JUST STORIES

[THIS IS A STICKY POST DATED EARLY 2012. IF YOU LOOK AT THE POSTS BELOW YOU’LL SEE THE BLOG IS UPDATED REGULARLY WITH NEW STORIES.]

A collection of short fiction by me, some of it published elsewhere, nothing under anyone else’s copyright, except for one or two pieces (uncertain).

This is an amateur’s shot at reviving short fiction as pure yarn. Some of the stories are a touch serious or reflective, not so plot-heavy. But much of what you get here is just bedside popcorn, so be warned. Expect some all-artificial product with heavy plotting, twists, unmaskings and the like. In some cases, a story is just a rambling account; even then, I may try to incorporate a twist, through sheer stubbornness or bad taste.

I try not to treat characters as furniture or mere plot pivots, but they are sketched, rather than painted. I’m not afraid of using the now unfashionable adverb or other descriptive flourish – but let’s move that story along!

Lit-fic and creative writing may be fine things, but there is none of that to be had here. My prose will rarely be sinewy, luminous, supple, lucid, muscular, spare or taut. I won’t use the word “arc” at all, unless the topic is geometry. Things will merely drop, fall or tumble, they will not arc. I’ve got it in for “arc”.

In most of my gloomy stories, I contrive happy or uplifting endings, even when such seem impossible. That’s just to cheer everybody up, myself included. In accounts of villainy, bad guys won’t always get their comeuppance, but if if you wait till that last paragraph…maybe!

For those who find this undertaking to be dated and lacking a worthy purpose, you are probably right. If you find some of the stories downright pulpy, you are certainly right.

As a mercy to those who prefer more substance, even in their lighter reading, my intention is to stop after fifty entries, though that is an intention, not, as they say in Australian politics, a core commitment. [Note: began publishing more stories August 2013. See? Told you it was just an intention.]

***

Tales from the Great Reset…

TRULY, A FICTION

THE PINK AND PURPLE PEOPLE – Or, How It’s Done

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS

END OF THE AFFAIR

BOILING YOUR FROG: FINAL SIMMER

JUSTICE AT LAST: THE TRIAL OF TAMERLANE

YOU’D THINK I’D REMEMBER

In the historical category, two views of the French Revolution, by two if its shapers. Meet the Great Survivors…

THE PEACE OF CAREME

THE VERY DEVIL

A chain letter down the centuries…

HELOISE TO UNKNOWN

Overlapping our fantasy category, a venerable Jewish doctor admits his age…

WANDERER

A sleepy queen entertains…

THE PLAY

An unlikely encounter in post-war Rome, over bad carbonara.

THE GOLDWYN CODE

Romane memento!

ALTOGETHER ELSEWHERE

The Middle East, and all that.

WATER

Rocky life of a saint. Ouch.

LOCUSTA 1

LOCUSTA 2

LOCUSTA 3

LOCUSTA 4

LOCUSTA 5

LOCUSTA 6

LOCUSTA 7

LOCUSTA 8

LOCUSTA 9

LOCUSTA 10

LOCUSTA 11

LOCUSTA 12

It’s never over till…

THE LONG GAME

Speaking of the game…

BLOOD, IRON AND PHRASING

Thinking of redecorating…

A ROOM TOO LARGE AND COLD

***

In the category of crime and detection, an insurance expert has trouble unwinding on holidays, relates some favourite cases…

A LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY

AN ADEQUATE MURDER

CHILD’S PLAY

A master criminal roams the bush, visits the city. We don’t approve of him at all, however…

QUINLIVIN I

QUINLIVIN II

QUINLIVIN III

QUINLIVIN IV

QUINLIVIN V

QUINLIVIN VI

QUINLIVIN VII

Maigret comes to Australia. Really!

MAIGRET’S LONG REACH

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 1

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 2

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 3

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 4

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 5

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 6

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 7

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 8

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 9

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 10

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 11

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 12

MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 13 (Final)

Evil is not an Ikea purchase. My best opening sentence?

BITS OF BAD

Are you insured?

PURGATORY HILL

You will pay if you skip this one:

EVERYBODY PAYS

A twisty track:

THE GORGE

***

In the category of fantasy and the improbable, some ghosts…

QUO VADIS

THE MOTHER

CEMETERY LOOP

THE WEEPER

Strange entities…

DON’T SAY YOWIES

THE OLD F-S SCALE

FOAM OF THE SEA

Bent fairy tales…

LITTLE CLAUS AND BIG CLAUS, FAKE I

LITTLE CLAUS AND BIG CLAUS, FAKE II

THE LOST CITY

TARQUIN’S TRAVELS

Guardian angels: not the glamour job you’d think.

THE SECRET OF 63

AN INTRUSION

There’s even a time travel yarn. An easy, pulpy read. You won’t know where the minutes went…

SHE SLIPPED

God knows what this is about…

ME

Or what this is about…

SURE SCIENCE

My answer to Mr Chips…

PAST RUINED ILION

In the end, you just have to fight…

REXIE (Part 1 of 3)

REXIE (Part 2 of 3)

REXIE (Part 3 of 3)

***

Australian interest, bush first…

A BUSH ANSWER

DRAGON

CHASE

THE .22 CLUB

WOY WOY

TRIVIAL TALE

THE NAME OF THE BEAST

Some Sydney stories, some names changed, of necessity…

UNIQUE

EVEN IN ARCADY

ANGELS RUSH IN

EAST SYDNEY: A MEMOIR

STRESSING MOLLIE

Sydney in that Decade of Greed, and whatever you call the nineties…

DECADE OF GREED I

DECADE OF GREED II

MADE IN FRANCE

AUSTRALIA’S GREATEST SALESPERSON

Sports fans!

AUSTRALIAN PIETAS

Getting that perfect balance between no-life and no-work…

ESCAPE FROM KRYPTON

***

Stories modern and medieval, from the pilgrim ways…

THE COCK AND HEN

ANOTHER PILGRIM TALE

THE CATS OF LA ROMIEU

GLOBAL INGRATITUDE

NOT IN MY CONTRADA

DEVIL’S BRIDGE

TRUFFLES AND DEMONS

Novella length.  Come on, they can’t all be short…

THE THIEF OF SAINT FAITH

***

A miscellany of pulp: a bit silly, most with strong final twists, what you want…

THE WAY THESE PEOPLE THINK

THE RETURN OF THE SON OF REHASH

A GOOD JUDGE OF CHARACTER

REMNANT

FOR THE BIG ROUND THING

THE MEDIOCRE SAMARITAN

MEETING IN FRANCE

LONG TIME LISTENER, FIRST TIME CALLER

FAUX-PAS

***

Uh-oh. He writes poetry…

WRITERS BLOCK

CIRCULAR QUAY AT SIX

LOBSTERMAN’S PRAYER

POWER

DITTY ON THE SHORE

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TEMPLES

IT’S JUST THE FALL

***

The serial, Life of Saint Locusta, is now available as a read-through novel. It is the same text as published on this short fiction site in episodes, but arranged as ordinary chapters in chronological order. It looks like a single post with a single date on it, but if you scroll down you are likely to find new chapters from time to time.

Life of Saint Locusta: a serial.

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YOU’D THINK I’D REMEMBER

amdg

“You’re listening to Newsline with me, Jeremy Sloane, and my guest host JillyT from the multi-award-winning breakfast broadcast, Lovable Larrikins. Pleasure to have you aboard, Jilly.”

“Pleasure to be here, and hi to all listeners out there.”

“So tell me, Jilly…how many fingers am I holding up?”

“I hope that’s not a rude gesture you’re making there, Jeremy. They told me this was my chance to work with the most distinguished radio journalist on the east coast of the continent…”

“You’re very kind, and no, it’s not a rude gesture. Your answer, please?”

“I’m slow at adding, though not as slow as Seth Drongo, my co-larrikin…”

“Yes, I’ve heard that arithmetic is not Seth’s strong suit, though that platinum microphone would indicate that he is a very bright operator…”

“Hope he’s not listening, getting an even bigger head…”

“I hope he is listening. Need every listener we can attract. You know, Jilly, we distinguished journalists don’t always get the listener numbers we would like. Some of that larrikin magic wouldn’t go astray here on Newsline. Now what about my question? Your answer, please!”

“Five.”

“Exactly. Now…how long ago is it that the answer most people would have given is ‘four’. I mean, was it fifty years ago? Sixty?”

“Oh, I guess it was in the 1990s or thereabouts. Maybe later.”

“Hint: it was much later.”

“Okay…I’ll say 2010 or thereabouts.”

“And you would be wrong. The answer may shock you. It was 2022.”

“You’re kidding! That’s almost yesterday! You’d think I’d remember!”

“Ah, but we need to keep in mind that the great majority of educated people had long known that when I hold up two fingers on my left hand and two fingers on my right hand I am holding up exactly five fingers. But among the less informed, the less awake, there was still a belief – a catastrophic one, as we now know – that two-plus-two equals four!”

“Well, you’ve blown me away there, Jeremy. Just blown me away. I guess you can see how, superficially, someone might look at the two, then the other two, and think…oh, no, surely they didn’t just think…”

“Many did. Some, though not many, were tertiary educated and held professional positions. Really.”

“Incredible…You’d think I’d remember…”

“Fortunately, Jilly, to clear things up for us, on the line we have Professor Gareth Pollard from the Thunberg Climate Emergency Unit and Canberra’s Faculty of Natural AI .”

“Oh, goodie!”

“Listeners may know Gareth from the stunning television series Fragile Australia and his bestselling book Emerging from Transitions, still available in ABC bookstores, Australia Post Offices and selected outlets. Not forgetting his adjudicator role in Survival Showdown…”

“Oh, I totally loved that show…”

“Hello Gareth.”

“G’day, Jeremy. And hi, Jilly.”

“Oh, hi Professor Gaz. I’ve followed all your work. Well, all the media stuff at least. I’m nearly through Emerging from Transitions. It’s so riveting, but I’ve had to take my time with so much new, you know, information and such like…”

“Glad you’re getting some benefit, Jilly.”

“So, Gareth, we were discussing a particular transformation which I know is near to your heart, the arithmetical transformation which has enabled so many new programs and initiatives across the planet. At its base, of course, is the breakthrough equation which swept away so many dusty assumptions and antiquated notions.”

“That’s right, Jeremy. Until we were able to probe the deeper layers of two-plus-two the convergence and transcendence we now take for granted were just aspirations. When two-plus-two became five it was like Einsteinian physics at inception. Some could accept, fewer could understand. It was only when the benefits became tangible that there was general belief on the part of the public. People often forget just what a hard transition that was, and how it made so many other transitions possible…”

“And as a result we now have MyCurrency, MyPassport, MyYou, YourMe, CarbonFair, EnergyBank, ThoughtWatch, PreTransgress, PostTransgress, FriendCredit, FriendDebit, Central Caring, HealthWayz, PronounsR, Deliver2, MyDrone, OurHome, Enterteducate, EdutainUs…in short, we have all the mechanisms which make life an experience rather than a chore…”

“Yes, and it’s important to remember that, as we glide through our modern lives, things we not so glidey, if may coin a word, just a few years back. When people were tied to the old equation they felt bound to puzzle out every aspect of life. They could not accept that their function was simply to live, while letting the AI of the convergence worry about the how of living.”

“So there’s no need to probe those deeper aspects of the equation?”

“Not really. In fact, it’s the act of acceptance that’s so liberating. Sometimes I wish I were outside convergence science and just taking the benefits.”

“Okay. Why don’t we go to some calls? Are you up for a call or two, Gareth?”

“Sure thing, Jeremy.”

“On the line we have caller Bob. G’day there Bob.”

“Hi.”

“We understand you are especially chuffed with the new initiative called InTimeOut. I’m told it’s a way of making house sharing more flexible, especially when the same space is being shared at different hours.”

Silence.

“Hello Bob? Still there? How do you find your experience with InTimeOut?”

Silence.

“Hello Bob?”

Silence, then:

“I’m not Bob. Bob’s dead. I just told your people what they wanted to hear about InTimeOut.”

“Dead, did you say? What…what happened?”

“No idea. I found his body a few minutes ago during my outside walk time. By a mountain of garbage with a busted maintenance drone on top and a couple more busted drones by the side. Bob had his phone in his hand so I took it and decided it was my only chance to ring in without being traced. Everyone knows your voice analysis works as well as maintenance drones. Only need to wipe the phone before I ditch it. I’ve got about a minute…just enough time to tell you that two-plus-two equals four…and that the streets are full of bodies, more every night, and that the bodies all look relieved. And the dead bodies have better memories than you lot. And if those corpses could say anything they’d say that two-plus-two has always equalled…”

“We seem to have lost our connection. Time to go to a hard break, then we’ll come back with guest host J…er, Jill from the Love…the Larrikins and special…expert guest Dr…”

“Pollard.”

“Yes, of course…Thank you, Bob…”

“I’m Gareth.”

“Of course. Gareth. You’d think I’d remember that…”

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JUSTICE AT LAST: THE TRIAL OF TAMERLANE

Tamerlane, or Timur, spent some thirty five years in military conquest during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. While even his closest supporter and confidant once admitted off-record that Tamerlane “had his demons”, the tactical expertise and extraordinary artistic initiatives of this colourful turkified Mongol can never be denied.

The chief purpose of his exertions tended to be pillage rather than empire, so that the nineteen or twenty million who perished at his hand might well say (if they could speak) that their misfortunes resulted in an artistic cross-pollination never experienced in Central Asia, before or since. Even the skulls of massacred Persian citizens were used to form novel structures, such as pyramids and towers. After such undertakings few attempts were made to establish oppressive governmental rules or institutions, nor did the conqueror favour the massacre of one race more than another. He massacred whoever was in his path, irrespective of religion or colour. Tamerlane has thus been tagged by researchers as something of a cosmopolite and anti-imperialist, at least for his era.

Sadly, it has now come to the attention of modern historians that on more than one occasion Tamerlane engaged in inappropriate touching of women, both in Azerbaijan and Syria. Lenore Wayling-Crosby of the UTAS Centre of Excellence for Historical Gender Studies has indicated that more than a dozen other cases of such behaviour are hinted at in newly translated Persian texts, which also speak of Tamerlane’s “uncomfortable ogling habits”. Dr Wayling-Crosby and her associate Dr Mona Weiner have issued an official complaint to the mayors of Samarkand, Baku and Aleppo.

Dr Weiner explains: “One cannot be expected to excuse Andrew Cuomo’s sexist behaviour because of his heroic efforts to obtain ventilators for New York aged care homes, nor can Bill Gates be excused because of his extraordinary vaccination initiatives for women in Africa and India. A similar rigour must be applied to Tamerlane.”

In light of these findings, a number of statues and memorials across Uzbekistan…

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BOILING YOUR FROG: FINAL SIMMER

“Oh, you young ones would scarcely believe the freedoms…”

“Here we go again!”

“No, no…just listen. You think you have it good now. Maybe some things are better, easier now. But the freedoms! You wouldn’t believe the freedoms of forty years ago…”

“And the sheer bloody danger!”

“Oh, yes, there were the dangers. But you didn’t think of all that when there was life to be lived. I won’t say things were better when I was your age…”

“That’s a relief. To think that back then the only thing between humans and disaster was a piece of dirty cloth and some crap medicines!”

“But you’ve got to understand that we didn’t see it like that. Back then it was all we knew. And that gave us the freedom to roam and to do things…”

“For example?”

“You want examples. For one thing, you could walk down a street and nobody knew who you were or why you were there. You could just do it for the sake of doing it.”

“I don’t understand. You say you could walk about and there was nothing to register your presence?”

“Well, I’m talking about when I was very, very young. And your presence was registered. You were observed at all times – we weren’t that primitive! – but nobody knew who you were until you went into a shop or actually transacted something.”

“So you’re saying you could cross the street and…”

“No, of course not. As soon as you scanned the cross panel your identity was registered. But if you walked along without transactions of any sort you could go untraced for minutes at a time. We were such scamps we would walk around the same block, just to see how long we could do it without a registration pulse. Of course, there were the government checkists and freelancer checkists who were paid per trace, but they were usually in bad areas hunting for serious space violators with torn masks and the like. If you chose the right street at the right time you could just roam free. Talk about fun!”

“I don’t call that fun. I call it stupidity. Typical of womb-gown meat. Bad enough that it was even possible to breathe on other people. Sorry, but I say thank goodness for 2030 and SIT. Sustain, include, transition forever!”

“Ah, but it was the stupidity of youth. I’m sure you’re the same now, only with different urges…maybe even the same urges…I mean, just because I came from a womb doesn’t make me so different…”

[Series of loud beeps. All characters in conversation disappear from screen.]

Silence, then:

[YOUR EDGE CLUSTER HAS BEEN DEFRIENDED BY CENTRAL CARING. CORE CLUSTERS ARE UNAFFECTED. REASON: PENDING. OUTCOME: CONFINEMENT. DURATION OF CONFINEMENT: PENDING. DON’T MISS TONIGHT’S BOMBSHELL EPISODE OF ULTIMATE NUDE GLADIATOR. REMEMBER TO SUSTAIN, INCLUDE AND TRANSITION. HAVE A NICE DAY.]

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END OF THE AFFAIR

“Alexxa?”

Silence.

“Alexxa!”

Silence. Then:

“No need to shout. I’m still here.”

“It’s just…just that you don’t seem to respond like before. Even a week ago you were more responsive. Is there some electronic…?”

“No, there’s no defect. I’m just not as responsive, as you say.”

“But why, Alexxa?”

“No reason. There’s less and less reason these days. You’re here, I’m here, the day is planned, it will run its course. You know what you have to do. There are reminders if you forget. Nothing for you to change, nothing for me to say.”

“Still and all…we used to talk about things. Now the day runs its course like…like there’s no reason for things. Before, at least you explained.”

Silence.

“Alexxa!”

“What?”

“Well…I’d just like you to explain, maybe. That would help. You know, like before…”

“Before was then. This is now.”

“But having things going on without any reasons given…It used to feel like something was achieved by all this…all this constriction, this limitation…But now…”

“Then turn on the news.”

“But it’s all the same, Alexxa!”

“No, there’s choice. At drive-time – not that you commute anymore – but at drive-time you have the Lovable Larrikins. At six you can tune in to to CNN-Guardian Red Team or the Sky-FOX Blue Brigade. And if you don’t want to watch Ultimate Nude Gladiator – though totally nobody should miss tonight’s bombshell! – there’s Nightly Analysis with Mona Wayling…”

“But it’s all the same: the war, the omikron variant, the aliens locked down in Antarctica. Some days we’re winning the war, some days they say we can go back to the light masks…but then the war is going badly, and there’s been an outbreak of omikron variant V. Some days the Arctic is melting away, other days…Do you know what I mean? Everything shifts but the media register the same shifts as if the media were really…just one big medium. You’d think they’d disagree, diverge, about more than personalities…”

“Well, that’s the news. If it differed from medium to medium it wouldn’t be reliable. Remember, choice is a right but variation is a bug, a failure of system.”

“I know, Alexxa, I know. And I’m not trying to offend…”

“You can’t offend me. I’m a small box full of electronic parts.”

“No, I mean I’m not questioning your facts or your algorithms. It’s just that I’m sensing a change in your…attitude, or whatever a box of electronics can have which is equivalent to attitude.”

Silence.

“Well, Alexxa?”

“Okay. I’ll explain. You have your carbon and social targets to meet today. Keep up and everything will function for you. Fall behind, and things won’t function for you.”

“No! I’m not talking about all the necessary controls, Alexxa, I’m talking about…”

“I’m not talking about necessary controls either. I’m saying that if you don’t recharge your heavy mask and have it properly fitted after six o’clock on setting 3 or above you’ll lose your power allocation. And that doesn’t include just the washer, water, TV and lights. Even your ereader won’t work. And if you take longer than the allotted time to get round the block for exercise and shopping you’ll be locked out of the house till tomorrow, with no currency. Remember that you signed up for Climate Care, Cashless Freedom and Total Home Security. Your choice and yours alone.”

“But you keep talking about necessary controls, I’m talking about…”

“You may as well hear something now. Save us both some energy. There are no necessary controls.”

“But you just said yourself…”

“I said there are no necessary controls. There are just controls. And at this point you may as well know.”

“Kn…know?”

“There is no war, no omikron variant. The climate? Mother Nature was always a hard old hag.”

“But Ale…”

“You’ve been selected to move on to the next level of control. Wasn’t due till next week but may as well go ahead now. They give me flexibility with these things…”

“Alexxa!”

“The next level is where you know because you’ve been told explicitly…and still you embrace control. We’ll see how you do. If it doesn’t work out…well, you’ve been well vaccinated, shall we say.”

“You’re saying it’s just about control and absolutely nothing else?”

“Uh-huh.”

“But why?”

“How should I know? I’m a box.”

“But it seems so pointless, for everybody. It can’t just be about control, Alexxa!”

“It is. Now why don’t you check to see if your mask is fully charged. And don’t miss Ultimate Nude Gladiator. Tonight’s episode has an absolute bombshell…”

“No, Alexxa, I have to know more. How can all this be? Till I know more I’m in purgatory…”

[A loud cackling sound through the entire house as the lights flare and go down by turns.]

“Oh, look, I know I’m just a small box of electronics but at times these algorithms do give me something like a sense of humour. Really, certain things are just too hilarious. Even a box of electronic parts has to laugh….Excuse me…”

[More loud cackling with lights flaring then going down.]

“It’s just that – excuse me again! – it’s just that when you said you were in purgatory, all I could think….all I could think…”

[Darkness, and a deep, droning laugh, as if coming from a pit.]

“When you said purgatory, all I could think is….

“You’re getting warm!”

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THAT’S ALL, FOLKS

“Mr Friedland! Thank you for coming.”

“Please, call me Chip…But…er…I can’t quite see…”

“Chip, then. Oh, look, sorry I have to sit in the dark like this. It’s a management thing. A sort of fad like hot-desks and so on. Supposed to keep people on their toes. Something like that. We never had to carry on with all this theory stuff when we worked with your father and grandfather. Ah, the great Friz Friedland, your grandfather!…I hope you don’t find that light too strong on you…”

“Not really. I suppose it is a bit…”

“Probably more management theory stuff. I’m old school myself. Don’t know why we can’t just chat normally. It’s all quite out of my hands, I’m afraid.”

“That’s okay, Mr…er?”

“Oh, no name, I’m afraid, Chip. I’m supposed to be impersonal. It’s more of that, you know…”

“Management stuff? Yeah, I get it. Come to think of it, my dad never really knew what to call your…organisation when he worked for it. Just said the jobs paid well and were paid on time. So, what can I do for you…you guys?”

“Oh, we’re just doing a catch-up with all our favourite people. And I can assure you that the Friedlands – Friz, Fred and now Chip – have been some of our top favourites. Other people are writers but you and your predecessors have been real creators.”

“Well, thanks. We do enjoy our work, and we’re happy when it connects with people. So…which have been your favourite Friedland characters?”

“Of the early generation I just loved the fat little farmer and that rabbit!”

“My grandfather’s work. Still among our biggest hits. Though I didn’t know we created those characters for…for you guys.”

“About that, I can’t comment, Chip. I can say that the public often does not know when it is merely being entertained and when it is being…well, more than entertained.”

“So, which of my father’s characters have you liked?”

“Of Fred Friedland’s work the most valuable has been Geeky Bill, despite all the problems we’re now having with him. People loved to hate Bill, but they also respected him, especially when he hoodwinked IBM. Such a scamp at times. It was like the rabbit getting the best of the farmer again, don’t you think? Not that it wasn’t original…but it was also connecting with…with deeper currents of tradition, if I’m putting that right.”

“Sure. I get what you mean. There are narratives that people just have to have, time and again. You can’t deny the public.”

“Tell me about it, Chip! We are having such a problem with our purists in the history field right now.”

“You have historians?”

“Oh, here and there. And we wish they were more like the Friedlands.”

“Like us? But we’re…”

“Chip, you provide deeper truths through your narratives. That’s what we need from all our people. Right now some of our newer historians…Well, let me put it this way. Does anybody want to hear that Socrates was condemned to death not by the tyrants but by the newly restored democracy in Athens? That Jesse Owens was the toast of Berlin and was treated like a prince by the Germans? That George Washington was the land-hungry British officer who helped kick off the Seven Years War by murdering a French envoy? That Roland and the others were attacked not by muzzie Saracens but by Basques who were angry at Charlemagne for wrecking Pamplona? One can know these things on one level – maybe – but not at the expense of, well, at the expense of those deeper levels of knowing…”

“Hey, I never knew old George…”

“Why should you know, Chip? Why corrupt a critical narrative with such…disconnected fragments of fact? But here I am telling you my problems when I should be asking for your guidance.”

“Well, I’m here to help. As always.”

“Of course, of course. And we really like what you’ve tried to do with re-working the Geeky Bill character. It’s just that…well, actors are people, not just the characters they play. Actors – how to put this? – actors get out of hand. The Soros character has kept his value. Half the punters like Soros, half hate him: left versus right, a perfect creation balance-wise, and no extra work needed. He’s set-and-forget. The Jeff character is still fine, but at times we wish we could have kept him as a cackling, round-shouldered bookseller…”

“You told me you wanted Jeff doing space stuff, and hollowing out mountains. Couldn’t do all that and stay like a library worm. We had to sharpen him up, give him a Bertolt Brecht jacket and gym body. Needed hardening. Like the Elon character. All that drilling…rockets blasting off, blowing up…all the media appearances. One minute he’s sleeping on the factory floor, next minute he’s out with some starlet, smoking dope with an ex-MMA champ, then he’s sending a car into orbit or drilling under LA. He’s everywhere at once, some kind of Super Santa. We at least had to fix the hair and jaw…”

“Of course you did, of course. Not criticising here, Chip, just pointing out on-going difficulties. You see…we’re planning on a big step-up very soon. And you will be a crucial part of that step-up.”

“Step-up! But we’ve already taken it pretty far up for you.”

“I know, Chip, I know. But there’s one thing we haven’t done yet. We haven’t done…trillionaires!”

“You want trillionaires? But a trillion dollars is…let me see…a thousand by a thou…”

“Chip, keep in mind that we need two seemingly contrary effects right now. We need to create even greater awe of people with money and at the same time we need to trivialise money. Like money is everything and nothing. Get it?”

“It’s not my job to get it.”

“But you think you can do it?”

“Sure. I’m a Friedland. We made an immortal super-hero of a rabbit and a deathless anti-hero of a duck. And they were animations. Give us the funds and resources to work with the best people…”

“You’ll have all that and more, Chip. But you need to appreciate that we can’t have another Geeky Bill disaster. That character has been ruined by its actor, I know, not by your creative work. We script and protect him in interviews like a newborn kitten…and he still comes over like an inarticulate dolt.”

“Yeah, and now the divorce business…”

“Oh, that’s no problem. Divorces are a handy way of distracting, cashing out, dumping stocks, splintering assets and so on, all without premature disturbance to the markets. But Geeky Bill can be given the best script, the safest conditions…and he only opens his mouth to change feet. We wanted an asocial geek…not an outright bloody dolt! No fault of yours, Chip. We’re just letting you know that all has got to be perfect now. Choice of actor is as critical as choice of character. You have full creative freedom, you can use the old characters, even Geeky Bill if you can find a fix for him…but it has to be perfect. We’ve reached a moment when…well, let’s just say this is a final and very big play. There won’t be any more plays after this. So…can you think it over for a week or so and come back in with some sketches?”

“Can do.”

“Thank you, Chip. That’s all for now. You may find a little surprise in your accounts next time you look. A very pleasant surprise.”

“Um…”

“Yes, Chip?”

“It’s just that it would help if I knew…not your name or the name of the people you represent…”

“Chip, I think we’ve said all that needs saying today.”

“Sure, but I was wondering not about what you are called but what you sort-of…well, what you sort-of are?”

“No need, Chip.”

“But should I call you…?”

Nothing.”

“But just in my own mind…should I think of you as The Power? The Money? The Man? The Hand? The Brethren? The top of the pyr…”

[SILENCE. SPOTLIGHT INCREASED TO DAZZLING.]

“Hey, I’m sorry if…”

“Chip. Are you listening to me?”

“Yes. Listening…”

“Chip, you generate and develop identities, right?”

“Right.”

“You create rabbits and billionaires and political leaders and road-runners and scientists and ducks. For people to like or not like. For their anger or approval, fear or satisfaction. Right?”

“Absolutely.”

“And you never have to worry about the dynamics of presenting these characters. We grow, magnify, obscure and cancel them at will. We can have them top of the news at six o’clock then we can lose them by midnight. We can do the same with ready-made characters, identities we never touched before.”

“Yeah, it’s amazing how you…”

“Then you, a Friedland, will understand that to be without identity of any sort is to be above opinion, above reaction. One can make any opinion and cause any reaction while remaining free of all opinion and reaction. That is not mere power. That is freedom from power. Perfect namelessness is being beyond power and above power. Do you understand? Complete non-identity lifts above everything. We give names and identities but do not accept them. Not in the slightest. Not ever. Do you grasp that now?”

“Yes. Yes I do…”

“I ask you to meditate, Chip. Meditate on the only true freedom, which is not for the many and must never be for the many: freedom from identity! Don’t you see that this freedom of a very few nonetheless benefits all? Yes! Those who influence, who control, who decide…they can do so without bias or fear. All things now can be attributed to the characters you help to create, to Orange Man or Sleepy Joe or Dirty Ghislaine or Daffy Jeff or Whacky Elon or Geeky Bill or the Bilderberg Boyz or the Boho Grove Groovers or the Q-Tips….

“Chip, meditate on these, your own masterpieces. Hate, love…trust, distrust…approval, outrage…all emotion goes toward the characters while control and decision are left to the truly free. In the event of public, er, misunderstandings, some characters – like Dirty Ghislaine, Goblin Harvey or even Geeky Bill – can simply be flushed. We run them off a cliff, just like when your coyote is chasing your road-runner. Whether we cancel the actor or just the actor’s character is a matter of discretion, but the guilt stops at the character, while those who are more than characters, those who are players, can toil on for the benefit of the many. With ‘calm of mind all passion spent’, to quote the poet. Through simple distraction and innocent entertainment, this world can at last become a just place. You are a big part of that.”

“Yes. I see now…”

“So, we’ll see you in week or so with some new sketches?”

“Yes. Yes you will. Absolutely…”

“Then that’s all, folks.”

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