The man’s larynx bobbed up and down in his throat. “They say the Godmonster will be here by tomorrow. And then everything will be burnt.”

“Who says...” I began, but the Lord raised a hand, and I snapped my mouth shut, as one does when the Lord raises his hand. But he continued raising his hand, and pointed up over the roofs of the city. I followed the pointing finger.

The sky was red. For a moment I thought it was the torches and lamps in the streets, but then I noticed that it came from beyond the city, from past the hills we’d seen in the last light, twilight-shrouded in the distance. The Lord glanced at me. “It marches,” he said. “It marches much faster than I’d expected.”

“How far is it, Lord?” My mouth had gone very dry.

The Lord shrugged. The man whom he’d been interrogating had taken advantage of his distraction to disappear, and he didn’t seem inclined to stop anyone else. “It’s not close enough to be here by tomorrow,” he said, “but it’ll be here in a day or two after that. Well, come on, let’s go.”

“Lord? Go where?”

“To this Godmonster of yours, of course. Do you really think we’re going to find any shelter here? If we ride all night, we can reach it by midmorning.”

We turned our horses away from the city. On the way back out we saw a priest surrounded by a throng of people. Some were imploring him to do something, while others looked as though they’d love to tear him to pieces.

The Lord took no notice of any of them at all.

**************************************************

The morning came with skies so grey that I thought they were thick with cloud. But the rain that fell from them was black and grainy. I picked a piece off my armour and looked at it. It was a charred leaf, wisps of smoke still drifting from the edges.

“Lord,” I asked, “why is the Godmonster marching? Hasn’t it been standing in one place for a long time? Isn’t it being fed enough?”

His answer was brief. “I told you, think about it.”

We had been climbing the slopes since the early hours of the morning. The horses, tired, could not go faster than a walk, and the Lord didn’t force them to. The smoke in the sky ahead of us was sullen with red, and once or twice it parted to show the slopes of yet more rocky mountains beyond, higher and far more daunting. I wondered how the Lord expected the horses to climb those.

There was something else, a noise, like the wind rubbing sand grains together. At first it was so faint that I thought I was merely imagining it, but it grew louder and louder until it seemed to fill the world.

“What is that sound?” I asked at last.

Kalkar didn’t bother to look round at me. “The beast’s breathing,” he said shortly.

Then we came to the crest of the ridge, and I saw the mountain beyond for the first time. Only, it wasn’t a mountain.

It was the Godmonster.

It loomed from out of the smoke like a wall of rock that touched the sky, pierced it, cut it into pieces, and set the pieces on fire. It breathed, and the breath was a roar, and the roar was a current of flame that licked the ground to incandescent rock. It moved, and the world seemed to tilt and the sky break into a million splinters around its flanks. It raised one tremendous leg, and the leg was a pillar of rock, which ended in a scythe, and where it fell, the earth parted like water. Its face was an eyeless expanse, and yet it looked at us, and it saw us, and in its sight, I knew, there was neither pity nor mercy.

“Lord...” I did not know whether I spoke to Kalkar or the Godmonster. My companion did not even glance around, so I tried again.

“What are we going to do?” I asked. “It could put down one of its legs and split this hill in two!”

“It can, of course. In fact, it most certainly intends to do so. But I’m going to stop it. Are you with me?”

“Lord...” I licked my lips. “Yes, Lord.”

“I didn’t expect anything else.” He motioned towards my helmet and pulled his on. We urged the horses forward and down the slope, the Lord leading us towards the side, to one of the immense legs.

As we came closer, the air became thick, as though we were pushing our way through water, and so hot that each breath felt as though it would burn our nostrils. The Godmonster loomed above us, closer now, its fire breath turning trees and glass to cinders. The horses slowed and stumbled.

“Leave them,” the Lord said, dismounting. “We’ll go on foot from here.”

I looked up. Through the vision slit of my helmet the front edge of the Godmonster’s  head was a boulder that filled the sky, poised to come smashing down. “What are we going to do, Lord?”

“Follow me.” The Lord paused long enough to watch the horses cantering to safety, and beckoned.

“We can’t fight it,” I said. It was so obvious that it barely needed saying. “There is no way it can be fought.”

“Fight it? Did I ever say I would fight it?”

“What is it, Lord?” We were almost at the leg. Close to, it was extremely rough and craggy. “What is this thing?”

“It’s a machine, of course.” Kalkar’s voice was filled with excitement. “Didn’t you realise it yet? It’s a machine that someone unleashed to stop the nations from wrecking the world. Whoever built it, this is a machine – and I intend to take control of it.”

“You are?”

“How else do you suppose I can turn it aside? Of course I’m going to take control of it. And once that’s done...” He said something more, but I could not hear it.

“How are you going to...” I began.

He was already running towards the leg. “Help me,” he shouted. “Push me up.”

I did. He scrambled up the rough, stony surface, his fingers clutching at crevices, his boots striking sparks. Clambering up to the first joint, he turned and motioned down at me to follow.

I was still hesitating, and I hesitated just too long.

Slowly, slowly, the leg rose. It tore out of the ground in a cloud of earth and broken stone. It rose and rose, ponderous and inevitable as doom, the great claw at the end sweeping towards me. It was hypnotic, inevitable, a scythe that would remove my head from my shoulders as surely as an axe. I watched it come, unable to move until the very last moment when a shout from above broke through my paralysis. Then I threw myself aside, but the tip struck my helmet. It was just a breath of a touch, but everything disappeared into a black pit.

When I regained consciousness, I was looking up at a patch of blue sky. The smoke still eddied, but above me had begun to clear. My helmet had been ripped off my head. I did not look for it.

Away to the left, I could see the Godmonster. It was moving, but not towards the hills. It was moving away from me.

**************************************************

I have never seen the Lord Kalkar again, but I don’t need to.

Word comes in from all over. The acolytes at the temples whisper of it, the merchants speak  about it while looking over their shoulders, careful of who might hear. In the markets, in between deals, the shopkeepers and their customers huddle to discuss the latest rumours. The priesthood’s men at arms do not try to break them up; there is nothing they can do.

The priesthood, too, is a shattered shell. Its landholdings tremble, its temples are now deserted. The Lord Kalkar had spread his gold wide and well, as at Mankhlar; when the Godmonster had turned aside, everyone knew whom to praise, and it was not the priests.

And I now know what Kalkar had said, the last words he’d spoken as he’d scrambled up the Godmonster’s rocky hide. He’d said that when one god was overthrown, another would take his place. He’d known which god that would be.

And he’d wanted to share it with me.

I sit at my window, and I listen to the reports of the Godmonster. And I wonder if I’d gone up with him, if I’d have tried to stop him.

**************************************************

I turn back to the paper on my desk. The writing is familiar. I’d spent many years reading it.

“Time passes,” it says, “and absolute power is lonely. I think I will pay you a visit. If you join me, I will be pleased. If you do not, I have no great interest in what once mattered to me. I will be there soon.

“Chances normally come only once, and for you this is the second time. It will not come again.”

There is no salutation or signature. There does not need to be.

I turn and look out of the window again, at the estate with its gardens and its fields, the place I have grown to think almost as my own. It does not mean anything now, not anymore.

So he will come, and I will be given the chance to be a god again. Or I will be destroyed, and all this along with it.

I look out of the window, and I remember the Godmonster, and what it felt like to look up at it, and be terrified. Will I, can I, become a god? Do I even want to?

The worst of it is, I have no answer. I simply do not know.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2017



Note to reader: Back on Multiply, I and a lot of others used to belong to writing groups which posted photos on which one was supposed to write stories. After Multiply closed, I fell out of the habit of writing to prompts; in fact, when I came across this picture on the net, I found it incredibly difficult to write to it, while I'd once have devoured the chance in an evening. Anyone who would like me to start writing to prompts once in a while, please link to photos in the comments.