At the back of the zoo, in the magic forest, once a year in deep night, the pagan deities are resurrected, painted faces & spooky howling, primal yelps, very good, it’s a start, it’s not enough. The zoo is full of highlights, for example, the invisible hippos, complete with diving boards and lifeguards, but no hippos, the hippos are in hiding. Also the sleeping lion, you can sit on the still warm bench and imagine the lion. The bees, however, in full force, non-invisible, landing on creamy mountains of ice cream.
They never thought they’d get there, the sausages, yes, the markets and bus spumes, no you don’t know till you get there. His new hiking boots were forming a blister, per usual, and squeezing off blood to the ankles, but when you loosened them, you got the stiff toe, so it was blood squeezed ankles or stiff toes, it depends on the day. A man, rounded in various places, stuck his hand under the table, a little tinfoil, perfumed and crumbly, a small mound. They crumbled and divided and sat at the spot, all the wooden tables, lots of them, like an outdoor school cafeteria. The children, or rather teenagers, herded, per usual, but also droopy eyed. Across the street, water at tourist prices, lots of mopeds and people with slicked hair. Edgy, after the pickup, they walk down the narrow street, single file, the buzzing motorbikes, and, in the square, a giant float, colourful but also sombre, hardened wood, a virgin, but that was before, just a woman, glorious. They scan the horizon, see and discount, see and discount. Someone edges closer, but then they remember, in the cities, people who drive don’t wear backpacks, no go, they have something to say, they were thinking then they stopped.
They walk across the bridge, major swish of freeway below, up ahead, two fluffy dogs, rolling over and over, on the bridge. The big one rolls onto the wee one, the wee one onto the big one, loads of hair. Then closer, the smack of skin, punches, it is two girls. Just before they reach them, the girls roll off each other, checking their smartphones to make sure everything is intact, the girls walk one behind the other, in the same direction. The smaller one keeps touching her scalp to make sure she still has the hair. The larger one texts frantically, most likely setting up alliances, the reporting app, the long war. As Don Whiskers and Ewa move closer they hear the swish, one of the girls has uploaded something to the cloud, they try to not to make eye contact, reporting apps, so many, currently trending, WL= wrong language, SB= suspicious behaviour, MP= major predator, they do not own them.
One year ago they did the dentist and one of them has more advanced gum disease, ten, maybe fifteen years ahead of their age. One of them looked at the facts, can you transfer gum problems (and more) via kissing, maybe. They have to shape up their gums. They swish coconut for 20 minutes, the coconut melts in the mouth, swish slowly, practice nose breathing, spit into rubbish bin, then swish salt water, brush with an angle toward the gumline, then flossing. In addition there is skin peeling, also nails, nose, ears, muscles, plus various organs. Ideas are good but don’t forget about the execution, you have to have something to believe in. Head up: crackles, head down: crackles, knee up: crackles, squat: crackles, head left: crackles, head right: crackles. The trees float their leaves, crispy yellow.
One of them has a beard, tri-colour, red, yellow, and ageing grey, shorter days lead to shorter and then they get longer again, a sunny day in the middle of winter very common. Their pockets full of hard coins, sunglasses on face, an anti-anxiety blanket. Outside: creamy bobble hats, inside: Transtromer and Haydn, high cultures. Tomorrow a national holiday for the technocrats, in 2 days the float, the people groan under her, so sombre. Don Whiskers imagines the snows of Sweden, on account of Transtromer, another kind of suffocation, but the blues of Vermeer very comforting, the physicality of a letter, shaky hand on a chipped teacup, wheaten bread with melted butter. Grandfather clipped the hedges and great-grandfather clipped the hedges. Grandfather collected the milk from the farmers, one of them, as a child, up front, reading the Farmer’s Weekly. Grandfather scooped fresh milk into the palm of his hand, drink it, also his budgies, the magic of assorted seeds to inflate the belly, boulders lifted, literally, from the Giant’s Causeway, now out the back. The rain puddles them into birdbaths. Haydn, they can’t pretend to like it, they are land people, bread & butter.
Down the alley, & around the corners, tight jeans and half tops, bubble gum pops, the finger curl, no not today, they keep walking. At the cupcake factory the cupcake makers are floating on smile bubbles, no eye contact, on account of the apps. They nip into the bakery for a crusty. People sit at tables tapping their smartphones. They keep their thoughts inside their skulls, on account of the apps. When it thins out, they tap the tables to listen for it, the hollows. A tight squeeze but they place it, perfumed crumbles, the hacking powders.
They wait beside their mailboxes. It dings, that’s not it, it dings, that’s not it, it dings, that’s not it, it dings, that’s not it, it dings and dings and dings, spam, then it arrives, out in the mountains, away from the city, someday maybe permanently, for now the free passes, a bonus, on account of the mission.
The finger glowed in the shed, just the tip of it, then, suddenly, out came the box, it said Pizza Hut, who eats pizza in a hut, the Americans. When Ewa and Don Whiskers visited, they made them square, a red light hovered over them, lunch special slices. No good, but, under certain conditions, tolerable. These conditions include lowered expectations on account of the activation of the reptilian brain, as opposed to the more refined mammalian. Pizza was the first feed, the beginning of their new kingdom, there were many others. Skipskipskipskip, OK now they are in Valencia, Spain not California, it is 1AM, there is pizza across the bridge. They cross the old city into the new city for the pizza. Inside everything is glowing. 22 pizza boxes, you walk around and pick your favourites, a bearded gentleman rings you up near the door, it is open from 1AM-3AM, a late night take-away pizza buffet, they bring it back across on their bikes. One day the pizza manager, slightly alien, approaches them. She is the Resident Matriarch. Later the inductions in Palermo, the hackings, you have to feel it to sell it.
Don Whiskers and Ewa win the free pass, a bonus, on account of the mission. Where will it get them? Out of the city, a bus, or a train, in a little over an hour and you arrived in the village. When they arrive, it is fresh snow and a strong wind, blowing off the mountains. They enter a little inn and meet the members. An Irishman, from the west, early 60’s, already seated next to the fire, very animated, ruddy. Organic wine on the table for everyone. Ewa and Don Whiskers remember the wood-soaked ales, the older pubs, on the island, but here it is different, yes frantic, but the veggies are juicy. They order a burger, a handmade patty, very tasty, origin probably somewhere in the village, close by, fresh. The older Irishman hands everyone a copy of his play and assigns the roles. Big Dan, the hermit, Larry, Lola, others. One of the innkeepers, a woman from Amsterdam with a colourful beanie, mid-twenties, also animated, approaches everyone. Do you mind she says, normally I wouldn’t ask but today is different, the television is coming, on account of the snow, the news of the village. No they do not want their image reproduced on the television, with or without sound, they don’t want the interview, they have nothing to say about the snow. Everyone begins rehearing the new founder’s play, it’s the first everyone has seen of it, they are chosen and elected to play the parts, on account of meeting their targets, amateur theatre for future converts, an inner glow. The surprise Irishman at the table is the play writer. Here are the actors: there is an Englishwoman, late 50’s, a Scotswoman, early 50’s, an older Spaniard, late 60’s, a younger Spaniard, mid 30’s, an Irishman, partly American, edging into mid 40’s, an Irish woman, late 40s, Ewa is the youngest, a Polish woman, early 30s. Ewa plays the hermit, mysterious. The play writer, the older Irishman, lived down south, on an island in a village, it is going to be staged there, the people are hungry. The play has the following themes: gambling, trickery, and aliens, during an earlier time, before the pizza shop conversion therapies. The people on the island will more relate to it, an earlier time, dripping in nostalgia. The mystical hermit, played by Ewa, advises the protagonist to find aliens after losing his land, via card gambling trickery, spearheaded by Big Dan, who owns everything else in the town. The protagonist’s wife Lola agrees to move in with Big Dan, to pay off the rest of her husband’s debts. Lola pouts her lips and agrees to stay longer if Big Dan signs over the former land to her, a small gesture, he agrees. Lola doesn’t specify for how long, she leaves one month later, without the sex, with a new piece of paper. She is the winner and new land owner. When she returns home to the former protagonist, now playing second fiddle, she finds her home full of aliens. It is the beginning of the new kingdom.
The reporter comes halfway, right before the aliens. The reporter is slick, in hair mind and body, moves easily in front of the camera, more than animated, manic frantic, typical Spanish television. He interviews the Irish woman, te gusta la nieve, he asks. Si me gusta la nieve, she sighs. Then his elbow catches her wine glass, splash, a blood fountain on their table, live on television.
The non virgin float floats tomorrow, they are painting her now, red and yellow, bright, would you like to see a picture, it is a great gamble, the heavy wood, the trees are alive, even when dead, it is heavy but also floating. Who is carrying the weight of it, the people. There is so much beauty, the art, what is it, pleasure the main principle, a strip tease, maybe better. They are not, as they say, perverts, but maybe, in the other ways, the good ones. You know the answers deep inside, but you have to hack the questions, with the old fashioned pen and paper, not uploaded later into the cloud, because someone checks them. The RM warned them, no machines, full humans, for accuracy, completeness, and fluency. Ewa and Don Whiskers started simple and climbed up the chain to become complex humans, but not really, everyone can become employee of the month, someday maybe.
Ewa and Don Whiskers slip outside for a smoke, and also to check the stars. The innkeeper from Amsterdam is also there, she smokes and scratches her beanie. Then the wind howls, and the snow becomes sharp darts, glass shards. There is a big splurge of gas, then sanding, then sand blasting, then water blasting. Breathe thru your nose, breathe thru your nose. She is not a good nose breather, she keeps choking on her saliva, they can’t save everyone. It hums, lowly, when it lands, then it gets louder, a warning, then more. Don Whiskers and Ewa move into the mountains, wait for the signal, they look back, the inn, where is it, the sounds travel fast, howling in the wind, the shocks, did they get everyone.
At the monthly meeting at Shakey’s Pizza, the Resident Matriarch lets her hair down, keep your sponges clean she says, they’re in there, every eight hours the eyedrops, a popular entrance. She introduces the new powders, sorry about the inn she says, we’ll find another, no television. The non virgin float still floats, the people groan under her, victory, partially, with some new converts, and a new founder’s play on the way. Evolution or revolution, one is ascending and descending and the other is a wheel, it goes in circles, it is hard to tell the difference, hard work and blessings, they keep hacking.
Marcus Slease is a (mostly) absurdist, surrealist, and fabulist writer from Portadown, N. Ireland. He is the author of The Spirit of the Bathtub (Apocalypse Party), Play Yr Kardz Right (Dostoyevsky Wannabe), Rides (Blart Books), Mu (dream) So (Window) (Poor Claudia), and Godzenie (Blazevox), among others. His poetry has been translated into Danish and Polish, featured in the Best British Poetry series, and he has performed his work at various festivals and events in Prague, London, North Carolina, and Ireland. His newest book, The Green Monk, is forthcoming from Boiler House Press in November 2018. Currently, he lives in Madrid, Spain and is working on a trilogy of nomadic surrealist novels entitled The Autobiography of Don Whiskers. Find out more on his website: Never Mind the Beasts (nevermindthebeasts.com).