God on Sex…

God wishes men to make love to their wives regularly. It’s a duty, a religious observance, so why block the bedroom door?

For men of independence, it is every day.

For labourers, it is twice a week.

For donkey drivers, once a week.

For camel drivers, it is once every thirty days.

For sailors, it is once every six months.

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So these are the lessons of becoming independent. Relying on nobody else to put food on your table means a better share in the end.

Blessed be the NUPTUALLED.

Psycho Paths Lead To Greatness

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There is something unnervingly hypnotic about a psychopath. The eyes have it. They stride into ours and rearrange what we think is normality. In some ways it’s akin to having a change of internal scenery with the sofa inhabiting a different area of the room whilst the armchairs are perfectly placed on the ceiling. When that happens, we are left to follow the madhatter down the hole.

Mankind likes a monster. We like the gothics of Dracula, Frankenstein (the real monster being the doctor) and a Mr Hyde (the real monster being the doctor). They tickle our fears whilst taking us into a realm of darkness that we can emerge from at the end of a reading or viewing. Once we leave the covers of a book or the darkness of a cinema, we are free to enjoy the sanity of the everyday. The only problem is that the everyday is more frightening than fiction.

Scientists at Harvard have come to the conclusion that psychopathy is a trait that many of us share. They even go so far to say that the more psychopathy we have the more likely it is that we will succeed in life. A lack of empathy, a conscious effort to make others see us in a false light, and a driving desire to turn everything to our own advantage. Aren’t all the self-help books for success all about this? Ask not what you can do for others but what others can do for you. And the sad thing is that the others find this trait appealing.

Contrary to what the movies might have depicted, they are not the knife-wielding demons of movies like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Patrick Batemen in American Psycho.

Many are walking among us, leading completely normal lives, and are even some of the most successful members of society, precisely because of their psychopathy. These are the ruthless business people who do whatever needs to be done, regardless of the human cost.

Newsweek

Research suggests somewhere between 0.2-3.3% of people have psychopathic tendencies.

We may work with one. One of them may be our boss, headteacher, member of parliament, or church leader. We may even be married to one.

HOW TO TELL IF PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE PSYCHOPATHS

Antisocial, the medical term for psychopathic, personality disorder is defined as having unpredictable, erratic and overtly dramatic behaviours.

According to the NHS, a diagnosis can be made if any three of the following criteria apply to the person’s everyday personality:

  • Repeatedly breaking the law
  • Repeatedly being deceitful
  • Impulsive behaviour or being incapable of planning ahead
  • Being irritable and aggressive
  • Having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
  • Being consistently irresponsible
  • Lack of remorse  

 

When studying texts from the Second World War, ones that deal with the death camps, I am often at a loss to explain why decent people sat back and let it happen. Other, apparently normal, folks actively participated in those evil events. I look at my students devoid of explanation and some way off understanding. My job is to inform them, make them the type of decent human beings who will heed the lessons of the past, but I too was part of the generations growing up after the war and we have not learnt. Indeed, we now seem closer to psychpathological politics as we have ever been since then.

Could it be that we are beyond being saved?

Or could it be that we are predisposed to act and think in this Fascist fashion?

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Could it be that this is the path to success?

 

 

The Stand is an old friend.

I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up.

My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King; well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. But it never came. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.

I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences, whilst leaving behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction.  But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.

Cornerstone-bookshop

The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision.

My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his stage. At that time Larry was mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. I have a student who goes by that name, but he hasn’t got an arc or a zoo. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages.

Once again, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in life.  I was afflicted with that good old Jesus-Syndrome. Reading, The Stand is like reading me and about all that has happened during the time that I became what I am today.

 

My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick Andros. The latter is a youngish man who can’t speak nor hear. He is very special in the grand scheme of things. Larry, because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character. He wants to be good but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women, who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t have slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted  to do the right thing in a world which was not right so, he just went along with it and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his critics.

 

Larry is an artist who has struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and the end of days conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, are swept away by this janitor from Hell. Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy” but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?

images-34    Randall Flag

If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have been written in the same the way that it has turned out. Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence, and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?

 

Thanks goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.

 

King On God

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In the words of Stephen King:

“I’ve always believed in God. I also think that’s the sort of thing that either comes as part of the equipment, the capacity to believe, or at some point in your life, when you’re in a position where you actually need help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement. ‘I will believe in God because it will make my life easier and richer to believe than not to believe.’ So I choose to believe. … I can also say, ‘God, why did this have to happen to me when if I get another step back, you know, the guy misses me entirely?’ Then God says to me, in the voice that I hear in my head … basically tells me to ‘Get lost, I’m polishing my bowling trophies.’ ”

 

A Morsel More

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Something else was among them. Its sound, as it planted ancient feet upon the floor, indicated that it walked like a man. Alongside it, ran the first of the notes from a flute.

She recognised the sound as the one that had been in the darkness for sometime now. She had heard it coming from the mobile phones of kids in the street. The first strains had been weak, discordant, and had barely scuttled into the surrounding air before dying, and recoiling.

Over the weeks, she noticed more and more teenagers, decent looking kids mesmerised by their mobiles. And with this, the notes of the flute began to take shape, take to the air and transform themselves into something almost visible. That something, or a fragment of that something, was standing on the other side of her wardrobe door and soon, very soon, she would be able to see what the notes looked like. She waited with the words of her mantra, stuck like pebbles in her throat.

The something’s hand was upon the door handle, its damp palm pressing against the cool metal, its impetus about to push down.

The moment could have lasted forever. Then a current ran through the air; primeval electricity connected each and every particle of her being instantly. The world was frozen, trapped and petrified in an absolute of silence. For that moment, the little girl was able to enter their thoughts. Later, she would remember their cries of despair and exhilaration, hatred and fidelity, anguish and relief. There were so many voices in there, so many emotions and so much conflict. As she pulled herself out from that foul place, she realised that the night carried a howl, a distant rage of pain that cut through her aggressors’ intentions.

For a long while she listened, knowing that they had fled. She waited before resuming her mantra and watching her mind movie. That was until she heard the front door being opened. There was movement downstairs and this was followed by a short cry of pain. The first utterances of a curse was being strangled.

That’s when she decided to move from her hiding place, step slowly down the stairs, and that’s when she saw the boy who was taking the car keys.

He had the look of the gangs. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a baseball cap and his hood was pulled up. His movements were furtive and for the briefest time she wished she had not disturbed him.

She had opened her mouth to say, “Hello” and had wished she hadn’t. His eyes shot wide opened, and he stepped back hitting his leg on the hall table.

This time, he did not cry out in pain as his immediate attention had been taken up with the thing that had jumped out of the dark. This time, he just stood there waiting for what he thought would be the painful end to his painfully short life.

When the girl saw this, she spoke out again.

“So, they did not get you?”

Moments passed.

“The rats, they did not get you?”

Eventually, “No…what are you doing here?”

There was nothing in his voice which she recognised. It was defensive, sullen and, most probably, dangerous. Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Those keys are for Mum’s car.”

She thought about her mother and the movie started playing again.

“That’s for Mum’s car. You’ll need Dad’s keys, his car is parked in front of hers. It will block your way out.”

 

Again, the furtive look. He was weighing things up, trying to work out what he ought to do. On the stairs was a girl, whom he reckoned was about eight or nine, and somehow she had survived the thing that had happened. He was starting to wonder how and why when they both heard a low groan coming from the next room.

He didn’t know whether to run away or go to help whatever it was that was making that noise. The girl decided for him. She ran down the last few stairs and straight into the room from where the groan had come. As the door opened, he heard her gasp deeply and then scream.

A scream that would wake the dead.

So he ran after her, not to comfort her, but to shut her up. If he didn’t, then the rats might come back. What he saw in there would stay with him through the coming nights.

There were parts, bits that had once belonged to human beings, strewn around the room. A lampshade had been knocked over, its bulb still throwing a maniacal glare across the scene. The carpet was stained deeply red with what had been the lifeblood of the girl’s family. He clamped a hand across her mouth with a strength that shook her. Her scream bit into his smelly palm, her eyes filed with revulsion and accusation.

“Shut your bloody mouth before they hear you. You don’t want to end up like that do you?”

That was when the moan became a discernable voice. It was a voice that carried with it a name.

“Kate.” 

What was left of her brother, had spoken.

His little sister was drawn to him. She knelt and held a hand that could no longer feel. She looked into her brother’s eyes, bloodstained and drifting between worlds.

“Be careful. The boy is dangerous. He knows them.”

“What boy?”

From the doorway, Joel Podrall spoke.

“What’s he saying?”

Kate ignored the question and asked her own once more.

“Which boy?”

But the connection had been broken. Her brother was dead.

Her head bowed forward dropping tears onto what remained of him. It was as if she had lost him twice and the anger was beginning to build within her tiny frame.

The boy was still standing at the door, seemingly afraid to venture inside. Something told her that this boy was the one she had been warned about. She knew right from the moment she had set eyes upon his form, in the darkness of the hallway, that he was not right, but he was all she had.

She needed him to help her to get out of the city and she had to prove that she could be of use and not just a hindrance. She wiped her tears away with the back of a hand that still held blood.

“He said good bye.”    

A Taste Of Things To Come

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The screams had dissolved. They had petered out into near silent pleas and prayers. She had waited, fixed like a butterfly pinned into a glass case, a recording, playing the only prayer she knew, ran on and on inside her mind.

Lord keep us safe this night

Secure from all our fears…

But they had not been safe, nobody had.

Running alongside the prayer was a film. She called these her mind movies and always played the role of director or leading actress.

In this movie, the one that was now sticking in the place where she least wanted it to stick, she had neither been director nor leading actress. In this movie, she had played the part of the little girl who was not seen, or heard, and the little girl who ran as quietly as she could for the only place she had ever felt truly safe, the back of her walk in wardrobe. From there, she had been able to hear the screams of her mother, father and elder brothers as they had been set upon by an army of rats.

However, she knew that they were not really rats because rats did not offer ultimatums.

With her head pressed to the floor, the little girl, now only just eight, listened with mortified engagement as the sudden smashing of glass, her father’s shouts for the family to run into the next room, her mother’s cries of astonishment and fear, and her elder brothers’ anger were replaced with the submissive sound of near silence. She had strained her ears to pick out anything that may have spoken of hope, but none appeared to be there; none until she heard the note.

At first she thought it had been the sound of somebody hissing and then it had changed into something more soothing. For a moment, the notes of a flute fluttered into the spaces beneath where she lay. Once more, it changed into something closely resembling a caricature of a human voice, one that whistled, grated and cajoled.

“…the way they died…want to suffer…are young…for people like you…join us…die.”

There was a brief pause and then an answer came back from Tim, her eldest brother. Even through the pain and the tears, she knew his tone which was one of defiance.

“…you…rather die…like you.”  

Then the fury increased again and the muffled cries of her brothers were extinguished.

After that, came the time of searching.

She knew that they were scenting the air, following trails, feasting on morsels and glorying in their hour. She froze as she heard feet treading their way up the staircase. They were after more things to do and her scent had caught in eager nostrils. She listened as the footfalls reached the top and then waited for the inevitable.

They picked their way along the passageway, taking it in turns to storm each of the bedrooms. The sounds of ripping, tearing and smashing ensued and she realised that nothing was being left to chance. The prayer arose within her and became a mantra. If she said it enough times, believed its lines, then God might just save her.

The entry of the rats suggested otherwise. They fell upon the room like grave-robbers, intoxicated with triumph.

The feet stopped at the wardrobe door. She was wrapped up in coats, only half hidden, but she prayed. And in this prayer she asked (she knew she wasn’t really supposed to ask God for anything for herself) for a cloak to be thrown around her. She wished for a cloak like the one Harry Potter had, an invisible cloak. If this had been part of a book, she would have been granted one. If God had been watching, he would have thrown down his heavenly threads and woven a garment for her, immediately. God, she wondered with the tiniest fear of being disrespectful, was not watching what was going on. He had not heard the cries of her family and did not see those creatures dressed as rats.

A few feet away, the things hesitated as if drawing out the delicious torment of the scene. The little girl visualised the cloak she was about to pull over herself. It was green with threads of gold woven into it and along the hood were symbols like stars that caught the moonlight and shone it back. She hid, pulled deep within this invention and waited for the end.

Secure from all our fears

If I should die before I wake…

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Epilogue 1

In her dreams, Elizabeth was on the ward that had consumed her life.

It had not burnt to the ground as she knew it had many years ago, but was intact and filled with the confused slumber of its patients. The book she had been reading was open at the page where she had fallen asleep. She had done her rounds, had tucked in the sleepers, had recreated the stories she had for them.

The book had taken up three full nights. At its heart was a dark secret of which none of its characters dared to speak. At its core was a girl who had been locked away in the attic of her home for years. She had grown in darkness as a way of keeping her pure. This was her mother’s God.

He was not mercy. He was not forgiveness. God was pain and damnation.

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My Stories

Elizabeth had read the book carefully taking each word at a time and not skimming. She was drawn to the story in the same self-destructive manner that addicts return to the drugs that kill them. The more she read, the deeper she was mired in its lines. On the third night she slept.

In her dream, she woke with the sounds of the sleepers seeping into every crevice of the ward. Waking more, her eyesight adjusting to the night, she raised herself from her chair and felt an energy that had not been there for many years. She looked at her hands and was amazed at how different they were. She turned them over in front of her gaze and saw the backs were now not the veined maps onto which an almost translucent covering of skin was projected. These things she held before her belonged to a younger woman.

She was dreaming and she knew it. She had often woken within a dream and, even knowing that it belonged to the wanderings of sleep, had allowed its tidal ebbs and flows to take her where they would. For the most part, she would forget these nocturnal drifts only for some consciously chanced upon detail to sweep her back. At that, she would stop in her tracks and feel the chill of something reaching out from darkness. These episodes of déjà vu were now starting to fall upon her like leaves in autumn.

It could just be the onset of old age; altzeimers spiked amongst her deepest fears.

In this dream, she moved through the ward, listening to the familiar sound of the invisible ones. She was able to see each bed inhabited by their sleeping occupants and the regular rise and fall of their breathing. All the beds were occupied and it seemed that the ward was not confined by the hospital’s walls. She could see into the shifting darkness and thought she saw beds stretching out for mile upon mile towards some barely glimpsed horizon.

Then there came the sound.

At first it was a low indistinguishable sound that could have been the merest hush of a nervous breeze, but the sound began to grow and swirl around the beds. Blankets began to flutter as if brushed by a passing hand. Elizabeth was frightened.

Every instinct screamed, ‘run’.

She listened knowing that if she heard its true notes, she would be lost. This was the time to swim upwards from this sleep. She pushed upward from the floor, but nothing happened. Movement and sound converged. She was aware of sheets being filled with the forms of sleeplessness. In the far distance was a darkened cloud invading the sky. The stillness that arrived before a storm settle around her.

She would pull herself toward waking. She would tell herself that this was not real, that it was only a dream; a nightmare. Her heart raced and pounded in her chest and pulsed into her temples. Her skin rippled with an ancient angst like a memory locked into despair.

Now, there was fresh movement in  the ward. The sigh of bedsheets, the pat of bare feet on the cold floor. But closer still, there was a hand climbing from beneath the starched linen. The hand that was revealing itself from beneath the veil of dread was that of the Piper and the bodies that were rising from their white cotton shrouds were those of her parents, her brother and the neighbours lost so long ago on that summer night.

She would wake now.

That was how it would happen. She would wake and she might even scream. Hairs would stand rigid on her spine. She would be hyperventilating. For a brief moment, there would be a memory of what she had been through. For a moment, she would remember the touch of the Piper’s clammy hand. For one long eternity, there would remain the memory of a world that was not supposed to have been. For an everlasting instant, she would remember awaiting the grasp of the Piper as he claimed her for his own.

But then she would wake.

That was when he had touched her. The hand was warm and she knew it belonged to the  boy called Nicholas. She turned torwards where she thought he would be and saw the face of the boy grown old. He had grown and now beckoned her to follow.

She was now old and frail and her bones only left the nursing home for short periods in its gardens. She had lived a long life, perhaps longer than God had intended, but she had always been haunted by those children on the ward. Now she had dreamt of Nicholas, the one who had escaped. The boy who was now a man. She also understood that God had not forgotten her and the debt she owed him.

Although her bones ached with years of rheumatism, she pulled them from her bed. She was upright surveying how the moon had thrown its light through the window. It was a cold night and the one that she had been waiting for. With no regard for the torturous strain brought on by movement, she washed and dressed in silence. She would leave this place of the dying and find her way back to where much of it had started: Fairfields House.

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Once she thought that she had cheated God, but she hadn’t.

He had forgiven her and she owed Him.